The Humans of G-Force : Zach Galifianakis


If there’s one actor who will undoubtedly consider 2009 the year where he finally made it, it’s Zach Galifianakis, who has been working hard as a stand-up comic and as an actor, mostly in smaller supporting roles, for many years until his pal Todd Phillips cast him in the high-concept comedy The Hangover, which has turned into the most profitable comedy hit of the year, having grossed $235 million so far with no signs of stopping. Not bad for the underground comic who before June was probably best known for his irreverent online talk show series Between Two Ferns over at Funny or Die.

In G-Force, he’s Ben, the human trainer for the CG-animated guinea pigs that make up the highly-specialized espionage team, and Galifianakis plays that role surprisingly straight compared to his unique style of comedy we’ve seen so much in the past.

Even so, it was the perfect opportunity for to have a short interview with the hot star, so of course, we were going to take it.

Zach Galifianakis: Ed? Ed? Hi, it’s Zach Galifianakis. Hey, Zach, how are you doing?
Galifianakis: Good, Ed, how are you?

CS: First of all, congrats on “Hangover.” That was kind of a summer surprise left hook no one expected.
Galifianakis: Yeah, thank you.

CS: I met Todd for the first time a couple months ago and he was a really nice guy, so I finally had a chance to meet him and I’m glad the movie’s been doing better than anyone thought.
Galifianakis: Wait… Todd was nice?

CS: Yeah, he was. Was that acting?
Galifianakis: Oh… interesting. Yeah, Todd’s very nice.

CS: Maybe it was a bad day.
Galifianakis: (chuckles) Yeah, exactly.

CS: Most people are probably going to think that you’ve come from out of nowhere and you’re this “new guy, Zach Galifianakis” which is funny considering how long and hard you’ve been working. This movie, “G-Force,” is almost a complete about face in some ways because you’re essentially playing the straight man to a bunch of guinea pigs this time. How did that happen?
Galifianakis: Well, there was no script and I auditioned and there was five pages of material, and Jerry Bruckheimer’s office is near my house in Venice, and it happened pretty easily. I just went and read and next thing you know you’re in a talking guinea pig movie.

CS: They had a script by the time you shot, right?
Galifianakis: Yes, they did, but this was two years ago. With animation, it takes a long time. To be honest, I knew that I was going to get these questions especially because of my background. I don’t know if I’m being sensitive about it but as an actor, you just need a job, do you know what I mean? I never purposefully was this underground comic. It just kind of happened, and then I never really set out to be in a talking guinea pig movie, but it just happens.

CS: I saw that you appeared in a lot of film roles and on TV over the years so I’m familiar with both your acting and stand-up comedy, both tough occupations, and I was curious how you ended up tackling both.
Galifianakis: Well, stand-up can be a really lonely existence, and I get kind of burned out on it, especially touring by yourself, so then you kinda think, “I’m not going to be a stand-up when I’m 50 years old. It’s hard on my liver because I drink myself into oblivion. (chuckles) I gotta remember this is Disney. You get burnt out on the stand-up and then you try and go and get some acting jobs. Yeah, I like acting. It’s fun but stand-up, you have a lot more freedom, so I miss that.

CS: As far as making this movie–and I’m sure you’ll get asked this a lot as well–but what’s it like acting opposite essentially nothing? Did they just put a camera on you and have you do your lines and you were done?
Galifianakis: Yeah, you kind of are acting to… there may be a piece of tape on something, just for eyeline, but you’re acting really to nothing, and it was something I’d never done before, so that caused it to be a little bit hard, but there’s no green screen. It’s a regular set, but you have to imagine that there are guinea pigs there that ALSO happen to know how to talk.

CS: At least they explained how they’re able to talk, because so many Disney movies with talking animals completely ignore the fact that animals usually don’t talk, but at least this one has a reason and mentions the technology that allows them.
Galifianakis: That’s right. I like that, too, that explanation. You see these talking animal movies and no one ever ponders that.

CS: I think moviemakers are realizing that because even in “Bolt,” when the humans were around, they’d be barking and only talking to each other, but this one, they at least have an explanation how they can be talking. As far as your acting, I’d imagine you shot “The Hangover” a year and a half ago.
Galifianakis: No, less than a year ago, ’cause Todd works really fast. We started in September of last year, and then “G-Force” was shot, I think two years ago, so yeah, Todd works really really fast and with animation, it just takes longer.

CS: What have you been doing in the time between then? I know you shot “Youth in Revolt” which was also a while ago since that’s been delayed, but have you done anything else since September in terms of acting?
Galifianakis: Yeah, I did a show for HBO, a series with Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and it’s really quite good. (It’s coming out) in September I think, and then there was another movie I did, I did a movie that Jason Reitman directed, a small part, called “Up in the Air,” that will be at the Toronto Film Festival. George Clooney’s in it.

(At this point, we kind of went off on a tangent about Jason Schwartzman and the fact that this writer worked with him when he was playing drums with Phantom Planet, something that would probably bore you.)

CS: Because of the success of “The Hangover,” it’s going to be easier for you to get bigger roles without auditions and there was just a big announcement about you doing two more movies with Todd. Do you have any idea when you’re going to start shooting “Due Date”? Where is that in the development stage?
Galifianakis: I think Todd wants to start shooting it on the 1st of October, then that will shoot for a few months and as far as the other things, I don’t know. He works fast, so he’s working on the script for “Due Date” now. I’ve seen the first draft and it’s two actors. He’s also waiting to get the other actor. I don’t know who that is.

CS: When I talked to him about casting you in “The Hangover,” he was saying that he tried to have you play Alan towards your strengths and you did a lot of improvisation. Do you think that will be the same case here or do you think you’ll try to do something completely different to avoid it just being the same character?
Galifianakis: Well, yeah, you don’t want to do the same character. The character for this new movie is dumb, but it has to be a different type of dumb, so I’m trying to figure that out in my mind. There’s a lot of different versions of dumb. You don’t want to repeat the same character and the same moves. You gotta keep it fresh. The good thing about working with Todd is that he lets you breathe and make stuff up, and if he likes your lines better than the script, then he’ll put it in there.

CS: Have you approached any of the “G-Force” cast to appear on “Between Two Ferns” yet?
Galifianakis: They did ask me to do one, but you know, I gotta be real careful with promoting everything that I’m (doing). “Between Two Ferns” is supposed to be the opposite of this stuff, so I gotta keep it a little bit in that realm. I’m hoping the next one I do… well, I don’t want to say because…

CS: You want to keep it a surprise.
Galifianakis: Yeah, it’s gotta be a surprise, but it’s big big big.

CS: I was wondering about that. Now that you’re doing more of these junkets, you’ll have a lot more ammo. Just take notes from all the bad interviews you do and use those questions on your subjects. Do you feel like you’ve made it at this point and that people will know your work and you won’t have to do auditions? Are you hopeful about that?
Galifianakis: You know, in my mind, I just see myself… I’ll screw it somehow and I’ll be living underneath some bleachers of a speedway in some town and that’s probably how I’ll end up, but for right now, I’m very lucky to be where I am. I don’t really think about it that much. You just keep going along and hope that you get to do things that entertain people.

Interview with Bill Nighy

G-Force opens everywhere on July 24, 2009