The movie version
of Ned Vizziniís popular semi-autobiographical young adult novel
Itís Kind of a Funny Story is certainly different than most
films that take place in a mental health facility.
Instead of a dark
and upsetting look at the world, Itís Kind of a Funny Story
is a rather upbeat story, in which an overwhelmed teen (played in
his first starring role by Keir Gilchrist of The United States of
Tara) commits himself after having dreams of suicide, only to
find friendship, self-confidence and even love in the hospital.
Therefore it only
makes sense that the people who were making the film were stepping
out on a ledge to go against type as well.
Take, for example
Zach Galifianakis, who plays the important role of Bobby, an aging
patient who assigns himself the guardian for the teen. Galifianakis
is hot off his breakthrough role in last summerís hit comedy The
Hangover, however, he is known for broad comic relief in films
like Dinner for Schmucks, Youth in Revolt, What Happens
in Vegas and the upcoming Due Date.
character here has some very funny moments, Galifianakisí acting is
even more notable for the balancing act between humor and dramatic
against type are former child actress Emma Roberts as the kidís
potential love interest, Oscar Nominee Viola Davis
as an empathetic
doctor and Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan as self-obsessed parents.
writing and directing team of Anna Boden
and Ryan Fleck. The two
have previously made the acclaimed films Half Nelson
and Sugar, both of which had darker storylines. However
they show a light touch in the new film which is surprising and fun.
A couple of weeks
before Itís Kind of a Funny Story was to be released, we were
able to take part in an
intimate round table discussion with
actor Zach Galifianakis and co-writer/directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
This is my last interview [for the movie], right here. Weíre very
happy to promote this movie, but itís a veryÖ. They should tell
people in acting, or anybody that wants and gets to be an actor and
youíre a main character in a movie that thereís another side to the
job. I never knew that part of it. (laughs)
Yeah. I guess I wasnít paying attention because I never felt that
that was going to happen. But, yeah, the promotion of itísÖ
Will we become
material in some routine in the future as a result?
Well I have a talk show kind of based on press junkets called
ďBetween Two Ferns,Ē so thatís kind of how it came about. I
imagine a fantasy of an interviewer being able to ask terrible, rude
Give us a few
Iíve heard them all.
certainly a lighter look at mental health institutions than,
One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest. Were you trying to
show the more positive aspects?
That comes from the book.
We got a hold of the book and really
just thought it was fun and had serious themes. We were laughing
while we were reading it. We thought, oh we can see how this could
work Ė a movie thatís playful and yet dramatic at the same time.
is obviously the looming great mental hospital movie out there.
Were there certain films that you looked at prior and said
"thatís been done?" Or was there anything that you looked at and said
"thatís an idea we can extrapolate upon?"
Not actually in the mental health arena. Of course weíve both seen
Cuckooís Nest. Itís one of the great movies. We didnít look
to it as an inspiration for this film. It felt from the very
beginning like they were completely different looks at what was
ultimately a completely different kind of an institution, even
though they are both mental health facilities.
I think I was tempted to look at One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest
but then I decided not to do it because subconsciously you might
take something that you donít want to.
We looked at Breakfast Club a lot, because
of it being confined in one location, so much of that movie. We
really knew that a lot of this was going to be in the hospital.
Trying to be that fresh and original. We looked at some movies like
Election and Clueless.
The movie is
about the experiences of the modern teenager. Did your own
experiences as teens really draw you into doing the movie?
Yeah, I felt like I could really relate to the character that I was
reading in that book Ė and the one that we eventually portrayed
onscreen, both as a teenager and (chuckles) as an adult,
embarrassingly: self-consciousness and insecurity and all the
pressures. There are definitely special stresses that teenagers
deal with these days that I didnít have to deal with. The world is
in a much scarier place. With the technology, it feels like all
those stresses are accelerated, in sometimes painful ways.
So how much did
this remind you of your high school days?
The movie? I donít think thereís any comparison. My high school, I
mean there were a lot of mental, mental people there for sure, but
other than that I donít compare it.
I was reading
that you were trying to make the movie in the style of a modern John
Hughes film. How much as filmmakers did he inspire your work?
Until we started in on this, not as much as we came to find out he
had inspired us. When we did our first two films, we were always
Ö Robert AltmanÖ
Ö right. Scorcese. All these cinema guys. Weíd forget about who
had the initial influence on you when you were twelve years old. It
was these movies Ė Breakfast Club and Ferris Buellerís Day
Ö Sixteen CandlesÖ
Sixteen Candles. And Pretty in Pink. Those had huge
impacts. When you thinking about making serious films, you forget
about the impacts those had on you. We really went back and watched
them and got really excited about making something in that
Anne and Ryan never said to me that they were going for a John
Hughes anything so I think if you just kind of look at it as the
work experience like I said, I donít really over think it.
