Thursday, July 26, 2007
"I Do A Lot of Sort Of''s." An Interview with Ken Marino
For a man mostly known for his acting, Ken Marino is one hell of a script writer. After penning the well received period piece Diggers, which he also starred in, Marino went right back to work and co-wrote The Ten with fellow Statie David Wain. The Ten, which comes to theaters August 3rd, boasts a cast that includes Jessica Alba, Paul Rudd, and Winona Ryder. It's also getting rave reviews so far. Luckily for me, Ken’s recent success hasn’t made him any less willing to discuss drunken Bahaman recording sessions with The State and the origins of his famous Louie character’s catch phrase “I wanna dip my balls in it!” Show some love as Heavy In The Streets keeps it moving with Ken Marino, the newest edition to my interview series with The State.
DJ Sorce-1: Hey Ken, I wanted to start things off by talking about Diggers. You wrote the screenplay for the film and played one of the male leads. I thought it was a great movie. I’m gonna be honest with you, it really exceeded my expectations. Going into it I didn’t really know what to expect. It was awesome.
Ken Marino: Oh, thanks. Are you from Long Island?
Ron Eldard as Jack, Paul Rudd as Hunt, Josh Hamilton as Cons, and Ken Marino as Lozo in Diggers
DJ Sorce-1: I’m not and I think that’s part of the reason why I liked it so much. I’m from Massachusetts and I’ve lived there pretty much my whole life. I don’t really know that much about Long Island, and Diggers showed me a whole different aspect to Long Island culture. From the interviews I’ve read with you about the movie, it seems like a lot of the movie is based on personal experience.
Ken Marino: Yeah I tried to capture a certain time and place.
DJ Sorce-1: You’re father and grandfather were both clam diggers as I understand.
Ken Marino: Yeah, back then a lot of people were clam digging, whether they were doing it as a hobby or a profession. It was fairly lucrative, to the point that you could survive off clam digging. But that died out real quick.
Movie still from Diggers of Lozo (Ken Marino) and his family
DJ Sorce-1: Was the stuff about the big corporate places buying up sections of water and making them restricted so the local guys couldn’t go out and dig true?
Ken Marino: Yeah, that was one of the reasons that the bay bottoms were depleted. There were other reasons like pollution and overpopulation, but I had to pick a bad guy. There was runoff that was going into the water that was also a problem, but the big corporate digging companies were my bad guy for the movie.
DJ Sorce-1: Was Soft Shell a real company?
Ken Marino: That was a made up company. There were companies like that, but that was a made up company.
DJ Sorce-1: Was all the animosity towards them in the movie realistic?
Ken Marino: There was definitely animosity between the two worlds, the independent guys and the guys that worked for the bigger companies.
DJ Sorce-1: How long did the movie take to write beginning to end? I’ve heard stories of people writing a screenplay in a matter of days. But some people will work on a screenplay for several years.
Ken Marino: I worked on Diggers on and off for about four or five years. I wasn’t disciplined and writing it the whole time. A lot of times I would write a little bit and then I would stop for several months. Then I would sit back down and write some more scenes. Every time I took a significant amount of time off, it took me a little while to get back into the flow of it.
I was writing it up until we began shooting and rewriting stuff on the days we were shooting. The whole bar fight scene was rewritten. But that’s the process of screenwriting for me. You keep rewriting and changing stuff. When I wrote The Ten with David, we wrote it much more quickly, but up until the day we started shooting we were rewriting stuff.
Trailer for The Ten, Directed by David Wain, Written by David Wain and Ken Marino
DJ Sorce-1: In a lot of the interviews I read you said, “You write what you know.” Were a lot of the elements of the four male leads in Diggers from people you grew up with in Long Island?
Ken Marino: Even though it’s based in the 70’s, those characters are based on my dear friends from high school, college, and after college. The Cons character is based on a friend of mine who is constantly being philosophical about shit. Jack is based on a buddy of mine…you know…he likes the ladies and the ladies like him. Every character was based on somebody.
DJ Sorce-1: All of the guy characters were so good, because even if you can’t relate to being a clam digger, a lot of that movie hits home if you’re a guy with a tight knit group of friends.
Ken Marino: I was hoping to do that. They’re archetypal characters. But what I wanted to do was create these characters, and then show another side to them. For instance, Lozo is a big baby and a hothead, but you see a whole other side of him as the movie goes on. The Jack character might be a laid back ladies man, but he’s not an idiot. You find out he gets what’s going on throughout the movie, and he’s more than just a two dimensional ladies man character. I was hoping to round out all these characters as best I could. It was my first screenplay, so I learned a lot. I think I succeeded in some places, but I also think it was a learning experience for me.
The four male leads in Diggers
DJ Sorce-1: You’ve written two screenplays that have become movies in the past two years. Are you going to continue to write while you’re on a hot streak, or do you want to take a break and go back to focusing on acting?
