Stars Tobey Maguire, Haley Joel Osment and Kristen Wiig took the stage at the TCA press tour this morning alongside creators Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele to talk about "The Spoils of Babylon," the IFC miniseries premiering tonight, January 9th, at 10pm (see our review here). The miniseries, which is produced by Funny or Die, is a deadpan send-up of '70s and '80s event television like "The Thorn Birds," though as director and co-writer Piedmont pointed out, it also includes "some other cinematic influences" like "melodramas and Douglas Sirk films."
Piedmont prefers to look at "The Spoils of Babylon" as satire rather than a spoof, and Steele pointed out "We take something like this and Matt's always said it's like a Trojan horse -- he fills it up with all the cinematic things we wanted to do." For the introductions to each episode which feature executive producer Will Ferrell as Eric Jonrosh, the fictional novelist on whose work the series is meant to be based, Piedmont notes that it was meant to be "kind of like Orson Welles presenting 'Magnificent Ambersons' after it's been cut -- now he needs the money, but he still likes to hear himself talk." They also admitted that Welles' Paul Masson commercials influenced those intros, with Steele saying "we've loved those for ever," and Piedmont adding "those commercials are pure joy -- he takes himself very seriously but he's phoning it in."
The secret to doing a parody like "The Spoils of Babylon" seems to be to have everyone play things as straight as possible, and Steele said of the line between funny and over-the-top is a line they love. "We're not sure we did find the line. We've been in comedy for 20 years -- I see both Matt and I pulling back from more obvious jokes" in favor of more cinematic ones.
As for how to perform in something like "The Spoils of Babylon," Osment finds it a good exercise when film acting can tend to make one underplay things: "I've noticed tendencies that I have where you play it safe." He found the series "a great exercise in taking the lid off." Maguire was lured in by Wiig's participation, and confessed to having watched "Saturday Night Live" regularly "hoping she would know about me somehow." Wiig noted that the series was "a broader thing" that SNL, though in both cases, "there were a lot of wigs." "You take a great cast with some amazing actors and you give them some crap," Steele jokes about the many stars who show up over the series' six-episode run.
Maguire added that sometimes he would say to Piedmont during filming "I have no idea what we're doing in this scene -- and then we'd keep going."