Mario Cantone Interview – SURF’S UP

     June 5, 2007

I think we can all agree that the summer of 2007 has been off to a mediocre start. Most of the big ticket summer extravaganzas have missed their mark and the majority of movie theater patrons are walking out of their local Cineplex wishing they had saved their time and money.

Thankfully the tide is starting to turn as “Knocked Up,” “Oceans 13,” and the movie that this article is about – “Surf’s Up” have all delivered the goods. People can now go to the movies and walk out satisfied.

Recently Sony held a press junket to promote their newest entry into the crowded summer market. While most junkets are held at a local hotel in Los Angeles, with the movie about surfing the studio decided for an exotic location and Hawaii was the lucky destination for a number of journalists.

At the junket I was able to interview a few people from the cast and this article is the roundtable interview with Mario Cantone.

In the movie Mario plays a surf talent scout named Mikey Abromowitz and he’s the one who’s in charge of finding new surfers for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off. For a better idea of his character and what the movie is about I recommend watching some of the video clips that I previously posted.

During the interview Mario gave his opinions on a lot of subjects and it’s a funny read. And for all you “Sex and the City” fans, Mario mentioned that he’s been contacted about his availability for the fall which could mean the long awaited feature film might actually be happening. I know a number of women who just got as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning.

And before getting to the interview, I’ve posted a lot of other things to help promote “Surf’s Up.” If you missed the red carpet video interviews from Hawaii click here. To see some photographs from the premiere click here. Finally, if you want to see some behind the scenes photos from my trip click here.

As always you can listen to the interview as an MP3 so click here if you’d like to download it.

Once again a big thank you to Sony for inviting me to Hawaii. “Surf’s Up” opens this Friday and it’s absolutely worth seeing. And with that… here is Mario.

Mario Cantone: Oh, I love all these little… oooh it’s like a science fiction movie. They’re going to come to life and eat me! Oh. Go ahead buddy. Oh look at yours it’s old school I like it. That’s cool. All right baby.

Question: When you started out on this project I don’t know how long ago it was or whatever but did they even have a conceptual drawing of what your character?

Of me? Of my character? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. They sat me down at the Four Seasons in L.A. and they said this is the character we want you do. He’s a talent scout. He’s a sand piper which is very nervous bird and he’s stressed out and he works for this kind of Don King-like promoter which James Woods plays and I said yeah, that sounds great to me. It then I got to work with James Woods. I got to be in the room with him and improvise with him which was really fun.

Was it intimidating or just fun?

I think it was a little intimidating. It’s hard to get in a word edgewise with him sometimes, but he plays my boss so it was good. He was a blast. I could really listen. I think he’s Hollywood history. I could listen to his Hollywood stories forever.

Did he swear a lot during the improvisations?

He swore a little bit, I did too. The 2 of us were a little blue. He did a little bit. Yeah, he bashed me a bit, it was fun. We had a good time. That’s the unique thing about this movie. We got to improvise. We got to work together you know I mean and you can hear it when you see the film. You get to hear the overlap.

Is Mikey based on somebody that you know or people that you’ve met?

It wasn’t a stretch believe me. It’s based on… I think they based it on Jerry Schmitt who the head of press and marketing here who I adore. He’s a great guy, so he’s kind of like Jerry a little bit. They call him Mikey in it and I in fact I think he did some of the scratch tests before they hired me. Yeah, so, but it was fun. I love this. I’m so glad I can sell this without bullshitting you because it’s really, really good.

So have you seen it with and audience and kids?

I haven’t seen it with children because I’m afraid of them. After having a children’s show for 5 years called Steampipe Alley out of New York I had enough. It’s funny, a lot of people do these movies for their children, you know, they’re like I want my children to be able to … I don’t have kids, I don’t want kids, not that I don’t care about kids but really could care less. Really, so I do it for me. I’m a huge… the classics like Bambi and Pinocchio and Lady and the… I love that stuff. It took me a long time to get used to the CGI stuff. That did happen. It’s too cold. When I saw Toy Story I was like well, the kids look like toys too. This is all plastic but then finally I think it softened up. The backgrounds finally… I was saying in this other interview animation… every animated movie has a style. If you look at Pinocchio it’s got a watercolor kind of wash to it. If you look at Sleeping Beauty it’s very angular. If you look at Bambi, it’s very pastel. Dalmatians it’s very sketchy. That’s the beauty of an animated film. They have a style and when you do certain… in some of these CGI ones the backgrounds of the suburban neighborhood look like a suburban neighborhood—it’s too real. The grass looks like grass there’s no flair to it. There’s no style to it and I think that’s shit and that has to stop. It does. I don’t like it. I like it to have a look. This movie has a look to it and it just has to have a lot of heart, you know. I love animation, I really do but I don’t do it for the children.

