Cheech Marin on ‘Champions’ and the Cheech and Chong Movies
Mar 8, 2023
From director Bobby Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary), Champions is a heartwarming story about beating the odds and betting on the underdogs. The sports comedy reunites star Woody Harrelson with the hilarious Cheech Marin, best known as half of the counterculture classic duo, Cheech & Chong, with Tommy Chong. For the first time since their roles in Sam Shepherd’s play, The Late Henry Moss, Harrelson and Marin join forces in their first feature film together.
In Champions, after falling from grace, former minor-league basketball coach Marcus Marakovich (Harrelson) lands himself into more hot water after causing a fender-bender. In court, Marcus is given community service that aligns with his expertise; the judge offers Marcus the opportunity to coach a team of adults with intellectual disabilites. Though he’s reluctant, Marcus works alongside Julio (Marin) to get his team of nonprofessional players, aka the Friends, to the Special Olympics finals with the intent to earn his spot in the NBA again. The cast features a crew of brand-new faces that play the talented Friends, as well as Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters).
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
During his interview with Collider’s Steve Weintraub, Marin promises “all surprises in this movie,” which he describes as “uplifting” with a “big romance in the middle.” He talks about getting to improv with Woody Harrelson, his experience working with the Friends, the chemistry between Harrelson and Olson, and the impact his films with Tommy Chong had in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He also suggests audiences should check Champions out when it hits theaters on March 10. You can watch the interview in the player above, or read the full conversation below.
COLLIDER: How are you doing today, sir?
CHEECH MARIN: Collidin’. [Laughs] I’m good. How are you?
Image via Focus Features
I’m doing great. I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. It’s been cool to talk with you. If someone has actually never seen anything you’ve done before, what is the first thing you’d like them watching, and why?
MARIN: The first thing? Wow, that’s a hard one. I don’t know, Up in Smoke, [laughs] I guess to let them know what they’re in for.
It’s crazy how far it’s come from marijuana in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s to the way it is today, and I think that your films helped sort of push the conversation. Do you think so?
MARIN: Oh yeah, I absolutely do. You know, we were always, in some quarters, criticized because we were promoting marijuana, and we said at some point, “What if we’re right? What if marijuana is good for you and has medicinal properties and it can help people?” Well, who’s laughing now?
Were you surprised by the popularity of those films back then?
MARIN: No, I wasn’t. I would have been surprised if they weren’t popular because we had been big popular records, won Grammys and gold records, and all those things. We had been performing sold-out concerts everywhere. So I knew that we had an audience because I’d been looking across the footlights. So I knew that it was going to have some success.
It had much more success than I anticipated and became worldwide. That’s really the difference between doing records and concerts and movies because they can either dub or subtitle your movies. But it was always great when they just subtitled them because you can hear our voices.
Image Via Paramount Pictures
You directed Born in East L.A. back in ‘86, ‘87, and I think that’s the last time you directed a feature. How close did you come to directing something else after that?
MARIN: You know, not close [laughs] because I [was] like, “This is a lot of work being an actor and writer and director and producer at the same time. I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.” And then you spend a lot of time developing as a director of a project and they get to it and then, “Nah.” They say no. “Wait a minute, I just spent three years doing this.” I like directing, but it’s a lot of work and so I decided to concentrate on acting.
I understand completely. Jumping into why I get to talk to you. You’ve worked with Woody [Harrelson] before. I believe you did a play with him, a Sam Shepard play. What was it like getting to work with him again? He seems like he’d be really fun scene partner.
MARIN: He is a fun scene partner, and that’s really the initial push to do this film. I knew Woody well because we had worked together. So this is gonna be fun. Then after having read the script, I could really see ourselves in these roles, and, “This is gonna be fun. I think it’s going to be a very eye-opening experience,” which it turned out to be.
I’ve been on set watching Woody work, I was on the set of the Zombieland movie and a few other things, and to me, it seems like every take he does something slightly different. So what is it like working with someone who really is in the moment and willing to just try things?
MARIN: Oh it’s perfect because he works improvisationally, not making up the dialogue, but in the rhythm at which he performs the piece. I’m an improv actor myself so we got along really well because we know how to listen to each other, and that comes out of that process. You know, sometimes you can say more by not saying anything.
What was your experience working with the friends and non-professional actors?
MARIN: You know, that was my greatest, not concern, but question. First of all, can these kids play ball? Because that’s going to be apparent if they can’t, and, you know, they were unprofessional actors, they were inexperienced, how is that going to work?
They work great in both answers. First of all, they could play ball, and that was readily apparent, and then they had so many other interests outside of playing ball. One kid spoke seven languages, other kids could dance really, really, really well, even though they had physical disabilities, and every day was a new surprise. So that was always fun in that way.
Image via Focus Features
I’m always amazed when I hear someone can speak more than one language because I can barely speak English. I’m so impressed. Talk a little bit about working with Bobby Farrelly because I’m a big fan of his work, especially when he worked with his brother. He made so many movies that I think are so funny.
MARIN: Me too, I’m a big Farrelly Brothers fan. They have conceits in their movies that are just so hilarious and they make them work. So I was really interested, you know, eager to work with Bobby, although it wasn’t a Farrelly Brothers movie, but it was going to be Bobby, and it wasn’t straight-out comedy. This was going to be something else, it’s going to be an uplifting film, big romance in the middle of it that was surprising, and works surprisingly well. Those two together, Kaitlin [Olson] and Woody together, were really good. It’s all surprises in this movie, so I think the audience is going to be well-rewarded if they go to see it… like seven times in a row.
Exactly. Spend the day in the theater, just keep going.
MARIN: Get out of the snow and go in there.
Speaking of Woody and Kaitlin, I actually thought they were fantastic together. I totally bought into their chemistry.
MARIN: Me too. Yeah, absolutely. It was really the heart of the movie for me to watching this romance unfold and the complications that it comes with.
Image via Focus Features
Of course. I love learning about the behind-the-scenes of making movies, TV shows. Is there anything that you think might surprise audiences to learn about the actual making of Champions?
MARIN: Well, that we endured the cold. It was freezing there. We shot it in Winnipeg and it was just so cold. [And] that with non-professional actors, they could really rise to the occasion. It was amazing. It was amazing. You know, they weren’t doing Shakespeare or Hamlet, but they were non-professional actors. You know, that was like asking somebody to be really good in figure skating when they’ve never put on a pair of figure skates before.
Champions is in theaters March 10.
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