Internationally acclaimed director Stanley Tong helmed action superstar
Jackie Chan's megahits "Rumble in the Bronx," "Supercop"
and "First Strike." In each of these blockbusters, audiences
and critics were dazzled by Tong's singularly original, highly imaginative
and breathtaking staging of fights-turning everything from shopping carts
to refrigerators into fight props.
The now-legendary "Tong technique" is full of furiously funny action and his exciting, enormously entertaining "Mr. Magoo" is Stanley Tong's greatest film achievement to date-it is Tong at his best, with our Magoo tripping in and out of trouble without a clue as to the bedlam he has left behind in his path. He blithely moves on to his next misadventure.
Despite his huge successes with the Jackie Chan pictures, Tong has, in fact, long wanted to turn from action pictures to films with action-but with more humor. And films suited for more general audiences. This "Mr. Magoo" is the perfect Tong vehicle-full of action, fun, death-defying and playful stunts and special effects, where audiences go along for the ride and have a great time at every moment. He had a definite vision for this rollicking rendering of "Mr. Magoo" with a definite '90s flair.
"Directing 'Mr. Magoo,'" says Tong, "was a welcome change. All these years I've been doing mostly action with a little bit of comedy, but this is all about fun, without violence. It's all about humor, so families can enjoy it."
Tong relished the chance to bring Magoo to life. As he says, "I loved to watch the Magoo cartoons when I was a kid. He always mistook things for something else, but in another way, he had a definite vision about what the world should be-full of good. And because Magoo is such a nice guy, he never wants to harm anybody-and the fun comes from the fact he never wants to put anybody in danger; yet he always does. My great challenge was to make the live-action Mr. Magoo realistic and human, but still retain the fun of the cartoons. I think we accomplished this-and made it a lot of fun."
Producer Ben Myron believes that Stanley Tong's unique abilities have made "Mr. Magoo" much more exciting and dynamic than it would have been in the hands of any other director. "We were very fortunate to have Stanley on this film because he's a comedic action director whose sensibilities perfectly matched the material," Myron says. "I think of Stanley as a contemporary Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, in terms of his varied artistic abilities. Stanley's contributions made all the difference in the world."
Director Tong was extremely pleased to have the opportunity to work with Leslie Nielsen, one the world's most popular comedy stars. As Tong observes: "One of the greatest assets to this film is Leslie, not only because he's so well-respected in the industry, but he's someone whose comedic instincts and sensibilities completely meshed with my own. It was only with the help and collaboration of this truly gifted and versatile actor that this picture was made possible. Because of Leslie's performance, audiences are in for a terrific movie-going experience."
Star Leslie Nielsen knew immediately that Stanley Tong was perfect to
bring Mr. Magoo to life. As Leslie explains, "I very much liked his
'Rumble in the Bronx,' and I really appreciated his very subtle comedy touches
as much as the full-blown action sequences. He always displayed a definite
logic throughout the film, even as far-out and wacky as the stunt work was.
He always went to the limit and always maintained credibility in the story,
bringing logic to the fantasy he was telling. Stanley is the consummate
stunt director, film director, action director. And he has a lovely, gentle
human touch. I have enormous respect for him."
The internationally beloved star completely met the challenge of bringing the lovable character to full-bodied life for the very first time. As he explains, "As a little old, bald-headed man who has trouble focusing, that's good for a cartoon for five minutes. But I had to flesh out the character and make him a real human being. I was very concerned to make him believable to audiences and still make him as likable as I could, because you want audiences to be caught up in his goodness-and his good fortune and misadventures. Then audiences will root for him, because Mr. Magoo is a good man who sees the best in people-even when he can't see clearly!"
Nielsen had definite ideas about Mr. Magoo-which also hint at the cartoon icon's enduring appeal to audiences worldwide: "Mr. Magoo is a very happy man. He prefers to go through life being generous and jovial, not serious and unhappy. That was a key in developing the Mr. Magoo character for me. Another key was that he always knew that life is worth living and the old values are worth keeping. And always to be gentle and respectful and thoughtful towards other people."
Leslie Nielsen also easily enjoyed the great humor in the character. "He's a man who doesn't see well-but absolutely refuses to acknowledge the fact that he doesn't see well. And aren't we all a little like that in terms of being vain and stubborn?"
