Trey Parker and Matt Stone
South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone apply their warped humor to the topic of terrorism-using marionettes.
Thu Oct 14 2004
Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon
In the months leading up to its release this Friday, the film Team America: World Police has been condemned by conservative news outlets as tasteless liberal propaganda—Hollywood's own October surprise in a stubbornly partisan election year. But what's so liberal about killing off Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins and feeding U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix to a shark? Of course, directors Trey Parker, 35, and Matt Stone, 33, are no strangers to controversy. They're the guys who set "Uncle Fucker" to music and reduced Satan to being Saddam Hussein's touchy-feely bitch in the movie version of their hilariously vulgar animated series, South Park. Their big-screen parody of special-effects blockbusters was inspired by British puppeteer Gerry Anderson and his supermarionation TV series Thunderbirds—after all, the best way to show wooden acting in an action movie is to actually have wooden actors. Taking a break from finishing their movie in L.A., Parker and Stone phoned TONY to sound off about American interventionism and extol the beauty of genital-free puppet love.
Your movie opens this week. Why were you still editing it as recently as last week?
Matt Stone: It's brutal, man—we just cut out ten minutes of the movie in 18 hours. We were supposed to be out this summer, and everything took a lot longer than expected. We're certainly not trying to pull a Michael Moore and say, "People need to see this because it'll change their vote." I don't think audiences will change their votes based on a puppet movie. It's not about Bush or Kerry. It's more about the American experience than about those douches.
TONY: Wasn't the original idea to remake The Day After Tomorrow, word for word, using puppets?
Matt Stone: That movie has the greatest puppet script I've ever read. We're basically doing a Jerry Bruckheimer movie with puppets, but we're also including elements from the disaster movie. It used to be that the hero would just barely save the world—and now it's like Bruckheimer and Roland Emmerich destroy half the world and then you have to work to save the rest.
TONY: Did the drama translate easily into deadpan comedy?
Trey Parker: We actually took some jokes out. The script started out more funny, in the vein of South Park. But then we realized that puppets just couldn't pull off comedy, where you need nuances and exact facial expressions. Besides, the stuff we were laughing at the hardest were lines like "We've got to save the world." In the script, it's not funny at all. But when a puppet says it, it's superfunny.
TONY: We hear the Motion Picture Association of America made you change a puppet sex scene nine times to get an R rating.
Matt Stone: It was ridiculous—we did a sex scene between two puppets with no genitals. They're like Barbie dolls. It was a solid two minutes, but it was all beautiful montage...
Trey Parker: It was lovemaking.
Matt Stone: They make love, because they love each other. And the MPAA came back and said that they cannot do anything but missionary position. It's the most innocuous scene when you see it.
Trey Parker: But the uncut version will be on the DVD.
TONY: Your cinematographer is Bill Pope from the Matrix movies. Isn't that overkill?
Parker: That was [producer] Scott Rudin's idea. Bill was sick of shooting green screen. He loved the idea that when we were going to blow up a car, it was a real little car in front of a real little building.
TONY: Is it true that your version of Kim Jong Il was modeled after Rudin?
Matt Stone: Not initially, but during the shoot, it became clear that Scott was this little Korean dictator. Right as we were figuring out what Kim would say to his subservients, Scott would just happen to be screaming at one of his P.A.s.
TONY: Does Rudin have a thick Korean accent?
Trey Parker: He does now. Once he realized what we were doing, he started to say things like, "Call me rater." If we go to any function, I want him to dress up like Kim so bad.
TONY: Rumor has it that the budget was so low you two had to waive your salaries.
Trey Parker: "Waive" is a little too nice. It's more like we got fucked.
Matt Stone: A $30 million, R-rated puppet movie is not the easiest thing to convince a studio to finance. And we don't have a big star like Adam Sandler. So every time it came to a budget battle, we were somehow bent over.
TONY: How long can you keep making movies while doing South Park on TV?
Matt Parker: This is the last movie I'm ever making—I'm not kidding. Now I know why all film actors and directors are fucking nuts—because you can't make a movie without going totally crazy. On TV, you have to come up with [the script] and crank it out, but it's done in a week. You're not stuck with the same fucking idea for two years.
TONY: One critic has called your movie "dated, Clinton-era nihilism."
Matt Stone: It's not like we don't take a side. We just try not to be hypocritical. In an issue like American military intervention overseas, every side has some funny elements. And if you can't see that, then you're not being honest. It's not our job to say what America should do. Our job is to make fun of people. Everyone needs to fucking relax a little bit and enjoy life and laugh at it once in a while. I mean, how are you going to give solutions in a fucking puppet movie?