Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. Can you put the lie to a foul story that's been circulating
- that you and Trey Parker are not working together any more?
A. Yeah, I don't know where that came from. Well I do
know, it came from an online thing. I did an interview a couple
of months ago and I talked about how I was so tired from doing
the movie, because it was such a hard experience, that it had
ruined all these relationships in my life. I was kind of speaking
metaphorically, about how my parents were pissed off at me and
my dogs hadn't seen me in a month... I never said a thing about
Trey, but somehow they've extricated out to Trey and I were mad
at each other.
Quite the contrary, we worked this entire year so hard together,
I mean we were working together 16 hours a day, almost every single
day in 2004, and we never wanted to kill each other, which is
kind of amazing.
But at the same time, he's in Australia now and I'm in Europe,
so we tried to get as far away from each other as we could - you
know, you spend so much time with someone, you just want to get
away from them for a little bit.
But I don't know where that came from but with the advent of the
wonder of the internet now, everyone in the world thinks it's
Q. Why puppets, or marionettes?
A. Yeah, they're marionettes actually. I think pretty
obviously it came from watching Thunderbirds. It was something
I had seen when I was little, growing up in the States - I think
it was on PBM, a public station - and Trey and I, three or four
years ago, were just flicking through the channels, bored as hell,
and there was Thunderbirds. And it was like one of those things
where you instantly remembered it, you know, because, I mean visually
it's just so different from anything else, especially on TV in
America. And we instantly said 'god, this is so cool, don't you
wish that it wasn't so boring, basically...' And so we started
talking like, 'wouldn't it be cool if someone made this kind of
look and this kind of hand-crafted feel, but today it's fast-moving
and funny', and then I guess we kind of realised that the only
people stupid enough to do that would be us [laughs]. So we kind
of figured out that we'd try to do it.
Q. I don't think Gerry ever went as far as having puppet
sex with almost a dozen different positions, though? Was that
just because that with puppets, and with your sense of humour,
you can go as far as you want and then some?
A. Yeah, I mean obviously you couldn't show that sex
scene in America with live action and get away with it. I don't
know, Gerry Anderson is like... somebody said he was a comic genius
if he would have just let his comedy go, because a lot of the
Thunderbirds stuff is unintentionally so, but it's really funny.
The funniest shit is when they're just looking at each other,
like 'we've got to go save the world' and then walk out with these
[mimics puppet arms on string]. That was really the seed of the
movie, was some of the funny moments in Thunderbirds. Unfortunately,
Gerry Anderson thought he was doing, or I guess he tried to convince
himself he was doing serious things and people were going to think
it was serious.
It's the same with South Park, you know, if you use a different
medium you can get away with more.
In South Park, for instance, you have Kenny die all the time.
A little eight-year-old boy dying in a real live action comedy,
it would be tough to make that funny. But a little piece of construction
paper is funny. And there's a visceral fun in watching Team America
and making it, like taking a puppet and throwing it against the
wall. Because it's not CG, there's something funny about it.
Q. How long was it before you got your first letter from
Mr Baldwin's lawyers? And also how many of the people you pillared
actually contacted you afterwards?
A. Here's all I've heard of the whole thing. When Alec
Baldwin heard we were doing a movie and he was going to be in
it, he called Paramount and said he wanted to do the voice. And
we said 'thanks but no thanks, that's ok'. That's all we heard
from Alec Baldwin.
And Sean Penn wrote the letter where he got mad with me and Trey
for doing the movie - and that speaks for itself, and speaks pretty
badly for itself, but that's his response to the movie, and other
than that I haven't heard a thing. Now you know all I do.
Q. Do you assume it's silent admiration?
A. Hopefully, I think most of them probably have a sense
of humour, you know. Even Sean Penn, if you've seen the movie,
it's like he says 'kurplaw' out of Wrath of Kahn, and he's like
'two panthers'... I mean, like how could you really be that mad
about that? Obviously he doesn't have a sense of humour.
I actually think that people like George Clooney and Matt Damon
do have a sense of humour. Or maybe they're pissed off and they're
silent. I don't know.
