I walked into the Four Seasons like I always do, strapped. Strapped with questions to unleash on the surprisingly reserved and quiet Mike Judge about his new movie Extract (which I gave a kind of half-assed review for here). I was going to break him down, build him back up, and steal a couple mini-bottles of Sprite while I was at it. I envisioned it like I do everything, as if I were Robert DeNiro in Ronin. Because I’m totally lame.
When I saw three other unshaven, sweatshirted white dudes in the lobby I knew I was in trouble. Turns out this was a group interview. Granted, it said that in the email, but who reads emails? So instead of the Jackie Chan scene it could have been, the five of us had a very organized roundtable chat like we were on Good Morning America. It went like this:
A lot of your characters are like the everyday man, people we meet in our everyday lives. What is it about them that brings out the comedy for you?
I was a person who did imitations back in (I think I peaked in) high school. I could imitate the teachers. I didn’t really imitate celebrities. I imitated people I knew. That stuff was always more interesting. You can turn on the TV and see someone imitating somebody famous. It’s kind of rare when someone’s imitating somebody that you know. So I guess that’s part of it.
Also, the few times you’d see something like this, like Harvey Pekar comics which I first saw in National Lampoon, I always thought, Wow, that’d be really cool to see something like that animated. I just loved it and to me that was way more interesting than a superhero comic book. I’m not sure why. I guess it’s the way I’m wired. I also saw it as something that not a lot of people are doing. That’s the other thing. I thought: you know, find a niche: rather than try to do what everyone else is doing, and not be as good. Why not try something that’s different?
Do you think it’s a realistic movie then?
Yeah, I think it’s fairly realistic in movieland as that goes. I think pretty much everything going on could possibly happen. Same thing with Office Space. You know, I have worked in factories before, not extract, but I worked in a place that made guitar amps and bass amps. I worked in a place in Albuquerque that stuffed those snack machines that go into all the cubicles, so I have a little experience.
For people who are unfamiliar with your work or may have heard about your movie but aren’t really sure what to expect, how would you sell the movie to viewers?
Luckily that’s not my job. I actually think they’ve done some pretty good trailers and I would say I like the idea because it’s like Office Space but this time it’s sympathetic to the boss, the guy who owns the place. And you know I have people all the time saying, When are you gonna do another Office Space type movie? So I think that’s probably the best way to try to sell it.
Regarding the sub-genre of stoner movies, it’s hard to see things that have not been previously done before. The gravity bong scene in Extract dealt with pot paranoia and had some really funny visual direction to it. Were you trying to do something that hadn’t been done in other stoner movies before?
Yeah definitely. I love Cheech and Chong movies and I’ve seen a lot of stoner characters in movies and it’s usually presented a certain way and I I don’t like smoking pot, I’m allergic to it, it makes me paranoid, there’s no middle ground. It just doesn’t work for me.
What I hadn’t seen, and maybe it has been done before, but what I haven’t seen is the kinda, jock stoner guy. I went to UC San Diego and there was a guy who was a friend of my roommate’s who was on the basketball team who just looked like he had an extra Y-chromosome and he had a giant orange bong and when you went over to his place it was like, “Ok no BS man, you’re gettin high!” It was just all macho stoner, I hadn’t seen that before, you know?
And also just that situation where every time you say something some guy is just like, ‘What?’… you know, looks over like you just stepped in crap, and to have that happen while he was paranoid I thought would be fun. I’m actually really proud of that scene. It’s probably my favorite scene in the movie, even though it would probably be the easiest thing to cut from the movie, it doesn’t need to be there. There’s no point to it really other than I just wanted to do that.
When Joel and Dean are cooking up their master plan with Brad, the gigolo, they have this conversation about what’s morally appropriate, and Dean says, “What’s morally appropriate is to do what she does to you back to her.” Did that stem from any kind of personal opinion or is it just a general belief?
Oh no, I wanted it to be like some kind of weird logic that might sound good if you’re on a drug, but if you pick it apart it’s just bull. That plot line came from when my friend and I were actually talking about the Howard Stern Show, back when he was married, and we were talking about, you know, you don’t want to cheat on your wife and the only way it would ever happen is if she died. Then someone said or if she cheated on you. Then what if you hired a gigolo and make her cheat on you?
It was just this weird little conversation that made me think. So I wanted to just have this weird logic to it, and that’s why I thought Ben did such a great job of being a guy who sounds like he has some moral authority, but if you pick apart what he’s saying, and he’s saying it in the cadence of someone who knows what they’re talking about, but it’s like, it’s really a pretty crazy thing.
In your UC San Diego commencement speech there’s a part in there where you say a long time ago you had this premonition that you were going to be in a car accident and the steering wheel was going to go through your testicles. Was that kind of the genesis for this movie?
Yeah I guess it was. That and there was also a girl that I knew very peripherally, that I’d only met once but I heard people talking about her, who actually was kind of stealing from everybody and she read about this construction accident this guy had gotten in, where he was going to get some money. She disappeared for a while then came back with this guy as her boyfriend.
So, on one hand it’s a super easy laugh but on the other hand I figured if we really gave it the attention and really did it in a funny way it could be good, in a Buster Keaton kind of way. That’s why I just like to keep things wide and just show them the whole deal, don’t try to hide anything, no dark crazy angles, just show it all.
Can you briefly talk about working with Jason Bateman and what he was like on set?
Oh, he’s great. You know he’s been doing this since he was a little kid so he’s really relaxed. It’s just nothing to go shoot a movie. You know I’m like seven years older than him and he started in this business way before I did. There’s crew members who are probably late fifties that Jason’s been doing this longer than they have. So he’s just a total pro. It’s fun to see a guy be relaxed enough that occasionally he’ll just pull something out of nowhere that’s just truly inspired.
When he’s on the phone listening to Brad recount the thing with his wife, he only did it in one take but he’s just sitting there and he bangs the phone on the desk and it was just so funny! I mean I wouldn’t have thought to come up and say, “Hey, go bang the phone on the desk.” You know just letting himself go and be in the scene, that just happened and he does stuff like that that’s just great.”