The character Pee-wee Herman, portrayed by Paul Reubens, has been a fun part of pop culture for more than 35 years now, and in that time has expanded across multiple mediums. Reubens first created Herman for the stage, but he broke out thanks to an HBO special, gained popularity with his television series, and even got to be the titular character of a few of his own movies. What you may not have noticed, however, is that each version of Pee-wee Herman varies a bit, as there is a certain degree to which the medium dictates just how "Pee-wee" Pee-wee can be.
With Pee-wee’s Big Holiday set to arrive on Netflix in mid-March, I recently had the pleasure of chatting with director John Lee about the project over the phone, and it was during our conversation that the filmmaker revealed a subtlety about Paul Reubens’ performance that fans may have not noticed before. Curious about the special weirdness that must come with directing Pee-wee Herman in a scene, I asked Lee about the process of discussing character motivation and delivery, and he explained why the Pee-wee on stage, on the small screen, and on the big screen are all just a bit different:
It’s an interesting thing to learn about Pee-wee Herman, if not just because a real part of the character’s particular charm is the fact that he’s kind of annoying. Very much a Peter Pan-like figure, he’s eternally optimistic, energetic and childlike, which can be a crazy amount of fun, but also be completely exhausting. When dealing with a theatrical environment (where everything has to be projected and "more"), or the small screen (which jams a full experience into 22 minutes), it makes sense than Pee-wee can be a bit bigger and intense – but that wouldn’t really make any sense in a 90-120 minute movie due to a burnout factor. So the film version of Pee-wee is still very much Pee-wee, but one that doesn’t cross the line into "too much."
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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