Lafayette’s Will Forte stars on TV’s Saturday Night Live and in the new movie MacGruber.
Portraits by Lisa Loftus
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The character is the creation of Berkeley native and SNL writer/director Jorma Taccone. Taccone, whose father is the artistic director at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, makes his film-directing debut with MacGruber, which hits cinemas three years after the character debuted on SNL. Audiences loved MacGruber from the start, so much that it became a recurring bit on the show. The character reached a much wider audience when Pepsi asked for a MacGruber sketch for its 2009 Super Bowl campaign. “We had been working on an idea for SNL about MacGruber selling out,” says Taccone. “So we did that for the Super Bowl instead. It worked out perfectly.” (CLICK HERE to read an exclusive Q&A with Taccone)
The ads aired during the fourth quarter of one of the closest Super Bowl games in history—and were seen by more than 100 million people. Riding the buzz, Universal’s Rogue Pictures division green-lit a movie. Forte, Taccone, and cowriter Solomon holed up in Forte’s house between SNL shows to hammer out a screenplay. The trick was to stretch out the concept from a 60-second bit on late-night TV into a full-length film.
“We wanted to put MacGruber into the kind of late ’80s action movie that we loved as kids,” says Taccone. “I’ve always been a fan of movies like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and RoboCop—with real stunts and explosions. So we wanted to pack it with crazy comedy but also make it really work as a big action film. With violence and cussing, and lots and lots of sex.”
Forte’s star vehicle is supported by a surprising cast of actors: SNL costar Kristen Wiig (Knocked Up, Extract) plays MacGruber’s sidekick and love interest, and usually dramatic thesps Ryan Phillippe and Powers Boothe play MacGruber’s military cohorts. The biggest casting coup was landing Val Kilmer to play terrorist villain Dieter Von Cunth. “I grew up admiring him in comedies like Top Secret! and Real Genius,” says Forte. “Working with him was surreal.”
Early screenings of the movie have been generating major buzz. “I would love to make another MacGruber movie because that would mean people really liked this one,” says Forte. “But, just this one is amazing. We’re this really close group of friends, and we got to make the film we wanted to make together. And it’s really, really funny.”
Taccone gives Forte full credit for the character’s success. “You have to have an actor that gives 100 percent to this role to make it work, and Will is the only one who can do it,” says the director. “I love writing with Will because his brain is the most beautiful thing to experience. The stuff that runs through it is hilarious. On top of that, he’s a workaholic, but he’s a machine that never gets sick. And you will not find a bigger sweetheart in the world.”
Forte may be a sweetheart, but he is currently single. “I just went through a breakup,” he says with a sigh. “I’m kind of married to my work right now.” From the sound in his voice, this clearly is not his favorite subject. “The schedule I have for Saturday Night Live doesn’t allow for a lot of extra time, and we shot MacGruber during the break. But that’s what I signed up for.”
After nearly two decades as a comedy writer and performer, Forte is busier than ever. Along with MacGruber and Saturday Night Live, he plays Principal Wally on Fox’s hit animated series The Cleveland Show and voiced talk radio host Martin Serious for the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. He has also finished work on another movie, the sex comedy A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (count on another R rating). He shrugs at the list of successful projects piling up on his résumé. “All this acting work is just gravy, because what I love to do is write. And I feel like I will always be able to do that.”
Someday, when he gets a break from the hectic schedule of film and TV stardom, he hopes to have a family of his own—if only to pass on his name.
“If I ever have a son, I have to name him Orville Willis, right? I have to go for number five, don’t I?” he asks. “Or, Orville Willis Forte IV Junior. That would work.”
Timeline: The Origins of MacGruber
1985: ABC television premieres action series MacGyver, starring Richard Dean Anderson.
1988: Will Forte graduates from Acalanes High in Lafayette, voted “Best Personality.”
May 21, 1992: MacGyver’s final episode airs.
1995: Jorma Taccone graduates from Berkeley High; achievements include presidency of the Lego Club and a passing grade in conceptual physics.
Fall 2002: Forte joins the cast of Saturday Night Live.
Fall 2005: Taccone is hired as a writer on SNL.
January 2007: Taccone (at left) directs Forte and guest host Jeremy Piven in the first MacGruber sketch.
February 1, 2009: Pepsi hires Forte, Taccone, and MacGyver star Anderson to make a series of MacGruber skits as a fourth-quarter Super Bowl ad. Forte, Taccone, and John Solomon are commissioned to write a movie screenplay.
August–September 2009: Forte and Taccone shoot MacGruber in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during summer break from Saturday Night Live.
May 21, 2010: MacGruber opens in theaters nationwide
CLICK HERE to read an exclusive Q&A with MacGruber director Jorma Taccone.