Capone With David Schwimmer About Directing RUN FATBOY RUN!!
Published at: March 24, 2008, 10:11 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here with what I think is a pretty fun interview with David Schwimmer, director of the new Simon Pegg, Hank Azaria, Thandie Newton love-triangle comedy RUN FATBOY RUN which opens March 28.
I spoke to David on my final day at SXSW, the morning after a triumphant screening of the film the evening before to a capacity crowd. Although Pegg has certainly starred in other films (and maybe a TV show or two), for many people, this will be the first time seeing him in a leading role in a film directed by someone other than Edgar Wright. I spoke to David about that pressure, as well as his future and past acting pursuits, and a host of other cool stuff. David has deep roots in Chicago, and we talked about his participation in the city's Lookingglass Theatre Company, which he co-founded. Say what you want about his history with "Friends," but the guy is incredibly personable and honest, and I had a terrific time talking to him.
Capone: How did the screening [of RUN FATBOY RUN] go last night?
David Schwimmer: It went really well, actually. It's a beautiful theater. The Paramount is just gorgeous. It was packed, and people seemed to dig it.
Capone: We were at the movie just before, and the line to go into yours was just huge.
DS: What was the movie before?
Capone: THE PROMOTION with John C. Reilly…
DS: Oh, how was that?
Capone: Really great. It was shot in Chicago.
DS: Oh, really?
Capone: Yeah, it's really funny. The director is Steve Conrad, the guy who wrote THE WEATHERMAN and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS. I didn't even know they shot it in Chicago, but when it started, I realized, "Hey, that’s Chicago"
DS: "Wait a minute!" [laughs]
Capone: When you’re working with Simon Pegg…I mean, he's certainly done other films, but this is really his first high-profile thing he's done outside his comfort zone with [writer/director] Edgar Wright.
Is there that extra responsibility on your part, because now, you're kind of under that geek microscope by working with him? Is there that added pressure that this is the first thing that a lot of people are going to see him in outside of the team that made him famous?
DS: Yeah, without Nick [Frost] as well.
Capone: Exactly, right.
DS: Yeah, I did feel a certain amount of responsibility to his fans, he fans of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ and wanting to make them happy, honestly. I wanted to make his fans happy, and I felt there was enough in the film to do that.
The character was such that I felt--also with Simon doing the rewrite on the script--that we really honed in on something that, a character that I feel you could buy doing both the great comedy in the film and also the great drama of the film. I was really amazed at his ability as an actor just to believably go from where he's doing the 'blister' scene, which is the broadest scene in the movie, to his son gone missing and him frantic, running all over the place looking for his son, finding him, and kind of crying with relief, you know?
It was important that we not only found the tone, the right balance of that in the script, but it takes an actor, I think, of Simon's caliber to pull it off and to not alienate his fans, his core kind of audience, but kind of bring them along and build a new audience, hopefully, with the acting he does in this film, which is pretty astonishing, actually.
Capone: Yeah, I was going to bring this up later, but you mentioned it…amidst the silliness, there's also this message about responsibility that he hasn't really dealt with to this degree before.
How do you strike that balance? You've mentioned the need to strike that balance, but how do you approach that and say, maybe, "Now, we're getting a little too serious here, or too silly here…"?
DS: That's a great question, man, because I think that was the greatest challenge of the film. I think there are two ways we deal with that. One is just when we're shooting, when we're on set, both of us, both Simon and I, to be really aware of it and to try scenes in several different ways.
So, we might do a scene, and it suddenly comes out too dark or too serious, so I may say to Simon, "Okay, we've got it that way. Why don't we do this." And I'll give him a certain note or a certain direction to completely change it up and lighten it up.
And, a good example of that was actually the scene with Hank Azaria when they're at Hank's apartment, and there's just the two of them, and Hank is telling him about hitting the wall and saying, "You're not going to be able to do it," basically. And, the first couple of takes, Simon was really aggressive and really dark and almost getting into a fight with Hank. It was fine, but I felt we couldn't go there yet. I felt like Simon needs to be kind of flip and fun, with a big smile on his face, say, "You don't think I’m going to do this, do you?" You know, with a smile, rather than [in bullying tone of voice] "You don't think I'm going to do this!" you know what I mean?
