14 Pretty Far Out Facts About Flight of the Conchords

HBO
HBO

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie make up the Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand's self-proclaimed "fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo," who starred in their own HBO series for two critically-acclaimed seasons. The beloved show was a one-of-a-kind comedy about two guys trying to make it as a musical group in New York City, even though they only seem to have one fan (albeit a very devoted one). On the tenth anniversary of its debut, we're taking a look behind the scenes of Flight of the Conchords.

1. IT WAS A RADIO SERIES BEFORE IT WAS A TV SERIES.

Rhys Darby played Brian Nesbitt, Jemaine and Bret's manager, in the BBC Radio 2 six-part series, like he would later do on HBO (but this time with the name Murray Hewitt). Rob Brydon was the narrator/presenter. Comedian Jimmy Carr played the band's stalker. Some plot points made it to the TV series.

2. NEW ZEALAND TELEVISION TURNED THEM DOWN.

In 2014, Clement recalled that television producers in his home country weren't interested in a TV series with him and McKenzie. “They’d say, ‘Middle New Zealand won’t get it.’ Idiots! I’d go, ‘What are you talking about? I’m from middle New Zealand, and you’re not.’ I always have a working-class chip on my shoulder about those people. Not being too clever is a concern in New Zealand TV. It does really annoy me.” Fortunately, an HBO talent scout discovered their live show in Montreal in 2004.

3. KRISTEN SCHAAL WAS CAST AS MEL BASED ON HER STANDUP.

HBO

HBO sent Clement and McKenzie a tape of Schaal's standup and they decided, after "about 30 seconds," that she would be perfect for the role of the band's obsessive fan, Mel. Schaal later said the guys pitched the concept of her character as accurately as possible—though "They never pitched that she was a stalker, but she's ... obviously a stalker."

4. DAVE WAS A CARICATURE OF ARJ BARKER'S ACTUAL PERSONALITY.

Comedian Arj Barker admitted to The Guardian that when he met Clement and McKenzie at an Auckland comedy festival in the early 2000s, it was during a period of his life when he was "partying a lot and drinking" and "chasing girls as much as I could." Clement and McKenzie's first impression of Barker led directly to the creation of Barker's character Dave, the aspiring ladies man.

5. THE FIRST SEASON BUDGET WAS MINUSCULE.

David Costabile (Doug) described the first season budget as "insane," "shoestring," and "so crappy." On his first day, they shot in an abandoned Lower East Side apartment with no running water or electricity. The breakfast catering was one box with 10 sandwiches. By season two, there was more food.

6. MEL'S PICTURE OF JEMAINE'S LIPS DIDN'T COME FROM THE WRITERS' IMAGINATION.

The 2006 documentary Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey documented Clement and McKenzie's time at the SXSW festival, pre-HBO fame. In the doc, a big fan of theirs revealed that she kept a picture of Jemaine's lips in her wallet (the other two pictures were normal ones of her kids). In the show's first episode, "Sally," Mel shows Bret the picture of Jemaine's lips she keeps in her wallet.

7. BOTH JEMAINE AND BRET WERE PHYSICALLY SICK OVER THE NEW YORK WEATHER AND THE SUDDEN WORKLOAD.

Clement got pneumonia during the first season, and due to the overwhelming workload they both lost a lot of weight. "We looked like skeletons," McKenzie said.

8. DAVID BOWIE DECLINED PLAYING HIMSELF, BECAUSE HE HAD JUST DONE SO ON RICKY GERVAIS' EXTRAS.

After considering Noel Fielding and John Cameron Mitchell, they opted to cast British comedian Dan Antopolski to play Bowie. Technical difficulties caused Antopolski's performance from London to be dropped entirely, so director Troy Miller suggested Clement himself to play the famous musician.

9. CLEMENT HAD TO BE CUT OUT OF ONE OF THE BOWIE COSTUMES.

"My silver jumpsuit was so tight—my legs swelling from the accumulated blood no longer allowed to circulate—I had to be cut out of it. I didn’t care. I was David Bowie and this was art," Clement recalled.

On the last day of shooting the Bowie scenes, Clement was given permission by the makeup and costume departments to walk the Lower East Side in his costume. He ran into Schaal, who not only did not recognize her co-star, she looked frightened.

10. THE SONGS CAME FIRST IN SEASON ONE. IN SEASON TWO, THEY WROTE THE SCRIPTS FIRST.

The show's first season consisted of tunes Clement and McKenzie had written and developed from stage shows, in some cases for almost a decade. In season two, they worked the opposite way. "Well, by the second series it got quite chaotic because when you’re recording TV shows during the week and then going in the studio on the weekend to write the songs for the next week so it was really high-speed songwriting," McKenzie elaborated. "The second season, we started writing songs more for videos so the songs had visual ideas within them that the punch line may not be so much in the lyric, but in the visual of the music video."

11. THE "TOO MANY D*CKS ON THE DANCE FLOOR" WERE CANADIAN.

HBO

The song from "Unnatural Love" came about after McKenzie, Clement, and two other New Zealand guys went to a nightclub. "These Canadian guys were like 'Hey, too many d*cks! Too many d*cks! Spread out the d*cks!.' So we just used that and put it into the script to sort of make fun of them," McKenzie admitted to The Sun.

12. MICHEL GONDRY DIRECTED "UNNATURAL LOVE."

Gondry and the Conchords met through a costume designer. Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was one of McKenzie and Clement's idols. Gondry was particularly interested in drumming; he kept asking McKenzie when he was going to come in the studio and drum on the songs.

13. FAMOUS MUSICIANS LOVED THE SHOW.

Daryl Hall claimed he knew the show was going to be "big" after seeing the pilot, and agreed to appear as the World Music Jam Host in "New Fans." Art Garfunkel played himself in "Prime Minister." "I love the deadpan, off-the-wall, let's-play-against-predictability style," Garfunkel told TV Guide after his episode aired. Mick Fleetwood didn't appear in an episode, but he did admit to hearing and appreciating the Rumours joke in "Sally."

14. MCKENZIE SAID THERE ARE PLANS FOR A MOVIE.

In 2012, McKenzie admitted that the movie was just in a "throwing ideas around" stage with Clement. They still needed a story at the time. In 2015, Clement confirmed this, before saying the movie is “definitely a couple of years away, at least."

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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