In 2015, HBO dropped a sports documentary called 7 Days in Hell that sure looked like a genuine chronicle of a legendary tennis match, but was actually an artfully concocted comedy from the minds of Andy Samberg, director Jake Szymanski, and writer Murray Miller. The trio have reunited for an all-new sports mockumentary follow-up of sorts called Tour de Pharmacy, debuting on HBO on July 8th, this time taking on the sport of cycling.
Narrated by Jon Hamm, this mockumentary chronicles a 1982 cycling event in all its silly glory, with Samberg, Orlando Bloom, Daveed Diggs, John Cena, and Freddie Highmore portraying the main players in that event while a litany of celebrities contextualize the story in modern day, talking head-style interviews. It’s a hilarious, insane, and surprisingly compelling watch complete with some genuine twists and turns and fantastic cameos (hint: listen closely to the voiceover work).
In anticipation of the film’s debut, I recently got to speak with Samberg for an exclusive interview about Tour de Pharmacy. We discussed how the project came together, the fast-paced production process, how they went about assembling the ridiculous ensemble cast, whether it was tough to convince Lance Armstrong to participate, and a lot more. Additionally, we also chatted about Kyle Mooney’s excellent upcoming film Brigsby Bear, which Samberg produced, as well as Mark Hamill’s performance in that film. We also touched on Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s cliffhanger finale, if they’ve discussed an end point for the series yet, and the creative process on that show. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t bring up the sorely underseen Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, watch this space—I conducted a lengthy, exclusive interview with the whole Lonely Island crew about all things Popstar that’ll be on Collider soon.
If you liked 7 Days in Hell, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll dig Tour de Pharmacy. It’s a bonkers, funny ride that definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome, so I highly recommend checking it out. Read the full interview with Samberg below.
So how did this idea first come about? I know it’s kind of the same team behind 7 Days in Hell.
ANDY SAMBERG: Yeah me and Murray Miller, and then Jake Szymanski directed it. Basically, after 7 Days in Hell, and kind of even before it, we had hoped that we could try and turn this into like a comedy 30 for 30, or HBO Sports Presents kind of a thing. And then 7 Days in Hell, as far as we could tell, was received well, and we were really happy with it creatively, so we asked HBO if they’d be up for another one and they said “Absolutely.” So we just started racking our brains for sports that we thought we could do funny stuff with, and cycling definitely leapt out at us. So we just kind of started to hammer it.
When did you guys shoot this? Because I know you shot 7 Days in Hell super quickly. Was it kind of a similar production process on this one?
SAMBERG: It was. It was definitely a little more ambitious, but not totally dissimilar. We shot it last summer, right before I started shooting the most recent season of Brooklyn, and I think the primary shooting day, like all the cycling stuff, was like four days, and that was intense, heavy, big shoot days in the mountains all around LA and outside of LA. And then, we just sort of pick up talking heads throughout the year to finish it, which is how we did 7 Days also.
Is it mostly scripted, or is there a lot of kind of finding it on the day?
SAMBERG: Mostly scripted, and then— Actually the majority of the time we improvise and add stuff is in the talking heads. So we’ll set an hour or two hours, whatever the actor has, to sit down with somebody, and we’ll have a ton of alts to try with them, and then once we’re there, Murray, Jake and myself will come up with stuff and throw it out as we’re shooting.
The talking heads are great. I knew that J.J. Abrams was in the cast, and I was like, “Oh, is he playing like an older James Marsden?” and then it’s like, no, it’s J.J. Abrams, filmmaker.
SAMBERG: (Laughs) I was so excited to do it with J.J., he’s so funny.
How did that come about?
SAMBERG: He and I have been kind of friends since I hosted the MTV Movie Awards. I did this video called “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions.” I was obsessed with J.J. for all of the stuff he’d done before, but then especially at that moment, he had just made the first Star Trek movie, the reboot that he did, and I was obsessed with it, and I also knew that he played music and stuff, so I asked him to come do the keyboard solo in that video with Will Ferrell and me. And we kind of just got to be friendly through that, and I’ve stayed in touch since then, and when we had this whole bit in Tour de Pharmacy about the French New Wave in filmmaking and stuff, and somebody who could speak really whimsically about filmmaking, and I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve gotta ask J.J. because he’s arguably the biggest director in the world.” And how funny would that be? And he was totally game for it. It was funny.
He’s so great in it, he’s really funny.
SAMBERG: Yeah, I agree, I thought he killed it. I’m super happy.
I mean, the whole movie is silly, but when you see that Jeff Goldblum is playing the older version of you, what’s it like to not only cast Jeff Goldblum as the older version of yourself, but to watch that play out?
SAMBERG: (Laughs) I mean, it was a dream come true obviously. In retrospect, we shot his stuff after we shot my stuff, and I think if we’d shot him first, I probably would have leaned harder into doing a young Goldblum. And also, I will say, it’s hilarious that he’s in better shape now than I’m supposed to be in 1982 as him. Because he is fit. A real tall drink of water.
He seems totally game to just really ham it up, and just go super silly on this.
SAMBERG: Yeah, and he was swimming in it. Like, when we shot with him, he did like 20 takes with every line. It was definitely one of those cliché moments of like, everyone on set was trying hard not to laugh at takes, because he’s such a goof. And you know, it’s Goldblum. He’s a legend.
Yeah, there’s no one else like him. And the rest of the cast is terrific too. I didn’t know I needed a comedy with Daveed Diggs and John Cena, but I mean, here we are. And Freddie Highmore. How did all of that casting come about?
SAMBERG: Yeah, he was great, and also just the sweetest guy, Freddie, I love him. Yeah, it all weirdly just came together. I mean, the cool thing about doing this one was that we had 7 Days in Hell as the calling card a little bit, so when we started casting, we were just like, “Oh, you know who would be great is Freddie Highmore and John Cena,” and we just called up people and were like, “Tell them to watch 7 Days in Hell,” and if they like that, then, it’s gonna be like that. It made it really nice in that, everyone who showed up was like—John Cena kept being like, “Yeah, let’s get weird. Let’s fucking get weird, I’m up for it. Let’s do it.” Because he came in being like, “Yeah, it’s gonna be bonkers.” And when you have everyone there sort of understanding what you’re going for, you generally attract people that are into that. So it was really smooth actually.