Movies

An Oral History Of ‘Edgar’s Prayer’ From ‘Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar’

About 40 minutes into Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar there’s an epiphany. It’s the point of no return. It’s the moment in the movie where a viewer either realizes this is a movie made specifically for them, or, tragically, it’s the moment where there’s really no hope for that viewer ever liking this movie from that moment forward. That moment is a sequence and song known as “Edgar’s Prayer.” [Update: You can now watch the whole sequence below.]

In the film, Edgar, played by Jamie Dornan, is torn. He’s in love with the villain of the movie, Sharon Gordon Fisherman (played by Kristen Wiig, who, yes, also plays Star from the title of the movie). But he’s asked to betray Barb and Star (Annie Mumolo and Wiig) and he feels conflicted about what’s happening. Up until that point, we don’t really know what to make of Edgar. Is he dastardly? Is he a sad sack? It’s at this moment Edgar starts walking along the beach, singing about his woes and belts out the line, “Seagulls in the sand can you hear my prayer?!,” as the visuals we are watching show us Dornan acting out the very specific lyrics. This includes, “I’m going up a palm tree like a cat up a palm tree who’s decided to go up a palm tree,” and then we see Dornan’s Edgar clawing his way up a palm tree, which was a stunt that was actually done practically with a harness. What results is, arguably, the funniest, weirdest two and a half minutes of the last year.

To commemorate the hardest a lot of us have laughed over the course of this last, pretty lousy, year: Jamie Dornan (who, it should be pointed out, couldn’t stop laughing himself while discussing this scene), Annie Mumolo, and director Josh Greenbaum tell us everything we would possibly want to know about the creation, filming, and reaction to “Edgar’s Prayer.” Including how the idea spawned from watching Footloose, to the fact there’s a much longer version of “Edgar’s Prayer” out there that, from the accounts below, is anywhere between a minute longer to a full 10-minutes long.

Annie Mumolo: We basically found out that we were going to get to do the musical number and we were really excited. Then we found out we had a very short time to do it. I think we only had a day or two with these guys at Beacon Street. We went down there and wrote the song. When we were doing it, that just came out organically, the lyrics. When it was all said and done, recorded, can you think of any other titles to that song? You can’t. He’s praying.

Josh Greenbaum: It’s also so long and committed. There’s no reason!

Jamie Dornan: Edgar’s just a confused guy who just wants to be loved.

Annie Mumolo: We knew that Jamie could sing, and then he came in and started singing. He just was belting it out: just singing his heart out so earnestly. Yeah, we couldn’t have dreamed of a better situation.

Jamie Dornan: It’s almost so heightened and silly that he sees this as his “prayer.” Although it’s so ridiculous what’s happening, but it’s a very bizarre way of asking for something or looking for answers. It’s just so silly, but it made sense in this whole world of silliness that we find ourselves in. Actually, it would scare you how normal it felt to to be singing.

Annie Mumolo: We’d heard Jamie could sing, and we had listened to some stuff when we were in talks, like when he was reading the script and stuff. We were hopeful that he would do it. God, poor guy. We just sort of threw it at him. We were like, “Okay, you’re going to sing this crazy ballad. You’re going to be yelling. You’re just going to sing your heart out and belting out notes, and then you’re going to be dancing.” Yeah, he was so game for everything.

Jamie Dornan: He got caught up in this world, in this very strange set of circumstances: Ends up working for a villain, but actually he seems like this sort of sweet guy who just wants to be an official couple. It’s so pure and child-like, his motivations. I love him. He’s a sweetheart.

Josh Greenbaum: The scene exists to say he’s upset, right? That’s pretty much it. He’s upset with his current relationship. You don’t need two and a half minutes to say that, but we took it. We took all two and a half minutes to say it, which I think is part of the joke. I mean, Letterman used to do it. It’s an old trick in comedy, like just keep hitting that joke. The first time it feels long, the second time you’re like, “Oh my god they’re still going,” and by the third chorus you’re like, “Oh, I love this, I can’t believe how committed they are.”

