Interview date: 03/23/2009
Run date: 03/30/2009
Rob Schneider is a man of many identities. Some remember him as “the copy guy” from his days on “Saturday Night Live” (though he’ll always be Tiny Elvis to me), others know him as “that guy who’s always turning up in Adam Sandler’s movies,” and, yes, he’s probably stuck being called Deuce Bigalow for the remainder of his career. Schneider’s expanded his resume recently, however, taking on the challenge of not only starring in but also directing his latest film, “Big Stan,” which recently made its home video premiere, courtesy of HBO. Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to speak to Schneider about “Big Stan” and its unique cast of recognizable faces, his work on “SNL,” the unfortunate experience he had on NBC’s “Men Behaving Badly,” and his feud with film critic Roger Ebert.
Rob Schneider: (Starting to talk before he’s even on the line) I’m ready for Will, man. Will the Thrill, man!
BE: Rob! What’s up, man?
RS: (In an Elvis-inspired voice) Hey, man, it’s all good. You know what I mean? It’s huge, man, it’s huge.
BE: (Laughs) Well, look, it’s a pleasure to talk to you.
RS: My pleasure!
BE: You know, I think it would’ve been a sucker’s bet prior to the release of “Big Stan” to lay money on the word “schadenfreude” appearing in a Rob Schneider film.
RS: (Laughs) Exactly. Well, I hope people now understand the true meaning of it.
BE: Well, I think the best part for me was going to Wikipedia and seeing that the page for “schadenfreude” features a photo of the Three Stooges.
RS: Oh, that’s hilarious! Wow!
BE: So I have to admit that I started off being very unsure about the film, but right about the time Dan Haggerty showed up…
RS: Wasn’t he great? I just love the older actors that you haven’t seen in awhile. It’s fun, man. Just the chance to be on the same stage and sitting there with M. Emmet Walsh and David, and I’m sitting between these two legends…? How lucky am I? And Henry Gibson, Scott Wilson, Dan Haggerty…it’s a fucking fun movie, man. I’m glad you liked it!
BE: Yeah, well, like I said, I started off kinda hesitant, but then he showed up, you had Carradine, and then once Stan went to jail, it became this really fun parody of the prison-film genre. By then, I was unabashedly enjoying it.
RS: Thanks, man, I appreciate it. I worked my butt off on it.
BE: Lots more sweat than blood and tears, I understand.
RS: (Laughs) Yeah. And, y’know, it was just tough, because it’s a little independent movie that could’ve easily gotten lost. I’m just grateful for HBO to release it on DVD.
BE: Now, this was your directorial debut, correct?
BE: What took so long? Or did you only just become interested in making the jump to directing?
RS: You know what? I just got tired of dealing with directors on my movies, to be honest. I got sick of ‘em. (Laughs) I’m sorry, but, God, I’m just tired of having to say...well, because, y’know, to be a director, if they want to be a decent director, they’re gonna have an ego, which means they’re gonna want to do things their way. And I got tired of it. I just said, “You know what? I don’t want to do it your way. Fuck it, I’m just gonna direct this my way.” And, so, that was it. To be perfectly honest, the real reason was that I just…we just didn’t have any time. We just had to shoot this thing so quickly; we only had 32 days. An independent movie takes forever to get the money, so I was frustrated as a filmmaker, because I didn’t want to lose the cast, but as a martial arts student, I was, like, “Yeah, I get another month!” Because I learned and did all the stunts myself. And I don’t know if I’d ever do it again, but it was a lot of fun to do it yourself.
BE: You made a reference in the audio commentary about how you wanted it to remind people of a ‘60s screwball comedy, and, honest to God, before listening to that, I really did think that the look of it did have that exact feel.
RS: Oh, thank you! You know what? I really wanted to give that feel. I mean, I picked the pajamas that looked like Jack Lemmon would wear. It just looked like very ‘60s kind of stuff, and some of the colors were very ‘60s, and I had actors from the ‘60s. And my hairstyle was very Jack Lemmon-y, and then it turns into Steve McQueen when I went into prison. So in a little artsy-fartsy way, I had my fun.
BE: You mention in the commentary that you’re kind of a film geek, and that just couldn’t be more obvious from the way you’re talking about the score and namedropping guys like Morricone and Schifrin.
