Interview: Dan Fogler, Tom Lennon, and Robert Ben Garant from “Balls of Fury”
The Massie Twins recently had a chance to sit down with writer/director Robert Ben Garant, writer/star Tom Lennon, and star Dan Fogler at the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con to discuss their latest film “Balls of Fury.”
Tom Lennon: We will answer one question. (Laughs)
The Massie Twins: Better be a good question then. Has anyone asked you to dress up like your Reno 911 characters this year?
TL: We did that last year.
MT: Yeah – it was hilarious!
Robert Ben Garant: Down on the floor people thought we were just Reno fans. They said the costumes were pretty good, not perfect, but pretty good.
TL: I’ve seen better….
MT: What do you guys like doing most, acting, writing or directing?
RBG: It’s all fun. It is really great to change gears so much from Reno, which is so down and dirty, to go to Balls which is far more ambitious and we get to work with new people.
TL: The best aspect is when we are doing all of them and it is very self contained because then the product is really more us then when we write scripts and hand them off to someone else. This year’s been good for that.
Dan Fogler: Well, I am an actor first but I’ve been directing and I just found a love for editing. I just did my own film called The Hysterical Psycho. It’s like Mel Brooks meets Psycho and it was exciting. It’s like learning how to play a new instrument.
MT: Did you have any input for these guys? Did you get to improvise at all?
DF: With improv yes, but when you get to see the other side of the camera you really know that they have a lot of stuff on their mind and my little actor problem, well it really isn’t the best time to bring it up.
MT: How did you guys come up with a movie about Ping Pong?
TL: Well Ping Pong was something that was hiding in plain site. We’re also talking about making a movie about checkers at some point.
RBG: Extreme checkers. We’re calling it King Me. Actually Tom wrote a very involved piece about skee-ball. It was too ambitious to shoot though.
TL: (Laughing) Yeah it would have been about a week of shooting for a minute and a half of footage.
MT: How many takes did it take to get the Ping Pong playing right? Did you use computer animated balls?
TL: All of Dan’s play is real.
DF: Well 95% I would say.
TL: All of mine is computer generated, but that was just time constraints.
RBG: For continuity of people playing Ping Pong, you can’t edit the close-ups together unless they play exactly the same every time and you can’t record dialogue while people are playing.
TL: Plus you know when you play Ping Pong, half your day is chasing the fucking ball around and on a movie set that is very expensive.
RBG: So CGI was apparently cheaper and it took almost as long as Lord of the Rings. To get the balls right was like the siege of Minas Tirath.
DF: It was Helm’s Deep.
MT: So was there an assigned ball wrangler?
TL: No, no there were two excellent Ping Pong consultants. They were very critical.
RBG: We would do a great take with Dan and Christopher Walken and hundreds of extras, with great performances and the consultants would say no, they weren’t holding the paddle right.
TL: He would come over and say (in a foreign accent) “You’re not going to use that one are you?” Such a bummer.
RBG: Everyone trained with these guys for two weeks. Christopher Walken took Ping Pong lessons. These guys got really good.
MT: Do you guys worry about comparisons with Dodgeball?
TL: Honestly this script sat around since 2001 and certainly the success of Dodgeball helped this movie get made.
RBG: People liked it and laughed, but said that it was just too weird. Then Dodgeball opened with 40 million and the studios were like hey, where were those guys? Sports comedies, where are the sports comedies?
TL: Bowling, horseshoes, potato sack races … to the death. (Points squarely at RBG) Don’t steal that idea, that’s mine.
RBG: But Balls has much more of an action layer to it. It’s much more Enter the Dragon. It’s kind of like eighties Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
DF. Machine guns, mansions exploding, geishas running for their lives.
RBG: It could be a Van Damme movie.
TL: It is a Van Damme movie, he’s just not in it.
RBG: We probably could have got him, but the role we would have given him we put Patton Oswalt in, because he looks better in the shorts.
DF: I can just picture Van Damme doing splits in his kitchen, brushing his teeth.
MT: So you didn’t get Van Damme, but what was it like working with Christopher Walken?
TL: He’s no Van Damme. You can print that.
MT: I will.
TL: Please do.
RBG: Christopher was the most intimidating thing in the world until we started working with him.
TL: Just calling him on the phone was terrifying. It’s two o’clock, time to call Christopher Walken and you say shit, what the hell am I going to say to him? He is actually a very shy person…..who looks like a gargoyle.
RBG: His resting pose, he looks like he is trying to set you on fire with his eyes, but he’s not. He came in three days early to watch what other people were doing and then he asked us to come to his trailer and performed every line he has in the movie like a monologue. He asked what we thought, if he was doing the same movie as everyone else. He was very intense; he is his own hardest critic.
After a few weeks he would come over to the monitors, watch his favorite takes, talk about them and do them again. You hear the crazy Christopher Walken stories, but we got the movie and it was great. Totally inspirational, I can’t imagine how intimidating it was for Dan though. We thrust him on the set and said here go work with Christopher Walken.
DF: My first time I met him he was wearing this enormous, swooping wig with a braid down to his ass. I went to shake his hand and I didn’t know what to say and he said, “You know this isn’t my real hair?” Of course! It was ridiculous. I guess he has a thing with his hair. It was too blocky in Kings of New York.
RBG: I think he was talking about Sleepy Hallow and he said that (Using a Christopher Walken impersonation) “if you’re in a big outfit and you don’t have big hair it makes your head look smaller.”
MT: So were there dueling Christopher Walken impressions?
TL: We banned it. We banned it first day. We said get it out of your systems guys.
DF: We’d have these little secret meetings in the shadows and we’d be doing them and we’d feel him coming and we’d all shush each other and scatter into the darkness.
MT: How good was his game of Ping Pong?
RBG: He was pretty good.
TL: Yeah, but he was no Van Damme, again he’s no Van Damme, but Walken has more tap than jazz.
DF: Whereas Van Damme only has the one split move.
TL: I believe that’s called “The Russian.”
MT: You could have had him do the split and played Ping Pong.
TL: Don’t make us regret not getting Van Damme. We probably would have saved some money.
MT: You could use him for that potato sack race movie.
RBG: Van Damme in the sack, wham!
TL: One, two, he hits the sack. (Big Laughs)
MT: Now that’s my idea (Pointing at Tom), don’t steal that. (Laughs) This film got a PG-13 rating; did you try to go for R?
TL: No we did not. After the Reno movie, which was certainly a big help to Ghost Rider, we learned the nature of the beast. Don’t make a movie that fifteen-year-olds can’t go to for fifteen-year-olds. That should seem really obvious right?
RBG: Balls is kind of right in the middle of the weirdness that is Reno and the weirdness that is Night at the Museum. Because we directed Balls, it feels more like us, but the material is dead in between those two.
MT: Those are kind of polar extremes aren’t they?
TL: Well they are really are our sense of humor. Both of those things make us laugh.
RBG: They both have really outlandish characters being played seriously, whether it is Lt. Dangle or Teddy Roosevelt. You don’t write them for the jokes, but how seriously they take themselves.
MT: Did you guys start with the concept or the story?
TL: Well we said what if we take a game of Ping Pong and made it in the style of the kung-fu movie. We love movies where someone vows never to do something again and then the whole movie is about them doing that again. Balls is basically a gunslinger movie with Ping Pong.