What about all the pop culture references which this movie doesn’t have but all the animated movies now throw that in there?

It’s a little annoying sometimes. Like when I saw Shrek 2, I was like there is too much pop culture references and this doesn’t take place at that time. It’s not within the frame or the vocabulary of the time it takes place and that is kind of strange to me and they steered away from that with this and it stays within the world. And I think it’s when you’re doing a character like a character monologue in your standup act. If you’re doing a character like when Lily Tomlin does a character or Whoopie Goldberg does a character, they stay within the vocabulary of that character. If you go outside it then it makes no sense, it makes no sense at all. So I think you have to stay inside the framework. But with Shrek now, anything is game. I think the 3rd one there probably more product placement than anything, but I haven’t seen it. I’m sure it’s very good.

I was going to say you’re clearly a huge fan of Shrek.

I like Shrek. I liked the 1st one a lot but the 2nd one I thought—this is odd. I haven’t seen the 3rd one.

It’s odd.

Is it? I haven’t seen it. I liked the first one a lot, but I thought the 2nd one there was too much of like what you said of it went outside the reference of the time.

Have you ever thought of doing our job? You’d be pretty good at it.

I would be good at it, huh. Well, it’s because I’m a bitch that’s why.

Are you trying to say something about us?

I love you guys. I just had an interview with Kelly Slater who’s adorable and very, very nice and I kind of flipped it on him and started interviewing him and we had this conversation and it was great. I think that’s the way it should be when it’s one-on-one, you know. It’s tough when it’s like this because if you all got on top of me I would fall through the floor.

I can’t imagine… they told you this little bitty bird with long legs and you’re riding a whale… did you go like oh, right or was that just too bizarre for you?

No, I loved it.

How did you control the way anyway? I could never figure that out.

That’s a very good question. I have a remote control in my beak. No, I think… I don’t know. That’s a very good question. We don’t know. That’s my ride. That’s my bus. That’s my Amtrak. That’s my Acela train that I get on. That’s a good question.

You said you got started doing Steampipe Alley in New York. It was a kid’s show? You gravitate towards kid’s entertainment.

I know, it’s that crazy and then I don’t really like children that much. It’s really very odd. I just always loved animation. I just live for it. I was doing another animated film for 3 years with another company that unfortunately fell apart. It was very disheartening because I loved the project very much.

Is that American Dog? Is it done?

It’s not done, I’m just not in it anymore. No one’s in it anymore except for John Travolta. It’s very upsetting because Chris Sanders who wrote that script and was directing it I mean I was close to that project. I was with it for 3 years. It was brilliant. This guy is brilliant. And in what he was doing with it was phenomenal and unfortunately there’s a book called The Disney That Never Was that should be a chapter because you’ll never see it. You’ll never see what it was going to be which was stunning. Stunning. But anyway, you have your disappointments in life and it’s too bad but hopefully. I love doing this stuff.

Do you still keep up your standup?

I do. I haven’t done it… God I just did the Madelyn Kahn Ovarian Cancer Benefit the other night with Robert Klein and Whoopie Goldberg. It was at Caroline’s in New York. First time I’d been on stage since November. That one-man show which I adored and loved sucked the life out of me I gotta tell you. It was tough. And I want to do new stuff and it’s tough to write because I write on stage and I haven’t been going on stage that much so I’ve been going back and forth to Vancouver doing The Men In Trees show and hopefully the Sex in the City movie is going to happen this fall. If it does, I’m in it which would be nice so it better get done.

Can you tell us about the Men in Trees show because we’ve seen some posters around?

The Men in Trees thing? The Anne Hache thing? It was on last year, they just ordered 22 more for next year and I don’t know if I’m going back… maybe if they ask me I would. It was fun. It was a good time and it was a good set to work on and I had a really nice character. I had kind of… it was a little mellower than usual for me and I got plot line and I got to do some dramatic stuff. It was fun. Orlando Jones was my lover on it and we had to do an ice skating dance that hasn’t aired yet. This is hilarious you guys. We had to do an ice skating dance and we had to have an argument during the ice skating dance. So they hired 2 stunt men—great guys too—not figure skaters—stunt men. So they’re trying to do this gay ice dance and it’s like where’s the gay flair? It was like watching 2 straight guys trying to do gay porn. It just didn’t work, actually sometimes it does work if you’re gay for pay, but the point is so it was hilarious to see that and I said to my director these guys can skate like hockey players but you’re not going to get the dramatic flair that you need. Not that I’m the greatest skater in the world but I ended up doing all my own stunts and doing the dance and it was really fun. Orlando’s double was this light-skinned black guy that looked nothing like him. My double kind of looked like me except he was much butcher and had a wife and 3 kids which also I do by the way. I have a wife and 3 kids. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t like homos I got a wife and 3 kids just because I play a gay bird—I got a wife and 3 kids.

