'Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar' Director Breaks Down Those Surprise Cameos (Exclusive)
By John Boone
The best scene in Bridesmaids, by most accounts, is the airplane sequences, in which Kristen Wiig's jilted maid of honor gets zoinked out, has her fear of flying stoked by her seatmate (played by co-writer Annie Mumolo) then commandeers the P.A. to shout about a colonial woman on the wing. Take that absurdity and stretch it to 100-or-so minutes, add more wigs and zany non sequiturs, and you're somewhere in the ballpark of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
Mumolo and Wiig star as Barb and Star, respectively, culottes-loving best friends who leave their Midwestern bubble for an adventure to the Florida coast, where they fall in lust, ride a banana boat and thwart a megalomaniac villain's murderous plot. It's the type of silly for silly's sake comedy that's rarely made anymore, a relentlessly goofy and delightfully earnest romp with endlessly quotable one-liners and starring a murderers' row of scene stealers.
Come for Mumolo and Wiig, stay for Jamie Dornan as a hunky yet homicidal henchman, Damon Wayans Jr. as an international man of no mystery, and Vanessa Bayer as the tyrannical head of Talking Club, plus Wendi McLendon-Covey, Fortune Feimster, Phyllis Smith, Michael Hitchcock and Richard Cheese. And that's just the cast you know about.
Spoilers ahead for some of Barb and Star's most delightful surprises.
No, Morgan Freeman did not actually lend his voice to the talking crab named Morgan Freemond, but that really is Andy Garcia as -- the? -- Tommy Bahama, swamp-walking through the wilds of Florida, and none other than Reba McEntire as Trish, a holiday-loving storm chaser who throws herself off a cliff and becomes the spirit of the ocean.
Trish's entire backstory unfolds onboard the flight to Vista Del Mar -- yet another iconic entry into Mumolo and Wiig's airplane oeuvre -- and pays off in the movie's final moments, as McEntire arises from the surf wearing sand dollar earrings and flanked by two sea turtles. "She showed up and was such a joy and so funny," director Josh Greenbaum says.
Greenbaum was tapped for the project after Wiig attended a screening of his documentary, Becoming Bond, and approached him afterward saying she wanted to work with him. "To be honest, I thought, 'That must just be a Hollywood thing to say.'" A week later, Wiig called and pitched him Barb and Star. "As you can imagine, reading it's amazing but having Kristen Wiig pitch you the entire movie is really, really fun."
With their movie out now, ET phoned Greenbaum to break down McEntire and Garcia's cameos, as well as to discuss Dornan's big musical number and Wiig's secret second role in the movie.
ET: When you were listening to Kristen's pitch or reading the script, was there a sequence or a moment you were most excited to get to film?
Josh Greenbaum: There were many! I remember at our lunch, she said, "It's like Romy and Michele's High School Reunion meets Airplane!" At that point, I was like, "What is that movie...?" So, that certainly had me intrigued, but each subsequent scene had me more and more excited, from a talking crab named Morgan Freemond -- with a D -- to this incredible dance, which at the time was just one line on a page that said, "Edgar" -- Jamie Dornan's character -- "is going to sing a song and perform an emotional dance a la Footloose." Which, we all remember the great Kevin Bacon's dance in the warehouse.
There were just so many exciting moments as a director to get to visualize. But honestly, I think I've always been so in sync with everything Kristen does, both comedically and dramatically, but it was exciting for me that this is a real, full return of Kristen Wiig to comedy. It had been a while since she had done anything just very, very straight comedy with a capital C. So, to be honest, the opportunity to work with Kristen and Annie, I was probably sold before I even heard a word of it.
On the flip side, was there something that felt most daunting or like, "How are we possibly going to pull this off"?
I mean, certainly there was a lot of production questions. Like, "How do you make a talking crab?" is a silly one. The third act takes place out in the ocean and I'm a big fan of shooting things practically, so all of a sudden we're scouting real oceans and we're going out and spending days shooting with our actors in the water. And then of course, a giant Seafood Jam, when you're on the beach, and you've got 500, 600 extras and a human cannon. There were many sequences that had me wondering, "How are we going to pull this off?" But you bring together an amazing team, which we had on this film, and you can start to make magic together.
