Down in the Holler: Acting out with the The Heart, She Holler Crew
Perhaps you’ve seen the sizzle reel, or the bizarre screen tests, but there’s not much that can prepare you for the antics of the Heartshe clan, stars of the new [adult swim] mini-series The Heart, She Holler, running nightly starting November 6th. A live action “drama” following the disturbed decendents of Boss Hoss Heratshe, it’s the latest production by PFFR, the unusually original group behind cult hits Delocated and Wonder Showzen. Before freaking out viewers, PFFR co-executive producers John Lee and Alyson Levy were joined by castmembers Patton Oswalt, Kristen Schaal, Heather Lawless, Leo Fitzpatrick and Joseph Sikora to talk with DVDTalk’s Francis Rizzo III.
Q: So whose fever dream was this?
Lee: Whose fever dream was this? Whose nightmare was this? I think it was the Lord’s nightmare.
Levy: It is our country’s nightmare.
Lee: This show is a fine-filtered, double-distilled nightmare of our country. And we’ve just turned it and taken its essence and molded it into a nice miniature series.
Q: It seems like the perfect mix between Patton’s understanding of southern culture and PFFR’s freak-out surrealism.
Levy: Well we had the idea for the show and then before we even took it to [adult swim], we took it to Patton, because we just thought he would be a super great fit.
Lee: Yeah, he’s the kind of guy who has very southern qualities, but then he goes on these rants that are truly kind of smart and genius and we just really liked that as a character. An idiot who, in his rage, becomes really intelligent. So that seems like Patton. [laughs]
Levy: The whole cast, we wanted these people to take these parts.
Lee: The cast is everyone we wanted, which is a rarity I think, for such a tiny, small-budget show.
Q: So what attracted you to this show?
Schaal: I think for me, and I’m sure for everyone else, the money.
Schaal: The money was ridiculous. Let’s just say...gold-plated...
Fitzpatrick: Gold-played money.
Schaal: Gold-plated money.
Fitzpatrick: Just bricks of money, plated in gold.
Schaal: They took the dollars and gold-leafed them. No...(to the other actors) I’m sorry guys, I’m really dominating the table.
Fitzpatrick: Nah, I just think everyone is a fan of Wonder Showzen and Delocated, and that whole world these guys introduced us to. If you’re a fan you want to be a part of it and work with them. You know, it’s kind of an honor to be in this little family. (pause) Because there was no money.
And [Schaal] had really good catered lunch I guess. I never really saw that.
Schaal: You didn’t?
Fitzpatrick: I always just had an iced coffee for lunch.
Schaal: Maybe I’m malnourished.
Fitzpatrick: You got that special lunch.
Schaal: I get special lunches. Well when I’m at home alone, and I’m eating, it’s really “Oh what is this? Leftover cereal?”
Sikora: But your gold-plated lunches looked good.
Schaal: Yeah, those did look good.
Sikora: They were heavy.
Q: I imagine it’s freeing to know these episodes are going to air. There’s no, “It’s going to get cancelled.” These are all going to air, because it’s [adult swim].
Schaal: And it’s a whole story. It has to air six nights in a row.
Lawless: Yeah, I think it’s smart the way they’re doing it.
Schaal: And they won’t lose advertisers if it drops off, because whatever they’re hawking at the end of it, I’m just going to buy. Like 3,000 Hardees burgers or whatever. (pause) I don’t know how TV works. Hardees will be like, I don’t know how things got better when there were only 20 people tuning in. We sold 3,000 burgers last night. Hasn’t happened before.
The chef is like so tired. He had no idea he’d have to make so many burgers. Hardees, man, where’d that come from. “Daddy, why did you have carpal tunnel ?” “Uhhh...had a good night at Hardees. Flipped a lot of burgers, baby.”
Q: Was it always going to be a mini-series?
Lee: No. We didn’t approach it as a miniature series, a mini-series. That was sort of the head of the network’s idea.
Levy: It makes sense.
Lee: It is the show I think in many ways. We just didn’t think of it that way. We thought of it as a soap opera. Our goal was to make 200 in a year, literally shown every night. Where it’s just exhausting and you say stop it. Because that seems like the best idea. Exhaustion.
When he said that, we were like OK. It’s smarter than we would have ever thought of. We don’t really run networks.
Levy: It does go from episode to episode, so at least this way it gives you a chance to watch all of it. You can enjoy them by themselves, but it’s definitely better watching them all.
Q: When you came to [adult swim] with this, did you expect to get 15 minutes a show or did they say 30?
