'The Buried Life' Preview: Authenticity, Optimism -- and a Run-in with Robert Pattinson
by Anna Dimond, posted Oct 25th 2010 1:45PM
Fresh-faced, optimistic, and totally earnest, the four twentysomethings who created and star on MTV's 'The Buried Life' have a lot of things going for them: Hunky, all-American good looks (although they're actually Canadian). More than half a million "friends" on Facebook. And a successful show on MTV which relies entirely on their personalities, on-camera chemistry, and real-deal authenticity.
Now in its second season, the show's premise is deceptively simple: The stars -- Dave Lingwood, Ben Nemtin, Duncan Penn, and his brother, Jonnie Penn -- ask each other (and thus, their viewers) 'what do you want to do before you die'?
Each episode follows them on a cross-country quest to cross one of the items off their list that answers the question, from capturing a fugitive to getting married in Las Vegas to, in this week's edition (Monday, October 25 at 10:30 pm/ET), stealing a lock of Robert Pattinson's hair.
Since crossing the border for the bright lights of Hollywood, the four friends have begun to settle into budding fame, public lives and an ever-growing horde of fans, most of whom communicate with the stars directly through Facebook. But despite the heavy shoot schedule, media obligations and wealth of admirers, 'The Buried Life' stars' style is a far cry from some of their network bedfellows. Translation: This is no 'Jersey Shore.' Instead of hot tubs and hookups, 'The Buried Life' is all hope and inspiration.
And where young reality stars sometimes get lost in Hollywood hubris, 'TBL''s foursome have remained faithful to their core mission, and to each other. As they hit the midway point in their second season, TV Squad caught up with Duncan and Dave to find out to their secret to unwavering optimism, which shows have been the toughest to pull off and if President Obama (with whom they've shot hoops) has had anything to do with it.
You and your friends met in school, made a documentary and then brought it to MTV. Could you talk a little bit about that process?
DUNCAN: We're all from the same small island in Canada, on the west coast of Canada. ...We were coming out of high school and felt kind of disillusioned with what to do with our lives and got together and started talking, and eventually came up with the question, "what do you want to do before you die?" and the importance of asking yourself that question. And from there we came up with the list, and went out, borrowed my uncle's RV, and just started filming. It was supposed to be a documentary at first, but we came back from that, ad had all this footage, and that point we were approached to make a television show, which we ended up turning down, because they wanted to take away some of the creative control, and we weren't ready to give [it] away.
So, jump forward two years from there, we raised all this sponsorship money, and hired crew out in LA and started filming, going after more list items. And when we came back from that tour, we looked at our footage, and said it's time to make a television show. And making a television show was one of the things on the list. Number fifteen. The time was right, and that's when we connected with MTV.
MTV has a number of shows that dove-tail nicely with 'The Buried Life.' But it's also the same network known for shows like 'The Jersey Shore' and 'The Hills.' Where do you see your show fitting in with that wider set of programming?
DUNCAN: That's a good question. When we went to MTV, they were going through this change. They really wanted to offer both the more fun side of programming, like 'Jersey Shore,' but also offer shows with more of a message. And that's why we were so enticed to be with them, and we became good friends with Tony DiSanto [the president of programming and development for MTV]; he wanted to see 'Buried Life' stay authentic.
I read a New York Times articles about MTV and 'The Buried Life' when it launched two years ago, which described what you're doing and who you are as part of the "Obama era," and part of a generation with all the verve of his candidacy, and now presidency. What do you think? Has that [cultural moment] had any impact on you?
DUNCAN: Absolutely. I think it reflects that the world is changing, and this generation is looking for something a little bit different than other generations before us. I read an article recently that said that if 'Jackass' came out now, it wouldn't do as well as it did. And I think that's because the generation coming up now is looking for more meaning, and philanthropy is such a huge part of it, and I think that's reflected in where MTV's going.
But obviously, what you do is also entertaining and fun, and hinges on your personalities. How do you come up with the things on the list, and the things with which you help other people?
DAVE: We just ask ourselves the question, 'What do we want to do before we die?' And we have discussions. This season we came up with the ten things. Collectively, the season finale is make a million dollars, and collectively, we all want to make a million dollars. And then there's things like get in a fight, which was very personal to me. I'm not
a fighter by any means, nor am I very violent, so I wanted to see if I could tap into that aggressive side. So, some things are very personal to one person, and other things are a collective [idea].
