Jorma Taccone Interview, Land of The Lost

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

We caught up with Saturday Night Live writer and performer Jorma Taccone to talk about his new movie, Land of the Lost, directed by Brad Silberling based on the classic television series created by Sid & Marty Krofft. Will Ferrell stars as has-been scientist Dr. Rick Marshall, a man with no weapons, few skills and questionable smarts who must survive an alternate universe full of marauding dinosaurs and fantastic creatures from beyond our world after he’s sucked through a space-time vortex to a place of spectacular sights and super-scaled comedy known as the Land of the Lost.

Joining him for the adventure are crack-smart research assistant Holly (Anna Friel) and a redneck huckster (Danny McBride) named Will. Chased by T. rex and stalked by painfully slow reptiles known as Sleestak, Marshall, Will and Holly must rely on their only ally--a primate called Chaka (Taccone)--to navigate out of the hybrid dimension. Escape from this routine expedition gone awry and they're heroes. Get stuck and they'll be permanent refugees in the Land of the Lost.

The filmmakers knew there could be no Land of the Lost film without a certain ape-boy named Chaka creating mischief in the fantastic world. Laughs Silberling: “Chaka freaked me out as a kid. It was a combination of the makeup and the fact that there was a kid under there.” Drawing from those memories, Silberling’s makeup and prosthetics team created what he refers to as “a character who is sketchy but loveable. He is a con man with heart.”

Playing the role of the Pakuni missing link was something the versatile and talented Taccone had been unknowingly preparing to tackle for years. “When I was a kid,” the actor explains, “we used to role-play Land of the Lost. I always ended up playing Chaka because I was the shortest. Plus, I looked like a freakish monkey-boy; that was the other reason. I’ve been preparing for this role my entire life.”

Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas had written Chaka as a devious ape-boy, an opportunist who will do anything to survive…including putting Marshall in harm’s way. In addition to Danny McBride, Will Ferrell would need to juggle another comedy antagonist. About working opposite his co-star, Taccone says, “Will and I had never met at SNL, but just knowing he had worked on the show, I figured we would get along. There is nothing in the world like working on Saturday Night Live…not one single thing.”

Jorma Taccone made his feature-acting debut in the 2007 summer release Hot Rod appearing opposite Andy Samberg, Ian McShane, Sissy Spacek, Isla Fisher and Bill Hader as Samberg’s geeky and lovable half-brother Kevin. Currently, Taccone is a writer, composer and director for Saturday Night Live. Along with his writing partners Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer, Taccone is responsible for creating the popular “SNL Digital Shorts,” which have reinvigorated the series and spurred many watercooler moments over the past two seasons. Some of the most notable shorts include “D*ck in a Box” (with Justin Timberlake), “Lazy Sunday” (a rap about The Chronicles of Narnia) and “The Natalie Portman Rap”—all of which Taccone co-wrote and composed music for with the help of his brother, Asa. Taccone has also directed several digital shorts including “MacGruber” (with Jeremy Piven), “Business Meeting” (with Rainn Wilson and Arcade Fire), “Roy Rules” and “Sloths,” and he was honored with a Writers Guild Award for his work on the 2005/2006 season of the show.

Taccone, Samberg and Schaffer, collectively known as The Lonely Island, have been friends since junior high school in Berkeley, California. In 2000, the trio began writing, directing and producing their own brand of comedy and showcasing it on their website The Lonely Island’s debut album “Incredibad” was released by Universal Republic in February 2009 and is the first comedy album to reach No. 1 on iTunes.

Taccone, who is the son of accomplished theater director Anthony Taccone, is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television where he studied acting. He currently resides in New York City. He’s a fabulous person and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new movie:
Q: People either loved Chaka or hated him.

