Andy Samberg On ‘Palm Springs,’ His ‘One Take Tony’ Character From ‘SNL’, And The Legacy Of ‘Popstar’

That last time I spoke to Andy Samberg was when he was promoting Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and shortly before I spoke to him he had gotten the news that his film, which would later go on to be a cult favorite (or, honestly, much more than “cult” since pretty much everyone I know loves that movie), was headed for a rough time at the box office. He was noticeably, let’s say, bummed out. And the thing I’ve noticed about Samberg as an interviewee is that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. He doesn’t try to power through with a smile if something is bothering him. He just kind of acts like you or I would act — which is I guess the best way to describe is, “human,” but that’s not something often seen in an interview situation where the goal is to be some iteration of “on.”

Today, Samberg looks back on that now saying, yes, he’s always happy when one of his projects hits the target demo, even if it takes awhile. But, also, it wouldn’t be terrible to also have one of his movies make some money.

Samberg’s new film is Palm Springs. Directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara (which is notable because this is a Lonely Island production, yet not written or directed by one of its members), Palm Springs‘ claim to fame is setting a record at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for the highest price ever paid for a movie at that event. In a weird turn of events, since that purchase happened, this movie about Samberg’s character, Nyles, being trapped in a time loop of an always-repeating day sure does feel prescient since a lot of us are sure experiencing that phenomenon right now.

Though, before we get to either Palm Springs or Popstar, there’s a little unfinished business. Last time we spoke, for whatever reason, one of Samberg’s more esoteric Saturday Night Live sketches, “One Take Tony,” (about a old-timey movie star who can do every scene in just one take) was brought up. I casually mentioned Samberg had done that character twice, and he was quick to correct me that it was only once. Ahead, I submit my proof that One Take Tony does appear a second time, which seems to delight Samberg as he starts googling old sketches that he appears in, yet doesn’t remember.

Andy Samberg: How are you?

I’m okay. I’m in New York, staying inside, mostly. How are you doing?

I’m in LA, staying inside. Everything here is terrifying, but doing our best.

So, the last time I spoke to you was when you were in New York to promote Popstar. And there’s been something that has been haunting me ever since, but I figured it out. I brought up your SNL sketch “One-Take Tony”

[Laughs] Oh I’m already so happy about this…

And then I mentioned in passing you did it twice. And you’re like, “No, we did it once.” And I was like, “I swear you did it twice.” And you’re like, “Dude, I promise we only did it once. I think I’d know.” It turns out you were correct.

[Laughs] Right.

But the reason I thought you did it twice, and it took me forever to figure this out, was because there’s a sketch called “All My Children Wrap Party” where you show up for five seconds and I swear it looks like One Take Tony. And you back out of the room the same way One Take Tony does.

Okay. So, I have zero recollection of the sketch. But I will say this, if I was in it, there’s a very high chance it was the One Take Tony voice because I have about five total voices and I just re-use them in everything on SNL. It’s called “All My Children Wrap Party?”

Yeah. It’s from your last season. It’s the season premiere in 2011 with Alec Baldwin hosting. Though you are wearing an eye patch, so maybe it’s not One Take Tony?

Oh my God. Now I need to figure out what sketch you’re talking about. Don’t be offended if I Google this while we talk.

Oh, go ahead.

Yeah. I found it. I found “All My Children Wrap Party.” Like, looking at it, I thought, maybe I’d be like, “Oh, now I remember.” I have genuinely no recollection of this at all.

I’m glad we’re getting to the bottom of this.

We’re going to waste this whole interview. By the way, if this whole thing ends up being about One Take Tony, you know I’m happy.

I think this will read well. I think people reading this are going to go, “Wow, they’re both watching a YouTube video. This is pretty riveting.” Anyway, you come in at 2:35.

Here, okay. So I’m there now. Hey, I got a good laugh!

Is that One Take Tony or not?

Oh, the way I backout is very similar. But the voice is different. The One Take Tony voice is much more old-timey. Whereas this is a modern voice. This is voice number four instead of voice number five.

This sketch does take place in the present and One Take Tony was in the ’40s. So I guess it didn’t make a lot of sense.

This character could be related to One Take Tony? It could be like the grandson of One Take Tony. I did have gray hair in the new one.

And he lost an eye somewhere along the line.

Well, yeah, but that happens.

So are you saying yes or no? Definitively?

I’m saying, definitively, it is not One Take Tony. But thank you, because it was really fun to get to see a sketch that I had zero recollection of and see myself walk into and get a laugh. It really helped my self-esteem.

So, Palm Springs

[Laughs] Right.

That was a good segue. Anyway, I saw this back at Sundance and rewatched it recently, during quarantine. Being stuck in the same day sure does resonate more now. Though having a fun wedding to go to every night seems pretty good.

Yes. It would be an improvement for sure.

