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Exclusive: Bobcat Goldthwait Talks God Bless America

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Exclusive: Bobcat Goldthwait Talks God Bless America

Bobcat Goldthwait made a name for himself as a wonked-out supporting actor in movies like the “Police Academy” franchise and a funny-voiced stand-up comic who pulled no punches on stage. The unlikely canon he’s crafted behind the camera has been no less controversial and engaging. His latest film as a writer-director, the darkly comedic, pointed social satire “God Bless America,” centers on Frank (Joel Murray), a loveless and terminally ill middle-aged guy who hits the road to wipe out a snotty, entitled teenager he glimpses on a reality TV show, and in the process crosses paths with Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a 16-year-old accomplice who turns out to be even more murderously motivated than him. For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to speak to Goldthwait one-on-one recently, about his movie, American cultural decay and how he’s decidedly different than his protagonist. The conversation is excerpted below:

ShockYa: The chemistry of this movie’s casting would seem to be of paramount importance, but when I spoke to Joel I was surprised to learn he didn’t have an audition reading with Tara.

Bobcat Goldthwait: Yeah, I lied to Joel and told him he would get one, but when I saw Tara I just knew she was the kid. With “World’s Greatest Dad” I did the same thing. I didn’t spend time in rehearsals but I spent time getting the people to know each other. Now if they were going to be adversaries, maybe I wouldn’t do that, but on this movie we went out and all shot guns and got to talk and hang out, and really strike up a friendship. “World’s Greatest Dad” was about getting the actors to calm down because [laughing] they’re going to be acting with Mrs. Doubtfire, you know what I mean? They had to get over that it was Robin Williams, and eventually realize that he’s just another actor.

ShockYa: I’ve read reviews or advance pieces about “God Bless America” that to me seem to mischaracterize the [TV shows, commercials and pop-culture representations] that trigger Frank as parodies, and —

BG: (interrupting) They’re not, for two reasons. One, you can’t parody that stuff, (it’s so out there). I basically just re-shot it. And the other reason is that when you parody something, you’re kind of giving it a wink. Like Snooki showed up in the “Three Stooges” movie, and even thought she gets poked in the eye, her family can all go to that and laugh and stuff. In my movie, I wanted people to know that I hate them. [laughs] I didn’t want it to be {in mock-friendly tone}, “Heeeeey!”

ShockYa: So for all the actors in those mock-recreations, then, how difficult is it getting them on the same, and [conveying] that there’s no wink, in essence?

BG: I felt bad for them, especially the gal who pulled the tampon out, because she was really fun and talented. She was saying really clever stuff, and I was like, “That’s great, but none of that is going to be in the movie. You just have to pull a tampon out of your vagina and throw it at another woman.”

ShockYa: So there was give and take, of having to constantly explain that this wasn’t —

BG: (interrupting) With some, yeah, but with some they wouldn’t get it. It was strange. When we had those little boys holding signs (like Westboro Baptist Church) that said “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates Jews,” I turned around and I heard one of the boys say, “I want that sign!” I didn’t know which kid said it, but I’m like, “Ummm, one of you kids is an anti-Semite or a homophobe.” Those people, the extras on that day, saw that the car (we were using) had patriotic bumper stickers, and thought these guys were patriots that were killing people. (pause) It was really weird. But it’s always like that when I make a movie, though. My neighbor found a script for “Sleeping Dogs Lie” and was convinced that we were making bestiality porn, so they called the ASPCA. [Here], what we did was rent a car and put bumper stickers on it, and drive it around. That’s why I chose the car I did, because I could rent it at Hertz. So one day Joel’s driving over the George Washington Bridge and calls me during filming and he’s like, “Hey man, I’m about to go over the bridge with a paper license plate, and I have (fake) firearms and an underage girl with me, so I don’t know how this is going to go down.”

ShockYa: Yeah: “This could go sideways very fast.”

BG: Exactly! So I just said, “Stay in character and I’ll just keep rolling — maybe we can use some of it.”

