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The Fretts on Film Interview: “Three Amigos!”

May 2, 2013

I didn’t think much of Three Amigos! when I first saw it in 1987. I was a PC college student too easily offended by the stereotypical Mexicans—even though Steve Martin’s silent film star acknowledges them as clichés—and didn’t find Chevy Chase’s and Martin Short’s silly sight gags intellectually challenging. But after interviewing Martin, Short and cowriter-producer Lorne Michaels for a recent freelance piece and chatting with them about the film, I decided to give it another chance. And you know what? I was wrong.

Maybe it helped that I watched it with my kids (who are fans of the trio from Martin’s Pink Panther remakes, Chase’s sitcom Community and Short’s turn as Jack Frost in The Santa Clause 3, among other more recent projects) and enjoyed it vicariously through them. It’s harmless good fun—as Michaels pointed out, “It’s the only real movie I’ve ever written, and it’s hardly edgy and dark.” Here’s are Martin’s and Short’s memories of making the film.

STEVE MARTIN

What was the process of writing Three Amigos! with Lorne Michaels and Randy Newman like?

It was really nice. We did it at my house in Beverly Hills when I had a house in Beverly Hills, and Lorne would walk over from the Beverly Hills Hotel and wasn’t quite ready to work—he had to read the trades first [laughing]. It was a joyful time for the three of us because Randy was writing the songs, but he also pitched in on the script. I was at the word processor—it wasn’t a computer then, it was a word processor. I’m not kidding, if I wanted to move a paragraph, we would walk away and go sit in the living room. It would take maybe 5 minutes. But anyway, that’s not important. We would go to lunch at the Grill, and it was really nice. We had a good time. And then we actually went to St. Barts and that’s where we actually cracked the script. I think we even threw away the original script and started fresh, as a matter of fact.

MARTIN SHORT

What do you remember about making Three Amigos!?

I remember Lorne would come in for certain weekends because he had just returned to Saturday Night Live so he wasn’t on the set all the time. I first got wind of the project—I have this kind of Rain Man memory—but it was May of  ’85, I had finished doing Letterman, I went up to Lorne’s apartment, we talked about lots of things and then he gave me the script for Three Amigos! And then there were lots of meetings and lots of prep time—we didn’t start shooting that until January of 1986. Lorne was pretty immersed in Saturday Night Live so when he was able to be there, he was there. I remember Lorne and Steve and I playing golf in Tucson. I remember Lorne had never played golf, and was brilliant at the top and then by the end of the ninth hole, was horrible—and Steve and I can’t play either so every time we gave him a note, he would get worse.

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