Personally, my favorite set piece is the culotte parachute. It's just brilliantly silly. I assume that was always in their script, but what was it like filming that sequence?
It was amazing. And by the way, you just gave me the answer to your last question. I don't know why I didn't lead with that. We spent so much time figuring out how are we going to pull off these ladies flying down from a cliff aided by their culottes. There was discussions of, like, "Well, are they magically going to get bigger? Or are they just normal size? How big do they need to be before they puff up?" It was an incredible sequence to shoot. And, again, I love to shoot things practically, so for that sequence, we strung up Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo on a crane and lifted them over 100 feet in the air.
It's so funny. I was just texting Kristen and Annie last night, because we've been sharing old pictures and videos from our shoot, and I found a couple of old videos where I'm holding these little dolls that I'm floating down in my iPhone camera to show our stunt coordinator how I want them to float down, kind of like Mary Poppins. I'm always amazed by Kristen and Annie's willingness to get hoisted up 100 feet in the air, or Kristen, by the way, has a horrific fear of the ocean and sharks and alligators, which are also in the film, and she was incredibly brave to go out on the jet ski and jump off of it. It was pretty amazing to watch them work.
You mentioned Jamie's musical number, and I would think he was probably brave in other ways on this. I'm not sure I ever imagined I'd see him twirling and singing and flicking sand with his feet, but now that I have, I cannot imagine my life without it. If it was one line in the script, what was his reaction when you revealed what you had planned for that number?
You're exactly right. When he signed on, it was one line, and by the time he got to set and we started rehearsing, it was now a full two-and-a-half-minute song that was fully choreographed. [Laughs] I started to talk to him and I could see sort of the whites in his eyes, but he dove in. Jamie is very funny. I remember his wife told me, "This is more who he is than most of his other work." He's a very, very funny guy, and I think he was excited but of course, it's scary. It's scary to jump in and work with someone like Kristen and Annie, who you know can deliver the funny. I think the question for him was always, "Can I?" And of course, we all believed in him wholeheartedly, and what he did is he fully committed. You see it in that musical number. And by the way, he's singing that as well. He's got a beautiful voice! But at some point, I remember when he was climbing up a palm tree like a cat, and I remember he came down, and he said to me, "What are we making?" I was like, "Exactly." I'm so excited for the world to see him kill it, in more ways than one, obviously. His comedy chops were just so impressive.
I want to get into some of the surprises of the movie. Kristen plays two roles, in a very sort of Austin Powers twist. Was she always going to play the villain, too? Was that the plan from the beginning?
In my mind, 100 percent. In her mind, no. [Laughs] I secretly was always so hopeful that that was how it would shake out. I think it's so fun. Obviously, you referenced Mike Myers, but playing both the hero and the villain has sort of been a long tradition -- we saw it with Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove -- and interestingly, we've not really seen it done by a woman. It's a challenge and one that obviously someone like Kristen Wiig and only Kristen Wiig can live up to. And it was a joy to watch her. Many days, we were switching between characters, and both have a decent amount of hair and makeup and wardrobe to change in and out of. To watch her flip between those personalities, between Sharon Gordon Fisherman -- which is one of my favorite villain names ever -- and Star was incredible. She would just disappear and switch from one role to the other. Obviously, she knew how to make that villain character funny, but she also brought gravitas to it when needed, which is always important in a villain. I'm exciting for the world to discover that, because it's just another fun twist on a movie filled with them.
And you do have that first moment when Sharon walks in and you're like, "Who is that? Oh my god, it's Kristen Wiig."
By the way, in some of our early test screenings, a good percentage of people did not know it was her throughout the entire film. She totally disappears into it. And my favorite story is we had an editor working on the film at one point, and [the entire time] he was working on a film, he kept saying, "Don't tell me who this is. I'm going to get it. I've got to get on IMDB." He was working on the movie and didn't know it was her! [Laughs] Which I think is a testament to her performance. And we did add a tooth gap, she has interesting, weird colored contact lenses on, and there's a little bit of a nose prosthetic, because Kristen has a very unique kind of cute little upturned nose. We tweaked enough features that I think she looks different enough.
