In my mind there was only one person that could pull off the most diabolical, smart mouthed, hot headed car salesman this side of the Mississippi River—Mak Hoffstadt. That person was Fred Willard. Of the 200+ films, tv shows and commercials he’s been in, no matter what he does you can’t help but like him. As Bruce Hampton says, “a pro and a great guy. He knows too much, way too much.” The first time I spoke with Fred on the phone, I dialed his number, hung up, used the restroom, dialed, hung up, restroom, repeat. After the 4th or 5th attempt, I got the balls to stay on the phone and let it ring. I could feel myself shaking. DON’T MESS THIS UP TYLER! I heard a voice through the phone, man his voice is so recognizable. I didn’t have much to say at first, I give him the notes for his character and in my mind he was probably thinking, “come on director-guy, don’t you know who I am… I’m Kill em Dead Fred… dude… come on!”
I met Fred when we were shooting the music scenes at the track for the film. He stayed for a while, watched everyone work, and listened to the music by Dicky and the Dinosaurs. It seemed like he was having a great time. The crew one by one came up to me saying “introduce me to him.” Okay… yeah… well if I could introduce myself first, then I totally would… let me find my balls again – be back in 15 minutes! I eventually did it and proceeded to nerd out like I do with most people I’m a huge fan of.
I later introduced Stacey (makeup) to Fred.
Fred this is Stacey, she’s our makeup artist on the film.” “Nice to meet you.”
They shook hands… 15 seconds of silence. Stacey found her balls and then asked:
Do you have any special makeup you’d like to use?” “Nope.” “…Cool.”
…15 more seconds of silence.
Well, that was easy!”
We burst into laughter. Fred was extremely kind and generous to everyone on the crew. When the camera was rolling, Fred was always on. He wanted to give the best performance he possibly could, he knew if he could do better he had no problem letting me know he needed another take… personally, I thought every take he did was fantastic, and then he would deliver a take that was even better. Fred, whatever you want you got it, man. I’m on your team.
One of my favorite scenes with Fred, and from the entire film, took place at Mak & Vicky’s house. Fred’s character, Mak Hoffstadt, is married to Vicky, who’s played by the amazing Joey Lauren Adams. Joey and Fred were a phenomenal duo. They hit it off so well and brought so much to the table. If they made a movie together, no matter what it was, if they were rolling around in the grass speaking gibberish for two hours, I’d watch it… but that’s just me.
The hardest part about filming with Fred is that you have to learn how to hold your laughter in during takes. I think we blew a couple of takes from the cast & crew laughing, which to me isn’t a bad thing. That’s just a testament to Fred’s craft. He’s been doing it for a very long time and still doesn’t miss a beat.
The day we filmed at Mak’s Used Car Ranch was a banner day on set and a staple of the film. I had Mark Terry, who was going to teach Fred how to ride the segway, telling me we can do it and it’s not that hard. Then I had other members telling me… “Hey man, you’re not really going to let him get on that segway right? He’s going to fall and break his neck….” GUYS GIVE FRED SOME PROPS! HE CAN DO THIS!… well… let me just ask him what he wants to do…
So how do you feel about riding the segway?”
I feel good about it. Can I test ride it for a bit before we shoot?” “Of course.”
In my mind, I was saying… THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME.
Fred test rode around a segway on set for about 30 minutes… and it WAS awesome. Then we put the horse-head on the segway, Fred got into costume, and he instantly became Mak Hoffstadt.
Working with Fred was definitely on my bucket list. He was an incredible person and a fantastic actor. I enjoyed every second with him on and off set. Hearing stories from the Christopher Guest films, his love for the Dodgers, and watching him work was so much fun. We couldn’t have asked for a better antagonist for “Here Comes Rusty.”