That I didn’t greet Confess, Fletch star Jon Hamm with a far too informal, “you did it, you brilliant maniac, you actually did it!” when he logged onto our recent Zoom call is, I think, a personal triumph of restraint. For 30+ years Hollywood has tried and spectacularly failed to find a way back to Fletch, teasing us all with the possibility of talents like Ben Affleck, Kevin Smith, Bill Lawrence, and Jason Sudeikis stepping into the role.
As a fan of the franchise (the Gregory Mcdonald novels and Chevy Chase ’80s movies), I have risen and fallen with the lifecycle of these rumors — the buzz, the silence, the death, the glimmer of hope lighting the way for the next contestant. But now it’s here (on VOD and in select theaters), a rebirth for the smilingly sarcastic investigative reporter who leads with his wits even when they back him into a tough situation. How did Hamm, director Greg Mottola, and the rest of the team do it? Well, it starts with not being beholden to the most famous iteration of the character or being intimidated by the many failed attempts that came before.
I spoke with you at Comic-Con in New York a few years ago, and at the start of it, there was a blank piece of paper on the table. I cracked a joke, you doodled something quickly, everybody laughed, and we got on with it. But afterward, you walked away and one of the other writers literally jumped on the table to grab the sketch and was like, “I am taking this home!”
I wish I knew what I had scribbled.
I just hope it’s mounted over her fireplace or another place of prominence.
I hope so too.
So, the history of trying to get Fletch off the ground is so long. It almost feels like it was cursed. I didn’t believe this was actually real until the end credits. Was that history of failed efforts intimidating?
No, is the short answer. If you look back on how long it’s been since the original film came out and then the sequel came out, we’re talking well over 30 years, and a lot can happen and a lot has happened, not only to our industry but how movies are made, how they’re distributed, how they’re sold, how they’re everything. And then you sprinkle a little pandemic on top of all of it, and the amount of obstacles that had to be overcome are various and sundry and impressive. So I was happy that we got to make it. I had been a fan of the books, I had heard rumblings of certain people going to try to reboot the franchise and this person and that person, and it never happened for whatever reason. I don’t know why.
I knew that once we got the rights and they fell to me, and Bill Block from Miramax said, “We really want you. We want to make this thing,” I knew that we could put together a team that would make the best version of it. And that’s what I feel like we did. We made a Fletch for the 21st century. We successfully reintroduced this character much more based on the character that existed in the books. And hopefully in success, we’re going to get a chance to make as many more of these as there are novels, and there are quite a few novels left. I know we have a lot of love from the Gregory Mcdonald estate, that was always nice to hear that they were excited about what we were doing. And yeah, I enjoyed doing it, so I’m looking forward to getting a chance to do more.
Why this specific book as the jumping-on point?
It’s funny how kind of perfectly this book actually fits the kind of circumstances. Fletch is basically retired, he’s living in Europe, he’s writing about an obscure Western artist, and he’s sort of pulled back into the game. He doesn’t want to do it, but he has to. And of course, things spiral rapidly out of control and into heightened comic insanity, and that’s what we like. So the setup was right there, like, “Well, let’s pull him back into the game, and now here we are.” That was kind of why we picked it, and the rest was that the story’s interesting, it took place in an interesting city. It obviously takes place in the ’70s in the book, which we thought briefly about, “Oh, maybe we make it a period piece. Maybe that’s more fun.” And then we were like, “No, let’s just make it in the here and now. We’ll just adapt it in a real way.” Which proved to have some challenges.
The wonderful thing about Gregory Mcdonald’s writing is that he is very cognizant of weaving in kind of social commentary into his stories. So the social issues of the day in the ’70s weren’t exactly the same as they are in the 2020s, but that was easy enough, I suppose, to adapt. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it, but Greg is very adept at doing that, and he was able to bring in the absurdity of Instagram influencers and bring in the realities of ride-sharing and what have you into this story and make it very modern, and also make it very approachable for a new generation.
I’d read how you shoplifted some of the Mcdonald novels back in the day, and I’m curious how you identified with the character then versus how you identify with him now.
Obviously, reading the books as a teenager in the ’80s, Gregory Mcdonald was still alive, he was still actively writing the books, they were still kind of being made, and you were much closer to that era. And I was certainly much closer to that era, although I would’ve been a kid back then. So there’s a little bit of a different connection to it, but the majority of it was they were funny to me then and they’re funny to me now, and I can understand in a more mature kind of grown-up way why they’re funny. Part of that is, what I think I really got more of [from] the character now, is the understanding that this guy is a liver of life. He’s a curator of experiences, we might say, and he’s very present in every room that he is in and taking people in, and he’s a good judge of character and he’s funny and he’s sophisticated, and he also enjoys a good poop joke or what have you.
So there’s a lot of sides to him, and he’s fascinating and he’s fascinated by a lot of things. I think that those are compelling things to watch on screen. I think when you have a character like that and you’re willing to go the distance in telling those stories, you can come up with a pretty rich environment to tell stories, and when you surround them with the phenomenal actors that we have in the film, it’s even more fun.
The charm of Fletch is really his ability to weave in an insult in a surgical way, just mock someone without them really catching it.
One thing that we really were cognizant of, and we really, really wanted to make sure we explored in the film, was that Fletch never punches down. The object of his derision is never somebody that is just fighting to keep it together. It’s always the kind of hoity-toity kind of ridiculousness. And that’s a pretty great comedy tradition that goes back to the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges. Anybody that’s a little too big for their britches deserves a good take-down. Fletch does it with words, and I think that that’s part of what makes him very sophisticated and funny and part of what hews very close to my own personal sense of humor.
Did you feel any specific pressure to bring the funny a little more to meet expectations for fans of the original films as well as fans of the books?
Well, what we really didn’t want to do was stumble into doing an impression of either Chevy or of those films. I was perfectly happy to leave all of those choices that Chevy and the filmmakers in the ’80s made in the ’80s, because first of all, very, very little of that is from the book, that’s all Chevy’s stuff. And honestly, to me, it would sort of feel like stealing. It just didn’t sit right on me. We didn’t need the wigs and the teeth and the funny voices and the names, and the thises and the thats. We wanted to forge our own way, and we did. I think that that’s the choice that we made, and I think that that’s the right choice.
I think even if you look at the difference between the first film and Fletch Lives, they’re trying to catch that original lightning in a bottle, and it doesn’t really hold up as well as the first one does. So it’s a tricky balance to do, especially when you’re redoing it after so many years. You look at Top Gun, the same thing. They waited this long to make that film because they wanted to do it the way that they knew it would resonate. And so that’s why we chose the path down which to travel on this one, because we knew if we did it the right way, it would resonate.
The timing of this release is perfect for you to host SNL again, if you got the chance to host again, would we ever see Sergio The Sexy Sax Man again? Because my God, it’s one of my favorite things.
Well, I will say that I worked with a camera assistant on a film recently who is related to Tim Cappello, who is the original Sexy Sax Man from The Lost Boys, and he sent me an autographed picture and a bunch of stuff and I felt very honored by that. He seems like a very nice guy. I don’t know. I remember when Andy Samberg and Jorma and Akiva wrote that sketch, I was like, “Well, this is never going to make it to air,” and boy did it. So I don’t know. I’d love to host the show again. I love that show so much. I work so much that finding a free week is very hard, so that’s kind of the thing I’ve been running into, but yeah, anytime they call, I tend to drop whatever I can do and run, because I love being a part of that world.
‘Confess, Fletch’ is now available on VOD and in select theaters.