Interview date: 08/25/2009
Run date: 09/01/2009
It’s hard to believe there was once a time when Patton Oswalt might only have been remembered for his role on “The King of Queens.” In the past few years, Oswalt has become renowned for his hilarious stand-up, gotten raves for his performance as Remy in Disney / Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” and turned in some excellent work in appearances on “Reaper” and “Dollhouse.” Soon, he’ll be appearing on episodes of the “Battlestar Galactica” prequel, “Caprica,” but at the moment, he’s making the rounds to promote his role in Robert Siegel’s directorial debut, “Big Fan.” Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to talk with Oswalt about the film…and, by coincidence, the conversation took place on the release date of his latest album, My Weakness is Strong, so we talked a bit about the evolution of his stand-up, too.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Patton, how’s it going, man?
Patton Oswalt: (In a high-pitched voice) What’s up?
BE: (Laughs) Not much. I should start by telling you that I’m sitting about 10 minutes away from Portsmouth, Virginia.
PO: No shit! Wait a minute, are you in Newport News or something?
BE: I’m in Chesapeake.
PO: Okay, yeah. Wow! Well, you know, I was born in Portsmouth, but I only lived there for, like, a week.
BE: Yeah, I knew you didn’t really have any ties to here, per se.
PO: Yeah, yeah. But I went to college in Williamsburg, so I know that area.
BE: As a matter of fact, my friend Elizabeth Yow says that she’s pretty sure that you still owe her a dollar from a one-off date that you two went on.
PO: You know what? I would not doubt that for a second. Oh, my God, I was so broke back then. Well, please tell her that she has infinite patience and charm.
BE: I certainly will. So help me a little bit with the timeline on “Big Fan.” When you were approached about doing the film, had “The Wrestler” already been released? Were you already familiar with Robert Siegel?
PO: I knew of him. I knew his work from “The Onion” and stuff like that, and I loved all that stuff, and I knew that he’d written “The Wrestler,” but I didn’t know him personally until we had breakfast and he gave me the script for “Big Fan.”
BE: So what were your thoughts when you first read it? I mean, are you a sports fan yourself?
PO: No. (Laughs) I do not follow sports, man. I’ve never followed them.
BE: Well, y’know, while on the surface, given some of your…well, let’s call them your geekier pursuits.
PO: (Laughs) Sure.
BE: …you wouldn’t seem to be the first choice to play a sports fan, but I guess fandom is fandom, ultimately.
PO: Yeah, I mean, I thought that, as far as the researching the fuel that drives these guys, I see it every day. For one, I see it when I look at “The Wrestler,” but also just in my friends. We are very, very passionate about esoteric things. If that makes any sense.
BE: It does. And, y’know, some people might say that Paul’s actions in the film are over the top, but when I pitched my friend the hypothetical scenario of whether he’d sue the player for kicking his ass or suck it up for the good of the team, he said he’d probably convince himself it was his own fault for having it happen.
PO: Wow. Yeah, man, I mean, it’s almost like one of those religious parables.“When you show your god how much you love him, how far would you go to show that?” Especially if the god answers and it’s not the answer you want.
BE: Kevin Corrigan may well be the best “best friend” actor in Hollywood.
PO: Yeah, he’s fantastic.
BE: Had you worked with him before?
PO: No, but I’ve known his stuff since he was in “Goodfellas.” I’d just never gotten a chance to work him until now. But it was great that I got to do that.
BE: How was it playing a predominantly dramatic character? Because it’s fair to say that you’re not renown for drama.
PO: No. (Laughs) No, I’m not. And it was odd. A lot of my instincts as an actor, I had to kind of sit on and not…like, my instinct was, “I need to end this scene with a funny look or a button of some sort,” and I couldn’t do that. So that was certainly odd for me, I guess, to not have that resource in this role. But it ended up being really kind of weirdly exciting, because everything I was comfortable with as an actor, I couldn’t use, and it was kind of cool to be in that situation for once in my career, where I’m just totally outside of my comfort zone. I mean, unbelievably outside of my comfort zone. And it was kind of thrilling, y’know?
BE: Given that Paul’s kind of every geek’s nightmare of how his life could potentially turn out…
BE: …was it kind of cathartic to be able to play out that circle of Hell in a movie?
PO: Yeah, because I’ve seen and had one foot in that obsessive world about certain things, so to get to just…well, like you said, to play it out as a written, dramatic thing was sort of comforting.
BE: If I had one complaint, it was that I almost felt like they shouldn’t have listed Michael Rappaport’s name in the credits. It would’ve been a nice surprise.