RS: Oh, yeah, I got them to ape some of the best composers ever. John Hunter and John Debney did a great job. And let’s face it: prison films are the greatest! Because it’s so refined, and everybody can relate to it, because at one point in everybody’s life, they’ve had a little bit too much to drink, they get behind the wheel, and they think, “God, I hope I don’t end up in prison!” Everyone has. Everyone has a fear. Every guy does, somewhere in the deep recesses of their mind, think, “God, what if I end up going to prison? And how am I gonna do in there?” (Laughs) It’s very quickly that the second question comes up. So it’s really nice when I ask Dan Haggerty, “How am I gonna do in there? Am I gonna get beat up?” Because that’s what he thinks. And Dan says, “No, I’d probably rape you.” “What?” And it’s a really well written scene by Josh Lieb, the rape conversation. It just made me laugh my ass off when I read the script. We did a lot of work to it – there was no third act in the original script – but it ended up being pretty damned good.
BE: Y’know, that scene…I’m not even sure if it would’ve worked as well as it did if it hadn’t been a guy like Dan Haggerty delivering it. I mean, obviously, you think of him and you think of Grizzly Adams, but his delivery is, in an odd way, almost fatherly.
RS: Yeah. He’s kindly. He’s nice. And you’re right: he’s just great. But, you know, it’s just nice to see him, isn’t it?
BE: Absolutely, man. I grew up watching “Grizzly Adams.” So how did M. Emmet Walsh and Sally Kirkland enjoy getting a love scene together at this stage of their careers? (Laughs)
RS: You know, it wasn’t exactly Emmet’s dream to be naked in bed with Sally Kirkland, but she was there to have fun, and he just throws himself into anything. It was amazing: he came to the meeting to meet with me about the movie dressed as the character! And I went, “Emmet, if you want to do this, it’s yours, and what an honor to have you.” So there was no audition, there was no reading, there was no discussion. He just said, “Absolutely! I think I could have fun with it!” And then Henry Gibson came in, and he really loved the script. And I said, “Henry, are you kidding me?” I actually had somebody hired before that, and I had to un-hire that person because Henry wanted to do it, because I didn’t think he was serious. But he really wanted to play the role. And David Carradine…if I didn’t have David Carradine, I didn’t want to make the movie. Josh Lieb had written The Master very cleverly, as a guy who could kill you with one punch but who also looked like he could drop dead at any second. So getting David Carradine to dress down, like a homeless guy, was the perfect look for The Master. And Jennifer Morrison…nobody ever gives her a chance to be funny, but she was brilliant.
BE: And gorgeous.
RS: Oh, yeah. Just a lovely young girl.
BE: You actually collapsed on the set. Did you imagine that your first experience as a director would be quite so rough?
RS: You know, I knew I was getting sick. There were refrigerators there on the set, and it was 114 degrees during the day and about 98 at night, and finally the fridges couldn’t keep the food cool anymore. And I had my usual five eggs in the morning, because I was working out like a fiend for the movie, and then I finally got poisoned. Five rotten eggs. And I realized it. “I just ate five rotten eggs! What’s gonna happen to me?” Anyway, about six hours later…I’d made it through the whole day, but then finally, at the end of the day, I realized, “I’m not gonna make it.” And I had to get three IVs to get this poison out of me. But then I was fine. I went back to work the next day. But in the meantime, as soon as you go to the ambulance, people have the cell phones, and it’s, like, “Wooooooo!” And then my friends called me from Italy and go… (Affects thick Italian accent) “Rob-a, we heard-a on the World News that you-a collapsed-a. Are you all right-a? We-a wanted to make-a sure, because you’re staying-a with us in-a the summer!” I guess it was a slow news day. So, y’know, don’t collapse on a movie set when it’s a slow news day. (Laughs) I like the word “collapse.” I didn’t collapse. I leaned over and puked for an hour, then an ambulance came and I got an IV. I like the phrase “walked himself under his own power into the ambulance.”
BE: Yeah, but “collapse” has more of a kick to it.
RS: It does.
BE: So when you were editing the film, did you have an upper cap for how many anal sex jokes you were going to allow? Was there a point where you said, “Okay, this is just one too many”?
RS: You know what? There’s a lot. But at the same time, it’s, like, “If it’s working, it’s working.” And if you see the movie with an audience, they love it, because it’s more outrageous than a normal comedy. And it’s, like, I didn’t want to make a studio picture. I wanted to make a movie that was a little crazier, a little more outrageous. And this is what I made. And I’m absolutely unapologetic about it. And the response I’ve gotten is overwhelming, because I didn’t give a fuck and I just went for it.
BE: It’s kind of hard to describe it as a real guy’s film, though, given how predominantly it focuses on anal sex.
RS: Well, yeah, it’s kind of tough. But it’s about a guy’s worst fear. That’s what I describe it as. But at the same time, it’s a really funny comedy. This is a guy who, if anybody deserves to go to prison and have bad things happen to him, it’s my character. But it’s funny. The fights are funny, and I liked how it develops.
