Casa De Mi Padre - Matt Piedmont interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
MATT Piedmont talks exclusively to IndieLondon about the making of Casa De Mi Padre with Will Ferrell and some of the challenges it involved.
He also discusses their friendship, his career to this point and his passion for record collecting, as well as why the film enabled him to indulge his passion for Sam Peckinpah.
Q. How did Casa De Mi Padre come together?
Matt Piedmont: Well, Will had long had the idea to do a movie in Spanish, which everyone thought was insane. But he got together with my friend Andy [Andrew Steele, screenwriter), with whom I shared an office at Saturday Night Live, and they came up with a script. And once that was done, they asked me: “Are you going to do this?” And I was like: “Definitely!” Will then had a window of opportunity and we decided to shoot it.
Q. In 24 days, I believe?
Matt Piedmont: It was actually 23 because we lost a day. But yeah, it was a pretty tight schedule for a movie with such an epic scale… using slow-motion shoot-outs, an animatronic tiger, learning Spanish, etc. But I don’t mind rising to that kind of challenge.
Q. How quickly did Will take to the Spanish language?
Matt Piedmont: I think he had about a month to learn but even more impressive was the fact that it was a very specific northern Mexican accent that he had to pick up. He had a voice coach and he worked really hard so that he could comprehend stuff as well as speak it convincingly. I mean, to get that down and to also know how to act it was quite amazing and a pretty large undertaking by Will. It worked out that every day he’d finish filming and then start the process all over again of learning it and getting to grips with all the nuances of the performance as well.
Q. How are you with Spanish? Did it present any challenges for you to direct in a foreign language?
Matt Piedmont: I’ve got a couple of years of High School Spanish in me [laughs]. But it wasn’t so bad for me because the movie was written first in English and then translated so I knew what was coming and what each scene entailed. Plus, all the Spanish speaking actors, such as Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, all spoke English.
Q. How much did you enjoy deliberately placing in continuity errors and such things? Or was that more of a challenge than it looked?
Matt Piedmont: Well, there’s actually a bunch of ‘high brow’ film references in there, whether it’s looking towards Mexican cinema, some classic French films or the work of Sam Peckinpah. So, there’s a lot of in-jokes. But we tried hard to not make it so that audiences felt like they were being left out of the joke. We tried to make it something that everyone could enjoy and get behind regardless of whether they got the references or not. But it was fun to do.
Q. Has anyone pointed out an error that you didn’t realise you‘d made?
Matt Piedmont: Oh yeah, there’s one or two in there [laughs]! I mean, 99.9% of the ‘errors’ you see in the movie are all deliberate. But there’s one, for instance, where Will’s putting Genesis [Rodriguez] on the horse and you can see the trainer’s hand holding the horse in one shot. But the good thing is that it’s one of those movies where we can say it was all planned from the beginning. So, I can cover my ass in that way [laughs]. But it’s amazing how many errors people don’t actually catch, which I think is a testament to the movie’s continuity and people’s enjoyment of it. There are a bunch of things especially during Diego’s first scene that people don’t get. But I think people get so wrapped up in it that there are a lot of continuity errors that people simply don’t catch, which makes it more fun to watch back and try and spot.
Q. How was getting to indulge your inner Peckinpah fan for the movie’s two big shoot-outs?
Matt Piedmont: Oh man, I love those movies. I know The Wild Bunch is a lot of people’s favourite and the one that everybody goes to. But my own personal favourite is Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, which starred Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, Bob Dylan and Slim Pickens. It’s such a beautiful film… so lyrical and visceral and poetic. It’s my favourite because it was kind of seen as a mess upon its release. But I think it’s just a really, really amazing character study. And, of course, Peckinpah was a master of those Bonnie & Clyde-style slow-motion squibs going off every moment. Not to glorify violence but he kind of changed film language with that stuff. But I still remember the emotional response I had to it.
The other one that I love of his is Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, which was a very personal film for him. It’s reviled. But it features a great performance from Warren Oates. But whenever you go back and look at Peckinpah’s work, I guess it’s always a treasure trove to reference for any filmmaker.
Q. How long did you have to shoot the gun-fights?
Matt Piedmont: We only had two days for the final shoot-out and one day for the wedding scene. So, for the former we shot the stuff towards the house first and then we had to turn around the next day and shoot it from the other direction. And the first day was sunny but the second day was overcast and we didn’t have the budget or ability to wait. I think the same kind of thing happened on the set of Braveheart, when they were shooting in Ireland. We also had to shoot next door to the house we used for the exteriors in order to get those kind of Scarface interiors you see. So, we were flying by the seat of our pants for a lot of the time. But there’s never enough time on a movie and I had it all planned out, so I always knew what I wanted and what we were trying to achieve.
