When most people think of Ryan Phillippe. they tend to think of young, good-looking, laser-like focused, stone-faced seriousness. Phillippe has consistently delivered on this from his early hits I Know What You Did Last Summer and Cruel Intentions to his increasing profile in films like Crash, Flags Of Our Fathers, and Stop-Loss.
Now, the 35 year-old puts his serious business to the ultimate test in his first comedy, a film adaptation of the popular Saturday Night Live sketch MacGruber.
In the film, he plays Lt. Dixon Piper, who’s been assembled by hapless bomb defusing expert MacGruber, played by Will Forte, to help him uncover a stolen nuclear warhead before it blows up the world. However, playing a soldier was nothing new for Ryan as he had previously played soldiers in both Flags Of Our Fathers and Stop-Loss.
“I played it as if I was in the [Clint] Eastwood movie I did,” Phillippe says, “I think that provides a nice counter to the idiocy. It’s like you end up seeing the film somewhat through my eyes because I’m the only sane one in it. And I think Powers [Boothe] is the same thing, we played it like we were in a real eighties action movie. I think it works that way. I think we were all conscious of paying homage to Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and Rambo and that sort of thing, but in terms of the way of actually portraying the character, to me, it was just about trying to be a legit soldier and dealing with this complete moron and how frustrating that would be.”
“I should be in charge and I’m not for whatever reason and I kind of have to deal with that. I didn’t base the character on any one in particular, really,” he continues, “There’s some military advisors I’ve worked with in a couple of movies. There was a guy, I sort of implemented a bit of his personality and
Being so well-known for drama, the obvious question was what made Phillippe decide to do comedy.
“The script was so good,” Ryan explains, “When it got sent to me, I sat at home alone and read it. I laughed at every page and I’m like there’s no way this movie cannot be funny. It’s all there and I think it’s hilarious. Having seen the Digital Shorts that I knew Jorma’s very much a part of, I knew the film would have an edge and it does kind of have its own brand of cool. It does. It’s got an attitude and that’s what really excited me, too, that Jorma was directing it. Because those videos are great like “I’m On A Boat”.”
“I got invited to the read-through and I was confused as to why they wanted me there, but I was excited because I was such a fan of everyone involved,” he adds, “I’m a huge comedy fan. I have been for years, of SNL, of these actors that I got to work with, and I’ve always loved those movies. Like I know every word to Anchorman and it’s just kind of fun to do a movie like that with repeat viewing and of all the things I’ve done, I’m most excited for my friends to see this one, just because I think it’s a good time. I just think its so silly and fun. I’ve always wanted to do something like this.”
Ryan continued describing his experience of taking his signature serious act into a film as willfully absurd as MacGruber.
“It was fun,” he recalls, “The challenge for me, this whole job, was for me not to break, particularly with Will and not knowing what he may or may not do on any given take. It was always
“It’s like on a dramatic film, when you do a movie like Crash or Flags Of Our Fathers and Stop-Loss, the days get pretty heavy like that and this was the total opposite,” Phillippe adds, “I got to work and I left from morning till night and you kind of see it on screen how much we enjoyed each other, how much we enjoyed doing it. I think that spirit comes through in the film. But the Internet predicted that it was the end of our careers, the end of mine and Val [Kilmer's] career. I think that’s funny.”
Another challenge for Phillippe besides the film’s level of absurdity was its breakneck filming schedule of 28 days.
“I’ve done enough independent films and I’ve done movies that cost 1,500,000, so I’ve been down that road before,” he says, “It’s sort of out of my realm in the comedy aspect, but the brevity of the shooting schedule, I was used to that sort of thing because I’ve worked on all kinds of film, so that was not new to me.”
“I guess there’s part of you when it’s that relatively low a budget and you’re shooting it that fast, you worry that you’re missing some beats,” Ryan continues, “But I think [director] Jorma [Taccone] was so on top of it and Will was so dedicated and gives really, I think, an incredible comedic performance. So, to me, I could say it was the movie I hoped we were making. It’s so in-your-face and it’s a hard R and it doesn’t pull punches and maybe some of the other ones in the past were a bit more mainstream or softer that way, but, this is
One particular scene that pushed Phillippe into comedic hardcore territory is a “celery scene” involving Piper and MacGruber.
“I had to go to a really dark place that day,” Ryan claims, “No body double. It’s one of those things when I first read the script. I thought, how tied they are to this moment. I wonder if I can get them to do it in a different way and then, after spending a couple of weeks on this set, seeing Will constantly naked doing anything it took to make the scene work and make it funny, there was no way I could back down. I just went for it. I don’t know if that’s why, the reason I signed up, the celery scene. It will follow me forever.”
On the contrary, Ryan says that his co-star Will Forte had a much easier time with the scene and even suggested of his willingness to go all out on command.
“Will would have been up for it, I’m sure,” Phillippe claims, “He would do it right now in front of you. He’d be happy to.”
Another actor who brought absurdity to the film was Val Kilmer, who plays MacGruber’s arch-enemy Dieter von Cunth. Phillippe described his experience of what Kilmer was like on set.
“A lovable eccentric,” Ryan says, “He was so into it, too, and during the production, he was sending threatening e-mails to Will as Cunth, which I thought was pretty awesome. All of us just kind of came to play and we had the right attitude to make this silly movie that I love.”
We wondered if Ryan or any of his co-stars had trouble pronouncing the name Cunth.
“I don’t think that happened, really,” Phillippe says, “It’s pretty easy to say. It’s solid. We were debating about whether or not we could say it in interviews like the on-camera stuff, like for E!, whether or not you can say Cunth or not. I don’t know
We also wondered if there were any scenes removed from the final cut of MacGruber.
“They did, but nothing of major significance, little piece for time’s sake, for pacing, but I don’t think there were that many scenes,” Ryan says, “There may be one or two though that will actually be on the DVD.”
Ryan revealed he would like to continue playing action heroes and even eluded to attempting to snag the role for one iconic one in particular, Captain America.
“I would have loved it,” he says of it, “They didn’t want me. I met with them and I was real into it, especially since I have a six year-old son. I thought that would be an awesome thing for me to do, but, no, it didn’t happen. I’d like to find something like that. I’d like to find something physical before I get too old because I’ve been in martial arts since I was eight years old and I want to find something where I could do something like that.”
However, Phillippe says he does have one particular film that he has landed the role for that is currently about to be in the works.
“I start a movie based on a book called The Lincoln Lawyer with Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, and Michael PeÃ±a,” Ryan says, “I start in July. I play Michael Connolly. It’s Grisham-esque. I’m on trial basically, without giving away too much, for rape and murder and I may or may not have done it, I think. It’s a great character.”
“Matthew McConaughey is the lawyer, which is cool, because it’s a return to drama for him, which I think will be really good,” he continues, “It’s very much a very Paul Newman-esque sort of role. It reminds you of The Absence of Malice type of character and I think it will be real good for him. Directing it is a young guy. He’s only made