Drillbit Taylor High School Horror

Just as key to the comic energy of “Drillbit Taylor” as the three picked-on boys were the two bullies who attempt to ruin their high school careers before it’s even begun. As the frightening Filkins, whose cool demeanor oozes adolescent evil, the filmmakers cast Alex Frost, who earlier gave a chilling performance as a disturbed young man who goes on a shooting rampage in his high school in Gus Van Sant’s drama “Elephant.” As his sidekick Ronnie, they cast Josh Peck, who brought his own bully credentials, having previously starred as the motor- mouthed bully at the center of the acclaimed indie film “Mean Creek.”

“We originally were only going to have one bully, but during the auditions both Alex and Josh were so good that we couldn’t decide between them and so we created two bullies,” explains producer Arnold. “They’re each a very different kind of bully. Alex is genuinely intense and terrifying, while Josh plays somebody kind of crazy and unpredictable.”

Brill was equally impressed. “You’re only every as good as your villains and we needed to find actors who could play the menace in the story very straight,” he explains. “Alex Frost was an incredible find. He’s going to be a huge star. And Josh Peck is very funny, yet they both keep it sort of grounded in reality.”

During rehearsals, Brill encouraged both bullies to stay in character the entire time, heightening the atmosphere of tension and fear. “Those guys were just so intense – you really couldn’t get anybody scarier,” says Troy Gentile.

Finally, a dash of romantic comedy was added to the proceedings via the hilarious Leslie Mann, who plays the lonely English teacher, Lisa, who falls for Drillbit Taylor’s shtick. Brill, who had worked with Mann in the Adam Sandler comedy “Big Daddy,” was thrilled to have her join the ensemble. “She’s the greatest,” he says, “one of the best comediennes working today, yesterday or any day. It’s so much fun to work with her.”

Mann got a kick out of her character. “She leads a kind of sad and lonely life and has a penchant for picking losers. Then she meets Owen’s character and he says he’s a doctor, so she’s very excited, only then it turns out he’s a homeless person, so it’s very tragic for her, but it turns out pretty well,” she laughs. “I just loved working with Owen. He was hilarious.”

Rounding out the cast are Drillbit’s “home-free” buddies: Don, played by Danny McBride, who will also be seen this year in the Sundance hit “Foot Fist Way” (which he also wrote) and the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder”; Bernie, played by Cedric Yarbrough, one of the stars of “Reno 911!”, who also appeared in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”; and Stump, played by Robert Musgrave, who previously starred with Wilson in “Bottle Rocket” and was recently seen in “Idiocracy.” The high school principal who inevitably sides with the bullies is played by versatile comedian/character actor Stephen Root, who’s been seen in “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” “Office Space” and heard in TV’s “King of the Hill” and the two “Ice Age” animated movies.

Among the hitmen and assassins who make for terrifying and hilarious potential bodyguards are: Adam Baldwin who, not coincidentally, was the bully Ricky Linderman in “My Bodyguard”; pro wrestler Robert “Bonecrusher” Mukes; award-winning character actor Frank Whaley; and Davone McDonald, an actor and former Hollywood nightclub bouncer who Apatow liked so much he immediately cast him in another movie.

On set, the focus was on giving everyone, cast and crew, the freedom to play and be wildly creative. “I tend to create on the set, where you just throw out ideas and watch people react,” says Brill. “I think it started for me and Judd on ’Heavyweights’ when we hired people who weren’t afraid to riff while the camera was rolling. We all love to work that way. It’s a continuously fun and creative way to make a movie.”

Brill worked closely with two-time Emmy Award-nominated cinematographer Fred Murphy and production designer Jackson De Govia to bring the boys’ high school terrors to visual life in a way that really captures the visceral intensity of the experience. “I wanted to shoot in hallways and really rented to shoot in hallways and really recreate that kind of overwhelming high school experience,” says Brill.

Brill hopes that audiences will connect with that reality, allowing them to relax into the comedy of the situations in which Ryan, Wade, Emmit and Drillbit find themselves. “I hope they get a mixture of laughter, emotion and nostalgia,” the director sums up. “I hope it does bring people back to that sort of encapsulated high school period, going back to John Hughes’ movies in a sort of timeless way. And then, when the movie is over, the audience can leave high school, which is always a great relief.”

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