“Art should have political, spiritual, and surprising elements. It should try to find new language of communicating in order to give awareness to the public. Then every society can use the layer it needs at the moment.” –Marina Abramovic
There are many who would scoff at the above quote, preferring to think that art should be nothing but escapism, a form of “feel-good” entertainment. And yet, to feel nothing but good is to feel nothing but empty, a fact Tim Heidecker probably knows all too well. For years, he’s stood out as a much-needed beacon among America’s film critics for infusing elements of his personal and political lives into his lauded movie-criticism program, Adult Swim’s On Cinema at the Cinema. We’ve seen him bravely speak out against Obamacare when no one else would. We’ve seen him stare death in the eye during more than one health scare. We’ve seen his complicated romance with Ayaka Ohwaki, and when she tried to take him for all he was worth, we saw him stand up for what’s right. Because that’s what he does. That’s what he always does. He doesn’t know any other way.
Heidecker has consistently brought this kind of integrity not only to his work as a critic, but to his work as a fictional character as well. Like Heidecker himself, Special Agent Jack Decker might not be the hero America wants, but he’s certainly the hero America needs. Still, every hero needs a villain — someone who’s the complete opposite of them in their values, abilities, and charisma—and if there’s an opposite of Tim Heidecker, it’s his co-host, Gregg Turkington. Turkington, while kindhearted and gifted with an uncanny knowledge of American movie trivia, doesn’t have one ounce of the chutzpah, conviction, or magnetism possessed by Heidecker. And perhaps that’s why they work so well together. It’s all about balance. Turkington is the Roeper to Heidecker’s Ebert, the beard to his Leonard Maltin, the unsightly mustache to his Gene Shalit.
It’s no surprise that the show faltered when Turkington tried (or should I say attempted) to host it all by himself at the beginning of the current season, its sixth. But lucky for us and America at large, Heidecker’s back in the saddle after a lost weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, already restoring On Cinema to its former glory after only one episode. In the wake of Editor-In-Chief Michael Roffman’s painfully biased interview with Turkington, we thought it was only fair to get Heidecker’s side of the story. Fortunately, we were able to catch this national treasure before his big trip to Hawaii to get the inside scoop on why he really left Jackson Hole, what we can expect from On Cinema’s annual Oscar special this weekend, and the exciting future of Decker.
First off, welcome back. Does it feel good to return to the show?
Absolutely. It’s good to be back where I belong and feel energized and ready to really dig into making the show a great show, something that’s rewarding to the audience and the On Cinema family.
Excellent. How did you feel about Gregg’s episode where he went at it alone?
I don’t want to seem like a jerk or anything here. I’ve spoken about this at length, and I made a statement about it, but it speaks for itself. I consider it a train wreck. I consider it an embarrassment to the On Cinema brand, and I think Gregg acknowledged that, or at least he did privately to me. He seems to have a different perspective when he speaks about it to others. But listen, that’s on me at the end of the day because I’m the one who put him in that position.
We appreciated what Gregg was trying to do, but it definitely felt like a different show and that something was missing. We actually spoke to Gregg not too long ago, and he mentioned that part of you leaving Jackson Hole had to do with a bar fight. You also alluded on the show that some of the friends you had made there were in the KKK. I was just wondering if you could elaborate on the exact event that caused you to leave Jackson Hole.
Well, it was an accumulation of events. It wasn’t just one single event. Earlier last year, I purchased a lot — roughly 25 acres of land. I moved out there and set up a small house and really started building a life for myself there. And as we were building, as we were putting the pieces together and getting things where I wanted them, there were … there were certain facts that weren’t presented to me appropriately — let me put it that way — by the realtor and the landowners that sold me the property. What that meant was my property did not have access to water. With a lot of the land in Wyoming, you dig a well. It isn’t like L.A. or a big city where you tie into the public waterworks. It’s not like that.
So after this whole thing with lawyers and water-rights experts, it came down to the simple fact that the property I was living on had no access to water. There was just no way to get water to me. I tried dealing with it and sort of jerry-rigging it, but basically I ended up going into town and buying large amounts of bottled water. And I got to the point where I said, “This is untenable. This is not any way to live.” So that was a difficult moment.
And of course I alluded to the KKK. I can’t really talk too much about that because I don’t know what these guys are going to do, you know? I definitely felt my life was in danger.
So did the bar fight happen? Can you at least confirm that?
Yeah. But if you have an image of Patrick Swayze in Road House, it wasn’t like that. I had taken my motorcycle out to Jackson Hole because that was my means of transportation at the time. That whole ride out there was difficult. It was cold, it was challenging. I had already gone through one motorcycle accident. I had another one on the way out there. I spun out.