JORMA TACCONE: I did know that. Brad said that. He didn’t like Chaka in the original. He was saying that he was president of the I Hate Chaka Fan Club. One of their first big meetings that they had with everyone from the studio, Sid and Marty were there and he was like, “Yeah, I was president of the I Hate Chaka Fan Club.” And he looked, everyone was like oops, pretty embarrassing, talking to the creators of the show.
Q: Had you seen it?
JORMA TACCONE: Well, I’m 32, but yeah, that is too young actually. I probably could’ve seen the second wave that I think aired in the early ‘80s because a bunch of my friends growing up in Berkeley had seen the original and they would act it out on weekends after they saw it. Apparently, everyone I talked to said that the shortest person always had to play Chaka and they hated it. So I relate now. No, but I saw it after I got cast. I went through the first three seasons and saw all of them.
Q: What was the makeup and costume process like?
JORMA TACCONE: Three and a half hours. By the end, I think I did nearly 60 days on it and I think it got down to about three hours at the very quickest but usually it was around three and a half to get it on. That was mostly just trying to get the prosthetic on and blend it because obviously there’s no veins or anything to sell that it’s real, so they would have to do all these really cool little extra veins and all the spotting and flicking paint at me for like an hour. So yeah, it was a really wonderful process to go through at four in the morning. You definitely want to have as much adhesive medical grade glue put on your face at four in the morning.
Q: Can you talk about learning the language?
JORMA TACCONE: It was very similar looking to what you probably saw on screen by the end. I was sent a list of probably 400 words or so that were Pakuni words and I would construct sentences out of stuff. I made up this monologue all about like [mimicking Chaka talk], this whole thing about the Sleestaks came in and killed my tribe and all this other stuff. Probably overkill, I imagine, but I was really excited.
Q: Did you conjugate?
JORMA TACCONE: Well, there’s very little conjugating. It’s more like, “Me want fire.”
Q: Is there grammar?
JORMA TACCONE: There’s very little grammar. There is some. I think banda means cave and I think if you want to say “Go to cave,” it’s “a banda,” like “a” is “to,” so you can do little grammar things. But most of what I say in the film, I did try to be very accurate for the eight people who cared, because some of the dictionary had been added onto by people who had done like D&D role playing stuff for Land of the Lost.

Q: Like Klingon?

JORMA TACCONE: They may have added some Klingon. I may have said some things in there, and I did have to add a couple things because I called Brad up at one point, I was like, “I don't know how to say…” There was a whole thing that got taken out of the movie. “I don't know how to say that I’m a rapist.” There was definitely some words that weren’t in there and I was like, “Can we get in touch with the woman from UCLA who created this language?” He called me back five minutes later and was like, “Yeah, you’re the keeper of the language because she’s dead.” So I tried to be as accurate as possible with what I had but I did have to make up some.
Q: Did you ever want to go out in your Chaka costume?

JORMA TACCONE:One of the hardest parts about it was, because they wanted to keep everything under wraps, I had to wear this giant cloak, which basically made into a hairy Darth Moll kind of – well, Darth Moll, who did I look like? Don’t tell anyone I don’t know. But like this huge emperor’s cloak that went down to here, and so beyond being super hot, even on the lot it was super hot, but the trams are going by, and we were on these big soundstages on the Universal lot. I was just super hot and I could never ride on the golf cart, and I’m just so glad that it will be out now, and if we do a Land of the Lost 2, I can ride a golf cart. That will be my big goal. I didn’t answer that question well at all, I’m sorry. What was the question?

Q: I just wondered if you ever wanted to go to Starbucks with the costume on?

JORMA TACCONE:Yeah, absolutely, even with those teeth. They gave me the teeth early to practice with because they did affect my speech quite a bit, I think. They kind of changed the shape of your mouth a lot. In fact, you could see a bunch more of my face, you could recognize me a little bit more, but as soon as the teeth went it, they sort put a drop on your jaw a bunch and the teeth are so in depth and crazy looking. They looked so real that I have taken them on the train in New York and people definitely were a little like, probably just feeling bad for me. It’s not even that weird on the train in New York actually, but our first table read I remember Anna, and some other people, Brad’s wife was at the table read as well, and people looked over at me and I had my teeth in for much of the part and they were like, “Oh, that’s so sweet that they hired a guy who like really looks terrible and has very accurate Chaka teeth.”