I draw on
what I know inside of me, which is not a lot.
Did you go back
and look at
Harold and Maude?
We know the film very well, so maybe we didÖ
An unusual friendship?
Did you ever see
I donít know what that is.
Itís a great film
from the 60s about an insane asylum with Alan Bates.
I love insane asylum movies. I love prison movies. I love when
theyíre specific like that. I do.
went a little far afield from your previous films, having fun with
the cinematography and editing. Thatís why I thought
Maude. It really was a change, I remember thinking hereís the
people who did Half NelsonÖ.
Yeah, we embraced the opportunity to do something totally
different. Itís funny, we only made two movies and people think
itís such a departure. (Anna laughs) Could you imagine if
we made a third really serious film? If we ever wanted to do
something different, weíd be sitting here and you guys would think
it would be very strange. But itís just two movies. We thought it
was time to do something really fun and really play with the tools
of cinema. Have fun. Have a musical number. Move the camera a
little bit more. Really get inside the characterís head.
After having done
so many comic roles was it interesting to have a more dramatic role?
Was it hard to go into the dramatic parts?
It wasnít difficult actually at all. Iíve said this and I donít
know what it means but this character is the most like I am than any
other character that Iíve had to play, which isnít speaking too
highly about myself. Aside from the suicide stuff and all that, I
think just because of the tone of the movie itís more kind of real,
at least in the dialogue back and forth between the characters. It
wasnít that difficult, and real funny is very hard to play. Itís
very difficult; people donít realize that itís a lot of work to try
to make a bunch of people laugh. So it wasnít that bad.
When did Zach
come aboard the film?
We wrote the first draft back in 2006, around the time Half
Nelson came out. We were still prepping Sugar at that
time and then put the script away for a little while. Leadership at
Paramount changed over. Thatís where we originally wrote it. We
never really got as far as the casting process in those early draft
stages. Then Focus revitalized it and that was around the time
Hangover came out. Kevin Misher, one our producers, said, ďHey,
go check out this movie.Ē He knew Zach personally and said he could
give him the script. We saw The Hangover and thought, oh,
thatís a really funny movie. We didnít necessarily see much of
Bobby in Zach at that time. But we met with Zach and had a few
drinks and heís such a warm, friendly, nice, smart guy. Not like
the characters Iíd seen in his stand-up or his other movies. So we
thought if he could bring some of himself into this role and combine
that with the more certain creepy elements of this other characters
that it would be something really fresh that audiences hadnít seen.
You still get the humor that he pulls off really wonderfully, but he
also calms down and makes it much more relatable.
I met with Anna and Ryan to discuss it after reading the script. We
went to have some beers and after a few Belgian beers I
tricked them into liking me. Having seen their other movies I
really wanted to do it, and we just discussed the tone of it and
what they wanted to do. I had to ask ďHow funny do you want to make
it?Ē They said ďNot that funny, but not that melodramatic as well.Ē
They wanted to strike this balance and I was interested in doing a
story where it wasnít so over the top crazy comedy, which I was
coming out of. So thatís how I got involved.
Since he came
from stand-up, were there certain scenes where you said he could
improvise a bit?
Yeah. One of the scenes that has most of that, Iíd say, was the
first half of that scene on the basketball court between Keir
(Gilchrist) and Zach. He was pretending to be Noelle (Emma Robertís
character) and having him practice asking her out on a date. We
really asked him to go off on that, because we also had two cameras
that day, which is fantastic Ė to be able to be shooting Keirís
response to him. We really wanted him to surprise Keir, and itís
fun to watch Keir trying to keep up with Zach. Thereís that moment
where he says, ďTry a little flirtation in the beginning.Ē Keir
just really canít hold it together. Heís like, ďI donít know what
you mean by that!Ē It kind of worked for his character as well and
ended up in the movie. Another place is when they are at the lunch
table and heís listing off things that are propaganda Ė theyíre
telling you that you need all that stuff. He just goes on and on.
You should check out the DVD outtakes, because thereís a lot that we
couldnít put in there that he really had a lot of fun with [in] that
scene, listing off crazy stuff.
With the film
focusing so much on Keir, it must have been a challenge to find the
Yeah. Yeah. It was important to us that we had a real teenager in
that part. Itís so much intrinsic of the story Ė what teens are
going through. We didnít want to put in a 22 year old pretending to
play a 16 year old. Keir is 17 and very much going through similar
issues. He sent in an audition tape that we really enjoyed. Even
at that early stage, he was far beyond anybody else we would meet.