Jamie Dornan: It feels like it’s almost fairly linear storytelling until that point. It’s definitely tricky, but I feel like this “prayer” almost works as a catalyst for like, oh, now it’s going to get really weird. In the best way, it sets the tone.

Annie Mumolo: Honestly, it was like these things were just flowing out of him. These things are just flowing out of him, comedic instincts. He was just overflowing with it. His character, he has to walk a very difficult line. It’s really not easy to do. It’s like a tight rope situation and he did it effortlessly. Fluidly and just perfectly. It was really exciting to watch because we knew he was funny and it was really fun to see him just kind of roll and just go. It was awesome.

Josh Greenbaum: Kristen and Annie went with the guys at Beacon Street, who did a bunch of our music, that song in particular, and wrote those lyrics very quickly. Part of it is, okay, we’re going to do the fun joke of being really literal about these lyrics. So he’s narrating that he’s running to the left, to the right. He’s doing splits, he’s climbing a palm tree. A lot of that is just, okay, where do we put the camera? How do we set it up? We did have a choreographer, but a lot of it was also just trying different things and freestyling with Jamie. Obviously a lot of it did involve rather elaborate stunts, like climbing the tree.

The choreography for the song that we see in the movie wasn’t really that planned out, script-wise, beyond a passing reference to the scene in Footloose when Ren (Kevin Bacon) goes to a warehouse and dances to the song “Never” by Moving Pictures. But the difference here is Dornan also has to sing the song.

Annie Mumolo: Jamie, did you tell him how initially in the script, it was just like, “And then there’s a dance number,” and then we actually found out we would actually have to do it?

Jamie Dornan: It said “Edgar dances emotionally,” or something like that, no joke. It’s when I got on the phone with Josh Greenbaum, he said something about, “And Edgar’s big dance and song, think like Footloose.” I was like, “Jesus, what does he even mean?” I had seen Footloose, but it’d been a very long, long time. We rewatched it.

Josh Greenbaum: The original script and the script that I first read, the script that he read, even before he got to Mexico City, to our set, it really did just say, “Edgar does an emotional dance a la Kevin Bacon Footloose.” That’s all it said.

Annie Mumolo: I think we sent him the script, “He breaks into an emotional dance, all off Kevin Bacon in Footloose,” or something. And that’s all we had. But then we really wanted to make our own thing and then it became what it was. We kind of put that in the script as a hopeful, almost like a joke, “and then this happens?” Hopeful with a question mark.

Josh Greenbaum: When Jamie showed up, I was like “Lets get going and rehearse this thing.” He was like “What thing?” Oh, you know the three-minute song where you’re going to dance on the beach really emotionally and climb a tree like a cat, et cetera?

Jamie Dornan: It’s that frustration and turmoil and, “Jesus Christ, the only way I can release this is if I sing and dance my way across the stage.” That’s what kind of works.

Josh Greenbaum: In Footloose it’s obviously very funny but also, again, it works.

Annie Mumolo: Ren finds uneven bars inside the warehouse, and he’s like swinging or something. It’s one of my favorite scenes of any movie ever. I just love it so much.

Josh Greenbaum: The whole point of it is to show his emotional frustration. We kind of thought, why don’t we take that same idea? He’s climbing a tree like a cat, but we’re also just trying not to push too hard. Just lifting his tiptoes up in the sand, he’s frustrated. Trying to express his emotion, it just happens to be very, very funny.

Jamie Dornan: I think Kevin Bacon would have been well capable of singing that and dancing, I’d imagine. It almost felt like you had to sing it to get yourself into it in a way? Particularly for the stuff where I’m singing what’s actually happening. “I’m going up a palm tree, like a cat in a palm tree.” Actually being able to sing the actions that you’re playing out is just brilliant and a real gift. Actually, I had to sing it.

Josh Greenbaum: Jamie did the wonderful thing you should do as any dramatic actor or actor in general in a comedy: just commit. Don’t play the joke. Play the true emotion and the context surrounding it will make it funny as opposed to trying to be funny. Which he did gloriously.

