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Patton Oswalt Doesn’t Get to Decide What Kind of Actor He Is

Patton Oswalt Doesn't Get to Decide What Kind of Actor He Is

The TV landscape is filled with divisive series
that leave some viewers loving them and some viewers hating them, but there
aren’t many on the same level as Adult Swim’s “
The Heart, She Holler,” the network’s thoroughly bizarre comedic take on Southern Gothic
drama, brought to you by Vernon Chatman and John Lee, the same folks who gave
us Wonder Showzen, and starring
Patton Oswalt, Amy Sedaris, David Cross, and Heather Lawless. Indiewire spoke
to Oswalt about the series’ third season – which wraps up tonight – and how
completely insane things get. But he also took time to talk a bit about “Marvel’s
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” whether or
not he qualifies as a character actor, and the likelihood of seeing a new
stand-up album in 2015.

This interview took place last week, i.e. prior to
last night’s winter finale of “
S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which is disappointing, but on the
other hand, it took place about an hour after Oswalt had discovered that he’d
been nominated for his third Grammy Award, which put him in a pretty good mood.

Given
the events of this morning, allow me to kick things off with congratulations.

Oh, thank you!

Come
on, third time’s the charm.

Uh, no, I feel like “always a
bridesmaid, never a bride.” And if I had my personal druthers, I really
think Al Yankovic should win. I do not believe in false humility – I’m glad I
got nominated – but Al Yankovic better win this fucking Grammy.

I
can get behind that. And I thought you might say that, anyway, given that you
appeared in his video for “Foil.”

Oh, yeah! You know what, I’ll go up
and accept that Grammy with him. I’ll go, “You’re welcome, Al. I just got
you a Grammy.” [Laughs.]

So
on to other matters of a surreal nature: Even as a star of the series, can you
believe that “The Heart, She Holler” has made it to a third season?

Three. Fucking. Seasons. It’s, like,
how… [Hesitates.] That means that they saw how deep and dark they went in
Season 1 and then said, “Yeah, we can keep going with this. We’ve got
other orifices to go digging into.” Holy shit! I mean, think about that
for a second.

I
will say that I often have to look away when the commercials are on, let alone the actual show.

Nice!

When
it was pitched to you, did the creators tell you outright that it was intended
to be a comedic take on a Southern Gothic drama?

Well, they said kind of a combination
of (Errol Morris’s) “Vernon, Florida,” and there’s this book called “Wisconsin
Death Trip,” by Michael Lesy, that’s one of my favorite books. When they
brought that up, I said, “Well, I’m in. I’m fucking in. I can’t believe
you’re gonna try to do a comedy based on ‘Wisconsin Death Trip.'”
[Laughs.] So, yep, they got me. 

Are
you just along for the ride, creatively speaking, or have you been able to
incorporate suggestions into the series?

I mean, on this thing, the writing is
so good, and the writing is so… How do I put it? It’s just poetically
idiotic. Like, if you lose or move one of these stupid-ass words that they
write, the whole thing collapses. It’s so perfectly stupid that I just can’t
fuck with it.

Does
that make it tough, given that you have to be very precise?

No, not really, because I really like
the show. I think it’s amazing. And if you’re handed a good script and you get
to read it out loud and you end up looking good… I mean, why would I want to
change it? I don’t want to mess with any of their stuff!

Is
there a particular aspect of Hurlan Heartshe that you find most surprising?

His boundless optimism. His
frightening boundless optimism.

Now,
is that hard for you to play? Because sometimes you’ve been known to have the
occasional bout of negativity.

Uh, yeah. [Laughs.] Yeah, I don’t
trust joy too much. So that would be a stumbling block for me.

Can
you tease a bit about how the season wraps up?

I don’t even know how I could tease
this thing. Like, I could probably tell you things that happen, and they wouldn’t
make any sense out of context. It would not be helpful, I’ll put it that way.

I’d
also think that would make it hard to promote the show to people who haven’t actually
seen it.

Well, I’m just telling you, I can
guarantee you – and I know this is a cliché that a lot of people use, but – in
the truest sense of this phrase, you have never seen anything like this before,
what they’re attempting with this season. I guarantee you.

That
may tie into what I was just about to say: “The Heart, She Hollers”
is a series that seems tailor-made to inspire on-the-fence viewers to change
the channel. Do you think it’s worth suggesting to people that they ride it out
and see if they might fall for it?

No, I think part of the value of the
show is that people do get driven
away. I like the fact that there are certain people that just look at the first
10 minutes and go, “Fuck that shit. Nope!
I don’t want that!” Because that
makes the people who do like it like
it even better.

You
and Scott Adsit, your new co-star this season, both have “S.H.I.E.L.D.”
connections: You play an agent, and he is an agent.

That’s right! That is right. Agent
Scott Adsit. Wow, somebody’s reading Deadpool. Very good!

So
are you each jealous of each other?

Well, I think it’d be cool to be in
the comics, that’s for sure. The comics are great! But I’m going to try to be
happy with just – just! – being on
the show.

The
Koenigs have kept a certain amount of lightness in “Marvel’s Agents of
S.H.I.E.L.D.,”even as the rest of the series has gotten darker. Are you
happy fulfilling the lightness quotient, or would you like to get your hands
dirty a bit more?

Um…well, just wait ’til next week.

Damn
you!

No, no, just wait. Wait ’til next
week.

Well,
it’s not as if you haven’t been killed once already.

Mm-hmm. There do seem to be a lot of
us, don’t there?

Thirteen,
if we can trust what we heard last week.

[Lengthy
cackle, followed by pointed silence.]

You’ve
got a new book coming out next month: “Silver Screen Fiend.” What was
the impetus of taking that particular aspect of your life [an addiction to
film] for the book? Was it something you’d always wanted to discuss, or did
someone suggest it to you?

