Dean Parisot is a playful and workmanlike director who loves working with weird comedy. Parisot famously directed the cult hit Galaxy Quest, and several episodes of many notable TV shows. His newest film, RED 2, teams up some of the most talented actors currently working (in addition to leading could Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker, RED 2 stars John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Brian Cox) and let's them spin a ripping spy yarn full of flip deadpan humor and fun casual violence.
Dean Parisot recently sat down with CraveOnline to discuss what it's like working with such a talented cast, the trials of directing sequels, the popularity of Galaxy Quest, and the ill fate of the funny and oft-forgetten TV version of “The Tick.”
CraveOnline: These might be somewhat naïve questions…
Dean Parisot: And these might be stupid answers!
I'd like to know about how a director approaches a sequel to a film they didn't originally make. Were you a fan of RED? Were you very familiar?
I was a fan of RED. I was a fan of RED, and every actor in it, and a fan of Lorenzo Di Bonaventura who produced it. I've known him for many years. So that part was easy. The hard part was holding onto the tone and the entertainment value of the original while creating something new.
How much creative leeway did you have? What was your approach to making something new?
I approach it the way I approach everything. We had a period where the writers and I and Lorenzo developed the screenplay. We sat around drinking lots of coffee and talking about the relationship between Bruce and Mary-Louise and all those kinds of things. Y'know, then you make the movie! It was already in the zone I love to play in. The tone of the original was close to the tone I think that I like. So then the trick was balancing this sort of… I guess was keeping it grounded and real within the context of the story. Telling the adventure. Letting the adventure unfold while having this relationship between Mary-Louise and Bruce play out in context.
Not to tell stories out of school, but was there anything about the original that you wanted to change or improve?
No. In some ways this is a different animal, y'know? It's a much different story. It has some elements that are the same. I think, uh… well, I'm always hoping I'll make a better movie [laugh]. But in this case, I liked the original so much, that I was happy to come in and do “the second part,” y'know? And that's what we attempted to do. I do think this probably has a larger scope than the original. It's in four countries. There's 170 scenes. There's a lot of action set pieces. And probably a little bit more humor maybe. Obvious humor that the original didn't have.
How do you go about directing actors who have played roles before?
Very carefully! [laugh] It's not not, uh… In some ways, they already have those characters. So it's not about “finding the character.” Although it is with the new characters, like Catherine Zeta Jones, Anthony Hopkins, and Byung-hun Lee. The core group, they already have these characters, and ways of dressing and ways of talking and all those things you would normally do, already happening. Which is good, because I have such a giant cast, that if that hadn't occurred, I think I would have been overwhelmed. But they're such a talented bunch that really I just watched.
You're working with people like Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich… Some of these people have been knighted. For a “normal” like me, it seems like it would be intimidating. Is gathering these “heavy hitters” in one room overwhelming for a director?
It was actually… first of all, they're all extremely generous people. There's none of that sort of crazy ego. They were generous to each other, and they were all very generous to me. But we also were professionals. We've all worked a lot in our lives, so really it was just “let's get down to it and see what happens.” And quite honestly, it was a ball! It's so easy when you have this kind of talent, because, I was basically just guiding them, and giving them a playground. I'm allowing them to play within these characters. And invent things and show me things. Every day was a new surprise. It was actually a treat.
When dealing with such well-established, long working performers, is there any sort of conflict of acting styles?
They all have different styles. But they're actually – I was just talking about this with a friend recently – they talk to me and they talk to each other because they're fans of each other. And when that happens, they're helping each other out. We're all building things together. And it's fun because everyone gets to see what they can make out of a scene every day. And they're egos? This is a collection of seasoned professionals. There's a reason they have knighthoods and Oscars: They're really good! They didn't get good by not coming out of their trailers! [laugh]
RED 2, in several scenes, looks a lot like a comic book – and it is based on a comic book. What was the thinking behind that approach?
Well, it's meant to be an entertainment. It is based on a comic book. That being said, I think the opening sequence and the transitions remind you of that every now and again. It also reminds you that you're supposed to have a good time. This isn't Chekhov.
Yeah. So many comic book movies are so serious these days.
Yes. They are, aren't they?
You directed an episode of a TV show I was very find of. Can you tell me about working on “The Tick?”
Oh my God! You're one of the only people who even saw that show! It's interesting. I watched that show get destroyed. In my opinion, anyway. Barry Sonnenfeld did the pilot. And then I did the first episode, which ended up being the second episode. But I don't think [the producers] understood the sense of humor behind it or what it was. Because it was truly out there and funny. It was dark too. And at that point that was not something they were… it wasn't something they could make money off of. I think the audience has changed and I think it would be very successful now. Patrick Warburton is so funny!
When you cast movies, are you often free to cast people you like working with? Did you ever want to “get someone else” for RED 2?
Some friends of mine do a show called “Justified,” and I did a few episodes, and that's where Neal McDonough came from. So “yes” is the answer. He's a crazy guy.
What would you say to the cult that has surrounded your film Galaxy Quest? Why would you say it's become so popular?
Gosh. I'm happy that it is, but I'm not sure I can answer that question. It's a favorite of mine. It was the most rewarding experience from beginning to end. It was so close to what I had in my imagination, and I was allowed to cast it how I wanted to cast it. So I think probably because, uh, because there's two or three levels of absurdity to it. Because those characters are so wonderful. Bob Gordon who wrote it is incredibly talented. It really is, first and foremost, about those insecure, vain, egomaniacal, has-been actors.
No one in particular, though.
No, no. Those are characters is a movie. I'm saying nothing about actors. I think, though, that's why it eventually is a good story. Because they had to. Learn how to act! [laugh] It also celebrates fandom, of course.
What was the first record you bought with your own money?
Wow. This is gonna be really obscure. The first record I bought with my own money was “East-West” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It's ancient. But I saw them as an act when I was a kid. No one;s gonna get that reference.
How old were you?
12, 13. Something like that. I don't even know why I remember that, but I do. What about you?
Embarrassing: I was 8. It was “Weird Al” Yankovic's “Dare to be Stupid.”
Oh my God! That's perfect for an eight-year-old! My son went through that same period.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind. If you want to buy him a gift (and I know you do), you can visit his Amazon Wish List.