Sunday Geekersation: Lennon, Garant raise a 'Hell Baby'
05:00 AM, Sep 01, 2013
Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have been together for so long, it was just a matter of time before they had a baby.
And this one’s straight from hell.
In the indie horror comedy Hell Baby (on video on demand now and in theaters Friday), written and directed by the pair, ordinary couple Jack (Rob Corddry) and Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) move into an old, dingy place in New Orleans that’s nicknamed the “House of Blood” by the neighborhood. Vanessa’s pregnant with twins and is getting close to the delivery date when weird things start happening around the house and Vanessa becomes possessed, leading to even more weird things.
They’re surrounded by an equally oddball supporting cast of characters including the wacky intrusive neighbor F’resnel (Keegan-Michael Key), Vanessa’s earthy sister (Riki Lindhome), two battle-ready priests from the Vatican (Lennon and Garant) and some local cops (Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer), who share the holy men’s love of sandwiches, strippers and Ashton Kutcher.
Veterans of the 1990s MTV sketch show The State, Lennon, 43, and Garant, 42, co-created the cop comedy series Reno 911! with Lennon in ultra-tight short shorts as Lt. Jim Dangle and Garant as mustached Travis Junior. The duo have also written studio fare for the big screen, including both Night at the Museum movies, The Pacifier, Taxi, and Herbie Fully Loaded.
Garant directed a couple of their scripts himself Balls of Fury and the movie Reno 911!: Miami but were able to get permission for a shared credit on Hell Baby from the Directors Guild of America.
“We’re sort of like two halves of the same brain, anyway,” Garant says.
“I might argue that we’re two quarters of half a brain,” Lennon quips.
The pair talks to USA TODAY about Hell Baby’s No. 1 scene-stealer, their worst review ever and what’s up with that Baywatch movie.
Q: How have audiences responded so far to Hell Baby?
Lennon: People have been really loving the movie. It’s interesting, this is a movie where people either really love it or it’s not for them.
Garant: Or it makes them angry.
Lennon: It’s certainly our cup of tea. Reno fans, people who know us and know what to expect, have been the people packing our early screenings and stuff. It’s really fun to watch it with an audience. It has so many weird, pointless twists and turns that it really surprises people. It’s always fun to listen to an audience react to the wanderingness of the humor. It’s cool.
Q: Was this a result of wanting to add to the devil-spawn genre?
Lennon: Yes. With this movie, if you couldn’t tell, nothing had been vetted by anybody. (Laughs) We didn’t ask for permission, we didn’t ask for notes, we didn’t ask, “Hey, does everybody feel the structure makes sense?” No studio executive on his own came in and said, “Guys, when they’re eating pizza salad, they should talk about the pizza salad for quite a while.”
The movie meanders. It’s very sketchy.
Garant: Tom and I made a very conscious decision in the year before last to take the energy that we spend doing Reno and stuff like that, and we said, “Instead of TV, why don’t we try and write a very modestly budgeted movie and maybe somebody will just let us do it and not come in and try to cast it for us and have 10 table-reads to rewrite the characters.
And it worked. We wrote a really low-budget movie, and somebody just said, “Here’s the cash.” It’s nice to look at the movie and just say, “Yep, this is exactly my cup of tea.”
Q: There’s a particularly memorable and epic eating scene you two have with Rob and Paul at Domilise’s in New Orleans. How many po-boys did you guys destroy that day?
Lennon: A lot of us were really smart about it and we paced ourselves. That can’t be said of Rob Huebel.
Garant: Rob Huebel ate seven foot-long roast beef and gravy po-boys.
Lennon: They do a sick po-boy there. I highly recommend a Domilise’s po-boy. I don’t recommend seven.
Garant: You don’t do seven.
Lennon: No doctor would tell you that’s an OK thing to do. We shot that movie last March and about two weeks ago, I thought, “I could probably do another po-boy.” It took me about a year. But now, I think I’m ready to go back.
Q: When did you call dibs on playing the priests?
Lennon: We always knew with this one that we would play supporting characters.
Garant: We love the idea of maybe as we go ahead creating sort of an ensemble, like a Christopher Guest-y pool of players where maybe in the next one Huebel will be the star. We’ll (revolve) who gets the lead, who plays the bad guy.
Lennon: Like the old Campbell Playhouse.
Garant: It’ll be fun.
Q: It seems you’ve already started building a troupe here with actors like your old State castmate Michael Ian Black. Did you have your dream cast in place from the start?
Lennon: Everyone is very much the first choice. The one person we absolutely could have not have proceeded without, who every line and nuance was written for, was Keegan for F’resnel. To be fair, the movie kind of exists to let him play that character. That’s a lot of what the movie’s about, other than taking a long, long hard look at Riki Lindhome, which is also pretty nice.
We didn’t belabor decisions. Everybody was just like, “Great!” Corrdry was like, “Great!” Leslie we didn’t really know but we knew her work and we were excited she freaked out and loved the script so much.
Garant: Yeah, she took it really seriously. We met with her in New York and she totally got it. She so embraced the weird arc her character was going to do.
It was really fun to watch her preparation. Her script had a beautifully lined number of notes on every page about what point of the possession she was in. It was really cool to watch a real actress sink her teeth into such a silly role in such a silly movie.
Q: Keegan does really steal the film in a way, though.
Lennon: Absolutely. He did Reno. I had never met him before, he came in to audition for Reno and he pitched us his character, his hypothetical criminal: “Hypothetically, if I were to tell you, and I’m not saying I’m saying this, but hypothetically if somebody said they had a head in the trunk of their car, and I’m not saying I’m saying that …” He came in and pitched this wonderful, weird doublespeak guy, and we just fell in love with him. We just love his sense of humor. The movie really is written for him to come in and do that.
