Matt Stone and Trey Parker have made their share of enemies, thanks to several seasons of "South Park." So it comes as no surprise that they're not too worried about their current feud with Sean Penn. The actor/activist recently wrote them a nasty letter after they made comments that seemed to downplay the importance of voting. Could it also be that Penn — a staunch opponent to the war in Iraq who's traveled to the Middle East to see situation firsthand — is upset with the way he's portrayed in the duo's new puppet action film, "Team America: World Police"? Stone and Parker think so, and as they explained to MTV News' Kurt Loder, Penn and the rest of Hollywood's liberal elite need to get over themselves.
Kurt Loder: Don't you guys worry about having a fatwa put out on you?
Trey Parker: We figured if there was going to be a fatwa, we might have already had it. We've already offended, done things with Mohammed and "South Park" and stuff, so there's probably already one out on us.
Matt Stone: What I love about fatwa is at least they tell you beforehand they're doing it, so at least I can hire some security.
Loder: That's true.
Stone: It's the secret fatwa that I'm worried about.
Loder: Did you ever think at any point, "Well, we've got Korean people here and Arab people here, maybe we'll try to do the languages, like real Korean or ..."
Parker: That takes a lot of time. [All laugh.] Part of the idea of this movie, we always talked about the phantom director, we wanted it to look like this came from the most naive American. There's things in it, subtitles that always explain how far that country is from America, and things like that.
Stone: It's very purposefully ethnocentric. Like we wrote this script, or some really smart people wrote this really cool script and then gave it to Michael Bay. That's the way we always said it: "What would Michael Bay do?" He would have them do gibberish.
Loder: I think the most interesting part of the movie is it really takes apart these sort of self-important Hollywood moral arbiters like Sean Penn and Alec Baldwin. Have you just been collecting these people by watching them on television?
Parker: Yeah, when we were writing the script, we actually handed in the first draft of the script before the Iraq War, but we were working on a draft right as the Iraq War was escalating and it was right around that time where anytime you went to the news ... they'd be saying, "Here with commentary is Sean Penn." And you'd have "Correspondent Alec Baldwin" and you're just like, "I don't want to hear about the news from these people!"
Stone: It's so hard to sift through and find out what the truth is anyway, and now you've got Alec Baldwin in there. Or Sean Penn. What it was supposed to be was exactly what you said, they're just so deluded. Their sense of self-importance is so overinflated that it's like, "You're a good actor — which by the way, means you read other people's lines. You don't know everything about everything."
Parker: And Sean Penn really thought that him going to Iraq, he really thinks people give a crap!
Stone: It's like, 30 million people are in Iraq right now. They have an opinion too.
Parker: I went to the Grand Canyon once. I'm not an expert on it.
Stone: I've been to China once. I've been to China and Russia, and I don't know anything about Chinese or Soviet relations.
Loder: Well, Sean Penn has invited you to go and take the trip he took.
Parker: Yeah, and I would like to go to those places, but not with a brainless little twerp.
Stone: Yeah, I want to go have fun and learn something. But we actually thought it would be fun to accept the offer and bring along a camera crew and just document it, the ultimate "Road Rules."
Loder: He seems angry. Do you think these people have any sense of humor at all?
Parker: Well, he seems like an angry person, which is why he can go to Iraq and be like, "Oh, see!" and think he has all the answers, because he is such an angry guy, obviously.
Stone: I think most of the other celebrities in the movie will have a sense of humor. It's so absurdist. It's a little bit biting, but it's mostly good fun. They're puppets. Only Sean Penn would just lose his mind. Such a humorless person. He says he's not mad about being in the movie, but it's so obvious that's what it's about.
Loder: Did one of you guys write "I'm So Ronery," the Kim Jong Il song?
Stone: Trey wrote it.
Loder: It's brilliant. It's really great.
Parker: Oh, thank you. Doing the songs for the movie was really fun because when we first had the idea to do a puppet movie — and really, that was the first idea; it wasn't "Let's do a political movie," it was "Let's do a puppet movie." And we came up with a bunch of different ideas for that. And of course I immediately wanted to make it a musical, but then we had this idea of doing a [Jerry] Bruckheimer puppet movie, which seemed really great, but then as we were studying the Bruckheimer films, we realized they really are musicals, too, because they have every 12 or 13 minutes, where you would have a song in a movie, Bruckheimer would have a song, but it would be, like, an Aerosmith song. They would have three minutes of visuals over a song. So we made it that kind of musical.
Stone: Except for "I'm So Ronery."
Parker: Yeah, except for "I'm So Ronery," which we just threw in.
Stone: It seems to make sense that he would just break into song.