Yeah, it was something that I’d
always thought about, because it was a thing that operated in my life the way
an addiction would, and I wanted to kind of explore its effects – negative and
positive – on me and see how that would translate in print. So we’ll see if
people like it, but I think it’s… I was re-reading it for editing and, like,
I think I did have an addiction problem. It just wasn’t drugs or alcohol.

This
is probably covered in the book, but at what point did you discover that you
had this addiction to film?

I didn’t realize it until I was 40
years into it and I was looking at how it was affecting my relationships and my
career and stuff like that, where I was only thinking in terms of “how do
I even get to the next theater?” I wasn’t even enjoying the movies I was
watching anymore.

Presumably
you were introduced to some films that were landmarks for you during that time.
Are there any that leap to mind?

During the four years I talk about in
the book, the big one was John Ford’s “The Searchers,” and then the
other one was (Akira) Kurosawa’s “Ikiru.” I didn’t realize it at the
time, but “The Searchers” ended up kind of reflecting my own
obsession and how it was damaging me, and then “Ikiru” was kind of
this warning from my own future: “Don’t spend your life doing this. Think
of something else. Create, don’t just download.”

That’s
pretty heavy stuff for a comedian.

Well, we’re heavy people.

Honest
to God, this was not a planned “from ‘heavy’ to ‘fat guys'” segue,
but in considering your stand-up bit about encountering Brian Dennehy – “Character actors! Who gives a fuck if we’re fat?” – I was wondering: do you actually consider yourself to be a
character actor?

I would love to be good enough to be
a character actor. Character actors are my favorite kinds of actors. But I don’t
know, that’s for someone else to decide. I don’t get to decide what kind of
actor I am. But, God, I would love to be on the level of a Brian Dennehy or
Paul Giamatti or Kathy Bates. But that’s for other people to decide. 

Looking
at your back catalog, is there a particular film where you feel like you were
at least working in that milieu?

Oh, sure, I’m proud of things like “Big
Fan” and “Young Adult,” and TV appearances on things like “Justified”
and “Dollhouse.” But, again, that’s not for me to determine. You don’t
get to determine what kind of actor you are. That’s other people. They make
that up. They decide that for you.

Are
you just happy with the opportunity to bounce between a variety of projects?
You’ve certainly had a wide variety of material to work with.

I love being able to drift between
different genres the way that I do in different pursuits. I’m very, very lucky
to be able to get to do that. I’ll try to do that for as long as I can.

Is
there any genre you haven’t been able to hit on that you’d like to take a shot
at?

[Long pause.] Have I been in a horror
movie? I haven’t been in a good horror movie yet. Not a really good one. I’d like to be in something really scary and
psychological. You know, like one of those early ’70s type horror movies.
Something like that, like “The Conversation” or “Rosemary’s
Baby.” I haven’t really been able to do that yet. I haven’t been asked to do that yet. So that would be
cool.

You
haven’t done a western yet, have you?

Oh, shit, no! No, I haven’t been in
a western. Fuck, you’re right! Holy shit, you’re right. I wanna be in a
western. Damn, I wanna be in a western. And as much as I love John Ford, I want
it to be one of those gritty, smaller ones like the kind that Anthony Mann and
Budd Boetticher used to make. Thank you!

Well,
it was on my mind because you mentioned “The Searchers.”

No, exactly. Jesus Christ… I’m
fighting a cold, and I’m on so much DayQuil right now that I’m amazed that I’m
giving you any straight answers, so
thank you for being patient with me.

To
bring it back to where we started – your Grammy nod – you’ve been on a pretty
regular schedule of releasing new albums every two or three years. Does that
mean we shouldn’t hold our breath for a follow-up to “Tragedy Plus Comedy
Equals Time” in 2015?

I’m going to be working on the next
one and recording it in 2015, but I don’t think it’ll come out until 2016. I’m starting
working on it now, though. The stand-up stuff I’m doing in January, I’ll be
doing new stuff. I’ll just be honing it for whatever next special I do.

I’m
sure you know that you were recently name-checked in an interview with Chris Rock, in regards to the topic of
comedians honing material and then seeing it uploaded to YouTube. That’s got to
be frustrating, to see your “rough drafts” turn up online.

Well, yeah, I mean, it is frustrating, but I have to keep it in
perspective. No one’s doing it out of maliciousness. They’re doing it out of
enthusiasm. They’re doing it out of this false sense of “oh, I’m showing
how much I love this person’s stuff.” And that’s why you want to be very
gentle when you go, “Please… I’m asking you politely… Please stop.”
And the only times I’ve really flipped my shit are when someone’s been giving
me attitude back or been mean about it. But for the most part, they’re not
doing it to be… [Hesitates.] It’s a new technology that everyone has, and it’s
gonna be a few more years – and maybe another generation – before people just
realize, “Oh, this is a rude thing to do.” It’s just going to take a
little more time before everyone realizes that. It sucks, but…it’s like when
cell phones first came out and people would leave them on in the movie theater
for the first couple of years.

Lastly,
you serve as the narrator on “The Goldbergs.” Do you have a favorite
episode of the series.

Oh, the one where they renew their
marriage vows is great. I haven’t watched the one with the hoverboard yet, but
I can’t wait.

That’s
a pretty sweet gig: You’re part of a prime-time series every week, and you don’t
even have to wear pants to do your part.

Oh, yeah, it’s great. [Laughs.] Best
job ever.

The season finale of “The Heart, She Holler” premieres tonight at 12:30am on Adult Swim. 

READ MORE: Patton Oswalt On His New Stand-Up Special, The TV Shows On Which He’d Still Like to Guest Star and Hosting the Spirit Awards

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