I normally have a strict rule against watching movies with names that are too close to what their porn parody names would be (Grandpa Under Covers), but I put my principles aside for Undercover Grandpa. After all, it is one of the best action/family/comedy films ever made, in Canada, in 2017, starring James Caan.
Everyone was thrilled when the stars of Undercover Grandpa were announced. Finally, we would get to see actors from two of the most beloved films of all time, The Godfather, and The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story, in one movie! And that movie was being written by the genius that shaped the 1998 tour de force about the world of competitive rollerblading, Brink.
You might assume that everyone involved in the production knew they had a hit on their hands. Yet around the time of filming Undercover Grandpa, James Caan was reportedly strapped for cash due to a messy divorce, his fourth, and was publicly complaining about being forced to take parts that detracted from his reputation as an actor. Obviously, he must have been referring to something like Wuthering High, a sexy updated version of Wuthering Heights he did in 2015 and not the masterpiece of Ass Kickery that is Undercover Grandpa.
Even though it’s only been three years, a film this classic deserves an oral history now, before most of its cast dies. So, I put one together with just a few caveats:
*James Caan was not available to be interviewed
*Jessica Walter was not available to be interviewed
*Louis Gossett Jr. was not available to be interviewed
*Dylan Everett was not available to be interviewed
*Paul Sorvino was not available to be interviewed
*Kenneth Welsh was available to be interviewed but I didn’t want to talk to him.
*Director Erik Canuel was not available to be interviewed
My primary source for this oral history is a crew member very close to the production who asked to remain anonymous. I’m assuming people are hesitant to discuss Undercover Grandpa because they’re so humble about their great success.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. What was it like working with the legendary James Caan?
“Every day James Caan wore one of those hats with two cup holders on the sides and the left side held a blue slushie and the right side held a red slushie. As soon as filming was over, he would yell, ‘Where is my special hat? Bring me my special hat!’ And if it wasn’t brought to him right away, he would get very upset. If you brought him the hat too slowly or if one of the slushies was empty, he would throw the whole hat at you, and it was very cold.”
Cool! As we all know, Undercover Grandpa kicks ass. He kicks so much ass there’s not even any ass left when he’s done. It’s just straight back and then knees when Undercover Grandpa is finished with you. How much coordination did the stunt scenes require? I’m particularly curious about the one where Undercover Grandpa beats up that guy in the illegal weapons store with his cane for no reason.
“Well, that was sort of improvised. It wasn’t in the original script, but James Caan just started hitting that guy in the face. I’m not sure if it was slushie related or not, but if I had to guess, I would say that’s probably it. They made us sign an NDA that said we legally have to tell everyone that James Caan did all of his own stunts, and I guess he sort of did if you really lower your definition of what a stunt is, like, at a certain age walking across an uneven gravel surface is a pretty sick stunt.”
Everyone loves the lengthy conversation about KFC at the beginning of the movie. Were they a sponsor, or did it just feel organic to the writer?
“Yes, they were a sponsor. In fact, the whole thing was supposed to be a thirty-second long KFC commercial, but things just got out of hand. KFC asked for their money back, but the director refused to give it to them. It turns out he had a rare tropical bacteria that was eating his brain for most of filming. After he shot the final scene, he walked off into the Canadian wilderness and was never heard from again. The whole time he kept muttering, ‘I deserve this’ to himself.”
I noticed that the cast list on IMDB shows a pretty heft special effects crew. Was that all for the scene where Harry’s walker shoots out electricity and shocks all of the goons to death?
“No, there was originally going to be a talking dog in the movie, it was a huge part of the plot, but James Caan got jealous of the dog and hit it with his car halfway through filming. We tried to find another dog that looked just like it, but apparently, it was endangered somehow? Like, it was the last dog of its kind, so we ended up having to edit out all of the talking dog footage in post. Sometimes there are scenes where the background is a little blurry, and that’s where we edited out the dog.”
Dylan Everett’s tears at undercover grandpa’s funeral seemed pretty real. Was that an emotional day on set?
“Oh, those tears were real. James Caan kicked him in the balls right before that scene was filmed. He wasn’t even supposed to be on set that day. Showed up just to kick the kid in the balls and then left.”
How nice! The Russian accents in the film seem very authentic. I mean, I’ve never heard a real Russian accent before, but I’ve seen a lot of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Was there a dialogue coach on set for the Goons, or were those actors really Russian?
“No, KFC didn’t give us the budget for that. The director did provide the guy who played General Komenkho with a cassette tape to study, but it turned out it was just one of those things that’s supposed to hypnotize you into quitting smoking, and it was being read by a guy with a thick New Jersey accent. He didn’t learn Russian, and the tape was so bad it actually hypnotized him into starting smoking. Yeah, that was pretty crazy. I heard he sued the production company for a million dollars after he contracted lung cancer.”
In the early days, some of the critics weren’t kind to the movie. The Hollywood Reporter said that it “Gives grandparents a bad name.” Was that difficult for you to see?
“Well, we knew that grandparents were probably going to be pissed off about it. A whole bunch of them showed up to picket the set. They wanted the word grandpa removed from the title so as not to associate them with the movie at all. They didn’t want to seem like they were endorsing it. Every day there were tons of crying old people on set, and I’m not just talking about the ones that had to be in the movie.”
Well, as we all know, in the end, the movie won the big awards. It took home the best feature and best actor trophies at the International Family Film Festival, a festival that appears to have shut down shortly after giving out the award. What was the atmosphere like at the award show?
“Oh, James Caan wouldn’t let anyone else from the movie go to the award show. I heard that he tried to put the entire trophy in his mouth, and when it wouldn’t fit, he got super angry. Then he said he was going to donate it to the James Caan foundation for underprivileged youth who need to eat James Caan’s ass.”
Hm, interesting, just one last question, is the movie called Undercover Grandpa because James Caan is both undercover and a grandpa, or because he’s undercover as a grandpa? He really is Jake’s Grandpa, right? But there’s some discussion of his blowing his cover?
“Look, I won’t stand for this kind of bullshit gotcha journalism; obviously, no one knows the answer to that question. I won’t sit here and listen to you disparage the most important Canadian action/family/comedy that was filmed in 2017, starring James Caan. Good day ma’am!”
Lydia will probably talk a lot more about Undercover Grandpa on Twitter.