Your bird is gay?

I don’t know. Scientifically seagulls are gay, do you know that? Did you know the majority of seagulls are gay? So a sandpiper is pretty close to a seagull. He’s pretty flamboyant this bird and the only thing that’s missing is a musical number. I wanted a musical number. I said why didn’t you give me a musical number? I said I want a musical number in the sequel.

He used to recruit for musical theater right?

He used to recruit for musical theater itself. Is he gay? I’m like do you live in a cave?

Speaking of the sequel, has there ever been any talk because the film is really good.

Isn’t it good? Seriously. It’s so great to be a part of this that you can go this is friggin’ great.

So has there been behind the scenes talking?

There is talk of it and I’d better have a musical number in it. That’s all I know. I was telling Kelly Slater that I was like the fact that you’re involved with this you obviously think this movie represents surfing in a way that is respectful and it’s valid and it’s important and you see the tragedy of it and the triumphs of it and the hurt and the pain and the joy. It’s all there. And he said yeah. I said I knew it was one he saw the script and the pictures he was just very excited about it and they really stay true to… I don’t even know surfing. It’s not that I don’t like it I’m like whatever but this really showed me what surfing was and what it meant. It’s very theatrical. Surfing is a show. It’s a show. It’s theater. It really is so it’s not too far away from what I do.

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You ad-libbed?

Most of it.

What did they not let you do? Did they say you can’t you can’t use…

Well, I couldn’t say fuck but I could say…

Is there any little thing that you did that you wish was in it?

Yeah, there was a thing they wished they could put in it. There was a little Julia Child thing that I do when I was making the party up and I started talking about (in Julia Child Voice) baked stuffing a sandpiper bird which has a lot of bones in it. You have to braise it because if you braise it the meat will fall off the bone. If you roast it like a pheasant you’re pulling like rubber (end Julia Child Voice). So I did a whole thing like that and they loved it and they were going to use it at one point and then they didn’t use it. There was a few other things they didn’t use that I thought were really funny but there’s more to come. I think this movie might be a big franchise if it does as well as it should there should be sequels and the series and blah, blah, blah. And I told them no one else is playing Mikey.

So has Sex in the City reserved time on your schedule for the fall?

They called me about my availability, yeah. But nothing’s negotiated with myself or I don’t know if any of the girls have negotiated, I have no idea what’s going on. All I know is it better get done because I want to do it.

Where you ever worried if they did a movie they’d be able to incorporate all the characters?

What do you mean? Was I worried?

That they might not incorporate every character.

Yeah, sure. But I for surely know that I’m in it a good amount so that’s exciting to know.

They need the laughs!

That’s what Michael Patrick King said to me, he goes what do you think I’m stupid, I need the laughs. Michael Patrick King you know was the kind of the creative force behind that show. He’s going to be writing and directing the movie. I’ve known him for 24 years. We started doing standup together in New York at the Improv. He always had a director’s mind. He’d always throw things out at me and go ok, you da, da, da, da, now go. And I’d do it. He was always very brilliant. Brilliant boy. I think he’s one of the best writers and directors in television, so I love him. It’s very exciting, I hope it happens and with him at the helm it should be a damn good movie.

So do you have some theory about this film and penguins?

I guess it started with the March of the Penguins, right with the documentary which is a great documentary and then Happy Feet and then what else? I always go back to…

Farce of the Penguins?

I’m in that. Yeah, I’m in that I play… who do I play? I’m Stanley, some gay penguin. Bob Saget called me up I was like I can’t get out of bed to play a gay penguin. He was like come on; I’ll give you 50 bucks. I was like, alright I’m there. So I did it. My partner, my partner Jerry, who I’ve been with 16 years he watched it. I haven’t watched it yet. He said it’s really, really funny. I said I can’t watch Farce of the Penguins; I could barely get through Happy Feet. Just give me a break.

You didn’t like Happy Feet?

