Interview: America: The Motion Picture Director Matt Thompson

By | July 8, 2021
Matt Thompson Interview

(Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images)

Now streaming on Netflix, Matt Thompson’s America: The Motion Picture features an all-star cast of Channing Tatum as George Washington, Simon Pegg as King James, Judy Greer as Martha Dandridge, Bobby Moynihan as Paul Revere, Raoul Trujillo as Geronimo, Jason Mantzoukas as Samuel Adams, Olivia Munn as Thomas Edison, Will Forte as Abraham Lincoln, Killer Mike as Blacksmith, and Andy Samberg as Benedict Arnold. The film is a satirical look at the founding fathers of the United States.

RELATED: Channing Tatum Leads a Revolution in America: The Motion Picture Trailer 

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with America: The Motion Picture director Matt Thompson about his lengthy animation career, directing his first feature film, keeping Archer feeling fresh, and his friendship with Killer Mike.

Tyler Treese: I was wondering what really attracted you to Dave Callaham’s script and how you got involved with this project?

Matt Thompson: I was the last of [what] we call the founding fathers for this movie. It was a shorthand for saying Channing Tatum’s company, Free Association, Lord and Miller’s company, Dave Callaham, and then myself and my animation company, Floyd County Productions. Dave Callaham wrote this script 10 years to the day that it came out and he was doing something with Lord Miller [productions] at the time and he wanted it to say, here’s just a silly spec script that I wrote about the ultimate origin story, the ultimate fighting force that in American history of coming to take on the British to earn our freedom. When Channing read the script as a spec, like, oh, hey, I want to do a 21 Jump Street or something else with you guys. Channing was like this script is for me? Let’s just do this. That was Lord, Miller, and Channing, and from there, they brought me in to come in and direct it. I read the first eight to 10 pages of it. I instantly got what Dave was trying to do, a revisionist tale of American history. It’s basically something that is a story about the founding of America as if it was told by an idiot, and I was attracted to just making this the wildest ride I possibly could.

It’s such a fun film and it has such a star-studded cast. Obviously, Tatum was involved for a while there, but were you surprised just how star-studded the cast wound up being?

I was very, very thankful to walk into a project that Channing Tatum says I’m going to be the star, that I endorse it. My company is going to make it. Lord and Miller are both prolific, the best cartoon movie makers. I think in the history of, well right now there’s nobody better at this than them. So when you come at the project like that, no matter how crazy and insane the ideas are, you can go to somebody and go, “This movie starts off with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are best friends and Benedict Arnold bites off Lincoln’s head and that starts the Revolutionary War.” A lot of people might take that on face and go, “What? No, I’m cool. Nevermind,” but when you say, “Oh, Channing’s in it, Lord Miller is on board,” then the door opens up to whoever you want to cast. So consequently, we didn’t hire a casting agent. We just called everybody who we thought was best for the part and we were lucky enough that they all said, “Yeah, okay.”

Killer Mike is fantastic in the film. I know you previously worked with him on Frisky Dingo. Can you talk about just working with him and getting to reconnect with him creatively?

I’ve known Killer Mike for 10 years now, and I don’t know if I’ve ever met anybody who is that smart and can say incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, socially provoking things off the top of his head. Like the guy is a professor, a fountain of knowledge and of heart and of caring. He’s an amazing human being. I mean, truly amazing. Watch any of his speeches when he’s talking passionately about this nation and what we’re going through socially. I dare you not to be moved by what he says. We’ve been friends for a long time. We’ve kept in touch over the years since working together on Frisky Dingo, and we are always been talking about finding something to do with each other. So when this role came in here, I just called him and I was, was like, “Mike, you got to do this,” and I was lucky enough that he said yes. I cannot say enough good things about that, man.

america: the motion picture matt thompson

The film is so fun with all these over-the-top versions of the founding fathers, and then we get so many fun twists and turns on characters like Olivia Munn’s, Thomas Edison and the version of Benedict Arnold is wild in this. How fun was it getting to really put these own spin on these legendary historical figures and not really have to worry about historical accuracy or time? I mean we have Abraham Lincoln with George Washington. It’s wild.

Yeah. Like right from the beginning of the movie, you know, this is a revisionist tale of history. Like the movie opens up with the British, uh, murdering everybody who was in the Continental Congress signing the declaration of independence. So you automatically get it from the first thing. And then the second scene, when, when Benedict Arnold turns into a werewolf, you know, that it’s a revisionist tale looking at our history through a comedic lens, but it was important to us to make everything be a little bit correct. So that you have these things where John Wilkes Booth is at Ford’s Theater that night where Lincoln is assassinated. All those things are still true, but we just do it in a way that is completely silly but still makes you question it.

