Christopher Guest

A sit-down with the director and star of A Mighty Wind.

Christopher Guest sits seigneurially in Seattle's Four Seasons Olympic with John Michael Higgins, Harry Shearer, and Fred Willard. Why shouldn't he? He is a seigneur: Lord Christopher Haden-Guest, of the lowest-ranking peers of England. Lord H-G's barony is insurgent. His nobles rose up against the comic doctrines of the ignoble tyrant: his old boss SNL producer Lorne Michaels (who inspired Mike Myers' Dr. Evil). Like Guest's peerless works in This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and Best in Show, the faux-documentary A Mighty Wind (in which the four play folk-music fogies) represents a retort to SNL style, where each sketch is rehearsed to death. "We've done our time in the [SNL] pit, and basically, nothing is spontaneous," says Guest. "It's all read off cue cards, and nobody bothers to learn lines because it's changed at the last minute. This is more live than SNL. We're playing live." There is no rehearsal, no script, no dialogue, just a story outline for each scene composed by Guest and Eugene Levy. It's a bit like Mike Leigh's method, but different, too: "Mike Leigh improvs to come up with a script, which is then filmed. We map out the story of every scene, so that every actor knows what each scene's purpose iswe have to get from here to there and this has to happen. And then you shoot the scene." The dialogue emerges from the characters and their particular predicament in the precarious moment. It all depends on egalitarian ensemble work, the opposite of Lorne's star-maker machinations. "There's a whole history at that place of wanting to build the star over the character," says Shearer. "You see it way back in Lorne liking the idea of Dan Aykroyd having a mustache and playing Nixon, who didn't. That didn't bother Lornewhat's most important is that the audience recognize the actor because you're building stars here. That's a movie-star game. We're trying to find the reality of the characters, ideally getting lost in this other person." SNL style is sneering from a remove far above your subject: I'm Chevy Chase and you're not. "You have to be inside," says Shearer. "It's not about winking at people." "This is really similar to Spinal Tap," says Guest. "These people probably have a higher brain-cell count," says Higgins. "Not by that much," says Shearer. "Let's face it," concedes Higgins, "It's no fun to play incredibly smart people."

 
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