Levy: We wanted 30 and they wouldn’t let us do it, but we didn’t have to do a pilot.
Lee: It’s a total priviledged relationship.
Levy: It was a back and forth to get to six 11-minute episodes.
Lee: We drew a picture and wrote them a poem. I’m not kidding. That’s how we got the show. That’s the same when we did <i>Xavier</i>. We sent them a painting. I always say this. If you send them just something strange, they have to call you back. Because if you get something weird, you’re like, “OK” [mimes dialing the phone] “What’s this about?” You’re already winning. They just trust us enough, post-<i>Wonder Showzen</i>, that we can just send them something like that. It’s a super great relationship, because no one else would show this show, you know, much to television’s fault.
Q: Was it always an [adult swim] show, or was there anyone else you were even considering?
Levy: We thought it was good enough, and when Patton came in we would have sent it out.
Lee: But they just said “Make six and here’s the money.” We should, theoretically, try to further our careers, by going to other, larger networks, but when it’s just literally you send somebody something and they’re like “OK, here’s money,” it’s lazy, but it’s total priviledge.
Q: If none of the networks bit, would you have considered turning it into a feature?
Lee: A feature film?
Levy: See, we probably wouldn’t have thought of that. If we could have done that, we probably would have, but we were just in a different mindset at the time. We’d never made or written a script, so when we told them, it’ll be like this, we didn’t know what it would really be until we made it. In retrospect, it could have been a really great film, we just didn’t know what it was going to be.
Lee: There was vague talk, briefly, of making it into a feature film for [adult swim], when they saw it, but then they made it into a mini-series, which I think is more appropriate for the show. Especially we filmed it like that. Yeah, I think something like this maybe could be a movie.
Q: You said it took about a month to film. Was it a difficult process?
Levy: It was 17 days, the shoot, and it was really fun. Four days a week for...whatever that is.
Lee: We’d always have Monday’s off to catch-up.
Levy: Rebuild everything.
Lee: Yeah, it was really intense and fun. It was all contained in this big place, with three sets. We got thought a lot of stuff each day, pages and pages of stuff. This was all single camera, but it all went pretty efficiently. It’s really great that we had got our cast that we wanted, all the crew we wanted, so it was really nice, and everyone was really into the project. Cause it’s rare I think when you get to costume designer or set designer where it’s usually like their job is “Oh, we need this to look like a bank. These people have to look kind of like Target, but kind of like J. Crew.” So they’re like “Here’s the 10 chinos, which one do you want?” But when you give actual characters and you’re like “This one is a nut job...”
Levy: We’re creating a whole world that shouldn’t look like anything else.
Lee: When you say “Heather is...” Well, she already looks like Sissy Spacek, but “Watch <i>Three Women</i> and that’s her.” They get to go “Oh, awesome. I get to find these weird dresses.” With Kristen, you get to say, “She’s a crazy, deranged slut.” And so that’s just fun. So I think everyone was really creatively inspired, and it made our jobs just like, let’s keep moving.
Levy: And a lot of our team is from <i>Wonder Showzen</i>.
Q: How short was pre-production?
Levy: The whole thing went by really fast. Five weeks?
Lee: Yeah, five weeks, and that was basically building sets. We built everything, then basically said, now make it really ugly. They put garbage everywhere, they painted the walls like three times over. Rip the siding out and put it up. Really took the time to make it look really ugly.
Levy: I was constantly worried we were gonna get fleas or bedbugs.
Lee: Yeah, it was really gross. Walking around, it wasn’t pleasant.
Q: Did you have a chance to play around with your characters?
Sikora: I think maybe before we started the show, Vernon (Chapman) and John, with the cast, they knew who they wanted for people, and then the people they auditioned, they were like that’s going to fit in their vision of this character, as close as without me doing it myself. It really did wiork. I think the cast is really great and got along well and I think it’s funny and awkward and disturbing and I think that’s what the wanted. They really put together the puzzle that they wanted for the show.
Fitzpatrick: And after casting, there was’t that much flexibility script-wise. Acting-wise, that’s a tough call. Because they almost wanted like worse acting. Like they wanted it to be bigger and more ridiculous. I don’t ever remember receiving any directions. But everyone knew to kind of stick to the script and it would be good. They might tell you to amp it up a little or something like that, but there was no real direction on this whole project.
The group laughs.