ShockYa: The easy double bill for this movie is James Gunn’s “Super,” but it reminded me of this recent documentary narrated by Ryan Gosling, “#ReGENERATION,” [which] examines in particular how the media is a great pacifier, feeding us fear but also a steady diet of Kardashian updates instead of —

BG: (interrupting) The actual facts of worldwide events or what’s going on in your own community? If you watch media, either left or right, you’d be convinced that things are getting worse. But we actually have less violent crime now. It’s kind of funny that you have to pick which kind of news you’re going to watch. [laughs] Facts aren’t opinions, they shouldn’t interfere with one another. If [someone says], “Bob, your dad’s dead,” and I say, “Well, that’s your opinion,” it’s like, no man, that’s the truth. “Typical left-wing mess — you’re trying to make me feel bad.” [laughs] One thing I do love on FOX is how repetitive the news stories are — every two or three days someone is in trouble because they wanted to hang a flag in the wrong place, and everybody’s mad.

ShockYa: And seasonally they will report on the “War on Christmas.”

BG: Yeah, yeah, yeah. If we could just pass legislation that allowed people to put baby Jesus and flags everywhere, there would be no problems in the United States, everything would be great. Maybe a flag made out of baby Jesuses. It’s really not that far away. In “Network,” they were trying to guess where it’s going and it’s gone way beyond that. …Years ago my wife, as a joke, wrote a bunch of shows. She’s a costume designer, but has a friend who worked at MTV, and nine out of the 10 shows were, like, “Celebrity Poker,” and a show about a tattoo shop. They almost all came true, it was very funny.

ShockYa: You shot this movie in 21 days straight, and the cast described it as sort of a “movie camp.” Given that it’s a bit rangier, and possessing a broader scope than some of your other films, was there any adjustment from your vision for the script to actually shooting, or were those visions hardwired?

BG: I don’t work that way in general, even where it’s something like “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” where it’s just folks talking. I don’t have an idea in my head of how these scenes should look, necessarily. I don’t have it storyboarded in my head. I like the surprise of what actors and a location brings to it. But this movie was actually kind of physically tiring because of the elements that you mention. How do you shoot a teenage girl hanging out of a Camaro firing live rounds, you know, on a limited budget? [laughs] It means you end up hanging out of a pick-up truck being driven by the stuntman who you just hit in the earlier scene, who hasn’t driven a clutch in 15 years, with a DP with a rope around his belly holding a Steadicam. But we got the shot. The DP, who I really like, was like, “Is this shot important?” And I was like, “This shot’s the trailer, man.” And it is.

ShockYa: I don’t know if you would agree, but there’s a real authorial voice to Frank’s rants, the soul of a writer, I’d say. And yet his character isn’t a writer. With the dialogue, how much license did you want to give to Joel, to make it his own?

BG: I’m all for him paraphrasing or dropping things if it didn’t feel right. You’re always molding it. There’s certain people where you just do what’s on the page, and shoot it, and I’m not lke that, you know? The byproduct of how I work is that people bring stuff to it, and [put it] through my interpretation of the world. Joel always laughs because when people ask me my two favorite scenes it’s ones I didn’t write. When Frank and Roxy are shooting teddy bears, all that dialogue is just improvised. And when they’re playing Russian roulette with the balloon gun — which is a real toy from Japan that my wife bought. There, we had this great location and we decided to run outside while the sun was setting, gave them the balloon gun and said go. There’s a lot of ad-libbing, but it’s kind of funny. I know that people feel like they’re hearing me talk when Frank says this stuff, but even though I agree with a lot of the stuff that Frank says, I don’t feel the way he does. I don’t feel this anger. I jokingly say, “Frank’s homicidal and I’m suicidal, I don’t have anything in common with Frank.” [laughs] I’m not suicidal, but I don’t see the world as bleakly as he does, I really don’t. People think that he’s saying all the things I wish I could say, but that isn’t true because I alraedy get to say that stuff in stand-up. I’ve never censored myself as a stand-up comedian.

Written by: Brent Simon

Bobcat Goldthwait

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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