If you’re a standup comedy fan, you’ve probably been aware of Zach Galifianakis for some time: his off-kilter stage presence, bizarre on-stage stunts, and wholly unique…uh…“look” have made him a bit of a standout on the standup comedy scene for many years. It wasn’t until Todd Phillips’ The Hangover came along that everyone else started paying attention, but—miracle of miracles—once exposed to the guy’s unique talents, they decided to keep paying attention, and the comedian’s been on a bit of a winning streak ever since.
All the way back in February, I traveled to New Orleans with some other online press for a visit to The Campaign set. While there, the group sat down with Galifianakis to discuss introducing his infamous “Seth Galifianakis” persona on film, working with Will Ferrell, and what he thinks of the current state of politics. Catch all that (and more) after the jump, folks.
Earlier this year, I sat down with Galifianakis on a visit to the Campaign set, where—as you’ll soon see—he proved himself to be just as funny during an interview as he is onscreen (there are more “(Laughter)” notations in the below interview than there are in any other interview I’ve ever conducted). What’d he have to say for himself? Here’s some pre-interview highlights:
- The Marty Huggins character that Zach’s playing may be clueless, but he’s not innately mean-spirited. Says Zach: “He’s really, really sweet. He becomes a little bit polished…but then he sees the sausage-making of the political inner workings, and he becomes kind of a hero.”
- And while he’s not mean-spirited, he is a helluva lot like Zach’s “Seth Galifianakis” character, which fans will recognize from Zach’s standup specials and late show appearances. Zach explains the origin of that persona thusly: “I used to do it for my dad. I used to it for the black kids in school. They would bump me in the hallway because they knew this character would come out, and they were laughing. They knew I was doing a joke about the rednecks that were racist.”
- Zach explains that Marty Huggins isn’t heterosexual or homosexual, but is instead “non-sexual”. Understandably, he explains, this causes some tension his marriage to wife Mitzi (played by Sarah Baker).
- Presented without context from the interview below: “I gave you a homeless Chihuahua. You handed him back and you said, you’ll never guess, I’m bored now.”
- Zach says that he played his character “as though he doesn’t like his own children”, but is unsure if that will come across during the film once editing is complete. Easter egg!
- Rather than rooting for Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins or Will Ferrell’s Cam Brady, Galifianakis thinks that, “I think you’re just kind of rooting for the jokes of it and the ridiculousness of it.”
Without further ado, here’s the whole thing:
Question: That’s a lovely blouse.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Thanks. I bought this in my hometown for this movie. You don’t really see these anymore. It’s a good look if you can pull it off.
Could you tell us about your character, Marty?
GALIFIANAKIS: My character’s name is Marty. He comes from a political family. But he’s the black sheep of the family, and he only gets plucked out of obscurity because of his family name. And he’s kind of been ostracized from the family, and then they decide to take him in again, simply because the powers that be– the puppeteers– decide that the family name will help the political cause of that particular political establishment. (Marty’s story is) about the plucking out of obscurity, like Sarah Palin, and how your ego can kind of run you over. If someone plucks you out of obscurity, you kind of start believing the hype, I think, if a machine does it. And he does that. I think, to a certain extent, some of these politicians that are plucked out of obscurity do start believing the hype, and that’s kind of part of the problem.
Do you love this guy or hate him?
GALIFIANAKIS: No, he’s really, really sweet. He becomes a little bit polished, a little bit. But then he sees the sausage-making of the political inner workings, and he becomes kind of a hero. And nobody can accuse, like, Hollywood liberals of making—this guy is not really considered a liberal whatsoever. So, it’s kind of neat that we’ve done it that way, I think.
I heard you have a pug on set?
GALIFIANAKIS: A lot of dogs. A lot of children. But (Marty’s) obsessed with pugs, which we thought was just kind of a fun layer to a character.
What’s it like working with Brian Cox? He plays your father, right?
GALIFIANAKIS: What’s good about that, I think, is that you get this really kind of serious actor in a comedy movie. I think it’s always fun to see those type of actors do that. But then again, when a comedian tries to do it, everybody’s like, what the hell are you trying to do? They always let the dramatic guys be funny. It’s when the comic tries to [go serious], they don’t go for it. So it’s, you know, acting with them is one of those things is like this guy’s doing a lot of great things that I’ve seen. And he pulled it off. He was really, really good.