Lawless: For me I know, the wardrobe, the day I came in to be fitted was sort of when all the pieces came together for me. Just putting prairie dress after prairie dress and realizing, you know, covered, which is exactly what I wanted. And Kristen’s was exactly the opposite of mine. Piecing together, just looking at everybody’s wardrobes was just so specific and a window into the characters. So I feel there was a week before we actually started shooting where I was, that was incredibly helpful to have the wardrobe in mind as I was putting things together. Carrie was the woman who did the wardrobe, and she was just amazing.
Schaal: Thjat’s funny, because I got a call from her and she was like “I just want to run this by you, if it’s comfortable, because John and Vern would like to see you like in a bikini top.” And I was like “No! No! Not comfortable! I was thinking maybe a shirt that was just ripped up, alright?” And she was like, “OK.” And then really, a week into it, I was like, she had to be in a bikini top. She wouldn’t wear anything else.
Schaal: It’s weird how I went from no to yes.
Fitzpatrick: It really did feel like they built a little world, and if you were there, you would maybe do things you wouldn’t do in your everyday life.
Schaal: Like sexual favors.
Fitzpatrick: It was OK to be ridiculous.
Schaal: Ritual killings.
Fitzpatrick: Because everyone’s being ridiculous. So let’s all just be ridiculous.
Lawless: No one escapes that.
Fitzpatrick:There was no second guessing yourself or “What will my mother think?” Mothers and fathers didn’t exist inside the studio.
Schaal: I did read, when I read the scripts, I remember I called by mom and dad, and I said, “I’m in this thing... well, maybe don’t email some of the church people.”
Fitzpatrick: Yeah, the church people are gonna have a response. (pause) And I come from an Irish-Catholic family, and I don’t play the nicest of preachers...well, the most holiest of preachers.
Schaal: He’s just trying to figure things out.
Lawless: He’s lost.
Fitzpatrick: I think I’m as interested in the critics as the fans. I’ll be really interested in the critics to see who hates it. Where they’re coming from with their hatred.
Schaal: Or their love, huh? Their love? Their adoration?
Fitzpatrick: We’ll see.
Schaal: Why not?
Q: Patton, with your character, ripped from solitutude and thrown into a position of power...
Oswalt: The story of my life.
Q: Did you bring any Chauncey Gardener type qualities to the role?
Oswalt: You know what, no. God, you’re the first one to fucking bring that up.
Lee: We thought about it.
Oswalt: You did? I didn’t think of it at all. I thought of Kaspar Hauser. That was kind of my model. Lethally non-judgemental of the world to himself. That kind of thing. He just trusts everything is going to be awesome.
Also because I have a 2-year-old daughter, and there are times that I fear for her, and you realize, we’ve all been in this position, where she just thinks everything is great. Everything is going to be great, and you have to think, “Do I let her go get hurt?”
Lee: Pretzels for her are amazing. Pretzel’s for you are fine.
Oswalt: At first, she’s like “Pack of pretzels!” So yeah, it was that kind of thing.
Q: [Leo} said there was no direction [laughs] and you stick to the script, so are you playing for laughs or are you playing them as serious characters?
Schaal: I don’t know about the no direction thing. I had at least three retreats with John and Vern to work on my character. We went to three very exotic locations.
Fitzpatrick: I thought that was just rehab.
Sikora: You can’t play them for laughs. I think you play them for the truth of the person. For all intents and purposes, these are real people in real situations that are just craz from their outrageous minds, and if you just play things for laughs you just lose the real intention of the situation, and people aren’t going to watch that. It’s not funny. It’s the difference between Dane Cook and Alec Baldwin. One’s funny and one’s not. (pause) I’m not gonna tell you who.
Fitzpatrick: What I was trying to say with “no direction” was it’s all there on the page. Like you really didn’t have to do anything. Just did what was written, and trusted that it would be funny. A lot of the time when you’d be shooting, you knew it was funny. Like you could just feel it in the room. This is really wrong, so it’s going to be really good.
Q: Kristen, your characters in the past have been sweet or sweetly sinister, but this time you’re out and out evil. How much fun was that?
Schaal: It was great. She’s so angry. And she wants it all, and I loved it. I was saying, getting to be Hurshe everyday, and getting to be so grotesque, and hurting everyone and yelling and screaming and then getting back on the train in civilian clothes with my wig off and remembering everything I did that day as Hurshe was really secretly satisfying.