Q. Was there a squabble between you guys over the voice
of Matt Damon, as I see in the credits that you both do his voice?
A. No, no, that's just complete laziness. Trey did a
couple, I did a couple cos Trey was busy one day, and then they
just ended up in the final mix and some credits person figured
it out. I don't care!
Q. You mentioned you can get away with stuff because
they are puppets, but the flip side of that is you got an R rating
A. Oh yeah. I wouldn't disagree that the film should
be rated R with all the language and the sex and stuff.
Q. But it's a 15 here. What do you make of that?
A. Yeah but rated R doesn't really mean much in the States.
It officially means 17 or older. But very few theaters actually
enforce it. And most theaters usually won't sell a ticket to a
six or seven-year-old but they will to a 14 or 15-year-old. So
it's about the same as it is here. They don't check ID most of
the time, so the rating about makes sense to me, but it was just
stupid that we had to cut stuff to get an R rating. That was what
was stupid - we actually had to cut a few things out of the sex
Q. Like what?
A. Just some sexual positions. It'll be on the uncut
Q. I guess there are some States in America where the
sex you depict might be illegal!
A. There might be actually! I don't know.
Q. I kept waiting for a joke about getting wood, which
I believe the description is used...
A. Yeah but the thing is our puppets really were fibre-glass
and carbon fibre, there was no wood used. The Thunderbirds skeletons
Q. With puppets on the poster, how are you going to prevent
parents from taking six-year-olds to see it?
A. Well that's exactly where the rating comes in and
where these kinds of stories are important. It's the kind of thing
that Trey and I have dealt with for a long time, which is we've
done cartoons for a long time - and because it's cartoons kids
will want to see it. All we can do is say in every interview 'this
isn't for kids', have it on, like South Park, after a certain
time (after 10pm). All we can do is say it all, then the rating
gets put on it, and it's up to parents to know that stuff. I don't
know what else we could put on the poster besides puppets because
that's what it is.
Q. Just how challenging was working with marionettes?
A. Whatever is in the production notes times ten. The
production notes don't quite do it justice. It started out as,
you know, the first unit, second unit, third unit. We had, let's
see 10 weeks, and the original schedule was 50 days the first
unit, and we ended up having 14 weeks, probably 12 of which had
three units. I mean, we had so many more shooting days and added
cameras. I mean, you have to get it done in a certain amount of
time, but we would average on one camera five shots a day, probably,
because it was just so meticulous. You'd get it already and Gary
would have to do this and his string would break and that would
take 20 minutes, and then you'd get him all sorted out, and then
Lisa's face would stop because her battery ran out, so we'd have
to replace the battery and that would take 20 minutes. And then
all the normal movie shit that happens, which is enough to make
But this was an incredibly meticulous process and unlike a normal
movie where you'd shoot a master, two shots and then coverage,
and then you'd have your close-ups and edit it together and get
a scene out of it, if you got this puppet to look right one time,
then 'cut, got it, ok that's the shot we're using, now we'll go
in'. You just did it almost like animation, where you just did
each shot to get exactly what you need. There was very little
we shot that we didn't use because it just took so long to get.
Q. To expand on the thing with the rating, in South Park:
The Movie there is a scene where the South Park boys work their
way into an R rating film. How do you film about ratings in that
sort of sense, because it seemed like you were perhaps sending
a message to the MPAA?
A. I could talk for an hour about the MPAA, it's a very
complex situation. But to be quick about it, I think there should
be a ratings system; I think that parents should know what their
kids are going to see, and I don't think this particular film,
or the South Park movie, is right for 10-year-olds to see. So
that's my opinion.
I think there's a workable situation for how to make that work,
while also not censoring films, and the MPAA doesn't do it. I
don't know if there's a censor board that works any better here
but in America it doesn't work because what you have is something
like we're not Stanley Kubrick or some great artist or whatever
our film was still somewhat censored. It wasn't the end of the
world but 'ok fine'. But then, I can guarantee, tons of 10-year-olds
saw the movie. So it doesn't work on either end. It's like they
censor stuff and still the kids get in. It's kind of ridiculous.
