Whether he’s on a stage doing stand-up, voicing an animated character, or just having fun on Twitter, Patton Oswalt is a hilariously funny guy. But, at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), he was honored with a Virtuoso Award for his dramatic work as Matt Freehauf in Young Adult, directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody. Collider was there to cover and attend the event, and we’ve compiled the highlights of what the actor had to say, both on the press line and during the Q&A.
While there, Patton Oswalt talked about what the whole award season experience has been like for him, the highlight of getting to talk to people that meant something to him growing up, bridging the gap between being a stand-up comic and a successful actor, that he’s taking a few months off even though he’s been getting a lot of offers, and even likened his friendship with Charlize Theron to that of a flight simulator. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
PATTON OSWALT: I didn’t have an idea of what it would or wouldn’t be like. I never thought this would happen, so I’m just taking it all without judgement and observing it.
What has been the biggest highlight?
OSWALT: I met Lee Majors at a party and I was so excited. I was like, “My god, dude, you were the Six Million Dollar Man.” I’m a big film nerd. I go to these parties and Catherine O’Hara is there, and I get to talk to her for an hour and nerd out about SC-TV. And then, (screenwriter) Paul Schrader is there. You get to talk to people that meant something to you growing up, about their work and about their films. That, to me, has been the best part of the process.
When you first read Diablo Cody’s script for Young Adult, what was your first impression of it, and did you already have the role?
OSWALT: No, I didn’t have the part. I was friends with Jason [Reitman]. He got the script and wanted to hear it read out loud to see how it sounded and get an idea for it, so I was part of three different table reads with a lot of different people. It wasn’t until the third read, when Charlize [Theron] came aboard, and the way that she and I just started teasing each other and immediately got along, that he said, “That’s what I want the relationship to be.” I just thought I was doing him a favor, going to the house and having free snacks. It was great! And then, after the third reading, he called me as I was driving home and said, “Hey, you’re going to be in this movie!”
OSWALT: Wouldn’t it have been amazing, if I was driving home and he called me and said, “Do you have Paul Giamatti’s number? Don’t you think he’d be amazing?” That would have hurt me because, talking about method acting, I gained 40 pounds for this movie, 15 years before Diablo wrote this script. I was that committed to this film. I don’t see DeNiro doing that, at all.
Would you say that you know this guy, or is he inside you, in some way?
OSWALT: Yeah, I know him partially. I think everyone goes through some of this, in high school. Even if you’re popular, there are times when you just feel like you’re not a part of things. As much as I know people love the method and what you can draw out of yourself, a lot of acting is very imaginative. You have to imagine other lives, and I had to imagine myself in this. If I hadn’t left the small town that I grew up in and gone to the west coast to pursue stand-up, I think I would have been a lot closer to Matt. But, you can imagine that. I so go into that life and imagining 20 years of that, that I fell into his skin.
What was your reaction to the relationship between your character and Charlize Theron’s character?
OSWALT: Exhilaration and a lot of terror. It was this weird thing where I was like, “If they’re able to pull off this relationship, that’s really going to work.” It got me over the embarrassment and discomfort of what that scene would entail. As a movie buff, I was like, “I wanna see if they pull this off.” There were times where I realized, “You’re right in the middle of this, naked, when this thing you want to see happens.” I was very torn.
OSWALT: Beyond any role that I ever had, really early on as a stand-up, I would see actors decide to try it and they would bomb miserably. What I realized was that stand-up, acting and writing are all their own disciplines. Just because you’re very, very good at one, you still have to treat the other ones as if you’re starting from zero and respect the craft of that. Any acting job that I ever got, I always treated it like I was a neophyte, I didn’t know what I was doing and I was going to work just as hard as I do on my stand-up. For this film, especially, I hired an acting coach for the first time and I worked with a physical trainer. The first thing was knowing that I don’t know anything about what I’m doing and accepting that. The second thing was that I did it a lot. I was on a TV show for nine years and I did a lot of little things in movies. This was the first movie where, when I would do scenes with Charlize, I didn’t see the cameras and crew. I know that, with a lot of professional actors whose performances are so good, it’s because they’re not aware that they’re being filmed. That came from me just doing it for so long that I was finally to blank them out. Some people have that talent naturally. I don’t. So, I’m happy that I’ve had the career that I’ve had, that gave me the time in front of cameras to then not see cameras.
When you spend so many years on stages where you’re crafting everything so that it builds up to the joke and the laugh, how do you train yourself off of that, when you’re on a set where you cannot play the jokes?
OSWALT: It’s weird that you say that. As you get older, as a comedian, and keep doing it, what you actually start to cherish on stage is not the build-up to the jokes, but how comfortable you can be in the silence and the non-laughing parts, and how long you can take the audience without a laugh to then get a huge reaction. Because I was starting to get into that world, these last few years of stand-up, I was way more comfortable on screen. This movie, especially, is a symphony of awkwardness. Words just absolutely fail these people. I had just gotten comfortable with that, so I was very lucky that they both happened, at the same time.
OSWALT: It’s that thing where, when you’re really, really good friends with someone and you’re so comfortable that you can just insult each other, all day. The friendship is so solid that it becomes like a flight simulator. You go, “Let’s crash into the mountains and see what happens,” because you’re not going to die. You’re not actually flying a plane. I feel so comfortable with her that we always wonder what the worst thing is we can say to each other. I always bring up Aeon Flux. It’s just great to have that kind of relationship.
If you bring up Aeon Flux with her, what does she bring up?
OSWALT: All she has to say is, “You, shirtless,” and she wins. I could say anything to her, and who cares?
Has this experience changed what you want to do with your career?
OSWALT: No, I just want to do stuff that’s interesting. If it’s comedy or drama, I just want to do stuff that’s fun for me to do. I’m beyond genre.
What are you going to focus on next?
OSWALT: I have a few months off. I don’t know what I’m doing next. I kinda like that.
Are you getting a lot of different kinds of offers now?
What’s the most ridiculous offer you’ve gotten?
OSWALT: I’m not going to say. I’m going to stay nice and quiet about that.
OSWALT: The thing about Matt that was very similar was that when he was angry or sad, he would make a joke to lighten the situation. With me, comedy was always a way to motivate me to change my situation, whereas he used comedy to justify the situation or use his jokes like, “And that’s why I don’t have to change at all.” It was a way to stop his own inertia, which is weirdly alien to me. But, it was a very fine line. I do use that, but to a different end, I guess.
Was there a performance or film that you saw this year that really made an impression on you?
OSWALT: I thought Martha Marcy May Marlene was incredible, especially John Hawkes’ performance in that. Weirdly enough, that is one of the most accurate portrayals I’ve ever seen of Charles Manson on screen without it being Charles Manson, and understanding how somebody like that could just control different people. What’s really eerie is that Elizabeth Olsen’s character doesn’t really have a horrible home life. She’s not some broken person, running. It’s just that he is so terrifying. I just thought that role was really amazing. It was great.