Fitzpatrick: That was really the nice thing on this project. You really enjoyed going to work, which isn’t always the case. I live on the lower East Side, so I would take the train out to Brooklyn each morning, and I would remember kind of being excited, like what are we going to do today, and going home and feeling the same. It’s rare that you get those kind of jobs. It’s because they kind of build a little family. You get to have fun and somehow other people get to see it. That’s pretty awesome.
Schaal: Yeah, it’s a jungle gym of acting. It’s fun.
Q: Patton, your perspective seems to match well with the scripts. When you first got them, did you see a way that your material leans in that direction?
Oswalt: Well, what I liked was that it was so alien to me, that that’s what I wanted to do. There wasn’t anything that came from what I do as a comedian or writer. As an actor, I didn’t have any solid ground to stand on, which as an actor is way more exciting to do. I mean, this is a version of the south people in the south are barely gonna recognize, as it’s so mutated.
Lee: It’s not even really making fun of the south I think.
Oswalt: I maintain that it makes fun of hipsters’ attitudes about the south, rather than makes fun of the south. That’s what I really love about it. It’s making fun of people’s perceptions.
Lee: We actually kind of weird like and have done a lot of research about loving the weird culture that the south has.
Oswalt: Oh yeah.
Lee: We have all this stock footage at the top and end of each show that is just showing how weird and strange that world is and how great it is and how no one talks about it being really interesting. It’s really interesting.
Oswalt: One of my favorite movies of all time is Sherman’s March, the documentary. It’s such a great kind of almost rebuke of people who write off the south. Southern women are just as complicated and complex as women in Manhattan, in London. They are people.
Lee: I met Ross McElwee once.
Lee: I did a little segment for him on Split Screen and I went up and talked to him. He’s so sweet.
Oswalt: I love him. I’ve seen every one of his movies. Time Indefinite is unbelievable.
Lee: It’s so depressing. All those close-ups of the fish and the socks.
Oswalt: And Charlene with the ashes on the bridge. Holy shit.
Lee: I’m with you.
Oswalt: And the thing that people forget about the south is, I will put any world literary tradition up against the American south and it will steamroll them. Russian, Ireland, those are great, but for darkness and dysfunction, the south beats all. No better art or literature has come out of anywhere but the American south. That’s out Ireland and then it beats Ireland.
Schaal: I think for me it’s more a high concept. All the concepts in the situations are really funny, and the people’s attitudes. That’s what I think is funny. Things are happening that you didn’t think could.
Sikora: I feel like the people, and I can’t speak for, I wonder how southerners feel about this, but it’s almost like it would make southerners laugh too, because they’d be like that is how people from the north view the south, oh it’s funny because it’s absurd. It’s so absurd that anybody can laugh at it for the absurdity of the situation, and you can also laugh at it because of the realness of the situation in terms of the characters, but for that southern overview, it’s so ridiculous that we’ll laugh at it for this reason, and you get the backlash of the southern laughing at it, and you get the joke upon the joke upon the joke.
Q: Going from more serious work to something like this, how is this respite for you?
Fitzpatrick: For me, I enjoyed going to work, so I didn’t want it to end. You kind of want to see it live on, and you want to really keep doing it, which I think is a huge credit to John and Vernon. Everything they’ve built.
Sikora: Plus they’re just cool dudes, they really are just nice guys.
Schaal: And it happened in July, so it was a great way to spend the summer. I was like, what a fun July.
Lawless: And it’s also just so unique the experience feels more like an opportunity than a job. Just an opportunity to be just as full out as possible. I can’t evem compare it to anything. It didn’t feel like any other job ever. It really did just feel like an awesome opportunity to just be a maniac.
Fitzpatrick: Not enough opportunities like that.
Sikora: You can never get enough opportunities to be a maniac.
Lawless: And they wanted the maniac.
Fitzpatrick: You could always just stay in character. Just refuse to break character.
Lawless: And just stay that way until the second installment of the mini-series gets picked up.
Sikora: You know, interestingly, I mainly do do drama for whatever reason, but I feel like I didn’t do anything different to attack this role. It wasn’t any different than I would approach anything else. I’m not all that comedic I guess.
Sikora: No, it’s true. I guess I’m not necessarily comedic, but if I tried to be it would have been a bad idea. And I’m sure I’m funny at points in this thing, but it’s not me being funny, it’s me trying to be this guy, and John and Vernon are funny. I thought, I’m a fan, I’m sure it’ll be fine.
Q: Has there ever been anything where they say it’s just too much?
Lee: Yeah, shows haven’t been picked up. That’s usually a clear way of saying “No thank you.”
Levy: We’re not interested.
