"For Your Consideration, Christopher Guest
by Dan Kapelovitz
In the comedic masterpiece "This Is Spinal Tap," Christopher Guest blew
people's minds with his brilliant portrayal of lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel,
a dimwitted English rocker whose amp goes all the way to 11. The film,
directed by Rob "Meathead" Reiner and co-written by Guest, was almost
entirely improvised and shot in a documentary style.
Five years later, Guest directed his first film, "The Big Picture," a
disappointment, especially compared to "Spinal Tap." Guest then redeemed
himself by returning to the ad-lib-heavy mockumentary format with 1996's
"Waiting For Guffman," in which Guest plays Corky St. Clair, a flamboyant
off-off-off-off-off Broadway director hired by Blaine, Missouri, to put on a
play celebrating the small town's sesqui-centennial (150th) anniversary.
Unfortunately, for his next film, Guest again abandoned the mockumentary
and created the disastrous "Almost Heroes" (Chris Farley's last major film
role). Thankfully, Guest since made two more critically acclaimed
pseudodocumentary comedies, "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind."
This all brings us to Guest's latest directorial endeavor, "For Your
Consideration." Like "Guffman," "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind," this
film was co-written with Eugene Levy and stars much of the same ensemble
cast: Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge,
Michael McKean, Bob Balaban and more. But unlike those films, "For Your
Consideration" is not shot as a documentary. The film is about the making of
a film in which some of the actors learn that their performances may earn
them Academy Award nominations.
In his movies, Guest is an improvisational comic genius, but in real life,
the actor/writer/director/composer keeps his humor buried deep down inside.
In fact, he got downright defensive after being asked some pretty benign,
softball questions. (I won't even mention some of the questions I decided
not to ask out of fear that he would have gone into a conniption fit). But I
guess when you're the creative force behind so many comedy classics, you
have a right to be overly sensitive.
HIGH SOCIETY: Why did you give up the documentary format?
CHRISTOPHER GUEST: Well, we did three movies in that form, and we both
agreed---Eugene and I--that it was time to kind of try something new. And I
think if I make another movie, it's going to be different again. I'm not
sure how right now. It's more interesting to branch out and try something
HIGH SOCIETY: Was "For Your Consideration" improvised as much as your other
GUEST: Well, this was partly improvised. Eugene Levy and I wrote sections of
the movie. We wrote the movie within the movie, which would be probably
obvious. We wrote a lot of the sections where people are on television doing
things. We wrote the dialog for the other movies that you see, and then the
rest of it was improvised, but since it wasn't done in a documentary form,
it was quite a different thing to put together.
HIGH SOCIETY: You didn't have to shoot as high of a ratio?
GUEST: I wouldn't say that so much as in terms of the technique in putting
it together because, in a documentary, you have interviews, and you can cut
away to a still photograph or whatever you need at any time. We dispensed
with that because we wanted to just have a narrative; so it makes it very
different in editing. The choices become different, more like a conventional
movie. That's quite a huge thing. It may not be apparent to people watching
it, but it's quite a big thing to deal with.
HIGH SOCIETY: This film seems closer to your pseudo-documentary films than
your narrative films like "The Big Picture" and "Almost Heroes."
GUEST: I think it appears to be that way because of the cast. It's the same
cast that you see in the other movies, and because it's improvised, it may
have a similar sensibility.
HIGH SOCIETY: Have you ever worked on a film, such as when you acted in "A
Few Good Men," where there was an Oscar buzz like you portray in your new
GUEST: If there was, I tend not to hear it or know about it.
HIGH SOCIETY: So the film isn't based on some experience you had?
GUEST: No, no. It was just based on being in the business for a long time,
knowing a lot of people who have been through this thing and knowing what
they've gone through. And it's more generic than being about the Academy
Awards; it's about really any awards. I was first nominated for an award
when I was quite young, 23 or 24, and anytime that happens, you're put
through something you've not really asked for. You're thrust into a
situation where you're feeling very vulnerable. It's not that much fun
because people put pressure on you and say, "I bet you're gonna win." And
you can't do anything with that information. You can't really process that
in a very healthy way. You could pretend and say, "Oh, well thanks," but
whatever. But the fact is that anyone will take it into their
bloodstream--it's kind of like crack--you really kind of go out of control.
You really can't do anything until you've either won or lost, and then it's
too late basically.
HIGH SOCIETY: Did you ever write an acceptance speech before an award
GUEST: I've never written an acceptance speech. I've won awards and I've
lost awards; so I felt that I at least wasn't writing it from the standpoint
of someone was just some bitter person. I've been lucky enough to have both
sides of it in a way so that you really do see the two different words of
it; so I thought that was at least a basis for something that had some
HIGH SOCIETY: What do you think of the Academy Awards, in general?
GUEST: I don't watch award shows. It's not really my main thing, I guess.
Again, having been in the position to sit through some of those things, it's
a disrupted thing. I think this movie says it: I really would prefer just to
concentrate on the work. You see in this movie, what happens to people, and
it's really kind of painful at the end. It's meant to be; it's meant to be
kind of poignant at the end. It's not a happy ending and I think that's a
comment about--and it's not just a given awards show, it's just the whole
notion of honoring people in that way.
HIGH SOCIETY: A lot of your films have these poignant endings.
GUEST: I guess I find--It's another dimension in a story that makes it more
interesting for me, and it has a little more substance than just a series of
jokes and then you go home. For me, it's more interesting and ultimately
it's more interesting for the actors playing it because they have other
places they can go.
HIGH SOCIETY: In the film, you play a director. Were you spoofing yourself
at all as a director?
