Young cops from the 80s. Who time-travel to 2012. And go undercover at a high school.
If that sounds a little 21 Jump Streetish to you, then Gregory Bonsignore understands how pop culture savvy web audiences can be. He also knows how much they love a good satirical skewering of 80s culture. We chatted with Bonsignore, one of the stars (and director/creator) of Squad 85, the hysterically ambitious time-traveling comedy that's debuting across the interwebs this week (executive produced by Fast & Furious helmer Justin Lin).
WARNING: The following interview contains vomit, high heels, and mud racing.
HIH: So, you're obviously a fan of 80s pop culture...How did Squad 85 come about?
GB: Less pop-culture fan, more I watched television in the 80's like the propaganda videos they'd show those children's jihad summer camps -- I memorized the rhythms, the tropes, and would get in such shit for talking to my friends and family with the same acerbity that everyone spoke to each other with in sitcoms. I was watching old episodes of 21 Jump Street, as you do, and it had that feeling that if you just presented this verbatim -- the bombast, the zingers, the bad guys, the white high school kids, the bedazzling -- under the heading of comedy, it would KILL -- much like the movie Twister. But I didn't want to make some flat parody museum piece of an 80s show. I was more interested in putting the 80s cop aesthetic up against the current pale of boring procedural CSI shit -- putting their overeager, kick-the-door-down style up against the almost too-authentic drudgery of white-glove-lab cop shows. So you either send people from the present TO the 80s (and it becomes more about the era), OR you have a special division to save the city from the mediocrity of procedural TV cops, who have no interest in acclimating to or learning the contemporary ways to the contrary. They come in with blustery confidence that their ways are best -- not a fish out of water as much as a fish that brings its own Tupperware bowl.
HIH: If you were to travel back to the Reagan Era, what year would you pick, and what would you do?
GB: Gray's...Sports...Almanac. No, I might go to '83 and watch tapings of Golden Girls and Cosby, flying Pan Am between the two. Or play Short Round. I know I should probably explain the Internet to someone, or bring some anti-retroviral drugs, or broadcast videos of wars for the next 30 years and scream "See, it's NEVER going to stop, so quit now or you're mortgaging your grandchildren's lives!!!"...But I might just have sex with a young Bob Hoskins...This is precisely why I would not be on the list to send back.
HIH: Who or what inspires you as a writer?
GB: I like conversation, I'm a good Sicilian boy who loves nothing more than a big table full of interesting people with great food and wine and talking about big ideas and dramatizing those same questions, things I feel I want to respond to in the world, hypotheses I want to posit, but more importantly things I don't actually have any idea about. I also enjoy the fun of episodic storytelling where you know the characters and see them in hundreds of hours of situations and see them grow or not over years... I like laughing, and I like being wrong...changing my mind about something because of a new idea or point of view -- that's why I watch, so that's more or less probably why I write what I do.
HIH: Tell us a little about your character, Bronx...
GB: Bronx is that inexplicable New Yorker that was in every 80s show, even if it took place in Tennessee -- there was always at least one tough guy from Brooklyn or Puerto Rican girl named "FERNANDEZ" from "the city." Bronx was born in NYC in the late 70's, where his father was a big mob boss, so becoming a cop is his way of trying to make good. He's at once the kind of dumb one and the one who consumed more television and political knowledge and trivia in his past life, that while great cocktail party in '85, is almost useless now as nobody has any idea who Geraldine Ferraro is or what the 227 finale was. He's also fucking GORGEOUS.
(L-R): Travis Van Winkle and Breaking Bad's RJ Mitte
HIH: Being on set, there must have been plenty of funny anecdotes to share...
GB: A lot of it came down to quickly changing costumes that were almost painted on. I'm a big boy, and my 34 jeans were real 80s 34s, not these vanity-sized American Eagle/Liz Claiborne "Oh my God I'm a 28 here!" Travis (Van Winkle) also had these white pants that were crazy tight. And any time either of us did stunts, jumps, running, even lunge-heavy blocking, we would bust the pants. Then for episode 2 where we're undercover as prostitutes, Travis had to be literally sewn into his dress. I wore spanks...seriously.
