Interview date: 01/07/2009
Run date: 01/22/2009
With the exception of a few indie films and a couple of TV appearances, we haven’t seen a great deal of Chris Kattan since his departure from “Saturday Night Live.” All that will be changing this summer, however, when his new IFC comedy miniseries, “Bollywood Hero,” premieres on IFC. The three-part series finds Kattan playing an exaggerated version of himself as he decides to give up on the frustrating world of Hollywood and travel to India in an attempt to prove his mettle as a Bollywood star. I had a chance to sit down with Kattan in person while out at the TCA Press Tour in Los Angeles (along with executive producer Belisa Balaban), and we talked about his work on “SNL” and in “Monkeybone” and “House on Haunted Hill,” as well as his interest in playing Buster Keaton in a future film project, but, mostly, we talked about “Bollywood Hero.” The guy’s really excited about it, and it’s hard to blame him, but you’ll definitely notice a trend where he brings any and every topic of conversation back to his latest project.
Chris Kattan: So how long are you out here?
Bullz-Eye: The full duration of the tour. I leave on the 17th to fly home.
CK: Oh, so you do have some time to go do something. Do you like L.A.?
BE: Yeah, I’ve only really been out here for work, it seems like, so I don’t really get to do a whole lot, but I’m planning to head over to Largo on Friday night.
CK: Oh, that’ll be great.
BE: Yeah, I’ve never seen Jon Brion, but I’ve been a fan since the Grays.
CK: Wow, and you’ve never seen him? He’s great. He’s a good friend. I saw a play there, at Largo, that Paul (Thomas Anderson) did there, with Maya (Rudolph) and Fred Armisen. That was good.
Belisa Balaban: It’s a great space. It’s much more comfortable than the old Largo…although I’ve heard from some musicians that the acoustics aren’t necessarily as good.
CK: Now, do you want this (the recorder) closer to her, too? Because she’s going to be speaking as well.
BB: I’m just here to…
CK: No, you’re not.
BB: Yes, I am. I’m just here as back-up.
BE: Well, if you leave it where it is, it should be able to pick up both of you. But, Chris, if you want to slide it closer to her when she’s chiming in on something, that probably couldn’t hurt.
CK: Okay, we’ll do that.
BE: So how did “Bollywood Hero” come about? What was the creative process? Did you have a hand in the creation of the show itself?
CK: Well, initially, it came from Belisa and her partner, Ted (Skillman), and my friend, Carmen Cuba, who’s a casting director. They were looking for a Bollywood hero, someone who’s obviously funny and physical, someone who could be a physical comedian but who was also a human being and not a crazy jackass kind of person. (Laughs) Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But when they told me about the project, it really appealed to me, not only because it was a good idea but also because, basically, the idea is about an extension of Chris Kattan. Like, I’m playing myself, but it’s really like how Larry David was doing “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” He wasn’t exactly playing Larry David, but it was a part of him that’s funny to laugh at, and one that he’s comfortable playing. So that’s what I’m doing with this. I’m not doing a character. I’m doing it kind of the way Albert Brooks played himself in films, or Woody Allen, or Adam Sandler, those personas where they’re very charming and funny, but I’m also able to be very physical. I incorporated the idea that, y’know, what if it was a guy loosely based on reality but not quite me, and if I were to believe that I could be a romantic lead? I’m a huge fan and a lover of great movies, the kind of great films they don’t make any more, like the MGM musicals or the action films or the epics, where they had actors that weren’t necessarily perfect in real life but were on film. And I believe…or my character does…that I could be a real romantic hero, that I could roll around in the grass with women and make love to them, and I’d look at their face for hours, and they ‘d fall in love with me; I’d be in the magazines and on the covers, and be an action star and jump from motorcycle to motorcycle, and all that stuff. But the people here and the agents don’t quite get that, but they don’t want to hurt my feelings. But Bollywood still makes those kinds of films, so that appeals to me much more, and I get caught up…I don’t know how I get caught up exactly, but I go to Bollywood and get caught up in that business there. And that really appealed to me, because that’s just funny. But what also really appealed to me was the whole “Curb Your Enthusiasm” kind of aspect and not doing a “Borat” kind of thing. It’s not mean, it’s not making fun of another person. It’s a real story. It’s his journey in Bollywood, wanting to be a hero on screen but ending up being a hero in real life. He falls in love and all of this stuff. I guess all of that appealed to me. (Laughs) Wow, a very long-winded answer there.
BE: But a very well-detailed one.
CK: (Laughs) Y’know, I think there’s a part of me that’s very funny that I don’t even know about, that I’m just finding, that’s not physical. Coming from “SNL,” there’s a lot of funny characters and stuff like that, but just being myself in these situations could be a lot of fun. Plus, the great thing, too, is that with “Slumdog Millionaire” and just India itself, the whole thing is really just going to be terrific.
