We recently drew your attention to a little film with a big name -- FDR: American Badass. A low-budget ringer in the historical horror mash-up craze (which has spawned the likes of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), FDR looks to mine all the lunacy that glossier Hollywood productions tend to ignore, starring Barry Bostwick as our 32nd President, leading a cast packed with genre stars. I just caught up with the film's writer, Ross Patterson, and asked him what it takes to balance the three H's: humor, horror, and history. Check out what Patterson had to say after the jump.
At the risk of asking the obvious, how did FDR: American Badass begin?
It began in the 16th century, when a woman from the West Indies gave natural water birth during a healing ceremony to ward off evil werewolves who were eating townspeople. Sketches of the event were then transcribed from cave drawings and passed down through generations which gave me the inspiration you see today. This movie came from those humble beginnings. Also, drinking a lot of Boones Farm helped.
What sorts of b-movies and grindhouse films inspired it?
The original 1966 Batman was the true inspiration for this film. I wanted to write something campy, fun, and over the top which you don't see a lot of these days. I also watched Howard the Duck on laserdisc 2 days before writing this, so that probably had a lot to do with it.
Since Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter finds Honest Abe battling vampires, did you consciously decide to employ werewolves to distinguish your story?
Originally I was going to have FDR fighting an old school Sopranos style mafia to end Prohibition, but no one would finance that. Everyone came back and said, "Can't you have like vampires or werewolves, you know, something like Twilight in it?" It was then that I decided fuck it, if everyone wants a goddamn vampire or werewolf in it, let's make it as campy and over the top as possible and make all the werewolves look like Michael J. Fox's dad in the original Teen Wolf. I had just read that Fox spent like 70 million on a serious take on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which is a ridiculous amount of money, so let's do the exact opposite and make a low budget comedy and not take the mash-up seriously at all.
Barry Bostwick seems like inspired casting in the title role. How did he get involved?
First of all, it was important to find someone who really looked like FDR and had the comedy chops to pull off the dialogue in a dead pan manner. Half the film is written in hip hop lyrics and it was important to play it straight. When FDR screams out "Picture me rollin', westside till I die" to Hitler, I didn't want it to sound corny. It needed to be read naturally, and Barry is the only guy who can pull that off. He's won a Golden Globe, so I knew he would take the role seriously.
Luckily when we approached him, he loved the script. He wanted to see the movie we had just finished "Darnell Dawkins Mouth Guitar Legend", which is also ridiculous and played straight, to know if we could pull this off. Thankfully he loved it and agreed to do the film. He's brilliant in this and I can't imagine the film without him. He's like the new Leslie Nielson.
The rest of the cast – Lin Shaye, Ray Wise, Paul Wilson, Jesse Merlin -- seems equally well-suited for their roles. Can you talk a little what you see them bringing to the project?
Ray Wise, I had done four movies with before, and I knew how comedically brilliant he was. Lin, Paul, and Jesse came in and auditioned and completely blew everyone away. Jesse's was most impressive, because how many people can make Hitler funny? He nailed the accent and everything. After he read, it was literally "he's the guy". No need for any more auditions.
Kevin Sorbo is admittedly an out-of-left-field choice for Lincoln. Is Lincoln going to be a badass as well?
We had just finished a movie called Poolboy: Drowning Out The Fury with Sorbo about 6 months prior, and he was hilarious. The film is the worst(on purpose) action movie ever made that the studio "lost" from 1990, and he was the lead of this film. He was so good in it, I asked what dream roles he had, and he said he'd love to play Lincoln sometime. I don't know to this day if he was kidding, but I wrote him in as Lincoln. And yes, in this movie Lincoln is the king of all badass presidents, but he's a stoner. Other Presidents in office can make him come alive out of his White House painting and ask him for advice if they smoke weed with him. Lincoln loves weed in this.
What's the secret to a good historical mash-up?
I think the secret is to not take it seriously, like our film. In history classes growing up teachers always made it so boring to learn about presidents, so why not make them cool and fun? Plus, it helps to throw in nudity, foul language, drug use, and violence in there. Tarantino killed it with Inglorious Basterds. Why not have fun with re-writing history?
Did you concern yourself much with historical accuracy, or did you find yourself using your creative license ninety-nine percent of the time with this story?
Surprisingly, yes. I read every biography and watched every documentary I could on FDR before writing it so at least the characters, dates, and timelines through history matched up. To connect the dots, that's when I used creative license to fuck shit up. But at least most of the dates will match.
Might we see a sequel?
Sadly, no. We spanned his entire presidency in the film. Of course, if someone shows up with a Brinks truck full of cash, I am not above completely selling out and cryogenically freezing FDR to have him come back and fight Transformers in their sequel.