We shot the show in LA, but needed to shoot in New York for episode 5, and to do so in our insanely tight schedule, we had to get our whole principal cast to LAX an hour after we wrapped on our sixth 12-hour day, take a red eye to NY, shoot a mud race in the Catskills, drive to the city and shoot till 3am...then get back on a plane the next day. It was like an episode of The Amazing Race, and it was only possible because of the incredibly game and inexhaustibly talented cast, the amazing work of producer Andrew Beck, his crew, his amazingly hospitable family, and a 5-gallon bag of Costco Trail Mix.
As I was in the show and directing it, I was often talking to cast or crew, while soaking wet in my underwear, or in high heels and an 80s prostitute wig. You see those photos of Spielberg in those trucker hats with his hands forming a square, and you want something like that for your wall, but I just ended up more often than not looking like some homeless person they had to pay to stop walking onto set. But one day I had just run myself ragged and was clearly sick that morning and just had to jump from an exploding building, so I was soon vomiting in a Ziplock baggie. We moved onto the next scene, I composed myself...and 20 minutes went by before I realized I had been walking around in a daze, holding that clear bag of vomit as I spoke to the actors and crew.
Actor Christopher Larkin (Bobby) on location at Bridges Academy in Studio City.
HIH: 'The More You Know' Alert! What did you learn or take away from your experience working on Squad 85?
GB: It's incredibly hard to walk in heels, let alone run in them while doing stunts, and firing a gun. But moreso, I was overwhelmed by the incredibly generosity of talent and time from people who came together to make this project. People who just liked the show and wanted to be a part of it and worked their asses off to make it as extraordinary as it could be. I mean, I still get really emotional thinking about how grateful I am. The closest thing to it, and probably the most appropriate, was perhaps the barn-raising scene in Witness where all those people come together. And then, where there was just a field there's now a barn. And that is amazing....Our barn just happens to be a ridiculous 80s cop show.
Chris Hardwick, founder of the popular Nerdist blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, host of AMC's Talking Dead, author of The Nerdist Way, and overall King of Nerd Culture, covers the entertainment section of this month's issue of Bello Mag.
HIH's Hiko Mitsuzuka interviewed the geek entrepreneur back in August, and together, they covered everything from Comic Con and Sleepaway Camp to Tina Fey and Fraggle Rock.
On nerd culture becoming mainstream: "It allows me to work in fields that I really care about. But also, if it weren't mainstream, we wouldn't get Joss Whedon directing The Avengers movies."
On his increasingly busy schedule: "I'm really anal about my calendar. It looks like a Tetris game board."
The amazingly ripped gentleman you see here isn't the Ghost of Bodybuilders Past. He's the "Engineer" from this summer's Prometheus, and he helped celebrate the launch of Prometheus on Digital HD at The Beats Store in New York (far away from Hollywood, we know...but we have spies all over).
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment announced yesterday the launch of DIGITAL HD™, a new initiative that allows consumers to download or stream their favorite Fox movies on a variety of connected devices. Customized for today’s digital lifestyles, more than 600 Fox films can now be enjoyed anywhere, anytime in amazing high-definition immediately in the U.S. from Amazon, CinemaNow, Google Play, iTunes, PlayStation, VUDU, Xbox Live and YouTube.
Ridley Scott's epic sci-fi thriller is also available today on DIGITAL HD™ for less than $15, arriving three weeks before Blu-ray, DVD and video-on-demand (VOD).
The future of movies is a lot closer than we think (It'd be funny if Mr. Engineer was really just grooving to Christina Aguilera's new single, no?)
Last night in Beverly Hills, the critically-acclaimed Husbands became the first web series to be honored at the Paley Center for Media, and HIH was thrilled to be a part of the festivities (a reception with free Ben & Jerry's ice cream? Done).
