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Interview: Dan Aykroyd for "Christmas with the Kranks"

By Paul Fischer Wednesday November 24th 2004 10:23PM
Dan Aykroyd for "Christmas with the Kranks"

Dan Aykroyd is so busy with his Blues Brothers clubs, that he remains selective as to what movies he does. Fan will see him as Vic Frohmeyer, the king of the local neighbourhood who takes exception when neighbours Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis decide to cancel Xmas, in Christmas with the Kranks. Jovial and perpetually entertaining, the one-time Canadian ghost buster, talked politics, comedy, UFOs and singing the blues, to Paul Fischer, as first, the actor/comedian marches into a New York hotel rom, hailing "Greetings and death to our enemies."

Question: Our enemies? Aykroyd: Death to our enemies. Yeah. Question: We have common enemies? Aykroyd: Well, the common enemy in North America is the Western consumer. The consumer has driven oil up to $50 a barrel so we have to have these wars. I think it's incumbent upon us to. Question: I just wanted to make sure you referred to them as 'our' enemies, a Canadian boy like you. Aykroyd: Well, Canadians like their nice Western lifestyle, too. They like that nice oil below $100 a barrel and in fact, the frightening thing is that, next to Saudi Arabia, we have the largest reserve of oil in the world. I love my American wife and my American-born children, but the line will have to be drawn if the sites are set on Alberta. Where would you move to? Aykroyd: I would move to a Canadian Forces Air Base and work as a word processor. Question: You've given this a lot of thought. Aykroyd: In 1974 there was a contingency plan on the books of the Carter Administration for the National Guard units of New Hampshire, Vermont and New York to invade Quebec in case of the separation of the province, so that always got me thinking. Question: So you must have been thrilled about the recent election--- Aykroyd: Well, I'm a died-in-the-wool Canadian liberal so there's certain aspects of my character that would have like to have seen a Democratic victory in this nation here, but now that the President has bee re-elected I think its incumbent upon us to all stop moping and give him the 4 years to finish off this conflict and get things going and you know, let's see what happens. But we've got to support him as the Commander in Chief and we've got to support those young men and women who are out there protecting our big fat bloated lifestyle. Question: But as a Hollywood success story, you're part of that whole fat bloated lifestyle. Aykroyd: Yes, I know. I drive a V10 Ford Excursion and I have to tell folks all the time: look I've got five kids and a dog and birds. I would have to have two Lincolns with two V8s, you see, so it would be 16 cylinders. But I recycle at home. I started that with my dad in the neighbourhood, we started a recycling thing that turned into quite a big thing with all the people in our neighbourhood up in Canada doing bottles and cans and glasses. But let's take that $110 billion we're putting into conflict and put it into hydrogen cell research we could all be living in hydrogen and water. Question: So how do you justify big bloated Hollywood movies that cost $150 million? Aykroyd: I justify them in the labour that they produce. If you take a $100 million movie today, a conventional movie like "Alexander" or something like that, well, at least 60 percent of the budget is going towards electricians, extras, and people in the local community. The film business, and we know this from the success of it in Toronto and Vancouver, that the film business put lots of money into the community. It's a great way to spread it around, labour wise, and you take a star like Hanks or Cruise.listen, they put people in the seats. They deserve to be paid the dollars they're paid and to participate on that level. They don't have a retirement plan. When it's over, it's over. But this movie didn't cost too much. The Kranks. Question: You made the most money of anybody, right? Aykroyd: (Laughs) I was actually very well treated on this film. I have no complaints. They could have tried to get me for a bargain, but they didn't. I have to walk out the door and get paid and they were very generous. With marketing I'd guess the movie had to cost around $60 million. It's a lot, but not by what's going on today. So much of the cost is marketing and distribution. Question: Was your dad the Vic Frohmeyer of recycling in your neighbourhood? Aykroyd: He's more of a passive guy, my dad, but we have that type of local enforce where we live and you see that, you notice that a lot in Illinois, that sort of block ward boss, the guy who has a connection with the police and fire and sanitation who can get things done. You really see that in the Midwest a lot. The character I played, the Frosty Fascist you may call him. He's a cousin to those Midwestern characters that I've played before like the guy in "The