Bobcat Goldthwait is many things – a veteran stand up comedian, an actor/writer/director/producer, a man unafraid of having an incredibly annoying stage voice. He took over Sundance last year with Sleeping Dogs Lie and just so happened to go two for two by delivering another fantastic film this year in the form of World’s Greatest Dad.
The movie is a either a comedic drama, a dramatic black comedy, or a Bob Fosse-style musical. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which even though there are zero musical numbers. Fortunately, there are a ton of Bruce Hornsby jokes.
Clever, endearing, challenging, heartening and triumphant – the film is a well-rounded look at what happens to one man whose dreams are farther and farther out of reach as the reality of his flailing job, his questionable romance, and what has to be the worst son in the history of progeny comes closer and closer into focus.
Goldthwait, who wrote and directed and cameo’ed in the project took time out of his busy schedule to talk with me over the phone yesterday. He also told me that it was cool if you listened in on our conversation text-style. So enjoy!
Hey, this is Bobcat. I’m late, right?
A little bit, but I think I’ll survive.
[Laughs] It’s just because I don’t want to seem like I’m becoming a blowhard with these interviews. [Blowhard Voice] And another thing about me as an auteur director is blah, blah, blah [Fart noises].
Well, you know you are an auteur right? You’re a writer/director filmmaker.
Yeah, I’m a goddamned auteur. Me and Eric Schaeffer.
I think your style might be alcoholic clowns.
I don’t know. I think he captured some alcoholic clowns, too.
You seem like you’re in good spirits today.
Yeah, it’s good to talk to people who have seen the last few movies as opposed to when I do interviews for stand up where it seems like every question is about whether there’s going to be another Police Academy movie. So I’m pretty happy.
I need to scratch out my first question, then…
Well, it was IMDB that said for a long time there was going to be a Police Academy 8, and that I was rumored, so it was weird. First of all, a lot of the dudes are dead, so that’s not gonna happen.
Are you telling me that Steve Guttenberg is dead?
Steve Guttenberg is just an animatronic puppet. No, but Tackleberry sloughed off his mortal coil and a couple others. I think if they’re gonna do it, they need to reboot the series and get Rob Zombie to direct or something.
Sloughs off his mortal coil? The Shakespeare references aren’t helping your I’m-Not-A-Blowhard case.
[Laughs] Yeah, okay. Tackleberry dead. Tackleberry no move.
Tackleberry, he dead.
That was my idea for the opening scene – “Okay let’s get the bad guys. Tackleberry? Tackleberry…Tackleberry!!!”
Brilliant. As much as I’d love to talk about Police Academy and those films for the next hour and a half with you, I saw a little movie last night called World’s Greatest Dad, and I loved the shit out of it. I’m guessing you’re getting a lot of people telling you that?
No, no. It’s people – I think folks are warming up to it, but I think a lot of people are afraid to stand by it, so I do appreciate it. I’m not that jaded. I have no expectations when I make these movies, so I am very happy when folks like them on any level.
How does not having expectations translate into writing it, pushing forward into turning those characters on the page into real people, and rolling cameras?
It’s really freeing. If I’m sitting down and not thinking, “I need to write something that’ll get made” or “I need to write something for x actor or for me to star in,” so for me to start writing just to write these stories there’s a lot more freedom. And the other thing is that sometimes I do write with certain actors in mind, but for the most part I’m pretty open to it, so for me it’s about finding the best actors.
You know, Robin [Williams] read the script because he thought he was going to do a cameo in it and help me out to get the movie made. And I didn’t know this until about two days ago, actually. [Laughs] But he called me and wanted to play the lead – and I didn’t write it with him in mind. I think I joked with him that I would have stay away from a Poetry Teacher That Faces Some Tragedy. I think he’s already covered that pretty well.
The next step when I write a screenplay is that I hand it over to my girlfriend and she tells me if I should keep going with it. Then it’s about finding actors that would be more realistic in the roles.
It’s odd that you mention a Poetry Teacher That Faces Some Tragedy because World’s Greatest Dad felt a lot like a natural sequel to Dead Poet’s Society.
[Laughs] He definitely thought it was funny to do the polar opposite of that kind of a movie. A guy that has no morals instead of a guy with all morals.
I don’t know that his character doesn’t have any morals at all…
Well, my feeling is that he’s very human. I think he has morals or he wouldn’t be tore up doing the course of the movie, but I do think he makes less-than-heroic choices for most of the movie, and he takes the easier route most of the time. I don’t see the character as the shlub I’m trying to manipulate the audience into liking, because you know in a Hollywood movie if there’s a guy that’s broke or can’t catch a break we’re supposed to care about him. I have [Lance] as a not-successful writer because he’s writing for the wrong reasons, not because the system is ignoring him.
I feel like you push that a bit further than the stock idea of showing a guy down on his luck. By the time you show the creative writing teacher get published on his first attempt, I wanted to kill myself. I felt awful for Lance.
You know, that scene. It kind of is a shout out to the writers in the room.
The way Williams plays that scene, you can see he’s doing the human thing of feigning congratulations but in the back of his eyes you can tell that he’s thinking about going and grabbing a hand gun.
I think that’s realistic, and it’s probably based on my own insecurities. Robin’s performance in the movie, for me, was awesome because he’s a great actor. I think a lot of people that work with him say, “We’ll do one, and then we’ll let Robin ad-lib,” and that wasn’t how we worked. We worked as a team. We collaborated. And sometimes we’d just keep the cameras rolling a lot to see what came up.
