Bobcat Goldthwait on Robin Williams: ‘I’m the otter to his bear’

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Tom Huddleston meets the comedian and former ‘Police Academy’ star whose ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ is one of the year’s best comedies so far

Stand-up comic turned filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait is most familiar to British filmgoers as squeaky-voiced Zed from the ‘Police Academy’ movies – which is hardly the most auspicious start for a writer-director.

But in recent years, Goldthwait has begun to carve out a niche for himself as a director of subtle character-based comedies based on extreme situations: his last film, ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’ (also known as ‘Stay’), focused on the hot-button topic of dog fellatio, while his latest, ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, stars longtime friend Robin Williams as a long-suffering father to  hateful, porn-obsessed teenager Kyle, played by Daryl Sabara.

Following a highly revealing interview with Williams, his star, I sat down with Goldthwait to get the real scoop on Robin Williams, Ray Davies and ‘World’s Greatest Dad’.

I’ve already spoken with your compatriot.
‘My long-term partner. My life partner. I’m the otter to his bear.’

That’s very sweet. You and Robin have known each other for a long time. How does that affect your working relationship?
‘Well, I was nervous working with him as a friend because I have other friends that won’t listen to me. But this was the direct opposite. Within the first half-hour I was like, “This is going to be so awesome.” Because we were collaborating. It wasn’t like two comedians getting together and trying to top each other. It was a really intense collaboration, he’d pitch ideas and we kind of built the character together.’

The part wasn’t written with Robin in mind?
‘No, in my head I was writing it for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Robin read the screenplay thinking he’d play the principal, to help finance the movie. Then he asked me, “Hey, can I be Lance?” I got really excited because even though he’s my friend, I do love his acting.’

How did you convince the angelic boy from ‘Spy Kids’, Daryl Sabara, to play this monstrous creep?
‘That was all his doing. I didn’t know “Spy Kids”, because it would be creepy for a middle-aged dude to be watching “Spy Kids”. He came in and auditioned, and I thought, “Wow, who is this prick?” He really was an asshole! So I called other people who’d worked with him and they’d go, “Daryl? Daryl’s a really good guy!” So I called him back in, and this time I saw the character break and he started laughing. It was all method, like a tiny Gary Oldman.’

You’re more famous in the US than you are here, mostly for your early work…
‘For my stand up, and the movies I was in. But I appreciate it, it makes British audiences come to these movies with less baggage.’

Did those preconceptions of you make it harder to get these movies made?
‘Well, “Sleeping Dogs Lie” was made with a crew from Craigslist, I shot it in two weeks, so it was just mine and my friends’ money. For “World’s Greatest Dad” we had more money, but not a ton. I make these movies very small on purpose, so I don’t have to convince people that they should give me their money and be afraid that I’m insane.’

With ‘Sleeping Dogs Lie’, did you begin with the perverse central concept and go from there?
‘No, no. These movies aren’t explorations of perversion. “World’s Greatest Dad” started with the idea of a middle aged guy who grows up. And “Sleeping Dogs” was about the lies that we tell ourselves to get through the day. That seems to be a common theme in the things I write.’

What kinds of movies did you look to for inspiration?
‘The movies that influence me are mostly talking-head movies, I really didn’t want to do any splashy camera moves because, if it’s not a suspense movie or an action movie, those camera moves take me out of the movie. But I was thinking in terms of Hal Ashby, clearly “Harold and Maude” was a biggie for me. And “Sleeping Dogs Lie”, although nobody would know it, was my take on a Woody Allen movie.’

‘World’s Greatest Dad’ seemed to have a bit of ‘Rushmore’ in it as well…
‘Oh, more than its fair share. That’s why I named a character Principal Anderson, because I just thought “I’m going to run into it.” I love Wes Anderson.’

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How do you feel about audience reaction to ‘World’s Greatest Dad’? It got huge critical praise, but didn’t do a whole lot of business.
‘I never have expectations that the movies are going to make money. I mean, once I go to Sundance and I watch it with packed crowds, that, to me, is the destination. I had a lot of money when I was making “Police Academy”, and for a while I was so happy, but I didn’t realise that chasing these things that are supposed to make you happy really don’t. Basically, I like making movies and I’m going to keep making them.’

Do you still perform comedy?
Yeah, but I do stand up to stay off of American reality shows. I’d rather go out, tell jokes in a bar and keep making these movies than be that kind of famous. I’m really happy when I’m writing now, which is brand new. I really love finishing a screenplay and giving it to my wife or to the producers I work with. If they read it and it works for them, that’s a really big high. I used to try to write movies for whoever was hot that year, and it took me a long time to realise that’s not rewarding. I wrote a lot of crappy scripts. Thank God they weren’t made!’

So do you think you’ve found your niche?
‘No. I mean, I hope I can keep making movies but I don’t want to perfect making awkward comedies, I want to keep making movies that are challenging for me. That’s why I’m trying to do this musical.’

Is this the movie based on The Kinks’s concept album ‘Schoolboys in Disgrace’?
‘That album has been my favourite record for years, since I was a teenager. So I wrote a screenplay and Ray (Davies) liked it so now we’re trying to put it together and cast it and everything. And I’m hoping to shoot it in the UK. The musicals that I’ve been going back to are less MTV, more “Oliver!”’

How did you feel about being ranked the 61st greatest comedian of all time on Comedy Central?
‘I felt really good! It was nice to be on the list, but it did seem to exclude four-fifths of the world. “Of all time” was the best part. Like there was a caveman named Gorg who was much funnier than me… he should have been 61.’

Read our 5-star review of 'World's Greatest Dad'

Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston



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