I was actually just checking out your Facebook fan page ... I had no idea you had so many fans, and almost a gushy outpouring. Have you ever had requests [for help with viewers' list items] that you didn't want to take? How do you make that call?
DUNCAN: We've had every list item you can imagine. Somebody wanted to start the real Jurassic Park, we're helping him do that -- kidding. We get the gamut for sure. It's cool, we feel our group and fan page is this safe place where people can openly and honestly post the real things that they want to do before they die, and we try to keep it a safe place in that respect.
Still, you've set the bar pretty high. Are there any shows you've done, or that you're going to do, where you worried that maybe you wouldn't accomplish what you set out to do, or had second thoughts?
DUNCAN: Honestly, every list item I feel that before we go out, like, 'there's no way we're going to accomplish this,' and then we keep trying until we eventually do it. Our next list item [and episode] is to accept a dare, and our Facebook page dared us to steal lock of Robert Pattinson's hair. They wanted to see that. Starting out, we were like, 'how the hell are we going to do this?' And it was like every other list item. You start, go after it. It seems impossible, but eventually, you cross it off.
You serve as great inspirations when it comes to goal-setting, but you also all have each other to help accomplish your goals. What do you hope that viewers take away from the show, and what advice would you give them to accomplish what they want?
DAVE: I think the biggest thing is to really, honestly, ask yourself what you want to do, and the just start. take the first step to achieving what you want to do. And if you want to look at the model of what we do, we got together as four like-minded people, and used each other to help motivate. ... I think that's a really good thing to do, is to look at what you want to do, and find people who want to do the same thing, and use each other to push each other to a common goal.
DUNCAN: Everything we do has this roller coaster aspect to it. We go down, and we don't think that these things are possible, and you keep pushing each other. And it's amazing to see what's possible when you're pushed into something. Every one of these list items this season, we're trying to test ourselves in different ways, like the island episode, where we're stranded on a deserted island ... . We're trying to test ourselves, to prove to ourselves what's possible.
There's an inherent idea of mortality in the thesis for your show. How is it that, coming out of high school were aware of that? Were you different from the other kids?
DUNCAN: I don't think so. I think a lot of people coming out of high school go through this feeling of feeling disillusioned, and the whole idea of what is life? What am I supposed to be doing? Am I supposed to follow this path society has laid out for me. You really question your values. I don't think we're that different. I think we went on a bit of a different route, because we wanted to make a statement, and something symbolic. I don't think we're that different. A lot of kids go through the same thing.
DAVE: The feeling that we were feeling when we started the project, I saw in so ma of my friends, of 'Oh god, what am I supposed to do? If I don't do what my parents want me to do, am I failing? ... Is that the wrong thing? It was a very common thing that we saw around our peers. And this was our solution to getting some answers to these questions.
Now that you're in the second season of 'The Buried Life,' you're talking to media, you're on TV, do you think you've gotten some of those answers? Have you changed as people?
DUNCAN: Definitely. First day we set out. We didn't have any answers, we just set out with questions, and that's been the mandate from the beginning. We were all asking questions, and trying to learn as much as we can about life and what's important to people, and what's important to us. I think we've grown a lot.
DAVE: One of the things that I've taken away from the project is the realization that anything really is possible. If you have a goal or if you have a dream, it really is possible, and it doesn't need to be so far out of reach. It's just about starting it. ... Another thing about the TV show is that we're just four kids from Canada. Through a lot of hard work, we're able to get a show on MTV in the US, which was a huge accomplishment for us. And something that we would have laughed at when we started the project -- something we wouldn't have even thought was possible.
I've saved the most important topic for the end of the interview: Groupies. There must be a lot of ladies who Facebook you all the time.
DUNCAN: [Laughs] That's definitely been a humbling part of this whole process. I feel like we have some of the coolest fans, they're so smart and so creative, and every time we send out messages on Facebook, the creativity that comes back at us is amazing.
You're experts at goal-setting at this point. But what's next? What kinds of things are you envisioning for life after 'The Buried Life'?
DAVE: Maybe a summer camp, we thought that would be really fun. A 'Buried Life' summer camp, where you cross things off your list, and kick it hard-core for a week.
DUNCAN: Once of the biggest requests we got on our Facebook page was 'When are you coming to our town?' And one of the things we really want to do to make this whole thing real and tangible is a speaking tour, so we're planning [one], going around to high schools and universities and just talking about our experiences.
DAVE: The list is growing every day, from making movies to writing books. We're [always] adding to list.