Usually, filmmakers try a few times before they ever get into Sundance – if they ever even get in at all. Not only did Kyle Mooney’s first film (which he stars in and co-wrote with Kevin Costello) get into Sundance, it even sold to Sony Pictures Classics. So, yes, it was quite a first film for Mooney.
Directed by Dave McCary, Brigsby Bear is the story of James Pope (Mooney), who was kidnapped as a small child and has lived his life in a bunker thinking the world is a apocalyptic wasteland. His only entertainment are the VHS copies of Brigsby Bear that show up every day. After James is rescued, he learns Brigsby Bear, his obsession, was a television show that was made by the man he thought was his father, played by Mark Hamill. (We also spoke to Hamill.) Hamill’s presence is interesting because this would be like a Star Wars obsessive learning the movies were only made for one person. Back in the real world, James is still obsessed with Brigsby and strives to make a film that continues the legacy. It’s a movie that only Kyle Mooney could have made: combining his oddball humor with a undeniable sensitivity.
I met with Mooney in a studio just off Main Street in Park City, Utah. Mooney has never even been to Sundance before, and during the snowiest festival in memory, Mooney is still just wearing sneakers. And for a performer who always seems so confident on SNL, here at Sundance he does seem a little wide-eyed.
Oh, and then there’s the moment I kind of kiddingly, yet hopefully ask about the chances of a Bruce Chandling (Mooney’s purposely bad comedian character) film, and as it turns out, this is something he’s thinking about.
I was emailing with someone at NBC how much I liked your movie and she replied, “I just forwarded this to him,” which I didn’t expect. So, if you happen to see that…
I did, but I wanted to be cool, like I didn’t see it. And the subject was just “Kyle,” and I got very nervous that maybe I did or said something that I shouldn’t have.
Your movie got a great ovation at the premiere.
It was a truly bizarre experience. Going in there with just, obviously, general nervousness – because we’ve made this thing and we want to show it to people. But then there’s a whole meta thing happening where the character is making a movie…
And the character gets an ovation.
And you see a theater. It was very weird.
When James gets an ovation, maybe real audience members were like, “Oh, so we have to do this now, too.”
It’s a good hint. “Like, can you guys like maybe do what they’re doing?”
Usually filmmakers have to make a couple movies first before getting into Sundance.
It’s so rad and it was always the goal. And, you know, we shot it in Salt Lake, so weirdly it feels homey, You know what I mean? I like to be back here. So I mean, it’s crazy. I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like this.
You’ve never even been to Sundance before. This is crazy.
Absolutely. Also, the weather is insane, right?
I’ve heard Sundance employees say this is the worst it’s ever been.
And I’m not committing to boots [points at his slightly damp sneakers].
How do you reach out to Mark Hamill or Claire Danes or Greg Kinnear? I feel this is more difficult when it’s someone’s first film.
I mean, I think what helps is the fact that they know that there’s some association with SNL. Or, like myself, the guy who wrote it works on the show. So I think people will maybe look at the script for that reason. And I don’t want to say this in any sort of braggadocious way, but…
You have a Sundance movie. You’re allowed for this week.
[Laughs.] Okay. Well, I don’t feel comfortable doing that. But no, I think they liked the script. And that’s what they keep saying. But Mark was also so perfect because we wanted somebody fun that you wouldn’t think of right off the bat, but also he works because the movie has to do with nostalgia and he’s Luke Skywalker.
Did you try to get Star Wars spoilers out of him?
Sure. Of course.
“How does The Last Jedi end?”
Definitely subtly. Between scenes it’s like, “So you were just in London, right?” But also the tough thing about his role is that we needed somebody who could also do a ton of voices, and that’s what he does so wonderfully.
Brigsby Bear for James is like if someone told me, “Star Wars was just made for you. No one else knows what that is.”
That’s all the concept of the movie was initially, was just like that would be weird if somebody made a TV show just for one person.
And the goal was to get it into Sundance?
Pretty much. I mean, initially, it was just let’s turn out a screenplay, because I’ve never done that and anybody wants to make a movie. But then I pitched it to Kevin Costello months before I got hired by SNL, and so since we’ve been emailing back and forth and working on it any break I get. I’d go to L.A., I’d stay with him, and we’d write. So like, yeah, three or four years of writing, I guess, maybe.
Please tell me the Bruce Chandling movie is next.
[In a Bruce Chandling voice.] People are talking. I do have some ideas.
Are you being serious?
I love Bruce Chandling.
I was at the Kevin Hart SNL dress rehearsal when that great Bruce Chandling pre-recorded sketch aired, but then it didn’t make it to air.
Yeah. Classic Bruce. He doesn’t get a lot of love.
Sometimes I think Bruce Chandling plays better at home or on the internet than with the audience.
Sure. Oh, yeah, yeah. Sometimes videos can be tougher than a show, you know what I mean? Especially if you’re like going for subtlety, you know? But I guess they can go online, which is nice. And that’s not something that probably existed a couple decades ago with the show.
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“Wing” is another sketch that was cut at dress, but is one of my favorites. But then “Bad Boys” made it. Obviously those have some influences from the ’90s.
I’m thinking how much I want to reveal. But yeah, we’ve for sure pretty much lifted a plot line from Saved by the Bell: The New Class.
Oh, The New Class? That’s very specific.
I don’t even know. Like, I love Saved by the Bell, but I’ve yet to truly delve into The New Class.
I always enjoy the scene changes, which will show something random like a castle or lions.
I mean, we’re super into TGIF, too, and all of that and that style of sitcom-making. I just love it because we don’t talk about it, like, “Wasn’t that kind of weird?” You know what I mean?
Right. It’s the laugh track.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But it’s fun to watch an episode of Full House just to see the jokes that just score hugely. Michelle’s just like, “I don’t know.” Ha ha ha ha ha!
I want to talk about the Bruce Chandling movie again.
Okay. What do you want to know?
He’s a standup comic.
I was worried the first time he was on people didn’t get it. I think the second time is when people started catching on.
It’s truly you never know. Because I do the character at dress rehearsals sometimes, too. Sometimes the audience is into it, sometimes they’re – you never know.
Sometimes I’ll get updates when Chandling is in dress because I’m such a fan. Then I’ll learn he’s cut.
So there’s a Chandling fan at NBC?
There are a lot of Chandling fans at NBC.
That’s nice to know.
Are you really working on a script?
I don’t know that we’re that far, but I would like to see him interact with the real world: Doing standup shows in the middle of the country – and maybe falling in love.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.