It's those little shades of directing and his performing, his ability to do that, to change it up that we looked for. Basically, the idea was to cover our asses in certain of those scenes, so that when we got to the editing room, we'd have choice. We'd be able to play, because you don't really know until you start cutting the film if something is going to work or not.
The film starts to tell you, itself, which is really new for me. I knew it. I had heard about it, I had known that from watching other directors cut films, and by cutting some TV and stuff, but I didn’t really understand it until we got into the editing room. But, I made it a point while we were shooting to cover my ass, basically, and to get as much different coverage and, in certain scenes, to get different performance so that we'd have that freedom in the editing room to…
Capone: …to dial it a little more gray or a little less gray.
DS: Yeah, let's dial that knob a little lighter in tone, because maybe the film can't handle him going that dark right now. But, what we found was that the audience was able to ride that roller coaster. We tested it with friends and family first, and then we had little screenings. We tried to see how much the audience could handle, riding that constant kind of wave of comedy and drama. A great example, actually, of that is the engagement scene when Simon…
Capone: The party?
DS: Yeah, when Simon watches Thandie [Newton] say "yes" to Hank. And filming Simon in that scene, I mean, it’s devastating. Your heart is breaking with this guy, and he leaves, he leaves the party. And, I wasn't sure, there were a couple of cuts that were…there was a while that that beat with Dylan Moran coming down the stairs in the towel was not in the movie, because I wasn't sure audiences would be able to laugh at that moment, after that moment.
But, then, we tried it, we put it back in, and I was amazed to see that they could be deeply moved and upset by Simon and then laugh with relief and joy at Dylan's entrance. And, then, bam, right back to Simon, we're walking alone. Give the audience credit for being able to handle the roller coaster.
Capone: Simon and Dylan together in this film are extraordinary. No offense to any of the other actors, but those are my favorite scenes…
DS: Yeah, like the fight scene.
Capone: When they're in play somewhere in the scene, I think, people are prepared to laugh.
DS: Isn't Dylan great? He's so good.
Capone: Yeah, well, I mean, I liked him in SHAUN.
I think it was last year that I spoke to Frank Oz when he was promoting DEATH AT A FUNERAL. He's also an American director with an almost entirely British cast, and we were kind of discussing whether there was such a thing as British comedy. And, I think he thinks there is, and I think he just thinks if it’s funny, it's funny. Is that how you look at it, or would you approach this any differently because of the nationality?
DS: No, I feel the same way. I think we find the same things funny. The only thing that Simon and I talked about, which is a little different, is that the British are less comfortable with the expression of emotion, about suddenly being kind of naked or exposed emotionally, so there's a need or a tendency to immediately undercut the situation with a joke. Like, if we get too emotional or too 'touchy-feely' here, then, 'Nah, okay, we're not really…' We have to undercut it right away.
Capone: You just described the perfect scene where you said that worked very well, when Dylan comes down in a towel. "It's too serious…make me laugh."
DS: That's exactly right, yeah.
Capone: What do you like about the way Simon does comedy? What do you see in him that makes you go, "That's really good. Nobody else does it that well."
DS: It's completely effortless. He makes it look completely effortless. It's absolutely natural and real, and it's not manufactured. You don't see it coming. He doesn't even know, in a way, he doesn't even know what he's about to do. It's so natural, and he trusts himself so much. He's completely truthful. That's what it is. He's just absolutely in the moment and truthful, you know.
There's this little moment where he's at the party, and he eats something and does a spit take. Okay. And, that take that was in there was actually the very first take, that we used. But, my DP said, "Uh, I think we had a little camera bump. We gotta do it again."
So, we ended up doing that 10 times, 10 different spit takes. Each of them is completely different and completely genius. And, we ended up using the first one, because it was, I felt, the best, and we didn't have a camera bump, and it was fine. It was just an amazing thing to watch as a director--and as an actor--to just watch. Each time, it was completely fresh and completely new. That's Simon's…it’s his particular ability to just be real.