Q. There is a conspicuous lack of Bush-bashing in it.
Did you think you'd already covered it in South Park? Or was there
A. No, we don't really do any Bush-bashing in South Park
either. If you want to find Bush-bashing in America you only have
to walk about 10ft to find it and almost because of that, Trey
and I are always kind of attracted to what other people aren't
doing. Frankly, it wasn't the movie we wanted to make. There was
also the idea of making a movie being the world police, or that
concept has been around for... or that phrase 'America being the
world's police' has been around since I was a kid. I remember
when I was a teenager hearing it, and it will be around after
George Bush is out of office. That concept itself narrowed the
film's scope down to the last three years.
And also, in America at least, it felt like the movie would be
seen as a Bush-bashing film, even if we only used him in one shot,
instead of what we really wanted to make, which was a film about
the emotions about being an American today and for the last three
years obviously - but even beyond that scope.
And as soon as you put Bush in it, people go 'oh, they're making
a movie about Bush', and it's like 'no, we're only going to make
a movie about you and your country'. And it felt like it takes
some of the onus off the audience and onus off the emotional target
Even if he was just in one shot, I swear that would be in every
piece of press, it would be everywhere, it would be the still
that went out. Even Michael Moore, I mean you saw Michael Moore
for like two scenes, and maybe even 20 seconds of the film, but
Newsweek wanted his picture and Rolling Stone wanted his picture,
so Trey and I had to be very vocal - we had to cut Michael Moore;
we had to say you can't use Michael Moore pictures anymore because
every press wanted to use him. The movie's not about Michael Moore.
And Trey and I are very good about marketing stuff and sometimes,
maybe, we should let that stuff go, but I know if we used Bush
in one shot he would be in every piece of press for the movie.
Q. Given recent world events,
are you expecting an outcry over the Panama sequence and seeing
the bodies in the water?
A. I don't think so. I hadn't even thought about that
until I started taking questions over the last couple of days.
I think people know that obviously it's not at all related to
recent events. But if a couple of shots resonate a little bit,
then you know, it's not necessarily a bad thing. And ok, it's
not a tsunami but it is a terrorist incident and it's not any
less sad that people are dying. And we went back and forth over
such issues, and talked about them over and over, you know, what's
the right sensitivity about that? It felt kind of cool to let
that linger for a second instead of blowing past it.
Q. Is it me, or is there something of an outrageous Elmer
Fudd in Kim Jong Il?
A. Yeah, I mean Trey voices Kim Jong Il, which is pretty
obvious because it sounds just like Cartman. But he's just such
a great character and we actually... we worked with Scott Rudin
on this film, whose legend precedes him as, like, the biggest
Hollywood producer, and he's a monster. We actually modeled Kim
Jong Il after Scott, and then we told him that after shooting.
We were trying to figure out the character and, remember that
scene where he says 'don't blow up the thing until I say so',
and then goes 'ok, bye' [in accent], I could call Scott right
now and that's the way he would say 'bye'. He's just a big guy;
he has like eight phones around him.
We read the CIA profile on Kim Jong Il, as they profile leaders
that we have no diplomatic relations with to try and figure them
out a bit in times of crisis, and Kim Jong Il is considered a
malignant narcissist, which is the psycho-therapy term to describe
different kinds of narcissists. And we started reading what a
malignant narcissist was, it was Scott Rudin! [laughs]
So then we figured, well we know Scott, we don't know Kim Jong
Il, so we'll make it like Scott. And there is a little bit of
that frustration in Scott. I mean Scott's brilliant, he's one
of the smartest people I've ever been in the same room with, but
he's just frustrated to death with everyone else, because no one's
as smart as him, everybody's incompetent, and he hates himself
and he has no patience, and maybe that's what Kim Jong Il is like.
Q. I remember Michael Moore interviewed you in Bowling
for Columbine. Any feelings of guilt, because you seemed to get
on really well!