Season 2 of the online sitcom, created by Buffy and Once Upon A Time writer Jane Espenson and series star Brad Bell, tells the story of Cheeks (Bell), a controversial tabloid personality, and Brady (Sean Hemeon), an out professional baseball player, who find themselves married in Vegas after drunkenly celebrating a federal amendment for marriage equality. Fearing that a public divorce would be devastating to the cause, they stay together, and joining them for the raucous ride is best pal Haley (played by Caprica's Allesandra Torresani).
Star Sean Hemeon (Brady) with series co-creator Espenson
Critics from The New Yorker to Entertainment Weekly have hailed the series as being simultaneously groundbreaking and traditional. Blending comedic elements from contemporary classics like Mad About You and Will & Grace, Husbands takes a well-known premise (newlyweds adjusting to married life!) and gives it a same-sex twist. Not to mention the acting and writing is better than some of the gags that pass for comedy nowadays on network television.
And upon previewing the new season, we can tell you this much: expect a ton of special guest stars (Jon Cryer, Joss Whedon, Tricia Helfer, to name a few) and longer episodes (kudos to the amped-up production value).
Remember that scene in Freddy vs. Jason when Jason Ritter and his friend broke out of that mental institution where all the patients were taking a drug called Hypnocil? That's kind of the vibe we're getting in Adam Lambert's video for his hard-poundingly good single off the groundbreaking Trespassing, "Never Close Our Eyes." The drab and repressed rise up to become the colorful and rebellious. And Glambert is leading the way.
That all said, is it us, or does this video reek of some Francis Lawrence direction (the guy behind "Bad Romance" and next year's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)? Check it out:
He was the d-bag frat boy who mocked Rumer Willis in the Anna Faris comedy The House Bunny. He was the cute guy (and father of a future president) who hops onto a train to sit next to the girl of his dreams in that nifty, flashback-in-time AT&T commercial. And he's currently the star of one of Hulu's first original series, Battleground, the workplace dramedy that's changing the landscape of original web content. As we speak. Seriously.
He's Jay Hayden, a name you'll want to remember because, if his list of credits is any indication, the dude's recent wave of success is only going to get bigger.
Touted as The-Office-meets-The-Ides-of-March, Battleground centers on Tak Davis (Hayden), the manager of a senatorial campaign who has to balance his professional and personal life while overseeing a ragtag group of volunteers in their Wisconsin headquarters. Created by JD Walsh and executive-produced by Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, 500 Days of Summer), the show manages to woo both fans and non-fans of politics, each 22-minute episode capturing the chaos and last-minute decision-making that goes into backing a public official.
Taking advantage of a gorgeous Saturday morning in L.A., Hayden and I meet at Larchmont Bungalow to chat (we converse on Tom Hanks's most memorable roles), catch up (we have several friends in common - such is Hollywood), and drool over some red-and-blue velvet pancakes (just pretend they're low-cal). And as we shoot the shit and talk shop -- we both admit to crying during 50/50 -- I learn a few things about the actor and his multicultural upbringing (Dad's "a military guy," Mom's Korean).
After living in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, he fondly remembers his New England childhood: "My dad would pull me out of school early to go to a Red Sox or Celtics game...I grew up loving Boston." While taking a year off from the University of Vermont he worked every horrible job imaginable: "I did manual labor until I figured out what I wanted to do. I did construction, replaced chicken wire under buildings to keep skunks out, and I was a bagel maker." And now, happily assuming the role of husband and father to a 3-year-old, his perspectives have changed: "Whereas as an actor, you were like, 'Oh I can just live in a cardboard box and be happy.' And suddenly you're like, 'Now I have to pay for college...and private school.'"
He's hopeful that things will continue to pay off, and there's no doubt they will as his plate is fuller than the dish that has just been served to him (an omelette and fruit cup, if you're wondering). We both toy with the idea of indulging in one of the Bungalow's trademark desserts, but we resist temptation. Don't get him wrong; Jay does enjoy a cheat day every so often. But how does he manage to stay in tip-top, actor shape? He plays soccer: "I play in two different leagues...and I also have a weight trainer who kills me every day."
