While Christopher Guest's previous three films incorporated a documentary crew into the plot, this time the filmmakers eschewed the fictional documentary format for a straightforward narrative about the little indie that could and its fragile and frantic mob of actors, crewmembers, media figures, executives, and various hangers-on. Guest and Eugene Levy provided their expanding company of regular actors with a 27-page script full of scene set-ups, brief character background sketches, and occasional suggested jokes. They also included a handful of scripted scenes, with songs, for the film within the film, Home for Purim, and several entertainment news television shows.
"The idea of doing something related to show business came up as a little bit of a surprise," Levy says. "Normally we've tried to stay away from show business. It just seems too easy. The notion of Oscar dropped in relation to somebody's performance, what it does to that person, and then what it does to everybody else working on the same project -- it was a fragile premise, but I thought very funny."
The original idea did have some roots in reality. Several publications preemptively kicked around Levy's name for Best Supporting Actor for A Mighty Wind in 2003, "which was shocking," Levy says now. "And once it's in your head, no matter how you shake it, you can't get it out. You try and talk yourself out of it, but it's still there, and if somebody else mentions it: doubly hard to get out of your head."
"We've opened a whole new door," says Fred Willard, who plays "Hollywood Now" co-host Chuck Porter. "Waiting for Guffman, I don't think there was any outline. Best in Show, we got about a twelve-page outline. Mighty Wind is about a sixteen-page outline. This time we had make-up sessions, camera testing like back in the old days of Hollywood, hairstyle meetings, and rehearsals... This time it's like a real movie."
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
For Your Consideration revolves around the making of an Awards-bait low-budget movie, Home for Purim, which has attracted a group of very committed artists. The narrative is punctuated with scenes from this film within the film as they are shot in real time by the cast and crew of Purim, as played by the cast of Consideration, which is being filmed by Guest's real crew.
Co-writer Levy explains the origin of the Purim conceit: "The idea of setting it in Valdosta, Georgia, [came from] an experience that Chris had where he was working in one of the southern states and ran into some Jewish people who were using Yiddish words with a southern dialect," says Levy, who plays Morley Orfkin, the hapless agent of one of Purim's leads, Victor Allan Miller. "It just sounded funny, so we said, 'Let's set it in Georgia and make it a period piece.' The story is about the kids coming home to see their mother who is dying on Purim, which has always been an important holiday for the mother. That holiday is fun because you get to do costumes and things, and we just saw it as a funny little scenario around a dining room table."
Unlike the more free-flowing nature of the main shoot, the Purim segments required more structure and authentic period sets and wardrobe. "The set is fantastic," says Bob Balaban, who plays one of Purim's screenwriters, Philip Koontz. "To me it's the essence of Christopher Guest movies. Yes, it's funny, but it's not funny because anybody's exaggerating something. It's just funny by tilting it a few degrees. It kind of looks like Donna Reed lived there."
Levy and Guest then crafted the scenes with an era-specific type of florid, mannered dialogue that the actors could really have some fun with. "It's this 1940s drama and it is insane," says Rachael Harris, who plays Debbie Gilchrist, another member of the Purim cast. "It's like an old Bette Davis-Joan Crawford movie."
"The movie is so heightened and melodramatic," says Parker Posey, who took on the role of Callie Webb, another of Purim's leads. "They don't make movies like that anymore. So I was like actresses in the '30s and '40s. They were all kind of butch, when it was okay for women to smoke and be independent and really assert themselves and be fiery that way."
"The delivery of some of those lines is just outstanding," says Jim Piddock, who plays Purim's British cinematographer, Simon Whitset. "That's a real talent to be able to do bad acting, and it takes really good actors to be able to do it."
"A lot of independent movies have some kind of message -- there's some kind of political angle or someone's mentally handicapped -- that draws actors to these parts," Posey explains. "And in Home for Purim, it's almost like a heightened, condensed version of those kind of movies with a message."
Of course, the shifting double (or even triple) roles of Consideration's director, his crew, and the actors at times caused a kind of identity vertigo. "It's just hard to keep everybody straight, you know?" says Harris. "Like, 'Who are you right now? Are you Catherine or are you Marilyn? Or are you Esther?' So it's just ridiculous, everybody going in and out of character constantly."
Piddock often experienced similar confusion. "There was a time when [Chris] started laughing at something I said. And I was like, 'Was that Chris the director, or Jay Berman the director...?' I still don't know, actually. It was one of them."