Q: Before all these movies and even The State, did you first bond over comedy?
Lennon: Oh definitely. Ben and I are both products of (that). In the late ’70s and into the ’80s, PBS would run a block of programming that included Dave Allen at Large, The Benny Hill Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and then sometimes Doctor Who.
Garant: That’s funny, if you look at everything we’ve done, it’s kind of an amalgam of those four shows. (Laughs) Dave Allen would sit and smoke and tell dirty jokes, and then Benny Hill would come in and chase jiggling girls around, and then Monty Python would do really stupid, smart stuff and then Doctor Who, every night it leads to a movie. Everything we’ve done is those four shows in a blender.
Lennon: Pretty much. We owe all those guys a royalty.
Garant: We might.
Q: When you write, is there a lot of collaboration in the same room or communicating from afar?
Garant: We sit down together, usually at a bar, and come up with the idea: “Well, what about this and what about this …” We figure out what the big movie is together, and then we separate and in our own private offices in our homes work on an outline and we e-mail it back and forth. We never ever ever write in the same room at the same time, just because it’s frustrating.
Lennon: It’s counterproductive.
Garant: One person has to type while the other person is telling them what to type. There’s the judge in your head that tells you what you’re writing isn’t good, and if there are two of you in the room, then there’s four of those judges. It’s just easier. We sit around and crack each other up and then do the actual work at separate computers at separate ends of Los Angeles.
Q: Twenty years from now, which of your movies would you not mind someone taking a shot at remaking?
Lennon: Wow, that’s a really interesting idea. For one thing, I hope they’re on like Night at the Museum 8 by then.
Garant: That would be great.
Lennon: I’d really like for that to happen.
The most ironic one would be to do a remake of our version of Taxi, because Taxi was a remake of a French film and was probably one of our most widely despised pieces of art.
Garant: Oh yeah, it made people so mad.
Lennon: People really hated us after that one for a while. I’d guess I’d have to say that: an American remake of our American remake of the French film Taxi.
Q: What’s the worst review of your stuff that you can recall?
Lennon: Well, for one thing, we’ve never really had particularly good reviews of anything we’ve done. The things that I love, people hate, and the things I hate, people love. We’ve been widely panned for a lot of our long and pretty productive careers.
Interestingly, that got off to a very early start when the New York Post gave The State -1½ stars.
Garant: Now all the hipsters say, ‘Oh The State’s great!’ We actually made a promotion for The State’s second season called “More Miserable Crap,” and in it (the Bee Gees) sang, “I started a joke, which started the whole world crying.” And it’s us weeping and laying in the middle of the road while it rolled all of our negative reviews for The State.
I’ve gotta say, looking back, that was actually great because it really thickens your skin when the very first thing you did as like a 22-year-old, people all over the world hated it.
Lennon: It was the first time we were on the world radar. People have a very revisionist history view of what they thought of The State when it came out.
Garant: People thought that MTV did like a Disney Channel thing where they hired a bunch of kids and put them together. They didn’t know we’d been doing it for six years in bars. People were ready to hate that show.
The Reno movie is very solid. Balls of Fury I’m pretty disappointed in I blame myself. People hate both of those movies equally.
Lennon: That’s the weird thing I can’t tell about our careers. The stuff of ours that people hate is so inconsistent.
Garant: You can’t really worry about it.
Lennon: Exactly. People hate Hell Baby exactly as much as they hate Taxi in some cases. I’m like, “Wow, What the heck do you like?!” There’s nothing you can do. You have to turn off the Google alerts about yourself if you’re going to really survive in screenwriting and these sorts of things.
Q: You know, it is Taxi’s 10-year anniversary in 2014 yours, not the French one. Maybe more people will come around to loving it.
Lennon: I don’t think so. It’s pretty bad. But the one thing in that movie I’m really proud of is there’s a scene where Gisele Bundchen frisks Jennifer Esposito.
Garant: It’s a masterpiece.
Lennon: That’s great cinema. And it’s also at the height of the movie and it slows down to do this long frisking scene. It doesn’t matter what you think of our work we also thought of that.
Q: Maybe they’ve been storing all the love for your Baywatch movie. What’s the status of that?
Lennon: Theoretically, Baywatch is happening. They tell us it is.
Garant: We’ll believe that when the cameras start rolling.
Lennon: What’s interesting is Baywatch was canceled after one season on network TV, and then when they syndicated it, it ran for 200 episodes. There was a period in 1993 when approximately a billion people were watching Baywatch every week.
Garant: A billion. With a “b.”
Lennon: You have to remember, this is before people had the access to Internet pornography, so somebody jogging around in a shiny red, very sheer swimsuit, the world had never really seen that yet. And they were very excited about it.
Garant: If you (go on) Wikipedia and look at where the ratings were big, in the countries where women have to keep themselves covered from head to ankle, Baywatch did very, very well. We responded to the idea of doing Baywatch because we’re really good with people who are acting like they’re doing something very, very serious…
Lennon: While you can see the outline of their balls.
Garant: It’s kind of what we do. It’s sort of Reno 911! with really good-looking people instead of us.
Q: But Tom, you did rock the Dangle shorts. That’s relevant experience for wearing a lifeguard’s Speedo on screen.
Lennon: I’m not sure if I quite have the abs for the Baywatch movie, but good lord, I’ll try to explode them in that time.
(Sunday Geekersation is a weekly series of Q&As featuring luminaries, mainstays and newcomers of geek culture discussing their projects, influences and pop culture.)