Amy Heckerling is one of the most commercially successful directors of the past two decades. Her first feature film, 1982's Fast Times At Ridgemont High, was a scathingly funny look at high-school life that has become a classic in its genre. She followed Fast Times with the critical and commercial flop Johnny Dangerously and the commercially successful but critically maligned National Lampoon's European Vacation. In 1989, she wrote and directed the smash Look Who's Talking, and later co-wrote and directed its sequel. Heckerling's last film as a writer-director was the hit comedy Clueless, for which she won a best screenplay award from the National Society Of Film Critics. Heckerling recently produced John Fortenberry's A Night At The Roxbury. Chris Kattan is a writer and performer for Saturday Night Live, as well as a former member of the Los Angeles comedy group The Groundlings. He cowrote and stars in A Night At The Roxbury. The Onion recently spoke with Heckerling and Kattan about their new film, their checkered past, and whether A Night At The Roxbury is a better film than It's Pat: The Movie.
The Onion: I guess the most obvious question is, "Why make a movie about the Roxbury Guys?"
Amy Heckerling: There was a public mandate.
Chris Kattan: The public would not stop demanding it.
AH: We gave in to the pressure.
O: Seriously, why make this film?
CK: First of all, the sketch worked. You know, you get feedback on whether sketches work or not. This was an ongoing thing, and it really caught on in the show. The characters were over-the-top, they didn't speak, they just bopped. It was like an MTV three-minute movie, just non-stop, crazyand it was funny. It was hilarious. The Jim Carrey one was great.
AH: The Jim Carrey one was hilarious. They were hilarious. They're hilarious characters, and I think everyone can relate to them, because we all know that there is a big party out there and we're not invited. These guys are sort of the epitome of that sort of outsider. They're standing outside the club, thinking they'll make it, and anybody looking at their suits knows that they won't.
CK: When Lorne Michaels called Will [Ferrell, the other Roxbury Guy] and me over Christmas break and said, "Do you guys want to do a Roxbury Guys movie?," the first thing that came to my head was, "I don't know. They don't talk." And then he said, "Amy Heckerling called me and said she wanted to do it." I was like, "Oh, okay." She ended up really bringing out the humanity and the vulnerability of the characters, like she did so well in Clueless and Fast Times. And we end up liking even the most despicable of characters.
O: Like Richard Grieco.
AH: Did you see the movie?
O: Yes, I did.
AH: Did you like it?
O: [Pauses; makes "don't ask me that question" gesture.] Um... There were parts about it that I liked. There were things I liked about it. [Note: This is a lie. ed.] And it was short. You know? Really short. Only, like, 83 minutes.
AH: We believe that you should be able to see a lot more movies.
CK: Did you enjoy it? Did you have fun? Did you think it was fun?
O: [Lying.] Yeah, sure. It was a... fun movie.
AH: And yet it sparks so much conversation and thought.
CK: You wouldn't say that about something like It's Pat.
O: No, no. Of course not. Is that something you were worried about, that it would be another It's Pat?
CK: Well, yeah. At first, you never know; it could be anything.
O: Right. But in the sketch, the characters don't talk.
AH: Well, actually, they're talking, but the music is so loud that you don't hear them. So it's not like The Bellboy, where Jerry Lewis is stumbling around refusing to talk in a world of talkers. It's that, in that particular time that we're seeing them, which is the nighttime, when they're driving and going to clubs, the music is so loud that they have to yell. But there's no reason to think that those guys wouldn't talk. So people go, "But that's like mime!" But, no, it isn't. It just happens to be loud and they're yelling. But they're doing that whole, "Do you wanna dance?" and, "Who, me? Him?" thing. Meaningful dialogue is occurring. It's just...
O: That people can't hear them.
AH: Right. It's not like Jacques Tati.
O: So you wouldn't compare A Night At The Roxbury to the work of Jacques Tati. You didn't pitch it as, like, Mon Oncle at the disco or anything.
CK: Mon Oncle de Disco, right.
O: But for the movie, you had to come up with a backstory for the characters, right?
AH: Yeah, but like every movie or story, you have to start with the spark of a scene or a character or...
CK: Like The Blues Brothers.
AH: And then you have to make up backstories for all the characters. Any script you write, you have to give them whole identities.
CK: There were the same questions with Wayne's World or The Blues Brothers. I mean, all you know is that they're brothers. And they sing the blues. Together. You don't know anything else.
AH: You know, Wayne and Garth were supposed to be kids, and they wanted to have their own show. You know that [the Roxbury Guys] want to have a good time on Saturday night, and...
CK: And bop their heads.
AH: They want to get girlfriends and dance and get into cool places, and nobody wants them. So you figure, "What happens to them during the day?" They work for their father, who doesn't want them, either. It's just a continuation of who they are.
O: Did you think about giving them different backstories?
CK: Yeah. You're thinking, "Should they be brothers? Should they be individuals?" Should they be New York or should they be L.A?
AH: But they look so much like brothers.
CK: [Laughs.] Oh yeah, exactly. It's funny that they're brothers, because they don't look at all alike. At first, they might have had separate backstories, but it turned out to just be funnier if they were brothers.
