Fantastic Fest 2014 Interview: Bennett Jones on ‘I Am a Knife With Legs’
I Am a Knife With Legs has been my obsession at Fantastic Fest. I went to see it a second time to catch more of the absurdity layered throughout Bennett Jones’s debut film. Jones plays Bene, a European pop star with a fatwa issued against him. Shot mostly in Jones’s apartment and a little bit around Los Angeles, I Am a Knife With Legs is a series of absurd interludes in a day in the life of Bene. I asked about a few specific ones but it will just sound random until you see the film. Jones met with me the day after his second screening where I asked two viewings’ worth of questions. He was impressed that I’d met Harrison Ford before but I was far more obsessed with my new discovery of Bene.
CraveOnline: How did you come up with the character of Bene in the first place?
Bennett Jones: He came in stages I guess. I’ve always liked French film. A long time ago, I was working in North Carolina at Dino De Laurentiis’ film studio. One of the drivers, really nice guy, he thought I was hilarious. At the time, I was not an actor but he said, “You should be an actor. You should be a French film actor. You should be a film actor named Bene Jonois” because my name is Bennett Jones.
Oh, I got it.
Yeah? [Winks at me.] The driver saw something in me.
And you hadn’t done the voice yet?
I hadn’t done the voice. I had never done any acting at all. He just for some reason thought that I should be an actor and he gave me that name. Years later, after I did study acting, I was in California and a friend was doing a big party downtown and needed an act. He asked me, “Can you put together some sort of comedy act for this show?” I was hanging out with a few friends who were musicians, so I said, “I think I’ll do a French pop band and I’ll be Bene.” My girlfriend at the time, I said, “You could be Baguette.” So we did a few shows, wrote a few songs, very silly. I broke up with my girlfriend, and over the years I occasionally would just bring this character back and I gradually developed him. I decided he’s just European instead of French, dropped the Jonois, just went by Bene and made the whole outfit, ab hole T-shirts and got better at guitar.
You taught yourself guitar as you were doing the character?
Yeah, I could play a little at the beginning but I got much better. So that’s how the character was born, just organically and over time. Honestly, I got a little sick of him here and there, but people would say, “Do that character you do, man. Do that character at this party.” All right, all right, all right. And finally I decided I’ve got all these songs and I’ve got all this material, why not put it into a project, a big one? I had some residuals coming in from commercials at the time and just decided to make a movie.
I was tempted to count all 250 jokes you said are in the movie. When I Am a Knife With Legs comes out on DVD should I do that?
Just out of curiosity, I was at a festival and this woman talked about some great director, great comedy guy and his movie had a joke a minute. I thought, joke a minute? I can beat that. I can destroy that. There are way more jokes than a joke a minute, or laughs. One joke might have three laughs. So I decided to, in my head, count the laughs and it’s about 250. It’s subjective.
They said “laugh a minute” about the Zucker Brothers movies too, but those are 80 minutes long. There are more than 80 jokes in Airplane! and The Naked Gun.
Oh, there’s way more, way more.
Did you register Fatwalist.com?
I did not, no.
Do you ever break when you’re doing Bene?
Sometimes. There’s breaking and then there’s smiling, because Bene doesn’t even smile. On stage a little bit, but in the movie he literally doesn’t smile. He almost smiles maybe once or twice, so breaking for him is just getting rid of the blank face. Yeah, I think Todd made me laugh, Will Crest is his stage name. He definitely made me laugh and Ashley [Koiso] cracked me up many times, the little girl.
Once you start thinking of absurd ideas, does the absurdity just flow?
Yeah, that comes out of improv training. I studied improvisation at Bang Comedy Theater which is no longer in L.A. It was founded by a couple of Second City people in the late ‘90s. I also studied at Improv Olympic West in Hollywood but improv training is terrific for comedy writing because it opens up your mind to the possibilities. So any content whatsoever, you can find something funny just by simply exploring it and heightening it. So it’s not hard for me. It may be random and may not ultimately fit in, but it’s pretty easy for me to write comedy. Whether everyone finds it funny, that’s another matter.
How many takes of the “No, no, no, no” scene did you do to get the one take you repeat over and over?
Well, that’s an editing joke. I had no intention when I shot it. I did not know I would be extending it like that. The original joke was he’s going through these headhsots and he’s discarding them, and then we cut to Beefy and we see the headshots zinging by his face. That was it. When I was cutting it, it was funny but it just occurred to me Beefy’s sitting there with his DJ gear and the rhythm of that one section, I just repeated it and it just lead to that.
How many times did you throw a knife at the Silver Lake Bl. sign?
I think I got lucky. I’m a pretty good knife thrower and I think I got lucky with that one. I hit it point first in one take. No, I definitely went over the sign at least once.
Were the animated sections always planned or did those develop to cover up things that were too expensive to shoot?
Both actually. When I was writing the script and I came up with some ideas that were really fun, I thought, “Wait a minute, that would require we rent a car. That would require we go to this location.” I thought, I’m just going to do some drawings. So I decided that at the script phase.
Do you know who that “some dude” walking down the street was?
No, no idea who that guy is. Just a guy who walked by the camera, and the woman. You don’t see their faces so I think I’m okay.
Did you plant the woman in the black and white striped shirt when you’re running through the market?
There was just someone wearing the same shirt there?
Yeah, and then I didn’t see that until post-production.
