Wet hot American man
Our movie guy talks to one of his comedy heroes and acts like a geek
Michael Showalter is best known as one of the creators and stars of the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer and its prequel, the 2015 Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.
He’s a veteran of legendary comedy troupes The State and Stella. In 2014, he co-wrote the funny rom-com spoof We Came Together costarring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, co-written and directed by his fellow State and Stella alumnus David Wain.
In 2005, he made his feature-directing debut with The Baxter, a criminally underrated and charming comedy starring himself and Elizabeth Banks. Eleven years later comes his sophomore feature directing effort, Hello, My Name is Doris, starring the one and only Sally Field.
Field plays the title character in Doris, an oddly dressed cubicle dweller who falls in love with a much younger man (Max Greenfield) at the workplace. This results in strange workplace fantasies and a gloriously awkward friendship between the two.
Showalter took the time to talk with me about working with Sally Field, the future of Wet Hot, and working with some other screen legends these past couple of years.
GRIMM: Doris started as a short film, Doris and the Intern by Laura Terruso, who went on to write the feature script with you. Did Laura always intend for the Doris character to have a feature film?
SHOWALTER: No … no. I was teaching screenwriting at NYU Graduate Film School, and Laura was a student. Not one of mine, but she was around. She made the short film, and I just thought the main character was really funny. We became friends and started talking about writing something together. After much trial and error with other ideas, we actually came back to, “What if we expanded Doris into a feature?”
GRIMM: The short is a little darker and sillier than the eventual feature.
SHOWALTER: In the short, Doris is just kind of a kooky old lady who gets a crush on a younger guy. For the feature, we added the friendships, and the hoarding, the whole hipster angle, and the mother and brother. We imagined a whole new world around her and a new story.
GRIMM: At what stage in the production did Sally Field get involved? Did you write the expanded Doris part with someone like her, or her specifically, in mind?
SHOWALTER: Not her specifically, and only because I would never have assumed she would do the movie. You don’t assume someone like her—a Hollywood icon—would do a little movie like this. We did feel like, wouldn’t it be unbelievable if Sally Field could play this part? because it’s perfect for her. The Doris character is this amalgamation of so many qualities that Sally Field possesses. So we sent the script to her agent thinking nothing would come of it, and then this amazing thing happened in that she read it and responded to the material. The rest is history.
GRIMM: Max Greenfield, hilarious as the brother in They Came Together, plays John, the object of Doris’s office crush. Was his involvement in Together what got him involved in Doris?
SHOWALTER: Yes! I met Max while making Together. Obviously, he’s a kind of a hotshot young actor. It was great when we got him for that film, and he and I became quite friendly. At the time we were making Together, I was writing Doris and he was just perfect for the John character. Max actually was the first person to sign on for Doris.
GRIMM: He has a terrific chemistry with Sally. You believe that two people who are three decades apart actually might have a shot romantically. So, you got to work with Sally Field. Sally must bring an amazing, positive energy to any film set she is on.
SHOWALTER: Completely. I mean, she’s a hard worker, and she’s a no B.S. kind of person. It’s not like she’s George Clooney pranking everybody on set. She’s all business, and she’s very serious about the work. And she expects the same of everybody else.
GRIMM: I think I’ve had a crush on her since I was about 10 years old up until, well, let me think … now. I still have a crush on her now.
SHOWALTER: Yeah, me too. Me too. When you were saying the relationship between her and Max is convincing it’s, like, not very hard to act like you could have a crush on Sally Field.
GRIMM: You have musician Jack Antonoff making his feature-acting debut as Baby Goya of the fictional indie band Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters. Was the music he plays in the film specifically created for it?
SHOWALTER: Yes. Laura and I wrote the song titles and created the character of Baby Goya and then cast Jack. We basically asked Jack if he would consider writing songs, based on these song titles, in the character of Baby Goya. So, you hear two songs in the film by Baby Goya and the Nuclear Winters, one is “Dance, Rascal, Dance” and the other one is called “Lasers and Lace.” He wrote those songs with his band Bleachers, and that’s his band Bleachers in the movie with him.
GRIMM: I just watched the episode of Love, the new comedy show from Judd Apatow, that you directed for the Netflix series. What is it with Netflix all of the sudden? Four years ago you would be lucky to find Phantasm 17 for streaming on a Saturday night, and now it’s the comedy hub of the universe.
SHOWALTER: I know.
GRIMM: You also got to direct yet another project for Netflix, a season two episode of Grace and Frankie starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.
SHOWALTER: Yes, and I think Sally Field helped me get that job. She’s friends with Jane Fonda. I told her I was up for the gig, and she said, “OK, let me email Jane right away.” So Sally emails Jane Fonda and says “He’s great, you should work with him!”
GRIMM: And just like that, you’ve found yourself working with three legendary screen actresses in the last couple of years. Did you get to show Lily Tomlin your incredible reenactment of her epic I Hate Huckabees battle with director David O. Russell? The shockingly authentic one you did with Paul Rudd on your internet series The Michael Showalter Showalter?
SHOWALTER: Funny you should ask, because I didn’t even think about doing that. No, I was just too intimidated to barely say anything.
GRIMM: The prequel Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp came out last year on Netflix and was a resounding success. Do you think there could be more?
SHOWALTER: 100 percent … I think it’s going to happen.
GRIMM: Oh, wow!
SHOWALTER: 99.9 percent I think it’s going to happen.
GRIMM: Uh oh … that’s less than 100 percent! Oh man … maybe another prequel where you are all in your deep 50s playing teenagers? Do you think it will happen quickly, like, in a year? Or will it take over a decade like the last time?
SHOWALTER: You can take this however you want, but I have no comment on how long it’s going to take.
GRIMM: OK, OK. Do you have any parting words regarding Doris?
SHOWALTER: I hope people see it. I think it’s a good movie, and I’m really proud of it. I think it’s something everybody can enjoy. Sally Field gives an amazing performance that nobody should miss.