I think people are going to relate to it pretty well now.

I would say it certainly speaks to the quarantine aspect of present time, I guess.

It’s unusual because it’s a Lonely Island production, but none of you wrote or directed it.

Well, the script came to me, just kind of cold through my agent, basically saying would you want to be in it? It was an offer. They were offering for me to play Nyles and also for our company to produce it if we were interested. And I read it and just immediately said “yeah” which is not something that happens all the time. There was something about it that I really connected with. Like the comedy and also, not comedy.

Because usually it’s like, “Ah, the three of them did it again,” I feel this is kind of rare for you.

I mean, it’s interesting. Obviously Akiva or Jorma didn’t direct it. I mean, I guess it’s totally very different, but I would say Hot Rod was a movie that was already written and then we just rewrote. I don’t know that we ever would have been like, “Let’s make a movie about a stuntman.” But there was so much wonderful stuff in it that you’re like, “Well, yeah, this is great. This is a great jumping-off point.”

(This) was different because I think it intersects with our tone and sensibility enough that it felt comfortable for me and for us to take it on. But it also, very much by design, is sort of intermingling a lot of different genres: including, rom-com and sci-fi and existential dread. I mean, the Andy Siara and Max Barbakow part of it is definitely the new thing for me and why it was like, hey, this will be interesting and not something we’ve seen before, maybe.

And obviously we’ve seen time loop movies before, but love the rules of this movie and how it works…

Yeah, no for sure. I mean, by the way, when I said something they haven’t seen before, I meant something you haven’t seen before from me, not from, “the world.”

Oh, I didn’t take it that way.

Okay, good.

Not, “We were the first people who ever even come up with this idea of a time loop. That’s never been done in a movie.”

We live in a time when a lot of things have been made at this point. So it is hard to be like, “we’re coming at this whole brand new thing you never even thought of.” But I will say to what you were saying in terms of there were some variations of the rules, and also the timeline of where you’re jumping into the story is a different spot than I think I’ve seen in other time loop movies? It’s much farther along for my character.

It’s like, what if we started a hundred years after where Groundhog Day ended? And then bringing in other people and all of that stuff. Also, the self-referential stuff, sort of acknowledging that we’re aware this is a thing and that you know the rules of these things and trying our best at always to reward the audience for having watched a million hours of everything and not act like we’re re-inventing the wheel or something, just being like, “Come with us on this fun ride, you know the rules, let’s go.“ That was sort of a crutch.

Now, back to One Take Tony…

We need to set up a whole different call just for One Take Tony.

Though, the reason that got brought up was from when I talked to you for Popstar, I remember you were pretty bummed out that day. Someone told me you had just gotten the tracking numbers right before I talked to you, but are you pretty happy where that movie is in culture right now? Does it matter that it didn’t do what it was supposed to do at the box office considering everyone has seen that movie now?

I mean, what matters and doesn’t matter? It’s all perspective. I would have probably preferred that it did better. It did so badly that it was depressing, but yes, it’s also about how much you put in. We went on a huge press tour and put all this energy in to promote it, and then when you realize that none of that really made a difference, you feel embarrassed or whatever. But never about the content of the movie. And certainly knowing now that people are finding it, loving it. And that the kind of people who are finding it and really loving it seem to be the people who we care the most about, consistently. I’m always like, oh, these are people who like the other things we love. And then they’re putting Popstar in with that.

So, that’s always the goal for us. The goal for us is never how much money can we make at the box office. It’s just, it would be nice if it was also that. But the other thing to say about it, there are two comedies a year that make any money, in the last five or six years? And ours was a mockumentary that was intentionally very dense. So, I think when we started working on it two years plus earlier, we had different expectations than when it even came out. And now it feels like most comedies, unless they’re a huge global-spanning, big-budget thing, are going to streaming. And the theaters are for Tenets and Avengers and Star Wars. And right now, literally nothing.

So, it’s a good time to have comedies that are re-watchable and that people love and that they can find on streaming. And that’s certainly what we are told that we make. And always, for us, is the goal: to make a comedy that you want to watch a bunch of times and quote with your friends and all that kind of thing. So I think, yes, ultimately, I’m very happy for where Popstar ended up … but also I would have rather it made tons of money and made us all tons of money.

Speaking of money, I do have one idea for you for a movie. Griff Banks, The Sensitive Bully: The Movie. What do you think?

[Laughs] You got fucking deep cuts!

When we spoke last you mentioned being bummed out it never got past dress (rehearsal)…

We did it!

Oh, you did do that one? On Seth Meyers?

Yeah, we’ve done it. “Second Chance Theater,” I did Griff Banks, it’s online, if you want to check it out.

Now, do you want to wait while I look up a video and watch it?

More than you know.

‘Palm Springs’ begins streaming via Hulu this Friday, July 10. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.