Capone: Right. I know that Hank Azaria was on "Friends" for a while…
DS: Yeah, he did a couple episodes.
Capone: Had you been hoping to work with him ever since then?
DS: Yeah, well, way before that. I've been a fan of Hank's since THE BIRDCAGE. I think he is a genius. I've always wanted to direct him, always wanted to work with him, and he was my first choice for Whit, yeah.
I don't know if enough people will appreciate just how good he is in this film, because his ability to underplay everything in this movie is remarkable. He so beautifully underplays it. He's the bad guy, you know, he’s the prick of the film, but the way he does it is soooo smooth and so kind of gentle, that it’s like layers of an onion that are slowly coming off that he reveals himself to be a total dick at the end of the movie. It's a wonderful, it's kind of delicious performance in that way.
Capone: Yeah, it's funny because before he reveals his true colors toward the back half of the film, he's being as charming with Simon's character as he is with everybody else. And, it makes you hate him more, because 'There's nothing wrong with him!'
DS: Yeah, you're so in Simon's head, aren't you…you're, like, 'Arghh, this guy's perfect. God, I wish you were an asshole.'
Capone: Were you worried…you were taking about going too dark, but were you worried that right off the bat it might be harder to like Simon’s character, because, I think, at least your female audience members might not appreciate him leaving his pregnant fiancée.
DS: Yeah, that was the big hurdle of the movie. When I read the script, I was, like, you've got to be kidding me…Three pages in, this guy's leaving, abandoning his pregnant bride. I'm, like, there's no way I'm going to forgive this character, and then, sure enough, by the end of the script, I was, like, I don't believe this, but I love this guy. I'm rooting for him. You need an actor like Simon who’s just likeable, Your heart breaks for this guy, because he’s so down on himself.
Capone: How did you come together with Michael Ian Black's script?
DS: It was just good luck. My manager at the time had discovered it and passed it on to me. I had been reading, like, hundreds of scripts, and 90 percent of the comedies I read, I just never laughed out loud when reading. I was, like, 'Really, it’s a comedy?' And, they all felt so familiar, and I read this, and I just laughed out loud.
And, within this familiar genre of romantic comedy, I thought there was something kind of unique about this and unpredictable, like, even about the race, and how the marathon happens, and the fact it doesn’t end in a wedding, you know what I mean? There were certain things about it that were just off enough that I thought, 'Well, this is cool. It feels familiar, but it's not. It's kind of original.'
Capone: What are you up to with acting?
DS: I just finished acting in a film for Rod Lurie called NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, so I played Kate Beckinsale's husband, a small, but really juicy role. And, I'm looking for other acting as well. I want to do both, but…
Capone: Rod Lurie…is that political? It sounds like it might be.
DS: It is. It's a political thriller, yeah. It's kind of inspired by the Valerie Plame incident.
DS: So, I'm trying to do both, but doing this for a year and a half kind of took me out of the game, the acting game, for a little bit.
Capone: I was going to say, as much as you're obviously known for comedy, the stuff that I kind of remember you from, and I was impressed with…I just talked to Chris Cooper not that long ago, and I was talking about BREAST MEN, and I was, like, 'That's a great movie.' And, even the part you had in "Band of Brothers." I remember you back from…
DS: "NYPD Blue"?
Capone: The first season, right, of "NYPD Blue." That was so memorable. And, I thought, drama is where you started. And, I assume the Rod Lurie film is more of a dramatic thing.
DS: It is, it is. Well, thanks, man, I really appreciate that, because I…It was really strange to me to…I had always been a dramatic actor, and then, suddenly at the age of 27, I got this part on this show that was a big comedy. And all that attention and the interviews and the press, like, the angle on it when it came to me was as if it was my first job, like it erased all my history, all my theater history, like, everything. It was a really strange experience for me, like, suddenly being the funny guy.
So, it is a challenge as an actor to try to feel like I somehow have to prove myself as having dramatic chops, in a way. But, on the other hand, I feel like it’s on me, you know what I mean? I don't mind, I mean, the fact that someone comes up to me and says, "Hey, loved you in 'Band of Brothers,' or whatever. That goes a long way for me."