As co-star Nick Chinlund observes, "Leslie really is Mr. Magoo, but he's not doing an imitation of the cartoon. It's Leslie's interpretation, but he's very, very faithful to the original. He makes it so much better and funnier than the actual cartoon. He's wonderful. Everybody who loved the 'Mr. Magoo' cartoons will love the new 'Mr. Magoo'."
Adds producer Ben Myron, "It was a genuine thrill to see Leslie Nielsen transform himself into Mr. Magoo. He's got such a great sense of comedic timing. He really knows Magoo, as he, of course, has known the character for years. He just stepped into it completely, made it his own and transformed himself magically into the character."
Much of the comedy in the picture is physical-however outrageous-but
it had to look real when the stunts and action need to suggest danger but
somehow, magnificent Mr. Magoo must remain completely unscathed.
As director Tong points out, "The audience is not coming to the movie to see a stunt double. They want to see the actor doing the stunts realistically and that's what Leslie Nielsen and Kelly Lynch did. It's good when you work with actors willing to take the challenge, willing to do things on their own. Leslie was willing to try everything and Kelly was very excited about doing her stunts."
Leslie Nielsen jokes that at his age (71) he needs a stunt double when he "drinks a cup of coffee," nevertheless he, in fact, did many of his own stunts-and did so brilliantly and more adeptly than actors half his age. From skiing on an upside-down ironing board being towed behind a snowmobile, to walking off the back of a moving five-ton truck onto a forklift lowering its pallet, Nielsen retained his reputation as a master of physical comedy and acts of derring-do.
As famed stunt coordinator Marc Akerstream recalls, "I kept asking Leslie to join my stunt team. It's impossible to find someone his age with the physical capability and great sense of timing that Leslie has. He constantly impressed me."
Director Tong was equally impressed with the truly amazing stunt work Kelly Lynch happily took on in her role as Luanne, master of disguises and physical prowess. Although Lynch was a highly trained former professional dancer, she nevertheless had to work intensively two to three hours a day with martial arts trainers to learn her moves. Even her dance training didn't completely prepare her for the rigors required of her vast amount of dizzying stunt work which she took on for the film.
As Tong says with great admiration, "Kelly was actually very excited about being able to do the stunts. She kept telling me, 'Stanley, please put me to my limit.' What she did is amazing-she hangs down 60 feet wearing five-inch high-heels, she fights, she drives her own snowmobile, she jumps very, very fast over the ski slopes.
"She picked up everything so fast," marvels the director. "Sometimes we did sixteen and seventeen takes of a stunt. She would tell me the next day that she couldn't even walk, but when she watched her footage in the dailies, she told me how much she enjoyed doing them-and that only encouraged me to design more stunts for her!"
Lynch threw herself into action-literally. "This is the most physical part I have ever done," she says. "It involved lowering myself six stories down on a rope, swinging into space upside down, martial arts spins, amazing kicks-every scene involves some kind of death-defying feat." Lynch's stunts included parachuting from a helicopter, an escape from an overturned rubber raft on a raging river and a snowmobile high jinx.
As a master of disguise and a flashy, over-the-top, ego dresser who likes to stand out in a crowd, her character appears in the film as several different people including a Catwoman-style burglar with twelve-inch heels, a beautiful socialite, a sagging old woman, and in one memorable scene, a balding middle-aged man.
"I'm afraid the audience isn't going to believe it," laments Lynch with an obvious smile, "but it's absolutely me! No one on the crew recognized me that day. I was giving the girls a hard time, smoking cigars. Men have it so easy. It was really fun."
As producer Ben Myron observes with a laugh, "If Kelly was a little apprehensive about diving into doing all these incredible stunts, we didn't notice it. I think she's got a whole new career as an action heroine as a result of this movie."
Kelly warmly remembers "loving" the Mr. Magoo cartoons as a
child. "Mr. Magoo is such a sweet, ingenuous character. We always
want him to make it. We know that he will, but he's always seconds away
from having that two-by-four hit him in the head, or falling down the hole
or something bad about to happen. But there's always that guardian angel
on his shoulder that keeps him safe, and keeps him winning. We're always
rooting for Magoo.
"My character, the international jewel thief, gets the best of everybody, but somehow Magoo is the only foil that I really have," says Kelly with a laugh, "and he has no idea that I'm the bad guy, but if anyone stops me time and time again from getting the jewel, it's always Magoo. And in spite of all of this she likes him, too, which really confuses her!"
