Gentlemen Broncos - Jemaine Clement, Jared Hess and Michael Angarano
Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), Director Jared Hess and Benjamin (Michael Angarano) © Fox Searchlight

Gentlemen Broncos is Jared Hess’ third independent movie – the last two he wrote and produced with his wife Jerusha, and directed, Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, have become cult classics.

Their new comedy spotlights Benjamin (Michael Angarano), whose passion for writing science-fiction novels is turned upside down when his idol, the celebrated fantasy author Dr. Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), steals his story Yeast Lords, The Bronco Years, at a writers camp.

There he also meets auteur Lonnie (Hector Jimenez), a young filmmaker with more than 80 film credits, who decides to make a very low-budget movie of his novel, while Chevalier changes the manuscript and publishes it as his own book, The Chronicles of Brutus and Balzaak.

Both versions of Benjamin’s story are played out by Sam Rockwell as Bronco/Brutus and Suzanne May as Vanaya/Venonka, as they take on the evil overlords of the yeast factory in a desperate effort to save civilization. I spoke with Jared and Jerusha about their unique movie last week.

Gentlemen Broncos Poster
Poster artwork © Fox Searchlight Pictures

What does the title mean?

The title of the film comes from my mom. She had this really weird parenting book when I was growing up, I have five younger brothers, and the book was called So You Want to Raise a Boy? It was written in the fifties, and there’s a chapter in there where it talks about 16 to 17 year olds, and the author referred to it as the Gentleman Bronco phase of life, where teenage boys like to take their shirts off and mow the lawn!

Are you a sci fi fan?

I’m a big sci fi fan, all my favorite movies growing up as a kid were science fiction. I actually wanted to be a special effects dude working for Industrial Light and Magic.

So a lot of my first movies were really lame, just like the Yeast Lords movie that Lonnie makes, that’s an accurate representation of my early works.

Gentlemen Broncos - Sam Rockwell
Bronco (Sam Rockwell) © Fox Searchlight

If you saw Snow Angels and cast Michael Angarano and Sam Rockwell for this, you are a visionary.

(he laughs) I’m a fan of all of Sam’s films, but the first time I’d seen Michael Angarano was in Snow Angels, and he’s a very convincing, genuine person and really brought the character to life in the way that we’d seen him.

A lot of the other characters we knew people we wanted to work with, we knew we wanted Jennifer (Coolidge) to play the mom, and we knew Mike White would be Dusty (a member of Benjamin’s mother’s church who becomes his guardian angel), but the main character in the movie, we had no idea who was going to play him, and Michael came to the audition and it was effortless.

We knew Sam would be right because we’d seen him in Galaxy Quest, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he was so funny in the Jesse James movie with Brad Pitt. That was a dark movie, but he’s funny in it.

Gentlemen Broncos - Jemaine Clement
Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement) © Fox Searchlight

Had you seen Jermaine in Flight of the Conchords?

Yeah, we were fans of the show and we didn’t know if we’d be able to work with him because most TV people are really busy.

But we send him the script and he was like, ‘Yeah, man, I’m into it, I’ll do anything you want.’

He wanted to play the guy as an American, but we said, ‘Check out Logan’s Run, I’d like to hear you do Michael York’s voice.’

And you’re working with Mike White again in this.

We’ve been fortunate to collaborate with Mike. He’s an amazing human being and such a talented writer. His comedic sensibility is so spot-on.

When we were done writing the film I sent it over to him and asked if he’d be a producer on it and he kindly offered his talents.

I knew all along I wanted Mike to play the role of Dusty. We’ve been friends for a long while now, and I knew he could nail it. Mike is such a weird dude himself that it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to be Dusty. He was a sport, too, for wearing that hideous wig for most of the film.

Do you think this movie stereotypes sci fi fans or pay homage to their passion?

To me it’s a love-fest. We tried to populate the film with genuine science fiction fans. Everything in the film is done with affection, but there are some characters that are quite funny. We made a crappy sci-fi film and we want them to enjoy it for its crappiness and not take it too seriously, like the ones that are made with limited resources, like Turkish Star Wars, that is mind-blowing.

I own a DVD of it and the training sequence in that film might be the best training sequence on film. It was made in Turkey, probably twenty years after the original came out, I think. The main cast is fairly well known Turkish actors, but they would project scenes from Star Wars like the Death Star, and they’re just sitting with a helmet on, on a chair speaking Turkish.

And then there’s really weird sequences where it looks like they’re beating up characters from Sesame Street. It’s pretty unbelievable.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.