SXSW: Patrick Wilson and Chris D’Arienzo on Barry Munday


The 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival has barely started and already the cream of the crop is starting to rise to the top, and one of the big hits so far is Chris D’Arienzo’s hilarious comedy Barry Munday. Based on the novel “Life is a Strange Place” by Frank Turner Hollon, it stars Patrick Wilson as the title character, a cocky womanizer who ends up sans testicles after a bizarre accident. Soon after, he’s contacted by the representation of one Ginger Farley (Judy Greer) claiming he’s the father of her unborn child after a one-night stand, and Barry suddenly realizes this might be his last and only chance to sire a child. Even though Ginger is a frumpy and negative woman who would never normally interest Barry, he does his best to make it work even after meeting her aggravating family.

It’s one of those comedies that just works so well, delivering laughs from a lot of unexpected places, and it may be one of Wilson’s best roles to date, since it’s so unlike anything we’ve seen from him before. He also has a wildly eccentric cast around him, including Cybil Shepherd, Malcolm McDowell and Chloë Sevigny as Ginger’s family, Shea Wigham (Spliter) as Barry’s air guitar playin’ friend Greg, and Billy Dee Williams as Barry’s boss. We won’t give away all the strange quirks of these characters and the twists they bring to Barry’s story, but if you can imagine Knocked Up if directed by Mike Judge, you can get some idea what to expect. In fact, we wouldn’t be too surprised if D’Arienzo’s first movie wins the audience award at the festival because it played that well at its premiere, every funny line and moment having the audience at the Paramount Theater in stitches.

A day later, had a chance to sit down with D’Arienzo and Wilson to talk about the movie and why it worked out so well. As much as we loved the movie, we were even more impressed by the poster they’d created for it, which shows how different Wilson looks as the character just by adding a beard and taking on Barry’s swagger. (If you can’t read it, it has the awesome tagline of “Who’s the Coolest Guy in the World?”) When I first read the premise for this movie, I thought, “Okay, this can go either way,” but it actually works well, so how did you first get involved with adapting Frank Hollon’s novel?
Chris D’Arienzo: My agent represented the book, and was going out with it and said, “There’s this book I have and I think you’d like it, and if you like it, I won’t do anything with it and you can write it on spec.” So it was this real generous gift because I read it and loved it, so I just went away and did a spec and then kind of brought it back to my agent and said, “This is what I did.” I was so nervous because he had given it to me, because we talked and he was like, “And then you can sell it.” I knew as I was writing it, I wanted to direct it, but then I thought, “Aw, shoot, he may not want me to and he just gave me this book.” I got to the meeting and he said, “So what do we want to do with it? Want to sell it or maybe you want to direct it?” And I was like, “Yes! THAT answer! I’ll do that!”

CS: Had you been writing screenplays before that?
D’Arienzo: I was just tired of chasing production rewrites or studio rewrites. It was just kind of an exhausting thing and I wasn’t really completely fulfilled doing and so I took some time off, and that’s when this book came to me. It was really this wonderful gift that popped up.

CS: How did this script come your way? Did you know each other beforehand at all?
Patrick Wilson: No, we had never met. No, I got it. I knew that there were a couple other guys that had been attached to it over a couple years and one of them fell out and then it was presented to me, and I loved it. I thought it was crazy and risky and I don’t get asked to do a lot of comedy.

CS: Yeah, because this is very different for you.
Wilson: Yeah, though once we got on the phone together and we just clicked and just had the same sense of style, same humor, same music references. I knew it was going to be a fun process, and I knew that he knew exactly what he wanted to shoot, and he knew the tone. It was a risky call, but I loved it. I really really loved the guy, no matter how outlandish that he gets and could be viewed whether good or bad. I just felt that he was at his heart just a great guy.

CS: The best movies have strong character arcs and this one really runs the gamut from how he starts to the end, and I was curious about having to tackle that. I know when you make a movie, you can’t shoot in any sort of order, so were you switching in and out of the different sides of Barry’s character?
Wilson: Yeah, that’s true.
D’Arienzo: The very first scene we shot was him looking at pictures with his Mom, which was crazy if you think that he and Jean (Smart) had never met before.
Wilson: Yeah, that’s right.
D’Arienzo: It’s a testament to the actors and the film.

CS: Did you guys do a lot of rehearsals?
D’Arienzo: (chuckles) None.
Wilson: No, we had a couple days, just me and Judy (Greer) and talked. For the comedic stuff, we sort of established the look of what we wanted and once I knew how he was going to look that it just sort of flowed from there.

