The Motion/Captured Interview: Jorma Taccone On 'Land Of The Lost'
An interesting chat with the man behind the monkey
When I participated in the press day for "Land Of The Lost," I felt comfortable chatting with Will Ferrell and Danny McBride, having interviewed both of them previously. But Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone was a question mark for me, and I wasn't sure what to expect. So of course, it turned out to be the longest and, in many ways, best of the three conversations. Check it out for yourself:
JORMA TACCONE: Hey, brother.
MOTION/CAPTURED: Hey, how're you doing, man?
Hey, good. How are you?
I am very well, thanks.
Gotta say, I was really taken aback by the film last night.
In a good way or a supremely bad way?
A good way.
Oh, good. That's great.
I thought it was a lot more twisted than how Universal's been selling it.
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And you can't blame them obviously for trying to sell it the other way, but...
[more after the jump]
Yeah, I think they're doing what they need to do, but I think once people get in the theatre it's almost like you're watching the Mystery Science Theatre take on a movie while you're watching the actual movie.
Yeah, I think that's exactly accurate because it feels like, when we were making it, it feels like people who are huge fans of the show are all involved in making it. Like Brad and Will and down to the producers and like Jimmy Miller and Julie Darmody and Chris Henchy. Everyone was such a fan of the original, but just because you're a fan doesn't mean that you didn't find it funny as well, you know what I mean? So it has that take of like paying respect to it while also being able to make fun of it in the way you would want to when you were like 12 years old.
And it's a really hard line to walk with big budget effects comedies anyway. They are very tricky and it seems like there's very few of them that deliver both as comedy and as a big budget effects film. But this...
I'm so glad that you think that, because I... honestly, I've just done ADR for it so I've seen little bits and pieces for it for certain things, but I haven't seen the whole thing, so now I'm very glad that you say that.
I think a big part of it is the movie up front, especially the way things get moving, it acknowledges... look, so often in these movies, it's a ridiculous excuse to get the people into this place, and this works. It hustles through all that and gets you right into the Land of the Lost which is what you want.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And then it really takes it seriously.
And that's that line that Will has of, like, I'm assuming it's still in there, of a "routine expedition."
So Will basically explains this "routine expedition" or whatever it is, and then we're on our way.
And your role in particular is, I think, the best tribute to the show because it riffs off an idea that kind of exists in the show but they never articulate which is that Chaka is really into self-preservation.
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. They kind of did that in the show, too.
Like stealing their food and then he'd feel bad and give them stuff and like...
I love that Chaka is taken further in this than obviously they could ever go in the show and there is a huge sense of personality to him that I don't think the show like ever quite got right. Like it's hard to write for a character that speaks a language that isn't English and really deliver on that, but I thought you guys, you gave him such a huge personality. I guess my biggest curiosity is when you're offered a role like this where you're under such elaborate makeup and you're not speaking English and you've got all these things that basically are... they're almost barriers between you and the audience, your work is ten times harder at that point. How did you even approach how you were going to play this?
Well, it's both harder for the reason you just explained, like... especially with people like Danny and Will, and Anna is good with improv as well, but that was kind of the biggest obstacle I would have. Because I was really trying to be very dedicated to the language being real, which not too many people are going to know or even care about, but like I would try to be very accurate with the language. And so trying to improv but not knowing a language all that well, like trying to improv a different language was really difficult. When we were all out in the desert and everyone's on drugs, like I'd given them the Margilla plant thing, and we'd be like, all I can say was like, [grunts in Pakuni], like it's all love basically. I was just saying love, love, love. But I didn't have enough words because there's like a limitation with the dictionary I'd been given, and I didn't want to make up too many words, because I really wanted this to be accurate, although there's literally like 10 people that know the difference or who could even attempt to translate what I'm saying in the movie. So that was... I would say like a real limitation but some of the facial movements were definitely harder. I would have to make way bigger facial movements than usual just to get through some of the prosthetics because I wanted... basically, I could only do like surprise or anger, or I could only scrunch down the brow or I could like lift it up or something, but anything in between... the sort of subtlety of stuff was definitely a little difficult to do. And that was part of what me and Brad... when Brad first looked at the thing, there was going to be like a whole prosthetic that covered my face and looked possibly kind of cooler, but at the end of the day there was even less movement out of the face and you really wanted to be able to see some of what I could do with the teeth and all that sort of stuff. And so it was definitely a concern. It's also though, on the flipside of that, it's also freeing to be able to be in a full costume where you look at yourself in the mirror and you really don't recognize yourself. So it really did immediately help to feel like, "Oh, I'm a little monkey. This is how a little monkey acts. I roll around like this. I walk like this." It's super-helpful to be able to jump right into the character.
