The Bobcat Goldthwait I knew from watching cable as a kid was not the same Bobcat who greeted me at the Magnolia Pictures office and offered me a cookie. It's hard not to refer back to the "old" Bobcat that squawked and spazzed his way to stand-up stardom in the '80s, as well as three Police Academy movies and other flicks that took advantage of his off-the-wall stylings, although it is, in fact, lazy. Goldthwait is now a writer and a director, with three indie movies under his belt. And no, he doesn't really talk like that.
Goldthwait's first movie, Shakes the Clown, has become what people affectionately call a cult movie; Goldthwait plays the main character, an alcoholic womanizing clown mired in an equally bizarre clown subculture. His second outing as a writer and director, Sleeping Dogs Lie, examined the nature of truth in relationships and how much we really want to know about those we love, especially when one's fiancée might reveal she performed oral sex on her dog in college because she was bored one night. It played well at Sundance, but didn't get the same traction from the festival and word-of-mouth that his current film, World's Greatest Dad, is enjoying. Maybe because dog BJs – even implied ones – are gross and could impede viewers from sitting through the first five minutes.
Currently available on-demand and opening in limited cities August 21st, World's Greatest Dad stars Robin Williams as schlubby Lance Clayton – a poetry teacher who has had countless manuscripts rejected, a sad sap with a smile that looks more like a grimace, and the father of one of the most loathsome teenagers to grace the screen in a non-horror movie in quite some time.
Lance's son Kyle, played with unblinking creepiness by Daryl Sabara, is obsessed with the kinds of porn that would make some AVN stars shudder, is thisclose to being kicked out of school, and has no interests other than vaginas. Everything else, from movies to music to his own father, is "gay." In short, Lance's life sucks until something awful happens that makes everything better – sort of.
World's Greatest Dad is funny, sick, smart, and thoughtful. It's getting plenty of well-deserved attention from film fans and critics alike. And it's brought fans of Robin Williams some relief to see a talented actor and comedian go toe-to-toe with an intelligent script once again.
So I took Bobcat up on his offer. It was a good cookie. We actually began talking apropos of nothing about The Mighty Boosh, a surreal British comedy series starring Vince Noir, the ultra-glam King of the Mods, and his friend Howard Moon, a self-important, neurotic "straight" man to Vince's outrageous hijinks. About the Boosh, Bobcat says, "It's not snarky, it's not shitting on people... I'm a real big fan of Martin and Lewis and Hope and Crosby and all those kind of things. I actually always wished I'd had a partner, you know what I'm saying? So I wish I had found a straight man that I could have irritated. The unfortunate problem was that all my friends are comedians so it doesn't work out so well."
Cinematical: But you and Robin Williams go way back.
BG: Yeah, but we couldn't be a comedy team. It's two of the annoying people, and you need one guy to go, "Would you... I'm trying to do this and you keep interrupting!" There's no Howard Moon.
I watched Sleeping Dogs Lie last night and cried a lot.
Only for good reasons? "That was 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back..."
No! And that, I think, is what people probably don't expect necessarily, especially since both that and World's Greatest Dad start with these sort of outrageous scenes. Is that on purpose?
I think it's lazy writing because the thing I just finished writing, you know, it opens with a guy shooting a baby. [laughs] I like to dig these holes and then try to figure out how to get out of them.
So you start with the hole? You didn't start with a character like Kyle?
On this movie, and actually both movies, I start with the end. I really do. The first scene I really wrote in this movie was Robin's speech [at the end]. And I thought, how can I write a movie where this is the -- going all Joseph Campbell on you -- how would this be his big heroic, final bow? And then I go backwards.
You're a parent. Are parents ever afraid that their kids are going to be douchebags? That they're not really going to like their kids?
I find myself talking a lot about my daughter now, which I really would have thought more about before I wrote the movie [if I'd known]. I did write one movie, I said, "This is kind of like you and me," and my daughter calls me, and she's at college, and she says, "This is my f**king life! What are you talking about, kind of like you and me?"
Please don't say it was Shakes.