Were you living with anyone while you were filming in the apartment, and what did they think of you filming there?
It’s my own place. It’s a one bedroom so I had the room. I basically had an active set sitting there so you couldn’t really move the furniture around too much. And I had all this gear in one corner, so it was fine.
I was wondering, if you had a girlfriend and she’d say, “Stop this, honey.”
I hear about guys get obsessed with a project and it ends their marriage or ends their relationship. That does happen, but in my case it wasn’t a problem.
How did you come up with the Steve character you play?
The Steve character is sort of based on me, a guy trying to be an actor. But he’s also based on there’s a lot of slightly delusional people in the acting business who they keep at it but they’re just not all there. So the way he talks about the commercial he’s going to audition for, you can feel his assumption that he’s gonna get the part even though he’s just not quite right in the head. It’s a little ode to all of the struggling actors out there because it’s very hard.
Is the trick to doing a Harrison Ford impression learning how to say, “My wifffe?”
That’s part of it. The main thing for a Harrison Ford impression, when he walks into a room, he acts as if he’s never seen a room in his life. He just has this look of bewilderment and yet strength. Then you lift the right part of your upper lip and your eyes get all wide from looking around. There’s many nuances to the face. It’s funny that there aren’t that many Harrison Ford impressions out there. You also have to have a deep force. His voice is actually about here, and that’s his actual speaking voice. It’s very, very deep.
I know, I’ve tried to record him speaking.
Oh really? You actually met him? Holy cow.
Oh yeah, at press junkets in L.A.
And he’s down here. It’s very low. Most guys can’t hit that. I can only hit it because I was out late.
Projected on screen, this video footage looks very low-res. What will it look like on DVD?
It was standard def, although all the drawings are true high-def. The source for that were all 1080p. It’ll look good. Definitely the look of the film acknowledges the low budget nature of it and I think it all works together. When you saw the DCP, I wasn’t really happy with the color. I’m new to all this, but the Blu-ray that I showed in Germany was much more saturated. I think when they set up the DCP, you just have to know these things. The way they calibrate color is a little different, so it’s possible I may do that because the saturated color is kind of important. It looked great, but it could be a little more saturated.
Are there any deleted scenes?
There are many, yes. Once we wake up in the bathroom and discover this little girl, there’s a huge sequence of scenes where we’re just sort of sitting there not knowing what to do. I mean, a lot of scenes. They’re funny, I think, and they explain some things. So they’re sitting there and Beefy notices this cassette tape sitting on the sink and he’s like, “Echo and the Bunnymen? Why do you have an Echo and the Bunnymen cassette tape in here?” And Bene says, “I like to read things while I’m taking a crap. That cassette tape, or a shampoo bottle.” Beefy says, “Well, I like to do things while I’m taking a crap, like floss.” And he’s trying to think of another thing and we cut to me watching, and suddenly these female hands come into the screen. It’s the makeup girl, actual footage of her, and she starts touching up Bene’s face. Then you hear the DP talking and I just stuck this scene together of Beefy trying to think of another thing he does while taking a crap and me getting my makeup touched up filling that time. Then I come back and say, “What else, man?” And he’s like, “That’s it, just floss.” That sets up when I’m in the shower reading the shampoo bottle because I didn’t want to talk. It connects to that.
There could be a ridiculously extended director’s cut.
Honestly, I think they work but it goes into you’ve got to be with it or not in it. The momentum is gone and right now I think the momentum is really good once the chase and the dream sequence and the little girl. It just drives right to the end.
How did you think of the ab hole shirt in the first place?
I don’t know, man. I can’t remember. I honestly don’t remember. It may have been Bene has a bunch of products he sells. One is called Sippe. “Let’s say, man, you want to take some medication or you just want a sip of water. It’s a half ounce bottle of water. If someone says, ‘Hey man, can I have a sip of your water?’ but you don’t want germs, you just open my product. It’s a tiny little bottle of water. It’s one sip of water.” In the ad he’s got a pile of them. It’s just extremely wasteful. So there’s that, there’s the cafe table hat. It’s basically a hat that’s a cafe table. So if you’re at the Grand Canyon and you want to sit down in a cafe, you just take this hat off. It’s an entire table on your head. It’s just absurd. So he’s got these products and then the ab hole, somehow I was listing ideas and the ab hole T-shirt became one.
What are your plans, either for Bene or other projects?
I’m working on a sequel to this. I do have another film about immortality, a dark comedy that I’m also working on.
Is that more of a linear film?
Much more linear. It would be more for trying to find a name actor, more traditional. In addition to a few other projects I’m batting around but the sequel idea would be fun because I just love the cast. I’d love to get them all together again, a little money and see where we take it.
Comedy sequels are tough. When you’re on this level of absurdity, how tough do you think a sequel would be?
I don’t think it’ll be hard to come up with a sequel. I think it’ll be hard to get anyone to fund it because I would love to get back into writing, to work on another project but I don’t think I want to go through this process the same way again.
No, you do this once and that’s your calling card. You don’t do this every time.
Yeah, it would be great to start out with backing, start out with paychecks and see how that goes.
Are you still on auditions?
Yeah, I get out there for commercials here and there. The festival run has gotten in the way of that and all the preparation. Once I got into Fantasia, I blew the movie up to HD and that took a lot of work. I had to basically reassemble the whole film, so a lot of work.