PO: Oh, yeah, and he was great.
BE: I guess your appreciation of the film depends heavily on whether you know someone who has this kind of fandom for anything. What would you say is the closest thing that you’d compare it to in your own life, that you love that much?
PO: Film. I’m a movie buff. Movies are definitely kind of an abiding passion of mine, so I can definitely understand it. And like I said, I’ve seen this kind of obsession up close in other people. When I go to, like, revival theaters, you’ll see them with their lunches and…it’s pretty amazing. But it’s pretty intense.
BE: Given that you’re such a cinephile, have you considered directing at all?
PO: I would love to someday direct, but I think that’s way out of my skill level right now. (Laughs) But hopefully one day I’ll be able to pull that off, so we’ll see.
BE: I wanted to ask you about your character on “Dollhouse.”
PO: Oh, yeah!
BE: Do you think he was a good guy or a bad guy? Because his motives certainly weren’t as awful as they could’ve been, given some of the other episodes of the show.
PO: I think that he was a really damaged guy. And I think he was really, really sad. And that’s where some of his horrible behavior came from. He just couldn’t deal with his sadness, he couldn’t deal with his loss, and he turned what had happened to him into, “Well, the world owes me something,” rather than, “Let’s deal with my loss.” And that’s a horrible position for a guy to be in, losing someone who was with you when you were nothing, and now you basically have the world, so how can you ever really trust that somebody loves you or is into you for what you are? You’ll never, ever have that back. And that’s a scary thought for a guy. For anybody.
BE: How did it feel playing a billionaire captain of industry?
PO: (Laughs) Well, you know, I played him like… Joss and I talked about it, and Joss’s interpretation was, “He’s this ‘aw, shucks’ chinos-and-golf-shirt kind of guy who doesn’t spend his wealth on appearances.” Stuff like that. Does that make sense?
PO: Oh, good.
BE: How did you come onboard the show in the first place? I mean, I would guess that you and Joss travel in similar circles.
PO: Yeah, but I auditioned. I wish I had a more exotic story, but I just went in, I read for the part, and I got it. (Laughs) That’s exactly how it was.
BE: Now, I’m sure it’s complete coincidence that you’re doing press for “Big Fan” on the same week that your new CD/DVD, My Weakness Is Strong, is coming out.
PO: It is, actually, because we didn’t know when the movie was going to come out until the very, very last minute, because it didn’t have a distributor. And the record company had planned a long time ago when to release the CD. So it all just kind of came together this way. I mean, the movie company didn’t know when the album was coming out, so they certainly didn’t plan it that way. It was all very seat-of-the-pants, and, “Hopefully we can get all of this out.”
BE: Well, it’s certainly nice timing, anyway.
PO: Oh, yeah, I’m not complaining about that at all!
BE: I’ve watched the special on Comedy Central, and this afternoon I plan to go pick up the album itself.
PO: Oh, wow, thank you!
BE: Sure. From what I’ve seen on the special, it definitely seems as though your stand-up is evolving, which I guess comes from “growing up,” as it were.
PO: Yeah, and I think most comedians go through that, where you have to change or evolve. You don’t want to just keep doing variations on the same themes. And, besides, it would look kinda creepy for a guy my age to be doing stuff that, like, a 20-year-old would do. (Sneering) “Yeah, this is bullshit!” It’s, like, “Really? You don’t have bigger concerns at this point in your life?” (Laughs)
BE: Well, you do seem to be straddling the two worlds with this one. You’re talking about impending fatherhood, but you’re also talking about giving up LSD.
PO: Exactly. It’s just…y’know, life is changing around you, and it can get scary, man. I don’t know how else to put it. It can get really, really weird.
BE: Well, as a father, are you happier than ever now that you can say, “You know, I was Remy in ‘Ratatouille’”?
PO: Yeah, exactly. I mean…man, I wonder how that’s gonna go. That’s gonna be really weird, isn’t it?
BE: Hey, I plan to tell my daughter that I talked to Remy today, so she’s gonna be psyched.
PO: (Laughs) Oh, man, that’s so sweet. Well, I hope she likes that! I hope she’s excited.
BE: Trust me, she will be. So you’re going to be in an episode of “Bored to Death,” I see.
BE: I checked out the panel for the series during the recent TCA tour, and I’m so psyched for the show now.
PO: Oh, yeah, it’s gonna be really, really funny. I love Jonathan Ames, and everyone on the show is great. I mean, I couldn’t be more excited for it. And for them.
BE: So given the premise of the show (a private detective who tends to have a new client every week), I’m presuming this will be a one-off role for you?
