Jay Roach has a lot to say about American politics, even if he does downplay his role. Roach, whose directorial debut was a little movie called "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery," has been slowly drifting away from the safer, undeniably successful comedies like "Meet the Parents" to some more controversial subjects -- like Sarah Palin. Roach, who directed "Game Change," the HBO film chronicling Sarah Palin's ascent during the 2008 election, now jumps right back into the fray with the surprisingly hard-R rated "The Campaign."
In "The Campaign," Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a philandering, corrupt and not particularly bright North Carolina congressman running for reelection. Zach Galifianakis plays Marty Huggins, his ernest (but backed by unscrupulous donors) opponent who, in the end, just loves North Carolina. (Surprisingly, as far as movies go, Ferrell plays the Democrat and Galifiankis plays a sympathetic Republican.) Here, Roach talks about his foray into politics and how much "Game Change" influenced "The Campaign." He also reflects on the Austin Powers franchise: From the humble box office beginnings of the first film to the casting of Tom Cruise in the third and whether there will be an "Austin Powers 4."
How are you doing?
Did you see the other guys?
Will and Zach and them?
Oh, I was going to say, "Not since last year."
It's funny, because Adam McKay is involved in this, you would think I would think that.
It's interesting, you've been involved in back-to-back political movies.
I know. I know. It wasn't intentional. I didn't seek it out, but I will say it's great. Because I enjoy taking about it. I've always had an interest in politics -- I was kind of a male Tracy Flick [from "Election"] when I was in high school. I thought I might go into politics. I was pre-law in school, but I got the cinema thing. I started shooting stills, but I always thought I might go back to it. I got involved in one political project -- with Tom Hanks' company -- about Mark Felt. Deep Throat. And it somehow got around that I wanted to do that. So then Paula Weinstein brought me on for "Recount," then that turned into "Game Change." This one, you know, I didn't see it coming. Will and Zach took me to lunch, said, "We want to do something; we're dying to work together. Would you be wiling to think up something with us?" And I heard what it was, "You guys against each other in the political world?" We all committed to do it based on a few paragraphs.
How did "Game Change" affect "The Campaign"? Were there times you had ideas for the former but couldn't use them because it's a true story and saved them for the latter?
The good news about that story is that there were plenty of great details. I got invited into "Recount," but at least I saw immediately how strong that story was, too. But, the Palin story, I pitched during The Campaign -- even before I knew about Steve Schmidt. I just said, "I want to be in that room, can we make that movie?" So, I felt like there would be enough serious intense suspense, as well as absurd ironic moments. But, doing them overlapped -- because I finished one and started "The Campaign." That was pretty great because I didn't have to think much about how to make it seem authentic as the based, grounded thing, from which we could obviously go way over the top.
So anything that frustrated you about the real life story in "Game Change"...
You can exaggerate.
And put that in "The Campaign."
But, you know, we never started thinking, Let's make a film that is about any partisan issues. It was always about, Let's just have a great, funny, arena. This movie could have taken place in the professional wrestling world. Will and Zach joke about it, but I think it's partly true -- they thought it might be in the "boy pageant" world. But, politics was perfect. And we knew it was relevant and we knew it was a campaign year. And we were surrounded by the most intense, mutually-assured-destruction campaigning right at that moment, during the primaries. So, it was the perfect arena for two funny guys.
I remember at one point you didn't want the political parties of each candidate in this movie known. And that's not the case.
One of the articles that ran early on had pointed out that there's little mention. There's still little mention of it, but we deliberately made one guy a Democrat and one guy a Republican. Partly because that's how you create instant opposition. And it's instantly understandable. And we did talk about trying to keep it non-partisan or bi-partisan -- whichever way you want to look at it -- but it's not about issues that one party has over the other. It's much more about one kind of loser against another loser who both happen to be politicians. We always knew we'd have a little about money and politics -- big billionaires throwing in money. That we would have an attitude about. And I think that point of view comes across.
There are some shady guys controlling him, but Zach plays a sympathetic Republican character. We don't see that too often in movies.
Certainly not by liberals. And Zach's character is the heart of the story. Or, I should say, he's the moral center whose soul is the most at stake. He's about the right thing at the beginning: The community, doing the good things for his beloved town where he's the head of tourism. Then he gets corrupted, reground up and put back together in a form that's useful to the money people. Then he goes, "Hold on, I want to go back to what I care about." Then he accidentally influences Will's character -- who is a Democrat -- but happens to be the kind of slacker John Edwards, Congressman Anthony Weiner-type guy. So, I would imagine people might be surprised about that. But it is about the system more than anything else.
