Before the ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ prequel hits Netflix (and The Brig) on Friday, check out the 2008 comedy that had ‘Ant-Man’ star Paul Rudd chasing around Venice and Santa Monica
By Michael Aushenker
Thanks to the giant success of Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” Paul Rudd has suddenly shot into the stratosphere of superstardom. But eight years ago the wiry, Chardonnay dry-witted actor — best known for comedies such as “I Love You, Man” and the “Anchorman” movies — was on the streets of Venice and Santa Monica to film a little comedy called “Role Models,” co-starring Seann William Scott.
David Wain, the movie’s director, has a long-running personal and professional history with Rudd and fellow actor-writer Ken Marino, both of whom co-wrote the “Role Models” screenplay with him. Wain produced (and almost directed) Marino’s acclaimed indie drama “Diggers,” which co-starred Rudd. He also directed Rudd in the 2001 coming-of-age feature film spoof “Wet Hot American Summer.”
The long-awaited “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” an eight-episode prequel series, debuts on Netflix on Friday, July 31. To mark the occasion, a selfie-bait interactive themed “camp bus” will also be parking outside The Brig on Abbot Kinney Boulevard that evening.
Bred on the comedies of Woody Allen, Harold Ramis, Cameron Crowe and Blake Edwards, Wain was hired to helm “Role Models” only six weeks before production began. That had Wain, Rudd and Marino furiously reworking the screenplay (which had already been converted from a drama to a comedy by Timothy Dowling) as shooting was about to begin.
“This was my first big budget studio film, so it was kind of intimidating,” Wain said. “But when we started the shoot itself, we really got into it.”
At the time, Wain still lived in New York but had come out to Los Angeles for business over the years and stayed “in almost every part of town,” he said. “[‘Role Models’] was originally written [to take place] everywhere. I thought, ‘Let’s not go generic. Let’s get some real quality.’ The Westside is a cool, interesting, photogenic place.”
“Role Models” stars Rudd as Danny and Scott as Wheeler — two ne’er-do-wells stuck in their brain-dead jobs as energy drink pitchmen who, after Danny’s public meltdown at an elementary school, get sentenced to community service.
Their punishment: participating in the Big Brother-esque mentorship program Sturdy Wings, run by reformed coke addict Sweeny (Jane Lynch). Matched with their “Littles” — medieval live action role-playing game freak Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and foul-mouthed African-American kid Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) — “Bigs” Danny and Wheeler embark on what at first appears to be the mentoring journey from hell. But the cynical duo and their wards eventually warm up to each other, and the Bigs wind up learning thing or two about life from the ostensibly unsalvageable Littles.
Marino, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Jeong and a who’s who of Wain’s comedic comrades from the 1993 MTV satirical show “The State” rounded out the cast, but those big names aren’t all that local will recognize from the move. Aside from a third act shot in Santa Clarita and South Pasadena, the rest of “Role Models” was shot almost entirely in Venice and Santa Monica.
Wheeler’s bachelor pad is right on the Venice canals, and two other Venice addresses served as the Littles’ family homes. Then there’s the Venice Beach party where Wheeler, distracted by a sex-crazed school teacher, loses Ronnie.
“That was really fun night on the beach,” Wain said.
The Venice Canals were new to Wain: “I had never seen these canals before. I remember walking those canals and the location people were ‘Uy-yoy-yoy! So expensive…’”
Filming in the canals costs more and the location was not as friendly — or even hospitable — as other places, said Wain, but “you can get something a little different.”
The school at the beginning of “Role Models” is El Segundo High School — the same school that appeared in the hit Judd Apatow comedy “Superbad,” which made Mintz-Plasse (as McLovin) a breakout star.
Interiors, including auditorium and hallway scenes, were also shot at El Segundo High. But the more audacious exterior stuff with the Minotaur truck, the towing guy and the security guard, played by Louis C.K., was shot at a middle school in the Valley.
Wain shot the scene in which Sweeny shows up just as Ronnie commandeers the SUV (locking Wheeler out and driving in circles) at Eddie Junior’s Market and Liquor at 825 Pico Blvd.
That part might as well have been an action movie shoot.
“For me it was. We had cameras up in the air,” he said.
Wain shot the Sturdy Wings scenes at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Venice Boys on Lincoln Boulevard.
“When we saw it, I knew it was perfect,” Wain said of that location. “There are a lot of boys and girls activities happening during the shoot.”
The Club’s activities continued unabated as certain areas were blocked off for the production, which demanded several class rooms just for the movie people to keep their gear.
“We had a huge crew of 200 people: lights, catering, extras,” recalled Wain, for whom this was the biggest-budgeted, most mainstream film he had ever undertaken.
Made for $28 million, the Universal comedy ultimately turned a tidy profit following its November 2008 release, grossing $92 million in theaters worldwide plus an additional $40 million in DVD sales.
These days, Wain has no shortage of assignments.
“Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” reunites Wain with co-writer Michael Showalter and a formidable cast who were rising stars when the 2001 original was released — including Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Banks.
“There’s definitely a big reunion flavor. It was a total blast. In some ways, it felt similar,” said Wain. “We’ve been thinking about it for years and years, regarding reuniting the actors, many of whom have since shot to superstardom.”
This prequel included everyone’s participation by no less than “sheer force of will,” he said. “We wanted to do it. The cast wanted to do it. Finally, the stars aligned our scheduling.”
In Wain’s case, it’s easy to see why a “Wet Hot American Summer” follow-up took so long. He just wrapped up the sixth season of “Children’s Hospital” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, and his Comedy Central sitcom “Another Period” debuted on June 23.
“Role Models” is not, however, simply water under a canal bridge. Wain said he’d be interested in a sequel or spin-off.
“I loved ‘Role Models,’” Wain said. “We have talked about it. We just haven’t gotten around to it.”
Given the 14-year wait for a “Wet Hot American Summer” follow-up, put your game face on 2022!
Visit the “Wet Hot American Summer” camp bus from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 31, at The Brig, 1515 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. Visit abominablepictures.com for more info.