Dan Fogler is best known to big screen audiences for his work in a string of comedies like “School of Scoundrels,” “Good Luck Chuck,” “Balls of Fury,” “Fanboys” and “Take Me Home Tonight,” most often as the voluble best friend or a disrupter of normalcy. Of course, he’s also won a Tony Award for his performance as William Barfee in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and last year he helped anchor, alongside Josh Duhamel, the indie film “Scenic Route,” a spare, streamlined psychological thriller that doubled as a study in masculine relationship drift.
Now, with the psychedelic comedy “Don Peyote,” Fogler has added another feather to his cap. A rollicking, ramshackle slice of insanity with a deep roster of recognizable faces in supporting roles (Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Jay Baruchel, Abel Ferrara, Annabella Sciorra, Wallace Shawn and the aforementioned Duhamel are among those who pop up), the film stars Fogler as Warren Allman, a New York City graphic novelist and stoner who, with his 2012 wedding looming, becomes fixated on various Doomsday theories, and embarks upon a careening documentary project to inventory his obsessions. For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had a chance to speak to Fogler one-on-one, about his film’s inspiration, his wife’s reaction to it and more. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: There’s a rich history of alter egos in entertainment, particularly drunken ones. So is Don Peyote your Sasha Fierce?
Dan Fogler: No. (laughs) When I get rowdy I think my drunken, crazy name is Zach Black-a-fa-jackass. If I’m acting like a maniac and people say, “Hey, don’t I know you — what movie were you in?” I just say (bleats like a goat), “I’m Zach Black-a-fa-jackass!”
ShockYa: Take me down the rabbit hole of this film and its inception. You co-directed it with Michael Canzoniero, right?
DF: Uh, how did you find the direction?
ShockYa: I’m glad this movie exists, but I say this with all sincerity — I don’t know if I’m on quite the right drug cocktail when I saw it. It has an amazing psychedelic, anything-goes vibe. But I felt like I should have been drinking while I was watching it, and I wasn’t.
DF: Oh, yeah. Well, some people who are completely sober say that they get high from watching the movie. It was my idea — I wanted to do this modern prophet journey, about a guy who bumps into a guy with an “end-is-near” sign and gets obsessed with that and goes on a journey and transforms into a version of that man. That was my idea, and I conveyed that to Michael, and I had this story I was very passionate about. I sat down with Mike and Yang (Miller), who plays Balance and is also an editor and documentary maker, and I said, “Guys, we’ll all wear several hats. We don’t have a lot of money right now — we’ll raise it later if we get gold. Right now we’ll just start to collect the interviews.” And that’s how we started the movie, we started finding all of these different wise men, and I tacked on the plot of what was going on in my own life, which is that I was getting married and was stressed out about that, and so I just really turned the dial up (on this story of) someone like me, who is like a cousin of me or something — a dreamer who couldn’t find his purpose, was searching and then suddenly his purpose was to answer all of humanity’s problems. (laughs) He wants to make a documentary about it, and is a very noble spirit like that, which is kind of a Don Quixote thing. So Warren and Chance, who is kind of his Sancho Panza, go out and try to solve the problems of the world. It’s a simple hero’s journey, but he gets so swept up in the fear of it, and worries too much about it, that he goes off the deep end and down the rabbit hole. And then the movie is like Alice in Wonderland all of a sudden. (laughs) I definitely suggest you smoke a joint or something before watching the movie, because what will happen to you is that you’ll sit back and let the movie happen to you and enjoy it [versus] if you sit there really trying to analyze it, like, “Is this guy dreaming? Or is he crazy?” Yes, he’s all of the above — this is what it’s like to be inside of a dream.
ShockYa: The film is wild and rangy. Parts of it tap into 2012 Mayan prophecies, there’s also a bit of an Occupy Wall Street income-inequality vibe. And I was reminded, too, of all those speculative fiction shows on the History Channel… did that stuff work its way into the movie from interviews with planetary theorists and the like, or in real life have you too lost an afternoon or two to those shows?
DF: Oh yeah, I love all that conspiracy stuff, definitely. I love Ancient Aliens,” where they start to speculate about the seeds of our species and where we came from, because our top scientists still don’t have the answers. So it’s interesting to look outside the box, but the interesting thing is that it’s not really outside the box — it’s on TV, on the History Channel. It’s like, “Whoah!” That’s what’s really trippy about it. It seems like these concepts aren’t being embraced left and right, but there’s enough of a contingency in the population that appreciates this stuff that it’s on TV. There’s enough facts in it to create a television show around it. And I think in the movie what happens to Warren is that his fiancée is very interested in cake-tops and dresses for her bridesmaids, and he’s trying very hard to stay on that tip, but he’ll be looking at Ikea furniture on the Internet and then slip down the rabbit hole and be like, “What do you mean, one hundred thousand birds fell from the sky and died?!” And then he’s off to another (weird) story, losing time like that.
ShockYa: Given that you mentioned the film taking on qualities of an amped-up reality of things going on in your own life, how did you describe your interest in doing the “Don Peyote” to your own fiancée, now wife, and what was her reaction?
DF: She very much had a similar reaction to my fiancée in the movie, which was, “Okaaaaay, a lot of these subjects are pretty out there, Dan.” I took the advice of someone who said, “Don’t bring your worries home with you, because then everything unravels.” It’s okay to talk about it with like-minded people, but you’re going to have a reaction from some people who are your loved ones like, “I just can’t go there with you right now.” (laughs) But I really talked about these things with her, eased it into the conversation every once in a while, and eventually, like I said, since you have “Ancient Aliens” on friggin’ TV now, she (laughs) has come over to the side of at least entertaining some of my stories. And I think that… uh, to get on a red-button topic here, you kn0w, there’s stuff like 9/11 out there that people are still in shock about and wondering about, and it’s interesting how there are documentaries like “Loose Change” that really get into trying to figure out what happened that day, and then you look on Netflix or iTunes or whatever, and there’s now three different versions of that documentary. And there’s three or four more sister documentaries, about the politics in our country, the economics, and I think these are things that are out there now that Joe Public is getting interested in. So that’s what I think it’s a really good time for this movie to come out, and a lot of people who’ve seen the movie say, “Oh my God, that’s my story!” Or they say, “Wow, that’s wild, man, I have to watch that again, because I was entertained, but this is new to me, and it’s intriguing.”
ShockYa: Tell me about the decision to break the fourth wall in the film, and were you ever really pitched a penguin road trip movie?
DF: No, I was not ever pitched a penguin road trip movie, but I have been pitched stuff that’s been in that vein, and Topher (who plays Fogler’s agent in the movie) is also speaking from his own experience as an actor, where you’re maybe being pitched something that’s good for your pocketbook, but you want to do something that’s close to your heart. That’s the situation that I’m in now, so I kind of stepped outside of myself. And it’s also kind of an homage to “Annie Hall,” where an announcer or the poet that they’re talking about walks out on the street and starts having a conversation with Woody Allen. That’s the kind of vibe that I wanted to go for there. And at this point of the movie, where Topher comes in, there are going to be people, like my (real-life) agent, who are going to be like, “This is fucking crazy!” I was so conscious of that I thought it would be hysterical to break the fifth wall (laughs) because Warren, right before that, breaks the fourth wall by talking to the audience for the first time. We figured this out in editing, halfway through shooting the movie — let’s break the fifth wall. (laughs) Topher loved the idea, so that’s how that happened. It was about getting to the fifth dimension!
Written by: Brent Simon