Also check out L.A. Weekly's interview with Chris Elliott from the first season of Eagleheart.
On a blazing hot day last September, the cast and crew of Adult Swim series Eagleheart were holed up inside a small stage tucked deep within the eastern San Fernando Valley. They were nearing the end of production for the show's second season, a grueling, six-week stretch of 12-hour workdays that often lasted late into the night. Throughout the morning and afternoon, they shot and reshot scenes from three different episodes. There was a chance that the team would be working on two more later that evening.
“This is the hardest job I've ever had and it's an 11-minute show,” says Chris Elliott, who stars in the crime-fighting show as U.S. Marshal Chris Monsanto.
Maria Thayer, who plays fellow marshal Susie Wagner, mentions that she didn't realize how tired she was until the previous weekend, when she ate dinner in bed and fell asleep while watching Mad Men.
Though the hours are long and the physical demands are plenty while filming the action-comedy, no one is complaining. In fact, the excitement was thick both on and off the sets.
TV shows are always works in progress, but Eagleheart has had a steeper climb than most. In those last few days of filming, both the actors and the writers were convinced that these new episodes would be their best yet. After catching a few of the new episodes myself — several were screened at Cinefamily on Tuesday night — it's hard to disagree with them. The new season is filled with stronger characters, more beautifully absurd, action-based comedy and wilder adventures.
Eagleheart is oozing comedy credibility. It was created by former Late Night With Conan O'Brien writers Michael Koman and Andrew Weinberg and was produced by the chat show host's company, Conaco. Writer-director Jason Woliner directed the sketch comedy series Human Giant. Elliott, who plays the show's central character, is a comedy legend known for writing and performing on David Letterman's show. Thayer was in the cult favorite series Strangers With Candy. Co-star Brett Gelman, who plays Brett Mobley, has appeared in Funny or Die and voiced several characters on The Life and Times of Tim.
Hip names don't necessarily make a show, though, and Eagleheart went through a lot of changes before it even hit cable television.
Remember the Walker, Texas Ranger Lever on Late Night With Conan O'Brien? Koman and Weinberg worked on that, sifting through piles of episodes of the Chuck Norris series that could be taken out of context for the lulz on O'Brien's show. That experience inspired the original pilot, which was intended to revolve around the making of a TV show starring an aging action-movie star. However, it was the show-within-a-show that network executives liked. Eagleheart was greenlit, but they went into production with a pilot for a completely different series.
“We were pretty much figuring it out as we went along,” says director Woliner.
Eagleheart wasn't intended to be a parody of Walker, and it's not. Instead, the team developed main character Chris Monsanto and a lot of the plots to play up the quirky style of comedy that Elliott brought to TV shows like Get a Life and movies like Cabin Boy. Thayer and Gelman, who had smaller parts in the pilot, were brought in as Monsanto's sidekicks.
The first season went well, but there are some limitations to the 11-minute episode format. The major one, co-creator Weinberg notes, is that there are no B stories, subplots often seen in longer episodes that help develop characters. For those early episodes, the focus was on developing the show and its lead. Now that those aspects are set, Brett and Susie are coming to the forefront.
“We got into a nice rhythm,” says Elliott. “It feels more like a three-person show to me.”
Both Elliott and Thayer remarked that the characters reflect their own personalities. “Brett is kind of the goofy one. Maria is the sensible one and I'm the elder statesmen of the crowd,” explains Elliott.
“I think all of the characters are a more insane version of how Brett and Chris and I act with each other,” says Thayer.
Words like “insane” and “crazy” come up a lot when talking to the stars of Eagleheart. Gelman describes his own character as “crazier” this season. “He's even more desperate for Chris' approval, and that manifests itself in different ways.” Thayer says that Susie is “definitely crazier” this season, adding, “She's still the sanest, smartest person in the group.”
What works about Eagleheart is that they've managed to bring some of the elements of animation — cartoonish violence and a disregard for reality — into live-action. It's like The Itchy & Scratchy Show meets Looney Tunes, but with humans and denser storylines. “You have enough scenes for a half-hour show, but they're condensed so that they can fit into the quarter-hour,” says Weinberg. Still, it's rough for the team to squeeze everything they want into a single episode. “Cutting those last two or three minutes is kind of heartbreaking,” Weinberg adds.
But Eagleheart still manages to pack in a ton of humor and action in such a small amount of time, more so now than ever. The keyword for this season of the show is “more.” There's more Brett and Susie. More otherworldly adventures. More blood. Says Thayer, “I've been washing a lot more blood out of my hair.”
The second season of Eagleheart premieres on Adult Swim at midnight on April 12.