Vacation is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital – perfect for Christmas!
Following in his father’s footsteps and hoping for some much-needed family bonding, a grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) surprises his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two sons with a cross-country trip back to America’s favorite family fun park,Walley World.
Rounding out the cast are Leslie Mann (The Other Woman) as Rusty’s sister Audrey, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) as Stone Crandall, Rusty’s irritatingly successful brother-in-law, and Skyler Gisondo (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) and Steele Stebbins (A Haunted House 2), who play Rusty’s sons, James and Kevin. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold from the classic Vacation comedies.
Chevy Chase sat down to discuss his work on Vacation and his approach to comedy.
The Vacation movies are known and loved by generations of fans, and Clark and Ellen Griswold (Beverly D’Angelo) have become iconic in comedy. When you made the first Vacation with writer John Hughes and director Harold Ramis, did Clark just come to you naturally or did you have to find him?
Hmmm. That’s a tough question because I had a sense of him. John gave us the script and Harold and I worked for some time on it, so I had a sense of where we were going but I wasn’t quite there at the beginning. I wasn’t sure what my vision of Clark was because I’m not your normal actor. [Laughs] I mean, I could have gone less, I could have gone too far.
And, obviously, Harold was a very, very funny guy and a good actor. Before he started directing, he worked in Second City and all of that. He was one of the most creative guys I’ve ever known, and also one of the nicest and best. So when we first started shooting, I said to Harold—and I remember this very well— ‘Well, how do you think I should do it?’ And he just did it. He did one or two lines and gave me this guy in a couple of moments. It immediately resonated with me and I knew just what he meant: ‘Go over the top – be Clark Griswold.’ And it was wonderful. It felt right and I knew it, and for the next five Vacation movies, I had it.
I’m sure this kind of thing happens all the time between friends or people who are good comedians, but with Harold it was very special.
It must have been such an adventure for you to go out with Beverly and the other actors and make these movies. You must have so many memories, but are there any in particular moments that stand out even after so many years?
Oh, my God. [Laughs] That’s a tough question. Well, the first thing that just came to mind was pulling a license plate off the back of my car [in the original Vacation]. I didn’t have any idea what would happen and it just flew. I was thinking, ‘I’m bound to take somebody’s head off in the area.’ And Harold used that take, because it was a very real reaction, sort of, ‘Oh, geez!’
And Randy Quaid gave me a whole other thing [as Cousin Eddie]. We’d been driving for a thousand of miles on dusty roads, and he said, ‘I bet you could use a cold one.’ He just gave me a swill from his beer, then he opens a new beer and drinks it. And I didn’t know that was going to happen. When it came time for us to eat with him and his wife, I said, ‘Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?’ That just came out. Those kinds of moments are the ones that matter because they’re clear and simple and physical. It’s not expected—it’s just from somewhere else—so it allows for so much reaction. And, boy, audiences, they want to laugh.
Was it fun to reunite with Beverly D’Angelo and see her playing Ellen again?
Well, she’s great as Ellen. Nobody does it better. I’ve done other stuff with her where she’s really acting and has a lot to do, and I know she’s a terrific, great actress. But she plays this wife, Ellen, perfectly. It almost seems as if it shouldn’t be any work. But I think the work is just keeping her down a little bit. It’s subtle, like, ‘Oh, honey.’ So I had all the support from Bev and feel very comfortable there. I wouldn’t do anything without her as a Griswold.
Physical humor is so much a part of Clark Griswold, and it’s there when we meet him in the new Vacation. Is that kind of physical comedy intuitive for you?
It’s intuitive, and it’s also designed to some degree. I’ll think about it ahead of time, but if Beverly and I are coming out of a Bed and Breakfast and I trip a little bit here, or do just a tiny thing that can catch somebody as, ‘Oh, that’s a part of that guy’s character,’ I’ll do it. The same thing was true with that guitar. There was no direction there—I was simply supposed to take the guitar out. I didn’t even really have to, but I had a chance to do some very physical stuff with it, and still not hurt it, and then claim that it was a delicate thing and hand it over. And I love that stuff. It’s funny to me.
That just came to you on the spot?
On the spot, yeah. ‘It’s very delicate…’ and I’m just beating the crap out of that thing. [Laughs] That’s my kind of humor.
The writer/directors, Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, said that they were just geeking out the whole time they were watching you come up with this stuff. How did you find working with them on this movie?
I liked them very much. They seemed to have good choices in terms of their blocking and suggestions, and then they let you go. And that’s sort of the way I am, so it doesn’t take a lot of work.
What was it like for you to come in and work with this cast playing the next generation of Griswolds—Ed Helms and Christina Applegate as Rusty and Debbie, and Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins as the boys?
