Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Craig Ferguson

On 'The Big Tease'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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I have a little Scottish blood in me but not nearly as much as Craig Ferguson, who is probably best known for playing Nigel Wick, Drew Carey's boss, on "The Drew Carey Show." He has a better accent than I do. And, although he doesn't wear a kilt for our interview in San Francisco, he does wear a full-on tartan suit in his new movie The Big Tease, which he co-wrote and stars in.

The Big Tease is about Crawford Mackenzie, the finest hairdresser in Scotland. He receives an invitation to participate in the Platinum Scissors competition in Los Angeles and a faux-documentary style movie, like This Is Spinal Tap (1984), ensues. Of course, Crawford is a fish out of water and has trouble right from the start. Soon, though, his natural charm win him the right friends, and the good guys beat the bad guys. The Big Tease is the ultimate in light and fun entertainment as was our interview.

Jeffrey M. Anderson: If The Platinum Scissors award is a one of a kind award, how did they get a new one every year?

Craig Ferguson: The Platinum Scissors are like the World Cup of hair. They're passed on from winner to winner. So the following year the person brings the Platinum Scissors back. And it's not like in soccer, [where] if you win three times you get to keep it. There's only one Platinum Scissors.

JMA: The movie was going to be released earlier, wasn't it?

CF: The movie was going to be released in September of last year. And the reason it wasn't is because we took it to the Edinburgh film festival, and the reaction was so huge, and the press reaction was so favorable, that Warner Brothers -- God Bless 'em for this -- they felt they wanted to not release it in the great rush of Christmas films, but do it afterwards. And also give themselves time to market it, and hence send me to San Francisco, which I would never have done had they released it earlier.

JMA: Were there any Los Angeles quirks that you would have liked to spoof in the movie that you didn't get to?

CF: I would have insisted that we add in some kind of Holistic healing or some kind of yoga or some kind of spiritual class for Crawford to attend. Although I must admit, in the script at one time he met a woman called Darianna Bush who told him how to embrace the Pagan side. That was her mantra. I don't remember why. Gina Gershon, who I'm friendly with, was desperate to play Darianna Bush. So I'm glad we didn't shoot it because it would be cut out of the movie and she'd never speak to me again.

JMA: Have you ever been invited on Drew Carey's other TV show "Who's Line Is It Anyway?"

CF: I don't have anything to do with it. It's kind of Drew and Ryan [Stiles]' gig. I work with these guys a lot of the year. And they're nice. They're my buds. But that's their gig, and I like to do movies.

JMA: You'd be good on it!

CF: You know, I sometimes go down to the Improv in L.A. with them and do some live stuff. But I don't want to do the TV show. I think it's more fun live because you can swear more.

JMA: Your script for The Big Tease got Hollywood "buzz" and started a bidding war. How do you do that? How do you get "buzz"?

CF: If I knew that, I'd do it every day. I don't know how it happens. When the script first came out... I wrote it with a friend of mine (Sacha Gervasi)... The first couple of people who read it were not very enthusiastic. Then another couple of people read it and were extremely enthusiastic and then it just seemed to snowball after that. At one point, we were doing some re-writes on the script in his apartment and the phones were ringing off the wall. It was ugly. It got kind of weird for a week. You got your: (Slimy Producer Voice) "you guys -- I love your movie. I really want to be your best friend. Want some free chicken?" Oh my God. It was nice when we settled with Warner Brothers, who didn't supply us with any free chicken, by the way.

JMA: Is Stig Ludwiggssen (played in the movie by David Rasche) based on anyone?

CF: Yes he is. Stig Ludwiggssen the evil hairdresser is based on a movie director that I know. A big action movie director. I can't tell you who he is because he'll sue my ass, but this guy's a complete dipshit.

JMA: You can't give me a hint?

CF: How many Scandinavian film directors are there in Hollywood?