GUEST: [Very offended] I don't think so. If you've seen my films, I hope
not. That would be--wow--that would be a little sad. No, that's a TV
director, and this is his first feature, in the movie--and, uh, you know, I
don't know if you--well, no. That would be, uh, that would be, uh--wow--I
don't even know what to say.
HIGH SOCIETY: Perhaps you had some inside jokes, for instance, the way your
character dealt with the actors.
GUEST: There are no inside jokes in the movie at all at any time. You're
watching behavior. I don't believe in doing movies with inside jokes. It's
just observations on people's behavior that I've seen. I think it's
interesting, because when people talk about movies that have to do with show
business, they talk about inside jokes or something inside, but when people
make movies about anything else, no one says that. It's kind of interesting
because if you have a TV show about doctors, no one says that no one's going
to understand what they're saying because their talking about some
procedure, but no one cares about that, or if it's about the military, no
one says it's too inside. They just go about their business and do it. For
some reason, in show business, people have this illusion that that will be a
problem. Of course, people know more about show business than anything else.
HIGH SOCIETY: And, of course, in cases of show business movies, the people
making the films are in show business themselves, which might lend itself to
more inside jokes.
GUEST: Well, I don't know. I've been hearing that for 30 years, and it never
really makes sense, but there you go.
HIGH SOCIETY: Obviously, some of the characters were based on real people.
GUEST: No. That's what I'm saying; they're not based on real people. All of
the movies I've done--even going back to "Spinal Tap"--were not based on
specific people. They're based on having spent a lot of time looking at
many, many different people, and you take that in and you create a character
where some element can be used from some person and then maybe from a
completely different person that did something else. You could walk into a
store and see a shoe salesman who had a bizarre sort of tick or something or
a behavior and you can overlay that onto something else. But invariably
people look at these movies and say, "Oh, I know who that was." And you'll
say, "Who was that?" And they say so and so, and you say, "No, I don't even
know who that is. I don't know what you're talking about." So no. No one is
based on any specific person.
HIGH SOCIETY: For example, in your film, there's one interviewer who
obviously reminded me and probably anyone who watches him of Charlie Rose.
You don't see that?
GUEST: Well, no, I can see how if you see a set that's in limbo with a guy
at a table, that's going to bring that up. It's really more about the style
of these different interviews in these show-business shows where many times
it's more about the interviewers than the people they're interviewing.
Either they don't give them a chance to talk, or in Fred Willard's case,
it's much more about his ego, about him. It's not about the people. The
people can just be tossed down the toilet essentially and his job will
continue, but stars will come and go and sort of fade. It's kind of an
interesting, bit of an indictment on the business.
HIGH SOCIETY: How did you first meet Fred Willard? He's always brilliant in
GUEST: I was in a play with Fred in 1969. So I've known Fred a long time.
I've worked with him for many years. He's a great improviser. and he's great
in this film, I think.
HIGH SOCIETY: Are there any actors that you've tried to get in your films
who won't do it?
GUEST: It's the opposite actually. The people who are in these movies--the
reason they're in these movies is because they're great, great improvisers.
People approach me about being in them, and they may be great actors, but
they can't do this kind of work which is very specific kind of work. And
it's not as if there are a hundred thousand people out there who can do it.
To my mind, these are the best people there are really.
HIGH SOCIETY: What do you say to them when they approach you?
GUEST: I don't really say that much. I say, "Oh, let me think about that."
It's somewhat awkward, especially if the person is famous. It's a
compliment, but because I put these films together, it's up to me who's in
the movies, so if you think about it, if I thought you were right, I would
have approached you. A lot of them are really fine actors, but I just have
some kind of intuition that they may not be able to do that. When actors
come to do my films, there is no reading because there is no script. I sit
and talk with them for 20 minutes, half an hour, and I can tell from that
meeting if they can do this.
HIGH SOCIETY: Does your wife [Jamie Lee Curtis] ever ask to be in your
GUEST: Again, she's very funny and good, but we've never worked together,
and we've kind of made an agreement to just be husband and wife, and she
also doesn't do this kind of work.
HIGH SOCIETY: Why was Eugene Levy's part smaller than usual? Was that on
purpose, or did you shoot a lot of footage and just chose other stuff?
GUEST: No, no, it was always intended to be that. It was just that was the
part. That was it. Those were all the scenes. I think for both of us, in a
funny way, we're trying to diminish our presence in a sense. For me, the
important thing is doing the movie, it's not having the biggest part, and I
think he feels the same way.
HIGH SOCIETY: Have there been a bunch of other subcultures that you've
wanted to explore?
GUEST: These things come to me in very strange ways. I don't have a filing
cabinet that's filled with ideas. But you could literally pick
anything--anything in the world would have some interest to me. Even
something that seems unbelievably dull. In many ways, that would be most
interesting. Because it isn't about something that is flashy or funny in a
way that sounded like something that sounded like a plot for a movie; the
stuff that's interesting to me is a much more subtle thing; so it could be
people who work on a tug boat. It really doesn't matter the profession that
they do; it's what is the story within that. So I don't really have an idea
for the next one. They're not lined up on the runway. I'll think for awhile.
HIGH SOCIETY: Do people like tug boat operators often come up to you and
say, "You have to make a movie about tug boat operators"?
GUEST: Everyday. Every single day someone will come up and say, "I'm a
dental hygienist. That's really what you should be doing a movie about," and
I say, "Oh, that's possible."
HIGH SOCIETY: Last night, I was at a party with a bunch of Satanists, and
one of them told me that "Best in Show" was one of Church of Satan founder
Anton LaVey's favorite movies.
GUEST: There you go. There's what you want on your poster. That's the
endorsement you want.
(This article first appeared in High Society Magazine)
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