Then we have the cameos. I lost it when the Trish bit came back at the end, but I double lost it when I saw Reba. How the hell did you get Reba McEntire for this?
I asked myself that same question many times, even while we were on set. We sent her the script and sent a note along that said, "We'd love it if you would be our Trish, our magical sea spirit." And she just instantly got it. I think that's the thing with this film. Some people just get it. One of the things Kristen said that she learned early in comedy is don't write for what you think other people is funny, write for what you think is funny. And some people will get it and other people won't, but clearly Reba McEntire was a kindred spirit in comedy. And she showed up and was such a joy and so funny, and I remember her sort of saying, "So I'm going to be a mermaid?" And we were like, "Well, kind of!"
But she was so fun to have on set, and I can't wait for people to discover that she is really their savior. As silly as it sounds, the meaning behind it was like, well, Trish is the embodiment of their friendship. Their ability to talk about the fact that they don't know any famous people named Trish and then talk about the name Trish for an entire four-hour flight is the embodiment of Barb and Star's bond and their friendship. And that is ultimately what saves them. I don't want to tell people how to take the metaphor, but that's sort of how we justified having Reba McEntire as a sea spirit save the day.
Did that casting suggestion come out of a brainstorm you all had? Or was it always just Reba?
I think it was always just Reba, but you never think that someone's going to go for it. Even when we sent the script to Jamie Dornan, it was that fear of like, "I don't know, is he going to go for this?" So, I think in our minds, it was always Reba, but you start making other lists in case she says no. But she was always at the top of it, so we were so thrilled when she said yes.
You also have Andy Garcia as Tommy Bahama. Tell me how that came about.
I mean, when you think of a handsome, traditional swamp man named Tommy Bahama, I feel like Andy Garcia pops to the top of that list. Similarly, we thought of all the people we could think of and Andy felt so perfect for it, and he has this sort of deep voice and this gravitas task that in the world of this comedy feels so great and oddly grounded. People can debate whether or not he's real or fictional, Tommy Bahama as a character, but [Andy] came in and was so down and we just spent a day playing. The whole process of making this film, we felt like a family. When I came onboard with Kristen and Annie, I was brought into this 20-plus year friendship they have, and when you have that kind of energy at the center of your film, it permeates everyone. So when you bring on a guy like Andy Garcia and all of a sudden he's now in the family, it fosters such creativity and such comedy that hopefully comes through on the screen.
Was there a scene or a joke you ended up having to cut that was most difficult, or that you hope people will see in bonus features or wherever eventually?
Yes, always. There's always so many. There was stuff we cut way back in the scripts, but we did shoot a couple of big sequences. One was the ladies on a glass bottom boat tour. Edgar realizes when he wakes up in the morning from their threesome, he discovers the chip is stuck in Star's hair, so he gets on this glass bottom boat tour and the entire tour, he's tracking this chip and grabbing the women's hair and butts -- because it goes from Star's hair to Barb's butt -- and the women are just like, "Oh my god, Edgar, not now!" and the chip is traveling all over. It was an insanely crazy fun scene to shoot, and it's just one of those things when the film is too long, you ultimately have to cut some things.
Another was after Edgar loses the chip, Darlie Bunkle [Damon Wayans Jr.'s character] says, "Meet me at this restaurant, Pasta and Stuff, and I'll give you a new chip. But please, wear this disguise." And the disguise is a Hulk Hogan wig and a Tylenol T-shirt, and they show up and there's this amazing scene of the two of them at this restaurant, Pasta and Stuff. We shot this massive sequence where Darlie says, "Now, I'm going to sneak out of here like a spy" and, of course, he makes the most noise and ruckus ever, and ultimately almost explodes the entire restaurant. Both of those are, sadly, on the cutting room floor. There are so many more, but those were the two big ones that came to mind.
If I don't get to see Jamie Dornan in a Hulk Hogan wig eventually, if you don't get that to the people, I am going to blow up Vista Del Mar.
It's already blown up! It's already gone. No, it's not a real place. Well, I'm sure we certainly can, at a minimum, send you a picture just for your own personal pleasure.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is available everywhere you rent movies.