Have you spent a lot of time in New Orleans before this? It is kind of different from the previous show?
GALIFIANAKIS: I hadn’t spent a lot of time in New Orleans. But I got here a couple weeks before we started filming, and I have to say, it’s like my favorite city now. It’s really great. Have you guys gotten the chance to visit?
GALIFIANAKIS: Go out. Get a Frenchmen suite, see some music. And don’t go to Bourbon Street. And don’t be the sucker for two for one night at Ragu’s. There’s a place called Broussard, and there’s a place called Sylvain. There’s a place called … I think it’s Italian, which is uptown. I mean, I really haven’t had a bad meal. I’ve probably been to about forty-five restaurants.
Can you tell us what the collaboration’s been like for you?
GALIFIANAKIS: Well, when Will Ferrell and I started talking about the movie, the move was supposed to look like and feel like more like the War Room documentary that, I think, Pennebaker did. I can’t remember the…did Pennebaker do the Brother’s movie? Anyway, that’s what we were kind of going for. And then it kind of became a bigger movie than that. And the collaboration with Jay and Will and Chris and the writers and Adam has been really good. I’ve known the guys for a while, so it’s been pretty easy as far as—and there’s no ego on this set…(which) can be very bad for comedy, when you have an egotist on set. So, there’s none of that, and that’s very helpful to me at least, that I’m not nervous.
So, is the audience rooting for both you guys, just to see who can one-up each other? Or is there a clear-cut guy that the audience is rooting for?
GALIFIANAKIS: You know, I think it’s not really about that so much, because without giving anything away, they both kind of come together at that end of the movie moment, where it’s like, you know what? We should do the right thing. So, I think you’re just kind of rooting for the jokes of it and the ridiculousness of it. But we did try to make it with a little bit of a message, I think. So, hopefully, editorially, it will end up like that.
This is the first time that you’ve kind of put forth the Seth Galifianakis persona into, you know, a character on film, right?
Are you excited to have been given that opportunity?
GALIFIANAKIS: No, I was— I couldn’t wait to do it. Whether it’s sustainable for two hours… That will be the question. But I started doing this character when I was in high school. Back then, his name was Kenny Ballard, and he was an effeminate racist. Which I always thought was funny, for an effeminate guy, who probably gets made fun of, to also be racist. I don’t know, it was a weird mix. I used to do it for my dad. I used to it for the black kids in school. They would bump me in the hallway because they knew this character would come out, and they were laughing. They knew I was doing a joke about the rednecks that were racist. So, to answer your question though, no, I had been wanting to try to figure out how to do that persona in a movie. But I hope people can sit through it, you know.
Did you add anything to it to sort of, you know, allow it to withstand being utitlized in a feature-length film?
GALIFIANAKIS: No, I didn’t really change it. Somebody asked me about it, and he said, do you think people are going to be offended by it? Which, I find that question to be offensive. Because what, effeminate people should not be in movies? I mean, you know what I mean? Like, so I didn’t really alter it. I mean, obviously, it’s just the mannerisms that are all the same, but the story has been altered, obviously, to fit this.
Do they have you in, like, modern suits and stuff for the role?
GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, because what happens is, he doesn’t stay– he kind of becomes groomed, and then he stops his lisping with a coach. So, he becomes a candidate. He’s groomed by a character named Tim Wattley, who’s played by Dylan McDermott. So, you see his grooming process. But when he’s not in front of an audience, he does go back to his normal way. But when he’s doing a debate or speaking in public, he’s changed.
Did you bring the look of your character to the film, or was it…?
GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, it was pretty much established. And then Daniel, the wardrobe guy, just kind of— I showed him some videos that I’d already done and said just kind of go for this thing. Don’t overthink it. Just a turtleneck here and there will work. You know, and outdated clothes. So, yeah, it was pretty much established.
Do you miss the beard?
GALIFIANAKIS: No. No, because nobody bugs me. No one recognizes me, so it’s really good. It’s really great.
GALIFIANAKIS: Well, it’s an actress named Sarah Baker, plays Mitzi, my wife. We kind of made it like Marty is nonsexual. And there’s kind of some jokes at her expense, because he’s not into her or into guys. Like, he’s just not into that kind of thing. So, I think that’s kind of funny, that two characters have to interact that way. She wants it. He just doesn’t want to touch her.
