Comic-Con played host to the world premiere of The Sidekick, a short film about a career sidekick who finds himself sidelined by his long-time superhero partner. When Captain Wonder (Ron Livingston) kicks Max McCabe (Rob Benedict) to the curb, Max must go in search of a new purpose or risk being labeled a has-been for the rest of his life. If you missed our panel recap or the short’s hilarious trailer, check them both out here.
Just before the premiere, we had a chance to interview the cast and crew of The Sidekick in a series of roundtable interviews. They talked about how they came to be involved with the project, how it fits into today’s superhero culture, why Comic-Con was a perfect place to unveil it and what their plans are for the future of the show. Hit the jump for interviews with with Rob Benedict, Lizzy Caplan, Jordan Peele, Josh Meyers, Jason Ritter, Richard Speight Jr. and director Michael Weithorn.
Michael Weithorn: I’m the director and I produced it along with Rob Benedict, the brains of the operation over there.
Richard Speight Jr.: I, on the other hand, had a much smaller impact on the whole project. I was an actor in the film and, have you gone over what the film is essentially?
Weithorn: No, I haven’t started yet.
Speight Jr.: It’s called The Sidekick and I’m a sidekick but I’m not the sidekick. Rob Benedict is the sidekick.
Weithorn: And by the way, I want to say Richard had, actually, a much bigger role than that would suggest. He was incredibly instrumental. He had done a film … Rob and Richard were friends and Richard was incredibly helpful in helping us navigate the process, putting us together with people behind the scenes, crew and cast. We couldn’t have done it without him.
It seems very friendly.
Speight Jr.: No. God, no. [laughter] There was so much drugs and alcohol on that set.
Well, that’s friendly, right?
Speight Jr.: You would think. But what happens is, you get too high and it becomes about fighting, brawling and cursing. [laughter] And grabbing, there’s a lot of grabbing. It was a very nice group of people. You were there for the whole run, but I came in, because I was hanging out in the trailer with Sam McMurray, who’s just hilarious and awesome, and all these guys who I’ve looked up to for a while and enjoyed their work for years, everybody was so nice. But I think that is, the team you guys put together … you had a great piece of material. You and Rob sort of culled from your friends for crew and cast so that everybody was there because they wanted to be there. Nobody was there because they were collecting a paycheck. They were there because they enjoyed the material and wanted to be a part of it.
Weithorn: I had worked almost exclusively my whole career in network television and so to do something like this where there’s no budget and people are just doing it because it’s a labor of love and are there because they want to, it just changes the dynamic completely in a wonderful way. These guys all knew each other. I knew Rob, but I didn’t know a lot of his friends who did it, so just to get the chance to work with them, incredibly talented people who are just there to do it and have fun, there’s no agenda, there’s no prima donnas, everybody is just there to do it.
Did you guys decide that everyone gets to pick their own superhero look and personality?
Speight Jr.: What was the name of your costume designer?
Weithorn: We had a great costumer named Jacqueline Aronson who’s done a lot of big stuff, who just did this again because she liked it. She had a vision, an elaborate vision … when we first met with her, she had all these drawings of these characters and things that we hadn’t even thought of that just created a feeling. Richard plays a sidekick as well and he and Rob meet, each thinking the other is a superhero and they’re there to apply for a job. They discover they’re both sidekicks.
Speight Jr.: Two flunkies. [laughter]
Weithorn: So she came up with uniforms that they each had that weren’t identical, but similar enough that it made the joke work visually, that they’re both sidekicks. It’s so important to have people who are being creative on every level, especially with a comedy. So we were really lucky for that.
Speight Jr.: Yeah, she did. She was the brainchild behind all this stuff and it’s really funny. It’s a whole other level of comedy.
Did you guys grow up reading superhero stories? Did you have any affinity for it?
Weithorn: I read comic books at camps, Superman, whatever. I was a geek in other ways [laughs], not that particular way. This is Rob’s brainchild, to do it in the superhero genre, but it was fun for me to do.
Speight Jr.: I was more into … I was never a comic book reader, per se. I was more of a watcher; I would watch the old Spider-Man cartoons and Batman cartoons, the Aquaman stuff and the Hulk, I was infatuated with the Hulk, but I was a TV kid, so I was watching all this stuff growing up. It’s one of the reasons I thought the idea was so clever and why it attracted talent, aside from the fact that Rob’s likable and Michael’s likable, but if the piece stunk, nobody would want to do it.