But back to that starring role...
HIH: Has working on Battleground made you more political? Do you tune into CNN and pretend you're a pundit now?
JH: If by "more political" you mean do I turn on Crossfire, stand in front of the TV, and start yelling non-sequiturs, then yes. Yes, much more political.
HIH: Did you have to load up the DVR with cable news and read the Constitution to prepare for your role or what?
JH: I watched a couple episodes of The West Wing and Spin City, and the entire first season of Game of Thrones to fully prepare for the role. Unfortunately they ended up cutting the scenes where I kill dudes with my broad sword.
HIH: How did you fall into acting? (loaded question, we know) Or did it fall into you?
JH: I was walking by the University of Vermont Theatre Department when I first arrived on campus my freshman year. There was a casting notice for a one-act play. I thought to myself: "I just want to see if I'm good enough to do something like this." I got the part. Been acting ever since.
HIH: Who would you thank in your Oscar acceptance speech?
JH: There's a lot of people on that list. But I'd definitely make sure to thank all the people that DIDN'T believe in me. All the people that told me I wouldn't make it, or wasn't good enough. Those people helped drive me even harder.
HIH: What''s the best piece of advice you've ever received?
JH: "It's hard enough knowing what the f**k you ACTUALLY wanna do in this life. If you're lucky enough to figure it out, don't you DARE let anyone tell you if you can succeed at it or not. You go f**king do it. And keep doing it because why the f**k do anything other than what you want to do? And when you're kicking ass later, they can kiss it." - Lee Hasey.
HIH: Who would you love/kill/backstab to work with?
JH: I'd love to work with JD Walsh. Again. On the second season of Battleground...I hope Hulu is reading this.
HIH: Word association time! What comes to mind when we say the following words...
Comedy-- JD Walsh L.A.-- Traffic Fear-- Audition Audition-- Fear Red Carpet -- NOT fun Emma Stone -- Yep. I would. Childhood -- Vermont Cocktails -- Are awesome and delicious. Justin Bieber -- He's the kid with the hair, right? Battleground -- It's a good show dammit!!!
HIH: Finally, what do YOU think is Hotter in Hollywood?
JH:The Hunger Games. The book was sick. Movie looks like it's gonna be sick. Totally sick…er…hot, I mean.
New episodes of Battleground premiere every Tuesday on Hulu. You can follow Jay on Twitter @jayhayden00. And be sure to catch him in the current issue of our affiliate, BELLO Mag (available in the App Newsstand!).
Nerds, geeks, dweebs (does anyone ever use that name anymore?), and similarly bespectacled intellectuals all gathered at Meltdown Comics on Sunset Boulevard last night to worship their Nerd God, Chris Hardwick, the man behind the podcast-turned-TV-show-turned-book, The Nerdist. Hardwick's literary contribution, which we will be reading ASAP, is called The Nerdist Way: How To Reach The Next Level (In Real Life). (and stayed tuned for some giveaways).
Right: HIH's Hiko Mitsuzuka with Wil Wheaton.
After Chris read a few passages from the book and chatted with pal Wil Wheaton during a hilarious Q&A session, fans moved into the store for a book signing. Specials guests, such as ourselves, were then treated to cocktails and Farmer John's hot dogs at the afterparty in Meltdown's rear gallery where 90s rock and ska (Holy high school flashbacks) blared from speakers adorned with William and Shady vinyl figures (below left).
Follow Chris on Twitter @Nerdist and Meltdown @MeltdownComics.
A sneak peek at the sequel 500 More Days of Summer? Nah. Just a little slice of viral video adorkability (okay, we know that word has been used to death). ZD and JGL woo us into oblivion with a little acoustic set dedicated to the last night of the year, and we can't help falling in love with them a little more.
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