Exclusive Interview: Paul Scheer on Piranha 3-D, Its Surprising Jaws Connection, “Rambo-level gore,” and Nude Wild Wild Girls
Posted on Friday, June 26th, 2009 by Hunter Stephenson
This summer, /Film considered traveling to the set of Piranha 3-D. Witnessing unlikely co-stars Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, Adam Scott, and completely naked bimbos battling (or getting devoured by) killer fish at the command of horror director Alex Aja is what the season is all about, no? Alas, it wasn’t meant be to be. The STD-insurance alone in the spring break hotspot of Lake Havasu, Arizona—where the film is shooting and set—is friggin’ outrageous. After informing us that we were not worthy, Piranha 3-D co-star and Human Giant comedian, Paul Scheer, offered up lots of funny, obscene and insane deets about next March’s horror flick. He also sent over this exclusive photo of his morally bankrupt character.
At times, our conversation went off the record into darker territory—a la shark viscera spilling onto a pier—but much is said below about a production that aspires to be the goriest and craziest 3-D movie ever. Paul discussed his role (it required method-acting and method-oogling), the precise amount of blood (a shit ton), Lake Havasu memories, and why Richard Dreyfuss’s sage character will seem, erm, pretty damn familiar. Chomp, chomp, chomp…
Hunter Stephenson: So Paul, I assume you wanted to do a broad family film and then you were offered Piranha 3-D. It was a matter of good timing, serendipitous.
Paul Scheer: [laughs] Yeah, well, I was trying to get Imagine That Too off the ground, where I become Eddie Murphy’s brother, and have my own adventure with my daughter. It was actually crazy, because when I first heard about this movie, it was like, “Elizabeth Shue is in Piranha 3-D, she’s awesome!” And then, you know, the title sounds cool and it sounds campy…
It kinda sounds like PIRANHA 3-D.
Paul Scheer: Yeah. Exactly. It sounds crazy. [laughs] And then I found out that Alex Aja (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes ’06) was directing. So, I auditioned on a Tuesday, got the part on a Thursday, and was told that I needed to be on set by Saturday. They were just running with it.
Paul Scheer: Yeah. I would say definitely. I met Joe Francis one time, and people love him. As you know, we took a photo at a party for The Hills, and he goes, “Check it out! The World’s Biggest Sleazebag”—it wasn’t “douchebag,” it was sleazebag—and then he hugged us. So, instead of saying “Cheese!” that’s what he does. [laughs]
Yeah. You posted that photo on Tumblr, which I think lead to Tumblarity. So, thanks. The reason I ask is that your character in Piranha 3-D is a camera-man for a Girls Gone Wild knockoff, right? And Jerry O’Connell (Sliders) plays a facsimile of pornographer Joe Francis. Is that right? This role seems like it was destined for you. [laughs]
Paul Scheer: Well, I like to call Joe Francis a filmmaker. But Jerry is perfect. If Jerry wasn’t Jerry, you could buy him as this Joe Francis guy. [laughs] He’s perfectly cast. Basically, in this world Jerry is a Joe Francis-like character who runs a fictional website called Wild, Wild Girls. [laughs] So, I’m his lackey, and I’m dressed like a doofus: a safari jacket, a pink t-shirt, a fisherman’s hat, and I have zinc oxide on my nose.
Awesome. What color Zinka?
Paul Scheer: White. And they were putting Desitin on my nose, which is a baby diaper rash ointment. So, I was smelling like clean baby butt during the shoot, that was the only smell getting in there. [laughs] So, our characters travel to Lake Havasu to film our next spring break video. So, the main character, played by Steven R. McQueen—yeah, the grandson of Steve McQueen—stumbles across our website. Now, Jerry and I had to shoot all of this footage for real. So, we were basically running around a resort with half-naked girls who are running around naked and jumping into pools. It finally came clear to me: Oh man, I am really doing this. I’m running around with naked girls. I went method, like Daniel Day Lewis. So now, I can help people shop for beads, I can…
[laughs] How did you prepare for this role? Did you go through a lot of 2257 reports, Clorox bleach, and souls?
