Comedian Patton Oswalt has built up quite a strong fanbase from his hilarious stand-up act and appearances on shows like “The King of Queens,” but in Robert Siegel’s directorial debut, Big Fan, he’s showing off his dramatic chops as Paul Aufiero from Staten Island, a funny character who eventually turns into a tragic hero of sorts.
A chronic Giants fan who lives and dies by the sports radio shows he calls into, Paul falls afoul of one of his favorite players, Quantrell Bishop, during an encounter at a Manhattan strip club, then has to decide whether to press charges and risk his team losing their best player or lie about what happened and hope things work out. It’s certainly a different type of movie for Oswalt, but a character that fans of the actor should appreciate.
Before we get to our exclusive interview with Patton Oswalt, make sure to check out our interview with Big Fan writer/director Robert Siegel where he talks about why he fought to get Oswalt to play the role. (You can read that here.)
ComingSoon.net: Let’s start with how Robert contacted you about this. Patton Oswalt: He and I share an agent, and they sent me the script, and I read it and we had breakfast in New York, and I said, “Yeah, I wanna do it.” I wish there was more of a convoluted Hollywood story to it, but that’s… “Wanna do it?” “Yup.” “Done.”
CS: How come no one ever interviews agents for the DVDs because it seems they have so much more to do with putting together these movies than the director. Oswalt: Because this was a non-agent thing of the director knowing exactly what he wanted and going after it, and finding people on YouTube. Robert will tell you more about it, but it had that feeling of the early Altman or early Rafelson, where he’s like, “I have very specific people that I want” and they populate a world in their head, and they went after the people who were perfect for the part, rather than, “What name can we get for this?”
CS: This seems to have been made on a very low, almost shoe-string budget… Oswalt: Super low budget (laughs). It was one of those things were, “Do we have the hospital for tomorrow because if we don’t, we have to find a hospital or we have to fake a hospital.” It was literally like that.
CS: What was the appeal to you about playing this character? I always think of you as a New Yorker although you’re not really, I think just because of your role on “King of Queens.” Oswalt: The appeal to me was that it was a really well-written script that he wanted me to do, and it was the kind of movie that I loved, stuff like “Fat City” and “King of Marvin Gardens” and all those really great early ’70s characters, “The Conversation,” and now I’m being offered one and offered to be in a movie that was done like the kind of movies that I love, like really seat-of-the-pants, “We hopefully have the money to finish this.” I really wanted to be involved with one of those, so now I have a chance to put up or shut up. It’s very exciting.
CS: Did you get to work with Robert developing the character? Did you know anyone like this? Oswalt: Yeah, we talked a little bit, but he had so much more on his mind that he just trusted me to figure it out, and I was lucky that I knew people like this. I have aspects of this character in me as do my circle of friends in our obsessions with pop culture and comic books and science fiction and films and stuff like that.
CS: Sports fans seem like a very different breed of obsessive. Oswalt: It’s the same spark, though, just different fuel. I don’t see any difference with the screaming and yelling at the “Iron Man 2” panel, there’s no difference between that and fans in the stands at a Giants game. I don’t see any.
CS: There is the whole competitive aspect that we see in this movie though. Oswalt: Well, but there are competitive things with… there is with, “Are you Marvel or DC?” And during the Oscar race, when we literally will say, “People are cooling off on ‘Frost/Nixon'” and I’m like, “What? Did ‘Frost/Nixon’ say something weird?” The movie is done. How are they changing their minds on “Frost/Nixon”? You either love it or not. They treat them like they’re entities running for office, it’s so strange.
CS: So what did you do in terms of developing the character? Oswalt: I just remembered that energy that I feel about certain movies or pop culture stuff and just kind of brought it into the guy.
CS: This is a lot darker than other stuff we’ve seen you do. I’m not even sure if you’d consider it a comedy, but it is a dark character, almost like a “Taxi Driver” De Niro-type character in some ways, rather than the comedic relief. Were you worried about playing a character like this and putting off the fans of your comedy work? Oswalt: I hope they would say, “Hey, this is a really well-written thing, it’s different than what he does, but it’s not bad.” Wouldn’t it be worse if I did a really sh*tty comedy that wasn’t funny and if they like me for my comedy, isn’t it better to go see something good that someone you like is in rather than “It’s the type of thing they do, but it’s a bad version of that.” Which is worse?