Annie Mumolo: He was doing all that in Caribbean summer temperature. It was like 100 degrees. The humidity was crazy. I don’t know how he did it. The whole time we were like, “Is this okay? Is he going to be okay?” Then he would just be like, “Okay!,” and bounce back up again and we were just like, “How is he surviving this?” Oh my god.

Jamie Dornan: Amy Keys was there, and also so incredible. Also, people are coming in to do one little bit for one day. They must have just been like, “What are these guys doing? What am I walking into? They’re lunatics!” She was a team player and just went with it and was unbelievable.

Though the final product seemed a little too long at the time, so it was trimmed down. Which means there’s a much longer version out there, somewhere.

Annie Mumolo: I don’t know if Jamie already said this, but it was longer. It was much longer. Jamie did a bunch of other stuff. For a time we had to trim it. If it were up to us, it would have been a 10-minute thing.

Josh Greenbaum: It’s not 10 but there’s definitely… I feel like there’s another minute we cut out.

Annie Mumolo: Well, it’s not 10 minutes, but if were up to us, it would be. We had a longer version that was in the original cut of the movie. Just for time, we had to make it shorter.

Josh Greenbaum: It’s always debatable what’s the sweet spot. It was like a montage of all the things where he started singing, running, skipping, dreaming, sleeping, eating, thinking. It’s just a quick montage of all these actions he’s doing but some of them are incredibly banal like napping.

Annie Mumolo: Yeah, there was some beautiful stuff in there.

Jamie Dornan: Oh my God. There was reading, crying, sunbathing.

Annie Mumolo: Eating a hamburger!

Josh Greenbaum: Yeah, he eats a hamburger. Oh, kicking, he did karate kicks!

Jamie Dornan: Laughing, eating, drinking. We did insane stuff that just didn’t make it in.

Annie Mumolo: It was all him being very emotional. Doing all these things, like he’s eating emotionally, he’s sleeping emotionally. Yeah, it’s been passage of time of all his feelings, but this was more over the course of a day. Now it’s more of this one moment.

Jamie Dornan: I think, also, we can potentially throw logic to the side at moments.

Josh Greenbaum: I’d love to release the footage. It’s always that weird thing of all of the editorial is shut down, but we should try to find it somewhere. It’s very funny and there’s stuff in there that I think people would really enjoy.

Of course, there were some technical aspects of what we do see that were a bit more complicated than we might expect. The seagulls themselves were difficult because the fear was real seagulls from a seagull handler would just think they were being let free. Dornan as Edgar ripping his shirt off was a challenge because shirts are built to not do that. And then they made Jamie Dornan actually climb a palm tree instead of using any kind of computer effect.

Josh Greenbaum: The reality is actual seagulls are pretty difficult, particularly out on a beach where I think the allure of maybe taking off is rather high. Like, “Oh, now that I’m here, see you later. Thanks for returning me home.” We got stuffed seagulls and I’m holding some of them and moving them. Then we added a little bit of blinking, I think, in the very first shot. Then, yeah, a couple of others in the group are stock footage. The “on a tire” is actually a comp. We couldn’t find a good shot of a seagull on a tire so that’s a heavy VFX shot basically where we comped the seagull on top of a tire on a beach that looked like it might be in the same space as Edgar. That’s how we pulled those off.

Jamie Dornan: I think everyone’s watched this documentary where I saw that even Hulk Hogan had his shirt pre-ripped? Yeah, if you can believe it, I’ve never tried to do it without someone helping me, but I can imagine it’s tough. I think we did one take where I did try to do it without help, and I was like, oh, wow, I really can’t do this. I’m going to have to get wardrobe in to make a couple of cuts.

Annie Mumolo: When you’re feeling frustrated and your emotions are so strong and running through your body, you become the Incredible Hulk! You become the Incredible Hulk. You can do anything.

