Splitsider

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Talking to Chris Elliott and the Writers of Eagleheart About the New Season, Which Starts Tonight!

Eagleheart, Adult Swim’s fast-paced action-comedy starring Chris Elliott, premieres its second season tonight at midnight, and from what I’ve seen, this season will see the show become one of the craziest and funniest comedies on the air. I got to watch the first few episodes of the new season, and while I enjoyed Eagleheart last year, Season 2 blows it out of the water. Seriously, this is some awesome, really funny stuff that you shouldn’t miss, and you don’t have to have seen the first season to jump in this year.

I recently sat down with the show’s star, living comedy legend Chris Elliott, and the writers/executive producers Andrew Weinberg and Michael Koman, who also created the show, and Jason Woliner, who directs the bulk of the episodes. We had a fun and spirited chat that should get you excited about the show and cause you to question my qualifications as an interviewer.

Do you guys want to talk a little bit about how the idea for the show first came about?

Andrew Weinberg: Sure. Michael and I wrote for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and we did the Walker, Texas Ranger Lever when NBC bought Universal. The premise is that now, we could show all the Walker, Texas Ranger clips we want for free. So, we built the lever, and he’d pull it. So, Michael and I did that, and we watched hundreds of episodes to find those clips and became really fascinated with the pathology and politics that Chuck Norris injected into the show.

So, our original idea for Eagleheart – what the pilot actually was – was Eagleheart was the Walker, Texas Ranger-type fake action show, and you’d see little glimpses of that, but mainly, it was about the Chuck Norris real actor who just dominated this production and voiced his own views.

Jason Woliner: But then we threw all that out very quickly as soon as we made the pilot, and we kind of started from scratch. Once Chris was involved, we decided to make a really surreal, stupid action show starring Chris, Brett, and Maria, and it kind of lost all of the Walker stuff from the original idea these guys had.

Weinberg: It was never our intention to do a Walker parody, which is how it’s sometimes still described. That’s kind of a jumping-off point. That’s the setting of it, but we like to think that it goes beyond.

Michael Koman: But basically, we had this original idea, it was gonna be a TV show about an action show. Once we made the original pilot for Adult Swim, it clearly seemed like it was gonna be much funnier if we just make our own version of a cop show… establish our own rules. It’s not making fun of anything. It’s just ‘How crazy a story can we tell in 15 minutes?’ with Chris.

Did you have Chris in mind for the part originally?

Koman: We really wrote it around Chris once he was involved. That was the beginning of the show, really. The whole first season was really finding out what the show is and how to do this.

Chris Elliott: When we shot the pilot, I was way more comfortable doing the fake show within the show than playing the actor outside of that show. You can clearly see that, that I was having a lot more fun in those portions of it. It was just a better fit.

Chris, I feel like on the show, Brett Gelman is playing more the Chris Peterson-type role, and you have to play the straight man to him.

Elliott [faux-disappointed]: Yeah, I know…

Do you not enjoy that?

Elliott: [Laughs] No, actually, I really do enjoy it. I’m too old to be playing the Chris Peterson kind of guy at this point anyway. I’m sort of playing an element of that guy. I’m still playing this guy who has blinders on and is still a nut and out of his mind. I’ve always just kind of played attitudes. Just going from hot to cold really fast, and playing mean and really suave one moment to the next. I see what I’m playing as sort of a grown-up Chris Peterson, who’s now just more surly, crusty, and probably an alcoholic.

Koman: I mean, he still has a lot of unearned—

Elliott: Oh, shut up.

[Everyone laughs].

Elliott: But Brett has his own take on things. Brett does his own thing. He’s doing definitely the more outwardly idiotic version of us, but all three of us, including Maria, are idiots on the show.

Woliner: And Brett, I think, has a rage that I think is different from what Chris does. You never confuse them, but they’re all different levels of idiot.

Weinberg: Brett just has child-like emotions, just giddiness or rage.

Koman: You learn a lot more about the characters this season than you did in the first one, especially Brett and Maria.

What else has changed going into Season 2?

Woliner: It’s just bigger in scope, and we just tried to make it more aggressive and funnier.

