Pam Brady and Andrew Fleming Team Up to Bring ‘Hamlet 2’ to Life
by Paul Fischer
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When you combine a frequent contributor to South Park (Pam Brady) with one of the most interesting young directors in Hollywood (Andrew Fleming, Dick), you tend to end up with a sequel to Hamlet. Both are original and rebellious in a town defined by a sense of sameness, and when one talks to the pair, one has a distinct impression that Brady and Fleming are having the time of their lives, thanks to a “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” number and a unique approach to screen comedy. Paul Fischer spoke to both of them in this exclusive interview.
PF: What was the inspiration behind writing this in the first place? I mean, was it a way of getting back at all those frustrated actors that you’ve known?
AF: I was actually—we were inspired by the Lord.
PB: [laughs] Sweet Jesus.
PF: By the “Sweet Jesus” song?
PB: No, actually—we were inspired by having done two network pilots in a row, and neither of them went. We had a really good experience doing them, but then when the shows don’t get picked up, they just disappear. We thought, “Well, maybe we should work on something for ourselves that we can hold onto.”
AF: Something for the ages. [laughs]
PF: I mean, obviously people must have looked at you in utter dismay when you came up with something called Hamlet 2. I mean, obviously it’s more than just that. But it is about frustration. It is about somebody’s relentless passion. Could you relate to this character? I mean, is that where this came from?
AF: To Hamlet? The Coogan character, you mean.
PF: Yeah, the Coogan character.
AF: That was really the genesis of it. We came up with this idea about a teacher who is really a mess and is not very good at what he does. But he really thinks he’s inspirational to his students and kind of does the worst plays, and nobody respects him. And he doesn’t get paid. And they try to cut the program. And it just—he has a bad home life. But he has this idea, this dream, and just keeps pushing through. And it’s an absurd idea, and it upsets everyone. But it started out with the character, and then it grew out from there.
PF: Talk about the collaborative process, and how much you fed off each other as you were working your way through the script.
AF: We did a lot of screaming and crying.
PB: Yeah. It was like scream therapy. We set up a table in one of our audience, and we will take turns, and we will flip the table. Like you always want to do, and you see in old time movies. That really gets the juices going. The creative ones.
PF: Well, thank you. I’m glad you added that.
PB: Let me qualify that. It’s not a sexual thing. Sometimes it can be, but not the way we work.
PF: You can tell that you did work on South Park.
PB: Oh, you can tell? [laughs] You can tell now, or from the movie?
PF: Right now, actually, from this interview. Oh, yes, I can see, she definitely worked on South Park.
PB: Just a God-fearing Christian girl, really.
PF: Well, I don’t know which part of heaven they’re gonna send you, when it’s all said and done.
PB: Bring a sack lunch if you’re behind me? Yeah.
PF: The film does delve into some fairly touchy territory. And yet at the same time, there’s a huge amount of humanity to this piece. Where’s the line, for you? How are you able to find the right balance between the outrageous, and humanity? Because I don’t think it would have worked if it had just been so outrageous—
AF: Well, I think that when we do try to be outrageous, that those two kind of ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. When you talk about things that make people uncomfortable, you kind of go out into the edge, you really see what people are made of, you know? This guy has, like, the worst marriage with his wife who’s just terrible to him. And you kind of just die just watching him listen to her crazy diatribes in front of him. You know, that—the scenes that make you uncomfortable are the scenes where you really learn about people.
PF: “Rock Me, Jesus,” is obviously going to be the Oscar-nominated song from this movie.
AF: “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.”
PF: “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.” And given the fact that that’s not such an outrageous idea, given what happened with the South Park movie—
AF: We’re shopping for Oscar outfits already.
PB: Yeah. And Neil Diamond has expressed some interest in singing it at the Oscars.
PF: Did that song evolve as the script evolved? Did you come up with that idea well after you wrote it?
AF: The idea about “Sexy Jesus” was always in the script. I think that it was a reference to a song, maybe. Like, we had the title. But the song didn’t—we didn’t start writing the song until just a few months before we started shooting, actually.
PF: Did you expect the kind of reaction to the song that you’ve already received, or that you’re getting already?
AF: What’s the reaction?
PB: Yeah. We don’t know. [laughs]
PF: It seems very positive, from what I—I mean, I love the song. I think it’s really cool.
AF: It was supposed to be—you know, fun and funny. But then when we kind of heard the first version of it, it was like, “Wow. This is actually kind of catchy.” Some people have said, “It’s so catchy I can’t get it out of my head.” Kind of like a tumor.
PF: Like a tumor. Oh, interesting.
AF: It’s in their head, and they want it to leave their head, but they can’t. Like, a tumor or schizophrenic or something.
PB: Like a demon.
PF: How tough a movie is this to cast? I mean, you need to find actors who take the material seriously. Because the only way this works is for everyone to take it seriously, and to treat it like a completely serious piece. So how hard was it to find the right actors to do this?