Josh Greenbaum: Somebody actually asked me, they were like I bet you did that old Batman trick and turned the palm tree sideways and climbed it that way? No, we did it with a harness. That’s all practical. He’s physically doing it. Our great stunt coordinator, Todd Bryant, he hooked Jamie up to a rig. He was basically hooked on by his belt. Still, the shot is actually quite difficult. To make it look like he is climbing up a tree like a cat using his claws is more work than you’d think. He’s got to steady himself because he only has one anchor point. So, he could be swinging around the tree like a tetherball if he wasn’t doing it well. He, actually, as you can probably imagine, has very good body control and is very strong. So yeah, we had to do a few takes where I’m like, “No, no, you’ve got to just gingerly rest your fingertips on the side of this palm tree.” I’m a big fan of doing things practically. Even when Kristen and Annie float down in their culottes, we strung up Kristen and Annie and lifted them 100 feet in the air on a crane and floated them down. So it’s all done real.

Why is “Edgar’s Prayer” having the reaction it’s receiving? It does feel like a perfect storm of “our current situation” and then just seeing something so brazenly weird and funny. But it is certainly causing a reaction in people, even to some of the toughest customers.

Josh Greenbaum: We had previews, we were able to get a preview in before the pandemic hit, the sort of audience test preview. Not as many as we wanted because, obviously, then everything got shut down. But we had one. You sit in the audience and it’s such a nerve-wrecking experience because you’re with 300 strangers. I just remember seeing this one guy, a 300-pound dude, covered in tattoos, very tough-looking guy there with his girlfriend. Again, totally my bad for profiling but you kind of eye people as they walk in being like, “I don’t know if this is going to be his movie.” To be honest, I was validated because, for much of the first third of the movie, he was literally sitting there arms crossed, not really smiling. His girlfriend, you could tell, was digging it and laughing. But he was not into it. Then “Edgar’s Prayer” hit and I kept watching him. As the song got longer and longer, he was laughing. He started laughing harder. By the end of it, he was doubled over and hitting the back of the chair in front of him. I was like, we did it. We just converted this guy who was so anti this movie.

Jamie Dornan: My kids keep wanting to watch that scene. We let them see a bit of it, and it’s all that song obviously, and they always want to watch it. Our two-year-old, she just turned two literally yesterday, she doesn’t have a huge, wide vocabulary yet: but if she comes to grab your hand, she goes, “Daddy … naked … watch,” and she brings you into the TV room. By the way, I’ve had to rent it like six times. I press play and the kids watch it. I’ve seen it so many times now. I can watch it with the kids, but I can’t watch it without remembering how burning the sand was at that moment and how sweaty I was at that moment. And how that was really hurting my leg at that moment.

Annie Mumolo: Look, we’re in a pandemic. It’s been a year. We’re all locked up, and that’s on the lucky end if you haven’t lost a family member or something, which some people have. Or lost their lives. It’s such a crazy, dark time. I can’t speak for why. It’s hard for me to know, but I think for us, as a team, when we’re looking at the movie over the last few weeks, getting it ready and stuff, we all felt we were escaping by watching it. By looking back at it, there’s an escape aspect to it that the way it looks. You want to dive into the picture. I just want to go back there so badly. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. Maybe people just want to have a time where they just laugh and not think about anything.

Josh Greenbaum: I love that the song is good. I think that, hopefully, is the moment for a lot of people that they get it and they go, okay, these guys are just trying to have fun and make us laugh. Why am I resisting? Why am I sitting here with my arms folded and judging? Why don’t I give in to this hilarious madness and enjoy what these people are trying to do, which is just have fun and be silly? It’s so committed, which, again, I think is emblematic of our movie. It’s a big swing and we’re fully committed. It’s that unwillingness to bend or give up on what we’re doing and ultimately we, hopefully, win you over by that point. If we didn’t win you over by then, it’s definitely not a movie for you.

Annie Mumolo: Yeah, when I watch it, I feel lifted out of my seat a little. I feel high almost.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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