Harold Ramis certainly has a number of strong comedy ringers in his new movie, but none more able to play a nasty biblical character like Cain than David Cross, best known from his work on “Mr. Show” and “Arrested Development.” He wasn’t on set the day we visited, but he sat down with the visiting journalists at the hotel restaurant towards the end of our day to talk about his take on the Bible’s first murderer.
ComingSoon.net: You play Cain in the movie, but it seems like you have a bigger role than Cain in the bible.
David Cross: Cain keeps popping up. His descendants are cursed right?
CS: The mark of Cain.
Cross: Yes. I know this because I bought something called a “Parable Bible.” It’s easier to read (laughs). The words are the best approximation of what they meant. Prefacing that the Bible is all made up and it’s fiction. It’s a formalized fiction, but I’ve been reading it and Cain’s descendants are cursed. Wait, I was wrong. The mark of Cain is that Cain felt really bad about what he did, he had a lot of recrimination, he was lonely and upset and God banishes him. Which I never saw as much of a punishment but he has a wife and he’s given a family, mysteriously, and says he thinks people are going to know he killed his brother and not gonna like him and cause harm to him so God gives him the mark of Cain so everyone knows it’s Cain and everyone knows that if you f*ck with Cain you’re gonna die.
CS: This isn’t in the movie though?
Cross: Oh, no. This is just for your online edification.
CS: How did you put a comedic twist on playing Cain?
Cross: Well, unfortunately we shot those scenes already before I got my Bible. [everyone laughs] I just had fun being duplicitous. And mean. And nasty. And murderous. And conniving. And I end up ratting Jack and Michael out. I get promoted because of it. And it’s fun. I mean anytime you get to do that. I usually only get cast in two things. It’s either nerdy guy or sarcastic, nasty guy, but this is kind of a new twist on sarcastic, nasty guy, so I like it.
CS: The scene where you and Abel fight and have it out is supposed to be a huge comedic scene.
Cross: Oh that was actually the second day of shooting the movie; the first thing I shot. It was with Paul Rudd, who plays Abel, and it was really fun. It was just us arguing, kind of the way brothers or siblings argue, where everything escalates from zero to 60 very quickly. We start fighting, and… am I allowed to tell you what happens in it? Okay? And then I just bash his head in with a rock and he sort of just refuses to die. [laughs] That was something I think Harold came up with while we were shooting it. And then I bash his head in, and then say, “Oh my God, what have I done? What have I done!” And then he stirs, and then *bash* it’s “What am I continuing to do?” [more laughs]
CS: Do you have a brother in real life?
Cross: No. Spiritual or physical? Not a physical brother but I have lots of spiritual brother.
CS: As someone who thinks the entire bible is fiction, do you appreciate more what Harold is doing?
Cross: Yeah, absolutely. There’s no small part of this that is constantly a thrill where I take a second and go, “Holy sh*t, I’m working with Harold Ramis.” I was talking to Bob Odenkirk about this the other day about how underrated he is, and how he should be recognized more for his contributions to comedy. He certainly deserves it. “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day”… it’s pretty amazing what he’s done. So there’s a lot of that. Honestly it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had, and going off a Harold Ramis script that he’s directing with this really talented improv cast where you’re encouraged to go off script has been really great.
CS: This is the only movie of its type made in decades.
Cross: Yeah, the things I can think of are “Life of Brian,” and to some degree, “History of the World,” but they didn’t really make much of a comment as much as this has. Harold’s very well versed in the Bible and different religions, so a lot of that comes through. Some of it does come out in the script, but not even half as much as when you see his direction, what he’s trying to do.
CS: What’s it like working with Michael Cera? He’s supposed to be a lot more sensible than he comes off in his movies.
Cross: He seems very sensible to me. I cannot stop jerking off to him. I have to take breaks on the set. It’s embarrassing. [roaring laughter] The guy is amazing. I just found out, and I feel like an idiot, I’m always the last to know, I always assumed he was younger, a teenager and stuff? He’s 29, which I didn’t know. [laughter] I don’t think anyone actually asked him. I think everyone just assumed he was younger, but seriously, when you look at him and realize he’s a 19-year-old, he’s like a mini-genius. He’s just that good.
CS: Do you have a favorite scene that you’ve shot so far?
Cross: Almost all of my scenes really. About 90% of them are with Jack and Michael, two guys I’ve known for a really long time and really like working with. It’s just been fun. You don’t get to laugh and riff normally. It feels like a Diamond Club show in 1993 when we were doing stuff like that. So I don’t have a favorite scene. It’s all been really fun. For real. And I’m not just saying that. If anything, I’ve gotten myself in trouble for speaking openly about something I don’t enjoy or don’t like but this has been absolutely a treat from start to finish.
