C&I talks with San Antonio native Clay Carver about his new Hulu hit comedy, Vacation Friends, and some of his western and Lone Star favorites.
Native Texan Clay Tarver recently made an auspicious directorial feature film debut with his comedy Vacation Friends, which premiered globally on August 27 and instantly became a huge hit.
“Following its premiere on Hulu … 20th Century’s Vacation Friends has become the most watched original film in its opening weekend on the streamer to date,” Deadline reported, adding the scoop that writer-director Tarver would return to write and direct Honeymoon Friends, a sequel that will reunite the main cast and producer Todd Garner.
An award-winning screenwriter, Tarver is also one of the writers for Vacation Friends, supplying dialog, direction, and “raw and raunchy” hilarity for a cast that includes Lil Rel Howery, John Cena, Yvonne Orji, and Meredith Hagner.
Vacation Friends follows the entertaining friendship between conventional couple Marcus and Emily (Howery, Orji) and wild, thrill-seeking friends Ron and Kyla (Cena, Hagner), whom they meet at a resort in Mexico. When the couples get back home, their friendship takes an awkward turn.
Photography: courtesy Jessica Miglio/Hulu
Tarver, a Harvard graduate who first came to prominence as the lead guitarist for the rock band Chavez, is now at work on a script based on his 2013 New York Times article “The Rock n Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero” — about Jason Everman, the former bass player for Nirvana and Soundgarden — which is in development as a feature film with Amazon Studios.
If you watched the excellent HBO hit comedy series Silicon Valley, Tarver was executive producer and director of that hit HBO comedy series; he won a WGA award for his episode “Sand Hill Shuffle.” His His writing credits include the thriller feature film Joyride (produced by J.J. Abrams), starring Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski.
We caught up with Tarver to talk about Texas and Western roots.
Cowboys & Indians: Tell us about the inspiration behind Vacation Friends. Anything autobiographical in the Mexico misadventures? What was it like working with John Cena?
Clay Tarver: First, I’ll start with John. He was amazing. The whole cast was. I’d heard that he was terrific to work with. I’d even heard how comedically gifted he was. But, man, he was even nicer and even better than I thought possible. He’s sooooo good to work with. He listens as an actor, is ultra-prepared, takes direction, has great ideas. What a joy.
Coming from San Antonio, I’ve been to Mexico many, many times. It’s my favorite place in the world to travel to. But I have never really done the touristy things there, to be honest. I did insist that we get a shot of salsa in sugar-pourers. They used to do that at Mi Tierra.
C&I: Three things you miss most about Texas?
Tarver: Everything. It’s my home. My parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents all come from Texas. It will always be home to me. My dad grew up in the great metropolis of Temple. My mother is from San Antonio. I go back to visit them every chance I get.
C&I: Three things you miss most about San Antonio specifically?
Tarver: Well, I come from there so OF COURSE it's the food. Which leads me to...
C&I: What should people be sure to do/see/eat in San Antonio?
Tarver: Food: Well, ya gotta go to Mi Tierra. You just do. I took my kids to get enchiladas at the Blanco Cafe on Blanco. My son, Augie, loves it. And after he looked at me — almost with tears in his eyes — and told me everyone should have that experience at least once in their lifetimes. We also went to Carnitas Lonja which was incredible. Garcia’s, La Fogata, Josephine Street Cafe, etc. Go see/do: Blue Star, Ruby City, The Riverwalk where it’s not touristy, Stinky Falls.
C&I: Biggest differences between California/Hollywood and Texas/San Antonio?
Tarver: See above.
C&I: Three things you can’t work without.
Tarver: Exercise, coffee, and protein.
My parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents all come from Texas. It will always be home to me.
C&I: Favorite western film and/or series.
Tarver: With some caveats, I’m going to say this: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I watched it over the pandemic and, damn, does it hold up in some important ways. The modern nature of the storytelling. The relatability. The anachronistic music. The way it’s so beautifully shot by Conrad Hall. There are problems, though. The relationship between Butch, Sundance, and Etta Place must’ve felt fresh at the time. And it feels pretty gross now. I have other issues. But it’s still a very good movie. One of the best.
C&I: Favorite western writer, actor, and director.
Tarver: I love Paul Newman in the Butch Cassidy and in Hud. I love Larry McMurtry. And Sergio Leone is my favorite director.
C&I: Favorite Indigenous film and/or series.
Tarver: I loved Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. I thought it was amazing. And, of course, like everyone I know I’m just getting into Reservation Dogs.
Photography: courtesy Jessica Miglio/Hulu
C&I: Favorite Indigenous writer, actor, director.
Tarver: Wes Studi is so good in everything he’s in.
C&I: Any contemporary westerns in mind to write? Who would you cast?
Tarver: I have a few. But, sorry, I cannot tell you in this forum. I’d definitely cast Steve Zahn in anything like that. We worked together years ago. He lives on a horse farm now. And he’s a genius.
C&I: Talk a little bit about Chavez. Are you still making music? What kind of guitar do you play, and who are some of your favorite guitar players?
Tarver: Chavez still plays now and again. I love playing music. And I love it most with Chavez. I play a Gold Top Les Paull, and I am still in love with it after all these years. My favorite guitar players change all the time. Glenn Campbell. Richard Thompson. The guys in Tinariwen. Mdou Moctar. Lately I can’t stop listening to Jack Rose. And, of course, Matt Sweeney, my bandmate.
C&I: If you’re into Americana and country music, what acts do you follow and what songs are on that playlist?
Tarver: I love all the Texas stuff. Jerry Jeff, Willie, Waylon, BW Stevenson. Lately I’ve been getting into the Louvin Brothers, George Jones, Rusty Kershaw, and of course Buck Owens. Too many songs to go into.
C&I: Most Texan thing about you?
Tarver: I suffer from Texas Gentleman Syndrome. You should talk to my therapist about that one.
C&I: Besides the fact that you’re a native Texan, what’s something about you that might surprise people?
Tarver: I actually do have an accent … after three beers.
Photography: (Cover image) courtesy Jessica Miglio/Hulu