Kelly amusingly recounts an incident in the film with a most-confused Magoo: "In a museum, he ends up inside a mummy sarcophagus and thinks it's a pay phone. He starts talking to the mummy, trying to call for help, saying, 'This poor guy's all wrapped up in bandages-he's been injured!' He tries to find help, because he feels the bandages and is worried that this guy's in a really bad way."
Kelly counts working with Leslie Nielsen as a career high spot. Says she with a chuckle, "I've done movies with Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, Matt Dillon, Denzel Washington and Patrick Swayze. But when I told my friends I was doing 'Mr. Magoo' with Leslie Nielsen, for the first time they said, 'Oh, I want to come visit you on the set!' Because everybody loves him and he's great in every movie he's in. He makes you laugh and being on the set with him is exactly the same way. He's really, really funny.
"And he always gave me great ideas. When I was in a tight spot, I could always ask him for advice about how to play a scene or do a bit. He'd help me as much as Stanley Tong, so it was extraordinary to have two comedic geniuses to work with on this film."
Kelly adds, "Leslie is the perfect Mr. Magoo. He's got the laugh, the look, and you just fall in love with him when you see him as Magoo. He's so wonderful."
Adds actor Ernie Hudson about co-star Kelly Lynch, "She was so down to earth. She's such a fine actress. Plus, she's a very nice person and incredible to work with. We had a lot of physical stunts to do, very silly stunts, and she was there 100%. And she did most of her stunts herself."
Actor Nick Chinlund's character Bob Morgan faced similar stunt-work challenges, like Kelly taking on dizzying acts of physical dexterity and stunt work for realism in this modern-day "Mr. Magoo."
As Nick laughs, "It's been incredibly challenging. They had me climbing through doggy doors, sliding down the back of a dinosaur-I even fall off a cliff, fully frozen on snowblades. I'm the Wile E. Coyote of this movie. I get knocked about and hammered at every turn, so it's pretty exciting and it's really fun to let myself go and do this kind of comedy which has no limits. And Stanley is great with actors. You trust him because no one does this kind of movie, this kind of comedy better than him. He's a genius."
And, he says of a typical day's work on "Mr. Magoo": "Stanley Tong always gently urges you to go a little farther comedically than you've gone before. For instance, in one day, I was hanging off the end of a ferry about forty feet over the frigid Canadian waters-before being stuffed in a fireplace. Then I slide off the spine of a brontosaurus!"
For his part, star Leslie Nielsen offers, "Mr. Magoo is constantly escaping death without a scratch. We go through one escapade after the next, and only Stanley Tong could do it with such brilliance. He's superb with all of these action and stunt sequences, putting Magoo into the action. Just one example is that he has me skiing down a mountain on an inverted ironing board. Only Stanley could come up with that. But the whole film has a wonderful imaginative stroke, with very unusual and funny action sequences.
"So many things in the picture go into the edge of fantasy, yet Stanley blends it all with reality, so that you always believe in what's happening to Magoo. And you always know that you're seeing a comedy and you're there to have a really good time. Making the film has been a lot of hard work, but very satisfying."
"Stanley Tong is a great director," says Ernie Hudson. "He really made the movie a fun experience. And Leslie always made sure we had a great time. He handles being a star very well. I actually came to work early and when I wasn't on call, so I could watch Leslie, Kelly Lynch and Malcolm McDowell do their scenes. It was that good."
Although Hudson hadn't met Tong before "Mr. Magoo," the director had long admired the gifted actor's versatility and range and sought him for the role of the CIA agent.
Ernie Hudson immediately saw the great comic potential in his role as a "well-dressed, very polished CIA agent who sees finding Mr. Magoo, the priceless ruby and the bad guys as a real career advancement opportunity."
As Hudson says with a smile, "Mr. Magoo gives a benefit where a famous jewel is on display. Suddenly Magoo turns up missing and we assume he has stolen the jewel. My job is to find the jewel before anyone else knows it's missing. And it all unfolds in a very funny way that even the experienced CIA agent can't begin to imagine what will happen next."