GALIFIANAKIS: He’s like Morrissey, yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. We all know how funny Morrissey is. Actually, you know what? I say that sarcastically. His songs are some of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard in my life. I mean, really. I mean, not that the “Girlfriend in a Coma” is, like, really funny. And then, he has this one lyric— I know I’m getting off topic, but I’ll do anything not to talk about myself. He has this one lyric. You can look it up. It’s called King Leer, I think. And the lyric is, “I gave you a homeless Chihuahua. You handed him back and you said, you’ll never guess, I’m bored now”. That’s really funny writing.
In most of your recent big movies, you’re usually the oddball character around other straight-men. Did your performance change at all having with Will also playing sort of an oddball character…?
GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, I mean, I think what I was talking about earlier is that this oddball character does go through a bit of a change. So, you do see that. Or you see that he is conscious of his oddball character-ness because somebody’s telling him, you can’t act like that, to run for office. But behind the scenes he is a little bit— he’s strange. I mean, is he a regular kind of person? Probably not. But those kinds of people are not— I see those kinds of movies with those kind of leading men, and I’m like, God, it’s so boring.
Like, is he a drinker? What kind of things does he really kind of try to hide from the public?
GALIFIANAKIS: Well, I think just, honestly, what he tries to hide— he doesn’t care about hiding that stuff, but he’s just being told to be more masculine. He, I don’t think purposely thinks or there’s not a premeditated thought that he has. He just catches himself because he always has this Svengali right next to him who’s always saying don’t do that, watch your s’s, just something that is told to him a lot. There is one thing that I think is funny. I don’t know if it will make it in the movie. But I played it that he doesn’t like his children, which is not expected for this character. I don’t know if that vibe will be in the movie, but when he’s in public and he’s putting his arms around his kids, that he’s thinking that. He really does not like his kids.
When we were talking to Jay earlier, he was saying that he likes to get a lot of takes, simply because that way, when he’s putting the movie together, he can make sure that he has the freshest and funniest stuff. But as an actor, you can sometimes start kind of reading lines as opposed to acting. I’m curious how you stay in your own head?
GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah. You know, sometimes if you work- if you do a lot of takes and you work long hours, for me, at least, there is a delirium that starts kicking in on the fifteenth hour, and that can help. Below the just thirteenth hour is where I have a concern, because everybody’s so tired. But everybody just kind of— the crew especially, everybody just kind of steps up to the plate and, you know, we’re here to make a movie and tell a story. And Jay’s a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to getting that coverage. So, you just do it.
Was working with him on this film similar to Dinner For Schmucks?
GALIFIANAKIS: I didn’t have that big of a role in Dinner For Schmucks, so…but he, as you probably could tell from just talking to him, he’s pretty easygoing. And there’s no, like, none of that stereotypical Hollywood horseshit that you sometimes hear about. It does not exist here, whatsoever. And it might have something to do with being in New Orleans. I’m not sure.
Will said that when you were on set, he tried to make you laugh, and if he could make you laugh, that was like his job was done. Have you done the same to him? Have you caught him off guard and made him laugh?
GALIFIANAKIS: No, he’s pretty much—he’s more disciplined, I think, because of that Saturday Night Live background where, you know, to laugh is a big no-no. Or at least, I think he prided himself on not laughing. Because he was a really good straight man on that show when he was not laughing, even if he was doing the goofiest things. So, I think he’s trained better.
Selfishly, the whole thing about working in front of the camera is to make people laugh when they’re not supposed to. It’s that whole mentality of, if you ever grew up in, like, a- if you grew up in the Greek Orthodox Church, you know you’re not supposed to laugh, and when you do, it’s the greatest sensation. Here, you’re not supposed to laugh, and when you do, it’s just this great relief. Will had me— I was crying the other night because I was laughing so hard. I was crying. And, you know, whatever chemicals are released during that makes you feel really good. I guess that’s what joggers’ high is. I would never know.
GALIFIANAKIS: There’s a what?
There’s a lot of owls.
GALIFIANAKIS: Oh. That’s actually a part of the script. His house doesn’t look like this, that you see it now. His house goes through an interior changeover when the puppet master gets a hold of him. And it makes his house look more American, whatever that means.
What does it look like before?