Then we met with him and saw that heís just a kid, you know? Heís a
tough little kid.
There a scene you
have in the movie where your character totally breaks down and itís
a really remarkable scene. Iím just wondering what was going
through your mind? How many times had you rehearsed it? Had you
rehearsed it alone? Had you rehearsed it with directors? Did you
kind of wing it?
I talked to the directors about it. I wanted to know what the
gravity of it was and how explosive they needed it. From my kind of
self-taught acting school in my head, which is hard to get into
(laughs), you develop a coordination of past thoughts and past
emotions. They probably teach you that in some acting class in
acting schools, but I am able to do that for some reason. That is
probably based on some kind of rage that Iíve had. I donít think
too much of it really. Itís just kind of push a button and it
happens and you kind of Zen out. I donít like to over think things
too much in life in general because I find it can get it in the way.
But I did draw on something in the past, because Iíve been that
angry before. Not often, but when I get mad I get that mad. (laughs)
Thatís embarrassing. I canít believe I just admitted that.
Itís a cool
scene because youíve seen people flip out in movies a hundred times
but it seemed very real.
We probably shot a couple where it seemed [over the top]. The
filmmakers probably chose the right cuts for it. Itís fun to do
that. To do that kind of a physicalÖ you just have this thing. I
really was out of breath; I mean it takes a lot of energy to do it
and to do it several times. Iíve done it before in a movie. Iíve
done it in another movie where I had a rage like that. Itís just
fun to do.
What about the
scene where your ex-wife and daughter are there where you really
arenít able to say much of anything but youíve got to get across so
many emotions while this is going on? Was that difficult to do?
This is what I like about Anna and Ryan. What I think I like in
certain movies is the non-verbal aspect. I donít think I say much
in that scene at all and I think you can just read on the face.
This conversation that heís having with his wife, I just knew that
I wanted to make it look like heís had it a thousand times. Heís
heard this a thousand times, so it wasnít new to him. There was not
much he could say because he already knows that whatever he says is
not going to work, and sheís a pretty belligerent woman in that
speech, so I think saying nothing says a lot.
anything in particular that pulled you into the book for this film?
It was the lead character. I got really excited. First of all, I
love this kind of movie. I love teen movies. I love John Hughes
movies. We made two very different kind of movies at the beginning,
but weíre both big fans of this kind of film. To have a
lead character who is not cynical, not sarcastic. He doesnít have
that obnoxious sense of irony that I see so often in teen film and
TV these days. That was really exciting. To see somebody who was
so open to the world that could be put in a situation and meet
people that he never otherwise have the opportunity to meet in his
life. And really allow them to change him and change his
perspective on his own problems. Thatís what caught me.
Did you worry at
all about the tone making problems of mental health seem too much
We had Nedís book to guide us through all of that. His book is very
loosely based on the experience that he had, so he is very familiar
with this. I thought that he balanced that line really well in his
book. We had that as our blueprint to get us through those tricky
Was he on the set
He came to visit, yeah. He was very supportive. He wasnít involved
with the script at all, but he came by a few times and he was one of
the first people to see the movie and he really loved it. I really
felt good about that.
The film carries
with it a message of seize the day and live in the present as a way
to find meaning in life. How do you find meaning in your own life?
I am a believer in ďlive for the day.Ē I donít necessarily live for
the future and I find those that live in the past their best days
are over. You know, when you go back to your home town or something
and there are still people taking about high school so much. Iím
like, thereís more to life than high school. It was not the
pinnacle of your life. Thereís this guy thatís made a lot of money,
Eckhart Tolle, who goes around and preaches that. Then I listened
to some of his book and I was like yeah, I already do it. Thatís
how I do it, Eckhart.
Were you not able
to use any actual hospitals?
To use an actual mental health facility? Shoot in one, actually?
We scouted a couple of regular functioning mental health
facilities. None of them were going to work quite as well as this,
because we had two floors that were totally vacant, all to
ourselves. We really could do what we wanted with it and give it
the kind of light, warm feel that we thought we thought was, as Ryan
said, reflected in Ned Vizziniís book.
patients? Was it hard to get it authentic?
It was very important for us to get the patients as they were
portrayed in Nedís novel correctly. This is certainly not a gritty
documentary look at what itís like inside a mental health facility.
Thatís certainly not what we were going for.