Q: What’s better, spooning Will Ferrell or 69-ing with Danny McBride?

JORMA TACCONE: Oh man, that is a great question.
Q: Thank you.
JORMA TACCONE: You’re welcome. I’m going to say Ferrell because he’s a giver. Surprisingly, in that 69 position, you want a giver and that’s not Danny.
Q: Was Anna okay with all the groping?
JORMA TACCONE: In fact, when I first auditioned, I had to bring my wife to the audition because no one else would let me grab their breasts so I brought her. She loved it. I’m super smooth. Yeah, she was totally down. David Thewlis was pissed the whole time, her husband. That’s her husband.
Q: I got it.
JORMA TACCONE: Thewlis was pissed. Just say Thewlis was pissed.
Q: How about groping Will in the shorts?
JORMA TACCONE: That was spur of the moment, absolutely. Wow, when you see that bulge, you gots to grab it. Absolutely. The guy’s hung like a donkey.
Q: Were you allowed to do a lot of improv?
JORMA TACCONE: That’s actually one of the hardest parts because I’m speaking another language. It’s very difficult to improv in another language in that super drugged out scene in the desert and Will’s talking about making us like kiss. I don't know if that’s in the movie but we’re improv-ing for like 10 minutes. The sun’s going down and all I could think to say, because I wanted to be able to say all this stuff, and in my mind I’m trying to translate into Pakuni. So all I was saying was, “Ha ha amora, ha ha, amora” which basically means “Love. It’s all love.”
Q: At what point in the audition process did they try on the costume?
JORMA TACCONE: The first auditions, I would send stuff, I would record stuff on my iMac. Apple’s a great product. Sponsored, no I’m not. But just make these little videos and send Quicktimes to Brad and see like is this kind of what you want? Then I went in to actually just record it with the casting director in New York and it was pretty similar. It was actually kind of embarrassing that after I got cast, I’m so excited, I talked to several people including my father who were all like, “Ah, you’re playing a little monkey guy? That’s perfect.” It happened so many times, I was going, “Wait, what? Why? Why is that perfect?” But I do tend to sit like this. It’s pretty weird but I do tend to sit like this a lot. That’s the most comfortable for me so I think maybe I was supposed to play this part. It’s kind of embarrassing. Having said that, it was super difficult and halfway through the movie, there’s certain scenes where I was barely walking before I would do them because I’m crouched over and having to run like a monkey which we’re obviously not used to, especially me because I hadn’t done any exercise for like 17 years previous. But I got a cortisone shot in my butt at one point and I would have chiropractors come to the set every day. There’s a big fight scene with Enik and I slide to the ground and Danny gets on my back. I don't know if it’s in the movie, I still haven’t seen it, but he jumps on my back and propels himself off this thing. That scene I was barely walking for. I did it probably five times. I would run down the stairs and slide into position and it was very, very difficult, but I did it. I hope it was worth it.
Q: Did you jump into the pool in costume?
JORMA TACCONE: It was awesome. What’s funny, that was the one day that I was like “Oh, finally, it’s been so hot.” Like it’s 113 degrees on the hottest day and I’m in this monkey suit. I was like that’s the one time that this is going to work out for me because I’m going to have the suit and it’s going to be nice. It was freezing. It was so much worse for me. When I would get out, I’m just freezing the whole time and trying to take it down to here and warm up between stuff. I probably jumped in three times and this is a real testament to Spectral Motion and Tom Floutz who did all my makeup but it completely stayed put. You could be in the pool. By the fourth time I think I jumped in, it was a nightmare. It was like a living nightmare. I jumped into the pool and I immediately heard people laughing, but a cacophony of laughter through water so you’re hearing just like this burble of like har har, like you’re in a dream and I immediately knew my wig fell off. I know my wig fell off. So I looked even uglier, basically like a hairy version of Darth Vader when he takes his thing off. So I came out of the water and there’s just 100 people pointing and laughing. You burst through the water and then I just immediately got out of the pool and ran around going, “Stop looking at me!” It’ll be on the DVD.

“Land of the Lost” opens in theaters on June 5th


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