Ken Marino: I don’t think I have to choose one or the other. You can write any time of the day if you can inspire yourself. I don’t think I have to step away from acting. I’m trying to get acting gigs, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to support myself and pay my bills as an actor. I hope to continue to do that. Acting is something I love doing. I hope that work doesn’t stop coming in.
I took a break from writing after The State stopped. Acting was what I’d always wanted to do. I needed to prove that I could get gigs on my own and survive on my own. I did that, on some level, and then some years passed and I got the bug to write again. I talked to David Wain and we got together and wrote. David was originally supposed to direct Diggers, and then Stella got picked up the same day we got the green light to shoot Diggers. Stella was his baby, so he had to go do that.
It was very exciting to get back to working with my friends that I’m creative with. I sold a TV pilot with Mike Black and I wrote a couple of screenplays with Jo Lo Truglio. It was fun to get back to writing with my friends. I’ve always enjoyed that, and I hope it continues. How was that for a long, run on, unfocused sentence?
Ken Marino and Paul Rudd
DJ Sorce-1: That was a good answer actually. It’s ok if it was a run on because I’m going to be editing this.
Ken Marino: Good, so you’ll take out all of the uh, like, and you know stuff. Take out all of my sort of’s. I do a lot of sort of’s. As a matter of fact don’t take out my commenting on taking out all of those things.
DJ Sorce-1: Ok, I’ll leave that in but I’ll take out the actual sort of’s.
Ken Marino: But then in won’t make any sense. Maybe put in a parenthetical that there were a lot more like, you know, and sort of’s that you pulled out.
DJ Sorce-1: I can put “Editor’s Note” and say something about it.
Ken Marino: Yeah, editor’s note. I like that. I’m all for that.
DJ Sorce-1: I mean can I really call myself the editor?
Ken Marino: I have no problem calling you the editor, if you’re ok with it.
DJ Sorce-1: I’m ok with it. (Laughs) You mentioned writing screenplays with Joe from The State. Are you guys pitching any of those right now?
Ken Marino: We’re not pitching. We have a horror movie script we’re floating around that we’re very excited to get done, but who knows.
DJ Sorce-1: Oh, I love horror movies.
Ken Marino: Yeah, it’s not a big comedy so we’ll see what happens. We also wrote a horror comedy, and we’re in the middle of our first draft. But we’ve taken about eight months off (Laughs), because both of our lives got really busy. We gotta get back to work on that, because I like that one too. We wrote those movies, and we wrote a pilot for Comedy Central with my wife as well.
DJ Sorce-1: I always wondered if The State would branch out into different genres other than comedy. Are you a big horror movie buff, or was it just something you wanted to try that was different than comedy?
Ken Marino: Joe and I both like horror movies. I’m a horror movie fan like I’m a baseball fan. I love baseball, and I love watching it, but I couldn’t give you statistics on anybody. There are some horror movies I know very well and can talk about, but other ones I’ll forget about 10 minutes after watching. I’m not great with obscure facts, but I do appreciate a good horror movie and love watching them. All through college Joe and I would get together and watch horror movies. That was always a fun time for us.
DJ Sorce-1: What are some of your favorites?
Ken Marino: Last House on the Left is enormously disturbing and just a crazy, weird movie. I like the original The Hills Have Eyes. Mother’s Day is a movie I enjoy. I know it’s not a great horror movie, but I love it. That’s an older one. It’s about these two sons and a mother that live in the woods. You think that these young kids in the movie are going to harass this old lady and it turns out the sweet old lady is the killer and her sons help her out. It’s ridiculous. But there’s a special place in my heart for it. I also appreciate a lot of great moments from not so great films. Pumpkinhead isn’t particularly memorable, but there is a great moment in that. Luther the Geek, there’s a great scene in that. I also like a lot of the obvious classics like The Shining.
DJ Sorce-1: I’m just asking because I’m a huge fan. I’ve seen a lot of terrible horror flicks while looking for the great ones, but I’m always looking for new ones to check out.
Ken Marino: I wouldn’t go see Mother’s Day thinking, “Oh Ken recommended it, and it’s awesome.” I’m just saying there’s a special place in my heart for it (Laughs).
DJ Sorce-1: With all the recent collaborations with The State members and the DVD box set underway, can we expect more future collaborations? Or will they be difficult due to differences in schedule?
Ken Marino: Well, half of the group lives in L.A. and half of the group lives in NYC, so it’s not the easiest thing to get the whole group together. But I don’t doubt that we will continue to work together in smaller groups if not as a whole for the rest of our careers. We have a bond and a respect for each other as performers. There is a trust within the group. I know I can call up anyone in the group and know what I’m going to get. For me, I would invite them into anything that I’m working on and I think the feeling is mutual.
The Reno 911! guys are always asking The State cast members to be in the show. Same with all the movies we’ve done. A couple guys from The State were going to be in Diggers and weren’t because of scheduling reasons. What’s wonderful about The State is we didn’t break up because we hated each other. We just broke up because we weren’t making any money and everyone had to go find a paycheck somewhere. But we’re all very good friends, and that hasn’t changed.
