History, as Conan O’Brien will be the first to tell you, is about to be made. As a late-night talk show host he has, by his own admission, achieved “a level of perfection that can’t be equaled.” That’s why he’s decided to shift gears and conquer Hollywood as a dramatic actor. His first role is a head-turning, gut-wrenching cameo in Roger Corman’s latest cheapie, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda, which will debut August 2 on Syfy, during “Sharknado Week.”
Conan being Conan, he’s playing up the honor for all he’s worth. To tout his own performance in what he calls a “powerful, hyperrealistic film,” he has sprung for a billboard, advertising himself as a candidate for Emmy and Oscar consideration. As he told his studio audience, he’d hoped for a spot on L.A.’s flashy Sunset Strip, where everyone of importance would be sure to see it. Instead, the Conan billboard hovers over “the Historic Brakes and Alignment District,” somewhere in the vicinity of the cement-encased L.A. River. He’s also taken out an expensive full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter, featuring an earnest photo of himself alongside a quote: “I’ve never worked so hard to meet the dramatic demands of a performance . . . I want this to be my legacy.”
Everyone, it seems, wants to get in on the act. In that same issue of the Hollywood Reporter, one of Hollywood’s directorial legends has placed a congratulatory ad, which reads, “Congratulations, Conan O’Brien! Your work in Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda is, in a word, sublime.” It’s signed “Your friend, Martin Scorsese.” And the media too are getting involved. On the Time Magazine site, commentator Melissa Locker headlines her post, “Conan O’Brien’s Cameo in Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda is Spectacular.”
Needless to say, all this attention to his Sharktopus sequel is music to Roger Corman’s ears. Roger stopped by Late Night with Conan O’Brien this past week to talk up the mayhem that occurs when Sharktopus (half-shark, half-octopus) tangles with Pteracuda (half-pterodactyl, half-barracuda) in a battle of CGI monsters. This current phase of Roger’s long career began back in 2004 when Dinocroc (yup, half-dinosaur, half-crocodile) became a surprise hit at the American Film Market. But the real breakthrough came in March 2010 with Dinoshark, a made-for-TV production that joined Syfy’s Saturday night monster-movie lineup. By the time Dinoshark aired, network execs were already asking for Sharktopus. As invented by my good friend (and longtime Corman assistant) Frances Doel, Sharktopus was genetically engineered by the U.S. Navy for the purpose of combatting Somali pirates. Naturally it runs amok, swallowing up many pretty girls in bikinis, not to mention Roger’s own daughter as a bungee jumper having a very bad day. (Serious fans will also recall Roger’s own cameo, as a beachcomber less interested in a Sharktopus abduction than in a rare coin left lying on the beach when its bikini-clad owner is dragged into the surf.)
Those who’ve worked with Roger over the years praise his fundamentally serious approach to his material, even back when it involved monsters made of rubber and papier-mâché. As late as 2005, he told one journalist, “The worst thing you can do is say, ‘I want to start out and make a campy movie.’” Still, Roger is also known for keeping up with the times. Today, when it’s considered cool to watch (and mock) a really bad movie of the Sharknado ilk, he’s happy to climb on board, even when this means deliberately undercutting his own creations. Which is why that Conan cameo (see below) makes me grimace. Not because it’s yucky, but because Roger definitely knows better.