While Will Ferrell wasn’t on hand for “The Spoils of Babylon” panel, his sense of humor definitely made the trip. When Tobey Maguire was asked how he felt about parodying epic melodrama, given he actually had “The Great Gatsby” in theaters last year, Maguire could have answered seriously or just dismissed the question as insulting. Instead, he responded in a languid deadpan, “It was so similar at times I didn’t know which production I was in. It was really confusing for me.” Then, he looked into the crowd and added, “And for those of you who watch this, I’m sorry and you’re welcome.”
The rest of the panel, which featured Maguire’s co-stars Kristen Wiig and Haley Joel Osment along with co-writers Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, carried on with the balance between dry humor and semi-serious answers. Though Steele explained that he and Piedmont were inspired by old TV and the mini-series “The Thorn Birds,” he had no problem joking about his own show. In addition to explaining how he came to cast a mannequin as a character thanks to a dummy head he found in his barn, he joked, “Spoiler alert — it doesn’t end well.”
When Wiig was asked about the similarities between “Spoils” and “Saturday Night Live,” she shrugged. “There were a lot of wigs. It’s a broader thing, and stylized. I guess there were similarities, but I approached them in a different way.” When asked if she had any favorite soaps, she said, “I loved ‘Dallas.’ Does that count? Just because of the hair. I only pick my jobs by that… Am I the only one answering that question?”
When the show creators, who both did a stint on the “SNL” writing staff, what they thought of the show’s recent hire of an African-American woman, Piedmont joked, “I thought we should have more toddler, more kid writers, so I’m still pushing for that.”
While Wiig said simply that she was excited about the new hire, Steele was quick to add that he hasn’t been with the show for years. “But congratulations to the new people who got hired and their diversity.”
Questions turned to the phenomenal cast, which inspired one journalist to wonder if they might have been put to better use. “This is what you do with a cast like this,” Steele said.
“You waste them,” Maguire joked.
Steele nodded, adding, “You take a [bunch of] amazing actors and give them some crap.”
But Maguire had a more thoughtful answer to how he felt about ding television. “The way it actually works for me is I get a script, I read it, I say that looks like it would be fun, and I talk to the guy and see if I can buy into his vision. It’s an interesting way to watch that evolve. If it’s something I want to do, I don’t really consider [whether it’s television or film] that much.” But would he do a cameo on, say, ‘The Big Bang Theory’? “If I read something that I liked and I liked the people involved, I would do it. I’m not sure if I would commit to something for 7, 8 years… I have trouble committing to 3 or 4 month jobs. But that’s the only consideration.”
When Osment and Maguire were asked about their time as child actors, Osment said, “I feel very lucky the directors I worked with as a kid never used tricks or tried to goose a performance out of young actors. But you’re cautious of overacting, so I’ve noticed tendencies I have to play it safe. These opportunities… just make you a more adventurous performer.”
Maguire said, “This goes back to a performance I did with ‘Walker, Texas Ranger.’ I was wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette, and I thought I was pretty great. I look back and think, boy was I bad. I was just trying to figure out what I was doing and applying it.”
Later, Osment said, “It’s a great time for comedy right now. When I was on ‘Walker, Texas Ranger,'” Maguire leaned across the seats, laughing.
“Nice!” he said. “Early stomping grounds!”
Wiig frowned. “I never got the call.”
Not that Wiig didn’t get her due. When Maguire was asked about “SNL,” he said, “I did host. I was great. I hosted a lot of years ago, and Matt [Piedmont] actually wrote a sketch… it was dialogue heavy and the way the schedule goes on the show, if we had prepared a bit more it might have made air. Anyway, I had a good time. I watched every episode Kristin did as a fan. I was just hoping she knew about me somehow.”