FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: The mediæval clothes weren’t funny the second day.
Those who expect ingratiating clowning and motormouth shtick from Christopher Guest, funny-ha-ha filmmaker of Waiting for Guffman, Best of Show, and A Mighty Wind, guess again. In public, he’s deadpan and somber. The anti–Robin Williams. “Comedy is very hard. It’s very serious work,” is how he described co-writing and directing For Your Consideration, which satirizes Hollywood second bananas obsessed about being Oscar-nominated. “I hope the set was fun, but it wasn’t exactly a party atmosphere.”
Neither, at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, was there much levity at the For Your Consideration press conference. Guest, the point man among his gathered cast (Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean, etc.), suffered neither fools nor foolish questions.
Some fanzine journalist asked about Oscar anecdotes from his wife, Jamie Lee Curtis. Guest shrugged. “I never heard any stories from her.” Queried about how he chooses his leads, he replied curtly, “We pick out of a hat.”
He did unwind a bit to explain how he and co-writer Eugene Levy got to the story of For Your Consideration. By elimination. “We threw out a Western idea, and then a mediæval idea. We entertained the mediæval idea because we thought the clothes were funny, but they weren’t funny the second day. With For Your Consideration, Catherine O’Hara’s character of Marilyn Hack began this story, then — it isn’t arbitrary — Gene and I created the back histories of all the characters, though the dialogue is improvised.”
“How could you improvise mediæval dialogue?” Eugene Levy wondered.
“Nice to see-eth you-eth,” Guest replied — yes, an actual joke.
Is Guest’s ensemble on hold between films?
McKean: “We see one coming! Chris and Gene are working on something!”
Shearer: “There’s lots of praying. You hope that Chris decides to do one. And then you hope you’re in it.”
Shearer backed his director on the rigors of a Guest comedy. “People think because it’s improvised we’re farting around, like it’s one in the morning at an improv club.”
O’Hara, a Toronto native, confirmed the LA-is-a-weird-place vantage of For Your Consideration. “When I first moved there, I noticed the quietness. Where is everyone? Would I like to come to a dinner? It took me two hours, like, in Canada, going to someone’s country cottage.”
Levy, unfairly overlooked for his battered folksinger in A Mighty Wind, was asked about the movie’s premise that anyone in the industry can be bitten by Oscar fever. “A lot of us on the panel have gone through this experience. When the Academy Awards machinery starts, you see your name on lists. You say, ‘It’s flattering that they love my work.’ Now it’s in your head, you are part of the machinery, you’re thinking, ‘Will I win?’”
“In our movie, we think it without any outside encouragement,” O’Hara added.
Might the filmmakers themselves start hoping to be nominated?
Guest shot down the idea. “I don’t think Oscars are an obsession with people in comedy. When you set out to make a $12 million comedy, that’s not in the blueprint.”
How to wake up this snoozy press conference? I decided to “out” Corky, the swishy theater director Guest plays in Waiting for Guffman. “I think Corky is gay! I don’t believe he has a wife in New York!”
Hallelujah, Guest played along! “Corky’s wife is now living with Vincent Price’s ex-wife’s cousin,” he improvised. “Corky is remarried, He has two children, who live outside of Barcelona. Bobo and Felicia.”
Oh? My mistake. Corky’s straight.