Subscribe To SXSW Interview: Barry Munday's Patrick Wilson Updates
I've already subscribed
While actor Patrick Wilson has put in memorable turns in films such as Watchmen and Hard Candy, he hasn't done much comedy yet. That may change if Barry Munday eventually makes its way into theaters, because Wilson's performance as the lead character is both hilarious and heartfelt. It takes a ballsy actor to take on the role of a man parted from those selfsame appendages, but Wilson manages to sell the laughs and the humanity, even when Barry's being clueless. One of his best moments is when he's tricked into sitting in on a sexual dysfunction support group. His family thinks it will help him cope; instead Barry winds up struggling to contain his laughter as the other group members describe their increasingly far-fetched sexual and anatomical problems. It's a scene that sums up the film as a whole, an all-too-human moment that demonstrates that even though society has conditioned us to think that a traumatic experience will somehow give us special insight or make us a better person, sometimes you just can't help but laugh at the guy who pees out of his ass.
So, between this and Hard Candy, you realize you're in danger of type-casting yourself as the "horrific groin injury guy?"
I know, I know. Anything that has to do with sexual dysfunction, emasculation...
You're the go-to guy.
I span the gamut.
I can't imagine as a young boy you decided to become an actor and thought to yourself, "Someday..."
[laughs] Well, luckily this is the only film that actually, literally, physically, "You had your testicles removed." Now I've done it, and I don't need to do it anymore. It cannot get any more literal than this movie.
You could have been one of the other guys in the [sexual dysfunction] support group.
When you were first approached about the project, what did you spark to?
Well, because I had had a history with movies that had to do with sexual dysfunction, I went into it with [a sense of] "Aww, man...this is not gonna be good." And you quickly figure out that it's this super clever way to...I've done a lot of movies where it's like, "He's becoming a man," and here you're taking away the things that actually make him a man. There's nothing more basic and primal than that. I thought it was incredibly bold, and I thought it was hilarious and awkward and weird and risky. Then after five minutes of talking to [director Chris D'Arienzo] about his sensibility of how he wanted to shoot it, how he wanted to score it, his thoughts of who he wanted for other characters, it just really fit. I hadn't had the chance to do a lot of comedies, so I felt like it was a new adventure for me. And the fact that we could make him kind of outlandish and awesome.
Was there any specific line or moment that you couldn't wait to perform?
Oh man, so much. "They got a pretty rad nacho bar." The whole beginning scene, I was like, "This is gonna be so much fun." I felt like that really established him, so I worked really hard to get this very clear look, what he did, how he worked. Also, for budget reasons, on a small movie you don't have a lot of time. If we were given more weeks, we would have had so many more private, ridiculous moments with Barry. It became a process where, like, we were shooting the swimming in the gym. "Hey, there's a pool over by catering, let's go take a shot." "Let's shoot him playing basketball, but he's really terrible at it." Then I saw this sign that said, "On odd days, run clockwise." I said, "Chris, let me go up there, this sign's perfect! I'll run the wrong way, see it, and turn around." You just had to be game for it, and luckily we had a great DP. You can't write that stuff. You just have to find it.
How did you find the right balance between the outlandish way he starts out and the more human way he ends up?
For me, I always have to establish a reality for the character. In very actor-y terms, you just have to understand his reality. Everything has to be grounded in what the person feels, otherwise I'm just playing a joke. Even the posture, the walk, some of the lines, a lot of that, there were a few very real people that I based him on.
And you hope they never find out.
I really do. Because they'd deny it. "Of course, that's not me!"
...they say in front of the nacho bar.
[laughs] As outlandish as it can be, it's very natural. Look, you hang out at Bennigan's when you live in the suburbs. That's what you do, I'm not knocking it. Those are your options. Happy hour, cool. That's where the ladies go, cool. So that's where I'll be, then. I felt a little bit like, "Am I playing him too broad?" But I knew the pay-off was there, and I knew that he has tremendous heart. He's a very open person. He's not outlandish and bad. He's actually not very vulgar. I think he cusses one time in the movie, something like that. He's not that kind of guy, he's actually a very positive person. He's not sleazy; I think he's douche-y. He's kind of a boner. When you have that, when you have somebody you're actually weirdly pulling for, I think he's really endearing. And, you get the pay-off, because he does learn and he grows up and becomes this man and a father. But he also ends the movie like that. At the end of the movie, you're like "That is him." At the end of the day he still thinks it would be pretty rad to be a yoga teacher. "I'm gonna get into parasailing." Chris and I would be like, "Just let it roll." And that was fun, because we knew our grounds, we knew the situation, and once you have your parameters, you know you're going to get a pay-off. When those realistic human moments happen and there's a very honest reaction between me and Judy, you're given that heart. When you're given that kernel of truth, you can take it as far as you want.
Was it tricky to keep track of where the character was in that emotional arc, especially since you had so many little physical quirks and twitches that you were playing?
Yeah, even though this is a fun, silly comedy, that kind of stuff you had to do just like you would anything, and probably even more so, because you're making such big steps here. You have to sort of say, "Okay, this is how soon after...? This is the day after the operation, so how many painkillers is he on?" Sitting, getting out of a chair, that sort of stuff you do the same sort of homework you would on Angels in America, whatever. You have to do those sort of details, because that's going to make it very real for you.
Judy talked about loving playing characters who aren't traditionally attractive or are outsiders. Was that a big appeal, to play somebody who just doesn't fit in?
Oh yeah. He's got to think he's the coolest guy in the room, so he sings himself a song. Which Chris then turned into a real song in the end credits. Even the most powerful person at some point feels awkward, but as long as you're trying. He really works at opposites with Judy, who...obviously, Ginger is just lonely. Barry, of course, is super-lonely, too, it just manifests itself as trying to be the life of the party. Even if people shut him down, he's like, "That's cool, I'll just go over here." That's kind of sweet, you know.