The writer-director team of Jared and Jerusha Hess have once again brought us an off beat comedy that focuses on the awkward trials of a small town adolescent with Gentlemen Broncos. The film stars Michael Angarano and Jemaine Clement as two writers on the opposite sides of success. Angarano plays Benjamin, a 15 year old who has a passion for science fiction novels, while Clement is Dr. Ronald Chevalier, an acclaimed author who’s career is on the decline.
The Hess’ latest film highlights the struggle between these two characters and their different interpretations of the same story. In our interview with the duo, we asked the important questions like what is a gentleman bronco? Why does Dr. Chevalier sound like a serial killer? And most importantly, what’s with the high wasted pants and turtlenecks?
Check out their answers below…
You kind of burst onto the scene with the overnight success of Napoleon Dynamite, how did you cope with the instant fame?
Jared: We just try to stay true to the things that inspire us creatively.
Jerusha: He’s said this three times already.
Jared: I’ve said this already. I guess for an aspiring anybody that’s trying to make their first film I think when people look at their own experiences and what they know first hand it’s always kind of the best place to start because that’s where you kind of find your own original voice. It’s something that nobody else can do but you, because it’s your life and those things you know better than anybody. I would say start there.
Did you guys get in on all the merchandising for Napoleon Dynamite? Those “Vote for Pedro” shirts were everywhere.
Jared: It’s funny because she [Jerusha] was the costume designer on Napoleon and she made the “Vote for Pedro” t-shirt, with a t-shirt she got from a thrift store and a couple of iron on letters.
Jerusha: It’s really easy to look back in time and say, ‘Oh we really got gypped out of that deal. It’s so sad, we didn’t get all the stuff.’ But really it’s so great that we sold a movie and we’ve been able to make movies. You can’t look back and go, ‘Oh.’ We didn’t know it was going to be so huge, we’re just glad it got out there.
After making a major studio film like Nacho Libre, was it tough going back to your indie roots with Broncos?
Jared: When you’re working with a lower budget it kind of grants you a little more creative license to cast the film the way you want and have final cut. Those things are very important to us, and with limited resources it makes it fun, especially with the science fiction sequences in the film. It kind of added to the charm.
Your previous film Nacho Libre became a 100 million dollar hit, was that surreal to you?
Jared: Yeah, I mean it had a very funny, famous dude in it named Jack Black, which helped a lot. Yeah, Lucha Libre, I’m glad to see it find an audience outside of Mexico.
Jemaine Clements is known for his work on the series Flight of the Conchords, how did you get him for the film?
Jared: We were big fans of the show as well and we didn’t know if he’d be available but we sent him the script and we lucked out.
Jerusha: I think Jared just really wanted him because they look similar. Jared could step in in case he took ill.
How did you come up with the creepy voice for Jemaine’s character, Dr. Chevalier?
Jared: He wanted to play the character as an American, but we told him to watch the original Logan’s Run and try to do like a Michael York voice. He called back and was like ‘Yeah, I’ve been trying it on Miranda my wife, check it out. [as Michael York] Hello, Dr. Chevalier.’ We were like alright, that’s what we’ll do. It was a lot of fun.
Is Dr. Chevalier based on any particular author?
Jared: Not really, just a combination of egotistical creative types…
Jerusha: That had there hey day many years previous.
Jared: That’s the one character that we can’t really say was inspired by one of our family members in the film.
Where did the title Gentlemen Broncos come from?
Jared: My mom had a really weird parenting book growing up called So You Want to Raise a Boy?, because she had six boys…
Jerusha: My mom had the same book, and in fact gave it to me when we had our son.
Jared: It’s a really old book written in the fifties, but there’s a chapter in there called “The Gentleman Bronco” and it refers to the ages of like 15 to 16, I can’t remember the age group exactly but the age when a young man likes to take his shirt off and mow the lawn basically is what it was about. It has very little to do with the film other than that’s kind of the age of Benjamin.
Your films always have a quirky look to them, how do you make them stand out?
Jared: We’ve just tried to stay true to the things that inspire us. We live out in Utah and our environment, the people that we know, and interact with there definitely are a big part of the characters and stories that are in our films.
Jerusha: We have some secrets up our sleeves. When we’re writing, it seems like you [Jared] would write something funny and instead of responding to that we would write a pause. To read it and to see it is a little awkward so I think we kind of understand this awkward teen thing pretty well.
Jared: …because we lived it.
Which town in Utah did you shoot the film?
Jared: We kind of shot all over the place, mostly in Salt Lake City, but the area that Benjamin lives out was in a little town called Tallulah.
Jerusha: ..And we just happened up on it because we were looking everywhere for one of those dome houses.
Jared: We were looking for a geodesic dome home, and we finally found one. I always wanted to live in one of those as a kid, I was really jealous whenever I’d see one of those on the highway.
These days hand held camera movements are very prominent. Did you intentionally place a lot of long standing shots in the film?