A. Yeah [laughs]. I've hung out with him a few times.
I really liked Roger & Me. He asked me to be in Bowling for
Columbine because I grew up in Littleton, Colorado, and I said
'oh yeah, that sounds ok'. And he didn't mis-represent me in the
film at all. What he did, and it really pissed off Trey, and kind
of pissed off me too, was that he put animation right after us,
that I think was mixed. And tons of people come up to us and say
'oh I love that animation you guys did in Bowling for Columbine',
it's very South Park-esque, we didn't do it, I was offended by
the cartoon, I thought it was retarded, personally, but that's
just my opinion. And the only reason my opinion matters is cos
people thought I did it, and it really was a bummer, and I think
it was a good reference to what Michael Moore does in films; he
doesn't necessarily explicitly say this is what it is, but he
creates meaning where there is none by cutting things together.
So we've been a personal kind of victim of that. I don't really
hate the guy. I disagree with him politically about as strong
as you can.
But I also know Matt Damon and he's a great guy. But if you're
doing a movie and you give your friends better treatment, then
you're kind of a shit-head. If you're doing that movie and you're
trying to make Gary [Johnston] confused by the voices in the world,
then you have to have Michael Moore be the voice of anti-Team
America; I mean, he is, for better or worse, that voice in America
right now - if you agree with him or not, he's that guy.
And, more than anything else, it was fun just to make a puppet
of him and blow him up!
So there's the high-fa looting answer and then there's the low-brow
Q. So I guess you have to come to terms with the fact
that if you're going to cause offence, it has to be democratic.
Everybody becomes a target?
A. Definitely. We thought about putting ourselves in
it at one point, but then thought it would be too weird. I mean,
maybe we're celebrities that have lost our minds. But we're making
a thing that's going to last forever, but it's really nothing
personal. I have nothing personally against Michael Moore, except
for what I said about Bowling for Columbine, and I thought it
was pretty shitty, but I don't know him that well, and I don't
have a personal thing against any of the actors. It's not personal,
it's just a statement on celebrity.
Q. Even Michael Bay?
A. Yeah, Michael Bay, though. People talk about offensive,
I thought the treatment of Pearl Harbor in Pearl Harbor, that
to me is offensive. They premiered it on an aircraft carrier.
I mean, Trey was actually there, and he said it was just the most
offensive thing. You know, this movie is as important as Pearl
Harbor. You know, this is the events of 1941. And that's just
offensive to me.
Do you want to hear a funny story related to that? I think a guy
who worked on the second unit, I think his name's Hilbert, he
was at the gym a few weeks ago, and they saw Michael Bay at the
gym. And you know Michael Bay at the gym because he always wears
a hat that says Bay on it.
He said that he and his friend purposely started talking about
how much they loved Team America and how they loved this one part,
and Michael Bay heard them and kept flashing them bad looks, so
they went 'oh wasn't that great that song about Pearl Harbor',
and he coughed 'arseholes' and walked away [laughs].
Q. And Ben Affleck? Will you get a Christmas card off
him next year?
A. Probably not, but he wasn't very good in Pearl Harbor.
I don't think that's a big, brave statement.
Q. Can we look forward to further adventures for Team
America? Is it something that can run and run, or do you see it
as being pretty self-contained?
A. I think it's pretty self-contained but if someone
else wants to do it, then fine but not in puppet-form. I mean
to do a movie that's essentially so hand-crafted and so shot-for-shot
is so expensive, we could only do it as a feature film and it's
too time-consuming. And the characters themselves are supposed
to be these kind of rifts on archetype. I mean, you have Chris
who's like 'hey, you think you're fucking cool?', that's in every
movie. You have the guy that joins the team and the guy that hates
him inexplicably. That's Iceman in Top Gun. And it was kind of
a creative decision, which I don't know if it's that good, but
they were supposed to be kind of just archetypes, you know, just
like she's from Berkeley, she's the clairvoyant. So I don't know
if the characters are that interesting to keep going for very
long. Maybe Gary, maybe Kim Jong Il, and Spottswoode's a good
character, or he ended up that way.
But I think we're just going to concentrate on South Park.
