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The season finale of season two of IFC’s Emmy-nominated Documentary Now! — the critically acclaimed series that parodies the nonfiction genre — is inspired by legendary producer Robert Evans and the 2002 documentary about his roller-coaster life, The Kid Stays in the Picture.
The episode, titled “Mr. Runner Up: My Life as an Oscar Bridesmaid,” premieres Oct. 26 and features two high-profile cameos from two tough gets: Faye Dunaway and Mia Farrow. So how did the team behind Documentary Now! — created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and Rhys Thomas — manage to land the semi-famous recluses?
In the case of Farrow, they have Twitter to thank.
Thomas, who directs the show and serves as executive producer along with Alex Buono, tells The Hollywood Reporter that Meyers reached out to prolific tweeter Farrow on the social media platform. “She follows Seth, so they got in touch and we discovered that Mia’s children are big fans of the show and they helped encourage her,” he explains.
“It was a Twitter victory!” laughs Buono, who directed the episode. “Seth tweeted at her and she tweeted back,” he continues, before adding that the generational gap mentioned by Thomas often works in their favor. “That’s another one of our lucky breaks, people are asking to be in it because their kids love the show and tell them they should do it.”
As for Dunaway, Thomas says they booked the actress the traditional way. “We write emails and letters to people we would like to work with, explaining what we are doing and then we cross our fingers,” he details. “With Faye, we were really fortunate that she responded and was interested. It felt like a long shot when we went for it.”
Buono says “the nature of the episode” really helped and both Dunaway and Farrow were amused at the idea. “Not just the great Bob Evans story, but the stories that came out of that particular generation of Hollywood,” he said.
As for Evans, THR reached out to him for comment about the episode but did not hear back. Dunaway, who is working, could not be reached for comment.
Appearances by Dunaway and Farrow will please Hollywood historians who also are well aware of the details of that generation. Dunaway received an Oscar nomination for Roman Polanski’s Evans-produced noir Chinatown, while Farrow starred in another movie for Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby, which Evans shepherded during his tenure at Paramount Pictures. (Evans claimed in a 2013 event at the Producers Guild that he persuaded Farrow to stay on the film even while her marriage to Frank Sinatra was crumbling.)
The episode, which also includes appearances by Peter Fonda, Laura Bell Bundy and Peter Bogdanovich, doesn’t exactly lampoon Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan’s 2002 documentary, rather it pays homage to its stylized direction and editing using an outrageous fictional producer, Jerry Wallach (played by Hader), as its centerpiece, a man in search of an ever-elusive Oscar.
Buono credits Hader and writer John Mulaney with coming up with the Wallach character. He adds that Hader performed a similar producer-type at the Comedy Central Roast of James Franco. “We loved the idea of a Hollywood figure who had developed into a megalomonaic,” says Buono. “But this wasn’t supposed to be Bill doing a Bob Evans impression, but rather a producer who exists in a world where Bob Evans also lives. Jerry Wallach even competes against him. Jerry almost wishes he were Bob Evans but he couldn’t figure it out. He was always a couple of years too late.”
Evans also appears, courtesy of footage from an old Academy Awards ceremony, in the episode. Dunaway, 75, and Farrow, 71, filmed new scenes, with the former sitting down on the terrace at West Hollywood’s Sunset Tower, while Thomas and Buono caught up with Farrow at her residence in Connecticut.
“It was very casual,” Thomas recalls. “She answered the door and we set up in her kitchen. Like another relaxed day at her household.”
Dunaway provided a different experience.
“Faye is exactly who you would hope that she would be,” he explains of the star, who is having a bit of a resurgence, signing on for three upcoming films including The Bye Bye Man, Inconceivable and The Case for Christ. “She was so glamorous in her prime and remains so decades later. I enjoyed that type of old-school actress who knows about how cameramen work. She told me exactly how to light her. ‘Block this off, block that off. Use that filter.’ I had never experienced that before.”
Thomas says that while they haven’t yet showed the finished product to Evans, they’d be happy to show it to him. There were even conversations about landing the producer for a role in the episode, but conversations never materialized. “We would love him to see it now,” adds Thomas. “We were sensitive about the subject matter because, again, he is in that world but we didn’t want it to be perceived [as] negative.”
Says Buono: “Our mantra and goal is to never make fun of anybody. We love these documentaries, and we love The Kid Stays in the Picture.”
So much so, in fact, that they hoped by using that film as inspiration — a documentary that incorporates still photographs in driving the narrative — their job would somehow be easier. Not so much. “Easily, it was the hardest of any that we have done due to the massive amount of photos we had to take, which required so many location changes and costume changes in trying to make it look real,” explains Thomas.
Find out just how real it looks (and pay special attention to scenes using footage from the actual Oscar cast) when the episode premieres on Oct. 26 on IFC.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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