Be honest here. Did you write this specifically so you could see Robin Williams’s cock?
Yes. No – it was his idea. We were walking in the hall and he suggested that he be naked. You know, secretively – I don’t know how secretively – when I write these movies I always think “This is going to be my version of a Wes Anderson movie.” I don’t know if anyone catches it. So, I’m gonna need a slow motion shot with an English love song. Then, the school didn’t really have a pool, so it couldn’t be one long shot. I got a little more cutty than he does. Plus, I’m not using anamorphic lenses because, uh, I couldn’t afford them. [Laughs]
What did you shoot this thing on?
It is on 35mm, but what I didn’t realize was that anamorphic lenses are more expensive so it was like, oh shit.
Were you putting things in the shopping cart at Birns and Sawyer…
Yeah, yeah. We had to put it back. The producer’s standing over me. But…yeah, Robin suggested being nude, and I’m looking at his hog all day, and going, “I have no idea why you’re so fucking insecure.”
At his what? His hog?
His penis. Yeah, his hog. Look, I’m trying not to go high brow on ya.
Don’t feel like you need to swing the pendulum all the way back to make up for being a blowhard.
[Laughs] And by the way, is the phone messing up, because every once in a while you sound like a Cylon.
Oh, do I?
I don’t know what that means. I’ve never seen “Battlestar Galactica.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Suuure…me too.
But all the sudden you sound like one. But I digress.
It really was Robin’s idea to get nude, but I did at one point jump off the diving board nude because I could. Ya know?
In front of the crew?
At that point, we had a tiny crew, and I told them not to roll the camera, and I jumped.
Did you make a big speech beforehand? “You are the select few, you brave, you bold…”
[Laughs] “You get to see my penis…” I just did it really fast. At least the camera that rolled on me was so far away it just looks like a cherub jumping off a diving board.
[Laughs] Bobcat Goldthwait: Cherubic Filmmaker.
Cherubic. He looks so cherubic!
Since we’re talking about Robin Williams’s dick, I was hoping you could expound on whether the film is easier to relate to if you’ve lost someone close to you.
That’s a good question – I have certainly gone through a lot of loss in the past couple years, so I’m sure that was part of it. Sub-consciously and not-so-sub-consciously. My mom, and then when I was making this movie – well, not while I was making it… I lost my brother Tommy, and then I made this movie, and then my dad passed away at the end. I think I’ve gone through a lot of loss, and that’s about it, but even not as a family member but as a close friend I’ve seen people that have died and see the people reinvent them.
In the scene where Robin’s crying at the porn stand, that’s Krist [Novoselic] from Nirvana. And he asked, “So what’s this about?” and I told him, “You know how when someone dies, people make it all about them, and they forget the people that actually knew the person, and reinvent the person into something else.” And then I said, “I don’t know if you can relate to that…”
And Krist smiles, and said he was in. And he’s good. He’s so good in it, and it was funny because he said to me, “Robin Williams is so sad. I feel like I need to cheer him up.” I had to say, “No, no, no. Don’t do that. He needs to be sad. That’s how he is in this movie.”
But it’s human nature. We all know we’re making a movie. We all know he’s acting, but it’s human nature to come over and start trying to elevate a mood. All that shit in the bedroom – everybody fucking hated it. We couldn’t wait to get out of the bedroom. It was all just nasty, you know, all the scenes in the bedroom are rotten to begin with.
Writing it is one thing, because it’s something you do on your own – was it challenging to bring a story like this to other people?
It’s hard to promote this movie, first of all. I think that some people accused the trailer of being like Marley and Me, but I just don’t want some of the major elements of the story ruined for folks that like going to movies. Now, I do think the Red Band trailer – it is an accurate portrayal of the tone of the movie.
When Robin came on board it was a comedy, and there were two companies in Los Angeles that it came right down to. Paperwork was drawn up, and they really wouldn’t give it up. They wouldn’t give me final cut so I walked away. One of the companies proceeded to tell everybody that would listen that I was crazy and the movie was never gonna get made and blah blah blah, so…Fuck You, Barbarians.
I’m not bitter, but they told people I was nuts. I’m not nuts, I just don’t want to – these are personal stories so I can’t get notes on how my brother would act. These characters in these last two movies are very personal.
It’s gotta be tough to base a character on a person you know so intimately and then have an executive or financer ask if the character could be happier with his life.
On [Sleeping Dogs Lie] I liked the note, it was “Can she just give the dog a hand job?” [Laughs]
[Laughs] Wait. How is that at all a compromise?
How is that less gross?
How is one worse than the other?
It is kind of funny. I don’t spend too much time going through the studio system. I just try to find independent financing. I know these aren’t studio pictures, but it’s funny that they’ll still seek you out and give you notes. You can’t stop them. They’ll come up and say, “Well, if you just get rid of the death or the kid we’d love to work with you.” Well, I didn’t tell you to read my script! Get out of here you zombies!
Well, I really dug World’s Greatest Dad, and I have one last question for you.
Why can’t we give love one more chance?
Why can’t we. You know, love’s a new concept. Why can’t we give it one more chance?
In case you were interested in checking out that Red Band trailer for World’s Greatest Dad, I’ve included it below. The film hits eyeballs in limited markets on August 21st: