Writer/director Todd Rohal’s new comedy Nature Calls, which stars Patton Oswalt as a Scoutmaster out to prove the value of the Boy Scouts to his jerky brother (Johnny Knoxville), is now available on demand and comes out in theaters next week. I recently got to talk to Rohal, Oswalt, and co-star Rob Riggle about the new movie, what it was like working with Patrice O’Neal, and turning your filter on when improvising around kid actors.
So what’s your real experience with the Boy Scouts growing up?
Rob Riggle: I made it to Webelos
Patton Oswalt: I made it to… God, I think I made it to Wolf. That was it; I didn’t make it out of Cub Scouts.
Todd Rohal: I made it about halfway up the Boy Scout ladder and then bailed out of there, but sadly it was the period after Boy Scouts when I really should’ve learned my lesson.
Did they make you wear your uniform to school and everything?
Todd: No, that’s the Cub Scouts.
Rob: I remember wearing a Cub Scout uniform in second grade.
Todd: [In] the Boy Scouts, you could hide in secrecy. No one would know that you [were in it].
Rob: You were closeted. That’s a terrible thing to say.
So where did the idea for the movie come from?
Todd: Do you guys mind if I tell this story again?
Rob: Jump in there, dude.
Patton: [heavy, exasperated sigh]
Patton: I’ve got Words with Friends over here. Go ahead.
If there are other questions I shouldn’t ask, let me no.
Patton: No, no, no.
Rob: It’s not you, it’s not you.
Patton: It’s your interview, man!
Allright, all right.
Todd: When we were in Scouts, we did this 20-mile circuit hike, and our Scoutmaster stayed behind. We were set up to camp, we would cook ‘cause we would be hiking for like 8 hours, hiking 20 miles. We came back and at the end of this one hike, found our Scoutmaster face-down in the middle of this trail with a two-foot tree branch shoved through his stomach and there was blood everywhere. It was all over the trail and all over this dude, and we were nine [years old]. I remember standing there, totally paralyzed and looking at it and just putting it together that’s not an accident and this is something happening and just not doing anything. [I was] just concerned about myself, really selfishly as a nine-year-old. And our Scoutmasters end up coming out, out of nowhere, and saying, “Why aren’t you guys doing anything? We’ve been talking about first aid for a month. Why aren’t you saving his life?” It was just all a test to see what we would do. They spent all this time putting fake blood on this guy who was just lying there for a half an hour.
Riggle: Why didn’t you save him? [Laughs]
Todd: And so yeah, that was the impetus for the movie.
Did you guys pass the test?
Todd: No, we failed, completely. They wanted us to, I guess, jump in there?
Rob: Jump in there, stop the bleeding, start the breathing, all that good stuff.
Todd: Yeah, I guess they didn’t really think that we were gonna believe that he was dead. Their logic was flawed.
Patton: Best intentions in mind. Absolutely for the kids. We’re gonna help these kids out. [Laughs]
Rob: Today’s the day that we breakthrough with these kids.
So how long did you write the script for this?
Todd: It was a long time. The original draft of this I took to the Sundance Lab, and it was dark, really dark. I don’t know if we should talk about that… Maybe I will, who cares? There was a scene with little kids watching a man in a wheelchair getting accidentally lit on fire and they watch him burn to death thinking it was an accident.
Rob: This had a bigger effect on you, Todd, than you’ve lead on.
Todd: We turned it into little bit more of a zany comedy romp.
Patton: We used the Final Draft “Zany” app on this.
Rob: “Oh, this is a beautiful script… AND “zany!”
Patton: “Are you sure you want it Zany?” “Yes.” “Your darkness will be changed, permanently.” “Yes.”
Rob: “Yes, don’t ask again.” [Laughter]
What was the production like? Was there a lot of improvisation from the actors on set or was it sticking to the script mainly?
Patton: I think the most improv came from Rob.
Rob: I did, but a lot of people played. I mean, you played a lot.
Patton: He wrote some really good dialogue for me. I improv’d a little when I was giving the speech. But at the end, when [Rob] was talking to the mom’s, he just went off into INAPPROPRIATEVILLE, and it was one of the funniest things. I’d have to stand there, listening and just trying not to laugh, to this horrific stuff coming out of his mouth. It was great…
Todd: I doubt if that’s in the final cut, where you tell them that the kids are dead and then you basically tell them you’re single and available.
Patton: Yeah, he tries to hit on them. You just try to hook up. It’s so inappropriate.
Rob: They don’t have any kids to worry about anymore… the worst!
Does you’re technique change when there are kids around when you’re working opposite kids?