Jared: Yeah, I think it lets you observe a little longer the details of movement, wardrobe and hair. You kind of just soak in the world. I think it makes things a little more uncomfortable too sometimes for viewers when the cameras not moving around.
Jerusha: Sorry, we want to make you guys feel weird.
Jared: Especially for the types of films we make, we just think that works well for comedy.
The world you create in your films is pretty detailed, how much room does that leave for the actors to improvise?
Jared: As prepared as you can be as a director in coming with a game plan, we like to storyboard all of our films and it’s good because it kind of gives you a point of departure, you know what you need to make the scene or make that work. That gives you time. When you’re working with people like Jennifer Coolidge and Sam Rockwell or Jemaine, people that can improvise and have really fun ideas it’s good to be able to take advantage of that. It doesn’t always end up in the film, but it’s cool.
There are a lot of things about this film that look hand made. Did you get involved with any of the smaller details in the film?
Jerusha: I’ll give you an example: Jared is the director and has all these people working for him and he wanted to make Benjamin’s Trapper Keeper folder thing because he wanted to design it. Then he said Jerusha, ‘You’ve got to make Judith’s nightgown folder for me,’ and I’m like what do you mean? ‘Like the puffy stuff that you make in church with the fabric over it and the lace,’ and I’m like O.K. So one night I sat with the glue gun, so I think we are. I did the costumes on Napoleon, and we do like to get our hands on stuff.
Jared: Yeah, I mean those details are fun.
Who designed the cover art on the books featured in the opening credits?
Jared: It was actually existing artwork that we used from different famous science fiction artists probably the main guy was Freas. We used a lot of his work, we were able to get access to it. For the opening credit sequence we just changed the titles to the actor’s credits and stuff.
The fashion in this film ranges anywhere from the late seventies to the early nineties. How do you describe your design aesthetic?
Jared: I like to think of that as “Rocky Mountain couture.” Clothes that are very functional that you can wear on the farm, close to the fire, to school. I think both of us coming from big families, were very used to hand me downs, and never really being very current.
Jerusha: And making due with what you have, and working your body. Tabitha, she’s got a big bum and she pulls those jeans high [laughs].
Where did you get the costumes for the characters, especially Chevalier?
Jared: All of the antagonistic forces in Benjamin’s life all wear turtlenecks, everyone from Chevalier to Tabitha…
Jerusha: Or mock-necks.
Jared: It’s funny, because Jerusha and I were camera assistants for a long time in college before we made Napoleon, I remember one time we were working on this really low budget film about pioneers who came West with handcarts and stuff and I remember the screenwriter came to set one day dressed exactly like Chevalier.
Jerusha: In one tone.
Jared: With pants that are pulled real high, some good dad jeans, and the little Bluetooth that he never uses. We kind of patterned the look, at least in my mind after this screenwriter guy.
In the film, one of the stories featured is a romance novel centering on a stable boy. Is it true you wrote that when you were 8?
Jerusha: Well, maybe 10. It’s a little mature. It was a short story about Pierre. I had seven very masculine brothers so the idea of a very effeminate Parisian man was very, very attractive to me.
How did that story resurface? How did you find it after all these years?
Jared: I found it. She told me she had it, but didn’t know where it was. I think I looked through some old boxes and dug it up, and we brought it to set that day and I was like ‘Jemaine just read this,’ and he was like, ‘What is this man?’ [imitating Dr. Chevalier] ‘Pierre used to be a jockey in college. He loves rice pudding with his tea.’ It worked out good.
Were you guys ever afraid to show any of your work to people or even each other?
Jerusha: I think Jared’s still nervous to show his movies to his grandparents.
Jared: Yeah, my grandma was talking to my brother the other day and she was like, ‘I sure hope Jared has other things in line, ’cause this comedy thing sure isn’t gonna last much longer.’ I don’t think she’s gotten any one of our films but that’s O.K. I still love my grandma very much.
There’s a scene in the film where Chevalier explains how to make character names sound more epic, where did that come from?
Jared: We went to film school with a guy named Steve Groo, who has made like a hundred plus movies and a lot of them are fancy science fiction related films. One day I asked him, I was like, ‘Steve, how do you come up with such great character names?’ He told me his theory which was about using suffixes and the way he explained it to me was for example you can take Nebakanezer, but if you want to change that into a medieval king’s name you could call him Nebakaronius. He king of blew my mind. He had other theories about how to appropriately name a barbarian, but we kind of ran with that.
Jerusha: We countered Chevalier’s theories with Benjamin’s, ‘I thought they were supposed to be named after troll.’
Jared: A kid in our neighborhood who plays a lot of D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] he told us one day like, ‘Yeah, normally trolls are named after resources like trees.’ We wrote it down and it’s in the film.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Jared: She just wrote a romantic comedy without me. I feel bad I’ve been holding her back all these years.
Jerusha: Jared’s thinking. He’s got to think for a couple of years.
Gentlemen Broncos hits theaters this Friday, October 30th, and be sure to check back later this week for our complete film review.