[laughs] No, no, Sleeping Dogs Lie. My daughter blew a dog. No, no. I wrote another movie, and my girlfriend refers to the three of them as the boo-hoo trilogy, and that was the one that I wrote. But I kind of backed off on my energies towards it right now because it was a movie about a comedian and it might be a little bit too masturbatory. [laughs]... I know someday I'll write a valentine or maybe that one for my daughter, but I'm going to hold off for right now. I owe it to her because everybody thinks this creep in this movie is based on her. [laughs]
I've never seen a more unlikeable teen character. I wanted to see more of him. He was so awful.
What's funny is that a lot of the dialogue that he says is just horrible things that Sara [de sa Rego, his partner] and I would hear people say... Like we'd hear people say something and we didn't think it was funny. It was more like, this guy is such an idiot kind of a thing. And so then when I sat down to write this, I just used a lot of that stuff. Like, "That pussy ain't gonna eat itself" and... I don't think those are funny lines. I generally am shocked when I hear some guy say that and think he's being a card. And that's how that ends up there. But that's not even [just for Kyle]; a lot of the dialogue is like, somebody will say something really asinine and it just sticks with me and ends up in the movie. There's a couple people that are going to be really embarrassed if they ever see this movie.
People you know?
Maybe not friends, but certainly people I went out with. [cracking up] I hate hard.
You hate hard?
Hate hard. Those are gonna be my knuckle rockers, those are gonna be my tattoos. HATE HARD.
Did you know immediately that Robin would be perfect for this?
No, no, no. Because, honestly, I wouldn't have written him as a poetry teacher where there's a tragedy in it. I'd written it, and while I write, I always write with different people, even if I don't know them or whatever, and Philip Seymour Hoffman was really the voice I was thinking of when I wrote this... Robin really is one of my best friends, so he and I going to dinner, talking about what I wrote or what he's working on is natural and so I told him [about it]. I wasn't thinking, oh, maybe I can get Robin to do it; he just said, "Could I read it?" and called up and said, "I'd like to do it." It really just changed everything. It meant, oh, I could shoot this on film. Really, because I thought I'd shoot it again on tape and just get whoever I could. There is one thing very freeing when you make a tiny movie like Sleeping Dogs – I got the best actors, I didn't have to deal with, like, Kate Hudson being in this movie. Like, I actually got a good actor to star in it. [laughs] That's the advantage of making a movie for no money. Unfortunately, when you make a movie that's that small without famous people, people don't see it... Because Robin was involved, I had money to go make it that way....
This movie was greenlit a few times with people who were willing to make a comedy with me directing with Robin Williams, and they wanted the movie to change a little. And not even in a big way, but as soon as they asked me to change just some things, I walked away. And they proceeded to tell anybody who would listen that I'm crazy. And it's like, yeah, I had to deal with that – people saying, you know, I heard your movie fell apart, and all this, and it was like, no, I didn't want to make it with those people. So I just don't want to make movies where I have to listen to notes. And it's not because I'm going, "Fuck you! You can't tell me what to do!" But it's like, you can't give me notes on a character that's based on my brother. I know he acts. I don't need you to tell me...
Is that an example?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Truly. Some stuff in Sleeping Dogs Lie was based on my older brother, even.
Beneath all the shizer porn jokes, there's so much pathos, especially in Robin Williams's performance. And it's so great to see. I was reading your profile in the New York Times, and he discussed "slinging the hash." Not to disparage him, but some of the movies he's made lately are kind of slinging the hash.
Sure, sure, sure. But I mean, almost my whole body of work as an actor is... I know people have fond memories of certain characters in movies they grew up with as a kid, but even when I was doing them, I didn't enjoy them. You know what I'm saying? ... I was really naïve and that's no excuse for behavior, but you know, when most people are in their early twenties, there's no public record of it. I, unfortunately, have some really embarrassing DVDs.
Well, my mom and I used to watch you do stand-up on cable, and when I told you I was interviewing you, she was like, "Oh my god! He's crazy! He's a wild man!"
Well, it's funny – really, just recently I was doing stand-up and I realized that why I didn't like stand-up [any more] was I no longer liked the character. And when I first started the character -- actually this sounds weird, I never cop to this -- I actually cared about the person I did onstage. Like, if I thought people were making fun of him, that's really where the anger came out. So it was really all crazy. And then like years later, there's this expectation for me to do it, and then I realized that why I didn't like comedy [any more] was I didn't like the character. This was just this week, by the way. [Note: This interview was conducted on August 10th.] And I said, I'm not doing it any more, and I went up on stage in Des Moines, where people paid to see that character, and I didn't do it, and it was hard, man, because I knew I was losing them. And I knew if I just did this Grover voice, I would have them in the palm of my hand, and I was actually sweating, and I stuck to my guns. And I think they enjoyed the show, too, so it's just a decision. It was scary. Really scary.
