Along with being the producer of Jared and Jerusha Hess’ latest film, “Gentlemen Broncos”, Mike White also plays the role of Dusty. In the film’s unusual world, in which 17-year-old Benjamin Purvis (Michael Angarano) has his prized science-fiction story stolen by his idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), at a writers camp, Dusty is an odd, scraggly-haired member of the Purvis’ church who takes his giant albino snake with him everywhere.
At the press day for the film, Mike White talked about working with his friends, the Hesses, and bonding with the snake, known as Peaches.
Question: Was Dusty a difficult character to play?
Mike: I don’t think I’m like Dusty, but I’m not afraid to be weird, so I wasn’t going to resist any of Jared’s impulses. Ultimately, the vision of the character was his, but I was weird enough to go with it.
How much did you contribute to the look of the character?
Mike: Very little. Do you think I would choose to look like that? Even my mom started crying, when she saw the preview. She was like, “That’s not your best look.” I think of him as the albino Slick Rick. It was pretty fun to walk around Salt Lake City, on breaks from the set, and go to Chipotle and scare everybody. At first, I thought I was going to get beaten up, but then I realized that everybody was more afraid that I was a crackhead who was coming to beat them up.
What was the snake like to work with? Was he hard to deal with?
Mike: The snake was a sweetheart. His name was Peaches and he was a good snake. I didn’t have any problem with it. Have you ever been snorkeling, when you’re going along and it’s all right and then, suddenly, you get the heebie jeebies and you’re like, “What am I doing down here?” That’s how it was with the snake. I’d be like, “What is going on?”
How do you find chemistry with a snake?
Mike: Hours and hours were spent with that snake around my neck, and I think we built a real creative collaboration.
What is the dynamic between Jared and Jerusha Hess on set?
Mike: The reason I produced the movie and was involved was because we did Nacho Libre together, and I actually flew out to Salt Lake and spent a lot of time with them. I consider them good friends, and they’re just super-fun people. Jared is a weird mix of so emotionally mature, but so totally immature, at the same time, as far as what makes him laugh and his antic spirit. He’s just a special guy, and they have a cool relationship. It’s fun to be a part of their stuff. Jerusha is more of the practical one, who is more like, “Jared, come on. We’ve gotta get working.” But, she also has a really wicked, mischievous sense of humor.
Mike: I definitely could relate. I’m not so much a sci-fi geek as Benjamin. But, both him and his mom are these folk artists who are self-taught and who have impulses to create, and they’re insecure about whether there’s an audience for what they do, or if anybody is going to like their stuff. They’re supports for each other, and they find that there is a place for them and an audience for what they do, and they have a little success at the end. That story is something that I certainly could relate to and would like to see.
Does this movie perpetuate the stereotype of sci-fi fans, or does it pay homage to them?
Mike: I think it pays homage. Certainly, there are people in the movie that you feel are going overboard, but I think it celebrates it. A lot of the movie is about fan fiction and cinemashing, and people taking something that someone else has created, getting inspired by that and making their own versions. It borders on plagiarism in moments in this movie, but a work of art can live on past its own thing, whether it’s dressing up in the clothes of the characters that they like or writing their own version of the story. I know where Jared comes out on that. He’s a celebrator of those kinds of creative activities.
How do you deal with plagiarism? Have you ever had any of your work stolen?
Mike: There’s always that, but the stuff that I write is not in the world of high-concept movies. If the concepts were so high-concept, I’d be more like, “I should save this idea because it’s so great that I smell money.” But, the stuff I come up with are concepts that hopefully will be better on the page. Usually, it’s not the concepts that sell it. Hopefully, it’s the execution of it. We all drink from the same well, so a lot of times, people will have similar ideas, at the same time, and there’s a reason for it. It’s in the ether or the zeitgeist, or whatever.
As a producer, are you budget conscious while you’re reading a script?
Mike: Yeah. This movie is unique and clearly not totally mainstream, so you have to keep that in mind, as you’re writing it, and then you have to make the scale make sense and be practical for what the spirit of the movie is. It would make no sense to have something that’s real unique, in terms of structure, theme or character, and then have all these expensive practical needs. I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s just going to be a heartbreaking journey to try to make that happen. If you’re going to do something weird, you need to figure out how to do that at a responsible budget. If you’re doing something that’s a big tent idea, you can open it up more. That being said, this movie wouldn’t be any funnier, if we’d had a lot more money. Some of the low-fi, podunk aspects fo the sci-fi world is what actually adds to the humor. As much as it seemed ambitious on the page, I knew that Jared’s vision was more of a low-fi version of it, so it was something that was possible for us to do.
When you’re on set, how do you know when something is funny or just really awkward?
Mike: In the end, a lot of that is subjective anyway. Some people will find those scenes funny and some people won’t. My mom still doesn’t get Napoleon Dynamite or Nacho Libre, and she’s definitely not going to get this film. But, at the same time, there are a lot of people that will get it, so you have to make it for your tribe. On set, you don’t know. I’m sure there was stuff that Jared thought was so funny on the set, and then you put it in the movie and it’s not as funny. A lot of times, the things that get the biggest reaction on the set, that everyone thinks is just so funny and the crew is cracking up, you put it in your edit and realize, “That’s not as funny once it’s mounted in the movie, as it was on the day.” And, a lot of times, you miss things on the set because something is subtle, and then you see it in the film and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh! This person was doing something amazing.”
Was there room to ad-lib on this?
Mike: There’s definitely ad-libbing, but ultimately, in the final product, a lot of the ad-libbing goes away. Jared has a thing that he sees and he sticks to that. There are other comedy directors who work with a script that’s undercooked, and then everyone brings their own stuff to it.
What was it like to work with Jennifer Coolidge?
Mike: She’s so awesome. She’s just one of the funniest people. Obviously, she’s funny in movies. If I was ever in a plane crash, I’d want her to be there with me ’cause I would be laughing, all the way down.
Did you always know that you’d be in the film, or did you sign on as producer first?
Mike: Jared actually asked me to be in it before he asked me to produce it.
Were you involved in the casting process with this?
Mike: Yeah. I definitely gave my suggestions, and some of the people ended up in the movie, but it was more my job to support the people that Jared liked. I watched casting tapes, but most of the casting was his.
What was the biggest difference of working on Nacho Libre versus this film?
Mike: It’s so different because we made Nacho in Mexico with a Spanish-speaking crew. Working in Salt Lake, Jared and Jerusha are Mormons and there was a lot of people from their world there. So, the people were really different, but at the same time, equally good-hearted with a cool vibe on the set. My experience in Mexico, making that movie, was probably one of the best professional experiences I ever had. There’s something magical about Oaxaca and the vibe of the people. It was just very unique for me. But, they were both fun. You just make a lot of cool memories, along the way.