BE: I wanted to ask you a couple of things about some other projects you’ve done. “Men Behaving Badly” was a remake of a British series when it didn’t seem like as big a deal to remake a British series. Do you remember there being a lot of flak about it at the time?
RS: No, I just remember thinking, “This show’s not as funny as the British series, and these fuckers promised it was going to be!” Carsey-Werner cared more about power and control than they cared about comedy, so I’m glad I got the fuck out of there after a season and a half. I would never work for those people again. I would rather do any other menial job than to ever work for that company again. Totally. That’s one the reasons I never want to do television in America: because I had such a horrible experience with Carsey-Werner.
BE: So when Shout! Factory put together that DVD set awhile ago…
RS: They did not contact me.
BE: Oh, they didn’t?
RS: No. They didn’t contact me. And I wouldn’t have had anything to do with it. Because it was a really funny show, and they talked me into it by saying, “We’re gonna make it just like the British show.” And then they fucking lied to me. Fucking bunch of liars. And then on top of that, they watered it down, so it was more like “Men Apologizing For Trying To Behave Badly.” That’s what they should’ve called the show. But they had no intention of ever doing a funny show. They cared more about power, and I have no problem with you saying that. Please, say that in big letters.
BE: I’m always looking for a pull quote.
RS: Good. I can’t stand them.
BE: During your time on “Saturday Night Live,” were there certain sketches that made you twitch when they were pitched to you for the umpteenth time?
RS: Well, the thing that drives you insane…you’re watching, but if you’re on the show, you see these fucking characters too many times, but you can’t bite the hand that feeds you. I was tired of “Wayne’s World” after the third time I’d seen it, but fucking people went apeshit for it, so those are the things that keep the show fucking going. You can’t hate those things. I only did, like, six Copy Machine Guy sketches in four years. Maybe I did seven, at the most. When Al Franken wanted to do Stuart Smalley for the 80th time, I was, like, “That’s enough!” Any griping about that show is a quality problem, because it’s a great show. 90% of the stuff that got on the air was what got the biggest laughs in the read-throughs. If you wrote something that got read in front of anybody…it was so democratic that you got spoiled after awhile. But people complain wherever they are. All in all, I had a great experience at “SNL.”
BE: You had kind of a famous war of words with Roger Ebert, but it came to a conclusion when you sent him a get-well bouquet after his cancer surgery.
RS: Well, you know, what I realized when Roger Ebert got sick…well, part of it was tongue-in-cheek. Roger took umbrage at my having gone after some other reviewer, but when he got sick, I thought to myself, “You know, I never got a chance to thank Gene Siskel when he got sick.” Because one of the reasons I got into and enjoyed and have been given so much pleasure in my life from foreign films was because of those guys. I didn’t even know about foreign films until I was a kid and was watching them, and they’re talking about this movie I’ve never heard of, and I go, “Wow, let me go out and see these things!” I’m so grateful. So when he got sick, I said, “Y’know, I’m tired of people thanking them after they’re gone. Let’s appreciate them while they’re here.” I don’t know for a fact, but I’m guessing that a lot of people whose careers he’s helped didn’t send him flowers, and I didn’t want to be one of those guys. He didn’t help me, not once… (Laughs) …but I appreciate Roger Ebert. He and Gene Siskel are the guys who popularized and made entertainment out of reviewing pictures, not because they were egotistical but because they loved movies. Roger Ebert loves movies. So I just said, “Thank you for your love of cinema, and said, “I’m glad you’re well enough to watch movies again.” And that was it, and I didn’t expect to get any return thing for it, because I didn’t do it for that, but he wrote a nice little thing about it. At the end of the day, while you have people here who you respect and admire, and Roger Ebert is one of them for me, I just wanted to say, “Hey, man, I appreciate you. Even though you’ve never liked any of my movies, I appreciate you.” And I’m glad I said it, and I was touched that he responded.
BE: Will you send him a copy of “Big Stan”?
RS: You know what? I think we did. I don’t know if he’s seen it, though. But I didn’t want to bug him. He’s got a million other things. And I’m not one of those guys who can’t wait to read my reviews. (Laughs) Generally, I’m, like, “Please don’t make me read them!” But it’s interesting in a way, because…I’m a Buddhist, and you have to find the right interpretation of everything in life. And with reviews…in Europe, they’re much more pretentious about reviews than they are here, and they’ve asked me… (Affects French accent) “How do you deal with ze bad reviews?” And it’s liberating, because I know I don’t have to please these people. I just try to make movies that I think are funny. So in that sense, I feel completely free, and I don’t have to think, “Ooooh, what are the reviewers going to think of this one?” And I know there are some filmmakers out there who think that, but I don’t have to worry about that.
