SXSW Interview: Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray & Tara Lynne Barr Talk ‘God Bless America’
The wonderfully warped mind of Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad) delivers us the new film, God Bless America. He wrote and directed the film and it’s a darkly funny social commentary on the celebrity-worshipping culture we live in today.
The story follows Frank (Joel Murray), a guy who if you said was down on his luck would be kind. He finds out he has a brain tumor, comes home, flips on the TV and decides to end it all. But, as he’s watching a slew of Reality TV shows, he comes up with an idea: Why not go on a killing spree to rid the world of these horrible people? Along the way, he partners with the teenaged Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) and the two set out to rid the world this evil.
Bobcat has known Joel (Mad Men) since they filmed the 1986’s One Crazy Summer. “Most of my movies are all filled with casts who are all friends,” he said so, fresh off of the Academy Award winning film, The Artist, Joel was cast. This is Joel’s first starring role and he has some pretty lengthy monologues in it; one of them totaled 3 pages. He said that those were hard work, “trying to make it mean something let alone memorizing it.”
Since Bobcat didn’t know any 17-year old girls, they brought Tara in for the role of Roxy. After appearing in a handful of Disney Channel shows, this was Tara’s first major role.
I talked to Bobcat, Joel and Tara at SXSW where the film screened to a packed audience who loved the film, myself included. We talked about how Bobcat got the idea and how he’s probably done with acting, Joel’s experience as a lead and tons more.
The film debuts On Demand on April 6th and in theaters May 11th
I read that the original version of the script was 185 pages?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Yeah.
Bobcat Goldthwait: [laughs] Well, it was just that a lot more people got killed. And there were a lot more fantasies too. Not just the one where Joel thinks he’s JFK.
I am sure you have tons of friends in the reality TV business. Have you shown this to them?
Bobcat Goldthwait: I really don’t actually have friends in that business. I only have one. He hasn’t seen it yet, but there’s a shout out to him because he produced a show called Numb Nuts that never went and was like a rip off of Jackass. So that’s why that one show is called Dumb Nuts. So I am making fun of his pilot.
Tara Lynne Barr: I am sure he’ll be flattered.
Bobcat Goldthwait: I think he will. I think he’s going to laugh when he sees it and it’s called Dumb Nuts, yeah.
Joel Murray: I do an improv show in Hollywood, and when we come out, there’s are often TMZ guys that will try to bait you into saying something after you’ve had three or four beers, you know? They try to just get you to just slip up and say something racist or gay bashing or something like that. But, it’s kind of fun to go out after doing the show, and Bob’s come to the show a few times, and we both have wanted to slip the, “Oh by the way, we kill your boss [in the film.]”
Bobcat Goldthwait: I did the other night. TMZ was like in my face saying, “What’s it like being a has been?” And I said, “What’s worse, being a has been, or harassing a has been? “
They say that stuff like that to you?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Yeah, yeah. And I said to them, “Hey, I have a new movie coming out, it’s called God Bless America, you guys are in it. You’re really going to like it. It’s really funny.” We shoot Harvey Levin in the throat. [laughs]
Is that where this idea came from?
Bobcat Goldthwait: No, no, I have got to tell you, that is like water off my back when someone says something like that. That’s the day and age and time we live in, especially if you’re a comedian, you know? There are no boundaries. You’re supposed to agitate someone. When I do an interview on a radio station, they want to do the one where I get snap and get mad and walk off in a huff. No one is really interested in having a conversation or discussion anymore. People are just interested in the mayhem and nastiness. It wouldn’t have made sense to make a movie that just said ‘we’re all mean and nasty now.’ That’s why I made a nasty movie about how there’s no more kindness.
I wanted to talk about casting. How did you find these two?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Joel is an old friend. We did a movie called One Crazy Summer.
I loved that movie.
Bobcat Goldthwait: So I met Joel on that when we were both about the same age, really young. And Tara came in and auditioned. Most of my movies are all filled with casts who are all friends. So, they are people that I know their their talents and what they excel at. Luckily, I don’t have many friends who are 17 year old girls, so she auditioned.
What was the audition like?
Tara Lynne Barr: It was pretty standard. I went in once for the initial audition, I went in twice for a callback with Bob and then they called me in again and gave me another scene to look at and then we just talked a little bit.
Bobcat Goldthwait: I probably wanted to talk to you a lot.
Tara Lynne Barr: Yeah, it was very laid back. I think it went well.
I think so.
Bobcat Goldthwait: When it’s somebody that I don’t know, the last audition is not about auditioning. It’s usually me wanting to see if they’re an ass. [laughs]
Joel Murray: We got lucky with this one though. She’s not an ass. She couldn’t have been sweeter and better to work with. As far as 17- year- old girls we could have pulled out of the pool in Hollywood, we could have done a heck of a lot worse. She is so great. She listens and she is just a sponge wanting to learn what’s going on everywhere. I just really enjoyed it. I’ve done some things with people who are yelling catch phrases constantly, and saying the same thing and being really loud the whole time when you’re trying to work on something. It drives me crazy. She was great.
Bobcat Goldthwait: The environment was when we made the movie, these two knew all their lines and they knew who these people were. I couldn’t have had that kind of time to find it or be patient with people who didn’t know their lines.
Did you have rehearsal?
Bobcat Goldthwait: No, it’s just basically that these two were that good. I knew Joel would be great and then Tara auditioned so strong. The other side of it is, it really was, well, it is a family business. My family is all there anyway. My daughter works there, my wife is the costume designer, and my brother is the AD and everyone else there are my friends. But Joel is such a sweet guy. He was actually helping other departments. He is someone who will actually pick up and lift gear. It was really a nice environment for such a disturbing, violent movie.