Weinberg: I think there’s better stories.

Woliner: Yeah, I think we all got better at making the show, we figured out what their characters were, the shows are more consistent, I think. There’s more creatures also. There’s more like non-human things… We kind of wanted to take what we liked most about the first season, which was when you started watching an episode, it would start like a show about Marshals, but it would go anywhere. We wanted to keep pushing that and have it go into more surprising directions and take weirder turns.

[I pause to examine my notes for a few beats, trying to settle on a next question].

Weinberg: Are you going through your “why you have to leave” excuses?

[Everyone laughs].

I’m just trying to decipher my own handwriting.

Elliott [to me]: Are you George Harrison’s son?

No, do I look like George Harrison?

Koman: You look like Danny Harrison.

Elliott: You do look like him. I just saw something that the kids of the Beatles are actually getting together.

They’re making a band?

Adult Swim PR rep: It was McCartney’s kid who was trying to do it.

Elliott: The only hold-out, believe it or not, is Ringo’s kid.

Weinberg: But Ringo is willing to do it.

[Everyone laughs].

Chris, do you want to talk a little bit about the Get a Life DVD that was finally just announced?

Elliott: It’s 99% sure that it’s coming out. It’s looking like it’s actually gonna happen. That’s all I know about it. We haven’t done commentary on it, but Adam Resnick, Dave Mirkin, a couple other writers, and I are gonna jump on and do some stuff.

I assume it’s been a drastic difference comparing the relationship with Fox on that show to working with Adult Swim on this?

Elliott: Yeah, definitely. That was a show that Fox really didn’t want to do. Or at least, once it was on the air, it was not what they wanted. They had wanted a more realistic family sitcom. I do actually remember them saying they wanted the next Cosby Show from me, and I said, “Well, I’m your man.”

[Everyone laughs].

Elliott: And they got Get a Life. That was not the case with Adult Swim.

They didn’t want the next Cosby Show?

Elliott: [Laughs] No… It’s a totally different experience for me. We were always trying to get one over a little bit on the network when we were doing Get a Life, like get scenes by that looked like I was having a nice moment with my father but actually we were undercutting it in the next scene with some joke. That game doesn’t get played.

Were there are ideas that you couldn’t get on the air on Get a Life that you still think about?

Elliott: Um… it was so long ago that I honestly can’t remember if there were any. I’m amazed at the ones that we did get on the air and how we pitched them and all that… Honestly, I can’t remember anything that we weren’t allowed to do. Everything had to be pitched in a certain way to them, though, and you could do that. [You could] finesse your pitch so that they would think they were getting one thing; but when you really came down to writing the scripts and starting to shoot it, then it took on a life of its own.

Okay. Did you—

Elliott: Is that alright?

That’s fine with me.

[Everyone laughs].

Elliott: You were just like [monotone voice] “alright.”

I’m fairly new to this if it’s not painfully obvious.

Elliott: Well, we like to be praised after all our answers.

[Everyone laughs].

Can I just clap?

Woliner: You can’t give us a standing ovation?

Elliott: What the other guys were giving us was [overly enthusiastic] “That was great!” “Thank you!”

“Thank you so much for answering my questions.”

Elliott: Yeah!

Koman: Wipe tears of laughter from your eyes.

I want to talk a little about casting some of the villains. It seems like you guys don’t go for well-known actors, you like character actor-y types.

Woliner: Yeah, that’s a really good point. That’s really intentional. We like when the show kind of exists in its own little universe. We have a ton of friends [laughs] we have so many friends. We know all the same people, but we didn’t want on this show to be all the kind of people you usually see. We kind of go for weirder or more dramatic actors a lot of the time.

Weinberg: And we like taking this crazy stupid world that the show exists in very seriously. If you see very familiar comedy faces, it’s just like, “Oh, this is a comedy show.”

Woliner: Yeah, it actually probably wouldn’t be fun for… I did this sketch show called Human Giant, and those three guys played most of the parts. And when we’d bring in our friends from SNL or other things, we wouldn’t ask people to do stuff unless they could really score and get laughs because it would be insulting to ask them to spend time and come and shoot stuff. On this show, a lot of the time the other characters are played very seriously and very straight, and I don’t think it would be fun for people… Like it’s not a show [where] you would come in and improvise and goof around. What we like about the show is the tone takes itself very seriously. We play it like drama a lot of the time.

