Giovanni Ribisi's been playing a string of less-than-savory guys in his films of late — the corporate shill Selfridge in "Avatar," the Hitler-loving drunk Moburg in "The Rum Diary," and the violent drug-smuggler Briggs in this week's "Contraband." So is it any wonder that Ribisi would want to explore a few characters who aren't quite dirtbags?
"You can argue the morality of anything and anyone," Ribisi told The Playlist. "That's why lawyers are so successful in the U.S."
One of the films Ribisi has just wrapped is the much-anticipated "Gangster Squad," in which he plays wiretapper Conway Keeler, who is recruited by Ryan Gosling's Jerry Wooters and Josh Brolin's John O'Mara, to listen in on the conversations of a mobster in order to track the wire bets being placed through him. "He's eavesdropping, but he's doing it to the bad guys," Ribisi said. "That's his job, and it's ultimately for a higher purpose. There's definitely shades of gray, there's moral ambiguity, but he's a good guy in this movie."
Ribisi said Brolin's performance will be one to watch. "The description of his character is a berserker," Ribisi said. "Do you know what a berserker is, historically? They were terrifying. There are paintings of these people, these soldiers, who were thought to have taken some drug or some substance to make them go crazy. And we're talking about the protagonist here."
Despite needing a break from the dark material, Ribisi reteamed with co-star Mark Wahlberg immediately after shooting "Contraband" so they could bond over teddy bears in Seth MacFarlane's "Ted." "I think sometimes it's fodder for your soul to go, 'I want to have fun on a movie,'" Ribisi said. "Not that 'Contraband' wasn't, I wanted to muck around with Mark and Seth and do that, and it was definitely fun. But don't get me wrong — 'Ted' is dark, too." How dark? "Oh, you could only imagine!" he laughed. "It's about a teddy bear, but think about the Seth MacFarlane factor."
In other words, expect the stuffed bear, which has come to life, to be worse than Stewie on "The Family Guy." "I want a disclaimer," Wahlberg told The Playlist. "I did not write any of the insults. If you have a problem with any of them, take them up with Seth!" Wahlberg learned the hard way how offended people might be with some of McFarlane's writing when he was watching an episode of "The Family Guy" with his two oldest kids — and his wife walked in the room. "They were laughing hysterically, and she was screaming how inappropriate it was," he said, laughing.
Needless to say, Wahlberg's kids might not be seeing "Ted," in which his character has grown up with the teddy bear, while Ribisi's character Donny is obsessed with it, "as obsessed as any stalker would be of, say, celebrities," Ribisi said. "I don't want to give away too much, but my character grew up with nothing, and he really needs a bear of his own."
Pausing, Ribisi laughed. "Oh God! I hope my career survives this, because it's so out there! It definitely is a unique movie. And it's another movie where I have a massive mustache on my face."
As Ribisi waits to find out if his horror movie "Columbus Circle" will ever get a release date — "I have no idea what's happening with that! They should tell me" — and if "Dead Circus" will ever get a start date — "We did a table read, but it's trying to find its legs" — he's moved on to work behind the camera, for his directorial debut.
"Right now, I'm working on a sort of documentary, cinema verite piece about youth culture, skateboarding, and this website called The Berrics," he said. A taste of what Ribisi has been doing on the site can be found here.
"I guess there's been skateboarding documentaries before, like 'Dogtown and Z-Boys,' but this is different, Ribisi said. "This is a different era, and skateboarding has become a different beast, as well as the thing that defines what youth culture might be, if you can say something as presumptuous as that! But in this day and age of adolescence, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, it's about how all that technology influenced people on a sociological level, with people who still have forming minds."
Ribisi hopes to have a completed film by the beginning of next year. Until then, you can catch him giving Wahlberg a hard time in "Contraband," opening on Friday.