There’s a saying that you can’t go home again, but obviously no one told that to Broken Lizard’s Steve Lemme who worked at City Crab on Park and 19th for six years, an experienced that acted as the catalyst for the comedy team to make The Slammin’ Salmon, their fifth feature film. Back in New York to wrap-up their six-month cross-country comedy tour, Lemme and the guys–Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske–found themselves back at City Crab to do interviews for the movie as well as to host an absolutely crazy “Salmon Chowder Eating Contest” that brought out the best of the best in competitive eating to chow down large bowls of cold chowder which looked like it had the consistency of glue. (You can see some of our pictures from the event here.)
The movie is up there with some of their classic comedies like Super Troopers and Beerfest, featuring the guys playing waiters at a high scale Miami seafood restaurant owned by former boxing champion Cleon “Slammin” Salmon, played by Michael Clarke Duncan – one of the more insane characters to appear in a Broken Lizard movie ever (and that’s saying something). When the boxer runs into money problems from gambling debts, he “motivates” his staff to sell more food to the restaurant’s customers, the one who could push the most getting a grand prize of $10,000 cash. The loser gets fired and a taste of the champ’s right fist.
Not for the first time and probably not for the last, ComingSoon.net sat down with the guys of Broken Lizard, this time joined by the one and only Michael Clarke Duncan, to talk about the movie. As we’ve often discovered, having a lot of people involved in an interview can be chaotic, and the conversation tended to spiral off in tangents, with Duncan even jumping in to ask a few of his own questions of the guys… and who were we to stop the 6′ 5″ giant? (Unfortunately, Paul Soter was on the verge of losing his voice from the six months they’d been on tour doing shows, so we tried not to push him too hard to answer questions.)
Before we could even begin, the guys explained to Duncan how the movie was influenced by Lemme’s time working at City Crab:
Kevin Heffernan: Steve worked at this restaurant for six years, six years. Michael Clarke Duncan: This one? Steve Lemme: This very one. Duncan: (to Eric Stolhanske) Did you? Eric Stolhanske: No, not in this one. We worked together but not at this restaurant. Lemme: At a different restaurant, but I was here for six years. Duncan: Well, that’s kind of cool, man, you coming back all famous now, so it’s like the guy…
ComingSoon.net: Just like the guy in the movie, exactly! Steve Lemme: Yeah. In fact, see the Mexican fellow over there? Kevin plays that character in the movie, the waiter who became a manager.
CS: So that brings me to my first question: Why did they let you back in here? Did they see the movie yet? (All of them laugh at that.) Lemme: Well, they let me back once before. I quit after three years and told everyone to f*ck off and walked out of here in a blaze of glory. Duncan: No, you didn’t. Did you really? (laughs) Lemme: Yeah, we had a TV show. We sold a TV show after our first movie and I quit, and then nothing ever happened. Everybody paid us, there was a loophole in the contract and then after a year of living off my credit cards, I had to come back here with my tail between my legs. They gave me my job back and I was here for another three years.
CS: Were you the one who threw out the idea of doing a movie set in a restaurant during one of your writing sessions? Lemme: Well, no. The three of us had waited tables and every waiter who has worked in a restaurant wants to make a movie about their experiences, so basically, the five of us sat down, like we do with every movie, and we throw out ideas, but we just told every story we had. Like Jay taught me how to open a bottle of wine. He was my trainer at my first… Jay Chandrasekhar: You did well, you did well. Lemme: Thanks. Stolhanske: Is that when you take a saber and break off the top, like that? Lemme: Yeah, you cut the foil but then you have to in front of the owners of the restaurant and there’s a test to see if you can open the bottle of wine with that corkscrew.
(This turns into a rather uninteresting in-depth discussion between the guys about what this test entailed, so we’ll cut forward a few minutes…)
CS: Was this pre-Broken Lizard or was this while you were already establishing your rep? Heffernan: We were doing stage shows I think, right? Lemme: Yeah, this is right out of college. We were performing live on stage, hadn’t made a movie yet. This is like… Heffernan: But all through “Super Troopers,” you were waiting tables, right? Lemme: No, my last day of waiting tables was probably like a year before we made “Super Troopers.” That’s when we drove out to Los Angeles together.
