More than a decade after its initial release, MacGruber (2010) has earned its place in the cinematic firmament. The MacGyver-inspired send-up of 1980s action movies transformed a one-joke Saturday Night Live sketch into one of the best smart-dumb comedies of the last two decades.
Will Forte showcased his indefatigable commitment to his role as the eponymous special agent when pitted against Val Kilmer’s ruthlessly straightforward terrorist Dieter von Cunth, while Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe incredulously follow his lead as the three of them try to save the world. As Forte and his collaborators John Solomon and Jorma Taccone gear up to launch a follow-up television series on streaming service Peacock, we're taking a look back at some of the silly ephemera from which they crafted the iconic comedy.
1. MacGruber was never going to be a redux of the Saturday Night Live sketch that inspired it.
Armed with a $10 million budget, Forte, Taccone, and Solomon set out to make a satiric version of old-school action movies like First Blood and Lethal Weapon, enlisting cinematographer Brandon Trost to shoot it to “look like Die Hard,” as Trost told Vanity Fair in 2020.
2. Val Kilmer and Ryan Phillippe were eager to play their roles, despite MacGruber's silly premise.
Kilmer’s ice-cold take on Dieter von Cunth was exactly what the filmmakers wanted—a villain who’s as serious as MacGruber is ridiculous. As Lieutenant Dixon Piper, Phillippe was just coming off of Stop-Loss and was desperate for lighter acting fare; that said, he was the exact kind of actor who would typically be cast as the hero in the serious version of a story like this.
3. Powers Boothe was a little unsure of how to play some of his scenes opposite Will Forte’s weirdness.
In an early scene, MacGruber is brought down by a humiliating loss and tries to “bargain” with his former mentor, Colonel Faith (played by Powers Boothe). Taccone told Vanity Fair that he encouraged Boothe to take the scene as seriously as possible, locking the acclaimed character actor into the right tone for the shoot. “He was like, ‘When he offers to fellate me, how do I take that?’ Without missing a beat, I said, ‘This is real, this is heartbreaking. You’re his mentor. This is seeing him at his lowest point.’”
4. Ryan Phillippe wasn't prepared for some of the challenges his MacGruber role would require.
Phillippe doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so Boothe had to shift gears off-screen in the Army Jeep they drove in to meet with MacGruber in his first scene. Phillippe later forgot to apply the emergency brake and the Jeep almost rolled off of the road after the actors got out of it.
5. The many exaggerated names that the writers came up with for their characters alleviated some legal woes for MacGruber.
Usually after a film goes into production, a distributor’s legal department must scan through the script and movie's details to make sure there’s no resemblance to any real people, living or dead. Naming members of MacGruber’s team Tut Beemer, Brick Hughes, Tanker Lutz, Hoss Bender, and so forth virtually guaranteed there was no one with those names—much less someone who might be immediately identifiable.
6. One MacGruber character name came from a throwaway joke in a sketch from Will Forte’s SNL days.
The name Dieter von Cunth came from an old SNL skit where Forte played a bit part in a commercial for J.J. Casuals, shoes endorsed by musician Jack Johnson that looked like feet. When Forte’s character signed his name on the guestbook at a restaurant for a maître d' played by Bill Hader, he signed it “Dr. Cunth.”
7. Maya Rudolph was eight months pregnant while shooting MacGruber.
Although Maya Rudolph was written out of the sketches and replaced by Wiig because she left Saturday Night Live, the writers wanted to honor her contributions with a cameo appearance in the MacGruber movie. Rudolph gamely agreed to reprise her role as Casey, MacGruber's late wife, despite her advanced stage of pregnancy. She even soldiered through a sex scene with Forte, although she did enlist a stunt double for some assistance.