I liked Happy Feet but let me tell you something about Happy Feet, Happy Feet is a very good movie and the guy is brilliant. I loved Babe, those are great films. My problem with Happy Feet is it slid all over the place. It’s like what is this? Like Babe they used… I think if they could have done it like Babe with real penguins they would have because they looked like real but they couldn’t so they had to animate them. When the humans showed up… before the humans showed up I thought they’re going to use real people because that’s what they did in Babe. That’s the style they kind of went for and the backgrounds were realistic. It looked like the Arctic. That wasn’t my problem because I like that they have that style. That’s unique. My problem with it is that if you’re going to make a musical, get a song writing team and make a fucking musical. Make a musical. I don’t want to hear Boogie Wonderland and Kiss by Prince in a show because if each one of them had their songs which is all about their songs—if each one of them had their song that was a really good musical comedy score then you’ve got a picture. Then you’ve got a hell of a movie and that’s my problem with that movie. Write a score. Don’t cheat and get an Earth, Wind and Fire song. Let Phillip Bailey sing that ok? And I love Earth, Wind and Fire. They’re my favorite group. And I love that music. I love Prince, that’s my thing. I love R&B, but I wanted to hear—get Steve Flaherty and Lynn Ayres, get Steven Tyler, get some people who are writing musical theater and write a score.

Don’t you think that’s the problem with most movies now is they don’t have a soundtrack; they have a greatest hits package?

Yeah I do. I think people are afraid of new scores. They’re afraid of… yeah, what was the last really great animated movie musical? What was it? Hasn’t been one for a while, right?

The one with Elton John.

The Lion King, yeah. The Lion King was good. Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast was the one I thought was pretty great. But now it’s like they put a song in a movie it’s a montage. It’s a montage. (starts to sing the Montage song from Team America: World Police) It’s going to be a montage!

It sounds like you have some ideas for a Surf’s Up 2 there you know. Maybe a musical score.

It probably won’t be a musical but I definitely think that I should have a number. That’s all I have to say. I will not name names.

When you were a little kid what kind of animated characters did you respond to?

I loved Jiminy Cricket and I still do. Jiminy Cricket is my favorite character in the world. I think he’s awesome. He was just cool and funny and snappy and yeah, he was pretty great. And I loved Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty because she was like the Joan Crawford of animated films. Yeah, I liked her. She was beautiful. She was pretty great. When I remember sitting down with Chris Jenkins when he offered me this movie and I just went off on animation and he couldn’t believe I knew so much and I was like please I’ve read Disney Animation Illusion by Ollie Johnson and Frank Thompson. That book is that thick and I’ve read it cover to cover. I know about animation. I know what it is. I know… I could never sit down and write one but I know when it’s good. I’m too lazy. That’s why I couldn’t do your job. I can’t sit down and write my own stand up never mind write an article for a newspaper or write a novel. You know writing… have any of you ever written novels or book? I have a couple of friends that are novelists and I just go that to me is the most amazing thing. When someone can actually sit down and write an intricate novel and structure in a way that’s surprising and brilliant and new and thrilling and moving. It’s a mystery to me. I don’t know how people do that.

What about a one-man show though?

Yeah, but that one-man show was a lot of my standup for years and a lot of new stuff too and a lot of musical stuff that I didn’t write. My partner Jerry Dixon wrote that stuff along with Harold Logan who wrote some of the lyrics with him. That we just kind of put it all together. It was not a long thing. That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever do another one because I don’t think I have another 25 years in me to develop another one. I have some ideas for a new show but it’s a long way off.

It seems to me that a few people but comedians get the kind of range in their careers that you have gotten from explicit/controversial, unless it’s material that’s kid friendly stuff, I wonder if you have any thoughts on what comedians get away with because they make us laugh.

Well, I think if you do it with the right point of view and it’s funny, you can get away with almost anything. But there’s certain things I think people are still afraid of and I think there’s certain things you have to not… there’s certain words you can’t use you know. Whether it’s the n-word or the other ‘F’ word as it’s called now, which is very thrilling for me by the way, kids.

The other ‘F’ word?