It’s a clever idea. Sidekicks are limited in their power; they only have X number of skills that they bring to the table. Like Robin on his own? Not going to make a big splash, do you know what I mean? It was a clever conceit to go, “What does happen to these guys who, if they’ve been in the superhero world their whole life, they have no other tangible skills for the workforce, but they have nobody to follow around and assist?” I thought it was a very interesting idea.
When I was a kid … do you guys remember the Wonder Twins? Wonder Twins is a constant source of … how are they getting around? He can only be an animal, she can only be a form of water. [laughter] That’s very limited.
They were superheroes who were both sidekicks.
Speight Jr.: I kinda feel like they were both sidekicks.
Are there a lot of pop culture references for people over 40 in the movie?
Weithorn: Not really, no. In a general sense, it’s about what it feels like to be past your prime; not completely, not 20 years past it, but five years past it and not wanting to let go. It’s for people who’ve experienced that in any way and to take that and put it quite literally in the superhero genre was the conceit of the film.
Can you talk about bringing this to Comic-Con and, if this is your first Comic-Con, what has your experience been like so far?
Weithorn: Well, this is my first Comic-Con and we’re really excited to be able to premiere the thing here because it’s just natural. Obviously this has become a huge event and a lot of attention and publicity. We’re hoping just to start … the intention is to try to develop this as a series, either cable or internet in some way, so we’ve been waiting to do this and see how it goes over and see what kind of reception we get. So it’s great. After today, I’m just going to walk around and take in the freak show. [laughter]
Speight Jr.: It’s awesome. I came to Comic-Con last year for the first time. Rob and I also do … on Saturday, we do live coverage for Gamespot.com. Last year was the first year I did it. It’s overwhelming in an awesome way. I watch TV, I watch movies, I know a little bit about comics. There are some deep roots of heavy-genre materials and shows that I’ve never heard of that I’ve found fascinating. And the cosplay! Can we discuss the cosplay? That is off the hook!
Weithorn: I don’t know if I know what that is.
Speight Jr.: It’s the dressing up! He’s so new to this!
Continue to page two for interviews with Peele and Meyers. Our interview with Benedict, Caplan and Ritter can be found on page three.
Sidecar Willy? We’re going to have to talk more about that.
Josh Meyers: And I’m Jimmy T. [pauses] Not as exciting of a name. [laughter] It got no reaction from the table. Sidecar Willy, everyone’s like, “Oh!”
Is that like the Jimmy Olsen kind of character?
Meyers: No, Jimmy T is just a prick. He’s an uppity sidekick is rubbing it in the face of Max (Benedict) who’s just lost his job as a sidekick.
Has to be one in every movie.
Meyers: Yeah and it always seems to be me. [laughter] That’s what I play!
Do you guys draw inspiration for your characters from any other comics?
Peele: Good question. Robbie Benedict wrote the movie and produced it and starred in it as well. I think he sort of wrote the characters toward us. Like Josh was saying, we all play sidekicks who are in this sidekick community and I think they’re slightly referential to people. The character that I’m the sidekick of, I don’t know if there’s a parallel to him. He’s like a super-fast Mad Max-y motorcycle guy. It rings true. I can’t point to an actual guy, but every different superhero had a bit of a different style and came from a bit of a different world and so did their sidekicks.
I’m assuming, since you are Sidecar Willy, you spend most of your time in a sidecar?
Peele: I actually don’t. I have the leather jacket, I’ve got the goggles, the sidecar is implied. It is implied.
Meyers: Don’t you have like a bad hip or something from riding? [laughter]
Peele: I was internalizing that.
Meyers: That’s good! That’s acting. We’ll see it when we watch it.
In talking about the costumes, did you guys have any input for what you had to wear or did they just present it to you?
Meyers: Mine was pretty much straight tight white Lycra. [laughter] My choice. I think also a white sort of underpants situation going on. I didn’t have a lot of input.
Peele: Certainly it was lofted up to us like, “Whatever input you guys have, bring it.” Rob’s a good friend of ours so there’s a lot of trust. He trusts in our experience and ability to put the piece together in character, but what we work off of well is seeing the outfit and that helping us create the character. It’s a lot of tights in this movie and it worked. When they first unveiled the Sidecar Willy thing, I just said, “Alright, that’s it. I see him.”
Meyers: Put me in white Lycra and then give me a spray tan, a little tinting in my hair, it’s amazing the jerk that will come out. [laughter] It’s so natural.