By the time I get to Jackson Hole, I had made the decision to sell my motorcycle. So long story short, the assault happened during the sale of the motorcycle. There was some disagreement about the price we had discussed on Craigslist, and we got into a … more of a shoving situation. I verbally attacked this gentleman, and he responded with force. He basically shoved me, and I tumbled down two steps in front of the bar and hit my head.
It wasn’t a fight in the sense of beer bottles being broken over peoples’ heads. It got broken up pretty quickly. But I had already checked out of the idea of living in Jackson Hole. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, so you could call that the straw that broke the camel’s back, I guess.
Well we’re glad to hear you’re alright. Gregg literally said you had gotten the “shit kicked out of you.” And I knew that was a lie — him trying to talk trash.
In the heat of the moment — and I think I spoke on the Tom Scharpling show about this — that’s how I described it, but that might have been exaggerating the facts a little bit. If you see me on the show, I don’t have a black eye or anything like that. It wasn’t what I presented it to be, but it was an assault, plain and simple. It was an assault.
Like I said, I don’t know what these guys are going to do next because I got out of there quick. I didn’t get a statement. I didn’t press charges or anything like that. But they’re serious guys involved with, like I said, the KKK. They had swastikas tattooed on their neck and everything.
Thanks for opening up about that. Now that you’re back on the show, do you still plan on fusing your politics with your critiques? Also, have your politics changed at all, now that you’re not living in Jackson Hole anymore?
I understand that my political views might make people uncomfortable and that they’re not the most popular with young people. And it’s an off year for politics, too. There’s not a lot going on. But we are doing our Oscar special this Sunday, and I’m in discussions with Mike Huckabee about him being a part of the show.
Yeah. And it’s important to note that we’re not making it a political forum for him. I want to talk movies with him. I want to talk music with him, and we’re going to play music together. I definitely align myself with him, but I find myself politically becoming a little more compassionate. I’ve really become involved with a website called Values.com, and I still believe in small government and making traditional values, as I like to call them, the focus of what leads the choices we make.
I think somebody like Mike or Donald Trump — that’s who I feel akin to, but I’m trying to respect the audience’s wishes and Gregg’s wishes that the show isn’t the best format for me to express my political views. I acknowledge that. The show’s called On Cinema. It’s not On Politics or On Values.
I have to ask, what kind of movies does Mike Huckabee like?
That’s a good question. That’s one of the questions I’m going to be asking him. It’s hard for me to say because I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to him about it yet. I would think they’re going to be wholesome family movies: The Sound of Music, movies the whole family can watch together. Mike’s not the kind of guy who’s going to watch Fifty Shades of Grey and these other smut porno movies that are coming out. There’s part of me that really does enjoy that, but when it comes to movies the whole family can watch, those are the movies I think Mike and I would watch together.
And that’s good. A lot of Americans’ values are going in the toilet, and I think it’s good to bring back those traditionalist viewpoints. Speaking of the Oscars, who are your Oscar picks? Who should win, and who will win for Best Picture?
Gregg has theories about this. I’m sure he’s spoken to you about it. Look, I wish everybody the best, but we’re going to do a little something different on our show that I think everyone will get really excited about. I think the focus tends to go a little too much on the movies with the Academy Awards. They tend to exclude some things in 2014 that I think deserve acknowledgement. So we’re going to be doing a little counter-programming with the Oscars. There’s going to be an acknowledgement of some web content I’ve been a part of.
So I think the Oscars get enough attention. They don’t need me chiming in, guessing who’s going to take home an arbitrary prize that’s ultimately meaningless except in the fact that it has the potential to drive up box-office sales. There were so many great movies that came out last year that the Oscars don’t talk about. There’s a movie that has two of my favorite movie stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. It’s called Escape Plan. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that movie.
I am, but I haven’t seen it.
I think it’s called Escape Plan. It’s an interesting story about how Sylvester Stallone is the master of escaping prisons. That’s his job. He’s a sort of consultant. He gets himself captured, goes into these prisons, then breaks out. Then he goes to the warden and says, “Look, here are your weaknesses and what not.” Well, it turns out that Sylvester Stallone gets himself in the most maximum-security prison out there. This is a place they’d put Saddam Hussein, the worst of the worst. And who does he meet there but Arnold Schwarzenegger. It turns out that Sylvester Stallone has been set up, and there really is no way to get out of this thing. Now he’s got to work with Schwarzenegger to get out of this super-max jail.
It’s one of the best movies I saw last year, and it gets no recognition. It gets no acknowledgement from the Academy Awards. So those are the movies I think America appreciates and wants to see more of. The film community would be smart in acknowledging these more popular films.
And you of course are a filmmaker and actor yourself. I also know you’re humble, so I hope this question doesn’t embarrass you too much, but could you ever see Decker taking home an Oscar in the future?
For which categories?
Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Film, if we do ever make a Decker film. The trick is we have to pepper it with enough movie stars that the studios get interested and get the big money behind it. The Oscars are nothing more than an exchange of goods. So say you’re Warner Bros. and you want your movie to win an Oscar; you pay for it. You put out the ads. You wine and dine the Academy. You have screenings. That’s hard cash that you have to put in. The infrastructure behind Decker doesn’t have those resources.
So should we get someone like Warner Bros. or Sony or Universal Pictures? Paramount would be a great fit. They did the Mission: Impossible series. They get behind Decker, and we add a few movie stars — perhaps Sir Ian McKellen or a cameo from Mr. Tom Cruise himself. Somebody of that caliber. And we’ll add a little bit more production value and a stronger story, a little bit more compelling of a story. You’d easily see Decker sweep the awards.
Do you picture stars like Tom Cruise and Ian McKellen playing supporting roles, or would one of them take on the role of Decker? Or do you want to keep playing that part yourself?
The only scenario where I see someone else playing Decker is 20 or 30 years from now, when they start rebooting it. There’s a cycle in this business where I see myself doing Decker for another five or 10 years in various forms. From the web, we’ll hit TV, then there’ll probably be three or four movies. And then I’ll get tired of it, the audience will get tired of seeing me do it, and then Decker will kind of just go away. It’ll become one of those classic franchises. And in 20 years, it’ll get revamped, much like Mission: Impossible and the Indiana Jones series. There are so many great franchises that have been given a brand-new life thanks to these hardworking people that bring these characters back to life.
What’s the status of the Decker sequel?
We are in production. I’m heading to Hawaii on Monday to shoot the first two episodes.
I know you probably don’t want to spoil too much, but what are some of the action sequences we can expect?
While I hate giving away surprises, I will say that the island of Hawaii is one of the main characters in the series. The beauty, the splendor, and the majesty of the island comes alive in Decker, and we use the island. You’re not going to see anyone going, “I guess they just shot this in front of a green screen and put some pictures of Hawaii in the background.” We are immersed in the culture. When I was there last week scouting and securing the talent and the crew, I fell in love with the whole energy there and the spirit of the people. It’s a wonderful, magical place, and I’m really enjoying it. I think it’s going to shine through.
To your point about action sequences, there are so many activities in Hawaii that you can do: jet-skiing, ziplining, parasailing. All these things are at our beck and call. And I thought, Wow, what a cool place to film an action show — where you can utilize some of the more adventurous aspects of the island. So we’re going to dabble in that.
Will Gregg and Joe Estevez be coming back? I know there’s been some debate about whether or not Kingston will be returning.
Joe is essential to the story. After all, he’s President Jake Davidson. He’s the yin to my yang, unless you consider Taliban forces to be the yang. But in a sense, I’m fighting two fronts. It’s like the Nazis in World War II — they were fighting the Russians and the Allied Forces. Decker battles not only the pure evil that is Taliban, but the bureaucracy and the red-tape bullshit of Washington. It’s the perfect reflection of the current state of affairs. The show doesn’t exist without having that dynamic.
Kingston is less valuable to the franchise. He represented, in the first [series], sort of a means to an end. We needed a practical solution to a plot point, and frankly it could have been a number of service agents who stood in. We’re trying to bring in bigger names to play another agent that Decker works with. I think it would be cool to make it a nod to the island of Hawaii and have someone like Mr. Tom Selleck be a part of the show, or whoever, really. The current actors who are on Hawaii Five-0 — one of them is Scott Caan, who’s James Caan’s son. He’s one of my idols, and I would be honored to work with him. We’re reaching out to his team right now to be a big part of the show.
So those are the goals: to elevate it, make it something special, and top something that I didn’t think was possible, which is Decker, Season One: Decker Classified. So Kington isn’t, at this point at least, something I’m focusing on.
That’s totally understandable. As a franchise grows, it’s important to change with the times. It looks like we’re almost out of time ourselves, so I’m going to ask you one last question. It’s a pretty conventional question, but one I have to ask because of your cinematic expertise. So here it goes. What is your favorite movie of all time?
You know, I should have an answer for this because I do get asked it quite a bit. I have to say, I think it’s Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone, just because it’s one of the last movies I’ve seen and really does resonate with me at the moment. Right now, if someone put a gun to my head and said, “Name your favorite movie,” that’s what I’d say. It’s because it has all of those elements. It’s like:
“I like a Sylvester Stallone movie.”
“Okay, good. Here you go.”
“Ah, you know, I’m actually more in the mood for an Arnold Schwarzenegger film.”
“Well, you came to the right store. Because we’re also providing that for you.”
And then we go into the story of the current state of the prison system and how we fight terrorism — constitutional questions. It’s all there, wrapped up in a really fast-paced, wonderfully directed, wonderfully performed thriller that I absolutely stand by as being one of the best movies of all time, and it absolutely is my favorite.