If you've read either my review of Big Fan or my interview with director Robert Siegel, you know that Big Fan is a smart, well-made movie that's worth your time. And even though it stars comedian Patton Oswalt, it's not necessarily funny-- that's what we call a stretch.
But here's the nice thing about interviewing a comedian-- even if his movie is serious, he doesn't have to be! So enjoy reading below my roundtable interview with both Siegel and Oswalt, as they talk about the fine line between sports fans and movie geeks, whether or not they're like Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, and how kids feel when they meet the voice of the rat in Ratatouille. Big Fan opens today.
How did you get the rights to the Giants logos? Or did you just do it anyway?
Siegel: You're allowed to do it. There are certain things you're not allowed to do, and we were careful not to do those things. We consulted very carefully with a lawyer. For me as a sports fan, using the real teams matters to me. If it had been fake teams, if it had been the New York Wizards and the Philadelphia Panthers or whatever, as a moviegoer, it would ruin the movie for me.
How did you become interested in the subject of pro football?
Siegel: I've always been a sports fan, and growing up I listened to sports radio. I've always been a football fan. And it was a subject that I felt like, just like The Wrestler, had never really been explored in a movie in a serious way, there really hasn't been a movie about sports fans that's a serious movie. I thought it was an opportunity to make a movie about this subject that is a big part of American culture, but has never really been dealt with onscreen.
The main character is really passive for a lot of the movie. That seems like it would be a challenge in both writing and directing. How did you deal with that?
Siegel:: That's a difficult thing, because the middle third of the movie, from the time he gets beaten up and the time he takes action at the end, there's a long stretch of 30 or 40 minutes where all he's doing is resisting everything around him. He's totally passive and there's no active anything, which you're totally not supposed to do. I just tried to make his internal psychological conflict interesting. But it was something I was aware of, and the only two solutions were to try and make his psyche interesting and compelling, and just get to the end as quickly as possible, keep it short. Or just have him do a bunch of active things that didn't feel right. It definitely was an issue.
How did you have play the character living with his mom?
Oswalt: That was my character on King of Queens for 9 years. The room that we shot in, that was a 50-year old guy that lived in that house. I would imagine that the suburbs, probably every eighth house you pass has some twisted adult living at home with the parents in a basement somewhere.
What was the process of casting Patton?
Siegel: It was fairly uncomplicated. I knew who he was. I didn't really test him, I didn't screen test him or ask him to read. I trusted, I guess it as something of a risk, but I trusted that he could act good.
What was it in particular about the character that you liked, Patton?
Oswalt: It was a lot of things. It was the character, but it was also the overall writing of all the voices. I loved that I was even asked to be in the kind of movie that I'm a fan of, that early 70s kind of cinema, those amazing movies that came out. That was a big deal for me.
Do you think someone obsessed with sports like this is different from someone who's really into, say, an actor?
Siegel:No, I think it's the same.
Oswalt: Yeah, especially in L.A., I've seen some really, really extreme examples of people who are fans of an actor. [Gestures to a picture of John Lennon on the wall] Over there, ther's a picture of a wife, child-abandoning, heroin-using anorexic that everyone worships as this paragon of peace and brotherhood. They worship the image, despite the realtiy of it. And he was murdered by the kind of fan that he generated, that he wanted. It's this weird full-circle thing. Not to put down John Lennon, even though I just did, because I hate him.
What kind of research did you do into sports fans?
Oswalt: I don't follow any sports, so as far as research is concerned, I just became very aware of how I have a little toe in this world, and how easily I could slip into that as far as my love of film and comics. It's hard for me to judge these people too harshly, because I've been close to that myself. I think we all are.
How did you feel being a comedian and taking on this heavy dramatic role?
Oswalt:: It was weird knowing I was going to be onscreen every scene. Do American audiences want that? Because I've read the petitions-- they don't. My first instinct as a comedian was to end things with kind of a button or a look. So the multiple takes that we're talking about, we were riffing a lot, or I really had to take Rob's direction early on, you've got to play this straight. This guy does not have the vocabulary and dialogue and guile to be clever and get the better of anyone verbally. When he makes his final statement at the end, and says "This thing is not at thing." For him, he struggled to come up with "This thing is not a thing." And that's the level. The retakes were trying to teach Mr. Funnypants not to hit himself with a pie at the end of every scene.
Siegel: Almost the entire movie consists of take 6. It became this mathematically predictable, OK we've got to get two takes to get this out of your system, one take to flub the line.... 7 or 8 takes is not crazy, right?
Oswalt:All I'm saying is Soderbergh did everything in 2 takes.
Siegel: But I think I'm still on the reasonable side.
Do you think this film will lead to a rise in this kind of 70s-inspired drama?
Oswalt: I'm going to hope that it happens. Then again, Frozen River came out last year, and that could have been a resurgence of this kind of filmmaking, and it didn't quite catch on. I just don't know. There really was a time when it was movies like this every weekend.
Siegel: But more likely, if this made $100 million dollars, you'd get a bunch of shitty misguided knockoffs. They get it wrong, or they focus on the wrong aspect of it.
Did you guys have one of those intense director-actor relationships like you hear about in the 70s movies? Like Scorsese and De Niro?
Siegel: He's my Klaus Kinski.
Oswalt:You hired some Indians to kill me?
Siegel: I think a lot of that shit is actors and directors being dramatic. They get off on it. There's a way to do a movie and be professional.
Oswalt: Especially when you're up at 6 in the morning.
Siegel: You don't want to piss Patton off too early in the day, so you've got to leave him alone. I don't know. I don't generally go into the mythology and romanticism.
Did you ever expect The Wrestler to be a hit?
Siegel: No. It's easy in retrospect, but there are so many movies that are amazing that just don't take off. It's impossible to say why. There's just so much shit thrown at you. Entertainment in general is just a numbers game. I know there probably are 10 shows that are amazing that I would love if I watched.
Oswalt: I'm usually the guy telling people that. RIght now TV is , in some way, a lot better than films. The chances they're taking. There are so many great things on right now.
Patton, do you have kid fans because of Ratatouille?
Oswalt: Luckily, no. The kids are fans of Pixar and the character, they're not fans of me. People have told kids, that's the rat, and they're very excited to meet the voice. If I was a kid and there was a character that I loved, I wouldn't want to meet the 40-year-old comedian behind him that's having a drink at the bar. I was invited to do a table read of The Simpsons one time, and the day of I decided not to go. And people said, yeah, that was a good move. It kind of ruins the magic a little bit.