A Q&A with 'Bobcat' Goldthwait, director of 'World's Greatest Dad'
A talk with comedian Bob "Bobcat" Goldthwait, who directed the made-in-Seattle movie "World's Greatest Dad." It stars Robin Williams and showed at both Sundance and Seattle International Film Festival this year. Now it's back for a regular run.
Special to The Seattle Times
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Bob "Bobcat" Goldthwait is most familiar as an off-the-rails stand-up comedian and comic actor whose cracked voice and anxiety shtick energized many a lowbrow movie and made him a loose cannon on talk shows.
In 1991, Goldthwait wrote and directed cult favorite "Shakes the Clown," and since then has nurtured a successful career as a director of television ("Chappelle's Show") and film ("Stay").
His new work, "World's Greatest Dad," shot in the Seattle area, stars Robin Williams as Lance, an unpublished author whose incorrigible, porn-addicted son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), dies accidentally. Lance makes the death look like a suicide, and gains prestige by convincing the world Kyle was a tragic hero.
Goldthwait still does stand-up. On a recent visit to perform in Kirkland, he took time to talk about his new movie, which opens here Friday.
Q: What inspired "World's Greatest Dad?"
A: I wrote the script around the same time I wrote another movie called "Stay," which was later retitled ["Sleeping Dogs Lie"] because there was a Marc Forster movie with the same name, and his attorneys were bigger than me. But this was in a period when I decided not to make movies that were vehicles for me as a performer. I wrote "Stay," and we shot it in two weeks with a crew from Craigslist. That got into Sundance, which blew my mind.
Robin's an old friend, and we were at dinner when I told him the story of "World's Greatest Dad." There was no subtext. I wasn't going, hey, I hope Robin likes this idea. I never thought of him being in the movie. So he read it, and when he asked to be in it, that just changed everything. It also really cemented our friendship while we were making it.
Q: His character, Lance, genuinely has something to give to the world, but he doesn't know how to connect.
A: When he does try to connect [by exploiting Kyle's accidental death], he's doing it for the wrong reasons. He's thinking that, well, if I could connect I would be happy, because then I would have fame and the girl and all that kind of stuff. And those are all the wrong reasons. He doesn't understand that in doing anything, it's the process that matters, that's the whole deal.
Q: This is an unusual comedy in that it proceeds from the idea that its characters are deeply flawed and, in Lance's case, only get more so.
A: Sometimes people say, well, I didn't like the characters in this film. But you're not necessarily supposed to like them right out of the gate. Today's studio comedies spoon-feed audiences with characters that really don't have any flaws. They're just people that things happen to, and then the movie ends.
Q: At one point, Lance is on an "Oprah"-like talk show, and the pressure of keeping up his lies about Kyle push him to near hysteria. Williams is amazing in the scene.
A: There are days when his performance exceeds your expectations. [KIRO-TV news reporter] Deborah Horne plays the host in that scene, and she's great. When she's interviewing Lance, Robin just took it to another level. I'd told him to play the absurdity of the whole situation and how screwed up his character is. He did the scene, and it came out so much better than I had imagined. The only thing I could compare it to is Peter Sellers, what Sellers could do that you couldn't put on the page, like in "Being There."
Q: What do you really think about Kyle?
A: No matter how much you give to him, he is who he is. Kyle has absolutely no imagination. He doesn't care about the outside world. There are a lot of kids who are not exposed to news or other things because they can sit at the computer and just keep clicking on whatever feeds their pleasure center.
Q: Does the story resonate with your own life experience? Is part of you Lance?
A: Yeah, a big part of me is Lance. Early in the shoot, Robin said, 'I'm really just playing a version of both of us, aren't I?' I was like, yeah ... The things I explore in my films are definitely coming from a middle-age guy. I'm asking, what the hell's going on in my life?
I do certain things to keep making independent movies. But there are things I can't do anymore. I don't care if they offer X amount of money to be in a reality show or host a game show. All that stuff makes me miserable.
I've been toying with this idea of making a short film where I travel back in time and talk myself out of doing "Police Academy."
Q: Do you still enjoy doing stand-up?
A: I always make jokes about not enjoying it. But I would be lying. Every once in a while, when it's working, I can suss out how I feel about certain things. But when people come out to see me because of a persona and routines I came up with 20 years ago, that's taxing. It's hard to entertain people who expect that. The persona I do onstage now is like a caffeinated version of who I really am.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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