The cast of The State
DJ Sorce-1: For such a big entity that broke up so long ago, it’s amazing that everyone from The State is still friends and continues to work on projects together. Did you ever worry that the relationship with the other members would fizzle out?
Ken Marino: No. I didn’t worry about my personal relationship fizzling out because we made an effort to keep in touch and they were all friends of mine. And professionally…because they were my friends, we’d stayed in touch, and they were all talented, I knew we would continue to collaborate on things. Hopefully down the line a State movie will get made. It’s hard to get everyone together at once because of our careers, so I won’t hold my breath, but I will certainly keep my fingers crossed.
Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, and David Wain
DJ Sorce-1: I asked David Wain about the album you guys recorded with Warner Brothers in my interview with him. He said it might come out eventually. Is there any realistic hope for fans of ever seeing the album, or is it just on a shelf collecting dust?
Ken Marino: I don’t want to sound like I’m parroting David, but maybe.
DJ Sorce-1: Ok. That’s all you can say?
Ken Marino: (Laughs) No, I don’t know man. It’s sitting on a shelf somewhere. It’s not our most brilliant work. It’s got some funny things on it though from what I remember. Warner Brothers owns the album. They paid for us to go to the Bahamas and record it. They didn’t actually pay us to go there. They just paid us, and we took the little bit of money we had and were like, “Instead of just spending this money on beer at the Barrow Street Ale House in Manhattan or our rent, let’s go down to the Bahamas and record it.” So we did. We were in the Bahamas for two weeks but we didn’t make any money on the album. (Laughs)
DJ Sorce-1: Well, at least you got to go to the Bahamas for two weeks.
Ken Marino: It was awesome, we had a good time. I don’t know if it helped the album. We were half drunk most of the time. I think it’s the skit with Joe and Showalter where you can actually hear the ice in the glass while they’re trying to go through the skit. Very professional.
DJ Sorce-1: The Louie character. I have to ask you where that came from. That’s one of the most famous skits from The State.
Ken Marino: Louie came from MTV wanting us to have recurring characters. We didn’t want to do that at first, so Louie was our rebellious attempt at saying, “Screw you, we don’t want to do recurring characters, so we’re going to give you one that can’t go anywhere.” The story behind Louie’s catch phrase is pretty funny. It involves two seemingly unrelated things. David Wain used to stick his hands down his pants a lot, and there was a big jar of peanut butter that John Stewart left at my desk that I would eat. One day, David came over and opened the peanut butter, took his hands out of his pants, and stuck his fingers in my peanut butter and started eating it. I was like, “Dave, why don’t you just dip your balls in it.” I was a little upset. I think I screamed that at him.
We started saying, “I want to dip my balls in it.” So we thought, “Ah, how about that for a catch phrase for our unusable recurring character.” We were going to do a recurring character that never recurred. But it kind of backfired, because MTV said, “Yeah, we love that guy, bring him back.” So we had to write more sketches for Louie, who was kind of a dead end character. But we actually wound up coming up with some creative stuff for him. I think "Louie and The Last Supper" is the best one. If MTV didn’t ask us to bring it back, that wouldn’t have been a repeat character.
DJ Sorce-1: That’s a great back story.
Ken Marino: Yeah, we really didn’t want to do recurring characters. For some reason we thought, “That’s too much like SNL. We don’t want to just do recurring characters. We want to do situational stuff. Blah blah blah.” But then of course we ended up doing recurring characters, and we liked them.
"Slash" Skit from The State
DJ Sorce-1: That’s funny; Kevin Allison said the same thing about the kind of humor you were going for.
Ken Marino: Yeah, and we stuck to that. But we found that we could do a recurring character here and there. Once we started writing stuff, we realized if you used a good recurring character, you had a better chance of getting your stuff on the show. If you brought back a character that was well liked, chances are you’d have more screen time. That added to the friendly competitiveness within the group. We would always bargain with each other like, “Alright, I’ll give you this part if you give me that part in your script.”
The State DVD Commercial
DJ Sorce-1: Did you ever have disputes when you negotiated?
Ken Marino: I don’t think there were disputes. Sometimes more than one person was lobbying for a part. I don’t think there were any big fights. I know I desperately wanted to be in a skit Ben wrote called "Tenement." I lobbied hard for that.
DJ Sorce-1: Ken I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Is there anything else you want to talk about before we wrap it up?
Ken Marino: The only thing is that I read Kevin’s interview, and until reading it, I didn’t know that he was gay. So I guess I owe him a call…
Clips & Quips: Paul Rudd & Ken Marino
Visit Ken at MySpace by clicking here.
Also check out the websites for The Ten and Diggers.
In addition, I have to thank Jessica Garcia for being super cool and linking to all of my interviews with members of The State. Hit up her website by clicking here.