CS: The funny thing is that you look exactly the same throughout the movie. You don’t really change the look.
Wilson: Yeah, well it’s just sort of a cheap gimmick like… “And all of a sudden, he combs his hair nice and now he’s good-looking!” Same with Ginger…
D’Arienzo: “She takes off her glasses and now she’s a model.” That’s horrible.
Wilson: Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s so gimmicky, and it’s such a sell-out. I mean, it works I guess for some movies, but the ugly duckling is now pretty…
D’Arienzo: It never works. I’ll say it… (gets really close to the microphone) it’s total hackosaurus.
Wilson: Yeah… (laughs) And it’s so not about that, it’s really not about that. If anything, we still wanted to keep the sense of his swagger even at the end, like he’s still the same dude! I mean, he’s learned a lot and he’s become a man, so on the one hand, it’s become a huge arc, but it hasn’t been about any of the things you’re used to seeing.
D’Arienzo: It’s so funny because we just did your voiceover stuff recently and we were getting to that last voiceover where he’s like, “I guess one man’s burden is another man’s pleasure” and there was always the line, “But I think it would be pretty sweet to be an architect” and we both instantly had the same thing like “Yeah, and then he should just ramble off a couple other jobs that would be Barryish,” and that’s kind of I think what we love about the character and the movie is that there is grow but there’s no grow at the same time, which is what happens to real people.

CS: Did the movie really diverge a lot from the book in that sense as far as the character and his arc?
D’Arienzo: The character not so much. The main difference from the book was that Frank left it very open-ended as to whether or not the baby was his and I think in a novel it worked really great, and it was really cool, but I knew in a translation to film, you really couldn’t do that to an audience because you start Ginger as this really cranky person and the last thing you want to leave is that this person after you’ve fallen in love with her is taking this guy for a ride and maybe just using him. So it was really important that you really solidified that relationship.

CS: Let’s talk about Ginger, because it’s a really strange role for Judy, being so negative and frumpy, so how did you come up with her to play the character?
D’Arienzo: (Patrick and I) talked about it. There were a lot of different actresses, we had this embarrassment of riches of really cool people that wanted to do it, and we just kind of talked about it, and we both were like…
Wilson: “She’s awesome!”

CS: Had you worked with her before?
Wilson: No, I didn’t.

CS: Okay, because while watching you two during a couple of the scenes that really worked, I was racking my brain trying to remember if you had worked together before.
Wilson: Only a couple. (laughs)

CS: No, I mean there were a couple scenes that really felt familiar and comfortable.
Wilson: Yeah, well I mean that was a testament to Chris, he’s got a great energy, he’s an enthusiastic person so when he sits down with each actor, it’s not like “Well I don’t know who’s coming in, I’ve never met him.” You sit with people who are going to carry your movie, you wanna know if you get along with them, because look, it’s going to be a short shoot, a tight shoot, not going to do a whole lot of coverage, gotta come in with a good attitude. Spending five minutes with him, you understand the journey that he wants to go on, it’s like “Hey, do you want to go on this with me?” We had the same sensibility, Judy and I, coming into it, but we had never met. I just thought it was a great choice, because she’s a very pretty girl, and she just had no vanity, because the gag wasn’t like, “I’m going to put a unibrow on this beautiful actress that you’ve seen in a hundred movies.” It wasn’t that. It was just stripping down everything, but not for a gimmick. They are real people. Yes, they’re outlandishly funny people, but they’re all sort of based on… for me, it was sort of based on a couple of people in my life and their quirkiest aspects and putting them all together. So it wasn’t like, “I’m going to give him this crazy walk” because he doesn’t warrant it. No, it comes from a little too much bravado, and that’s the whole point of it.

CS: As I said before, when I read about this, I thought “Great cast, weird premise,” and I wasn’t sure if it would work, but when they visit Ginger’s family and they open the door and you see Cybil Shepherd and Malcom McDowell as her parents, that got a huge laugh, just because you’d never in a million years expect to see the two of them on screen together… let alone in tracksuits.
D’Arienzo: Yeah, matching outfits for the whole movie. Well, that was a really fun thing. Both of them, I remember when I met with Cybil, because part of the sell with this for me was I wanted to do something that celebrated the types of comedies that I really loved, comedies like “Harold and Maude” or “The Graduate” that are unconventional love stories, messy love stories, that really walk a line between comedy and drama and tackle both. When I would talk to actresses or actors like Cybil or Malcolm who made those movies, that did “Taxi Driver” and “Last Picture Show” and these f*cking amazing old ‘70s movies in this spirit. Once I said those things, she was like, “Oh, I’m in.” I think it was really refreshing for them, and I tried really hard to keep my word and make that kind of movie. At least I got the sense from Billy and Malcolm and Cybil, who had done such great movies in this era that I really love so much, they just really were game for anything, because it was kind of like a trip back for them to movies they loved making. I told her, like “The Heartbreak Kid,” the original Charles Grodin one, was very much a template for Barry, so that was another one that clicked for her, too.

