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Q&A: DAVID WAIN,
DIRECTOR AND CO-WRITER OF THE TEN

An online exclusive interview

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Friday, August 03, 2007

By Amber Drea


Winona Ryder fucking a puppet. A heroin-dealing rhinoceros. An uncomfortably close-up shot of dudes’ bare assholes. These are just a few of the atrocities committed in the name of comedy for director/co-writer David Wain and co-writer Ken Marino’s new masterpiece, The Ten. The film comprises 10 separate but interweaving segments, each tackling one of the Biblical Commandments in twisted and unconventional ways. Paul Rudd plays Jeff, the keeper of the 10 commandments, who introduces the stories between dealing with his nagging wife (Famke Janssen) and having an affair with the younger, suppler Liz (Jessica Alba).

While Wet Hot American Summer remains the cult-classic that really put Wain, Marino and other former members of early Nineties comedy troupe The State on the Hollywood map, The Ten takes comedy to levels previously untouched. Shot with the same clean, realistic visual style and satirical tone as the short-lived Comedy Central series Stella, which was created by Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black, The Ten is a barrage of Ivy League–smart dialogue, deadpan physical gags and black humor. Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux) avoids fulfilling his godly duties and instead opts for seducing a virgin librarian (Gretchen Mol) on vacation in Mexico. A doctor, played by Marino, is sentenced to life in prison for killing a patient “as a goof” and is repeatedly forced to have sex against his will (“That’s what makes it rape,” he explains). And Stephen Montgomery (Adam Brody) becomes a celebrity for falling out of an airplane and gets accused of molesting his niece (“I thought I was fingering her!” he reasons). Stop Smiling was bestowed the following email interview with Wain in the busy week leading up to The Ten’s nationwide August 3 release.

Stop Smiling: How did you come up with the concept of the film?

David Wain
: I'd like to take full credit for the idea, but the basic structure and theme was copied out of a book I got at Barnes & Noble called the Bible. It really is a good book. The idea of doing a short story based on each commandment was stolen from the Polish movie Dekalog. Then each individual idea for each story — those were thunk up by myself and Ken Marino.

SS: How did you write the film? Did you just take one commandment at a time?

DW: Yes. We just tried to devise the most entertaining take on each one. We wrote the whole thing as fast as we could.

SS
: How did you and Ken Marino work together as writers?

DW: We’d just sit there (either in person or on iChat) and say "What if ... ?" and "How about ... ?" and "Would there be any value if ... ?" and just type, type, type. Sometimes we’d put up note cards. Sometimes we’d act it out.

SS: Did you film each segment individually, one at a time? How long did it take?

DW: No, we shot bits and pieces of each segment throughout our 28-day shooting schedule. Most of it was done in NYC, except for four days in Mexico and two in LA. It was a huge puzzle to work around 40+ locations and 80+ actors’ schedules on our small number of days and tight budget.

SS: How did you arrive at this style of taking something absurd and viewing it through a serious lens with a dramatic tone?

DW: I've always thought the more straight you play silly or absurd comedy, the better it works. In this case, we took it even a little further than I had in the past. The stories are a bit more absurd, and the acting and shooting style is bone-dry serious at times. I like the result.

SS: How did you choose some of the actors, such as Adam Brody, Winona Ryder, Jessica Alba, Justin Theroux and Liev Schreiber? Was it difficult to get all of these actors together?

DW: It was shocking to us how many great actors we were able to get to be involved. Adam Brody is someone I thought was super funny — I particularly love his movie-stealing performance in Thank You For Smoking. He'd been a fan of our earlier work and came on board early on. Winona Ryder was the same kind of deal: mutual fans, we talked, she came on board. Jessica Alba responded to the material and worked us into her busy schedule — we shot her three weeks before we started principal photography. Justin Theroux was the first person we asked to be in the film just because we knew he'd be the perfect Jesus. And Liev Schreiber is one of my favorite actors, and someone I've known around New York for years. So I was thrilled he agreed to do it.

SS: When you asked Winona Ryder to fuck a puppet, how did she react? How did you direct her in that scene?

DW: She took it super seriously, to the point where she even asked the puppet "Are you okay?" after a take. She seemed to think it was funny from day one but really approached it like a serious scene on the day. We talked all about the motivations and backstory, etc.

SS: Who animated the “Lying Rhino” section? Jon Benjamin (of Cartoon Network’s Home Movies) does the voice, but why wasn’t he in the live action part at the end of the scene?

DW: The animation was done by Aaron Augenblick and his team in Brooklyn (best known for their work on MTV2’s Wonder Showzen). They're amazing and made that piece really shine. Jon Benjamin was unavailable for the shoot, so the guy you see there is Peter Salett, who happens to be the guy who sings the last song in the movie, “The End of the End of the Ten.”

SS: Why did you end the film with a song that sums up all the stories?

DW: Actually we ended with three songs in a row, each of which sums up all the stories. We did it because it seemed like a fun, rousing, self-consciously self-congratulatory way to end the movie.

SS: Whose asses get the close-up in “Thou Shalt Honor the Sabbath and Keep It Holy”?

DW: Those are the asses of Matt Ballard (who plays Defense Attorney Greg Splenda) and Craig Wedren, our composer (and member of the band Shudder to Think), who can be seen full-frontal nude in the deleted scenes of Wet Hot American Summer.

SS: Does it ever get competitive among former members of The State?

DW
: There's always been competition from the day the group was formed in 1988. But we're all still very good friends and we all try to work with each other, in different configurations, as often as possible. Every member of The State is in The Ten.

SS: Speaking of The State, when does the long-awaited DVD box set of the MTV series finally come out?

DW: Sometime in October, I’m told.

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