Paul Scheer: [laughs] Wait, what are 2257 reports?
Okay. 2257 reports became a big deal when the Bush Administration started to really crack down on online porn companies. So, these companies basically need an ID of an ID of an ID to publish the tiniest photo of a nude girl, in case they get raided. Joe Francis surely knows about this. [laughs] So, Paul, I hope that you, being method on the set with naked ladies and filming them, looked into that…
Paul Scheer: [laughs] I don’t want to get the wrath of The Weinstein Company, but I believe everything on set was on the up-and-up. [we go off the record about girls] Okay. But you know, this movie is not a comedy movie, it’s very serious, and I hope people realize that. Alex Aja, he’s doing the same thing he’s done in his prior movies, like Haute Tension and The Hills Have Eyes; but at the same time it’s going to be funny to see a fat guy in a hula-skirt get eaten by piranha. It’s silly, but it has the gore factor of a real horror movie. But our characters are definitely lighter; Jerry wears a Speed-O, but nobody should expect a campy comedy movie…it’s really going to be scary. It’s not torture porn, though, it’s fun. When I read the script, I was like, wow. And I showed it to my girlfriend, who’s not really into horror, and she liked it. You know, it almost feels like Jaws. Now, I’m not saying it’s going to be Jaws, but the tone is similar.
We’ll get into Richard Dreyfuss’s role in a second. But yeah, be easy with that comparison. [laughs] The geeks will go crazy. So, this film is not going to be like Carnosaur or something? [Paul confirms that it indeed won’t be like Carnosaur] [laughs] See, this being a serious horror film is strange to me, because the original Piranha was directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins). And written by John Sayles, of course. And that movie is camp satire. It’s similar to one of my favorite movies written by Sayles, Alligator. And then James Cameron—clearly preparing for his epic, Titanic—did Piranha 2. So, looking at the cast, I don’t associate Adam Scott (Step Brothers, Party Down) with horror, and obviously you, Mr. Paul Scheer are not associated with serious horror…
Paul Scheer: Right. The cool thing is that Alex got such a cool cast for this film. We have Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Adam, Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames. On the Funny or Die video we did, Christopher Lloyd was like a robot to me, because after every take he sat down in a corner and would just be completely silent. And the moment he was called back to set it was like Boom! He’s great. But, yeah, Adam Scott is playing it completely straight. He’s not playing an [anal-retentive character like in Step Brothers]; his character and Elizabeth Shue [a sheriff] are trying to warn all of the spring breakers, they’re the heroes.
It was funny to hear you on The Best Show recently, because Tom Scharpling, John Hodgman and Paul F. Thompkins were really bugging out over the cast. It’s so random: were Elizabeth Shue and Christopher Lloyd hired as a Back to the Future package? [laughs]
Paul Scheer: [laughs] This is funny because originally her character was going to be played by Claudia Wells, who Shue replaced for Back to the Future [II and III]. But then Shue took over again. [laughs] But it is kinda funny that there’s this mini-Back to the Future reunion in there. Yeah, and spoiler, the movie ends with Christopher Lloyd taking a tarp off an old DeLorean and they go back in time to stop the piranha before it all happens. And he brings Roy Scheider back [from the dead].
[laughs] More SeaQuest, great. A lot of people don’t know about this. Can you elaborate on Richard Dreyfuss’s character in the film? [laughs] He’s playing Hooper from Jaws almost down to the name! Is that right?
Paul Scheer: [laughs] I’ll say this: In my mind Richard Dreyfuss is playing an older, wiser Matt Hooper. And he’s now living on a lake trying to get away from what happened in his past. He definitely had a “run in” and he needed to get away from the ocean to go hang at a nice, calm lake. And all hell breaks loose.
Awesome. There is some vile shit that goes on at Lake Havasu during spring break…for those who never studied Brooke Burke on the E! Channel [Wild On!]. What’s the vilest thing you’ve seen there?
