Meet the Press

Martin Short hopes to hit Fat City with Jiminy Glick

TORONTO-One of the most visible stars at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival was Jiminy Glick. For five days, Martin Short's obsequious, abrasive rotund alter ego from his TV talk-show parody, Primetime Glick, cruised the red carpet, crashed gala screenings and schmoozed the party circuit to chase amused and/or confused celebrities-like Kiefer Sutherland, Rob Lowe, and Sharon Stone-with off-the-wall interview questions for an improvised movie (which opens in Vancouver on Friday, May 6).

Two years later, Short is back at the Toronto festival to promote Jiminy Glick in La La Wood, which was selected as the fest's closing-night-gala offering. His film-festival parody has gone mainstream.

Holding court for a table of North American journalists, Short claims that his character-who seems to blend the worst of Larry King, Charlie Rose, Regis, and Barbara Walters-wasn't inspired by anyone in particular. "To be quite honest, it's just a choice that he's a press member or an interviewer. To me, the satire with Jiminy is that he's a moron with power. He could be the president of the United States. Or a high-school principal. He could be a member of a parliament from a small area," Short says.

A reporter pushes the point, suggesting that Glick must be a response to all the stupid questions Short has faced over the years. Short-a former Saturday Night Live cast member and, before that, an integral part of the iconic Canadian TV comedy series SCTV-admits he's fielded his share of those. "Absolutely. But I'm saying that I've also had conversations with clueless politicians. Believe me, if it was just about trying to make fun of clueless reporters I'd be proud of it, but it isn't really that. What makes me laugh is kind of his ridiculous arrogance." Short is also keen on the character's loopy logic.

"It still makes me laugh that he would ask Kurt Russell, 'If you worked with Elvis as a child, did you have any idea that some day his daughter would grow up to marry Nic Cage?' And you see Kurt's reaction to it. These things do strike me as funny."

Jiminy Glick in La La Wood is a sort of origin story for the character who stars in Primetime Glick. Glick and his family-wife Dixie and sons Matthew and Modine-come to the festival from Butte, Montana. Glick wants to score celebrity interviews but can't because he's a nobody-until he gets picked to lob softball questions at a reclusive star whose image needs an emergency make-over. Suddenly Glick is an overnight sensation on the fast track to celeb status-until an old-time movie star turns up dead in his bed.

Dixie is played by SNL alumna Jan Hooks, who originated the role in a series of home-movie sketches on Primetime Glick. "I had so much fun improvising with Jan's character," Short says. "And I thought, 'Wouldn't this be funny as a feature?'"

An additional plot twist is that the story is told/imagined by David Lynch, as played by Short. "At one point, I wanted him to play it, and he contemplated it and his schedule didn't allow it." Short is a big fan of Lynch's. The two almost worked together on a film with Steve Martin in the 1980s. Asked why he wanted the Lynch character to narrate, Short explains that he wanted someone iconic. "If it was 1963, it would have been Alfred Hitchock. I wanted someone with a very strong signature," he explains. "It was about a film festival, and I liked the idea that it was really David Lynch's film."

The dialogue for Jiminy Glick in La La Wood is improvised, but Short is quick to point out that the film's not improvised in the style of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries.

La La Wood used the same three writers as Primetime Glick: Short, his brother Michael, and Paul Flaherty; it started with a 30-page treatment that mapped out the basics of the plot. The treatment grew to about 50 pages as the project progressed.

"It's very interesting, because it's not a mockumentary. Because it's shot like a feature, many people have said, 'You can't tell me that that scene at the breakfast table isn't written.' It was all just in the moment," Short says.

"It wasn't until I saw it in the editing room that I realized that when Jiminy and Dixie are making love that Jan is just reaching over and smoking and drinking for the entire thing”¦You're writing as you create it, and the cameramen are trying to stay out of each other's ways and trying to get as much coverage as they can."

In a separate interview, director Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer) explains how the cast worked with the treatment. "We would have a scene that might have been an eighth of a page in description. So it might say, 'Jiminy and Dixie arrive at the hotel, they try to check in and discover they are not at the Fairmont Hotel. They're actually booked in at another hotel called the Fairmant.' So that's the scene description. What happens within that is a strictly improvisational affair."

Jean says he was impressed by Short's willingness to experiment. "Marty will always say to you he'll try anything. And he will. There's no problem with suggesting things because his argument is, 'I'd rather have the choice of having it in the cutting room than not,'" Jean says. "I shot 120 hours for this film. That's the kind of footage you shoot for a John Woo action movie. In four weeks."

Says Short: "You shoot a lot of stuff and then it is like making a sculpture."

To make sure they have all the pieces for the sculpture, Short and Jean drafted a cast that includes John Michael Higgins (an improv film vet from A Mighty Wind and Best in Show), the always busy actor-comedian Janeane Garofalo, and a mix of sketch-comedy, standup, and Second City stage veterans. Aside from the film fest interviews, the movie was shot in Vancouver, which doubled for Toronto.

Short says he gave birth to Jiminy when he started doing his short-lived talk show in 1999 and he wanted to be able to do man-in-the-street interviews without being recognized. Back in 1991, he'd worn a fat suit in the movie Pure Luck, and the film's star, Danny Glover, said he could hardly recognize Short through the makeup. Short remembered that and decided to go big for his interviewer character. And going big meant four-and-a-half hours of movie makeup each day.

"The first time I did a Jiminy Glick on location, the interview was on the set of Dharma and Greg." For that interview, he called himself Jeremy Glick. But when Short was editing the piece, he came up with the name Jiminy and thought it was funnier. "So I looped in Jiminy and after that it became Jiminy. It just seemed like a funny name."

Short admits that not all the celebrities he ambushed at the Toronto festival agreed to be in his film. His approach was to go after stars guerilla-style and then approach them afterwards with an edited version of the interview and a release form. "Not everyone signed," Short says. "But most people said 'Absolutely'."

Short says he wasn't worried about Glick being hit by the curse that seems to haunt sketch characters when they're transported to the big screen because Glick isn't and wasn't a sketch character. "When I was doing Ed Grimley on Saturday Night Live, there were many studios interested in doing an Ed Grimley movie. And I felt the six-minute sketch form is its own art form to be respected. Jiminy Glick never lived in a sketch. He'd sit down and talk to Ice Cube. He'd sit down and talk to Brendan Fraser or Jerry Seinfeld. He was not talking to other characters per se. So that's why it seemed that he could fit into the other world."