Q. How was reuniting Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna on screen?
Matt Piedmont: Oh, they were amazing. And they got what we were trying to do straight away and were on the same frequency. I remember the first day with Diego in front of that blue curtain because it was like watching a young Peter Sellers, or a young Pacino,.. he was so good. Gael came a little later but he was also brilliant. To me, it was like having Daniel Day Lewis and Robert De Niro come onto a set and show they have a natural gift for comedy. It’s not something that a lot of their fans may have been expecting. But when they came on board it legitimised it against a lot of the potential criticisms. So, it was wonderful to have them on board and to be so supportive throughout because they’ve spoken passionately about it since.
Q. What made you want to parody and pay homage to the tele-novela?
Matt Piedmont: Well, I think it’s so prevalent in Los Angeles and Venice, California… you see it so often if you flick channels because, obviously, there is such a large Spanish community in LA. But we also looked at films like Bigger Than Life or All That Heaven Allows because that melodrama is so inherently funny while not trying to be. So, we used that as our jumping off point. And then we also went to the Spaghetti Westerns and those Westerns that used to do giant outdoor sets on a sound stage. We tried to throw everything into the mix to keep it fun. So, telenovelas were really only the jumping off point because they are so over the top that it’s fun to do.
Q. And it meant Will having to change his acting style…
Matt Piedmont: Will is the best improviser in the world but he couldn’t do it on this. So, the challenge was to adapt his physicality and acting style and reign in some of his more obvious inclinations. Sometimes, you find that people are afraid of stepping out of their comfort zones but Will’s the opposite… he’s willing to stick his neck out, so speaking and acting in another language appealed to him even though he knew he’d be cutting off his life-line, so to speak.
Q. How did you first get to know Will?
Matt Piedmont: Will and I worked on Saturday Night Live together. I was a writer and I was there from 1996 to 2002 and Will was there from ‘95 to ‘02. And Andrew was a part of that too. So, the three of us go way back to that time and we’ve always kept in touch since.
Q. What’s the funniest thing Will’s ever done in your opinion?
Matt Piedmont: Oh man, that’s a tough one. I think there’s too many of them to say! But if I was pushed, then overall note for note it would have to be Anchorman because it’s just so out there. But there’s an embarrassment of riches with Will’s stuff and there’s too many that are classic. The cowbell sketch with Christopher Walken is another classic. But really, there’s too many to pick out. Every time I pick one I think of another. So, I would hesitate to pick just one. Sorry, it’s a bit of a cop out of an answer but it’s the truth [laughs]!
Q. You’re directing King Dork next, right?
Matt Piedmont: Actually, King Dork just got pushed back a bit. We were going to shoot in July in Connecticut but the company who were funding the movie decided to close up shop. So, we’re probably now looking at the end of the year or maybe next But it’s a brilliant script and it sort of mirrors the way I grew up in the Northwest. It shows how music changes your life, even if you’re a teen in the middle of nowhere.
Q. Talking of music… how big a fan are you? You’ve just been buying records prior to this interview, right?
Matt Piedmont: I have about 5,000 LPS. I still collect vinyl. But it all began when I found a cassette tape of Hot Rocks by the Rolling Stones in the back-seat of a car when I was seven and the owner said I could have it. It really blew my mind. So, it started from that and grew into The Beatles and then Dylan and it still grows today! As much as I’m a visual guy and director, a lot of the joy of my inspiration comes from music. I mean, I grew up pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so to say or even think that one day you’d be involved with film or television was akin to saying that you wanted to become an astronaut or something. It just didn’t seem feasible. But listening to that music I realised there was hope. King Dork touches on that.
Q. What are some of your more prized possessions?
Matt Piedmont: I have just got an original Buddy Holly & The Chirping Crickets. But I also love west coast jazz and my whole Dylan collection. I especially love the ‘60s mono stuff. In mono they really are the best. I like to hear the music when it was recorded and pressed to vinyl. Obviously, the digital stuff has helped in a lot of areas but I think it’s great to combine the old and new technology… I don’t like everyone thinking new is necessarily better. I look at film as being better than digital, and I think the sound of vinyl is better than CD or digital. You can see it, too, and you have to get up and change it to hear the whole thing. In this day and age, where everything is instantaneous, it’s nice to be forced to get into something and let it sink in. You might not even like it at first, but you may then rediscover it a month or so later. In the digital age, everything is too disposable and that’s not always a good thing.
Q. Talking of modern thinking, how easy is it to get a film like Casa De Mi Padre made nowadays? I gather you had to do it independently? Is that frustrating or an accepted norm now?
Matt Piedmont: I think it’s an accepted norm now. But I think it’s always an uphill battle to get a movie made, whether you’re doing it independently or as part of the studio system. They cost a lot and the way the climate is now things are shrinking rather than getting bigger! However, I do believe that it’s always worth it and I like working the independent way. Even with King Dork and having the financing collapse… it’s part of the trade-off because if you’re lucky enough to see it through it means you’re able to make the movie you want to make without any interference. It’s always an uphill struggle that way but it’s worth it once you have something that you’re really pleased with and that hasn’t been compromised in any way. It also means that not everyone is going to like it, and some people may even hate it, but with Casa De Mi Padre the response has been really good and we’re all very proud of what we achieved.