Saturday Night Live’s professional geek, Kyle Mooney, crashes the indie film party with Brigsby Bear, an offbeat comedy that weds saccharine kids’ TV shows with abduction dramas like Room. Mooney, who co-wrote the film, stars as James, a young man whose unusual upbringing means he relates to the world through a cutesy science fiction show, Brigsby Bear Adventures. Featuring Greg Kinnear, Claire Danes and Mark Hamill in the cast, the movie is ultimately a tribute to the creative spirit in the YouTube age.
1 Kyle, can you tell us about the starting point for Brigsby Bear?
Sure. I was obsessed with the notion of a guy who watches a TV show that’s being produced just for him, and he’s the only person who’s ever seen it. But also, I’m really into ’80s and ’90s children’s television shows – I’ve got a big VHS collection of these shows that [walk] that line between sweet and cute and just kind of scary – and the TV show within the movie is a tribute to that.
2 Do you have a favourite old show in particular?
I am really into ones that are direct-to-video and produced regionally; there’s probably a couple hundred in existence. I especially like religious ones. A video I’m really into is called Prayer Bear. He’s like an animatronic bear who lives with a family and he’s constantly trying to teach the good word of the Lord, and also kind of let the family know when the good times are to pray. He also loves ice cream.
3 These VHS tapes sound like great party viewing, is that right?
Absolutely. It’ll usually be late at night after a couple glasses of wine and maybe we’ll smoke some hookah and put on an episode of Care Bears or something like that.
4 Brigsby Bear is a collaboration of old school friends, really, isn’t it?
Yeah. Dave McCary directed it. I’ve known him since like fourth or fifth grade, and Kevin Costello, my co-writer, I’ve known since we were probably 12 or 13 years old. And then also my other friends from college – [actor] Beck Bennett who worked with me on Saturday Night Live.
5 Is Saturday Night Live a high-pressure job? Do you find it stressful?
Absolutely. We work six days out of the week. The hours are pretty crazy; I usually end up spending the night in the offices once a week. The whole point of the show is, you know, Monday we meet the host, pitch him a few ideas, and then we write a full show to air live on the following Saturday. You’re working in three-minute to five-minute to six-minute pieces where you’ve gotta do so many jokes per minute. We didn’t feel like we had to do that in the movie. We felt like we could take our time and kind of force the audience to be patient, to go along with this character on this journey.
6 The casting of Mark Hamill as Ted is kind of great because in a way, as Luke Skywalker, he has abducted all of us as children, and dominated our imaginations. Was he always in mind for that part?
No! The Ted role was a tough one to cast. We knew we wanted somebody you wouldn’t immediately think of. And we also needed the actor to be able to change their voice and do the voice of Brigsby Bear. And one day I pitched to Dave, "You know Mark is an accomplished voice actor." We got up a YouTube video of him in a press junket where he’s talking as himself and then he breaks into the Joker voice and it was like, "Yep, this is the guy. He’s perfect." I don’t know if we initially intended it, but he represents nostalgia and fandom and so there’s this whole added layer to this thing.
7 Did Star Wars have a big impact on you the first time you saw it?
I was probably seven years old when I saw it and that was the first movie where my father had to kind of introduce the concept to me of a director. It was probably the first time as a child where the fantasy is broken a little bit; these aren’t just characters that magically appear on your screen, this is a thought-out thing and there’s work and process that goes into it.
8 Brigsby Bear ultimately seems like a metaphor for YouTube – was that theme always part of the plan?
Maybe subconsciously. I made a career out of working with my friends – I came from making YouTube videos and doing college comedy shows with my friends. I didn’t tell Kevin, ‘Let’s try to write a version of my own experience,’ but to a degree that’s kind of what happened.
9 Do you have much in common with James?
I’d like to think there is a lot of James in me. I’m super moved by a lot of the things I was into as a child and I still am into them and I’m like your stereotypical nerd in the sense that I’ve got memorabilia in my house and posters and animation cels and toys. I would like to think that most of us can relate to James.
10 One of the charms of the show-within-the-film is its cheesy special effects. Is it hard to achieve special effects that look bad?
It’s fun! That was one of the best parts of the experience. We got four or five vintage TV cameras, we had hand-painted sets, everything was practical. We used the same technology that existed had the show been produced in 1989.
Brigsby Bear opens on Thu Oct 26.