Capone: I don’t want to dwell on the "Friends" thing, but now that there's a little distance between when that was on and now, do you sort of recognize that show, in a way, was not just a reflection of that generation and that time, but in a lot of ways was very influential in shaping the way people communicated with each other? It seemed to me like conversation actually kind of changed as a result of the show.
DS: How so?
Capone: For better or worse, it just seemed like people weren't as afraid, as they got older, to still have that clustering, high school, everyone-hanging-out-in-the-hall sort of thing, like you did in college.
That’s what it reminded me of, because I was in my 20s when the show came on, but I was, like, that’s exactly how my life was in college when we all just kind of lived together. And, to me, it felt like…not just in terms of Jennifer Aniston's hair was it influential, but it seemed part reflection and part…
Capone: Influence, yeah.
DS: I agree. And, what you just described was the one thing…Whenever I was asked, "To what do you attribute the success of the show?" that’s kind of what I named. What I feel is that it was coming at a certain time in 1994, where more and more people's world was becoming bigger, with the Internet and with more and more kids, like, leaving their home town and going off to school somewhere or going out of the state, out of their comfort zone for work or school.
Everyone started to have new families; their friends became their new family, in a way. And, also, because there’s so much product of divorce, that more and more families were becoming fragmented, and so, new families were emerging in the form of, I think, friends. I do think that that had certain timing. You're right.
Capone: So, how active are you still with Lookingglass?
DS: Oh, a lot. I’m hugely active in all the decision-making and, of course, donating, and still an ambassador for the company in L.A. And, I hope to be acting in either the fall or the winter show.
Capone: Okay, I was going to ask you what’s coming up for them in the next season.
DS: Oh, we have a great season coming up. Right now, "Hephaestus" is closing. Actually, yesterday it closed. But, it did really well, this show.
And then, we’ve got "Around the World in 80 Days," a new adaptation of that. In the fall is our original adaptation of "The Brothers Karamazov.” And, in the winter is a new production of "Our Town." Do you know Anna Shapiro?
DS: She just directed Steppenwolf's production of "August: Osage County," and so, she's directing "Our Town" for us. And then, after that, Mary Zimmerman is doing "Arabian Nights." It's a big season, a lot of good acting, actually, on our stage.
Capone: Wow. I don't follow local Chicago theater as much as I should, but I do try to see every show Mary Zimmerman directs. I had read somewhere that you directed a pilot for Fox?
DS: That was a while ago, actually. Yeah, I directed pilots for NBC and Fox. That's actually how I first met Harish Patel, who plays Mr. Ghoshdashtidar. I met him, like, five years ago, four years ago, when I directed a pilot for NBC. He became a good friend, he's just a genius.
Capone: We were talking about some of your non-comedy roles, but I gotta say that the whole thing that got me hooked into "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was the season about you and Larry David doing "The Producers" together.
I thought that idea was great. I just heard about it--I hadn’t been watching the show at the time--and I thought, 'That's the greatest idea I've ever heard.'
DS: That was a blast, that was a blast. I mean, when I got the call, "Hey, would you consider…," I was, like, "Are you kidding? Larry David and Mel Brooks…I’m in!" That was really fun.
Capone: Alright, those are all the questions I had. I hope I run into you in Chicago some day. How much time do you actually spend in Chicago these days?
DS: Well, it varies. I was just there for three days, as you know. I was there in December for about 10 days for our annual artistic retreat that our company has. I'll be back at the end of April, beginning of May for our big Lookingglass fundraiser.
Capone: Can you say what play you think you’ll be acting in?
DS: Well. It’s either going to be the "The Brothers Karamazov" or "Our Town," but not playing the narrator. We'll see. It just depends on other projects.
Capone: You're too young to play the narrator. In fact, the first Broadway show I ever saw was "Our Town" with Spaulding Gray as the narrator.
DS: Really? Yeah, believe it or not, I've never seen it.
Capone: Well thank you so much.
DS: Sure thing. Hopefully I'll see you in Chicago some time.