CS: Can you talk about the difficulty of ad-libbing in a style of speaking that’s different than modern speech?
Cross: We were shooting yesterday, and Jack comes out of this place he’s not supposed to go into; no humans are allowed in there. He comes out, and we’re all waiting for him. The script line is supposed to go, “Oh I was just looking for the bathroom.” And there was this long discussion about how they didn’t have bathrooms then. What should he say? And he had just, prior to going in there, had said, “What is it with all the chicks liking guys with the bad boy complex?” And okay, we’re going to argue about whether or not they had the word “bathroom?” Sometimes, those things will come up, and we’ll say, “Oh, I can’t say this. And oh, he had me say, ‘total spooge-fest!'” [laughter] I mean, come on! You can’t say “bathroom?”
CS: Do you guys do the scripted take first and then do a little improv?
Cross: Oh always, always. Who knows what they’ll end up with. There’s a lot of different takes, things said different ways, different attitudes, different languages…
CS: Speaking of Michael Cera, it seems like he’s got a lot of difficult things to do on this set like getting painted gold…
Cross: Tell him he can kiss my ass. He’s on a beautiful $70-million budget movie set.
CS: Did you have to do anything crazy like that for this movie?
Cross: No, nothing yet. I’m sure you’ll hear this from everyone but the only difficult thing is that we have very… Well you think of the Middle East and Biblical times as being hot and dry and dusty, and we’re shooting in Shreveport. We’re also starting in January, and we’re in like skirts and tunics and sandals. The first couple months, it was upper 20s, lower 30s. It snowed. We were shooting a scene, and we had to cover it. You could hear sleet and snow, and it’s supposed to be hot out.
CS: What’s coming up next for you?
Cross: Bob and I are going to shoot something for HBO, a pilot. It’s Bob’s idea, we both co-wrote it, and he’s producing it. It’s a sitcom. It will follow a traditional sitcom structure and feeling, but we’re going to also make it feel like a big sketch. I play me, I’ve had it with Hollywood, and I now write for in-flight magazines. I move to a house in a gated community, in an unknown suburb, and we don’t know what part of the country it is, and I have two roommates. One is an extreme, right-wing, cranky conservative, pro-America guy, and the other is this left-wing, hippie, liberal activist guy. And I’m right in the middle. They’re both ridiculous. Crazy stuff happens, but in the reality of this world, it’s not that crazy. It’s shot live with a sitcom audience. Right now, the working title is “David’s Situation,” but that can change. And because it’s HBO, we’re going to write and shoot our own commercials, which will probably have nothing to do with the show, but we’ll have two fake commercial breaks, an epilogue, and all that.
CS: Are you going to take advantage of being on HBO and not censoring yourself?
Cross: If it comes naturally to swear or have something you wouldn’t have on network TV, we’d definitely do it but we’re not going to make a concerted to say, “We’ve got three f*cks, two sh*ts and one t*t!”
CS: Are you going to do a full season?
Cross: We’ll do 10 and I think that’s enough because I don’t want to spend that much time in LA. Personally I’d be fine with 6. It’s HBO so we’re not going to make a living doing it.
CS: Is there anything you’d like to see if they make an “Arrested Development” movie?
Cross: I would love to have it get really dark. This would never happen. Where he’s somehow, accused of pedophilia or something really strange that he’s not guilty of. At the end he runs off with Kitty, to Las Vegas… and I should’ve thought of something funny there (laughs). You set me up with this nice big softball pitch, and not only did I approach it seriously, I couldn’t even come up with anything. Sorry. [laughter]
CS: Are you coming back for the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” sequel?
Cross: I haven’t heard anything yet. It’s just insane how much money that thing made. It’s actually not though when you think about it. The reason it got made was because the producer I guess discovered one day that there was no kids movie that came out the week it opened or the two weeks after. He said, “We’ve got to make a kids movie!” They had been in talks with the “Alvin” people, who are a strange little cult, so they rushed it and got it on that date. I remember it was stuff like “Sweeney Todd” and stuff that wasn’t good for a kid. That was the last movie I made. So going from that experience which was… nothing has ever felt more like work. That was absolute work. There’s no real riff; you can’t riff with nothing. It was difficult and really long days and 12 hours shooting one page of dialogue because you’ve got all this sh*t you have to do with the things that aren’t there. And this, “Year One,” is the polar opposite of that experience.