Do you have
friends that have gone through an experience like this at one time
I do. I have visited a couple of friends. One of them, and Iím not
going to reveal who it is, is actually in this movie. In the
entertainment business thereís a gravitational pull towards people
that are fucked up already and then the business kind of makes them
more screwed up. I went and visited a couple of places myself when
I was researching this. I donít want to come across as some sort of
method, researcher, actor-y type, but I felt like I had to do it for
this movie to give it its due diligence.
In your research
for this film did you find any patients that werenít able to
actually get out?
No, but the ones I observed I thought could live on the other side
and were going to get out, the ones I kind of based this character
on. They seemed very functioning, and I think Bobby seems very
functioning, but they also had something behind their eyes that
seemed like they could snap.
But Bobby was
able to go out and get ice cream and things.
I think Bobby snuck out. The ice cream thing, he probably
took the doctorís uniform on and snuck out. I donít think that was
So you didnít
find any patients that could actually sneak out?
No, well in the state facilities thereís no way. One of them was a
half-way house so I think there was little bit of you can come
and go and itís kind of up to you to show up.
Did you do any
parts of the film that were not from the book?
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. The ďUnder PressureĒ sequence, for one. Thereís
a lot more characters that Craig encounters in the hospital [in the
book] that we didnít have screen time for. We sort of condensed
them. Bobby is very much a combination of two or three characters
from the book.
I think that Zachís character and performance in it Ė even though he
was very charming and fun and silly Ė does add a little bit of that
gravitas to the situation. He really gets across that there
is something going on under the surface thatís a little bit darker
than what Craig might be going through.
So what sort of
advice would you give to the character of Bobby if you met Bobby
Go Google ďhow to make a noose.Ē No. (laughs)
Iím going to go
look that up.
You could do it. Itís very Google-able. What would I say to Bobby?
I think Bobby is one of those guys that probably needs help
help more than Craig, so I think he may need those drugs. I donít
know, I think those drugs can eventually hurt a person. I donít
know if this works, but a lot of people think they have it bad, and
a lot of it is chemical, but a lot of it is self-pity and maybe heís
guilty of that a little bit. There are a lot of things you can do
if youíre feeling sorry for yourself and youíre not chemical.
How much fun was
it to do the ďUnder PressureĒ musical sequence?
Iíd say like a 9.5. It was really fun. It was like our second to
last day of shooting and all the departments were just so excited
about this particular scene and prepared throughout the entire
shoot. Throughout all our costumes and production design. Our
actors were super excited about it. They were listening to ďUnder
PressureĒ over and over again. To get on set and have all of those
different elements come together in a really fluent way Ė Iím just
so glad we picked such an amazing song. (laughs) I couldnít
imagine having to listen to a worse song over and over and over
again that day. But it was fun. Not only did we not get sick of
it, but that night we all went to a bar afterwards to celebrate and
Zach put ďUnder PressureĒ on at the bar. He hadnít gotten enough of
Did he sing it?
No, he didnít.
Are you going to
send a copy to Bowie?
Boy, do you know anybody? Iíd love that.
Yeah, I would like to know what he has to say about that. Hopefully
heíll see the movie. Yeah, I never thought about that. And
hopefully Freddie Mercuryís looking down from wherever he is, or
looking sideways and up, and likes it too.
Did you think of
getting Bowie in for a cameo?
Zoolander already did that.
Were vocals in
that scene done by the cast members?
No, itís pretty much all the original recording, but we did record a
couple takes where they sang without the song. We recorded their
voices and tried to mix it in very subtly. So, sometimes when there
are two people singing youíll hear Noelleís voice Ė a female voice Ė
just to give it a little texture and flavor of the real actors. But
itís mostly the song.
If you could go
back in time and jam on stage with any band what would it be?
Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Yeah, thatís doable. Iíd like to jam out with them. Iíve actually
been on stage with a band, My Morning Jacket. I did a little
performance thing with them which was really fun because it was a
five hour concert and I was there for their last song. But yeah, I
think I would like to be in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
As a comedian,
did you enjoy a more serious, dramatic role? Could you see yourself
crossing over like Robin Williams in
Good Will Hunting?
Yes, I really do enjoy it. Itís sometimes kind of unfair
for comics. There are a lot of regular actors that do comedy and
thatís allowed, but for some reason a comedian trying to do a
straight thing is seen as strange. I just want to change it
up and do as much as I can do and challenge myself, and if that
means a more dramatic thing I just want to work. I feel very, very
lucky to be working, so if itís something different thatís very
helpful for me. I might do a soap opera after this.
The one scene
where he suffers a breakdown was, I thought, really impressive.