Rob: I kind of do. I know it doesn’t feel like it. I do get in my head and I do have a filter if there are kids around. I won’t unravel the dark side around these kids. I’ll cuss in front of them, if that’s what [the script] calls for. But generally speaking I wouldn’t talk about anything graphically sexual or anything like that.
Todd: The thing about this movie too is that there’s no blowjob jokes or anything like that, there’s just profanity for the sake of profanity.
Patton: Little kids use profanity way more than we think, but they always use it out of context. They’re not actually talking about anything sexual, they just want to know what those words sound like. I remember one time when I was little, I wrote the word“bullshit” on a piece of paper. I just wanted to know what it was like to write that word out and see, “Oh, I did that!” and I threw it away.
Rob: I remember my mom gave me a ride home from school one day, and I said, “Can I ask you a question about a word?” She was like, “Yeah.” “Is this a bad word, is ‘pussy’ a bad word?” She goes, “Yeah, it’s a bad word.” I asked her, “What does it mean?” And she goes, “Why?” She never answered me. I go, “Somebody called me that today.” And she goes, “Well, it’s a bad word so you don’t need to worry about it, Now, what do you want for dinner?” Movin’ on!
Could you talk a little bit about putting this cast together?
Todd: It’s a big cast, we were able to pull from some people who were non-actors, there’s this guy in it, Ivon [Dimitrov], who’s a Bulgarian dance instructor. Eddie Rouse, who has a striking resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr., was just this amazing improver. He was the dad in George Washington, David Gordon Green’s first movie. And then writing things for Patton and Riggle and then finding things that weren’t intentional, like Darrell Hammond came into the audition room. Our casting director came to me and said, “Darrell’s here and he wants to do this part really bad. He’s not gonna leave the room unless you come and talk to him.” He sat in the room for three hours, and he did this audition tape that just cracked me up. That was not a person I had though of, and… he was really fun. He’s dark.
Patton: [groans] That dude’s dark.
Todd: Patrice [O’Neal] was somebody that I really wanted. It’s funny how some people are infatuated - love - Patrice and other people are like, “Who is he?” At the time, his luck with movies… He was in a Jane Campion movie that completely disappeared. He was in The Office, and they just kept cutting him out of it. He was really frustrated about this stuff, so I wanted to give him this opportunity.
Patton: Was he in, In The Cut?
Patton: He has that good scene in 25th Hour.
Todd: Yeah, all these little things. For me, that was a big coup because it was just like, “I love this guy.”
What was working with Patrice like, as an actor?
Patton: It’s hard to say as an actor because I’d known him as a friend for so long. We just kind of went back and forth as friends, just kind of messing around. It didn’t feel weird to be acting with him because I’d known him for so long. He is, what you see is what you get. That’s kind of how he is. He kind of played a version of himself as an overly concerned dad.
Rob: I had never met Patrice until the movie. I knew of him. I’d watched his comedy. I’d always enjoyed his comedy. And then most of our scenes were together. We spent most of our days together, so I actually got to spend a lot of time with him on set, and I got to watch him do his magic on and off camera.
Todd: I think because of his trepidations, he was nervous at first when we talked to him, “Am I going to get cut out of this?” and then when he loosened up, oh my God. It was just this fountain of stuff. Actually, our last day was the most fun. He was just a riot
Rob: He warmed up, I think. Got in that comfort zone.
Todd: Talking to his wife and his manager, Patrice was on another movie, and he yelled at the director and insulted him or something as a joke, as Patrice did. He caused a huge ruckus and got these calls like “He shouldn’t do that.” I think that’s why he never messed with me and I’m the easiest target ever to mess with on the set.. I said some really inappropriate things to some kids and then Patrice would just be cool with it. He could have done four hours worth of stuff on it, and I could still get him to go… It was really sweet.
What did you say in front of the kids that was so inappropriate?
Todd: That will never be repeated.
Todd: In the edit room, we used to play it. I think I may have told you [Patton]. It’s so inappropriate.
Rob: Tell me later.
Patton: Sorry, man.
No worries. I was just curious.
Patton: Don’t want to make him out to be a monster!
So how long have you guys all known each other? Had you ever crossed paths before this?
Rob: Patton and I were talking about this earlier. We’d known each other through the same comedy circles. We had kind of known each other, said hi a couple of times, seen each other around, and this, I think, was the first time that we ever worked on something together.
Patton: And we both met Todd for the movie. I was a fan of his movies, Guatemalan Handshake and then I did a screening of Cataclysm Cataclysm at the New Beverly, which went really well. People really dug it.
Rob: That’s a wild ride, man.
Patton: That movie. Oh boy.
’Nature Calls’ is now available on VOD and opens in select theaters on November 9th.