March 14, 2014 at 9:33 AM ET
For "Veronica Mars" fans who paid $5.7 million to fund the big-screen spin-off of the cult TV series, the payoff is glorious.
Surprise cameos, returning players, inside jokes and callbacks abound in the film, which debuts Friday, just a year after its history-making Kickstarter campaign.
The cast and creator shared some of their favorite "Easter eggs" from the movie with TODAY at the PaleyFest "Veronica Mars" reunion in Los Angeles Thursday. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
James Franco plays himself in a hilarious "viral video," contorting wildly as he tries to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans. (Even funnier: his mental calisthenics in trying to find words that rhyme with "orange.") And "Veronica Mars" didn't blow the budget on the Oscar nominee's paycheck: Like the rest of the cast, he worked for scale.
"Believe it or not," director Rob Thomas told TODAY, Franco's cameo "was the easiest thing that happened in the whole movie." After Thomas emailed him about the role, "I had a response from him in five minutes saying, 'Sounds like fun, I'm in.'"
But Franco was upstaged by Ira Glass, the host of public radio's "This American Life," who plays Piz's boss.
"Of all the crazy cameos," Chris Lowell, who plays Piz, told TODAY, "no one was as nervous or as excited as when Ira showed up on the set. I'm telling you, the same day that he was there, like, James Franco was rolling around — everyone could care less. Ira rolls in, all the girls are doing their makeup, everyone's getting cameras out to take pictures."
Star Kristen Bell's husband, "Parenthood" star Dax Shepard, also has a very entertaining cameo as a drunk dancer at the 09er — a nightclub named after Neptune's elite ZIP code.
"What you don't know is that in the script, his name is Overenthusiastic Club Boy," Jason Dohring, who plays Logan Echolls, told TODAY. "(It) is so appropriate for his role in this movie. He delivered above and beyond what is necessary."
Lowell's Piz also gives a shout-out to the film's crowdsourced funding in a radio segment for "This American Life," saying a woman "thought about restarting her moribund career with a Kickstarter campaign, but the potential for further humiliation was daunting."
But look out for more subtle nods to the fundraising campaign. "A couple times, if you look at the websites or signage in the background, you'll see we referenced the number of backers we had," Thomas told TODAY. "There's even Lotto ads that show the $5.7 million. So watch very closely — there are little things in there."
The TV show's opening theme song, "We Used to Be Friends" by the Dandy Warhols, is covered in the movie by a street busker — Austin musician Alejandro Escovedo — who passes by Veronica and Piz in New York City.
"One of my favorite uses of a song ever in the show is (Escovedo's) 'Gravity Falling Down Again,'" Thomas told TODAY, so he felt "very lucky" when the musician agreed to do the scene. "I love that he's out there on the streets of New York playing his acoustic guitar. That makes me very happy."
A little slice of heaven
"New Girl" star Max Greenfield reprises his role as the beloved Deputy Leo in the movie's most squee-worthy scene: "I could've sworn I heard you were with the FBI," the cop purrs when Veronica once again tries to bribe him with a pizza.
"I love Deputy Leo bringing up the FBI stuff," Thomas told TODAY. "I think every fan will enjoy that moment. It's one of my favorite scenes in the movie."
Francis Capra, who plays former bike gang leader Weevil, said he "turned into a complete fangirl" after watching Greenfield's scene. "I hope I ever get to do something that awesome," he said.
"That is just my favorite scene," agreed Enrico Colantoni, who plays Veronica's devoted dad, Keith Mars. "I've seen it five times, and I look forward to it every time."
High and Lowe
But Tina Majorino, back as Veronica's bestie Mac, cites Ken Marino's return as a sleazy rival private eye as one of her favorite moments from the movie.
"Let's Go Back to My Vinnie Spyware Van: The Vinnie Van Lowe Story," Bell quips when Veronica reunites with Mars Investigations' archnemesis.
That scene is also star Ryan Hansen's favorite — for a different reason: "Because it's me, in the gorilla suit dancing on the pier," he told TODAY about pulling double duty after he'd wrapped his last scene as Dick Casablancas.
As Thomas shared with Kickstarter backers during filming, Hansen agreed to dress "in a heavy, old, smelly gorilla costume, dancing in a scene as a glorified background" — without revealing his identity to Bell and Marino until after they'd shot the scene.
"It's really ridiculous, and I was in that thing for like three hours without revealing who I was," Hansen laughed. "It was so annoying, but really fun to surprise Kristen and Ken."
Making s'mores for fans
But Hansen and the other actors derived the most joy from seeing fans' reactions to all the movie's hidden surprises.
"I have a new appreciation for (the Easter eggs) now having seen it with the fans," Majorino told TODAY.
"One of the ones I didn't expect to get such a huge response was when (Veronica) refers to herself as a marshmallow," she said, about the nickname for "Veronica Mars" fans. "People died!"
Director Thomas, Majorino added, "really stayed true to all of our characters — just made them more of themselves and put all of those little details that all of the fans wanted to see. That was all our main concern: that (fans) really feel like they got what they paid for."