I think what you're talking about with the improvisation... that's obviously a big part of the process for Danny and Will, and you've come out of your background with Lonely Island and things like that, so these are different skills than I think you've ever had to use as a performer before. Was there a process where you got comfortable in the character? Was there much rehearsal time for you or were you just basically thrown in on the first day and here we go?
It was definitely made easier by all the lead up of working with Spectral Motion. That is our amazing effects house that does all the special make-up effects.
Oh, I love their work. They're amazing.
Yeah, and Tom Floutz, who's my makeup person, is just the most awesome dude. He did Abe Sapien in "Hellboy". He did... I believe he did Kelsey Grammer in "X-Men," and just a ton of other amazing work. I mean, he's so transformative that that part was a little easier for me. As soon as I got the teeth in, too, it just morphs your face so it just allows you to make... you know, I would just sit in front of a mirror just making weird faces all day and just be like wow, I kind of like this face or I like that face or whatever. So like that part of it was easy, but in terms of just like us all working together and like how Chaka was going to be on set, it was really just we were just sort of thrown in and created it. I think the first scene we did was in the cave when they're asking Chaka what he's been accused of. It's a scene that's unfortunately been a little cut down because... you talk about twisted humor, that whole scene was originally about how I potentially was a rapist. And it was so funny. It probably was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It's understandable that they would have to cut it out because from the moment we shot it, I was like, "Oh, that's not going to be in the movie." But it was hilarious. It just went on and on of Anna being, like "She said no and I think he's saying he's a rapist," and Chaka was like "Yes, there it is." And they're, like, "Oh, no, no, no. He's saying his royal honor has been raped," like that's the thing. But it was really, really funny. And some of that humor though is in the movie as you're saying, like it has that kind of twisted Ferrell kind of sense of humor. So, it's just so impressive... I'm just so glad to hear that you thought it worked, you know, because it is that really delicate line of how do you do this kind of thing, but then slow it down enough to feel like you can actually have conversational laid-back comedy bits, you know?
Well and it's very... as bizarre as the world is and as sort of outrageous as things are, it's still very character-driven humor, which I find this generation of comedians, especially the guys who improv, they don't improv chasing a joke per se, they improv in character which I always find is funnier. The context becomes funnier, and this movie's really about context. Like all the humor... it doesn't really work as one-liners. It's in the situation that it's funny.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, those two guys, Ferrell and Danny, obviously are supremely good, but I was also, from the very moment that we started the table read and Anna was with us, the first person that read the script at the table and we were just like, "Oh, man." We were reading off of pages that I had written because nobody had my dialogue. In the original script, it just said like "Chaka grunts," or something, and I'd have to add my dialogue and write it out based on what Anna was translating. And so we'd be reading off these pages, and like her timing and improv stuff I thought was awesome too. So I was really glad. I still haven't seen the movie so I don't know how much it's kept in or whatever, but she was great. Just the combination of everybody was, like, "Oh, this is super fun." It's so bizarre to be on these huge sets that they're building and to have this huge movie, but like at the core of it, it's only a few people, really.
It is. It's fairly intimate because there's not a lot of other characters that you can go to. You end up spending an inordinate amount of time with these three people and with Chaka.
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. I don't know how much I made it in.
Oh, you're in a ton of it. And I'm actually surprised they walked the PG-13 line as close as they did. This is one of the, by implication, one of the dirtiest PG-13 films I think I've ever seen. They really skirt the line in a lot of places.
I'm well aware of that. (laughter)
Obviously because there is that sense of you want to play with these actors, but you're working with in some case very precise technical effects like the addition of Grumpy or with backgrounds that aren't there, things like that. Does that affect the process as you guys are working, and how much give-and-take is there for the effects team in what you guys are doing as performers?