Great Outdoors" although he was a full-on thief. Question: This wasn't a stretch for you? Aykroyd: Not really. You read the part and just do it. What I did do was design, with the costumer, a certain look to the character and I really worked n it. I love to do that. I love to come in and play with a wig or glasses or clothes. I love using props. I'm from the Peter Sellers school of trying to prepare for the character. Question: Does that include playing the accordion? Aykroyd: The accordion is a nod to John Candy. There's no doubt about that because he did the polka thing.. Question: The Shmenge brothers. Aykroyd: Or course, the Shmenge brothers. They were going to have me play the piano, but I thought the accordion was more interesting and, of course I wrote myself something so difficult to pull off. I don't play the accordion, but I worked with a wonderful guy called Doug Legacy. The other thing that the accordion brought to the piece was sort of the Cajun/Louisiana flavour in the music. And that was neat. We worked on those songs together. He took the reeds out of my accordion and then he played at the side of the camera so I could watch his fingering so I think we pulled it off. Question: Have you ever lived on a street anything like this one? Aykroyd: It's funny. My children have never lived on a street like this because they grew up on the farm in Canada where my parents grew up and my ancestors have lived since 1826. It's down a long road behind a gate and on a lake. In California when we lived up in the hills above Los Angeles it was canyon, you know you have a house up her and a house down there. They've never lived in that suburban experience where you can walk to school or their friends places. I certainly did. I grew up in Hull, Quebec. McKenzie King Gardens was a suburban area totally like that with everybody conforming on the Christmas lights. The thing that my character represents in the film is this Western compulsion to celebrate anniversaries, feast days and holidays. I mean, Luther Krank.who here hasn't wanted to slag Christmas at some time. I mean it comes along so early now. I've always felt early in the year that I wish I didn't have to go through it. It's only on Christmas Day with the fire's kit and the snow's coming down and the sound of a Snow Cat outside burping on the ski hill that you get the feeling of Christmas and get into it. Then my cardigan goes on, but until then I'm pretty Grinchy about it. Luther wants to slag Christmas, but you see Western society as represented by me, the Fascist Frosty, will not tolerate it. There's so much pressure to shop, to come out and do all those things that are traditional at that time of year when really all year we should be espousing the Judeo-Christian values of treat all those we meet like we would be treated, and to those who much has been given much will be required and we don't. We reserve it for certain times of the year like Christmas and Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day. The rest of the year we're fighting from our domestic situations right up through wars. We don't get along but two or three times a year. Question: Does Hollywood reinforce that? Because this year I've lost track of the number of Christmas films that have come out and they seem to be coming out earlier and earlier each year. Aykroyd: Well, yea. The "Surviving Christmas" movie with Ben Affleck came out in October. And we're not that film. Question: And it will be out in DVD by Christmas. Aykroyd: Yeah, we're different from that because I really do thing we have something on the page there. John Grisham wrote the novel and Chris Columbus worked on the script and Joe and Tom and I worked very hard to bring it around. So I think we have the goods. But that's simply marketing fear. Everybody is afraid that Polar Express and the Christmas fear, but I think there's room for this kind of film out there. Certainly it's always a pleasure to see Jamie Lee Curtis on screen doing anything. Question: So how was it to work with her again? Aykroyd: Well, it's really their movie - Tim and Jamie. I sort of supply a counter balance. It's not a three-handed piece. I was so happy to be involved and to work with Joe and Tim who I knew before from working at ABC. And Jamie, of course, we've done three movies together and just to share a set with her and even play the scenes we did is one of the great joys of working in this community that has been so good to me and has made my luck jus hit ringers every time. Question: How realistic a view of American suburbia is this film? Do these places really exist? Aykroyd: They certainly do. It's really not that far off the mark. If you get around Minneapolis and get around the Midwestern cities like Chicago and that there are neighbourhoods like this. Everybody knows each other. Everybody knows each other's business. Who's been living there for how long and what happened with whose kid. There's an interaction in the community that you don't see in the