Remember all those childish games you played, or indeed, still play with your mates. Knock and run? Save the Queen? Adding mints to a huge bottle of Coke and seeing whether it will work as a jet pack? Fair enough, that last one might just have been me, but I think we can all remember the endless games of Tag we played as kids. Well, for most that’s exactly how we remember it, a game of Tag as kids. But not everyone. Ahead of Warner Bros. latest comedy TAG, starring Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms and Isla Fisher, I was lucky enough to talk to Mike Konesky, who’s games of Tag have carried on from High School and way on into adult life. After their story was reported by The Wall Street Journal in 2013, Mike and his friends were inundated with movie offers and are now about to embrace something that everybody dreams of; a movie being made about their lives and friends.
VERGE: Hello Mike!
MIKE KONESKY: Hello Simon, how are you?
I’m great thanks man, how are you?
I’m doing fantastic thank you.
Good stuff! I’m not very good with American time, so what time is it over there?
I’m in Los Angeles so it’s around 10:40 AM.
Ok, good, I didn’t wake you up then!
(laughs) No not at all.
Good! So, I’m going to start firstly, before we get into everything, how are you feeling? It must be incredibly exciting, not everyone gets to have a movie made about them and their friends?
(laughs) Well that is true, that is so true! And to be able to go through this with our friends that we’ve known for 35-40 years and our families, it is just an exciting, exciting time and it’s really a zero in a lifetime opportunity and we don’t take that lightly. We are very lucky and we’re very blessed that we’re getting this attention and that there is a movie and we’re just trying to enjoy every minute.
Yeah I can imagine. So for anyone who is unfamiliar of the story behind TAG, can you explain it briefly?
Sure, so it’s a version of the childhood game that I think everyone knows of. It started off as something silly and stupid and we were just in high school; a bunch of friends and then one guy turned to another and touched him on the shoulder and said “Tag! You’re it!” and then the game was on! It’s the exact same game but a more modified version as we’ve become adults, so we don’t go to the park on Saturday’s to play tag (laughs). But you know it’s become (a game of) conspiracy and costume and disguise and strategy to try and tag somebody but at it’s core it is still just a childish, stupid thing that we do! We’re grown men, we’re professionals; there’s a school teacher, there’s lawyers, there’s a Catholic Priest, but at the end of the day we all just committed ourselves to doing this and it’s just fun! At the end of the day it’s just fun to pull off a tag and have a laugh and go grab a beer with an old friend.
Of course mate, in my experience the most fun things are often the silliest and so I completely get where you’re coming from! So I have so many more questions to ask you about about the conception of the idea so we know that is started in High School, but do you still tag each other every month?
So let me explain it a little bit. We started this in High School and then at the end of High School, one of the guys, Joe Tombari was ‘It’ when the final bell rang and everybody went off to College. And so we called him ‘the biggest loser’, “you’re ‘It’”, ‘loser for life’ and all that and we all met one night over quite a few beers and we were talking about it like “Hey, remember that game? We used to tag each other and run through the halls and whatever” and so we said “wouldn’t be cool if we could think of a way to keep on doing it as we get older?” and so that night we framed out the rules of the game and one of the rules is we’ll play one month out of the year, so we do it every February, I think it would just be too exhausting to have it carry on (laughs). So we do it one month every year, every February and whoever is ‘It’ at the end of every February starts off the following year as still being ‘It’. So that’s once of our rules.
Are there any forfeits for the unlucky person who becomes the ‘biggest loser’?
(laughs) Well you know, it’s just shame and ridicule! It’s more verbal than anything! You don’t wanna be it, often you’ll be stuck with the bill at the bar and just verbal torture is the biggest forfeit.
Yeah that makes sense, avoid losing at all costs then! So have you guys ever fallen out over a tagging match?
There’s been interesting times, not really falling outs but there have been lines that have been crossed and lessons learned over 35 years I think. Some people, like Brian Dennehy, he was promoted at one point into a very senior role at his work and one of the guys came in and ‘tagged’ him, got by security and reception and ‘tagged’ him which we still think is hilarious…
Oh my God!
Yeah, he didn’t look at it that way because security had to come down and find out what was going on and Brian had to explain it was just a childish game of Tag. (laughs) You know, it’s funny but to him it wasn’t so funny but it’s a lesson learned! And there’s been a couple of times like that but nobody has ever really fallen out, we just have a good laugh later about it.
Good. I would have loved to have been there with all the security guards, just to have seen the look on their faces!
Yeah, me too!
So heading back to the movie, now we’ve established the origins, correct me if I’m wrong but am I right in thinking that the story of your huge game of Tag got picked up by the Wall Street Journal in 2013?
That’s correct, yeah.
So how did that come about? How did that happen?
So one of the friends, he’s an attorney, and his little brother is an attorney also and he was in a lunch meeting in New York City and at this lunch meeting, this guy started talking about this thing that his brother and his friends had been doing for a long time. And somebody at the lunch worked for The Wall Street Journal and said “that’s an interesting, human interest story, would you mind if I interviewed them and maybe do a story on them?”. And so he then sent an email to everybody saying “The Wall Street Journal wants to interview you guys” and we just all rolled our eyes thinking “What really? Over this dumb thing?” and Russell Adams was the writer, so he just interviewed us all and he did a fantastic job of kind of capturing, in the article, that it’s not just about a game of Tag, its about getting older and putting some effort into staying in touch with one another and their families, which is really what it’s all about.