PO: Well, it might not be a one-off, because my character is a guy who owns a shop that sells spy equipment, so for all I know, maybe they’ll bring me back if they have to buy more shit. (Laughs) I wouldn’t complain if that happened!
BE: And you’ve also signed on for “Caprica.”
PO: Yes, sir!
BE: As a sci-fi aficionado, I would presume you’re pretty psyched about that.
PO: Oh, yeah. Are you kidding? It’s a huge deal. My God, it’s a big deal.
BE: So was this another case where you went in to audition?
PO: No, they called and offered it to me! And what was I going to say? “No”? I was so happy! (Laughs) No frakking way would I not do this. Huh? Huh…? Did you see what I did there?
BE: Genius. I’m sure you can’t say much about what goes on, but can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your character?
PO: He’s a talk-show host on Caprica. He’s almost like the Jon Stewart of Caprica, so the characters will come on his show and make appeals for things. Again, it’s really, really well-written stuff. It’s Ronald Moore and David Eike and Jane Espenson, in all their usual terrificness.
BE: Awesome. So what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
PO: This little animated pilot I did for a comic book called “The Amazing Screw-On Head,” which is an amazing Mike Mignola one-shot comic that I just thought was…it was so well-done, and the artwork was great, and it was a really odd premise. I just wish that it had done better than it did, because it really deserved more attention, and it deserved to have a life and develop. They only shot the pilot, and it didn’t go anywhere. It was very, very frustrating.
BE: If it makes you feel any better, the DVD is on my shelf as we speak.
PO: Man, I just thought that was so good, and I wish it had done better. It deserved to do better. Listen to me whining. I should be ashamed of myself. “It deserved to do better!” (Laughs)
BE: Tell me about your role in “The Informant!”
PO: I am one of a gallery of incredulous and frustrated agents dealing with Matt Damon slowly going crazy. That is my role.
BE: Is it a substantial part?
PO: I have a few scenes. It’s not that substantial. It was just great to work with Soderbergh, but it was such a fun script to read, so to get offered that part, it was, like, “Yeah! Fuck, yeah, I’ll do this!”
BE: Since you’re such a film buff, can you throw out a few of your favorite unheralded films by other people that you’d like to recommend?
PO: Recently there was a movie by Mario Van Peebles called “Baadasssss!” that I thought should’ve gotten just a crazy huge release. But it did not, and that was very, very frustrating to me, because I think it’s just such an amazing movie. And then there’s an early ‘70s movie with Dustin Hoffman called “Straight Time” that’s one of the best crime films ever made, and it just got nothing. The studio just kind of sat on it and didn’t do anything with it. It’s so frustrating to watch this great movie that should be up there with stuff like “Chinatown” and “Five Easy Pieces,” but it just got no release. I mean, it’s critically acclaimed, but it just didn’t get the attention it deserved. At all.
BE: As far as some of the one-off appearances you’ve done on TV shows, do you have any favorites? Personally, I’m partial to your role as Leon on “Reaper.”
PO: Yeah, that was really fun, but so far, the one I’m the most proud of is “Dollhouse.” I really, really liked that one. I liked how it was written, and I liked what I was able to do, and getting to work with Joss…? I’m a huge fan of his. So I think that, so far, that’s probably my favorite.
BE: When you go on a show where it’s a one-off, do you have the luxury of doing any sort of ad-libbing, or do they force you to stick to the script?
PO: Well, on that one, I was anxious to just do the scene as written, because then I would look like a genius. (Laughs) You know, without putting my big fingerprints all over it.
BE: How about on “United States of Tara”?
PO: No, you know, there’s a lot of improv on that show. I mean, they’re cool about that, so that was really, really fun.
BE: All right, man, well, like I said, I love the movie. Given the tone, I know it’s probably not going to be a huge hit, but I hope it’s at least a huge cult hit.
PO: Me, too. I mean, I hope it just gets really good critical acclaim, because Robert deserves it.
BE: And if you ever decide to come back to William & Mary, let me know, because I am in the area.
PO: (Laughs) I will, man! Absolutely!
BE: Oh, but before I go…and not to keep a bit going longer than it needs to go, but…have you heard about the new KFC sandwich, the Double Down?
PO: Oh, God, yeah. So many people have E-mailed me to tell me about it, but…I have spoken on KFC. I have spoken, and I have moved on! (Laughs)
BE: I thought surely the fact that it’s two pieces of chicken instead of a bun would be enough to bring you back to your pulpit on the matter.PO: No! (Laughs) I’m done with them!