CS: I was wondering how you got all these actors involved and convinced them as a first-time director you could pull this off. You hadn’t directed shorts or anything else before?
D’Arienzo: No, nothing. I mean, it was, I just tried really hard to show them that I cared about it a lot and showed them that I wasn’t just kind of winging it.
Wilson: But you knew exactly.. the problem that you get, because I’ve worked with some first-time directors, that you can come from a variety of places and interests and strengths, but at the end of the day, you want someone that has a vision for the movie. I want to know what you’re going to put on screen. You don’t need to be the best acting teach I’ve ever had, that’s not going to do me any good. Certainly that helps, but at the end of the day, I want to know what you want to put on screen, this is your medium. You can have the best actors in the world, but if you’re not shooting them right, what’s the point? And the fact that Chris’ style, that the way he wanted to shoot it, fit with this type of movie. The fact that you can commit and that you have the strength in yourself, in your DP, in your actors and in your producers, that “I’m going to let this entire scene play in one shot.” In a comedy, where usually between sound FX and quick cuts and reactions, you’re told, “Now you’ve gotta laugh!” We always trusted the situation, as bizarre as it was, and the logline of this movie in trying to sell it, it’s a very hard sell. You gotta get over the fact that “Yeah, he loses his balls… BUT…” Once you get past that, it’s such a great story, but that’s part of the quirkiness of the movie. Chris knew exactly what he wanted to shoot, so when he showed up, whether it was pictures or storyboards or whatever it was. “This is what I’m going for.” And you stuck with it, you’re not bailing out halfway through, so we had such supreme confidence because it was a real open set. It was probably the first set where you don’t go back to your trailer between takes and you stay and hang out.

CS: You say that it’s a really hard sell but I see that poster behind you and that’s just a genius poster. That’s the kind of marketing where Fox Seachlight spends six months researching and testing.
D’Arienzo: That we like.
Wilson: We like that you just said that.
D’Arienzo: It’s funny because there was this whole poster they were using for foreign and right before South by Southwest, I have a graphic artist and I was like, “Please let me work with my friend..” and we shot a whole series of these with (Patrick) and it was just so fun cropping him at the worst place you could ever crop a photo, and this pose, what more do you need?

CS: It’s great that the title of the movie is right below his crotch, that’s perfect.
Wilson: And the phrase… was the phrase in the script or was that just my song?
D’Arienzo: No, that was always… that was something you came up with, like “Who’s the Coolest Guy in the World?”

CS: I love hearing about projects like this that come together because films like this tend to come from the indie world, the mix of drama and comedy can be a hard sell, but studios used to make these kinds of movies, and as we saw, the audience loved it.
D’Arienzo: Yeah, I think it’s one of those things where it’s really great to have an audience, because in my head, I feel like I’m a crazy person ‘cause I’m like, “This is totally commercial,” but there’s a lot of people—programmers at festivals maybe or studio people or indie financiers. I remember when we were trying to get money for this, I remember an indie financier person yelling at me like, “You can’t leave your main character disfigured in a romantic comedy!” Like that, just really mad that I didn’t see him losing his balls as a real… you can’t do it. Lots of people wouldn’t give us money for this movie because of it. It always was crazy.

CS: But the way you handle it in the movie, you do forget about it as the movie goes along, and you never go for the gross-out humor of someone losing their testicles.
D’Arienzo: Well, that’s it, and that’s what I would always try to tell people, and that’s why I kinda went with the trumpet shot from way back in the theater because that’s not what it’s about.

CS: Before we wrap up, Patrick, I want to quickly ask you about these rumors about the new DC Entertainment and how there’s been talk of doing a prequel or sequel to “Watchmen,” which might not be true, but have you heard anything about that stuff? I know Zack Snyder has always been against the idea.
Wilson: (shakes head) We always sort of joked, like “What would happen?” but the reality is… I think the movie’s great, I had an unbelievable time doing the movie, but actually, from that perspective–it’s not that you’re ever glad that a movie didn’t do $500 million–but for the idea of “Now we’ve gotta do a sequel,” financially it wouldn’t even make sense.

CS: But I feel that the DVDs and Blu-Ray have done very well with all the different versions.
Wilson: Yeah, but I don’t know what you’d ever do with it, I don’t know how you’d ever.. the whole point of the movie…

CS: …is that it’s one complete story.
Wilson: Yeah, yeah.

Barry Munday is currently playing at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival and hopefully will get picked up for distribution soon.