In your director's statement, it said you found it extremely fulfilling to see your movies at Sundance with your audience. Isn't that scary?
No, it's really awesome. I love it when things are working for people, but the reason I like making movies is that – the reason I like making indie movies – is that when you're a stand-up comedian, you have to entertain the dumbest person in the room. If you don't, he's gonna heckle, so he's some dumb, drunk hillbilly you gotta keep occupied for 45 minutes. So maybe other people [didn't], but I truly did dumb it down. But in a movie, I don't have to entertain that person. He can go scratch his nuts and start texting and walk out, and I'm fine, so I like the idea that I'm talking to grown-ups who, for the most part, aren't liquored up.
The video-on-demand experience is a lot different than the theater experience, but it's still people who go out of their way to seek it out. And I think that's a lot of fun, but what do you think as a filmmaker about that?
My ego was like, Oh, I'm a filmmaker, I want it to be in theaters, and then it was actually David Steinberg, who is one of Robin's managers, he said, "Did you make this movie because you wanted people to see it?" I said, "Yeah," and he said, "What are you talking about? Stop being a baby! This is a really good opportunity!" And now in hindsight, like I said I was just on the road and I had some guys in Des Moines come up and they said, "We really like your new movie." Now they wouldn't see that movie until – if it even played Des Moines, it would be months later, so I think it's kind of awesome. And also I do want to supply a service where if you do watch it on VOD, we'll have some rude people come over to your house and talk on the phone and talk to the screen. "What'd he say?" "Oh no he didn't!"
Are you disappointed or frustrated that the main twist has been leaked?
No, because... my feelings about the main twist is more about, like, I saw Reservoir Dogs and I knew I wanted to see Pulp Fiction so I didn't read anything about it, went opening night, and had a lot of fun. And that's really why I don't like the twist revealed. I'm not trying to do a Marley and Me. I'm not trying to con people into thinking it's a different kind of movie, because after the tragedy happens in this movie, for people who laugh at this movie and enjoy it... the pace gets picked up. It's not like this happens and then all of a sudden it's not a comedy. If the whole tone had changed, I think it would have been really wise to reveal what happens, but I think it still is kind of truthful to the movie.
I'm not clear. Do you mind that people leak it or not?
I'd rather they didn't leak it out of common decency to some other persons that haven't seen it. I think people are super-paranoid right now so they have to tell everybody everything because they think the film company is trying to pull a fast one. It's generally for me just coming from a sincere place. I hope people have a really good time, you know. [laughs] It is kind of a punch to the stomach for people, but I didn't design it that way.
It's very commonplace on the Internet, on blogs and Twitter and stuff, for people to leak plot points and such, especially as soon as a movie opens.
Why do people do that? What is it with human nature? It's the kid who raised their hand two minutes before the bell and said, "You forgot to give us homework." I don't think they're thinking, though... We're all paranoid. Everybody's ratting everybody else out on the web. We always talked about – I'm 47 so there was always like Big Brother was gonna in the future record us and spy on us, but it ends up we're a bunch of finks. We're a nation of finks, just ratting each other out. I'm sorry, I'm digressing. [laughs] That is something that, as my mother says, frosts my cake.
Yeah, it does frosts my cake.
Well, as a stand-up comedian, it's a drag. I go up, and I have a new idea, and I start working on it – it's not finished, I'm working on it – and then that gets posted. So that's a drag.
I feel like I refer to it as a tragedy, and I'm not being cute when I say I don't see this movie as a dark comedy because I just really think comedies aren't made for adults. That's the problem.
So is it a tragedy?
No, I don't think it's a dark comedy. I think it's a comedy. I mean, you want a dark place, go to a studio comedy – that's a really dark, dark place. [laughs]
Or just insipid?
You know what's funny – I've seen some people complain with Robin's character, they're like, "Well, I didn't find him likeable at the beginning of the movie." Yeah, you weren't supposed to. He has to earn your respect. He's a flawed man that needs to grow up.