Peele: I didn’t even realize that you had a spray tan.
Meyers: Yeah, it was a slow start to the shooting day and it was the first thing we wanted to shoot and I was complaining, saying, “If this is the thing that’s holding us up, we might not need the spray tan.” Rob said, “No, we definitely need the spray tan.” We held shooting so that I could be a few shades browner.
Peele: Just for me to not even notice.
Meyers: Right. [laughter]
How long was the shoot and how long were you guys on it?
Meyers: I feel like they did four or five days maybe. I worked a day, you worked a couple.
Peele: I worked a couple, yeah. Both days we were in there maybe four or five hours. Two scenes. I still haven’t seen the movie, but one of the cool things about it is that there are so many funny people coming in. I think part of the world is getting that variety. Everybody has a scene.
Did you guys rehearse at all or was it just on set?
Meyers: It was on set. The scene that I was in was with Jordan, Ike Barinholtz, myself …
Peele: In a Laundromat.
Meyers: In a Laundromat. All friends for between 12 and 16 years, so it was not something that we needed to really work through. Pretty confident going in that it was going to be alright. It was very loose. We certainly got what was in the script but then we got a lot of things that weren’t on the page.
Peele: A lot of the humor in the film comes from just taking this heightened reality and placing it in the most casual, real conversation, real people with real problems, real flaws. It doesn’t play like any other kind of superhero world you’ve ever seen. It plays on such a small scale level, which is part of the satire on sidekicks. There’s this dude running around admittedly inferior to his partner. [laughter]
Meyers: And he knows he never aspired to be #1 because he knew he didn’t have it in him. He’s that kind of guy.
Meyers: I don’t know if we’d go web series, TV series, Adult Swim, something like that where we’d have 15-minute episodes, but I feel like Rob would like to expand and have the Sidecar Willy episode and the Jimmy T episode and have it be the kind of show where you could get a lot of good people to come in and do a week and have their episode and maybe pop in here and there, to have that freedom to not lock actors into something. And also have the joy of, “Oh, next week I’m doing my Sidekick episode!”
Peele: You’ve got to think that if it went to series it would just be a revolving door of comedic talent coming in and playing a new character; it would be an ever-expanding world. I think Sidecar Willly actually is a super-villain’s sidekick.
Meyers: He is, but they get along. And Martin Starr plays a villain, but they’re all friends, like they all went to the same high school. “We know you!”
Peele: Another part of the allegory, if I remember right, it feels like actors.
Meyers: It’s a bit of that, it’s a bit of Robbie’s mid-life crisis. [laughter] Which he wrote an article for on HuffPo, that exactly.
Our interview with Benedict, Caplan and Ritter can be found on page three.
Rob Benedict: I always loved Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, that’s as deep as it went for me, but I was a huge fan of those characters and the subsequent movies made about them and the comic books. I always found myself identifying with sidekick characters, like Robin. I have a brother who’s 6’4” so growing up in his shadow as the little guy … I’m little now, but then I was little-little, like they thought there was something wrong with me.
Lizzy Caplan: I never knew your brother was 6’4”.
Benedict: Yeah, he’s 6’4”. He set records at basketball in high school. And I came in and they’re like, “Oh … maybe theater?” [laughs] So I always identified with “the buddy.” So that was where that all came from in my mind.
When you established this world, you wrote a superhero story in a comedic way where it seems that the characters are all living in a normal world where there are superheroes. What made you want to write a superhero story that way?
Benedict: Yeah, exactly. The whole thing for me was an allegory for where I was at in life and ultimately an allegory for anybody who’s getting older and feeling, questioning what their real purpose in life is. What’s your purpose? For me it became that being an actor was all I’ve ever done and all I’ve known to do, it’s what I’ve trained for, I feel like it’s all I’ll ever be good at. So it was that realization of, “Oh my God, it’s too late for me! If I quit acting, I’m not qualified to do anything else! No one else will take me!” There’s some young whippersnapper who’s much more qualified. That’s what it came out as. So the fact that it was, for me, kind of an allegory, I wanted these to be real people, not some … I didn’t want to create a fake city. For me it took place in L.A.; it was just in L.A. where being a superhero was just another profession, like being an actor.
Did you write this with these guys in mind?
Benedict: I wrote it with these people in mind and went out on a limb to ask them to do it because these are all very busy actors and they’re all friends of mine, but it’s such a passion project for me, I’m like, “You know what? I’m gonna go for it. This is my dream cast.” And they were all able to do it. It was amazing. And look at all these people, they’re fantastic! So, yeah I really did write it with all of them in mind. It was great. It was such a gratifying feeling that they were able to do it.
