It’s the last summer before college, and two teenage buddies and their gang of misfits just want to hook-up with a pretty girl and have a huge bash before the next phase of their life takes them all in different directions. Staten Island Summer doesn’t exactly break new cinematic ground, following in the footsteps of films like Porky’s and American Pie, but it’s a Saturday Night Live joint — written by Colin Jost and produced by Lorne Michaels — that reunites several members of the current cast and favorite alums.
Jost mined his own adolescence for the straightforward plot: Graham Phillips (The Good Wife) plays the wholesome Staten Island lifeguard heading to Harvard in the fall who finally decides it’s time to act on his longtime crush on the prettiest girl in the outer borough — his old babysitter (Ashley Greene). Bobby Moynihan and Cecily Strong play fellow fun-loving lifeguards, who team up to thwart the reign of their prickish boss (Mike O’Brien). Kate McKinnon, Will Forte, and Fred Armison also appear, and Jost gets some of the movie’s best laughs as a careless cop.
Strong was happy to pitch in when Jost and director Rhys Thomas (Saturday Night Live) filmed during recent summer breaks. She’s spending this summer filming Ghostbusters and writing her own hush-hush screenplay with some of her SNL colleagues, and while she was tightlipped about those projects, she was happy to discuss O’Brien’s nut-huggers, “Weekend Update,” and the inspiration for One-Dimensional Female Character From a Male-Driven Comedy.
Staten Island Summer opens in limited theaters July 24, debuts on Netflix on July 30, and is already available for digital download.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I grew up on movies like Meatballs and Caddyshack and other summer coming-of-age comedies full of sexual hijinks. So don’t judge me for totally being the very happy target audience for Staten Island Summer.
CECILY STRONG: I don’t judge you. Thanks a lot for enjoying my movie… you idiot!
The main character in the film, Danny (Graham Phillips), is a Staten Island lifeguard who’s heading off to Harvard, not unlike Colin Jost, your SNL colleague who wrote the script. Be honest, how many times a day at work does he remind colleagues that he went to Harvard?
I only ever heard him [mention Harvard] once. Other people may bring it up as a joke, like, “Okay, Harvard.” There’s a couple of Harvard guys at SNL but no one cares where you’re from at that Wednesday table read. I mean, that breaks everybody if you’re not getting laughs, no matter where you’re from.
How did he lure so many of the SNL cast to be in his movie?
I enjoy working with people that I work with, and Colin’s someone that I write with a lot at the show. [Working with them] means you get to improvise. It means they trust you, and you like each other already.
The film is set in Staten Island, where Colin grew up. But is that where you filmed?
Yeah, we were at Great Kills for most of it. We were like literally in his backyard. We may have filmed in his house or at his cousin’s house at one point.
Your character, Mary Ellen, is kind of the one grown-up in the film. Did Colin write something very specific or did he expect you to build your own thing?
They sort of gave me that part and then let us improvise a lot and sort of make the characters our own in a sense. There wasn’t very strict direction. It was really kind of, “What makes us laugh?” and what I identify with.
I’m risking being rude, but there’s one scene with Mary Ellen in the film that reminded me of your hilarious “Weekend Update” character, One-Dimensional Female Character From a Male-Driven Comedy. By chance, was that part of the inspiration for your SNL character?
Wow. No, it actually wasn’t. It was more different scripts that I read the summer after [filming]. Because that moment [in the film] felt a little more real. I remember I had a moment when I was in fifth grade, we would go to these dances in River Forest — I think it was called Friday Night Live or some stupid thing. I had an older brother, and especially around, like, 1996, I was really into grunge, so I always dressed up a little bit more of a tomboy. Then I remember there was one time I went to the dance, and I dressed up more like a girl — whatever that means in 1995 — and all of a sudden, all of these boys asked me to dance. And I was like, “That’s the difference? Really?”
I have to ask about Mike O’Brien, who plays the bossy, kill-joy lifeguard. Did you ever get used to his mustache, nut-huggers, and his blinding whiteness?
I think we kind of got used to it, but he never was like quite 100 percent comfortable. There were some times where he’d be like, “I can wear a jacket in this scene, right?” You forget it was like, “Oh yeah, he’s just always kind of naked.” It was so funny. We really got used to it after a week or so. What was worse for him was covering up his tattoos. He would have to go in early and stay late to put all this makeup on his body.
Body tattoos? I can’t tell if you’re kidding.
Oh, I’m not kidding.
He really has body tattoos?
Yeah, yeah. He’s got a full back tattoo. I don’t know if that’s a secret or what.
I’ll have to watch again closely in hi-def. At the end of the film, there’s one of those classic raging high-school parties that only exist in the movies and cause 15-year-olds to have unreasonable expectations about their social life.
Yeah, exactly. I never went to any of those parties.
Like the one in Weird Science, with 1,000 people on their front lawn waiting to come in, and kids watching at home are like, “Oh yeah, that’s how it’s going to be when I’m a senior in high school.” But no, never.
But I just assumed that it was because I wasn’t popular, that I wasn’t invited.
Staten Island Summer fits into a popular tradition of comedies, like Porky’s and Superbad, that are focused on adolescent sexual misadventures. Is there a female version of this type of movie, or a way to tell this story that’s more from a girl’s perspective? The only one that comes to mind is The To Do List?
That’s a hard one to answer because it’s not necessarily what I would write. And also, I think girls and boys during adolescence are pretty different. I mean, Mean Girls was pretty big, and that’s a real high-school movie that lots of people can laugh at. A lot of those teen movies for girls are aimed [strictly] at teen audiences, more than adults as well. I would have to think about that to understand why that is.
I check Paul Feig’s Twitter every hour to see if he’s announced who you’re playing in his Ghostbusters movie. Is that still under wraps?
Oh, totally. More than anything ever. There’s a little red laser dot on my forehead right now. “Be careful what you say, Strong.”
One of the best things about SNL last season was seeing you more freed up to do sketches. Do you miss hosting “Update” or are you thrilled with the way things worked out?
I’m so thrilled with the way things worked out. This last year was just so much fun and a real sigh of relief. Sometimes [when I was doing “Update”], I would kind of go, “Oh my God.” Only because of the pressure that [it requires], the scrutiny. The [hosts] have to put in extra time and really work hard on this, and I was just like, “I’m so glad I don’t have to do this anymore.”
What are you most looking forward to next season?
I’m just more excited to see everybody again. I really, really enjoy everyone so much. It’s still a very fun job for me, as stressful as it is. The hours are tough, and I’m always tired, but I laugh so much, and I’m working with the funniest people I know.