8. Hallmarks of the '80s movies that inspired MacGruber are everywhere—some more explicitly than others.
MacGruber’s car, his pull-out Blaupunkt stereo, his musical tastes, and his mullet hairstyle certainly harken back to a certain era of Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone. But two characters were named “the Culebra brothers” after a line in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where Sarah Connor says “Y tu. Siempre como culebra" ("And you. Always like the snake") to an old acquaintance. Also, almost every outdoor location was wet down before shooting, and almost every indoor location is filled with unexplained smoke—techniques made famous by Tony Scott and other famous action directors.
9. Beyond the roles in MacGruber’s team of killer-stoppers played by wrestlers, the cast was populated by a number of individuals close to the filmmakers.
Cinematographer Brandon Trost plays the mechanic who kisses The Big Show during the recruitment montage; Trost’s brother Jason plays a henchman whose throat MacGruber rips out; and their father Ralph plays a groundskeeper at the cemetery where MacGruber’s wife’s gravestone is kept. Taccone’s wife, filmmaker Mariel Heller, plays a small role as Clocky, and the original driver of the car whose license plate famously reads “KFBR392” was played by Kristen Wiig’s then-boyfriend.
10. Will Forte wrote all of the pages in MacGruber's notebook himself, by hand.
Although the idea was originally just supposed to be a one-scene joke, Forte spent days in between takes scribbling furiously in the notebook to create a portrait of MacGruber’s obsessive pathology. When they first shot the scene of him exacting vengeance on the driver’s vehicle, they weren’t even allowed to key the car; it was only after a re-shoot that they rounded up the money—and a vehicle for Forte to properly destroy.
11. Will Forte and Kristen Wiig's sex scene was shot on her birthday.
In a smoke-filled room on the second floor of an Albuquerque, New Mexico, home in the middle of summer, Forte and Wiig acted out their protracted sex scene. Forte was sweating so much that it was virtually pouring off of him into her face throughout the scene. But the bigger issue for Wiig was that she couldn’t keep from laughing as Forte grunted noisily on top of her; if you watch closely, you can see that she turns away from the camera at one point to keep from breaking the cinematic mood.
12. Will Forte did not actually stick a celery stick in his butt for the famous “distraction” scene.
“It was lodged in my taint,” Forte clarified on the DVD commentary for the film. The production actually devoted a considerable amount of time trying to create a device that would hold it in place, but Forte eventually just opted to solve the problem himself. And then on the day of filming, his mother happened to visit the set, watching her son expose himself for the world to see.
13. Will Forte and his collaborators did actually intend to follow through on MacGruber’s threat to Dieter von Cunth.
When they originally wrote the film, the trio absolutely wanted to conclude the film with MacGruber doing exactly what he threatened to do: cut off von Cunth’s penis and shovie it into his mouth. After some heated discussions, Kilmer indicated that he was not going to go through that. Instead, he agreed to be dressed up in prosthetics—sans penis—before getting kicked over a cliff and blown up with a grenade launcher.
14. MacGruber's writers eventually deleted one of the biggest surprises they'd come up with from the script.
In a series of Pepsi commercials recorded for Super Bowl XLIII, Richard Dean Anderson, who played the original MacGvyer, played MacGruber’s father. When he couldn’t reprise the role for the film (or possibly they couldn’t make it work), they excised a scene where MacGruber returns to his childhood home, where his father informs him that his name is actually “MacGruder.” Forte was even supposed to make a callback to the discovery after the film’s explosive finale, saying “classic MacGruder—I mean, MacGruber.”
15. MacGruber flopped at the box office, but it developed a passionate fan base—especially in Hollywood.
In interviews for The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway said that she could tell that director Christopher Nolan was in a good mood if he started quoting MacGruber. And when the time came to perform the first table read for their upcoming television series, Nolan sent Taccone a note of encouragement: “Though I can’t be there in person to watch you take the first step of your odyssey—know that my spirit soars with you, and whilst it’s perhaps unfair to add to the great sense of responsibility you must already feel, I am duty bound to tell you—the world is waiting, the world is watching.”