Exclusive: Heffernan on Strange Wilderness


Over the years, Adam Sandler has created a tight group of comedians under the umbrella of his Happy Madison Productions, but when they needed someone to handle the animals in their new nature show spoof Strange Wilderness, they called on Broken Lizard, the long-standing comedy group who originally met at Colgate University in Upstate New York and made five movies together since. Specifically, they called upon Kevin Heffernan, the most recognizable of the group due to a bunch of acting side gigs in comedies like Disney’s Sky High and The Dukes of Hazzard.

ComingSoon.net has interviewed Heffernan a number of times, but not in over a year since the press tour for the Broken Lizard’s last movie Beerfest, so it was good to catch up last month and talk about his role in the movie and about his directorial debut and the fifth Broken Lizard movie, The Slammin’ Salmon, which is well into production at this point.

(Unfortunately, our interview with the film’s producer and star Allen Covert experienced technical difficulties beyond our control but you can watch a video interview with him and the rest of the cast here.)

ComingSoon.net: I haven’t seen the movie yet, just so you know.
Kevin Heffernan: It’s funny. Prepare to laugh your ass off.

CS: I saw the trailer and caught just a glimpse of you in it and I know you’re playing a guy named Whitaker, but I know nothing else besides that.
Heffernan: (laughs) Yeah, I play this guy Whitaker. He’s actually the animal wrangler on this wilderness team. What happens is that they realize they have to go hire an animal wrangler when they go out, and they interview a bunch of really qualified people, and they don’t like any of them. Then I go in… I’m actually a former car mechanic who has alcohol problems, and I go in there and interview and I have no experience but they like me, so they hire me. Basically, throughout the course of the movie, I never touch an animal, yet I am the animal wrangler. I am the animal expert.

CS: Who contacted you to do this and how did you find out about the script?
Heffernan: Basically, I had the same agent as Fred Wolf, the director, and they were trying to put together like a really fun, different comedy team, and they were fans of the Broken Lizard stuff, so it was through the agent, it was like, “Hey, read this and see if you’re interested” and I read it and it was hysterical. Those guys, Fred Wolf and Pete Gaulke, are very established and funny comedy writers. I read the script and thought it was just hysterical. It was like, “Yeah, man. Let’s do it.” They were shooting it relatively low budget in L.A. I think it was right before I did “Beerfest” so there was a window to go do something.

CS: I think it was, because I remember being on the set of “Beerfest” and you mentioned this movie, and literally a week later, someone else I interviewed mentioned it, and a lot of people have mentioned it over the last year and a half.
Heffernan: Yeah, yeah, it’s this funny ensemble, kind of crazy comedy thing.

CS: Allen was telling me these guys know nothing about animals at all, that they’re completely incompetent and that their show is a farce, but you didn’t have to hold any snakes or stuff like that?
Heffernan: I did not have to touch one animal. I like that. There’s some fake animals that we touched, animatronic animals, and sh*t like that.

CS: Wow! I didn’t even know they had a budget for animatronics!
Heffernan: I know. I read the script for the first time and there was this scene with a turkey, which I won’t elaborate on, because it’s a fantastic scene, but I thought, “How the hell are they going to do that scene?” and then we got there, and they built this like… I don’t even know. It must have cost like 8 million dollars, this awesome animatronic turkey. That’s where all the budget went, just the turkey.

CS: I’ve always wondered what they did with those animatronic animals afterwards. They do one movie, and there’s gotta be use for an animatronic turkey somewhere.
Heffernan: It’s funny, because I’m doing another movie right now and we’re building an animatronic fish, so we went to the company and it ended up being the same guys who made the turkey. This was just last week, and I was like, “Where’s the turkey?” and they’re like, “Unfortunately, he’s kind of rotting upstairs in the office.” And I was like “That’s so sad.” When people see this movie, they’re going to want that turkey, so you should hang onto that thing. Man, you sell that thing on eBay… Oh, boy.

CS: I thought they usually cannibalized electronics and the working parts for other movies, so when you’re working with that fish and it looks kind of familiar…
Heffernan: It has feathers on it! What the hell is going on here? (laughs)

CS: But essentially, you read the script and knew that you wouldn’t have to be near any animals, so that was part of the deal when you agreed to do it?
Heffernan: Yeah, I was like, “I’ll do it, as long as I don’t have to touch an animal.” That was part of the joke. The guy just drinks beer basically.

CS: I asked because Allen mentioned that everyone in the movie gets mauled by animals, so you’re one of the few that doesn’t?
Heffernan: I definitely didn’t. They get mauled by people, too. (chuckles) I know Covert and Zahn get beat up a couple times in this movie.

CS: I guess since Zahn did “Rescue Dawn” he was already into that one-with-nature head anyway.
Heffernan: That was funny, because he like came from “Rescue Dawn.” He had been like three months in like Vietnam and Cambodia, wherever he was, and came to this set from that set, and I think he was psyched, because he was looking for something a little lighter. He still had that POW look, 40 pounds lighter…

CS: I think many people were surprised by how good Zahn was in that movie, considering that everyone’s used to seeing him do comedy.
Heffernan: Oh, yeah. I mean, the guy is so unbelievable. I just did a couple days on another movie of his that he’s doing right now, and the guy has got so much range, like this movie he’s doing right now is called “Management,” he’s like the leading man against Jennifer Aniston. I think it’s going to be great.

