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Interview with Paul Henderson

March 15, 2012

What DVD’s reporter at large, Mark Glenning, managed to snag an interview with writer and actor Paul Henderson fresh off his success with Division III: Football’s Finest. Discovered by legendary director Alan Parker during the making of Mississippi Burning, Paul forged a career in stand up before forging a partnership with fellow comedian Andy Dick in 1991. Paul is a master jeweller, the world’s foremost proponent of the martial art Ka-tsu’-Do (in which skilled practitioners draw upon the power of cats to cripple, dismember and mutilate) and once sold Vincent Price a mop. Strangely, only one of those is untrue…

WDVD: Given Andy Dick’s reputation as being unpredictable, was the film hard to get of the ground when it was pitched with him in the starring role?

PH: Well, originally, Marshall Cook (writer, director and co-star of Div III) did a short, which gave you an idea of what the feature would be like. After we worked on the script, we began shopping it around. People liked it and loved the idea, but were like “We don’t want to do it with Andy. Who else can we do it with?”. Marshall told them that the film was written with Andy in mind – he was Rick Vice. This happened quite a bit, until we found an investor for the film who was willing to do it with Andy.

WDVD: Was the the first time that you and Andy had encountered this problem?

PH: Well, several years ago we did a thing for the VH1 fashion awards where Andy played this insane designer. One of the sketches was with Steven Segal, and on the strength of that I wrote a feature that was a homage to 80s action buddy movies that would star them both. I ran into the same problem – people loved the script but didn’t want to do it with Andy.

WDVD: I can imagine somebody reading the script and saying “Hey, what’s Rob Schneider doing?”

PH: That’s exactly what happened with Division III. Marshall asked who they wanted to do it with, and they said Rob Schneider. We still wanted Andy. As far as working on the movie went, he stayed sober the whole time. You see, what people don’t understand about Andy and his escapades is that he shows up for work. He comes and gives a full day’s work, more than anyone I’ve ever seen, and he works harder than any comic I seen when working on a set. He gives 100%, and whatever else he does is off the set.

WDVD: Well, his performance is central to the film. It’s hard to see any other actor short of a madman on the scale of Nic Cage pulling it off…

PH: I don’t think any other actor could have done it. I can think of a few who could come close, but they would have had to have seen Andy play the character first. Actually, that’s happened a few times; he’s auditioned for movies, and the people in casting have shown his tape to other actors and asked them to play him playing the role.

WDVD: One of the highlights of the film is how creative some of the swearing was. Was much of it improvised?

PH: Well, you have a script but you improvise every joke, and the best one stays.

WDVD: Like the great scene in the extras where you crash a golf cart and grudgingly cop to shitting your pants in fright?

PH: Yeah. Actually, Andy really hurt himself when he flung himself from the cart filming that scene. It was a great stunt – I nearly ran him over, and he ripped his hand open. He just put some duct tape on it, and we filmed it three or four times. It’s a pity the scene wasn’t in the final film, but it was part of a subplot about a reality show film crew following Mo Collins’ character that was cut.

WDVD: One thing that struck me about the film is the fun you have with typical sports movie tropes. For example, Marshall’s character is quite apathetic; he doesn’t seem particularly bothered about playing. There are no moments of ‘put me in, coach’.

PH: There was a lot of similar stuff that became antithetical to other sports movies. That said, we planned some things that were more traditional to the genre that we just didn’t have the budget for. For example, we planned a Porky’s type scene where I would be crawling on the roof of the girl’s shower and spying on them. The entire ceiling would collapse, and I’d fall into their shower and protest that I was chasing a peeping Tom. It’s a pity you can’t keep everything in the film.

WDVD: Is that why you’re cut short just when you’re getting into gear in your scene where your pre-match prayer turns into a fundamentalist tirade?

PH: I could have done a whole 30 minute rant there! I had a lot of fun with that scene, and I wanted to make it so good that they would keep me in the movie! It doesn’t move the film along at all, but it’s funny. You have to really listen to it, as it’s easy to miss some of the jokes. Having grown up in the South, I know people who are like this. That said, many people in LA think that everyone in the South is like that, but they don’t realise that we’re just f*cking with them. No-one has caught on to it yet!

WDVD: The irony of delivering a fire and brimstone sermon to a bunch of liberal arts students wasn’t lost on me…

PH: Well, I followed my late friend Sam Kinison [actor, stand-up comedian and ex-preacher]. He always said that you should “preach to the farmers” and mispronounce words that have any modern connotation. For example, instead of saying ‘helicopter’, you pronounce it ‘heli-co-peeter’. Instead of ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’, say ‘Brontosaurus Rex’. I thank my friend Guy Walker for convincing me to do the scene in the style of Sam.

WDVD: One thing that struck me about your performance alongside him was that although you both play racist rednecks, you’re diametrically opposite both physically and in your laid-back attitude.

PH: Well, we’re like a couple. Not in the sense that we’re gay, but a more emotional couple. In fact, there was a subplot where Andy had a romantic relationship with the head cheerleader that was cut. Originally, Mo Collins was to play that part but she was bumped up to the bigger role. We shot so much that we could have, without a stretch, turned it into a TV series. That’s the problem with improvising – you shoot so much that you wish you could have included, but you can’t keep everything because you’d have a f*cking ten hour movie.

WDVD: I got the impression that there was more of a back story to Rick and Bob. There is one telling scene set in the locker room where you pull a knife, and it seemed like it wasn’t the first time the characters had been in that situation.

PH: It’s so ridiculous, isn’t it?

WDVD: Absolutely. It’s like Bob knows where things are headed, and it made me wonder what opportunity there was to tell more of their story.

PH: It’s funny. We took this movie and pitched it to Comedy Central as a TV show. We’ve talked about some situations where we could place the characters. It could still easily be a series, but there’s been some talk about a sequel.

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