I won't spoil the ending, but in real life, no matter who the sympathetic character is, the result might have bigger ramifications for which party controls the House of Representatives.
[Laughs] That will be interesting if people even go that far with it. I'm curious. What came out is that we wanted Mrs. Yao to come back [an Asian housekeeper who, on orders from her boss, speaks in a stereotypical, dated, Southern and African-American voice] -- that drove the ending. She became so popular. We knew she was funny, but we didn't think she was going to be that funny.
I feel her character is a slippery slope.
Oh, yeah. There's a number of slippery slopes. We punch a baby!
People might hate you more for punching Uggie in this movie.
Exactly. We have a guy seduce his opponent's wife and make a campaign add out of the sex tape that comes out. What I like about working with people like Will and Zach is that everybody knows how good hearted they are as people. And you feel that in the story.
Did you enjoy making a hard rated-R comedy? You haven't really done that before.
You know, I worked with Sacha Baron Cohen, I produced "Borat." So, I've never been uptight about it. But I just think it should be earned by the story. I had done "Mystery, Alaska," which, probably, in a way, wanted to be PG-13 because of the people who might have seen it. But I wanted to be true to the way hockey players talk. This one was more about letting these guys run in, literally, a no-holds-barred way. And no punches will be pulled. To do that required Will's character, especially, to have that kind of language. Even the baby punch, they couldn't put that in the green band trailer. There were things about it that were going to be pushed and we just thought that it has to be R-rated to be honest.
It's spelled differently, but every time I heard Dylan McDermott's character's name, Tim Wattley, I thought of Tim Whatley from "Seinfeld."
You know, I watched a fair amount of "Seinfeld," but I didn't remember enough to know that was going on. Someone should ask the writers about it because I never put that together. I think it might have been, actually, a subconscious accident. It wasn't intentional.
I had a theory I wish were true. You grew up in Albuquerque, so, based on that, you're a huge fan of "Breaking Bad." And you named the character as a tribute to Bryan Cranston, who played Tim Whatley in "Seinfeld."
[Laughs] See, that is a fantastic conspiracy theory, which I have no access to. By the way, I'm impressed by all that homework.
Were you disappointed when the first "Austin Powers" didn't become a huge success on its initial run in theaters?
No, no. Keep in mind, we made it for $16 million dollars. We made it knowing that Mike was not going to be Wayne [from "Wayne's World"].
And he hadn't been in a movie in a few years.
Well, he'd been in both "Wayne's World" movies...
And "So I Married an Ax Murderer."
Yeah, and "So I Married an Ax Murderer." And we knew he'd have horrible teeth and bizarre hair all over his body and glasses and a bad wig. And we thought, You know, this is for our Monty Python friends. We want to make something that's specific -- and may or may not have a big audience. We trusted that we'd have a big enough audience that New Line would make their money back, but we mostly just wanted to make a comedy about characters we loved. And it was so unexpected that it even made $50-some million dollars. Then, what really was, for us, miraculous was that it caught on on video.
It was the first DVD I owned. I think it was one of the first that was available.
Time Warner was a pioneer with DVD. We did the DVD commentary in Vegas; we just went there and said, "What? Like the Criterion laserdiscs, you mean?" Mike and I literally had a couple of beers and sat and bullshat about that movie.
I've listened to that commentary.
I haven't listened to it in a long time, but I bet it's the loosest, craziest rant. And we didn't see that coming. Then something else happened -- they made that teaser about, "If you see one movie this summer, see Star Wars. If you see two movies..." And it was Dr. Evil doing Darth Vader. That, for some reason, just took off.
For "Goldmember," you got Tom Cruise to kind of make fun of himself, long before he became known for that in "Tropic Thunder" and "Rock of Ages." Was that a tough sell?
I don't remember if it was that hard. We got Spielberg first. Spielberg loved "Austin Powers 2" -- he took us both out to lunch separately. He was such a fan of the series that we always thought it would be cool, now, in the third one, to have some kind of, "What if Austin went Hollywood." Once we got Spielberg ... for each of the characters we got the exact people we had talked about. "Wouldn't it be awesome if Tom Cruise..." My favorite casting was Danny DeVito as Mini-Me.
Would you do a fourth? There have been rumblings.
In a second. You know, that's always up to Mike. It's always going to be, "Does he feel like he's got what he wants?" And what the audience wants, frankly. He's very audience conscious to make it a welcomed fourth.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.