While Oswalt had thought about acting and had some bit parts, he never considered it seriously until he started appearing regularly on King of Queens. Working in that atmosphere taught he a lot, and he says, “I learned so much from watching others work out scenes and will forever thank the show for not firing me in those early seasons when I was such a horrible actor” (he even got away with remaining completely motionless during the opening scene of an episode).
Of course, most of Oswalt’s roles were extensions of his nerdy persona, so when he landed the lead role in Young Adult in which he played a former victim of a mistaken hate crime (albeit a nerdy one), he worked with an acting coach. He found it tremendously helpful, noting, “I had always been a little leery about people doing extensive character bios and really delving into a character’s background. When I worked with her, I suddenly saw how it could all really pay off.”
Since then he continues to get numerous character actor roles, about half of which he has to audition for. However, despite his nearly two decades of acting he doesn’t mind still being asked to audition. He confesses, “First and foremost, I don’t want to be wrong for a movie. Secondly, as a film buff, I love sitting in the waiting room and looking around. Like I’ll see Bruce McGill and I’ll think, ‘Wow, there’s all these great characters actors and I feel like I’m slowly joining their ranks.'”
In fact, Oswalt believes that those auditions help “train” him to become a better actor. He reveals, “I bet I would become the worst actor in the world if I didn’t audition occasionally. It’s like if you were a comedian and everyone laughed, no matter what, your stuff will start to stink. You have to go on the road now and then and try out new things and be with a crowd that wants to see something new. It makes you keep your stuff good.”
It has also led to Oswalt stepping out of his comfort zone and branching out to audition for dramatic roles — including, surprisingly, one of the kidnappers in 12 Years a Slave! He uses that role as an example of himself being the “wrong choice” for the movie, pointing out, “I didn’t get the role but when I saw the guy who got it, he was great! So I never get too down about not getting a part. Casting people know what they’re doing. You want to be in a good movie, but you don’t want to suck in something great. They got the perfect person to play that role.”
As much as I like Oswalt, I’m glad he didn’t get picked for the film — I probably would’ve sat there and thought, “Hey, it’s Patton Oswalt!”