When he said if youíre here when your daughter is celebrating her
eighth birthday, Iíll come back and kill you. But, the other sort
of devilís advocate question is this is sort of an oversensitive
upper class kid. How confident were you that nobody would think
that no one will think his problems arenít really that bad?
You know, you were talking about the John Hughes films. We tried to
kind of approach him on his own terms. Itís easy, maybe, for an
adult to look back on that time in your life and especially if you
grow up in a privileged way and say, ďOh, your problems arenít all
that bad.Ē But it doesnít feel that way when you are that age.
Certainly depression isnít something that only a certain portion of
the population goes through. So, I guess, what the story does have
is that sense that his perspective on his father was due change.
There is something that is really empowering about that Ė to start
realizing all the things that you have and start being able to
appreciate them and want to actually go out and live Ė that
attracted me to the character.
You have a
remarkable cast with some pretty interesting supporting actors here,
like Lauren Graham, Emma Roberts, Zach, Viola Davis and Jim Gaffigan.
What were the challenges of putting the whole team together?
We got very lucky. People turned up and they read the script and
they were excited to do the movie. We were very lucky. People from
all different backgrounds. Our first two movies had a lot of
non-actors. This one was all SAG (Screen Actorsí Guild). All very
experienced actors, from the background people to everybody. So it
Even though they
didnít have any scenes together, did Zach and Jim [Gaffigan] know
Did they have any
that I witnessed.
All their funny moments happened upstairs in the cast room.
I was curious
about the scene on the rooftop, where it kind of freezes on Craig
and says ďThis is for the second part.Ē Does that mean that Craig
has been telling the story the whole time? Also, were you worried
about doing that scene? Did you film it first and worry it didnít
It was more of a writing scene. It doesnít take place on the
rooftop, but there was a bonding scene with Craig and Noelle in the
book. It goes on for a while and itís beautifully written in a
novel, but when you actually have to get actors saying that kind of
stuff, we were like well, letís get these happy moments and move
on. It was sort of a stylistic way to get us through that and still
have the bonding, but without it feeling too precious.
How about the
animation with the brain maps? Who did them and how interesting
were they to use as a filmmaker?
That was fun. That was one of the things initially when we read the
book that we loved, because we saw how it allowed for more stylistic
moments. The animation is such an important part to him, how he
learns his experience in the hospital. How he learns who he is.
The artist who created those drawings, Brian Drucker, he also was an
animator. So he was able to animate his own work, which was nice to
have that connection through it.
Would you say
there is a common thread between all of your movies?
I donít know. We approached every one very differently and the
honest truth is that we could come up with a bunch of answers about
what is a common thread, but we only came up with them after being
asked the question. Itís not something we thought about going into
What did you
learn by asking the question to yourself? What did you see in it?
I guess there are young people who are struggling with a complicated
world to make decisions to move forward.
Did you see an
odd relationship between this character and the Dinner for Schmucks character in the sense that theyíre
two different kinds of madness?
I think Iíve kind of cornered that weird market. This is a very
real weird though. I donít want to say weird; stressed thing. I
donít think Bobbyís weird at all actually; I think heís just a
little sick. But as far as the other characters I think the one
common factor is that you donít want to necessarily bring him home
to dinner, in all the characters.
to a fourth project, do you have anything youíre doing?
Not yet. Weíre starting some original stuff and weíll see how that
goes. Figure it out later.
happening with that Cuban hip hop thing?
It played in Europe and Japan on TV.
Are you going to
revisit the interview show?
I had a regular talk show. No, I kind of fulfill that with my
internet talk show, so no. I was very bad at it. I was very bad
and plus I was eating a lot of pot cookies.
Can we talk
briefly about Thailand,
The Hangover 2? Did that shoot yet?
It starts shooting in a couple weeks. Where weíre going I donít
But itís set in
Thailand. The movieís set in Thailand.
Is that what they say? I donít know; Iíve got to read the script.
Oh that has been officially announced? Oh, okay. Iíll let whoever
officially announced that [discuss it]Ö Because, who was the
official? The President of Thailand or
Iím told that the
story takes place in Thailand. Whether or not youíre shooting in
Thailand I donít know.
There was social upheaval early in the summer in Thailand. I will
screw up any kind of official thing and Iíll just get a phone call
and then I just have to go, ďI donít know. Some nice man was asking
me a question.Ē What I find is, and I donít really read a lot of
stuff, but you say something to a reporter, it shockingly ends up
reported. And I forget. So Iíve had to edit certain things. Iím
not as free as I used to be because I have to do edits constantly.
What else is
coming up that you can talk about?
I know there is a movie that is coming up for sure, and itís called
Due Date. It comes out November 5th.
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