You talked about this is where you were in your life and you come from the fandom of Supernatural, which I’m sure affected you a lot. Did that affect your character? Because who’s going to have a bigger fandom than superheroes?
Benedict: Early on there was a draft where he’d started abusing his … like he was stoned one day on the job and he just sort of let himself go. Some fans see him and they’re like, “What’s going on with Max?” Yeah there was definitely that element earlier in it. Yeah, the whole Supernatural thing has really opened my eyes to the fandom and being here at Comic-Con, too, which we did last year, too, that whole thing. I think in Supernatural, the thing that people identify with is the real person in these characters. They talk to each other like real people and that’s why I think it really connects with people. If anything, I think that’s what effect it has had on me.
Can you talk about how your characters fit in? I’m guessing Kid Loco is another sidekick. We’ve heard about Sidecar Willy. And then for Bailey, is she the only non-superpowered character in the show and how does she work in?
Caplan: Yeah, I guess I am. I meet the Max character when he’s in the depths of despair and I hopefully – no, I know how the story ends [laughter] – I help him see in fact that he’s a valuable guy, and a valuable guy to me.
Jason Ritter: I make him feel the exact opposite. When he gets booted out of being a sidekick to his hero, I’m the new guy that comes in and makes him feel not valuable and replaceable. I basically have the exact same uniform, but shinier.
Benedict: Yeah, they made the exact same uniform and then they made his all shiny and new. Mine’s all dull and faded. We actually took a great picture, it’s Ron Livingston, it’s us on either side and he’s all shiny.
Did you draw any characters from the new heroes?
Ritter: I think, because my character is not a good or nice person, it was more about him … it was all about the presentation, like, “I am a good guy!” and imagining what that looks like when reading a comic book. He has no real desire to be an actual good guy. He just wants to be a big famous hero.
Benedict: We were thinking about the TV show – Michael and I have all these ideas about spinning this into a show – Kid Loco, the fame goes to his head and he’s in like fur coats. [laughter]
Ritter: That’s tough. There are some that are my favorites of all time but I feel like there are already people doing better ones. Spider-Man has always been one of my favorites. I don’t know. Maybe I’d be Rusty Brown from Chris Ware’s graphic novels and see if anyone recognizes me.
Benedict: There are very specific things here that people are dressed up as and you’re like, “What are you?” And they say, “Uh, hello!” My problem is that some of my favorite characters don’t have great costumes, like Luke and Han Solo, I would love to go as Luke and Han Solo. I went as Han Solo for Halloween one year and my buddy was Chewbacca and we got split up [laughter] so now I’m just a dude in a vest with a gun. “What are you, like …?” “Oh, right, so I’m like … Harrison Ford.” I’ve got to rework that.
Would you guys be willing to wear your costumes out and walk around?
Caplan: Did you bring it?
Benedict: I didn’t. I should’ve. We would’ve rocked that. My hope is that next year people are dressing as those guys.
Where are you hoping to place the show?
Benedict: Right now we see it as a cable show or even the internet. We really like the Burning Love model which started on the internet and switched over. Michael and I sit down and talk about it, the Kid Loco story, it just spins into episodes. It’d be great if it could be … like the Burning Love thing is cool, too, because you can get actors like these guys that are working all the time to come in and do a one-off. It’s that kind of world where you can introduce a new character and then they’re gone.
Do you feel like the mediums are different? House of Cards just got nominated for Emmys.
Benedict: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s a different landscape than it was two years ago or so, so it’s totally legitimate to do it that way, and doable. You can keep it kinda edgy. This isn’t a network show.
Caplan: There’s a really good time and place for it, and it’s really awesome to see it working; like the Veronica Mars thing was amazing.
Benedict: Happened in like two days.
Caplan: But I get like seven Kickstarter requests every day.
Ritter: My favorite thing with Kickstarter is with musicians who are trying to record a CD or something and they’re struggling. I’m basically saying, “I want to buy your CD and I’m buying it before you make it.”
What about the Party Down movie?
Caplan: I don’t know. I’m hoping that it happens. Clearly the Veronica Mars thing made us renew hope in it. I’m not sure what that wants to be. Talking about the Burning Love thing, I don’t know if Party Down wants to be a movie or an Arrested Development kind of thing. Just getting to do it again would be amazing in any form.