When “Saturday Night Live’s” Will Forte appeared in the first goofy “MacGruber” sketch, never in his most deranged dreams did he envision the clueless, mullet-headed, bomb-diffusing character at the center of a big-screen summer action movie.
And he certainly didn’t foresee a scene in said movie that would require him to be filmed naked on a bitterly frigid night in a cemetery.
“Yeah, so there I was standing there, with nothing but a little sock around my genitals,” recalls Forte, 39. “And I’m adjusting the sock when, suddenly, (‘SNL’ executive producer) Lorne Michaels appears out of nowhere and snaps a photo with his cell phone.
“I have no idea if he ever sent it to anyone, but if it winds up on the Internet, I’ll know where it came from.”
Forte can thank Jorma Taccone for that awkward moment.
Three years ago, Taccone, an “SNL” writer, pitched a sketch pegged to a spoof of “MacGyver,” the 1980s TV spy series about a resourceful secret agent (Richard Dean Anderson) who worked his way out of life-threatening jams using ordinary items such as a paper clip or a book of matches.
“He told me, ‘That’s a really dumb idea,’ which didn’t surprise me at all because it is,” Taccone recalls. “But I pestered him about it for over a month and finally wore him down.”
Forte was just as skeptical last spring when Michaels suggested he huddle with Taccone and fellow “SNL” scribe John Solomon to write a script that would expand the two-minute sketches into a full-blown movie.
Yes, the “MacGruber” character had gained widespread popularity via some Pepsi commercials that aired during the 2009 Super Bowl, but still …
“We thought it was crazy,” Forte says. “But we also thought it would be stupid not to at least toss around some ideas. We went off to brainstorm and started getting really excited with what we came up with.”
Rather than approach the film as an extension of the sketch, the trio whipped up a tongue-in-cheek R-rated homage to classic 1980s action flicks such as “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard,” crammed with what Taccone (who makes his directorial debut) describes as “nudity, sex, violence and gratuitous cursing.”
Shot on a tight 28-day schedule in New Mexico, “MacGruber,” which opens in theaters today (but was not screened in advance for reviews), has our bumbling hero coming out of retirement to track down a nuclear warhead stolen by a madman played by Val Kilmer.
Also in the cast are “SNL” co-star Kristen Wiig, who plays MacGruber’s sidekick and love interest, and Ryan Phillippe and Powers Boothe as his military cohorts.
“MacGruber” is just one of several projects being juggled these days by workaholic Forte. In addition to his “SNL” gig, he provides the voice of Principal Wally on Seth MacFarlane’s animated series “The Cleveland Show” and has completed work on another comedic film, “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy.”
Also, his voice work can be heard in the video game “Grand Theft Auto IV.”
Over the years, Forte has proved that he’s willing to do almost anything to sell a joke. In a recent episode of “30 Rock,” for example, he played a Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) impersonator, complete with high heels and short skirt (and, fortunately, had the legs to pull it off).
“His commitment is so intense,” Taccone says. “If he believes in a joke, he will die for that joke.”
Then again, doing a nude scene in a big-screen movie takes things to a whole new level – a level that, Forte admits, can bring with it certain repercussions.
“I’m a little concerned about my mom taking her friends to see the movie,” he says. “I dread doing something to destroy the family name.”