big cities or in the bigger urban concentrations. I live in a high rise with my family part of the year in New York and I don't know three quarters of the people in the building. We live in the same square-footage and I wouldn't know who they were. Question: When you talk about coming up with the look of the character I love the entrance you make with that big bald spot and the way you turn around. Aykroyd: Well, that's Joe. That's just good directing. As for the bald spot, I think I'm going to get a spider with a big red ass tattooed there. But the moment was all form Joe. He's a great director. He's like Spielberg. He's an artist/industrialist. He's running his company, but he also gets to play the artistic hand and direct. And he knows how to handle it. There's a reason everybody in town likes him. And he's enormously well respected by everybody who has worked with him. Because he knows how to handle actor and artists as well as the business side of it. Question: How picky are you? Good comedies are hard to come by and you've been doing this for so long now. Are you very selective? Aykroyd: Obviously I'm not too picky if I got into Caddyshack 2 and a few other clunkers out there. But you have to look at how these things come to you. An executive calls you up and says he has your script on the table and he'll produce it for you if you play this part n Caddyshack 2. So if you want to see your script made you have to make certain deals. You have to trade some good will and some talent for other things you may want to see get off the table in that relationship with that executive. But I will say that few of my decisions can be besmirched by how badly I made them. Without anything on the table, I've chosen to be in some movies that weren't that great, but lately I've been really fortunate to work with people like Stephen Fry - we did "Bright Young things" which was a really fine film and a good treatment of Evelyn Waugh. The Wharton piece I did, The House of Mirth. It's that sort of thing that attracts me now. This was such a sure fire - I knew how to do this character and I knew Tim and I could have a little chemistry so it there was no way I'd say no to this. Question: What are you doing after this? Aykroyd: I have a book out based on the radio show called "Elwood's Blues" that's based on all the radio interviews we did for House of Blues radio hour. I'm working on a new House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. We're working on our 8th showroom/concert restaurant. We're now the third biggest concert business in the world and we have a leading reputation among quality restaurants and dining like Houston's and Outback. We're one of the leading five start upper tier dining experiences.. Question: How do you have time to do movies? Aykroyd: Luckily this one was shot in LA which is where we have our corporate headquarters so I was able to be at the office, be at the club. Take all the board meetings and still do the shoot. Question: You also do a lot of television still. Aykroyd: Which shows? We did "Psi-factor" which was our syndicated paranormal show. Question: No, I mean the series you were starring in. Answer: Yes, well, that was just a year and it was the single biggest mistake of my career if not my entire life. Question: Why? Aykroyd: I realized in the first hour of the first rehearsal in Los Angeles even before we came to New York to shoot it for a year that I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. I realized it just wasn't what I wanted to do but the ratings kept going up and up and at the end of the year they were telling me I'd be doing it for the next seven years. I was so depressed. But on time they took us off the air to test other programming which they do for five weeks, and they never called me. I didn't get a call from them and that was my out. I got the agents working on it and by the end of the year I was out. It didn't turn into a court fight. Question: Any plans for more TV? Aykroyd: I plan to do some more anthology stuff, some more paranormal stuff. I'd like to do a ghost hunting thing. I'm the Hollywood consultant for mufon.com, which is the mutual UFO network and I have in the past two weeks have been sent just astounding home video of these objects that are just winking in and out or our atmosphere, coming and going like taxis. We are a data base if any filmmaker or artist wants to treat this kind of material we can open up our entire data base to them as a resource. You've been hearing of these sightings in Carmite Yukon with these ships 200 feet across. Two to three hundred people have seen them Mounties have seen them. There's huge, massive mother ships going up to the Yukon. They've been filmed and are on video. Fifty-four percent of the world believes that there's something inter-dimensional or extraterrestrial going on here. And the rest.so we need sceptics. I invite you to go on the website and look through the material.

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