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Interview With John Landis

Aired August 29, 2003 - 20:55   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It may seem hard to believe, but a movie that gained fame for celebrating youthful indiscretion and college hijinks has reached the ripe old age of 25. It's now enjoying a rebirth with the release of a 25th anniversary DVD.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, state your name.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: I, state your name...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do hereby pledge allegiance to the frat.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: Do hereby pledge allegiance to the frat.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): And with those words, we all pledged allegiance to the Delta House and a movie that's become a national pastime. "Animal House."

Whether baby boomers who saw it for the first time in theaters in 1978 or their kids who saw it for the first time this week on DVD, we were captivated. Maybe it's because "Animal House" has a sort of infectious charm, and a singular sense of humor.

JOHN BELUSHI, ACTOR: I'm a zit, get it?

O'BRIEN: Especially when compared with today's imitators, like "American Pie," "Road Trip" and "Old School," whose humor is often based on raunch.

"Animal House" is seen as a seminal piece of work, by everyone, from, nor surprisingly, frat boys, to more surprisingly, film credits. Right down to the credits. Kevin Bacon, Chip, who made his film debut in this film, went on to star in movies with everyone in Hollywood.

John Belushi, Bluto, tragically died nine years after the film was made.

Tim Matheson, Otter, can now be seen as the vice president on "The West Wing."

And John Landis, the director, went on to make many more successful movies, including "Blues Brothers" and "Trading Places."

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: "Animal House" director John Landis joins us here in the studio to tell us why we're still laughing at all the gang in Delta House 25 years later. Good evening. It's nice to have you in the studio.

JOHN LANDIS, DIRECTOR, "ANIMAL HOUSE": It's very surreal being here.

O'BRIEN: Is it really?


O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the movie. Did you know at the time when you've got your hands on it, you started rolling film that this is a hit, this was going to be huge?

LANDIS: No. It was a brilliant script. Doug Kenny, Harold Ramis, Chris Miller wrote a genuinely funny and smart script.

O'BRIEN: Rewrote. Because I've read the first one actually was not such a great script.

LANDIS: No, it was always a very funny script. It was a little rough. I was hired originally to supervise a rewrite. But it's their script. And it's based on Chris Miller's real fraternity at Dartmouth. I just made it -- I made it good guys versus bad guys. And the strength of the movie is, they're sweet. It's a sweet movie.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's so funny. I mean, you watch -- you just remember the clips and you laugh and you laugh and you laugh. Was it as funny to shoot? I mean, was it a movie where the set was just as fun as what was going on in the film?

LANDIS: Yeah. It sounds so obnoxious, but in fact I've worked on many movies, not just my own, and how it is on the set has nothing to do with the movie. I mean, I've worked on terrible, unpleasant sets where the movie was great, and I've worked on lovefests where the movie stunk. And in "Animal House" is the rare exception, because I was 27, everyone in the cast was younger than me or my age, except for the four or five grownups. You know, and it was really fun.

O'BRIEN: Was John Belushi a nightmare to direct, or was he fun to direct?

LANDIS: No. Oh, no.

O'BRIEN: Because he seems to me a little bit undirectable.

LANDIS: No, just -- no, not at all. John Belushi was fabulous. You have to remember this was a stage-trained actor from Second City, and then "National Lampoon," and then "Saturday Night Live." But John was a fine actor. And this was way before his drug problems and stuff. He was great. And a pleasure.

O'BRIEN: Twenty-fifth anniversary. What was the impact of this film on your career? Did you become a superstar after it, and the studio was handing you money, saying, oh go make another film for us?

LANDIS: Sort of. I mean, what happens with success is, you know, the business we're in is called the movie business, the industry. So it's about money. You know, the only qualification of a good movie, in industry terms, is a profitable movie. And this movie was hugely successful, which allowed me to make some pretty unorthodox and out there movies. I mean, without this I couldn't have made "The Blues Brothers" or "An American Werewolf in London," or even "Trading Places," movies that were really nuts at the time. You know, and anything successful is instantly mainstream. So people don't realize how radical some of that stuff was.

But "Animal House," you know, we got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on when it came out. It got dreadful reviews, this picture. And it's funny, 25 years later to be told it's a classic. You know?

O'BRIEN: Twenty-five years later, it is a classic, and congratulations on your 25th anniversary and the new DVD. Thanks for joining us, it's nice to see you.

LANDIS: Thank you.


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