GALIFIANAKIS: There’s just a lot of pictures of pugs around. Really, totally different. Owls, pugs, and Feebles, yeah.
What drives your character to want to run for office?
GALIFIANAKIS: I think to get the attention of his father, to get in good graces with the family. Because he’s a lovely guy, but he’s just too— his family is like yacht club conservative southern. And he kind of grew up, in my mind, hanging out, you know, at square dance socials, and he’s that kind of southern guy. So, just to get the approval of his father, like we’re all doing.
He kind of sounds like a really nice guy. Is there a harder edge to him?
GALIFIANAKIS: Mm-hmm, yeah. I think that as you see him, he has a side to him that is like, don’t mess with me. And that’s before even the powers that be get a hold of him. He can anger quickly.
Just kind of bridging off of that, Will was saying how he kind of targets you as a terrorist for having facial hair. Is there something that you particularly go after in his character?
GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, like, what did he actually do?
We heard about one with you and Cam’s son?
GALIFIANAKIS: Oh, right. Yeah, I do a hidden camera at his son in a park, which probably will come across as really creepy. But I try– with a hidden camera– I try to get him to call me dad. Yeah. Yeah, there’s nothing— I don’t know think there’s anything that- you know, if you read the script, it’s a little bit over the top. But then, you look at the news, and like, it’s really not that over the top.
What was it like shooting crowd scenes, in front of a mass of people?
GALIFIANAKIS: Well, that’s always kind of awkward, because there’s two-hundred-fifty people that have to, in conjunction work with you– and you have never met them– and you don’t shake their hands, and like, okay, go, which I always find is… I always want to like say, hello, my name’s Zach, and then have them all say their names. Which would take too long. That’s why no one does it. But Will is– he’s like the Grand Marshal of one of the parades here. Bacchus is what they call it, for Mardi Gras. And when Will went to his trailer for something, I had all two-hundred-fifty extras chant, we don’t want you in our city. And he barely responded to it. It made me so upset.
Why didn’t they ask you to be in any of the parades?
GALIFIANAKIS: I’m riding behind Will’s float.
Oh, are you?
GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, literally, on his coattails. So, yeah, I’ll be in the parade behind Will. And I’ll have a mask on.
How many pugs and children does your character have?
GALIFIANAKIS: Two pugs, two children.
He just doesn’t like any of them?
GALIFIANAKIS: No, Zach doesn’t like child actors. “He said, with a smile.” Don’t forget your parenthetical stuff, guys. I’ll have a lot of explaining to do to people.
What do want people to walk away from with this movie?
GALIFIANAKIS: An empty bag of popcorn and no hope for our country. I guess. No, like any of these movies, these comedies, you just— I’m all about, like, jokes. I just like jokes, and as long as it goes along with the character. So, as cheesy as it sounds, you want to- I think comedy is a really, really good tool for trying to say something. I think after this last war our country was in, I think that the folk singers, you really didn’t hear a lot of people singing about stuff the comedians started. There’s a bullshit detector with comedians. Chris Rock, Bill Maher, Janeane Garofalo, Patton Oswalt…they started questioning things. And Jon Stewart, to a huge extent. Stephen Colbert. I think comedy does have that powerful thing that doesn’t seem too preachy because you’re also making people laugh, so it’s really kind of a good tool for messaging.
And that, folks, was my time with Zach Galifianakis. As was the case with Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis was to very down-to-Earth, gracious, a little uncomfortable talking about himself at length but clearly relishing the opportunity to be working with a creative team like the one he’s aligned himself with on The Campaign.
Speaking of which, we’ve got more Campaign-related content headed your way, folks! All of that’s going to be dropping today, in anticipation of The Campaign’s August 10th debut. Special thanks to Zach Galifianakis, the people at Warner Bros., and the great city of New Orleans for facilitating this visit. While you’re waiting on our next bit of coverage, feel free to sound off in the comments section below with your thoughts on Galifianakis, Ferrell, and The Campaign!
Here’s more from The Campaign Set Visit:
- 20 Things to Know from The Campaign Set Visit
- Will Ferrell Talks Reshooting Scenes to Make His Hair Look Good, Bonding with Zach Galifianakis Over Their Southern Roots and More on the Set of The Campaign
- Director Jay Roach Talks The Campaign, Working with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, His Career Path and How Much of the Film is Based in Reality