As director Stanley Tong says with a smile, "Ernie Hudson and Stephen Tobolowsky were incredibly funny. One plays the CIA agent and the other plays the FBI guy and each thinks he is the best-and they always go at it. And these two characters are hilarious. I had so much fun working with Ernie and Steve. I was always laughing when I was directing their scenes."
"Mr. Magoo" star Leslie Nielsen also broke up the director
constantly during filming. As director Tong recalls of one scene, "Mr.
Magoo turns on the TV and happens to find a cooking show, just as he was
beginning to cook a chicken. And he begins to follow along and prepare
it as they tell him to do on the cooking show. But his dog, Angus, jumps
up and steps on the remote control and changes the channel to an aerobics
channel. So the near-sighted Magoo starts throwing the chicken around and
the chicken is doing aerobics but Magoo thinks it's part of the recipe.
"Even the script supervisor couldn't get through the scene," says Tong, "because she was crying tears of laughter over what Leslie was doing, it was so hysterically funny, seeing that chicken do aerobics. We had to find another script supervisor to get through the scene, because ours was laughing so hard. But Leslie was so funny, we were all crying with laughter!"
Magoo's trusty companion Angus is an English Bulldog trained by Roger
Schumacher and Ray Beal of Birds & Animals. Actually Angus was played
by four English Bulldogs-three girls and one boy-primarily Lili, then Cissy,
Lazania and Billy, ranging in age from a year and two months to two and
a half years old.
"All the dogs were dyed with hair coloring to match each other," explains trainer Ray Beal. "One coat usually takes about forty-five minutes to an hour to apply and we had to do it every six weeks or so. They were really good about it."
Adorable Angus is Mr. Magoo's four-legged "valet" as well as his devoted dog. He even has his own wardrobe, which includes a tuxedo, safari suit, lounging bathrobe, boating life jacket and Hawaiian shirt. Some of his clothes come right off the rack from the kid's department, a few are from pet stores and all were custom fitted to the shape of the bulldog. And just like every big Hollywood star, Angus had his own wardrobe person, an agent and manager, of course.
Director Tong holds the key to Angus' rather unique role in Magoo's life. "I never treated the character like a dog," he explains. "He was Magoo's best friend and always watched out for him. He knew exactly what Magoo was going to do, what he's going to trip into-and Angus steers Magoo around danger at every turn. He's Magoo's guardian angel. It's a very special relationship."
The collection of English Bulldogs all playing Angus were a formidable but fun challenge to train for Angus' very human-like tasks, including getting Magoo out of one jam after the next. "They're a little stubborn at first" says Beal, "but most dogs are in the beginning. They are not working dogs like the shepherd or border collie, but once the bulldogs got used to the set and what you wanted them to do they really enjoyed it. They're great pets."
Principal photography began on location in Vancouver, B.C. where the
company filmed a ski sequence at Grouse Mountain. The Vancouver Public
Library was transformed into a "Natural History Museum," complete
with a 35-foot high dinosaur and a flying pterodactyl. The script originally
called for a skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but production designer John
Willett felt "a skeleton was not a very interesting piece of art in
this context, this is a comedy. I wanted to inject some great chunks of
color and when you have something that's 70 feet long and weighs 28 tons,
that's a good way to introduce color and make it visually interesting.
It is very Magoo cartoon-like, I think."
The creature in the museum is pure fantasy. "The Brontosaurus wasn't really a brontosaurus, but a creature we made up," explains Willett. "We called it the 'Stanlorapolous' our homage to director Stanley Tong. To make it, we combined bits of several different dinosaurs and color from an acid nightmare to create it."
The dinosaur had to be a functional piece as well because it would be used for a stunt. Willett continues, "The engineering was really interesting-we had one company just building the steel substructure which is made of 1/2 inch plate square tube and is immense. That's where about 20 tons of the weight comes in. Then it was covered with skeleton tubes to give it its shape and that was wire meshed and then that was covered with foam."
The dinosaur was divided into eight different sections, the head, the forelegs, the tail and the torso, which could then be put together like a puzzle and shipped and moved.
Star Leslie Nielsen offers very high praise for Willett's unique and brilliantly colorful set designs, saying, "Willett has done a fantastic job because there are so many things that just go over the edge into fantasy, yet it's blended with reality so that you still believe it and know that you're here to see a comedy and have a good time."