There was not any negative sense at all. Being there was more like, ‘Hey look, they’ve invited me in. I’ll do what I do as best I can without harming anybody.’ [Laughs]
And I love the cast. I love Rusty, who’s nothing like the original Rusty, but that was Rusty at 13. This is a different Rusty, and I thought Ed was great. He’s a solid actor, and so generous. He gave it to me. I can’t wait to see him in this movie because I didn’t know Ed before this. I did see something they showed me where he kept having Christina [Applegate] slam the door on his arm. I thought that was very funny, and it immediately gave me the sense that here’s another guy who’s willing to really get hurt to get the laugh, and pretend. I got a kick out of that. And I thought Christina was just a charming, wonderful person. It’s all very real and natural.
In my part, I didn’t have much to play with the kids. It was almost as if there’s something wrong with Clark Griswold that he would go so far as to have grandchildren. That’s not something he’d want to admit. But I saw them at work, and I thought they were terrific and directed well by Jonathan and John.
Did you have any fun Clark moments from when you were shooting the scenes at Clark and Ellen’s Bed and Breakfast in San Francisco?
It was little things, like when I’m in the bedroom of this Bed and Breakfast, and Rusty is coming to tell me that they’re going home and I’m saying, ‘What about Walley World?’ I’m cleaning up one of the rooms, and not only am I just literally sweeping all the dust under the bed, but there’s a wallet on the floor. At that point, I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ This guy, Clark, he doesn’t care. He just wants the room to look neat for the next guest, you know? There’s a wallet? It doesn’t matter – he just sweeps it under the bed.
And all this time, Clark is spraying Febreze air freshener everywhere, even in the bathroom where a guest is still sitting there…
Yeah. [Laughs] And in one take, the guy’s pants were down too low. That had to be pointed out. What are you going to say? I’m thinking, ‘Well, there goes that rating.’ But Jonathan and John directed me to keep the Febreze going throughout that little conversation, and there was just so much Febreze, it would kill somebody. That will make the place clean. [Laughs] But how would you like to get into a bed that’s sticky from Febreze? What the heck? Too much Febreze.
Maybe Clark shouldn’t be a Bed and Breakfast owner?
I don’t think that’s his calling, yeah! But if you have any sense of Clark, there will be other jobs. [Laughs]
Clark was one of your earliest movie roles, but you were in so many classic comedies like Caddyshack and Fletch, not to mention Saturday Night Live. What was it like for you as a comedian and an actor to have so many of your characters become so known and loved?
I don’t know. It’s not like a kid who always wanted to be famous and got more and more famous. What I always cared about was making people laugh, and long before I was at Warner’s shooting movies, I had done a lot of writing for the Smothers Brothers and other shows. I was a writer, basically. I had also been in New York before that, doing underground television like The Groove Tube. So I can’t remember when comedy wasn’t a part of my early adult life.
My father was the funniest man I ever knew. We didn’t go to movies much, but he led us to all these comedy films. So I already had a basic education from Dad and all these great inputs around me in what’s funny. But, in any case, I don’t know where all this comes from. I just know that I love on-the-spot humor, and I also like being different.
The joy of it is to make people laugh. It’s the best experience in their lives, that moment. All preconceptions of life and normalcy and how you should behave in given situations just goes out the window. That laugh is like a sneeze, you know? You can’t control it. So that’s really where my sense of when to be funny and how to be funny in a film or whatever comes from.
The cast and filmmakers of the new Vacation all name you as one of their comedy heroes. When you were coming up, did you have comedy heroes who inspired you in your own career?
There were people who made me laugh, I think, because I’m very physical and come from an athletic background and do these pratfalls. Obviously, the range of Charlie Chaplin. I didn’t rush out to see Chaplin, but I saw him, and to this day I don’t think anybody could have done any better than Charlie Chaplin. And Buster Keaton, when it came to his physical comedy and getting that stuff across without saying a word.
In my lifetime, the Marx Brothers meant a great deal to my dad and to me. When Groucho Marx is in a restaurant and says, ‘This bill is outrageous. I wouldn’t pay this if I were you,’ and hands it to some woman at another table, that kind of stuff. It just resonates. It’s all about openly threatening the norm, the social view of the world. And later, Ernie Kovacs and Sid Caesar – just completely off-the-wall and wonderful. These were the typical things I would see on television when I was young, if I had the chance to look at a television.
And, of course, my father meant so much to me. All of this stuff had an effect on me, but there’s something that comes, I think, from your dad or your parents that you just have within you, like it or not. You can’t really define where it came from. It’s a conglomeration of many things.
I was just driving with [my wife] Jayni, and as we were going out on a road and making a turn, I was reminded of something my father said. I was driving and had to make a left turn onto a highway, and I could only look left, so I said, ‘Anything coming on the right?’ And he said, ‘Nothing but a Greyhound.’ [Laughs] It just came out. Of course, there wasn’t a bus there, but that was just the image. That kind of outrage – I love it. Dad taught me that the sense of humor is a sense of perspective—that’s really what it’s about. Laughter helps separate out what is more or less important in terms of social norms. I think you have to see life that way, and have that kind of perspective.
Vacation is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.