JMA: I'd heard that those tartan pants of yours in the movie are your trademark pants. Did you use them in your stand-up act?

CF: No! God these pants were so damn tight. They were about three sizes too small. You couldn't do stand-up in those pants. You can barely do lying down in those pants. Those are tight pants. I still have marks. Scars. They're in the Hard Rock Cafe in Glasgow.

JMA: Really?

CF: No, they're not. But they should be.

JMA: Part of the reason for The Big Tease was a reaction to Scottish movies like Braveheart and Trainspotting...

CF: A little bit, yeah. It's not that I didn't like those movies. I did. But they were very grimy and tough and had a certain thuggish quality to them. And I wanted to project a kind of effete and fay and light side of Scotland that hadn't really been seen before.

JMA: Can you talk about your next movie, Saving Grace, which you also wrote and acted in?

CF: It's having its world premiere at Sundance. I'm very proud of Saving Grace. I think it's a really good movie. It was great to star in a movie with Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies). I hope it gets the kind of attention it deserves.

JMA: You have to say that, though.

CF: I don't have to, really, because I could let it go. I could just say, "it was good fun." I wouldn't do that. I'm too fucking old to do that stuff. I wouldn't sell it if I didn't believe in it. I can't anymore. I'm too decrepit!

JMA: The writing sessions for The Big Tease must have been a laugh riot!

CF: That's what writing is about. That's what writing comedy's about. Making yourself laugh. There are certain people who make comedy who go: (gravely voice) "Yeah. That's good. Put it in." From the Rolodex. "What we need is a number 6 or a 48." I can't do that. I'm not that good, to be honest. If it doesn't make me laugh then I don't think it'll make anyone else laugh. I'm lucky I've got a vulgar populist sensibility.

JMA: Did you steer away from This is Spinal Tap, which is the grand daddy of mockumentaries?

CF: It's the seminal mockumentary. No, we totally embraced it. In fact, in the competition, the great homage to Spinal Tap is "these go up to 11." Because you would expect them to go up to 10, but they go up to 11. You know, I used to play in rock bands, so I've seen that movie like 150 times. I've seen Spinal Tap more than I've seen The Big Tease. More than I've seen Saving Grace, and I was editing on Saving Grace. Fantastic movie.

JMA: I've heard that Spinal Tap is a big tour bus movie.

CF: It is. That's where I saw it. Tour busses. I've never seen it on the big screen. In fact, I don't think I've ever watched Spinal Tap when I haven't been in motion.

JMA: What kind of bands were you in?

CF: Oh, podunk rhythm and blues bands... I was in some punk bands in the early eighties. I did some weird stuff. I played drums with Nico, you know Nico from the Velvet Underground? That was a very strange experience. She was a sad woman.

JMA: Who were your big influences?

CF: I guess it would be Billy Connolly, the comedian. I don't know how well known he is in America. He's certainly very well known in Scotland. He was the first guy who sounded like me when I was a kid. He sounded like us. He wasn't some paunchy English actor putting on a silly unbelievable accent. He was a real TV personality from Scotland. And Sean Connery. And Stan Laurel.

JMA: You look a little like Stan Laurel.

CF: Really? Thank you. Laurel and Hardy crack me up. I know some people who are into the Three Stooges. Not a blip for me. I can watch a Three Stooges marathon and nothing happens. But with Laurel and Hardy I'm changing underwear every 20 minutes. It's fantastic.

JMA: What was your defining moment as a performer? What made you want to do it as a career?

CF: I did a school play when I was six years old. And it was the story of Jesus. It was a kind of Easter play. It was the story of Jesus being betrayed and the crucifix and all that. And I played the part of Judas Iscariot. And I did some big re-writes on this story. Judas came off a lot better off in my version than he actually did [in the Bible]. It got some very pronounced reactions from the parents who attended the showing. And the reactions interested me and I thought, "this is what I want to do. This gets me more attention than pulling girls' hair."

January 11, 2000

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