For his feature directorial debut, Seth Green is taking the audience — and Macaulay Culkin — on a Thailand vacation. In Changeland, Green plays Brandon, a man at a relationship crossroads who takes his estranged pal Dan (Breckin Meyer) on a Phuket trip he’d originally intended as a romantic getaway. Over the course of boat trips, rainforest treks and an underground boxing match, Brandon’s journey of self-discovery acquires some colorful characters, including an expat boat driver played by Culkin (in his first film role since 2007); a tour guide played by Green’s wife Clare Grant and a mystery man played by WWE star Randy Orton. The contemplative character study may surprise Green’s fans, who know him best for comedies — both as a star (Austin Powers, Can’t Hardly Wait, Family Guy) and a creator (Robot Chicken). But Changeland was a labor of love for the writer-director, as is evident from the beautiful shots of Thailand and the easy onscreen chemistry between Green’s real-life friends. Prior to Changeland’s theatrical and VOD release on June 7, Green talked with Yahoo Entertainment about making the film — and gave us an update on the status of his long-shelved animated comedy Star Wars: Detours.
Yahoo Entertainment: I have to ask, have you been to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge yet?
Seth Green: I haven’t gone yet! I’ve been crazy busy these past couple weeks. But I also don’t love crowds, so I may wait until I can get in there without it being crazy.
There hasn't been any official talk, but that has seemed to be a really organic path for it. When we were making the show originally, there wasn't a plan for distribution. George [Lucas] wanted to make this show, and his thoughts seem to be that he would manufacture it under his own conditions and then license it to another platform. And then we stopped down our production when the company got sold to Disney, and they announced that they were going to focus on expanding the perpetual existence of Star Wars as a global IP.
We had networks that wanted to put the show on for the next three years leading up to Episode VII (The Force Awakens) coming out. And the conversation that we had with Lucasfilm was: If these next three years are spent programming a sort of deconstructive comedy inside the Star Wars universe to young kids, that's going to be their first brush with Star Wars. And that'll be misinformative for receiving something like Episode VII, or the ongoing future plans for Star Wars, where the specter of Darth Vader is supposed to loom large like the fall of Stalin. And if you spent these three years watching our comedy — essentially a Simpsons in the Star Wars universe — you would see the dynamic between Darth Vader and the Emperor as more of a Michael Scott and a beleaguered Rupert Murdoch. So because I'd had this experience of people saying that they had shown their kids Robot Chicken or Family Guy episodes before they showed them actual Star Wars, I really understood the idea of distorting your kids’ ability to perceive these icons in the same way that I had. And so it made a lot of sense, honestly, to delay the release of the show until this push had been completed.
But now that we're at a place where Episode IX is coming out, and where there is a massive global platform that demands a volume of content, I think it's reasonable to think that we’d get to see Detours at some point. Again, we haven't had any kind of official conversations about it. But I'll say again, I love the show. It was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had, and the team of awesome people that we assembled both on the writing and production side, but also on the voiceover side, it’s insane. So really, I do hope we get to share it with audiences at some point.
Let’s talk about Changeland. What was it like to shoot in all those beautiful places?
It was actually easier than I would have expected. When I took the vacation that inspired this story, I made a point of taking pictures of everything, and sort of imagining what it would be like to shoot with a small, independent crew there. But I never really imagined the quality of crews available. You don't think of Thailand as a mecca of cinematic infrastructure, but everyone that the local team, Living Films, provided to work on the movie was so top notch that they improved the experience, every step of the way.
I know you and Breckin have been friends for a long time. There’s a scene where you two are in the back of a boat and miming what the driver is doing. Is that something that you guys do in real life?
Yeah, that started more than twenty years ago. Breckin and I were in the back of a van leaving a set late at night, and it was out in the middle of a field and there were like, eight people in the van, and everyone had started to fall asleep. And our driver hit an awkward turn and the back wheel fishtailed. And Breckin and I spent the rest of the trip miming what we thought the driver was doing. [Laughs] Like, making drinks of alcohol, planning to leap from the moving car, sending us over a cliff. It got so silly that it just turned into a gag that we played together all the time, while still keeping it a secret. I made it a little less showy in the movie because I didn't think that my character would be that great at my miming? When Breckin and I do it in our real life, it is far more theatrically creative.
Macaulay Culkin is kind of like the John Malkovich of this movie. He shows up unexpectedly, he's super weird and you don’t know what his deal is, but you just want to see more.
Yeah, yeah! I’ve known Mac for a really long time and we've gotten to work together a bit before. I've just always admired and respected him as a performer, and I love collaborating with him because he's so clever and inventive. But he's also an undeniable movie star, and so you get a real plus from having him appear. When I started writing this, and I knew that character was going to exist and what that character needed to serve for the movie — as a point of possible aspiration for my character — I thought, “Oh, there's nobody better for this than Mac.”
When you’re putting a cast together, you need to take into consideration how the audience is going to receive a particular performer. And sometimes you need someone that's unknown, so that the audience can see that character and not bring any baggage with it. And then sometimes you can actually take what people know about a performer, sort of their public mythology, and then that becomes a shorthand for the audience; the second they see them, they think all of those things about that person, so they're even more predisposed to get your point. And Mac is one of those people. In each one of these roles, I wrote the part specifically for the actor that played them. I tried to make it as foolproof as possible, so that there were things I just wouldn't have to think about while we were shooting.
I’m curious whether your Buddhist monk was an actual monk.
Oh my gosh. So I had spent about two weeks trying to cast that monk. And in the several weeks of prep, I had a small crew with me: our driver, our location scout, that kind of thing. And our driver, this guy Sunny (Sunthorn Boonratnang), he just was the greatest guy with the brightest smile. And I was like, Man, this is what I need. I asked Sunny to audition for me, and he did, and I’m like, “Sonny, you're the guy. Do you know any of these rituals, would you feel comfortable playing this monk?” And he said, “Yeah, I trained as a monk for years before I left the practice.” I was like, of course you did.
Until the credits rolled, I didn’t realize that the voice actors on the telephone were all recognizable people: Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fame, and animation legends Andrea Romano and Rob Paulsen.
That’s just me being greedy at that point. I needed a voice for the phone messages that was a believable actress; there’s only three lines and so it becomes so critical that the audience gets the intent. And I've worked with Rachel Bloom a lot, and I sent her a text like, “Hey, will you do this V.O. for me? You can just do it straight into your phone, just do this line of dialogue and I’ll put you in the movie.” And she was awesome. I think she was even filming the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend finale when I was editing, and in between takes, she was putting down this 10-second track.
And with Rob Paulsen and Andrea Romano, that is the definition of me being greedy and just turning to people that I've known for years and begging them to put a couple lines on tape. Because it makes it better, whether you recognize those voices or not. They're just so good that it makes the whole thing feel seamless.
I also love that I know those last two names because they were on so many cartoons that I watched when I was a kid that I just saw them constantly in the credits.
Oh sure. Well Andrea was the first V.O. director that I worked with where I thought, “Oh, she's really got it down.” And I credit her with my strongest influence of being able to direct voiceover. I learned by watching her for years.
So I interviewed your friend Alyson Hannigan yesterday, who says, “Hi.”
Oh yeah? Hi, Aly!
She wants to know why she wasn’t in the movie.
[Laughs] Well, we talk all the time about what show we would develop together. I love working with her.
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