Loder: So I understand the sex scene was just so hot that it had to be cut down. What could possibly have been cut out of it?
Stone: Um, there were some additional lovemaking positions.
Parker: All it really was, was more of the same, and some of the shots in there were longer, and it really was just hysterical, because they're not anatomically correct, these dolls. They are just dolls, and they're just doing things that kids of all ages did with their Barbie and Ken dolls when they were young, so it's just doing that and putting it on film, and the MPAA's like, "Oh, no, no no."
Stone: The MPAA, their first thing was they can only do missionary and girl on top. And it's like, that's not a joke. That's just a normal night between two people.
Loder: What kind of marionettes are these? Because they seem to have skin.
Parker: They're fully strung marionettes, so when they have to walk and talk, they can have as many as 12 strings on them. And then the faces are all, they have eyebrow movement and their eyes can move back and forth, but it's all [real], we didn't do anything later with computers.
Stone: They have a latex face sculpt, which is like when a real actor has prosthetics on.
Loder: It really seems to work as an action/adventure spy movie once you get over the puppet thing.
Parker: We decided to leave all the strings in because we figured that if we did our job right that you should sort of forget they're puppets at some point.
Loder: In the normal course of events, do you guys get feedback from people you've insulted and pushed around in your shows?
Parker: Not really, Sean Penn's really the first one.
Stone: Since Barbra Streisand.
Parker: Sean Penn and Barbra Streisand — same person.
Stone: Barbra Streisand, about seven years ago, released a statement where she was really mad at us for what we did to her. Since then, most of these people ... we don't know [them] personally and it isn't a personal attack — it's more an attack on the idea of celebrity and how they're just ... celebrities are over-exalted in our culture, and that's why it's so fun to watch someone who's been on magazine covers ... just to see them get [taken down]. It's just fun. There's just a visceral joy out of watching — for us, for me at least, there is.
Parker: 'Cause we've sat in the theater with a bunch of people a few times, and people cheer when Sean Penn dies. So there is something to it.
Stone: And I don't think people want — or most people want — Sean Penn to die, but it's just fun to watch a puppet representation of him get eaten by a house cat.
Loder: So you have, like, bar scenes where all these puppets were together, you have puppet car chases. How many puppeteers were involved in this?
Stone: Well, really, dozens of puppeteers. Because some of those shots, like the establishing shot of Panama or Paris where you have 20 puppets, that's 20 puppeteers up on construction sites above those big sets, and those were pretty involved shots. They would take us most of a day to choreograph.
Parker: Every individual puppet would take three different people to run, because you'd have the one person up above with the old-style marionette sticks doing body movements, another person on a box doing all the eyebrows and eyes, and usually me sitting in the director's chair with the mouth, and I was miked so I could do all the lines live.
Loder: I think people, when they hear about this movie, they think you're doing a political movie. I mean, obviously you take the "Team America" thing, "We destroyed your country but we got the terrorists," but it really goes in the other direction a lot, really goes after, like we said, the self-important celebrities. Do you think people are going to be surprised by this?
Parker: We really wanted to make a movie that was more about the emotions of the last few years, the emotions of what it's been like to be an American, and that's why our hero, Gary, just represents your average American who, at the beginning of the movie he's just scooped up out of his job and told, "Hey, some people want to kill you!" "What?" "These people called terrorists, they want to kill you." That's sort of his 9-11, the emotions we all dealt with like, "Wow, these people really do want us dead!," and we all then kind of went through that phase of flag-waving and thinking about our freedom and all of that — and he goes through that — and going to do something about it and then suddenly the world kind of hates you for it. It was really to us more than taking on what Bush is saying or what Michael Moore is saying — it was all just about the emotions that was more interesting to us.
Stone: Or Gary being pulled in all these different directions and being confused by all these different messages about, "Are you proud, or are you afraid of being a part of this team?"
Loder: Was there ever an idea you had that you thought, "No, that idea's too awful, we can't use it"?
Parker: We had that plenty of times, where it was too awful, but it just wasn't a good idea. [All laugh.] Never awful in the sense of going too far, but uh ...
Stone: We worked really hard on just trying to tell Gary's story and then all the elements, all the plot elements, that's when it was like, "Maybe Michael Moore could be there!" Or "Maybe this should be the Film Actors Guild!" But most of the offensive stuff comes from the fact that we just are offensive. We just really are that offensive.
Parker: If we even tell a fairy tale, it's going to end up being offensive.
Stone: Not on purpose. That's what's funny. And that's almost the only way you can make people think about anything anymore. The culture is just so coarse that you have to take it to that level and people will be like, "Whoa!" And then you can make people think about stuff. It's kind of like shock therapy.
||Photo: Paramount Pictures