Paul Scheer: Basically, any idea you have about spring break, times that by ten, and that’s what it’s like. The people of Lake Havasu are nice, they’re cool [laughs] but when everyone comes there for spring break, it becomes a mad house. And they actually sent a camera man out there to get live footage of guys and girls grinding on each other totally drunk. Like, I was sitting down with this guy on one of the boats, and he was like, yeah, I sold all of this footage of Lake Havasu for the first two Girls Gone Wild videos, so anytime you see the Drill-Do? That was me. The “Drill-Do” is a dildo attached to a drill, and this guy claims to have invented it. So, that’s the stuff that goes on there. I went on a boat that had a stripper pole attached to it. So these guys are trailing a small, little dock with a stripper pole on it, [laughs] and girls would jump on it from other boats and work it.
[laughs] In real life, the U.S. government has been ousted for breeding super-piranhas and dumping them into Lake Havasu to control the guido and Gotti populations. Is that the scenario in the movie?
Paul Scheer: [laughs] Here’s the thing: everyone is like “This is a very original idea for a horror movie.” But it’s really not. The movie is actually a really effective PSA made by the government to let everyone know that piranhas really exist. And from this PSA, based on what I’ve seen, l can tell you that the piranhas and the government do not like people who wear Ed Hardy. People who wear Ed Hardy in this movie get attacked more ferociously than anyone else. [laughs] So, it’s crazy because Alex Aja has such a great eye—especially for a French guy—he really gets spring break [in the U.S.]. He captures it perfectly, and it’s unbelievable.
Yeah. I was emailed the shooting schedule, and it’s pretty freaking graphic. Compare the gore and carnage, let’s say, to Rambo  and Crank 2…
Paul Scheer: I think the gore is, it’s funny that you mention Rambo, because I think the gore is really on the same level. I love Rambo , and that movie was insane. It was so fun to watch. I think this movie is going to feel very similar to that. K.N.B. (Transformers) did the special effects and they literally used up 800 gallons of blood. That’s more blood than they used for all of Kill Bill…
That’s more blood than, like, five Inglourious Basterds…
Paul Scheer: [laughs] Yeah. It is. And there’s a section where we shot these scenes, and the water was just red, you know, with 500 extras out there. And people are coming to Lake Havasu the next day and there is blood all over the shore.
Reply with a sound: do certain lady parts get devoured by killer fish in this movie?
Paul Scheer: Do lady parts get devoured? [laughs] Let me say this: no part is safe in this movie. Lady or male part. Pet parts. Anything. Nothing is safe. Hopefully…I’m trying to talk them into showing some of this stuff at Comic-Con, so you guys can see it. I wouldn’t expect a trailer on Inglourious Basterds or Halloween, but it comes out next March, so that’s a really small window. Oh yeah, and randomly, they actually tried to bring a real piranha to Lake Havasu to shoot for this one scene, and the state of Arizona wouldn’t let them. [laughs] It’s a strict law: no piranha in the state. But they allow people to own machine guns, so…
Yeah, they also allow a lot of crystal meth. [laughs] This movie is a big step for you as an actor. I mean, “Paul Scheer in 3-D.” Is there a specific part of your body that will stick out in 3-D on screen?
Paul Scheer: My whole body will be in 3-D. Let me think…I’m shooting a camera a bunch and riling up the crowd, being a huge dirtbag. I’m always pointing. [laughs] As an actor, this a stretch: with this movie, I really had to bring it up and do a three dimensional character. [laughs] Unlike a lot of other movies, they really developed this to be in 3-D. And honestly, I don’t want to sell it to you guys, but I’m really excited about it.
Paul Scheer has a Tumblr and a Twitter. He performs regularly at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood, California, and his next date is on June 29th. He also has a small role in Year One rocking VH1-metal hair. For Paul Scheer’s /Film Movie Playlist, click here, and to hear him on the /Filmcast, click here.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at h.attila[at]gmail and on Twitter sans 3-D glasses.