Joel Murray: Well he does create a wonderful environment to work in. There just are no douche bags. If you were a jerk, you would stand out.
Bobcat Goldthwait: There was one. [laughs] There was one guy who was kind of a hard on, but he wasn’t my friend. I was like “I can’t wait to kill this guy.”
So he was actually killed in the movie?
Joel Murray: Yeah, early.
Tara Lynn Barr: Guess who?
Bobcat Goldthwait: You know, that’s a pretty good success rate when you only have one hard on.
Joel, you have some monologues in this movie. When you get the script, do you just have notes all over the sides?
Joel Murray: No, I’m not one of those guys that write all those notes. I think about it and I reread it and reread it. It’s not like I had one scene to study. I had all of them to study. So that was kind of weird for me. I actually called my brother to talk about what’s it like to star in a movie and how do I prepare for this and just a stamina kind of thing, questions like that. But he didn’t ever call me back until the film was done.
Bobcat Goldthwait: Until it wrapped. But in his defense, it was a Bob Goldthwait movie, so, that just meant he didn’t call back in three days.
Joel Murray: Twenty one days, or something like that. I just had to prepare a day at a time. The one rant in the office was three pages long. We had all of our best friends and my wife working that day on the set, and I couldn’t talk to them because I was over with Brandon, the Asian PA, who was phonetically getting me to learn the lines. It was a lot of hard work in that aspect. And then trying to make it mean something let alone memorizing it.
Bobcat Goldthwait: But I remember saying to you, “I know you’re frustrated, but you have to know that this is really good and we’re getting this. We’ve really got this and it’s really awesome.”
Did it take a while to shoot that one specific monologue, the one in the office?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Well it took awhile just because of how long it is. So, yeah, it was long.
Joel Murray: But we shot a few scenes that day. I mean, in a regular movie that would have been a whole day, that scene.
Bobcat Goldthwait: By the way, even World’s Greatest Dad was that way. Robin [Williams], we’d shoot a million scenes for the day, he’d be like, “Is the kid dead?” And I’d say “No, he’s not dead yet.” He’d have to know where he was. [laughs]
I interviewed Heidi Levitt, casting director for The Artist, and she said about Joel that, “He communicated through the eyes.”
Joel Murray: One of them is just my eye.
Bobcat, you’ve known him for a while…
Bobcat Goldthwait: Yeah, I’ve known him for a while, but when I was recovering from back surgery, he had given me a boxed set of Mad Men up to that point and I got to watch him in that. My wife said, “What about Joel for this role?” It wasn’t like, “Oh, I wonder if he can do it?” It was like a big piece of the puzzle fell. I said, “Oh, if Joel does this, he would be a guy that you will empathize with.”
In my head I always thought he was like a doppelganger. It wasn’t until we started doing press and I saw photos, and I realized we’re nothing alike, except for both being white and Irish. I thought I was like his height almost, and I was like, “Oh my god.” It was pretty funny.
I hope I can keep making movies with both of these folks. And I do, like every movie I do, I bring back people from what I do, I bring people back from Shakes and Windy City Heat and Sleeping Dogs Lie, and a lot of them are in this movie. I love working with my friends.
No more acting for you? I know you’re doing stand up still.
Bobcat Goldthwait: Yeah, no, probably not. But, here’s the thing. I think Joel is an amazing actor so it’s great to have him there. I am not as good as him or Robin Williams. Those two guys are brilliant. So I’ll just keep hiring them to play me.
Joel Murray: Well, he also has the common sense not do to it. I have friends who have directed films that they are in 90% of. That’s just wrong. What are you thinking about? How much huberis do you have that you think you can direct a film that you’re that big a part of, and still be a good director and a good actor. It’s insane.
Bobcat Goldthwait: I also love to have the ability to sit back and go, “We can tweak and fix and make things.” And that’s what I’m thinking about. I’m not concentrating on memorizing my lines.
Joel Murray: Or some stupid 3 page monologue.
Bobcat Goldthwait: [laughs] Yeah I know.
When you’re doing that, typing a three page monologue, is it kind of like vomiting from your mind? Have you thought about it for weeks and it just comes out?
Joel Murray: No, it really is like, “Ok, this has to happen from here to here.” And then I write it. I don’t really have like this is going to be my manifesto and how I see the world. It was really like, well I need to set up Frank at this point in this scene.
Tara, what’s this experience been like for you?
Tara Lynne Barr: Awesome. It’s been really cool. This is my first movie and people have been really excited about it. The people who have seen it have been very complimentary. Of course you get people who don’t like it.
Those people are idiots.
Tara Lynne Barr: Idiots, right! It happens with every movie. I’m really happy to be part of a film that actually stands for something, that isn’t like big studio, blah blah blah, we’re pandering to everyone. This actually has an audience and they’re worth having.
What’s your advice to actors?
Joel Murray: You’re going to have to do a lot of stuff for free before anyone’s going to pay you to do it. I think a lot of actors you meet in Hollywood now, they want a commercial that’s going to fund them and they want a sitcom.
When I started up, I did five or six nights of Improve for free. You have got to get as much stage time as you can and give it away and do as much stuff as you can before anybody is going to hire you to do it.
Tara Lynne Barr: I was going to say, be on stage. Whether you’re doing improv or whatever you’re doing theater, it’s the best training you can possibly have.
Bobcat Goldthwait: The advice I give to actors, and they don’t believe it, but it’s really like you’re enough, you know what I mean? You don’t have to do any work. If you are yourself, it will be amazing. It is enough. That’s a big thing I think. Because as an actor, it took me a million years to just play myself and it was terrifying. I think it is terrifying for actors. As a director I try to make it so they can do that. But, you’re enough, that’s what I have to say to an actor.