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The Please Don't Destroy Movie's Director Explains How Conan O'Brien Was Cast as Ben's Dad
Director Paul Briganti talks PDD's friendship, filming that wing suit scene, and how Conan O'Brien got involved in the new Peacock movie.
Please Don't Destroy members Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy have been making short films on Saturday Night Live since 2021, but the creative relationship between the three dates back to their days as NYU students. While performing comedy in New York City and sharing sketches filmed on their phones via TikTok and Twitter in 2020, Marshall, Higgins, and Herlihy began writing what would become their first feature film, Please Don't Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain.
While plot of the Peacock movie remains largely the same as it was originally—three childhood friends in their late twenties go on a wild treasure hunt—director Paul Briganti told NBC Insider that he aimed to ground the dramatic set pieces (such as the unhinged hairless bear scene) in the quality that sets PDD apart: The comedic chemistry and friendship between its members.
"It was important to center their friendship, because that's why you get invested in the story," Briganti said, saying the film was influenced not only by Goonies, Anchorman, and Bridesmaids, but Pop Star and Hot Rod, two films by PDD's SNL predecessors Lonely Island.
"We really tried to make their relationships really specific, and grounded in that spiraling anxiety of being in your twenties," he added.
Briganti shared more details about making The Treasure of Foggy Mountain, and how Conan O'Brien came to play Ben's dad. Note: Extremely mild spoilers below!
Paul Briganti on casting Conan as Ben Marshall's dad
Briganti told NBC Insider that the notion to cast Conan O'Brien as Ben's dad came to everyone involved pretty early on. "We have bad imaginations, and it was an obvious choice because they're both super tall, funny redheads," he joked.
Excited and nervous as the filmmakers were to reach out to O'Brien—"you don't want to waste anyone's time, but especially his," said Briganti—they were delighted to learn that he found the script funny and was interested in playing Farley.
"He told us, 'no one ever really asks me to do anything like this," Briganti recounted, adding that the casting director, Gayle Keller, was also very into the idea. Given that O'Brien has played versions of himself in dozens upon dozens of TV shows and movies, "it was really fun to kind of break that side of his IMDB page."
From 30 Rock to filming in the mountains of North Carolina
Marshall, Higgins, and Herlihy film most of their SNL videos in a tiny 30 Rock office, and Briganti described filming on location in the North Carolina wilderness as an "intense" experience. Briganti said he's learned from his own past experience directing SNL sketches that "I'm a weird masochist," he said, and a place like SNL "does not exist anywhere else, and doesn't in a world that's led by logic and, and ease."
The proving ground of SNL primed Briganti for dealing with thunderstorms and... surprise hornets.
"We'd scouted the location a million times, but when we were shooting, we realized that it had all these underground hornets—so every couple minutes we'd be like, 'reminder there's hornets in the ground! You step on a nest and you'll get stung many times," Briganti said. "I think it rubs off in the movie, when they're really climbing something and they're really sweating."
On that prosthetic
There's a moment toward the end of the film that we won't describe here, but it involves Higgins's character having an unexpected moment as the three friends take flight in their wing suits. Figuring out how to depict the moment "took a long time," Briganti said, "because it's obviously a delicate thing that can ruin the movie. So there were a lot of different versions of that prosthetic, and a lot of different ways we shot it."
Ultimately, they realized, it was more about the (hilarious) sound. "That's what keeps it from being too much, and too weird," Briganti said.
In a way, it ties back to the through line of Ben, John, and Martin's bond in the movie.
"It's kind of this moment when he's overcoming something, and the friends are overcoming something, and it's this like weird poetic moment," he laughs.