One of my favorite things that people may not realize is that Simon Pegg comes in and just kills it as the evil King James who’s leading the British. King James wasn’t in power against the colonies then, that was King George. I’m wondering how many people are going to catch that because it’s just correct enough. It’s just truth adjacent enough to make you question it and hopefully, that makes the joke better. One of my favorite tiny jokes in the movie is something that the actor, my friend, Raoul Max Trujillo brought to the character of Geronimo. In talking to Raoul a little about Geronimo, and Raoul is indigenous and has Apache bloodlines, and one of the things he taught me about Geronimo was never a chief. So throughout his life, his very public life, in later years, people would always call him chief Geronimo. He was always like, “I’m not a chief,” and it pissed him off. So there are at least six or seven things underneath the breadth of the character of Geronimo. When George Washington, as a kind of a bro dummy, he keeps calling him chief Geronimo, and Geronimo, he just keeps going, “Not a chief, not a chief.” So again, that’s just enough truth in it to keep me moving forward and it deepens the joke for me.

This film has that revisionist type of propaganda history element to it. Just watching the world news, one thing I keep going back to is I keep thinking about Frisky Dingo and the election storyline. Are you shocked at just how relevant that program has stayed 15 years later and how it seems like it could be made just today?

I’ve made a lot of TV, comedy, adult TV over the last 20 years. Some of it holds up and some doesn’t, I still can watch Frisky DIngo and go, “That’s decent.” The main character in Frisky Dingo is basically Archer and Killer Mike’s in there and a bunch of other stuff, but I still can go back to that show and think that it’s pretty decent. I will even say that we brought for fans of Frisky Dingo, we even brought our version of the Xtacles in this story. To me, Samuel Adams, the inventor of beer, the frat bro, and when we meet him, he’s surrounded by all his frat bros. To me, we treated those frat bros as the Xtacles. In fact, I had the guys, who were still on my staff, that voiced the Xtacles, be those frat bros yelling at Sam Adams in the background.

Frisky Dingo matt thompson

Oh, that is so awesome. This is your first feature film. What kind of challenges come from dealing with the feature length rather than an 11 or 22-minute episode?

What I learned greatly from Lord and Miller is people have to feel like this was worth their 90 minutes of time. A lot of times you can watch a 30-minute television show and it doesn’t really matter to some degree that you learned anything that you felt anything for the characters, cause we just kept pushing through it. What Lord and Miller taught me and what I’ve learned in making this, is you want to root for people that you like, and hopefully, there’s a little bit in each one of these main characters that you want to root for them. Then you also want to see their story arc completed. That’s not the case in 30 minute TV. You don’t have to complete an arc. There’s always going to be another episode. You don’t have to complete that storyline. It can be open-ended here. You’ve got to wrap and you kind of make people feel like, “Ah, I didn’t just waste my time.” So hopefully this movie is an incredibly wild ride full of a billion gags, and I realize that it’s not for everyone, but if you stick with it, hopefully, the ride is going to be great because we tried to just make this as fun as fast and as furious as we could.

This is such a big deal for Floyd County Productions. You go from having just eight employees. Now you have your first film behind you. What does that really mean for the company as a whole to have shipped that first film?

Very fortunate as a cartoon maker to be working with almost all the same people in the hierarchy of the organization that I have for the last 20 years. You mentioned Frisky Dingo, almost every single one of those people that made that show with me works for me still. They’re still here. They’re still on it. Eric Sims was the producer. Eric was on Frisky Dingo. Casey Willis is still here. He’s running Archer. Neal Holman, he’s one of those frat bros in that scene, is still here. He’s running a show coming up for Hulu called Hit-Monkey. What is fortunate is to have the stability and to be able to do this job in America when a lot of animation is no longer in the United States, and so I’m just surrounded by my old friends and we sit there and we pick each other apart, we pick our jokes apart and there’s a comfort to be able to say awful things to each other.

It’s just … I know people say this and I don’t want to do this Dom [Toretto] meme right now, but it is a family that we’ve been together for this long. I cherish each and every one of them and they make me better. They make us all better. We’re better together, stronger. I think that’s the essential message of the movie too, which is we’re better if we listen to everybody, we’re better. If we’ve listened to immigrants, people of color, men and women alike, and the company I felt that we built we all try to keep that in line too.

You’ve been able to do stuff like Dicktown and America: The Motion Picture, while still keeping Archer running. It’s such an institution at this point. Doing these other projects, does that kind of remotivate you and kind of keep the creative juices going for something as long-running as Archer?

It does and because it keeps it going for all of us, because even the people that are on Archer get to look at other projects and make comments on those. Then the other people that are working on Dicktown, like you mentioned, or Hit-Monkey, or one of the other shows get to see something else too and get the comments on that. So it kind of keeps us all sharper as to where jokes land, what stories we should be telling, because we all kind of look at the things that we’re all collectively making and are able to use other parts of our brain. Because at some point you don’t want to just be telling the same story over and over. You have to get outside yourself creatively. That’s again, the great blessing of having so many people who have trusted me for so long to work for us for so long.