Since carving out his niche as a maker of mostly improvised fictional documentaries like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, Guest has attracted both his devoted regular players and comedic newcomers eager to inhabit his stories. "People really love working for him in front of a camera because they will never get the chance to have this kind of freedom anywhere," Levy explains. "And Chris is one of the most brilliant creative comedic minds that I have ever met."
"It all starts with Christopher's attitude and sense of humor," says Willard. "He and Eugene get together and that's a lethal combination -- both the driest, funniest people. And it filters down. "He gives us really tasty stuff," says Jane Lynch, who plays Cindy Martin, the other host of "Hollywood Now."
Ricky Gervais, the much-hailed writer and star of TV touchstones "The Office" and "Extras," was a rookie on Consideration, but it was Guest's influence early on that inspired Gervais to pursue comedy. "The prospect of working with Christopher Guest was irresistible," he says. "I don't usually do projects that aren't my own, but there are some things you don't say no to. Working with the team that brought us Spinal Tap, which may be the best comedy film of all time -- it's incredible. He's a comedy hero to me. The single biggest influence on my comedy, living person, is probably Christopher Guest."
Of course, being the newcomer in such an acclaimed ensemble can amplify one's anxiety, especially if you're a performer, like Gervais, who breaks up at even the slightest hint of the funny. "It did feel like I was the new kid at school," says Gervais, who plays Martin Gibb, the president of Sunfish Classics, the distributor of Purim. "There was a fear that they would, you know, bully me and put my head down the toilet and steal my lunch money. But they didn't. They were very welcoming. I was nervous that I'd muck up. Everyone's so good. Everyone's natural. Everyone's funny. It's daunting because you get to the point where you think, 'Oh, I can't add to this. I can only make this film slightly worse.'"
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
As with previous Guest excursions, the actors were encouraged to develop the looks and accoutrements of their own characters. "I think this is the first time characters actually had to do a screen test for their look to see how it's going to look on film," Levy says. "Normally, you just create your look and walk on set for your first day of filming, and that's when everybody sees what you look like and hears what you sound like."
According to Harris, the actors' choices include some not-to-be-missed highlights. "Harry Shearer's fantastic, Hollywood white teeth are amazing," she says. "[There's also] some really, really fine cleavage in this movie. John Michael Higgins's thighs, I believe, he says are ninety-eight percent muscle. That is a big thing to be looking out for."
Many of the actors relish this freedom to create the external aspects of their characters. "Fred Willard, he's a busy guy, but Fred thinks about what his hair's going to be like eight months in advance," Balaban says. "I mean, he's just brilliant. I saw his hair today. I was like, How did he think of it?"
"It's called a 'faux-hawk,'" Willard explains, "and they style it after something that David Beckham was wearing. I can't go out like this. I'll put a hat on. When you do something like this, it adds a little bit to your character. You're a little goofy going in there, you've got one foot in the door."
ABOUT THE INDUSTRY
For Your Consideration's story and setting provided the actors with particularly fertile ground in which to grow their comic personalities. After all, they're ultimately satirizing themselves by mocking their own self-seriousness and odd industry rituals.
"There's something fun about the subject matter. We're giving it a very light, funny approach. We're not zinging the business here. We're just having fun with it as people who are in the business," Levy says.
"I think what Chris touches on is a really American thing," says Posey. "It's a luxury and a curse to be carried away with something. All of his movies have that kind of carried-away feeling, people who get really caught up with their passions. There's a lot of heartbreak and humor in them because they're very intense and serious about what they believe."
"It's about -- as Chris's movies mostly are -- a group of people who are aspiring to something way beyond their means, believing in it wholeheartedly, and falling short," says Piddock. "It is about us, the average person, trying to strive for something that we have no right to be striving for."
"I think everyone can relate," Willard says. "The public now is pretty hip about what goes on behind the scenes. They'll laugh at the little vanities that people have and the inter-actor fighting when a couple of them are nominated for awards and one or two others are a bit jealous. And then they say it's all about the work... I think the audience will like that."
"Kind of like Waiting for Guffman, the prospect of going to Broadway, and Best in Show, about going to the Westminster Dog Show, it's that same kind of inflation that happens when there's a possibility of winning something," Posey says.
"I've been to loads and loads of award ceremonies," says Gervais, whose series, "The Office," has won numerous awards in its native England. "You keep winning and it's terrible, because you start taking it for granted. Then recently I went to the Emmys, and we lost. ..It's very flattering to win, and it's better to win than lose, but you mustn't give it a second thought. Because it may be seven people's opinions, you know? I think that's the message."
