Details: And why didn't that work?
Todd Philips: I'm not putting the blame on anybody, because it always comes down to the director, but you do realize that you want to make movies with people who are doing the movies for the right reasons. And not to slam Billy Bob Thornton, but when an actor tells you he's only here because he has five ex-wives to support, you're kind of fucked. [Laughs]
Details: You stepped down as director of Borat because of creative differences. What was your reasoning?
Todd Philips: Sacha Baron Cohen came to me with a script written by the guys who wrote South Park, and it was fine, but it wasn't Borat. I said, "You can't really script a movie like that—it should be a documentary." So I kind of pitched this idea of a documentary about an immigrant. It was kind of like Spinal Tap, in that there was a filmmaker present. We shot for six weeks—up to the rodeo scene—and what we discovered was that the filmmaker took a lot of air out of what Borat was doing. So many of the laughs are there because the people have no one to turn to. We were having trouble with it but could never put our finger on why. So we took a break from it, shut it down for a whole year. It was me taking the blame for a flawed concept.
Details: You still got an Oscar nomination for the screenplay.
Todd Philips: Yeah. I'm super-proud of the movie and what I had to do with it. I think Sacha is one of the most dangerous guys out there. Comedy is about danger, and Sacha is at the top. I would work with him again in two seconds.
Details: Is it true you drove a cab on HBO's Taxicab Confessions?
Todd Philips: I was an intern in the documentary department, and HBO needed more English-speaking drivers to get people to talk about fucking, which is my specialty. So I got my hack license and did the show in New York. It was thrown out of the city after I asked a guy who wouldn't talk to get out of my cab. The head of the Taxi & Limousine Commission had to write a letter to the New York Post. It said: "To Mayor Giuliani and the citizens of New York City, we would like to apologize for the indefensible behavior of HBO and Todd Phillips."
Details: Your first film was Hated, a documentary about the late punk rocker GG Allin.
Todd Philips: I started it when I was at NYU, and I dropped out to finish it because I couldn't afford both. We premiered it in NYC, and my mom's there, my sister's there, and all these punk-rock kids from the East Village. GG shows up, totally drunk, and starts screaming from his seat. He throws a bottle at the screen, but it hits this lady in the front row and cuts open her face. Everybody runs out of the theater, the projector shuts off, the cops come, and GG's gone. That was the premiere of my first movie.
Details: It gets weirder. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy painted the poster art.
Todd Philips: Yeah, that's how we funded the film. I'm not one of those guys who's into serial killers, but GG was. I wrote Gacy a letter telling him I was doing GG's story and asked him if he'd paint the poster. He called me collect from the Menard Correctional Center and said he would do it if I sent him $50 for art supplies. He painted me this great picture, and I made a thousand posters and we sold them for $15 each. He would call me every week and talk for about 20 minutes. That was a strange time in my life.
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