BE: It’s perfect timing.
CK: Perfect timing. It’s one of those things where it’s not timing that we planned, but it just happened, and sometimes those are the best things.
BE: Now, as far as, like, the obvious career parallels, as far as someone struggling to find leading man roles…
BE: Like, when you did “Corky Romano,” were you thinking, “This is it. This is gonna be the one that breaks me.”
CK: (Emphatically) No. (Laughs) I mean, I knew that was a comedy. But with this…there’s something funny about the whole fish-out-of-water thing that’s a classic scenario, and “Bollywood Hero” is perfect for that. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any Bollywood movies…
BE: Yeah, a few.
CK: I was in India a few years ago on vacation, and it’s a beautiful place and very spiritual, but I went as a tourist, and this time I’m going as a person to experience this with other people. I don’t know, there hasn’t really been anything on television like this yet. The last thing was, like, Jeremy Piven did a special where he was over in India (“Journey of a Lifetime”), but that was more like… (Affects narrator-styled voice) “These people here…” It was kind of like…not really pointing at people, but not really communicating with them, either. Obviously, they’re people, but with “Bollywood Hero,” it’s their show. It’s not, like, “What’s going to happen with Chris Kattan in this situation? That’s not going to work!” He’s in over his head, he wants to be a movie star, he has this big ego, he’ll probably fall in love, maybe he won’t, but we have a great, strong script right now that’s open to what may happen, y’know? Like, there was that terrorist attack, and obviously that’ll be part of the issue now, and there’s a lot of stuff going on that’ll be open for inclusion.
BB: The show is fully scripted, but we’re shooting in a real environment, and if real things happen, we will draw them into the script.
CW: We’re there for ten weeks, so it’s going to be an experience. We’re not going to, like, get in, do the script, and get out. It’s going to be an experience, and it’ll be great to see what happens.
BE: When do you actually go to India to film?
CK: Late February. In early February, we’re going to be filming the stuff here where I’m talking to my friends, and we’ll have lots of cameos. We’ll be going over my life, saying, “I just want to get out.” But there’ll also be a spiritual thing, too, which’ll be brought up, as I try to analyze myself and see what I need to do for myself and how to pursue this dream. I really want to do it and make it happen, and there’ll be a lot of scenes that’ll be loosely improvised, like the stuff in L.A., but then we’ll be in India for the rest of it. It’ll be great.
BE: I wanted to ask you about some of your other film work, the first being “Monkeybone.”
CK: Oh, yeah.
BE: Henry Selick is a director who’s not necessarily known for working with, shall we say, real people.
BE: He’s definitely more of a stop-motion animation guy. What was he like to work with in a live-action capacity?
CK: He was great. He’s a genius, so he’s one of those guys who was kind of…he works things completely out in his head, so sometimes he couldn’t quite get his words out immediately. (Laughs) He was great to work with, but, yeah, he’s used to working with puppets, having done, like, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” And this was a huge thing for him to helm, but it came out all right. It was a big movie, and I think that the marketing wasn’t so great. Or it wasn’t how some people had hoped it would turn out. But it was a great experience. It was a lot of work. I played a dead body…well, I was a spirit who was caught in a dead body, and I took a faulty body with a broken neck, so I had to pretend that I was running with my neck hanging off, and… (Tries to demonstrate, then starts laughing)
CK: Anyway, it was a lot of work. But he was great to work with. He was very cool.
BE: How did you end up in the cast of “House on Haunted Hill”? That seemed like such an unlikely place for you to turn up.
CK: That I did because Geoffrey Rush was in it, and…well, it was the cast, y’know? I think a lot of the choices and decisions I’ve made, whether they’ve turned out good or not, there was something about them that I thought would be a great experience, or it struck me as original, or it was something new for me. Like, “Bollywood Hero,” certainly, is a great idea. Clearly, it doesn’t sound like something we’ve seen before. It’s got a really great and original idea behind it, and the storyline’s really great, and that kind of thing. But with “House on Haunted Hill,” it was definitely the cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, and Ali Larter, who was in that other Bollywood movie (“Marigold”), and…who else? Someone else.
BE: Wasn’t Taye Diggs in it?
CK: Yeah, Taye Diggs, too. It was an odd cast. It was, like, “Why are all of these people together?” But the producers were Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver. And I think I passed on it, and then Joel Silver came to “SNL” and asked me to do it. He said, “What do you want me to do? You want me to…” And he said some bad euphemism. “You want me to blah blah blah?” “Um, no.” But eventually I said, “All right, all right.” And, also, they offered me a lot of money, too. (Laughs) But it was great. It was a fun experience. We shot it up in, like, Woodland Hills. But, y’know, “Bollywood Hero” will be a lot more fun. That was a movie where there were marks and special effects and stuff like that, and this is based on human beings. So we don’t have to deal with, like, “I told you we have to do that lamp shot.” This is about human behavior and funny situations. It has a lot of heart and a lot of meeting. And, plus, that one was a horror movie, too. (Laughs)
BE: A couple of inevitable “SNL” questions for you. What were your favorite recurring characters?