I think one of the coolest things about the film and probably what you noticed about it in terms of like it's dedication but also making fun of sort of the original series, is the original series was so tangible in a lot of ways. It felt very homemade with the claymation dinosaurs and them running through these sets and the lizard costumes. And in terms of special effects, they would just add things that... obviously, they couldn't add that much at the time, but this movie I think is kind of special in that they really tried to have it be built things rather than a lot of greenscreen. Like all those giant sets, almost all of the greenscreen is just in the way background stuff. It wasn't like they built like a little foreground thing that you could mess around with and then everything else is a greenscreen. Almost the entire thing is set on these huge massive soundstages, and they would add stuff to it. But almost all the stuff that we're interacting with are like the temples and stuff like that are sole soundstages covered in like moss to the point where like a cricket would get in because the set felt like alive and they would have problems, like they'd keep spraying stuff down because like it felt like you were outside. Like it was that sort of thing. And a lot of people like the production crew that worked on it, they were like, "Dude, they don't even make movies like this anymore." Like it's so rare. It's almost all greenscreen now. And I think that that really does kind of honor the original series. It's all very tangible and homemade in that way. Now, granted, this is millions and millions of dollars compared to the TV show's budget, so there's that and then in terms of interaction with like Grumpy and stuff, yeah... that's crazy. They had these dudes holding out a blue pole with like an orange ball on it, and you're having to think, "Oh, that's his head. That's how he's going to move around. Blah, blah, blah." There were some cool moments, though, where we were on the set and because they're going to make it up later, I was like "Hey, can I jump over his tail? I think I can jump and have my legs just go all the way up to my chest and have the tail go under." I don't know if they put that in, but there's like stuff like that. They'd be like, "Yeah, absolutely," and, like have one of the vines pick us up or hit one of the vines or try to bite it, and all that sort of stuff that felt like I couldn't believe how interactive it was. Or you could actually just talk to the special effects dudes and ask them, "Yeah, so whatever you want to do, we'll take a cue off of you guys". But it is weird because its like how big is this dinosaur? Where is he going to be and stuff like that? And it didn't make that much sense to me like when Will... he had a joke about how he's in shit out by the dinosaur...
And that part, I was like, "Where is Grumpy in this scene?" They put him directly behind Will's head and it looks like he's way underneath his butt. You're like, "Oh, that's much funnier. I didn't realize he was going to be there." So there's like jokes that can kind of read better once you actually see them with the dinosaur.
Well, I think Brad said that because he directed "Casper" back when CGI was still fairly new and people were still trying to figure out how to do it, I think Brad's one of those rare guys who's been doing this for awhile. There's still a lot of directors who are just getting their legs under them with this tech, but he seems like he's very comfortable with it and probably didn't put a lot of the baggage on you guys. He just knew technically what he would need.
He's just a very comfortable person. For the idea of, like, he was directing a multi-million dollar movie, he was the most laid-back, super sweet, encouraging... he's really like one of my favorite people. It's certainly good for comedy, for not feeling like the pressure of, like, oh my God we're burning film. This set costs $2 million. You know, like, well, that's the stuff you'd normally freak out about. He's just laid-back, but, yeah I'm sure that helped. He sort of described his process working on "Casper," and a lot of that was stuff that they were kind of making up on the fly.
Written and re-written as it was happening.
Yeah. I think a lot of people don't realize how cutting edge he was with that and how that was still, at that point, something nobody had done really. And to have whole characters that didn't exist, you know now it's almost commonplace. Now we're kind of used to that in films, but I think that to be upfront with it, he's had time to really figure out how to shoot that stuff. Grumpy really works in the movie. Like that's a big part of, I think, why the movie sticks the landing is he works as a character and after awhile you stop thinking about the effect. His interaction with you guys is so right.
That's awesome. Dude, I love that you're saying this stuff because I'm super excited to see it tomorrow. Like I have no real...
It really surprised, I think, everybody that was in the row with me. Like there were a lot of people beforehand who... we've just reached this point I think in the culture where a lot of people are burned out on the idea of remakes and sequels and prequels and reboots and things like that, and so if it works, it still works as a film, and that's what we all walked out saying. It really doesn't matter what the source was, that just worked as a movie, so ultimately...
Yeah, yeah. That's great.
Yeah, that's what it has to do. Jorma, I've always wondered, how do I say your last name?
It's actually Ta-cone-knee. It's actually Taccone.
Okay. Taccone. It's a real pleasure to meet you, man, and finally speak with you. I love the work you guys have done with "Lonely Island," and to see you kind of take this step as a performer with something that's just yours... I really enjoyed it, and I wish you well with whatever you guys end up doing in the future, man.
Dude, thank you so much, and I'm sure we'll be talking to you again soon hopefully.
All right. Best of luck with it. I really hope people check it out and give it a try, and I think people are going to be really pleased with it. Take care and have a great time this weekend.
Jorma: I'm very excited to see it tomorrow.
Reviews on the film are all over the place, but I stick by everything I said to Jorma and Danny McBride and Will Ferrell in our interviews... I like this movie. It's not the best film of the summer, and it's uneven in places, but it's very funny at times, and it's so resolutely weird that I would recommend giving it a try. If you hate it, I'm betting you'll hate it completely, but if you like it, I'll bet it's one of those films that you find yourself laughing about days later.
"Marco." "Polo." Indeed.
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