CS: I was just talking with someone about this earlier, that you know your career needs help if you’re doing a comedy where you have to wear a dress or work with kids, so as long as you don’t have to do either of those things, you should be fine. Oswalt: I hope it never comes to that.
CS: I wanted to ask more about the casting, which you said was very specific. Were the people who played your family all actors? Oswalt: You should talk to Robert about them. He found them and they were just all perfect. They were all perfect. Some of them were actors, some of them were non-actors and they just nailed it.
CS: Can you talk about working with Kevin Corrigan? Oswalt: I’ve always been such a big fan of his. He is as quirky and weird as he seems, but just such an excellent presence, so fun.
CS: And he also has done the thing where he appears in comedies but also has starred in darker indie dramas. Oswalt: I know, and he was great in “Damages”… aw, he’s fantastic.
CS: What about the woman who played your mother? Oswalt: That’s Marcia Jean Kurtz, man. She was in “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Panic in Needle Park” and almost all of Lumet’s films and a lot of Spike Lee. She is f*cking amazing. She was from the American New Wave in the early ’70s and the scenes with her, those are my best scenes, because I’m really reacting to her. She is such a presence and really just gives it to you and doesn’t let you relax. Man, I can’t praise her enough, she was amazing.
CS: I had a feeling that I’ll see one of those movies someday and realize it was her. Oswalt: She’s been in everything, she’s been in everything. She’s one of those actors that works all the time, because she’s f*cking great. And everyone knows here, they’re like, “Oh, yeah!” Imagine if you’re doing a bigger budget movie and you have all these f*cking headaches, and you’re casting some of the character roles and you need people that are like, “Yeah, I don’t need to worry about that guy.” That’s why I think people like David Strathairn – he’s kind of a lead, but if you have him in a supporting role, that’s one area that I don’t need to think about. Or Richard Jenkins, or people like that where “I don’t have time to think of this sh*t.” Put them in there and they’ll just nail it. Nobody needs to think about them.
CS: Have you ever thought of doing that kind of thing yourself? You’ve done a few movies where you’ve done one of those smaller roles and do your thing, but would you ever consider doing five or six movies a year, just playing smaller parts? Oswalt: I would love to do that. I just want to go in whatever direction is interesting to me, so lead… supporting… animated… comedy… Science fiction. My only genre is “Good” and so it’s what’s interesting to me and what’s fun and working with interesting people and getting to go to cool places, that’s all I really care about.
CS: Have you thought about doing another movie with Robert? Oswalt: I’ll do anything with this guy, yeah. If he wrote something else, I’d love to do it. Two-for-two… and then all those years at “The Onion,” I can’t wait to see what he does next and I’d do anything with him. He was fun to work with.
CS: When you have a script, is there something that specifically jumps out at you, whether it’s the person directing it or something else? Oswalt: Yeah, there’s a million different factors, but that’s always my aim.
CS: I was surprised that you did the junket for the movie in L.A. and no one got it out of you that you’d be playing a major role in “Caprica,” you did a good job keeping it a secret. Oswalt: I didn’t even know they were going to make me a regular on Monday. “Yeah, we’re making him a regular.” I thought I was just going up to do a couple episodes, so there you go. I shot a whole episode and then I’m going to go back and do this monologue stuff that’s going to be on all the TVs, but I guess they’re bringing me back for more stuff.
CS: So this is a character who’ll always be around in the background? Oswalt: He’s like a pop culture figure in the world that people reference all the time and go, “Oh, that guy. Did you hear what Sarno said last night?” “No, what did he say?” “He went after the Burgess Corporation, holy sh*t.” It’s like a Jon Stewart type.
CS: So are you just going to go up like one day a week and just tape a bunch of shows? Oswalt: That’s kind of what they said, yeah. We’ll do it more or less in real time. One day and do everything I’ve got to do.
CS: Do you have anything else movie-wise lined up? Oswalt: I’m doing a Soderbergh movie coming out called “The Informant!” and another season of “United States of Tara.” We start shooting next week. I might come back on “Dollhouse,” I don’t know. The sky’s the limit!
Big Fan opens in select cities on Friday, August 28. Also check out our interview with writer/director Robert Siegel here.