CS: That would probably be too embarrassing to be waiting on a table and for someone to yell out “Super Troopers!” Lemme: Well, we made “Puddle Cruiser,” our first movie, and we won the Best Film at the Hamptons Film Festival… (A couple of the guys jump in to remind him that the award was called “The Golden Starfish”)… and a week later, I waited on the organizers of the festival and they were very rude to me, like they didn’t recognize me from the movie. And I was like, “F*ck y’all, motherf*ckers!” (everyone laughs at this)
CS: I talked to you guys before about your process but when you have a movie like this, who decides for instance that Jay is going to play “Nuts.” He seems to get the worst characters every time, so is that because you come up with your own characters? Chandrasekhar: I can’t remember how we came up with that… Paul Soter: No, the rest of them were cast and we kind of knew you (Kevin) were going to be Connor and we knew that you were going to be the manager. (To Steve and Eric) We cast you and we knew who you were going to be, but it was between Donnie… one of us was going to play Donnie and Dave, the other was going to play Nuts, and we came down to the end, and… Chandrasekhar: You said you didn’t care. Soter: And I said I didn’t care. Chandrasekhar: You’d play either. Heffernan: But we try to delay the process anyway, because everyone writes together.
Duncan: I got a question. (Wisely, the interviewer decides not to step in and explain the interview process to the very large man who wants to ask a question.) How did you come up with “Slammin’ Salmon”? Who just sat down and said…? Heffernan: Like the concept itself? I think we talked about making a movie about waiters in a restaurant and then we went through a bunch of different things. To come up with your character, we went down a couple roads and we thought, “Okay, it’s owned by a mobster… that’s cliché, that’s cliché,” and then it was at some point like “What if it was Mike Tyson? An insane guy who could kill you owned his own restaurant that we worked in.” Chandrasekhar: We thought of all these athletes like Don Shula, Michael Jordan, they all have restaurants. Stolhanske: We watched one Super Bowl at Shula’s in Philadelphia and we knew Ditka had one and Jordan had one. Heffernan: The character was so good that once you start writing how Mike Tyson talks, the character becomes so good… Duncan: And that was all you guys pitching in and saying let’s do that now. Lemme: Yeah, well you know you’d riff on stuff. You’d be like (doing Tyson) “Yeah, I bought a bunch of land on Mars right next to John Travolta and we’d all be doing Mike Tyson impressions. Heffernan: On our DVD commentary, he overdid some of your lines as Mike Tyson. Duncan: Oh, he did? I gotta see that.
CS: (trying to regain control) So had you heard of these guys before they contacted you about this? Duncan: (flatly) No. (laughs) Nah, I liked “Super Troopers,” that was really good.
CS: So when you got the script, you already knew what to expect and when you read it you immediately wanted to do it? Heffernan: He checked us out, though. Duncan: I did. But I didn’t think I could… my fear was even… ’cause they’re like a gang and to walk into the gang, you have to be initiated and welcomed in. Heffernan: You have to suffer the beatdown. We gave Mike a beatdown. Duncan: This movie was my beatdown.
CS: Did you talk to Cloris Leachman, because she got put through hell for “Beerfest,” I heard. Heffernan: Cloris Leachman, she had to kiss Jay every day before we’d start shooting. Chandrasekhar: She wouldn’t roll until we kissed. Stolhanske: She loved his brown lips. Heffernan: He didn’t have to do that.
CS: They always seem to get a high profile Oscar-nominated actor in their movie, so when you called, did you assume they wanted you to bring your Oscar chops to the table? Duncan: No, I was really worried about if I could be as funny or hang with this group right here, ’cause they’re already funny, so I wanted my skill level on that level, so I told my agent, “Do you think I can hang with these guys?” And he said, “Yeah, don’t worry about it, don’t think about it.” I called a lot of different actors. Heffernan: We had (Bill) Paxton call you up, too. Duncan: Yeah, that’s who I talked to, Bill Paxton, and he said, “Go ahead, do it!” Heffernan: Mo’Nique you talked to. Duncan: Yeah, it was a bunch of actors who had different opinions, because I knew you guys were funny and when you step into that realm, you have to be funny. (to Kevin) I used to ask you, “Are you sure?” and you’re like, “Stop worrying and have fun!” You guys weren’t worried, I was worried every single day. Heffernan: Now, in all the reviews, it’s like, “The movie’s okay but Michael Clarke Duncan is awesome!” Duncan: I didn’t hear that yet. I’m glad you said that ’cause now my confidence is up. Heffernan: Now, it’s up. Every review talks about how you steal the movie. Duncan: Really? But it’s all about the writing. See, I pass the ball…
CS: What did you think of how to portray the character? Did they want you to take it over-the-top? Duncan: Yeah, they wanted it as crazy as possible, to be goofy as possible, and when I was reading the script, when the lines were miswritten, I didn’t know that. I was like… “decapitated” and they’re like, “No he says “depacitated'” What? Why would he say that? That was me the whole time. I’m trying to study my lines and they come in and go, “Here’s the new sheets, so let’s go do it,” and I’m like, “But I studied this right here. Don’t do that to me!” Heffernan: But at least you got a script. On “Talladega Nights,” they didn’t even need a script, right? Duncan: That’s true, but you guys gave me somewhat of a script but then you snatched it away and you’d say, “Whatever you feel like saying, just say that.” And you guys are good at that. You’ve gotta be quick. Heffernan: But you were great. Duncan: ‘Cause I had the back-up.