Q. So what is next for you guys?
A. The only thing we have going right now is just more
South Park. Trey and I's only contractual obligation is to Comedy
Central for another year, or maybe two if they want it, to do
more South Park, which is the best job in the world. We want to
keep doing that and I'm sure we'll figure out something to do
but we worked to hard the last year, or 18 months, that we really
need a break.
We also spent the last year sitting in an editing suite and having
people bring food to us. So I have nothing... we have nothing
to write about right now because we haven't done anything except
sit in an editing suite for a year, you know. If we wanted to
write a comedy about sitting in an editing suite, we could make
it funny, but you got to go do stuff so you have something to
say. And we really need to re-charge the batteries before we do
that and do some more South Park.
Q. How expensive was it?
A. About $30m. It might be a little more, or a little
Q. And was Gary Johnston based on anyone?
A. Um, you mean look-wise or character-wise? No, I mean,
the Hollywood actor thing kind of came to us because we wanted
to do the whole... Alec Baldwin was kind of like Darth Vader and
acting was like The Force and you had to use your power. And a
lot of Bruckheimer movies, too, you can use your specific power
the hero has for dark, or for evil, or for good, and Gary is torn
between the two. It was an interesting study in character because
when we started out Gary was like this character who was taken
off the street and given to Team America and was like, 'what,
what's going on?' And that's a comedy movie. A comedy movie was
like, he was plucked off the street and 'hey, look we've got this,
and look at our ships, and we're going to fight terrorists' and
he was 'what?' You can definitely see a comedy character being
like, 'oh, ok', like 'put this beard on', and 'ok', and you can
see that unfolding as a comedy.
The problem is that doesn't work as the rest of the movie, because
it has to be the Bruckheimer thing of 'you've got to save the
world', and he's got to be [in actor's voice] 'I just don't think
I can do it'. The movie could go one way if we did the comedy
character, and the other way with the action character, and we
ended up doing a little bit of both. Trey voiced him and in all
of our movies where Trey plays the lead, he ends up playing more
of that, every guy that's plucked out of regular life and put
into this special world and 'you're all like crazy, what's going
It didn't work with pairing it with the Bruckheimer movie because
you needed him to look at somebody and go 'I just might be able
to pull this off' and have that tone.
If anything, Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Honestly, that's it, that
guy who's a maverick, renegade who needs to keep those skills
under control; you might be able to save the world, but you need
to grow up. Which is the Bruckheimer hero in all of them.
Q. Do you ever worry that musicals may be getting beyond
A. What's fun about this is, except for two songs, the
rest of the movie no one breaks into song, so it's not a musical
in that way, but it's more the Bruckheimer musical with, you know,
the little mini-music videos put throughout the movie, which is
like the Michael Bay thing. In Armageddon, the Aerosmith song,
Take My Breath Away in Top Gun, and they're kind of musicals,
they hit you over the head with emotions using music every once
in a while, so we decided to kind of hit all those - we have the
country song, montage, hit all those little musical moments and
make kind of a different kind of musical. And there's as much
music in this as there is in the South Park movie, it's just different.
And Trey's such a brilliant songwriter because the Team America
anthem plays on both sides of it - it's both kind of a riff on
'rah, rah Americanism' but it's also kind of a weird embracing
of America, fuck yeah.
I read this article recently that when the Americans were storming
Fallujah that some of the psyche-operations, where they go through
and they play music to freak everybody out on big speakers in
tanks, they actually played America: Fuck yeah. And that completed
my year - the joke was complete.
Q. Did you keep a puppet as a souvenir?
A. Do you know what's really sad, and I just found this
out maybe a month or two ago, is that we used latex for their
faces, and that stuff disintegrates, turns to dust, so they probably
are in shitty.... I mean we could make them again, because we
have the moulds, so it wouldn't be that hard. But the actual face
turns to dust.
Q. And do you have a favourite?
A. Yeah, Kim Jong Il.
Q. Have you ever thought about branching out from animation
into live action?
A. Well we've done live action way back, Cannibal! The
Musical and Orgazmo, and low-budget things. But yeah, probably.
We always think of something stupid to do but not for a while.
We're just going to do South Park this year.