AF: It’s the hardest part. I mean, you know, the script is the big—you know, first thing. And then casting is really the most important thing, after that. Because if you cast it well, all you have to do is kind of get out of the way. But it was hard to find people who just really, really got it. That was really the thing. It was like a mental thing. You had to just understand the head space of the movie.
PF: Why Steve?
AF: He’s good. [laughs] He’s funny. I mean, you’re English, or—are you English?
PF: I’m Australian.
AF: You knew who he was.
PF: Yes, I knew who he was.
AF: We knew who he was. But a lot of other people didn’t. And it was just like this thing, like—it was almost kind of frustrating. Like, why isn’t that guy so famous here? Why isn’t he, like, the biggest deal? Because he’s so funny. He’s so smart. He takes so many chances, too.
PF: In fact, you had so many check marks against you, in trying to pitch this to a studio. I mean, you’ve got—it’s controversial. You have an unknown leading man. What were the pitfalls in trying to get this film made? Actually get the money to get it made?
AF: Well, those ones you mentioned.
PB: Yeah, all three of those. I’d say ultimately we sort of tried to stay away from the studios, and we protected it, because it really was this exercise that came out of going through the process at a big network. And by holding onto it, we did—in the last year before it got financed, we were at New Line briefly. And they were pretty gentle with it.
AF: You’re being very kind.
PB: [laughs] We got lucky enough to raise the money for it. We could do it the way we sort of wanted to.
AF: Or find somebody who’s willing to take a chance on this thing. Because if we had taken it to a studio, they would have—I just think they would have second-guessed a lot of the choices.
PF: Right. Elizabeth Shue’s role in this is fabulous. Did you write—in the writing process, was she simply an actress in the script, that became Elizabeth Shue once she was cast? How did that all come about?
AF: Yeah. We had it in mind that it was somebody who was more kind of a TV actress. Somebody not quite so esteemed. And we had a few interesting run-ins with actresses. We just rewrote it and made it a generic part, and just kind of cast a wider net. She was really a much more deluxe A-list actress than we had ever thought we could get for that part. But I think she’s just kind of—she just loved the script, and she was just up for the adventure of it, I think.
PF: When she was cast, did you say, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you just played yourself?” Or an exaggerated version of yourself.
AF: Oh, no, it was always going to be an actress playing herself. We had written the script to be generic. Just a famous actress. And we knew we would have to customize the part to whoever played it.
PF: This is coming out toward the tail end of the summer, and it’s obviously a tough marketplace. What do you think sets Hamlet 2 apart from the bigger Hollywood comedies that are obviously preceding it?
PB: Let’s see.
PB: Love. It was made with love.
PF: It was made with love.
PB: I’m not gonna point out which ones I don’t think were made with love.
PF: Well, I can go through the list of films.
AF: No, no, no, no, no.
PB: [laughs] Let’s just alienate people.
AF: I just think that there’s nothing like it out there. You know, you really can’t say, “Oh, this is just like dot-dot-dot.” You just can’t do that with this movie.
PF: I know. It’s very original. And I think that’s, obviously, the great thing about it. It must give you a very—I mean, did putting this together and seeing that it’s finally coming out—through a studio, really. I mean, Focus is still part of the studio system. Does it give you a kind of different perspective now on what you can do with material?
PB: Yeah. I mean, definitely, because I’d never gone through the independent process. And Focus has been pretty great, because as soon as they saw it, they didn’t really ask for any changes. There were just some trims throughout. Yeah, so it’s been kind of cool to know that—I mean, it takes more time and everything, and patience. But it’s nice to know if you want to do something a little left of center, there’s a way to do it. Especially when God’s on your side.
PF: Well, of course. Are you guys planning on collaborating again? Because obviously this seems to be a match made in heaven, with all these creative juices flowing, and all.
AF: It’s made in Purgatory. We are working on something else.
PF: And you are gonna tell me what, exactly, about it?
PB: Yeah, what can we say about it?
AF: We haven’t really talked about it with anybody, because it’s still amorphous. Well, it’s not amorphous, but we haven’t gone public with any of it.
PF: Is it a similar comedic tone to Hamlet?
PB: It kind of is. Yeah, it kind of is. It’s a meditation on American consumers? Isn’t it great to be that pompous about yourself? [laughs], but it’s silly. The thing we’re working on is silly, which maybe will end up being about something. Maybe.
PF: Pam, are you still involved at all with South Park?
PB: Well, not right now, but I go back every once in a while. Because they have retreats, where they break stories. And they go to these luxurious resort destinations for a week. So I try to get myself invited to those.
PF: I could understand why.
PB: Yeah. I like to pop in for those, and pretend to work. But yeah, I’m really good friends with those guys, so I go back every once in a while.
PF: I assume there’s a soundtrack for Hamlet 2.
AF: It’s on iTunes, the one song. I think the rest of the album is coming.
PF: “Sexy Jesus” is on iTunes?
AF: “Sexy Jesus” is on iTunes. Ninety-nine cents.
PB: And you can make it your ring tone.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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