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Exclusive Interview : Thomas Lennon

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Clint Morris talks to the “Reno 911! : Miami” writer/actor/producer


Writer/Producer/Actor Thomas Lennon wears many hats… but he seems to only wear the one pair of shorts. In both “Reno: 911” the series and now, the feature film spin-off “Reno 911!: Miami”, the now filthy rich comic (he co-wrote the “mega blockbuster” “Night at the Museum”!) experiences, once again, the true meaning of Chafing.

Granted, with the film’s budget (though for a film, $10 million is still quite cheap) being significantly more than the series, Lennon was able to ask for a better pair of shorts this time around.

“Originally, what I was wearing on the show, were those kind of shorts that a female stripper wears when she plays the ‘naughty cop’. That seemed like a great idea – but that was five years ago; now it’s less funny to me every day”, says Lennon, assumingly bathing his butt in a bucket of hot soapy water, as we chat. “As long as it still brings a smile to everyone’s faces”.

Comedy Central’s “Reno: 911” – essentially a spoof on the show “COPS” – has been a raging success; so much so that Lennon, who plays Lt. Jim Dangle on the series (as well as serving as a writer and executive producer on it) has his own Halloween costume now.

“… and can you believe they’ve sold out of the Dangle Halloween costume here? It must mean I’ve achieved something!”.

He’s being modest, of course. Lennon has achieved a lot. For starters, his got a feature film version of his low-budget cable series up with two major studios (Fox and Paramount).

The show was in its fifth season when Lennon and his cast – notably regular collaborator Ben Garant – decided he wanted to “stretch the limits a little bit of what we could do on television”.

It would all start with a title.

‘We made an effort to think of what the most stupidest title would be – with the most awkward punctuation in it. The exclamation point next to a column is really awkward – I don’t even think that’s grammatically legal. I think it’s technically an error. That’s sort of the way we operate on the TV show – we don’t think about anything for a long period of time. We basically based the movie on a title that we thought was just exactly stupid enough.”

A movie meant the guys could bring in more “nudity and vulgarity and violence” to the world of “Reno”.

Technically, Lennon says they were also able to do more challenging sequences on film. “Like the Rear Window scene, the one where everyone’s whacking off to pay-per-view porn at the hotel – the pacing, the timing, the way you can shoot it. We just couldn’t do that kind of scene on television!”.

With two big studios (FOX and Paramount) behind the movie, and Danny De Vito’s Jersey Films producing, they were also able to rope in a few big-name celebrity cameos (including De Vito himself).

“That was really cool. The Rock, for example, we didn’t think we’d get him. He was apparently a big fan of the show or something though and as soon as we placed the call to him and told him ‘We’re looking for an awesome commando guy that something really horrible is going to happen to’ he said, ‘great, love it!’.

“There’s an alternate ending on the DVD, when it comes out, that features The Rock. It’s a whole other ending in which he’s prominent. Just some of the secret bonus stuff on the DVD”.

You’d think both “Police Academy 5 : Assignment Miami Beach” – which pretty much speaks for itself – and Broken Lizard’s cop-spoof “Super Troopers” have had a lot of influence on Lennon’s “Reno” franchise, but he’s quick to point out that isn’t the case. In fact, he’s never even seen the fifth “Police Academy” film.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a whole Police Academy. I’ve seen bits and pieces of them on cable, but the only thing I’m really familiar with is the guy [Michael Winslow] that does the voices – and he does like Jimi Hendrix and that sort of stuff. I’m remised to say that my Police Academy knowledge is not as good as it should be – I’m thinking I should have probably watched at least that one (Number 5)”.

As for Broken Lizard, the creators of the similarly themed cop film “Super Troopers”, Lennon says that while there’s no animosity on his side of the fence, the Canadian comedy troupe does seem to have it out for him.

“They do seem to think we’re based on them – and they like to bring that up in every interview they do. We actually shot the pilot for our show well before Super Troopers came out – it’s just that ours sat on the shelf for years. Three years. I have nothing against those guys… the only thing I have against them is that they’re frequently in the press saying ‘Hey, that was our idea!’.

It would be a nice Celebrity Deathmatch though? Plasticine Super Troopers Vs Plasticine Reno 911? “Us and them? Yeah, I’m sure they’d be up for it.”

Since “Reno 911: Miami”, Lennon’s been involved in several other films – most notably, the monster hit “Night at the Museum” starring Ben Stiller.

“I don’t think anyone ever thought it was going to make 560 million! It’s in sort-of ‘mega hit’ territory now, which is nice”, he says.

Lennon says he’s now in talks with the studio to put together a follow-up. “Right now, we’re actually in very early preliminary talks [about the sequel].”

Before that, he stars in a film he co-wrote called “Balls of Fury”.

“Its fantastic. It stars myself, Christopher Walken and George Lopez. Its like an over-the-top Jean Claude Van Damme kinda movie about ping-pong.

Lennon loved working with Walken.

“He’s weird… it seems like he’s going to be a very creepy, strange guy but he’s actually a rather shy and mellow guy – and he can dance like a mo-fo”.

Lennon’s also got another film in the works, “How to Stage a Robot Uprising” which Mike Myers is attached to star in.

“It’s slowly heading towards going”, says Lennon. “It’s a slow business the movie business – years go by and all you seem to be doing is tweaking one paragraph. Nations crumble [by the time its done].”

Lennon says he’s not going to forget his roots though – and is already planning a “Reno 911!” movie sequel.

One idea is to set it in Australia. “Reno 911 : Down under”, he says. “We found we really like it when we’re battling animals and I believe there’s a certain kind of wildlife that Australia has? Kangaroos that will kick you in the face real bad? We do wanna do a scene that involves a Koala bear humping someone’s face! So if we can figure out a way to make a whole film around that, there’s a good chance that could happen”.

If it does happen, Lennon says he’s keen to get Paul Reubens and Paul Rudd, who appear in “Reno 911 : Miami” to do return appearances, and wants his “Night at the Museum” cohort Ben Stiller to take part. He’s also keen to have another action star, Steven Seagal make a cameo.

“Hopefully someone will get humped in the face by a Koala bear… and Steven Seagal will blow up…Or, Seagal’s doing a lecture on safety with Koala bears and then gets face-raped!”

RENO 911! : MIAMI commences May 17 Across Australia

– CLINT MORRIS

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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