Oswalt: Was it a scene involving Kristen Schaal?
Lee: No, it’s a scene where Patton is asleep in bed, and someone’s trying to get the fear of God into him, so he dresses up like a demon god to get the fear of god into him. Patton wakes up, freaks out, grabs a cross, beats him to death and decapitates him. Which you don’t see.
Levy: You see blood.
Lee: You see blood and it hitting the wall, but they made us change it, because you can’t see him hit him with the cross. So we had to digitally make it like that [Lee makes a T shape] but you still think it’s a cross. What bronze thing looks like that? So we just had to change it.
Oswalt: Wait a minute? Didn’t Linda Blair stick a cross in her vagina?
Levy: Turner has very different standards.
Lee: As non-believers, we were very upset. It’s offensive, as non-believers, that you can’t say Jesus. We’re still in a world where that happens, which is truly crazy.
Oswalt: Yeah, you can’t go “Oh, God.” Literally, you can’t say that.
Lee: But you can say “God, come here. Sit down. Aren’t you great?”
Levy: The funniest one we ever got was on <i>Wonder Showzen</i>, where we did letters and numbers, where one are Jews and one are Arabs. MTV said, you cannot appear to take a position on the Arab/Israeli conflict. I thought, I defy you to watch this and tell us the position that we are taking on this subject, and b) why not? Who cares what we think about the Arab/Israeli conflict?
Oswalt: That’s also their pussy way of saying “Do not bring that up period.”
Lee: That’s always the case if they don’t actually understand the issue, or don’t have a point, they can’t defend it, so they can’t approve you to do so.
My favorite standards note was, if you’re going to have a cougar rape a strawberry, we indeed need to see the cougar raping the strawberry.
Q: That sounds like a poem. Are you sure that wasn’t a pitch to you?
Lee: No, no. We put it up on our wall while we were making Wonder Showzen, because it was about a cougar and a strawberry had made a baby, in a news thing, and we eventually cut it, but it was such an amazing note.
Oswalt: ee cummings on PCP. The cougar rapes the strawberry. Must show it.
Lee: It’s what we call this show, what we based this show on we like to call Zen Dumb. Something so dumb that it’s actually kind of brilliant or something so brilliant it’s kind of dumb. So that’s that kind of quote. if you’re going to show a cougar raping a strawberry, you have to show it. Well yeah!
Q: Make sense. I have it on my pillow.
Q: What are you guys most excited about for the premiere of The Heart, She Holler?
Fitzpatrick: For everyone to be crazy wild about it.
Schaal: I’m excited for my dad to see it.
Fitzpatrick: I think it’s exciting to see because it’s this mini-series idea, to see what the response is. Either people will like it or they’ll hate it, but you’ll know pretty quick.
Q: What do you hope the fans think?
Sikora: That this is the best show they’ve ever seen.
Schaal: Yeah, I want them to think, Oh, that’s nice that there’s something on the air that I’ve never seen before.
Lawless: And want more of it. To not be exhausted by it but be inspired by it. Get pumped about seeing more of it.
Sikora: And demand the Christmas special.
Q: Is there more in the Holler?
Lee: The Holler is screaming all the time. You can’t deny it.
Q: Are you ready for more?
Lee: That’s always a task you regret saying yes to. When you set yourself up for something and at the end of the season... well, the end of the season is quite a hurdle we’re going to have to jump. But that’s always our own mistake. We’ll have to deal with it.
Q: What’s up next?
Lee: We’re shooting Delocated. I direct some episodes, and our company produces Delocated. And we do that until about Christmas. There’s talk of doing more of The Heart, She Holler, which is good.
Q: You guys seem to build the bulk of the [adult swim] line-up at this point. Has anyone tried to steal you away?
Levy: They want a meeting, but then we’re not who they think we are. We’d have to still work hard, because it’s kind of a niche thing.
Lee: We also care, much to our own demise. We get really involved, like with Delocated, and we make sure we’re a part of the show. That’s not smart. That’s not how you get successful. You get successful by having seven shows, where you say that’s good, that’s good, saw that, that looks great, and then people go off and work. We’re always like, “That should be funnier. Let’s spend a couple hours and work on this.”
Levy: There’s also nothing really on other regular shows where we say “We could have done that." "Why didn’t they ask us?” “Why didn’t they call us first?”
Lee: People have come and it’s starting to happen a little more. I think also, people have odder expectations of us. Literally we’ve met people and they say “Wow, so you guys aren’t monsters!” Yeah, nice to meet you too.
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