By Mark Saldana
On Thursday night (March 17) of the festival I joined several excited fans at the Paramount Theater for the world premiere of Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday. The exuberant audience obviously had a fantastic time, laughing often and loudly. I too enjoyed the film which marks the cinematic comeback for the beloved character who hasn’t appeared in a movie since 1988’s Big Top Pee-Wee. The audience expressed their adoration when producer Judd Apatow, actor Paul Reubens, writer Paul Rusk, and director John Lee took the stage for a Q & A after the screening.
The following day, I was invited to sit with other members of the media for a series of roundable interviews with the filmmakers and some of the cast including Reubens himself. Everyone seemed very pleased with the film, as well as the reactions from the audience members at the previous night’s premiere.
We first sat with writer Paul Rust who collaborated with Reubens on the script. He was thrilled to work with Reubens and was very respectful towards his collaborator and the character of Pee-Wee. “I came into it, not wanting to put my own spin on it. It is sort of the best thing a collaborator can do with Paul (Reubens) because his instincts about the character are so correct that I didn’t want to get in his way.”
Director John Lee, whose creative influences include Jim Jaramusch was also thrilled to work with Reubens and really enjoyed working with producer Judd Apatow and Netflix. “I was very worried, but they were so supportive! Such freedom! They (producers) would come on the set as fans. It was such creative freedom in a way that I was really happy.”
The actors who sat with us for interviews were also big fans of the Pee-Wee character and their adoration goes way back to their childhoods. Actresses Jessica Pohly and Alia Shawkat talked about the personal impact Pee-Wee had on their lives. Pohly stated, “I watched Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with my dad every Saturday morning and we watched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure so many times that the VHS was pretty worn out. Shawkat added, ” He’s just been a presence in pop culture for a very long time. I saw his live performance when he came to L.A. and it was wonderful.”
Joe Manganiello, who portrays a visitor to Pee-Wee’s small town and inspires him to take a road trip, expressed his happiness to star in a Pee-Wee Herman movie, but also felt some stress in taking the role. “There was a lot of pressure because I loved Pee-Wee growing up. For me, I was a weird kid who grew up in a not-weird neighborhood with not-weird people. When I was eight years-old, my dad brought me to (Pee-Wee’s) Big Adventure and it somehow struck a cord in me. So to get a call from Paul (Reubens) and that he thought of me for this role was daunting, but I didn’t even have to read the script!”
Paul Reubens sat with us and enthusiastically discussed how satisfied he was with the reaction of the audience at the premiere. “It was so gratifying to hear people laugh at all the places we hoped people would laugh at.” In addition to writing the screenplay, Reubens was quite involved in other areas of the creative process. “I am a producer of the movie also, so I go to work with the designer and hand-in-hand with the director. Reubens has been wanting this movie come-back for Pee-Wee for some time and already has written other films for his character.
Paul Rust mentioned this during his interview. “Paul (Reubens) has also written two other Pee-Wee scripts in the past and I read them, and they are fantastic! That would be awesome if he could make one of those. I’d love to see that.” Even Joe Manganiello is willing to come aboard if cast in another Pee-Wee movie. “I hope I can come along for the next adventure.” As a fan of Pee-Wee and his movies, I would certainly love to see the same filmmakers and some of the cast members reunite for another entertaining and funny movie.