AH: And if you don't explain why one is short and Jewish and the other was tall and WASP-y. [Laughs.]
O: But aren't they supposed to be Lebanese?
CK: Middle Eastern.
AH: There are a lot of people in Beverly Hills who come from the Middle East, who are very much a part of the Beverly Hills fabric, and their kids grew up with the privileges of Beverly Hills. And yet they still have to deal with a lot of the prejudice against them, for being foreign-born. So it's that combination of, "You have stuff but you're not really an insider" that worked.
O: Also, in the sketches, the characters are from New York.
CK: Right. It's easier to have things take place in New York when you're writing it in New York. But then we thought about the film, and, if it was in New York, you'd have the whole "crossing the bridge into paradise" thing from Saturday Night Fever.
O: And 54.
AH: Did you see 54?
O: Yes. It's safe to say that I'm not very fond of that film. Apparently it was re-edited very heavily.
AH: They re-shot a lot of it. I sometimes think it's better to go with a bad movie that is true to a certain point of view than to take something and make people try to like it when they're not supposed to.
O: It seems like there's this big glut of movies about disco right now.
CK: But this is the funny one.
AH: This one treats disco like it should be treated. It's fun.
O: What do you think is the significance of disco in the film?
AH: Um, the significance. That's like a word you shouldn't use in this context. It's like, if that's what [the Roxbury Guys] are wearing is their idea of the perfect suit, then what is going to be their idea of the perfect song?
CK: Or the perfect club. Or the perfect idol, Richard Grieco. It's all just a little bit whacked. But you wouldn't call it disco any more. You'd call it "clubbin'."
O: But the Roxbury is an actual club in Los Angeles, isn't it?
AH: It used to be. We just shot it somewhere else. Actually, the Roxbury was very hip in the '80s, and then it closed down while we were writing the movie. It's now a Japanese restaurant. The owner might open it somewhere else. We had to pay a lot of money to get them to let us use the name, which is also the name of a street. I don't know why we had to pay him. We could just call it A Night At The Roxbury, That Street Between Camden And... What was your question?
O: It was that you used an actual disco for the film.
AH: Yeah, actually a place called the Mayan Club that was architecturally a lot more interesting and better for shooting, and had better ceilings for lights.
O: In the film, there are parodies of both Jerry Maguire and Say Anything. Was that intentional? Did you specifically want to spoof the films of Cameron Crowe [who wrote the script for Fast Times At Ridgemont High]?
AH: It just worked out that the two things were both from Cameron Crowe movies that they wanted to poke fun at. But Cameron really liked it. I showed it to him. He was very flattered.
O: But you couldn't find a way to parody, say, Singles or The Wild Life?
CK: We weren't even really on a mission to do that. We knew that the wedding had to be interrupted by the music and by that song. And it had to be interrupted by bopping. In terms of the sketch, this was how those guys connect.
AH: It was kind of like Say Anything meets The Graduate.
O: [To Heckerling.] You produced the Clueless TV show, right?
AH: I did the first 13, and the rest I have nothing to say about except, "Please watch the show for the next year so it can go into syndication."
O: But it's on UPN, right?
AH: And I couldn't be prouder.
O: I was looking through the press packet and, Chris, it says that you appeared on Def Comedy Jam.
CK: It was the Def Comedy Jam pilot for Fox. I played the dumb white guy, basically.
O: I didn't even know about this pilot.
CK: This was before [I was on] Saturday Night Live, and Russell Simmons basically got his best Def Comedy Jam guyslike, uh, Reggie something, Reggie Sanders or somethingand said, "Hey, we'll do a sketch show our way." So at the last minute I did it, because it was a job and I was the dumb white guy. Like, I'd walk into the city and someone would say, "Hey, you're going the wrong way!" And then I'd be pushed off a building.
O: And then they'd just repeat that skit over and over again.
CK: No, it was completely thankless. But it was an experience. It was almost seven years ago.
O: Yeah, and the odd thing about Def Comedy Jam is that it was inextricably linked with profanity.
CK: Yeah, that's the thing. It's Def Jam, but it's on Fox? But who knows? It could have worked. You never know.
O: There have been two directors on Roxbury, haven't there? Peter Markle [Wagons East, Hot Dog... The Movie] and John Fortenberry?
AH: Yeah, well, it's a movie that's too good for just one director.
O: Yeah, but what did you feel that John Fortenberry, director of Jury Duty, could bring to the film?
AH: I know, but that's not his fault. He also directed Medusa: Dare To Be Truthful, which was hilarious. And he directed half of the Clueless episodes of the first season, and he and I had very similar sensibilities. When he was directing an episode, I knew I could relax and trust him. It was a very comfortable situation, and we got along real well. I like the way he sees things.
O: Has Haddaway [whose song "What Is Love" is featured prominently in both the skit and the movie] seen the film yet?
CK: I have no idea. We never even heard from him about using the song in the sketch. Not even a thank-you note.
AH: And then they put it on all these dance-party albums, and it's the Saturday Night Live mix.