Why Paul Reubens Is Returning to Pee-Wee Herman After 30 Years (Q&A)

'Pee-wee's Big Holiday'
Glen Wilson/Netflix

"It's a little bittersweet that [the SXSW] audience is among a very, very tiny number of audiences who are going to be full audiences for it," says Reubens of the Netflix release.

It's been more than 30 years since Paul Reubens first appeared as the bow-tied Pee-wee Herman on the big screen, but he'll make his long-awaited return in Pee-wee's Big Holiday, which will have its world premiere at the South by Southwest Festival on March 17.

The film, which Netflix will release on its streaming service March 18, sees Pee-wee set off on a vacation to New York City.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Reubens, 63, about the long road to bringing Pee-wee back, his feelings about Netflix and how Joe Manganiello ended up in the movie.

At what point did you feel you were ready to make this movie?

I was ready from the first time I ever went on a talk show 10 or 15 years ago and said, 'I'm making another Pee-wee movie!' So to say I was beyond ready would be an understatement. And all of those times were all real. Those were real projects I was talking about, but none of them ever happened. Those are still scripts that are around.

There were two other very different scripts, right?

There's a kid-show movie, Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Movie, which is all those characters from Pee-wee's Playhouse. It's a fantastic script. I hope that's what I make next, but I have no idea. And then there's what I was calling — which I've been chided for many times — the "dark Pee-wee movie." It's not really the "dark Pee-wee Movie." I call it the — I get chided just as much for this too — Valley of the Dolls Pee-wee Movie. It's a comedy, maybe a little darker, a little blacker comedy than anything I've done so far.

How did the writing process go for Pee-wee's Big Holiday?

Paul Rust and I spent a few weeks just throwing ideas around, and this was the one that we liked the most. My main fear about this one over other ideas was that the plot was so thin — and that's coming from me, the king of thin-plotted stories. Big Adventure has a very, very strong premise and plot, but it's also very simple, and this is even more simple. This almost doesn't have a plot. It doesn't have a villain, but I'm really happy with it. I'm extremely happy.

Joe Manganiello has a great part in the film. Did you write it specifically for him?

It wasn't written for him, but he's a friend of mine. He was in and out of my mind when we were writing it. I can't imagine him not the person in the part. There's a sweetness and an ability to turn several times in the movie into a nine-year-old that I just don't see other people being able to do.

How did you two meet?

We met at an HBO party after the Emmys. I was in a little group of people talking, and all of a sudden, every single person I was talking to turned to look at something. It was Joe running across this huge party, turning every single head. Then I realized a moment later that he was running to me. And he was running across this huge party saying, "Dude, I love you. Oh my god, I love you." And the rest is sort of the history of our friendship. He's been a fantastic friend.

Why did you decide to premiere in South by Southwest?

I love Texas. I love that festival. Judd Apatow has been there many times and had great success as recently as last year with Trainwreck. This is Netflix's third or fourth movie, so they haven't premiered a movie at South by Southwest, and everybody loved the idea. One thing I'm excited about at South by Southwest is that we're going to screen it in this beautiful, historic theater that holds 1,200 people. It's probably not that smart to say this, but it's a little bittersweet that [the SXSW] audience is among a very, very tiny number of audiences who are going to be full audiences for it. I think mostly it will be viewing parties of six or eight or 10 — most people don't have a private screening room in their house that seats 50. So I'm going to every single screening I can go to just to have that experience because I'm really excited to see it with 500 people and have the experience of everybody laughing and everybody enjoying it together. But on the other hand, Netflix is so global and so huge. The movie has been dubbed into 10 languages already.

The film was originally at Universal. Did you have any trepidation about going with Netflix?

Universal didn't want to make it, and Netflix did. Netflix wanted to not only make it, but they really cared about making it right. They gave us a really great amount of money to make it and cared all the way through the process. Also, hands off. They never once came and said, "Oh, could this cat be a dog?" or "Could this blue shirt be red?" They never said anything. They've been fantastic.

What is the plan for more films?

My plan is to ask Netflix the exact question you just asked me. I have two Pee-wee scripts, and I've got loads of other ideas. I have a television series for Pee-wee that's fairly close to happening. But I don't know the answer. I hope that there's another movie, and I hope there's more life to Pee-wee Herman, but I'm thrilled to have had this opportunity and put this out there. Honestly, I started to really think or wonder if this will ever happen. I'm very optimistic it's going to be well received and that people like it. I really like it. I'm thrilled about it.

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