CS: So the big switch this time was that you were directing this time, Kevin, so Jay, you were working on another movie and you didn’t have time to direct this one? Chandrasekhar: Well, we were together making all the other movies. In the editing room, he was there and in pre-production, everything. This was a movie that was taking place in one location and it felt like the perfect time for him to try it. When you shoot a movie in one location, if you mess up, you can always go back and pick it up, ’cause it was just one set, so it was a great to start, I thought he did a great job.
CS: What changes when one of you is directing the others? Is there a noticeable change when you’re in scenes with Kevin and he’s directing as well? Chandrasekhar: Well, when I didn’t have to direct, I could just joke around and flirt with the actresses, it’s fun! Hang out in your trailer… and be like an actor!
CS: So you saw the other guys doing that for the last four movies and decided it was your turn? Chandrasekhar: It was a blast! I loved it!
Duncan: (here we go again) How do you choose who directs? Do you just say, “It’s your turn now?” Chandrasekhar: Well, I directed the first four… Heffernan: And this one, he had other stuff going on, and this movie happened really fast. Duncan: And now the next movie you say, “Okay, now it’s your turn or your turn?” Is that how you do it? Heffernan: It’s going to be your turn, man. You have to direct. Duncan: No, no, no… noooooooo… no, I want to see you guys do it. That’s a lot of work. Too much work for me.
CS: And it also was a pretty big change going from Warner Bros. where you probably had your biggest production budget, which wasn’t a huge budget, but was it always known you were going to do this independently? Heffernan: Yeah, because we wrote this at the same time as “Beerfest,” so we did it intentionally, because we wanted to have a bigger budget movie and a super low-budget to have in our back pocket. We wrote them at the same time knowing that we would make this independently, so when the writers strike happened, that’s when we put the financing together for it. It was written that way. Because it’s one night in one location, we knew it was a low-budget alternative that we could return to the “Super Troopers” way of making a movie, so it was intentional.
CS: Steve, did you ever think of stepping forward to direct because this was sort of your story to begin with. Lemme: Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to direct these guys my first time out. There’s too many egos and too many little star tanties being thrown from these guys. They’d be unmanageable. (To Kevin) I admire you for having the guts to do it. Heffernan: Oh, thank you. But he’s done it multiple times. Lemme: Yeah, but back when we were starting, none of us threw those… Heffernan: The prima donna stuff has grown since then. Lemme: It used to be like… “Puddle Cruiser” we all showed up every day, even when we weren’t shooting and we’d watch everything happen. Now you can’t find anybody (everyone laughs) so if you’re shooting an alone scene, it’s just you and the guy and the director and you’re looking for lines. Stolhanske: You and a wooden block with some tape on it. (everyone laughs) Lemme: You are looking at a neon green piece of tape on the camera.
CS: Does it say “Jay” or whomever on it, so you know who you’re supposed to be acting opposite? Chandrasekhar: Yeah, and you just tape “action” onto the camera.. the director’s not even there.
CS: So did you like taking charge and having to be there the whole time? Heffernan: Yeah, it was fun. We have like a family that’s in front of the camera and behind the camera, so you’re kind of working with the same people all of the time, the crew guys you know, so it wasn’t like I was thrown to the wolves in a way. It was a very comfortable situation and it ended up being a blast.
CS: I know you guys have been touring for the last couple months so since you guys see each other day, do you spend a lot more time writing? Lemme: You know, we just sold a couple of projects to Universal so we’ve been working on that. We are writing “Super Troopers 2” and we’ve been putting together this live show, so we’ve been pretty busy. Heffernan: Yeah, we’ve been together a lot over the last six months. Lemme: Every day for the last six months.
Duncan: Am I in “Super Troopers 2?” Lemme: Do you want to be?
CS: Maybe you should play the same character and have him show up… you guys don’t have enough crossover between your movies. Heffernan: It could be. We could just have Cleon driving his Jaguar in upstate Vermont. Duncan: Yeah, and then I punch him in the stomach. Lemme: We could find out that he’s stolen the car and we have to detain him somehow and it’s like, “I’m not putting the cuffs on him.” Duncan: And I pick one of you guys and say, “Can you defend yourself?” Lemme: Yeah, I think we should let him slide on this one.
(They talk a bit more, mostly all at once, with other ideas how to get Duncan into the sequel. If it happens, you heard it here first!)