CK: Anything that was halfway real, I liked. (Laughs) Just being human for a change. Because a lot of it was just a lot of work, and you didn’t learn much. I liked it when I’d do a scene where I’d go on a date or something. Like, I did a scene where I went on a date with Renee Zelwiger, and that was fun. The really good actors would choose those kinds of scenes. When you’d have J. Lo or Cameron Diaz, it would be, like, “I’d love to do Mr. Peepers and have him spit apple,” or, “I want to do the Mango thing,” y’know? And that was fun, and that was fine, but it was more, like, surface stuff. And I’d be, like, “I want to do the stage scene,” or a scene where I can’t find the right song on the radio, where I get to be my somewhat neurotic charming self. (Laughs) And, again, that’s why I chose this project. It’s perfect for that guy. And, plus, you get to be physical. It’s going to hit all the marks. There’s dancing…which is like Mango! (Laughs) All of the stuff that you liked me doing as characters, it’ll be seen through me in this project. I won’t be eating an apple like Mr. Peepers.
BE: Oh, come on.
CK: Well, all right, maybe I will. (Laughs)
BE: You haven’t filmed it yet, after all. There’s always a chance.
CK: That’s true. You never know what’s going to happen. Who knows?
BB: It might be a command performance from an Indian fan.
CK: True. Maybe someone will ask me to eat an apple.
BE: Were there any characters that just caused you to groan when you saw they were coming back for another sketch?
CK: Not really. Well, actually, yeah: the Roxbury guys. At one point, Will (Ferrell) and I were just going, “Oh, God…” (Rolls his eyes) Like, somebody would come on and say, “I would love to do the Roxbury guys,” we’d be, like, “Oh, Christ…”
BB: That’s why that commercial is so funny. (Writer’s note: Kattan got a chance to express his feelings about the Roxbury guys at the tail end of a Super Bowl Pepsi commercial last year.)
CK: Yeah, I didn’t want to do it. Pepsi was, like, “Could you put the suit on? And then you can be the one at the end doing it!” And I’m, like, “No, I’ll do it if I say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ I think it’s funnier if I say, ‘Stop it,’ or something like that.” Thank God there are still smart writers out there. Like this show. It’s smart. It’s a smart idea, so it’s not, like, “Wow, this is funny, huh? Just do this!” “Yeah, but it doesn’t make any sense, so why am I doing it?” But with the Roxbury guys, I think the breaking point was when Stallone came on and wanted to do the sketch just because. And we’re, like, “Well, now we’ve got to create a story, so, what, are we bopping our heads with Rocky? What are we doing?” That’s the hard part: when you exhaust your ideas and you’re starting to force it and just make sure it’s funny, but it’s not real. And that’s what this show is based on. It’s human, and it’s real. So we can’t lose.
BE: And last question: you’re rumored to be playing Buster Keaton in “Life of the Party.”
CK: Oh, yeah! And when they get the script right, I will.
BE: I guess that’s a film that’s been floating around since back when they were talking about Chris Farley playing in it.
CK: (With mock confusion) Chris Farley as Buster Keaton?
BE: No, no, no, as Fatty Arbuckle.
CK: Oh, sure, that would’ve been great. But, yeah, Keaton’s a hero of mine. He took huge physical risks, and I like to do that, too. I naturally do that. There’s a lot of that in “Bollywood Hero,” too. We’ve got a lot of area in India for a lot of great physical stuff. There’s a scene where I’m running after a train to get the girl, and of course a lot of scenes which are big production dance scenes, dramatic movies with fantasy sequences, and there’ll be a lot of stuff that’ll be Keaton-esque. I was talking to the director, who’s this great visual guy out of London who’s perfect for it, and he doesn’t come from a comedy place, but he comes from a great artistic visual movie background, where he wants things to look beautiful and needs people to be human beings, which is the perfect balance. Because I like things to be funny and physical, so he’s got that scope and he’s ready to have that kind of movement. I love that Keaton aspect. He just took major chances with his body. He didn’t think about it; he just did it. And that’s the way to be a performer, whether you’re a comic or an actor. You just do it. And if you can’t do it, then don’t try, because people will see it and just say, “Oh, please, stop.”
BE: And speaking of stopping, I can see the publicist peeking around the door. But thanks a lot for letting me sit down with you for a few minutes.
CK: Oh, sure! And thank you very much!
BE: Can I get a picture for the piece?
CK: Absolutely. (Sternly) Just don’t put it on Facebook.
CK: (Laughs) I’m just kidding. You can put it on Facebook. (To Belisa) Did you see his face…? Oh, man…