Willett saw vegetables as "the most important thing" in mogul Magoo's life, and thus the basis of his success and philanthropy. "He is the Canned Vegetable King. Magoo is a very bright man and successful at everything he does. He's legitimately wealthy because he knows his stuff. And his world is vegetables."
Willett peppered Magoo's home and office with vegetable paraphernalia-giant filials of concrete eggplants, zucchinis, etc. And Magoo's laboratory has trees with clear peppers and blue peppers, three-foot eggplants, four-foot carrots, tomatoes that grow out of cauliflower plants, and cauliflower that grow on trees.
The vegetable theme took full root when executive producer Robert Rosen suggested that a vegetable-somehow-be used as a chase vehicle, a high-speed chase by a primary food group that undoubtedly would make motion picture history.
Completely unfazed by this rather unusual notion, the idea was an instant hit and Willett went on to create the eggplant mobile, (twenty feet long and nine feet wide) feeling that, "the eggplant is a very unsung vegetable. It's gorgeous in its own way, the colors are wonderful-Aberdeen purple-but it's unsung and nobody's ever done eggplants in a big way."
The actual high-speed chase between the "Eggplant Mobile" and Mr. Magoo's trusty old Studebaker took place in Vancouver at the enormously busy downtown intersection of Bute and Hastings Streets. Tourists will likely be talking about this unusual high-speed, high-fiber chase for years to come.
As Willett raves, "The scene is quite marvelous, very funny and nothing like you've ever seen before, I can promise. It culminates with the "Eggplant Mobile" crashing through a fence, flying through the air, entering a culvert, being lowered by a crane on the back of a car carrier and then exiting from there."
The stunt, in fact, took an entire week to film due to the difficulty of the shots, which required precise technical execution and involved three Eggplant Mobiles, two with engines and one that was actually a shell.
Other locations used in the richly colorful live-action "Mr. Magoo"
are the supremely beautiful English Bay and the Burrard Inlet where Magoo
has a near miss with a large ferry-escaping, typically, without a scratch.
Also, The Queen Elizabeth Theater is the setting for Magoo's guest appearance
with the opera where he sings a rather unforgettable Viking love song in
the inimitable Magoo crooning style.
Finding the perfect setting in Vancouver for Ortega Peru's house was
very difficult, according to production designer Willett. "It had
to say South America architecturally and we had to be able to develop a
jungle setting within that. I had to find a place that had great deciduous
background and it was very, very difficult to come by. I'd hazard a guess
that there aren't two other houses in B.C. that would work for that."
Principal photography wrapped with a second unit crew going on to the breathtaking Saltos do Iguacu (Eagle Falls) waterfall on the border of Brazil and Argentina for a spectacular stunt sequence involving helicopters and river rafts.
As Willett explains, "This waterfall is dramatic to the extreme." And, he adds with a smile, "We quickly learned that there's never a dull moment on a Stanley Tong shoot!"
While all involved hope audiences of all ages will thrill to this new "Mr. Magoo," co-star Ernie Hudson pauses to reflect on a bit of a more serious note, "As the father of two young boys, I am very pleased to be a part of this film. For my mind, except for 'George of the Jungle,' 'Mr. Magoo' is the first movie I've seen in a long time where the special effects are used in a playful, positive way-as opposed to depicting violence or destruction. And that's another reason why I think 'Mr. Magoo' is great, because maybe other filmmakers will get the idea of using special effects for positive purposes."
Ernie Hudson is obviously passionate about "Mr. Magoo" serving an important role as positive-value entertainment. "'Mr. Magoo' is not just a kids movie. Like 'Aladdin,' this new 'Mr. Magoo' has humor for children and a lot of jokes for adults. It's colorful, it has a lot of action, it's exciting, and there's a lot in it for everyone. It's a 'family film' in the best sense."
As director Stanley Tong concludes, "We didn't make a movie just for kids. We made a movie for families. Everybody will love this movie. And I particularly love this movie, because it's the very first time that I was allowed so much action in a movie, but it's all about fun, without violence. We don't have gun-shooting, we don't have explosions, we don't have killings. I used to do action movies with comedy, with some violence in it. But this movie is totally without violence.
"This 'Mr. Magoo' is all about fun and all about humor, and that's what I like and am very proud of, about our 'Mr. Magoo.' I hope audiences love it and much as we loved making it. It's a happy movie."
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