CS: Is the “Super Troopers” sequel going to be Fox Searchlight again? Lemme: We’re writing it right now. You know, “Super Troopers” for us was such a phenomenon, and the way people have reacted to it, we don’t want to put a sloppy sequel together, so we’re going to wait until we’ve done a good amount of drafts and then present it to the studio and see if they’ll do it that way. We have to be careful with that one because that’s really something people hold up to a high standard.
CS: Was anyone in the group hesitant about revisiting those characters? Stolhanske: We love writing it. Heffernan: It’s funny, because once we started writing this new draft, it was very familiar. It was very fun to write because you knew the characters already, and we’d never written a sequel before, so it was kind of a fun experience. Stolhanske: And it’s always fun writing like “Kevin’s going to jump over the burger guy.” Anything you wrote, you were writing it knowing a friend had to do it, so it was always kind of fun to write, “Ah, Kevin’s going to be covered in powdered sugar.” You enjoy writing that kind of stuff. You know he’s going to do have to do it… but then you have to ask him if he’s ready to debase himself. Lemme: But it’s true what Kevin is saying. We’re writing this movie “Rogue Scholars” for Universal where we play college professors, and it’s with like each draft we’re still finding the voices of these characters. I know it sounds sort of weird and pretentious to say it, but it’s really that you don’t know who these guys are yet, so somebody will throw out a trait and you’ll think that would be a great quirk of that character. Heffernan: But that makes it harder to writer dialogue because you’re not sure who they are yet. Lemme: Yeah, now we know so..
CS: Funny you should mention “Rogue Scholars,” because I went to IMDb, and even in the bios in the press notes they list dozens of movies you guys are developing and they all have great titles. It makes me think that you guys come up with titles and then put them out there so no one else will use them. Heffernan: Sometimes it is. “Beerfest” was that way. We came up with the title first. Lemme: Yeah, with “Club Dread” we just got lambasted by the critics and we were so pissed off, Kevin was like, “We should make a goddamn movie called ‘Beerfest’ and see what they say about that!” (everyone laughs) “Beerfest”? That sounds like a terrific idea! Heffernan: “You want a frat boy movie? Check this out!”
CS: But once these titles are out there, it’s kind of your and no one will use it because they’ll think someone’s already making a movie called that. (To Jay) So what happened with that other movie you were going to direct? Chandrasekhar: I’m going to do one, it’s called “Shotgun Wedding,” which I’m going to shoot in February.
CS: Is that one of your own ideas? Chandrasekhar: I wrote it with another guy, a friend of mine. It’s about a guy who is sort of a notorious p*ssyhound and anti-marriage and he suddenly calls his friends up and says, “Hey, I’m getting married to this younger Southern girl in the Deep South in three weeks” so the movie is really about the wedding. They all go down to the wedding and it’s got a real North-South vibe to it.
CS: Whatever happened to “The Greek Road”? Heffernan: That’s still hanging out, that’s still there. It’s always been a high budget movie so it’s always been a problem trying to get that budget, but we stil try. Lemme: We’ve come close a few times, we just haven’t been able to make the numbers work, but it’s there.
CS: Paul, what’s going on with you? Last time we spoke was for your movie “Watching the Detectives,” so what else have you been doing? Soter: Yeah, yeah. I just went out with a script so hopefully we’ll be able to get that up so I can make it next year.
CS: Is that the zombie movie? Soter: There’s this other one I wrote, but this is a different horror movie, so… Lemme: That’s a great sales pitch you got there. (Everybody laughs) “It’s a horror movie.”
CS: How did this whole tour come about? Heffernan: We hadn’t done any shows in a long time and certainly not at this level and when we showed this movie at South by Southwest and we did a little comedy routine before it, we were like, “You know what? We should probably look into this. It’s fun. We haven’t done it for so long.” And we found there was an appetite for it and we would be able to go out and sustain a tour, so we kind of mounted this 90-minute show. Chandrasekhar: Couple of us had gone to see Cheech and Chong and they did the opening 11 minutes of “Up in Smoke” as their first sketch, so we thought, “We can do that” because we have a similar fanbase, so we decided to try it.
CS: Is this going to be your first show in New York for a long time? Chandrasekhar: Yeah, yeah. Heffernan: Yeah, ten years? Stolhanske: Ten years.
The next night we got to see the final show of the tour and it was hilarious, each of the guys getting their own 10 minutes of stand-up and doing new sketches involving the characters from Super Trooper and Beerfest. (Kevin Heffernan’s Susan Boyle bit was also hilarious.) Hopefully they’ll do more shows in the future, because who knows when we’ll get their next movie?
In the meantime, The Slammin’ Salmon opens in select cities on Friday, December 18, and you can meet members of Broken Lizard if you’re in Austin, Dallas and New York this weekend. Check out the official site for more details and to buy tickets.