Harold Ramis may be best known for his infamous portrayal of Dr. Egon Spangler in the Ghostbusters films, but he also wrote for such comedic films as Animal House and Groundhog Day. It would seem that a veteran of this caliber is above association with untested newbies in the entertainment industry.
But while working on Orange County, a comedy starring relative newcomers such as Colin Hanks – that’s right, son of Tom – and directed by the 26-year-old Jake Kasdan, Ramis followed orders with little problem. He only had one problem with the script: In the film, Ramis’ character accidentally takes ecstasy, and subsequently becomes enamored with Hanks. In a recent interview, Ramis admitted he had some reservations with the original scene.
“I only asked (Kasdan) to change one thing, after the kiss (with Hanks),” Ramis said. “It got even kinkier . and I said, ‘Oh man, I’m just afraid that I’ll be walking down the street and all people will think of me as is the old pervert who went down on Colin Hanks.'”
Oral sex aside, Ramis felt that Orange County, set for release in January 2002, met his own personal test for a successful picture.
“In Chicago I have friends who had nothing to do with the business until I moved there who say that I’ve ruined movie-going for them,” he said. “They’ve visited me on sets and now they can picture the crew standing there and the table with the donuts. The illusion is gone.
“For me it becomes the test of a movie to make me forget all that stuff. I was prepared to dissect (Orange County) shot by shot but, boy, I was just entertained,” he said.
Ramis was also impressed by rising star Jack Black, who has come into the spotlight recently as the star of Shallow Hal and as one half of the band Tenacious D and appears in Orange County as Hanks’ drug-saturated older brother.
“He’s like a healthy Jon (Belushi),” Ramis said. “Jon was on this self-destructive track, and I think Jack has all the same dangerous unpredictability that Jon had but he seems to be in control of his gifts and his life.”
Ramis’ career has had more than its fair share of highlights. Originally appearing in the seminal television comedy “SCTV” with other comedic greats such as John Candy, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara (O’Hara also appears in Orange County), Ramis went on earn writing credits on films such as Animal House, Caddyshack and Meatballs, and direct films such as Multiplicity, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. Onscreen, he is probably best known for Ghostbusters, a film he also wrote. But by the time Ghostbusters hit big, Ramis says he had already grown too old for earlier work.
“In 1984 when Ghostbusters came out, I was 40 years old,” Ramis said. “The first films I worked on . those movies really had a youth comedy component, the whole industry perceived them as helping define this new youth audience, and they credited us with starting this gross-out comedy.” Said Ramis. “You know at 40 I was concerned with something different. I was done with the farting and vomiting and the gross-out aspects of what I was doing.”
“The films changed after that point; I stopped making those institutional comedies about individuals against society,” he said. “They’re all about misfits in a world against the establishment. That was really a ’60s kind of construct: ‘We’re hip and everyone else isn’t and it’s us against them.'”
Ramis’ ethos changed following Ghostbusters, and his films changed with it.
“The ‘us against them’ kind of evaporated in my filmmaking,” Ramis said. “There are no villains in Groundhog Day. These are movies about personal struggle.
“One thing I see happening today, in all our talk about (Osama) bin Laden or about Islam, is demonizing the other,” he said. “We do it all the time in movies; we create monsters out of our own imagination to represent the negative. It’s a way of channeling our fear, our insecurity our discontent.
“Whether it’s a youth gang in L.A. or an alien or the devil, we need to personalize” Ramis said. “‘The evil ones,’ that’s the Bush phrase. Hey, is that easy? Movies foster that mythology, that if we just blow away the bad guy before he blows away anymore good guys, we’ll be fine.”
Now, Ramis has a different agenda than earlier in his career.
“I try to inject as much meanings into the films as they’ll hold,” he said. Ramis values films for their “opportunity to say genuine things to the audience.”