Yeah, of course.
So he really captured the innocence of it and it ended up on the front page in 2013 and then I’d say within a couple of weeks there were TV offers and movie offers coming in and so it was all pretty crazy.
Well that was going to be my next question, so it was picked up by Warner Bros. which is incredible, did they say “We want to make a movie about your story” and was it Warner Bros. who originally approached you? Is that how it worked?
Close…So we got movie offers from a number of different studios. Columbia Pictures, Paramount, 21st Century Fox, DreamWorks…
All the big hitters!
Yeah, and so it was a really crazy time and so we got organised and we got ourselves an agent in Hollywood who had done this before, and essentially what they did was have everybody put in their bids and New Line Cinema, which is owned by Warner Bros. had the best (idea). So we kinda of left a lot of it up to our agent but we were included in how they would do the story and stuff and New Line Cinema had a fantastic version, a version of the movie that’s out today, or coming out soon, about a group of guys that are getting older and they seemed to capture the essence of the story the best and so it actually came down between New Line and DreamWorks which was Steven Spielberg…
Yeah, and we chose New Line and I just remember thinking ‘Man we just turned down Steven Spielberg to make a movie about us!’ but I think it’s been the best choice but everybody we’ve met; the cast, and everybody we’ve met have just been so nice and generous and I think they really get the point of the story.
It’s so nice to hear that. You hear a lot of stories about when something gets picked up by Hollywood the essence of the show, or the essence of the film gets lost but it really does sound like Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema completely got the whole idea of what the tagging sensation was all about.
I think so Simon, and I haven’t seen the movie but I’ll see it for the first time tonight but yeah from what I’ve heard from others that have seen it…obviously there will be liberties that they’ve taken for sure to make it more entertaining but no I’m looking forward to it!
I’m betting there may be a falling out at some point, just because you know, the cinema storyline arc! So the film has got an incredible cast, did you have a say in who was going to be playing you? Because to be fair if a movie was being made about me, I’d want Jeremy Renner to play me too!
(laughs) Nice! You know what, no we didn’t have a choice and honestly we just thought it would be fun to have a movie made, you know ‘how cool would that be??’ and to have some major stars and a major studio and on wide release is just beyond belief. But the way it works is, they bought our life rights, our rights to the story and so then it is completely up to them who they want to put together for the cast and then the story and it’s up to them to make those decisions as the makers of the movie but we’re just very, very happy with all the decisions they’ve made.
Of course, that’s hugely important as well. So speaking of Mr Renner, I read somewhere that he broke his wrist and his elbow during filming, which begs the question, how intense are your games of Tag??
(laughs) They can be pretty intense! There’s been some minor injuries, we don’t move as quick as we used to, Simon, but we will still try and get away (laughs) and think that is part of the comedy too, older middle aged guys trying to run and get away but yeah it can be pretty intense. If I see somebody or if I suspect that somebody is coming or some activity then there can be twisted ankles and some bumps and scrapes but nothing really major like Jeremy Renner! But I’m sure the movie is going to be a lot more intense than our real lives.
Yeah I can imagine it will be, I’m expecting to see him running through burning buildings, that sort of thing, get in some of his Jason Bourne stunts! So my final question, as I thank you for your time, how has your life changed since that article came out in 2013? You’ve become internet sensations and now have a bloody movie based on your game! How has your life changed?
Well, you know, just the exposure has been fantastic. Has my day to day life changed? That’s changed very, very little but being the people behind the movie and what it’s based on…you know, it is interesting that when the movie is brought up it’s like “Yeah, I’m one of the guys it’s based on…” and then it starts a whole conversation. But you know just like today, we are in Los Angeles for the Premiere! Everybody’s families, our close friends are being flown in to be a part of it and you know it’s just one of those things where you get to celebrate friendship and what a cool thing to happen. We were with James Corden last night filming an episode with Jeremy Renner and Isla Fisher for The Late Late Show with James Corden, which is a show in the US…
Oh don’t worry, we get it over here as well!
Yeah and you know we’d just meet at the studio and you’re meeting your life-long friends and we just sit there and laugh, like this is just all so crazy but what a great thing to be going through with your friends. Our families are fully into it and it’s just a good thing in the middle of people’s hard lives, the day to day drudgery you know, we’re just very, very thankful.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean for me, without getting too deep, the meaning of life for me is to have fun and spend time with your friends and make your family happy and to be honest, this is an incredible situation for all you guys and a really lovely story to cover so thank you so much for your time.
Yeah, yeah exactly, you’re absolutely right and thank you.
It was fascinating to get the chance to speak to Mike and to talk about something that is not only an incredible situation they find themselves in, but also to discuss the importance of remaining close to your friends when you get older. TAG is released in cinemas on Friday 29th June by Warner Bros. Check out this featurette with the real friends behind the movie right here!