Mr. Show's HBO run ended in 1998, but thanks to cable reruns and DVDs—not to mention the reemergence of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross in prominent roles on Breaking Bad and Arrested Development, respectively—the sketch-comedy favorite may be more popular than ever. Now, 15 years after their cult show went off the air, the duo is back together again with Hollywood Said No!, a collection of their unproduced screenplays and sketches (available September 10).
Odenkirk and Cross chatted with Details about the positive side of rejection and their slew of upcoming projects, including Odenkirk's sketch show The Birthday Boys and the new film Cross wrote and directed, called Hits.
DETAILS: Your book is filled with rejected material. Is it ever a good thing for artists to hear "no" to their ideas?
BOB ODENKIRK: Absolutely. It's a good thing for artists to be reminded that there's a bar, and they have to make a genuine effort to make a worthy product. On the other hand, I think all you can do is follow your inspiration and say, "This is what I wanted to write at this time, and what do I want to do next?" I don't think you can be too calculated. But neither David nor I think these movies [Hooray for America! and Bob and David Make a Movie, which make up a large portion of the book] overwhelmingly should have been made. We know these are indulgences. We talk about Hollywood as though the mainstream should have accepted us, celebrated us, and done all of our material—but we're joking. I don't know if David feels differently, but I think these are fringe projects.
DAVID CROSS: For me the most effective rejections—the ones that leave lasting impressions—are girls. The individual moments of the screenplay being turned down weren't anything devastating. You just pick up, move on, and keep trying new stuff. Hooray for America! is really high concept—I think it's fucking great and was quite prescient, but neither one of us was surprised when people said "No." There was a little disappointment in that we thought there'd be a bit more cachet from Mr. Show, but that didn't prove to be the case.
DETAILS: For struggling artists playing to rooms of six people or taking improv classes, is rejection ever a sign that it's time to consider a different path?
BOB ODENKIRK: Everybody has to draw their own conclusion on what their breaking point is, but I do think you should have one. I did. I told myself when I got into comedy, "If I don't make money at this by the time I'm 30, then I'll reconsider this career."
For what it's worth, the death of [comedian] Bill Hicks was something that really affected my direction in life. I was well into comedy by then; I'd been at Saturday Night Live and left, but Bill's death [at 32]—he was only about two years older than me—it just made me think: I've got to get moving on my personal choices in life, whether they're to create my own sense of comedy, write something and get it produced, or if I wanted to get married, to start being more serious about that. I saw how tragically and quickly things can be taken away.
DETAILS: Bob, how has being on Breaking Bad changed your life?
BOB ODENKIRK: It's made me way more well known and recognized, which is very useful when you're trying to present projects to people. It's something I've never really had except among a very small group of very intelligent, tasteful people. It's been an opportunity for me to play something more serious, and now I'm getting opportunities in the movie The Spectacular Now, which is out right now, and in Nebraska, which is coming up on Thanksgiving.
DETAILS: Can you tell us about the Saul Goodman spinoff that's supposedly in the works?
BOB ODENKIRK: You probably know more than I do. I haven't heard anything concrete. The one thing I read online about a month ago was literally a rumor from two years ago, so I don't know what to think.
DETAILS: I love the image of you going on IMDB and asking, "What's happening with my spinoff?"
BOB ODENKIRK: I'm not, but there was an article in Deadline Hollywood. People I hadn't talked to in years wrote me emails saying, "Congratulations!" I had to call somebody and say, "What for?" I thought they were congratulating me about The Birthday Boys, a sketch show I'm doing on IFC that comes out in October. Then they referred me to that Deadline Hollywood article. I think the blogging world needs to say something every day—or every minute of every day—so a lot of stuff gets dredged up, even if it's not necessarily true.
[Ed. note: To be fair, even if it's not a done deal, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has publicly stated as recently as July that he hopes the spinoff will happen and is working on it.]
DETAILS: Speaking of The Birthday Boys, what can we expect from that show?
BOB ODENKIRK: For me, it's really the next step after Mr. Show. It's not as absurdist as Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job. In a way, it's Mr. Show without the acid. Mr. Show had such a strong attitude behind it. That was David and me; we're both guys with a chip on our shoulders. The guys who make The Birthday Boys along with me do not have chips on their shoulders. They're very nice.
DETAILS: David, you just wrapped shooting a movie you wrote and directed called Hits. What's it about?
DAVID CROSS: I have to figure out how to succinctly describe it. I always try to get it in two sentences, and it takes me about nine paragraphs. It's basically about somebody who gets famous who doesn't want it, alongside somebody who desperately wants it but doesn't get it. But that's not exactly what it's about. It's about a bunch of shit. [Laughs.]
DETAILS: Your career has been a balance between the cult comedy material—Mr. Show, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Arrested Development—and some really commercial movies, like She's The Man and Alvin and the Chipmunks. How do you balance those types of projects?
DAVID CROSS: At least initially, with both She's The Man and Alvin and the Chipmunks, I took the work after periods of not working for a long time, or at least what's considered a long time in this business. When five months becomes six months, it really fucks with your head. I just wanted to work. I didn't happily, excitedly sign that contract, but I didn't think too much about it. I was like "Okay, great, I'll work on this movie. It's a kids' movie. Who gives a shit?" And She's The Man was work. I like to work in all capacities: Standup, writing, acting, or directing. Todd Margaret barely paid anything. I gave up my fee to direct this movie I wrote. I'm not going to see any money from it, but I can do shit like that because other shit pays so well. It balances it out. I'll be editing and sound mixing this thing until February. That means I'm not working. I can't go to Hollywood or L.A. and do a high-paying movie or TV show because I'm going to be in an editing room not making money working on something I love.
DETAILS: Both of you have played characters with noteworthy—if not always fashion-forward—style sense. I'm thinking of David's grandpa sweaters and Birkenstocks with socks as Tobias Funke on Arrested Development, and Bob's insanely bright button-downs and ties as Saul on Breaking Bad. What about your own personal style? How has it changed over the years?
BOB ODENKIRK: In the last two years I've begun to buy nice clothes that look good. Just today I bought some Rag & Bone pants that are really comfortable, and I'm going to get them tailored, which is key. Before that, I dressed like a college kid—jeans and a T-shirt with holes in it. But here's the thing: I feel like when you get older, when your hair is gray, you'd better look sharp, because if you don't look sharp, you look kind of dumpy. It no longer looks like a choice—it looks like you've failed.
DAVID CROSS: Part of it is his wife going "Hey, can you maybe not wear that jacket you've had since college that looks like shit and just wear something nice for me?" I have that same thing with my wife. I'm not trying to sound like some lame Roseanne Barr bit, but if it were up to me I'd be wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sweats, because they're comfortable and I don't give a shit. But I want to be conscious of my wife and what she's attracted to, so I try to dress with a little bit of style that's not, you know, skate punk.
— Jonathan Zeller's articles have appeared in the New York Times, Paper, Baseball Prospectus, Sports Illustrated, and New York.
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