Who knew Domhnall Gleeson and Martin Mull would be such a delightful pair?
Especially considering they don’t really even have much screen time together in A Futile and Stupid Gesture, which premiered Wednesday night here at the Sundance Film Festival. Now it would be great to see these two star opposite each other in a movie. Or at least go on the road together as some sort of comedy revue.
In David Wain’s A Futile and Stupid Gesture (which you can watch on Netflix this Friday), Mull and Gleeson play Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, respectively, the two co-founders of National Lampoon magazine. Well, sort of. Mull plays Kenney in the present day, narrating the experiences of his 1970s self, played by Will Forte. (This may or may not be a spoiler, but if you know anything about National Lampoon, you also know Doug Kenney died in 1980, so the fact Mull plays him in the present is a very ambitious narrative choice.) This is a very meta movie, and we see Mull often interrupt the movie to point out a plot point that didn’t really happen. Or to point out that Will Forte isn’t currently 27.
I met Mull and Gleeson at a condo off Park City’s Main Street. Here’s Gleeson, just off the roller coaster ride of The Last Jedi, sitting next to the living legend that is Martin Mull, who has starred in everything from Fernwood 2 Night to Mr. Mom to Clue to Arrested Development. Ahead, the pair talk about a whole host of topics, from Mull starting out in an embarrassing commercial as Mr. Telephone, to Gleeson telling the story of how he and Rian Johnson came up with one of the funniest moments of The Last Jedi. (I really do hope these two get to co-star side by side in something someday.)
But first, I had to relay a message from Jon Hamm to Domhnall Gleeson about Gleeson’s old comedy troupe in Ireland. And I had to relay to Mull that Lee Marvin was a big fan of Fernwood 2 Night.
I just ran here. I was doing an interview with Jon Hamm down the street and I just barely made it.
Martin Mull: In this air?
It’s rough. And Jon Hamm said to mention to Domhnall that he loves your comedy troupe…
Domhnall Gleeson: From Ireland?
Gleeson: Which is a mad thing! That Jon Hamm…
He went out of his way to mention it…
Gleeson: I did a tiny sketch show in Ireland [Your Bad Self –ed.] for a while and then made more sketches of my own to raise money for the house when my grandparents died, with my dad and some people, and we put them online to raise money and stuff. And I’ve heard through various people. Including, like, Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen, they come up to me at a thing to say that they’d really liked it, that Jon Hamm had told them.
So he’s telling everyone.
Gleeson: About my sketches back home. It’s just like, that is the most amazing thing in the world.
But you’ve never met Jon Hamm?
Gleeson: I’ve never met him.
He’s literally like two blocks away right now.
Gleeson: If I bump into him, it’ll really make my day.
Mull: Is Ireland home now?
Gleeson: Ireland’s home. Yeah, Dublin. Yeah.
Last year at Sundance I interviewed Mark Hamill, we started talking about The Big Red One and he mentioned that Lee Marvin’s favorite show was Fernwood 2 Night.
Hamill said Lee Marvin would say, “I love that Jerry.”
Mull: Oh, well that was Fred Willard…
Oh, I know, but apparently Lee Marvin was a huge fan of the show.
Mull: That’s great.
Gleeson: That’s pretty amazing.
Mull: That’s phenomenal.
Gleeson: Did you know that?
Gleeson: What a cool thing to find out. Thank you for bringing all of this good news.
Mull: Both of these little bits of things, you’ve made our day.
Well, that’s the interview. Goodbye…
Mull: Okay, great!
This movie takes a meta approach, like when Martin says to the camera, “Do you believe Will Forte is 27?”
Gleeson: You delivered it so brilliantly. And then in the background, Will, just his little move with his head. And the way David shot it, like the shifting of emphasis from you to Will, I think it’s just beautiful.
Mull: Well, if you think about it, do you think I’m Will Forte at 27? Do you think he looks 27?
It’s also unusual because Martin is playing Doug Kenney in the present day. And a lot of people who watch this might not know that he died in 1980.
Was that appealing? It’s a very different approach.
Mull: Yeah. In fact, last night, I was singing a little song, it’s actually in the film, that had a line in it about jumping off a cliff that I put in. And David said to me, “Don’t! Spoiler alert!” So I didn’t sing it last night. I didn’t want the audience to know that that happened. Yeah, when you think about it, it’s really three movies in one. It’s a biopic story of Doug Kenney. Then it’s an industrial growth film of a magazine industry. And then it’s a birth of a film industry. And it’s all three of these things going on simultaneously. And a drug movie.
Gleeson: For sure.
Mull: And to put all that together for the editors so it makes continuous sense, and that it’s all contiguous, is very difficult.
How much did you know about what they were doing back then?
Gleeson: Wait ’til you hear this.
Mull: Well, a better phrase would be how much of what they were doing were you doing too. And the answer would be, pretty much 90 percent. Yeah, I knew all these guys, some of them better than others. Unfortunately, Doug, probably one of the least. And Henry, not at all. But I knew Tony Hendra and Michael O’Donoghue and P.J. O’Rourke and Sean Kelly and all these people.
And Anne Beatts?
Mull: Oh, Anne Beatts, yeah!
I’ve studied her SNL career…
Mull: Yeah, Annie was living with Michael O’Donoghue at the time. She and Mike were an item.