Eminem's clip for "We Made You" might seem like a laugh, but for the rapper, the tabloid-target-blasting video was a chance to indulge in some deep method acting. Seriously.
"Having worked with him so many times, the thing people don't realize is that he's a fantastic actor," said music-video vet Joseph Kahn, who won a Grammy in 2002 for his work on Em's "Without Me" clip, which also won that year's VMA for Video of the Year. "He actually stays in character on set. So when he's Tony Romo, he's Tony Romo the whole time. If he's Bret Michaels, he talks like Bret Michaels. He learned it from ['8 Mile' director] Curtis Hanson. He's a method actor, like Daniel Day Lewis."
Kahn, who is up for Video of the Year at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards for "We Made You" — and is competing against himself in the same category for Britney Spears' "Womanizer" — said the concept for the video was a collaboration between himself, Eminem and Em's longtime manager Paul Rosenberg.
"They called me up, and Marshall — I never call him Eminem — said they wanted to do a funny video," explained Kahn, who has helmed iconic clips for everyone from Britney Spears to Wu-Tang Clan, Mariah Carey, Aerosmith, Kelly Clarkson and the Black Eyed Peas. After listening to the song a few times in a recording studio, Kahn got on the phone with Slim Shady and the rapper explained that he wanted to do a sequel of sorts to "Without Me," in which he takes out verbal and visual hits on the pop icons of the day. "He didn't know if we could hit all the references, though, because he was rapping so fast. I listened to the song, and I was like, 'Nope, we can do it. Let's hit every one of those lyrics.' "
No punches are pulled in the clip, in which Em dresses up like Bret Michaels, riffs on Jessica Simpson's voluptuous assets, pops a few shots at Lindsay Lohan and Sam Ronson, lays into former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, goofs on John Mayer and Jennifer Aniston and Amy Winehouse and ex Blake Civil-Fielder, and takes Kim Kardashian to the wood-chipper.
And, as with "Without Me," Kahn went into the hectic two-day shoot with just a basic sketch of what would happen, happy to let Em do what he does best: improvise. "I'm confident in his improvisational ability to come up with a million things on set, which he always does," Kahn said. After Eminem mapped out which celebs he wanted to take down and 14 different sets were built in a Los Angeles warehouse, including the repurposing of a "Star Trek" bridge that was previously used on a porno shoot for a scene in which Em's mentor Dr. Dre agreed to play Captain Kirk to his protégé's Mr. Spock.
One of the most iconic scenes, however, was shot at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas: a takeoff of the card-counting scene in the Dustin Hoffman/ Tom Cruise savant flick "Rain Man." In a nod to what Kahn said are Em's previously unknown method skills, the director said that when he went up to the rapper's room before the shoot, he found Marshall deeply studying the movie. "He was watching it over and over, saying, 'OK, this is how he stirs his drink,' breaking down Dustin Hoffman's performance," he said. "Marshall is a freak. Everyone thinks he just does stuff, but he really studies it closely, down to how they hold the cards."
Despite a nearly four-year break from solo videos, Kahn felt confident in Em's ability to nail the scenes, especially after watching his performance at this year's MTV Movie Awards. "When Brüno fell on his face, everyone was completely shocked," he said of the thong-only reverse handshake actor Sacha Baron Cohen laid on the rapper at the event. "I knew instantly that he was an amazing actor."
The one scene Kahn was nervous about, however, was a bit where Em had to play the young Elvis and do the dancing jailhouse scene from "Jailhouse Rock." While the rapper's acting skills are sharp, the director said his dancing skills are, well, not as on point. "Marshall is not a dancer. He doesn't dance, he's a rapper," Kahn said. "But he had to learn how to dance like Elvis because we're doing the actual dance from 'Jailhouse Rock.' And he did it. He learned the whole dance in an hour and nailed it."
Go Behind the Lens with other Video of the Year nominees:
Watch the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards Preshow this Sunday, September 13, at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the big event, airing live at 9 p.m. New York is celebrating the VMAs all week long, so stay tuned for party coverage, concert reports, behind-the-scenes updates and more.