Koman: It’s so full of stupid ideas that when you can have someone come in and deliver it seriously, it’s kind of the only way it works.

Woliner: Dean Norris from Breaking Bad is on this season, and he’s hysterically funny to me. He just acts like he’s in a drama – not in a fake serious way, but he’s just doing a good acting performance and he was like amazing.

Good answer. [I applaud lightly].

Elliott: How come he gets that?!

You just pointed it out.

Weinberg: He’s just trying out the new approach.

Elliott: Kiss ass.

Koman: Why’d he get all the credit for that answer?

Woliner: It’s whoever seals the deal.

Weinberg: He [Woliner] ended it.

Would you guys ever see the show expanding to 30 minutes? Delocated on Adult Swim, for example, expanded after its first season to a half-hour.

Weinberg: We’ve talked about it.

Koman: The way we make it, it helps that it’s short.

Woliner: There’s something fun about watching an 11-minute show and feeling like you watched a movie’s worth of story and that element might go away if it’s a normal show’s length.

Weinberg: We definitely don’t think that it could be the show it is but twice as long [and] keep the same pace. That would just be exhausting. A lot of the time, we have to cut things we like or occasionally, an entire scene. Sometimes, it’d be nice to have a little breathing room here and there.

Koman: It honestly feels like if you could make a show that was exactly 16 minutes long, it would be perfect.

Woliner: No matter what was in it.

[Everyone laughs].

Elliott: But then you’d be saying you want 17 minutes.

Koman: Now, Chris’ll get the fuckin’ credit for that answer.

[I applaud the answer].

Elliott: But that was intelligent. It was true. And up ‘till 29 minutes.

Koman: It is true. That is an astute comment on human satisfaction.

Woliner: I’ll say I’m happy with 11 minutes and 15 seconds.

Elliott: There are times when I’m acting in it, where I think I’ve done something [laughs] brilliant, and…

Weinberg: Usually, you yell cut.

Elliott: I will say when it’s time to cut.

Woliner: And print.

Elliott: [Laughs] There are times, like Andrew said, where I wish they could have saved a little bit of that, but for time I understand how they have to move on. And suddenly, five seconds later, there’s a cut to something else, and I’m laughing at that cut. So, just by the pacing itself, you get this whole other layer of comedy that you wouldn’t get in a half-hour.

Woliner: But the stories are pretty dense, and it’s not really a show that you can half-watch. Like a lot of shows on TV, you can kinda just have on and laugh at stuff. [On Eagleheart] if you’re not paying attention – if you miss a minute – it’s like, “What is this?” It falls apart very quickly, which is why we did a show last week and we’re doing a show tonight in this theater… If you don’t watch it very carefully, you just lose it right away. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. It probably isn’t.

Koman: The theater helps, you can’t look anywhere else. Ideally, if people were just strapped in to something.

Woliner: Maybe if there was like a disclaimer.

Weinberg: It’s meant to be watched alone… in a dark room… probably in some kind of sensory depravation…

Woliner: Probably hunched over.

Weinberg: With your noose ready to go.

Chris, what was your first impression when you read the script? What drew you to the project?

Elliott: I liked the whole concept initially in the pilot of the two sides of doing the show-within-the-show and doing a show about a Walker, Texas Ranger thing. And I was in such good shape at the time that I thought, “Okay, I can play this.” So, I went in and took a meeting with these guys and immediately liked them and immediately trusted them and said, “Yeah, well, we should do this together.”

Woliner: And then we started talking money…

[Everyone laughs].

Elliott: And then, a year after that, I finally signed on the dotted line.

Koman: It was really fortunate you had invested so unwisely.

[Everyone laughs].

Season 2 of Eagleheart premieres tonight at midnight on Adult Swim. New episodes air each Thursday at midnight for the next several weeks.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

  • regisphilbdog

    great interview!

  • Pig-gnocchi-o

    Awesome interview. Great work! I enjoy reading your articles and interviews!