WRITER-DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER GUEST plays Home for Purim director Jay Berman, a sitcom veteran taking on his first feature film who likes to play loose with the script.
Christopher Guest has acted, written and composed for theater, radio, television and film. In the late 1960s he worked as a stage actor in New York before he began writing for National Lampoon magazine in 1970. In 1974 and 1975 he worked on "National Lampoon's Radio Hour," making five albums, three of which were nominated for Grammys. His television credits include "The TV Show" (with Rob Reiner), "The Chevy Chase Special" and "The Lily Tomlin Show," for which he received an Emmy Award.
Guest directed his first feature film in 1989, The Big Picture, starring Kevin Bacon, and went on to do Waiting for Guffman (1997), Almost Heroes (1998) Best in Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind, (2003) for which he and Eugene Levy and Michael Mckean won a Grammy award. Guest's most recent project, For Your Consideration, takes a look at Hollywood and the effect of awards season on actors who think they might get nominated. This marks the fourth film that partners Guest with Eugene Levy who also appears in each film.
Guest was a member of the "Saturday Night Live" ensemble cast for a season in 1984-85, and has acted in over a dozen films including A Few Good Men, The Long Riders, The Princess Bride, Little Shop of Horrors, and This is Spinal Tap. He was most recently seen in Stephen Frears' Mrs. Henderson Presents with Judy Dench.
EUGENE LEVY (co-writer) is talent agent Morley Orfkin, President of the Dorkman-Orfkin Agency (DOA), who is shepherding the sunsetting acting career of major client Victor Allan Miller.
Eugene Levy co-writes with Christopher Guest For Your Consideration, their fourth collaboration as creator/writers. Levy has been a favorite of film and television audiences for over thirty years. As an acclaimed writer, director and highly respected comedic actor, Levy has developed a following that has confirmed his status as not only a cult comedy icon, but also a character actor capable of delivering performances in a variety of genres.
Levy is a descendant of the celebrated Second City Theater where he studied in the early 1970's alongside fellow members John Candy, Dan Ackroyd, and Gilda Radner. He was part of the creative team that came up with the idea for a television series about a low-budget television station called SCTV in 1976. Levy was a member of that brilliant ensemble cast of actor/writers that kept the show on the air for eight seasons while receiving two Emmy Awards for their writing efforts.
Levy displayed his comedic flare on the big screen in 1983, when he appeared as the Used Car Salesman in National Lampoon's Vacation with Chevy Chase. The next year, Levy co-starred opposite Tom Hanks in the film Splash as Dr. Walter Kornbluth, an earnest yet somewhat eccentric scientist intent on proving that mermaids exist. With a penchant for making audiences laugh, Levy continued to appear in side-splitting supporting roles in films such as Club Paradise with Robin Williams, Armed and Dangerous with John Candy, Multiplicity with Michael Keaton, Father Of The Bride 2 with Steve Martin, and Serendipity with John Cusack.
In 1996, Levy teamed up with writer and director Christopher Guest to write a screenplay for a mockumentary about a small town theater troupe. The final result of their efforts was the critically acclaimed satirical comedy Waiting For Guffman, which was an instant hit among moviegoers and the film industry as a whole. In 2000 Levy and Guest teamed up again to write and co-star in the hit comedy Best In Show, for which the pair received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay as well as a nomination from the Writers Guild of America. They went on to write and co-star in the 2003 mockumentary A Mighty Wind, a parody about '60's folk musicians who reunite for a tribute concert several years after their heyday. It garnered Levy a New York Film Critic Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, and a Grammy Award for Best Song Written For A Motion Picture.
But Levy may best be remembered for his high profile success with the film American Pie, directed by Paul and Chris Weitz, in which he starred as the understanding but terminally unhip father of a hormonally-charged teenager, a role he reprised in the 2001 sequel American Pie 2, and again in 2003's American Wedding.
Levy has also starred in the Disney hit comedy Bringing Down The House alongside Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, New Line Cinema's The Man with Samuel L. Jackson, and most recently appearing opposite Steve Martin in 20th Century Fox's Cheaper By The Dozen 2. He has lent his voice to the animated features Curious George for Universal and Over The Hedge for Dreamworks SKG, the latter being the sixth film for Levy that has broken the one hundred million dollar mark.
Levy resides in Toronto and Los Angeles.
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