Faggot. Yeah. It’s finally being taken seriously as a derogatory term. You know, I always said this—the homosexuals and the Korean’s are the last 2 people to be made fun of and it’s acceptable. I was like I’m going to buy a deli and screw everybody up. This is ridiculous, but finally… . I was talking about Isaiah Washington and I was like I really don’t think Isaiah Washington is a homophobic man, I just think he’s a very angry guy. He’s certainly had altercations with people that weren’t gay. Someone had to start it off and be the scapegoat for it to be taken seriously and he is the one. He’s the first one. So he’s going into gay rehab what the hell was that? What do you go into rehab with a bunch of screaming homosexuals and lip sync to Sister Sledge? I mean what’s going on? It also depends on the way you use certain words. For the first time… and I’m not going to be afraid to do this… because it was coming… I live in the projects in New York City, the Chelsea Elliot house where actually is where Whoopie Goldberg brought up her kids. So I know all these kids and they all know me and I don’t meet new kids all the time because there’s so many of them but one young kid saw me on the street, he was a young black kid about 17-18 years old and he literally went like this to me and he was with his buddies too and he was like ‘Yo man, you dat comedian that does that Liza Minnelli thing? Yo, that’s hysterical!’ I was like, what the fuck? ‘Yo, that’s hysterical. You do that Liza Minnelli stuff? You’re hilarious man! Hey, you my nigger, you my nigger!’ And I felt 10 feet tall after that. I was like that is awesome. So, I said I’m going to save this and do this bit on stage and not be afraid of saying that word because it’s coming from a really great… . it’s interesting what certain things do. Like the Chappell sketch that I did which is called ‘Ask A Gay Guy’, I don’t know if you’ve seen it but I get questions from people on the street and then I kind of goof on them. But it was just once and it was about 3 or 4 questions and then Paul Mooney did ‘Ask A Black Dude’, but Dave put both of those in the same category which I thought was brilliant and smart and coming from the projects that I live in right across the street from them, I saw certain ones that were homophobic and kind of afraid of me. It shifted them. It literally shifted them to be like yeah, he’s cool and of course it’s Dave but you’re also going yeah and Dave put me on there as a gay man because what the fuck’s the problem? So as small as it was it was probably one of the most important political things I ever did and I’m not a political comedian. I don’t feel intelligent enough to be a political comedian. They’re like are you going to take over The View? And I’m like no. I can’t, I don’t feel sharp enough. I’ll never get in a word edgewise with those bitches I’ll tell you. And I love them, they know that.

Who do you think should take Rosie’s place?

I don’t know. Either you get someone that’s boisterous and controversial like her or you go the Meredith Viera way which is also a great way to go too because Meredith was fantastic.

You could go do it as Liza.

I’d do it as Liza. That’s good idea. She’d be like, (in Liza voice) ‘What are we talking about? Can I have another jelly donut? This is terrific, look I brought my bedazzler. It puts studs all inside my shirt and it sparkles. Are we cutting to commercial? Oh, good.’ (end Liza voice) That’s a very good idea. I should just go on and do the whole thing. I was the first male co-host ever on that show. They did it once and then they did like a manly Wednesday or something like that and they’d have a male co-host once a week for a while and I did it again but it was fun. I like going on and doing the awards thing that I do. I’ve been doing that for 10 years. I’ve done it like 30 times and that’s fun and people look forward to it. So I’m doing it 2 more times in June. Once to promote this and once to rip apart the Daytime Emmys which is always fun. That’s the best one. The Daytime Emmys are the best ones because they’re all ‘redonkulous’. It’s hilarious. It’s really fun. Best young actor and they come up and they look 60 and I’m like what? So yeah.

Can you talk about what it’s like working with James Woods?

Yeah. He was hilarious and horrifying and did I tell you this story? Well, it was intimidating at first but it was also thrilling and I think he’s brilliant and very, very funny. Here’s a little story—he was Bette Davis’ good friend. Bette Davis loved him. So, I do Bette Davis and I do her on different stages. I do her when she’s young, I do her in All About Eve and I do her in Baby Jane and I do her after the stroke which is the best way to do her. So I said to him that I do her and I started doing her like after the stroke and I was like (in Bette Davis post-stroke voice) ‘Mr. James well you’re quite a talented young actor. You really, really are.’ (end Bette voice) And he kind of glazed over and looked away and started talking to one of the directors and I was like ok, shut the hell up, he’s not going for that. Shut up. So that was it. I was like ok, he’s not into that. Cut to I see him on Celebrity Poker and his charity was the American Stroke Association. So, and then he was on a documentary saying he didn’t like people that kind of did her and made her camp. I wasn’t making her camp, I love Bette Davis. I think she was brilliant but to do the 5 stages of Bette Davis is a pretty great idea. I always like doing them towards the end. That’s when they’re at their best and that’s when they’re at their most exaggerated, too. That’s my little James Woods story, but I enjoyed working with him. We worked together twice before but boy he’s something. You’ve gotta keep up with him. You really do. But I could listen to him, his Hollywood stories are great. He’s a smart man. I liked him. I really had fun with him. Thank you everybody.

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