After mockumenting the lives of passionate thespians in a community theatre, canine obsessives at a dog show, and the reunion of folk musicians, Christopher Guest has returned with a look at the people behind masks. In Mascots, which recently premiered on Netflix, a crop of devoted mascots retreat to Anaheim for an annual competition to perform their mascoting skills. Leading up to the contest we learn from the competitors on what led them to cheering for teams while dressed up in elaborate suits.
As to be expected from a Guest movie, the mockumentary features Parker Posey as an avant garde armadillo, Fred Willard as Jack the Plumber, and Jane Lynch as former-mascot turned born-again-Christian and author who is there to judge them all. Guest has invited new blood into the fold as well, with Susan Yeagley playing Parker’s sister and fellow armadillo enthusiast, and Zach Woods and Susan Baker, married and mascoting while trying to convince themselves that their relationship, on the field and off, is working.
We met with Lynch, Willard, Yearly, and Baker to talk about improvising with Guest, the beauty of subcultures, and what to expect from Mascots.
Susan Yeagley, “Laci Babineaux”: I always told my manager, “The thing I want to do more than life itself is to be in a Christopher Guest movie.” And I got a call from my manager and said, “Well, what are you doing Tuesday at 2:15?” And I said, ‘Why?” “Well, Christopher Guest is doing a new movie and they need a Southern person to play Parker Posey’s sister.” “What? Oh my God!” I had been a fan for years and didn’t even know — how did you even get in one of his movies?
Sarah Baker, “Mindy Murray”: David Rubin, who cast [Mascots] and who cast a lot of the stuff he does, had called me about a year ago and said, “I know you don’t normally do commercials but I’m casting a commercial and Christopher Guest is going to direct, would you be interested in coming in to meet with him?” I got to meet with him then and I was super awkward. A thought a bunch of people would be coming into the room so I did that thing where I stood close to him thinking a bunch of people were filing in and then all the sudden the door closed and it was just the two of us and I was standing right next to him.
Fred Willard, “Greg Gammons, Jr.”: I had just watched him on Saturday Night doing this very effeminate character. He and Marty Short were in some movie and have this very funny scene where they’re gossiping and he said, “Fred, I’m doing this movie. I’d like you to be in it, would you come down and talk to me?” So I walked into his office and out of nervousness I started talking about the character I had just seen him do. Strange enough it was the same character he was going to do in Waiting for Guffman. And he explained it, “We’re doing this movie and you’re one of the first people I’ve asked.” And it’s funny, he said, “I ran this idea by Marty Short and Martin Short said, ‘Great, let’s do it, when do we start?’” And he told Martin, “No, No, I want somebody nobody knows.” [Laughs.]
Jane Lynch, “Gabby Monkhouse”: I knew Waiting for Guffman and just loved it and never thought in a million years that I get the opportunity to do a film like that. I was auditioning for commercials at the time and doing some and I auditioned for a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes spot and [Guest] was directing it. I got the commercial and at lunch that day he said, “You know, I do movies.” And I was like, “I know.” He said, “Maybe we’ll get to work together again,” and I said, “Oh, I would love that.” Three or four months later he was putting together Best in Show and I got a part in that.
Willard: Chris, he’s very selective with who he uses so he probably put a lot of thought into it. There’s a story that when he did the folk scene on A Mighty Wind that Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul & Mary, called and wanted to be in the movie and he said no. I thought that was so fascinating. So I finally ask him about it, “Is it true Mary Travers wanted to be in that movie?” And he said, “No, but she did babysit for me when I was a little boy growing up in the Village.”
Baker: I had a great experience [on the commercial] and I thought, if that’s my one Christopher Guest experience I’m just happy I got to work with him. His people called and said he was writing a part for me in this movie he was working on and I couldn’t believe it.
Yeagley: He really wanted someone who was Southern because these two sisters were from Mississippi and Parker’s Southern and it needed to have that authenticity and honesty about it. So my mind was blown. And he doesn’t read people with sides, a typical audition, you don’t have to go in and do lines, it’s just like you and I sitting here, just a half hour of talking to him, and it was so fun and next thing I know I get the phone call that I got the part and I was screaming like a crazy person.