BE: So when you got your Razzie for “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” how did you react?
RS: Ah, I don’t know. Those guys are assholes, you know? I mean, frankly, those guys are parasites. But whatever. Listen, I’m a big boy, and I know I’ve put myself out there in the public spotlight, but I’ve done very well, and I’m famous in most parts of the English and non-English speaking world. You’re gonna take your lumps when you put yourself out there. But (The Razzies) asked me if I’d come and accept the award, and I’m, like, “Fuck you, I’m not going. Go sell your t-shirts by somebody else.” But that’s okay. When you’ve made it and you’re successful…like, one of the favorite things that people ask me about is what I thought of the “South Park” episode. I thought it was hilarious that they made fun of me! Who do they make fun of? Tom Cruise. And me…? Okay, I’m in pretty good company.
BE: When you did “Judge Dredd,” did you have hopes at the time that it was going to springboard you into a wider variety of roles?
RS: You know what? I was just happy to still be in show business! At the time, I’d just quit “Saturday Night Live,” so I was thinking, “Maybe this is it! Am I gonna have to go paint houses again?” But then Stallone called me. (Affects Stallone impression) “Hey, Joe Pesci said, ‘No,’ so you’re in. And you’re cheaper.” You know, you just want to work. I’ve never had a lot of career planning…and my career’s proved that! I was a character actor, and sometimes I do leads in movies. If it’s interesting, I do it. For some reason, I’ve been around for twenty years, and I’m having more fun than I think I’ve ever had. Absolutely I’d like to do more interesting stuff, but it’s just part of the business. You can’t take it personally. When I saw Alec Baldwin when he was on “Saturday Night Live,” I thought, “This is the most talented guy I’ve ever seen in my life.” And a few years later, I’m thinking, “If he’s got a career problem, if they can do that to him, they can do it to anybody!” He’s certainly a better leading man than I am!
BE: Setting aside “Big Stan,” which project of yours didn’t get the love you thought it deserved, and why?
RS: “The Hot Chick.” I released it at the wrong time, and it was my decision. Disney would’ve released it anytime that I wanted to, and I released it in the middle of Christmas, against Sandra Bullock and a “Star Trek” movie, and we just got lost in the shuffle. It was a really good movie, a sweet little movie. My daughter was 12 at the time, and it was a good message to put out there: you don’t need a guy to make you feel beautiful or to make you feel special. All you need is you. It was a nice little movie, and I loved that movie. That it’s had a huge life of its own afterwards is nice. And that’s just it: it’s not just about what it does at the box office. It’s about the life and the impact that it has on kids. So in that sense, it’s a nice, sweet little movie, and I’m glad that a lot of people have since found it or are still discovering it. It still has a life. I’m proud of it, and, y’know, you can’t control what you can’t control. So in that sense, I don’t feel like it got the love it deserved. But that’s okay. It happens. The title was bad. “The Hot Chick” was a bad title, and it was a bad poster. At a certain point, I have to take responsibility for those things.
BE: Well, y’know, Bullz-Eye interviewed Josh Zuckerman, one of the stars of “Sex Drive,” and he said of that movie, “I think a lot of people were thrown off by a) the title, b) the poster, and c) the trailer.”
RS: Well, there you go! But at least people saw my movie. It made $35 million at the box office, and on DVD, it doubled that. All you can do is what you can control, and as soon as you step outside that, you’re in trouble.
BE: Last one: with your cameos in Adam Sandler’s movies, has it reached a point where you’re pretty much required by law to appear in them now, lest the fans rebel?
RS: You know what? It’s funny, but people really do look for them. I just want to make sure that I’m not repeating myself. I don’t see myself doing that forever. This new movie of his, though, is a real role, and it’s a nice movie. It’s, like, Adam Sandler’s “Big Chill.” He did a lovely job with Fred Wolf writing the script, and it kind of captures a lot of our DNA in it. But it just depends. He keeps coming up with fun stuff. All I ever wanted to do was characters, like Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, and he’s the only one who writes them for me! I’d love Ridley Scott to call me and say, “Listen, I’ve got a character for you, I want you to play this Columbian guy,” or whatever. This new movie that I was hired to do, I play a Spanish helicopter pilot…oh, look, sorry, man, I gotta run! I gotta go do Jimmy Fallon’s show!
BE: Hey, no problem. Thanks a lot, Rob!RS: Hey, thank you for your time, and for your questions! I appreciate it!