CS: Since “Strange Wilderness” has some of the Judd Apatow gang and obviously Sandler’s Happy Madison crew, do you get flack from the other guys in Broken Lizard for fraternizing with the other comedy teams?
Heffernan: (laughs) Yeah, I mean it actually ends up serving everyone well, like when different Broken Lizard guys go out and kind of like do other projects. You know, like after doing this, I had a good relationship with a bunch of these guys, and we ended up working on a couple scripts with Pete Gaulke and a script with Fred Wolf, stuff like that, so I think people like when you branch out and do other sh*t… as long as you come back to the team. You can make a solo album, but you gotta come back to the band.

CS: Is the production deal with Warner Bros. still going on, and is that still something in which you’re trying to find comedies for them?
Heffernan: Yeah, yeah, I mean we still have about a year and a half in our deal. The problem is the strike thing, you know, it’s like we were rolling on a couple good projects that we had, and just the door got slammed on everything for everyone. So it’s all quiet on that front, so we’ve been trying to get some other stuff going independently of studios in the meantime, but yeah, the Warner Bros. thing is still great. We’re writing some bigger budget comedy projects for them, and that was always the plan to do that and then make some Broken Lizard movies with them.

CS: So “Slammin’ Salmon” is back with the Broken Lizard guys?
Heffernan: Yeah, we’re jumpin’ back on. We’re goin to start shooting on January 7th, so we’re really in the thick of it right now. We’re trying to finish up all the pre-production stuff before the holidays.

CS: What’s the general premise of “Slammin’ Salmon”?
Heffernan: We play the wait staff of this high-end seafood restaurant in Miami, which is owned by this crazy Mike Tyson heavyweight champion kind of guy, and he owes money to the mob, so he institutes this contest to see what waiter can earn the most money in one night, and it sets out on a “Glengarry Glenn Ross” kind of thing where we all compete against each other in this one night in this restaurant to see who can earn the most money.

CS: Who gets to play the Kevin Spacey character?
Heffernan: We’re going to have a lot of good cameos coming in and out of it. We just signed Bill Paxton yesterday to come in and do some stuff with us again, but the Kevin Spacey and the Alec Baldwin character will be mixed into this Mike Tyson character, and we’re actually in negotiations right now with Michael Clarke Duncan, and hopefully that will work out [editor’s note – it did work out].

CS: Are you going to shoot that down in Miami?
Heffernan: No, we’re shooting it here, that’s the great thing. We got a soundstage and we’re building the restaurant inside the soundstage here in Van Nuys, and we’re going to shoot for 25 days, just go in there and do this ensemble comedy thing for 25 days.

CS: Allen was saying that they shot “Strange Wilderness” in L.A. even though most people automatically assume it’s impossible to shoot an independent movie in L.A. I guess there’s two proofs right there that it’s just not true.
Heffernan: Yeah, those Happy Madison guys and this guy Glenn Gaynor just put together such a great budget to go shoot in L.A. The problem is people do say it gets too expensive, but you have so much access to people to come and do cameos, which is especially great for comedy I think. I think that’s what’s great about “Strange Wilderness.” There’s so many cameos and things like that and they went out and found so many great places to shoot in L.A. that look like it could be in the Andes or in a swamp somewhere, so it’s a really fun looking testament to the way you can shoot things in L.A.

CS: I understand you’ll be directing “Slammin’ Salmon” too.
Heffernan: Yeah, I got the reins.

CS: Wow, how did you manage to do that? Did you win a bet with Jay?
Heffernan: I don’t know what happened. When it all came together very quickly, Chandrasekhar had an obligation to Warner Bros. as a director, so he couldn’t commit like the 8 months or whatever it takes, so I said, “I’d love to do it,” and the other guys were like, “Well let’s go then.” So hopefully, I don’t screw it up.

CS: How has that worked with the strike? You had the script completely done beforehand? Being that you’re all writers, it must be hard to separate the different aspects of making a movie.
Heffernan: We actually wrote the script originally a long time ago, around the “Beerfest” time, because we wanted to have a lower budget project in our back pocket, and then it just kind of sat there for a while, because we were doing “Beerfest” and some other stuff, and then once the strike stuff started hitting, we were like, “We should really get something going outside the studio in case things get really bad.” We approached the investor who invested in “Super Troopers” and said, “Hey, we’ve got this script,” and he said, “Alright, let’s do it, but I’ll bankroll it right now if we want to go.” So we said, “Alright, the script is ready.” We had done a bunch of work through September and then he greenlit it in October.

CS: Obviously, you’ve been doing a lot more acting in other people’s projects, so you’ve been keeping busy with that.
Heffernan: Yeah, there’s been a bunch of acting, and we’ve been writing a bunch of scripts for Warner Bros. We had two or three projects, you know live scripts that we had going up until the strike started, so we were keeping ourselves real busy.

CS: I remember when we talked in New Mexico, you mentioned that each guy oversees one project, so was this one that you were overseeing as a writer?
Heffernan: Actually I wasn’t. This was Steve Lemme’s project originally, because he waited tables at a restaurant like this for years, so this was kind of his baby in terms of him being the technical advisor on it, but I kind of threw my hat in the ring, and everyone was like “Yeah, do it!” I had worked for a long time with Jay. On all our movies, he and I edited it together, and we would do everything from pre-production to post-production together, so I’m not afraid.

CS: I’m sure directors make a big deal about it but how hard can it be, right?
Heffernan: It ain’t rocket science! Just point the camera and shoot.

CS: You don’t even have to do that. You just have to hire the right person to point the camera and shoot.
Heffernan: Yeah, you just get some guy and tell him to do it, while I go wait in my trailer.

At this point, we started talking about some of the other Broken Lizard projects, which you can read about right here.

In the meantime, you can see Heffernan in Strange Wilderness, which opens nationwide on Friday, February 1.