"I wouldn't have made the movie if it wasn't for Robin [William's] encouragement."
-- Director Bobcat Goldthwait on Call Me Lucky.
The first time I interviewed actor-turned-director Bobcat Goldthwait, it was for the weird and wonderful World's Greatest Dad, starring the late, irreplaceable Robin Williams. (You can read that interview here). The film was an unexpected wallop, and is even more important to me now.
Goldthwait continues to switch up his filmmaking, taking on different genres and styles. Last year he made a great horror film called Willow Creek. It's a found footage film, but unlike most found footage films made today, he brought originality and terror to the exhausted sub-genre. There's a 20-minute single take scene that's guaranteed to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up.
Goldthwait's latest film, Call Me Lucky, about Barry Crimmins, stand-up comedian and political advocate, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Since its first screening there, it's gotten nothing but critical acclaim, and deservedly so -- it's a superb entry into the documentary canon. Goldthwait really challenges himself as a filmmaker and becomes a more prominent director to keep an eye on with each new release.
Call Me Lucky releases this weekend on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and all other major digital platforms. I chatted with him on the phone recently to talk about the movie and his old life as an actor. Even though he's a big ol' weirdo, Goldthwait bursts with charisma, and this golden interview is one of the most meaningful ones I've ever done -- and perhaps will ever do -- because of some of the once-in-a-lifetime things discussed: how much of an influence Robin Williams had on Goldthwait and the making of Call Me Lucky, how much of an inspiration Crimmins had on him getting sober, and of course, the actual making of the film. Goldthwait is a person who's not afraid to tell the (often hard) truth and his admirable statement that he's doing what he loves not for money or fame, just simply because he loves making movies is another reason why I admire him and his work so much.
Heads up -- there a portion of the interview considered spoiler-y about the film's finale that just couldn't be cut out. What he has to say about it is too important. I put a warning for that part so you can skip over if you haven't seen the film. But do see the film and revisit to see what he had to say.
TwitchFilm: Hey Bobcat, how you doing?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Sounds like you're blowing up over there.
No, it's my computer, when someone calls my cellphone it also rings on my computer and it's really obnoxious and I'm trying to figure out how to turn it off.
Well, good luck with that, there's a lot of bells and whistles on the computer I can't turn off. I'm sorry I'm late, I just got off the phone with a real windbag, I was doing another interview.
It's all good man, I was actually supposed to interview you a few weeks ago but I had to cancel because of some health issues, so call me unlucky.
(Laughs.) I hope everything has worked out.
Yeah, everything's good. It's crazy, I haven't spoken to you since WORLD'S GREATEST DAD, where you told me some hilarious and unforgettable stories about Robin [Williams] on set. Those stories I'll cherish forever. I wanted to take a moment and say thank you for sharing those, they're now a treasure.
Yeah, he's a good guy, he was a good guy. I miss him everyday.
Let's jump into CALL ME LUCKY, I'm sure you'd rather be talking about that.
(Laughs while poking fun in Bobcat's way of coping with heartbreak.) "I'm sure it's much better to talk about child abuse than your dead friend."
Either way, none of them are a big blast.
Most of these questions I'm sure you've been asked a dozen times. Hopefully I can throw you A curveball or you can just lie and tell me every question is original and great. (Laughs.)
That said, we'll go ahead and get started. CALL ME LUCKY. This film is one of the most honest docs about a human that I've ever seen. When shooting began, what was the process of mapping out how much archive footage would be used, who you would use as a talking head outside of Barry [Crimmins] and what would just be filmed organically?
Well, the archival footage when we first started the movie, there was only two clips of Barry on YouTube that we could find, so we didn't think we'd have too much of that. All of that was while we were doing the interviews, we kept asking people if they had footage and we kept researching footage and that's how that stuff came together.
In mapping out there was people that I thought were important to talk to and then there was people that Barry would suggest. I kind of always had the way the story would play out in my head because I had written a narrative script and I just felt that and I just know Barry and I knew the story and I kind of knew how I wanted to tell it.
Let's talk about the structure, it's structured really well and it totally balanced perfectly.
****HERE'S THAT SPOILER PART I WAS TALKING ABOUT.****
Yeah, you got it man. The second half of the film is pretty heavy especially Barry's tough final scene. To me and to you and everyone else [who sees the film] that's the most important shot in the film. I wanted to know whose idea it was to shoot that scene?
Barry and I, I was going to zoom in the basement just because I just wanted to show these places, those empty spaces and then like the shots that are in the movie. Barry suggested that he would do some sort of wraparound outside, but then he said he wanted to go down in the basement and then he and I had a huge argument. He said "You go through a problem not around it. I'm going down there, you can film or not but I'm not going to give this place any kind of power." I was afraid that he'd go into shock. Then he did when we were down there and he said I doesn't remember what I said in the basement, I don't know if any of it is any good and I was like "Oh, it doesn't matter, I'm going to play "Yakety Sax" the whole time you're down there." Which is the Benny Hill theme. (Laughs)
I think if we didn't have our sense of humor while we were making it it would have been even harder. Also, our friendship -- this is somebody I love and I worried about. That was my plan in the movie and I'm glad it's in the movie because it shows that Barry is actually a whole person and not even a whole person but a person that comes through the other side and does consider himself lucky.
****HERE'S THE END OF THAT SPOILER PART I WAS TALKING ABOUT.****
This film really hit home and I'll get into that in a minute. There's a moment in the film where Barry says that he has a hard time trusting others. The doc shows you two have known each other for a while and it's clear that you've built a strong relationship -- he helped you get sober. How did you gain his trust when discussing making a documentary about him, especially now that he seems to appear slightly reclusive, and for the film some of his family members were going to have be discussing the really painful part of his life?
I wasn't ... I was always going to make a narrative about his life, I was going to have someone play him because I didn't want him to be in that situation and that was after he'd testified in the Senate judiciary hearing. It just felt like a Frank Capra movie, you know, this guy takes on this big corporation and he's just doing it for decency and decent reasons. He was fine with that, but then getting that movie going was close to near impossible.
Then there's Robin. Robin knew I was passionate about making this movie and he was the one that suggested I make it as a documentary. I had heard Barry on Marc Maron's podcast and on Dana Gould's podcast and I kind of thought, "Okay I think he would be comfortable enough to discuss these things on camera." I told Robin, I said "I don't have any money to start this Call Me Lucky," so he actually gave me ... He didn't fund the movie but he gave me money, the initial money to start filming the movie and once that got going, then I was able to get the rest of the money in time. I wouldn't have made the movie if it wasn't for Robin's encouragement.
That's amazing. What a guy he was. I miss him as well.
With that one answer you've answered like a chunk of my questions, so I'm trying to scroll down to to find something where you won't think, "This dick already asked me this question but in a different way." (Laughs.) This is your first documentary.
I know you've shot live performances with Patton [Oswalt] and some others but this is your first feature-length documentary. What's the best thing you've learned from it?
In regards to making a documentary?
I learned not to talk so much and I learned that the first day, because what will happen is it's not a discussion. It's not an interview. It's not like a talk show interview. Your job is to not talk too much because like what I'd do, I'd ask a big long question and then the interviewee would just go "Yep" or "no." I learned that I had to ask questions that were answers I wanted in the movie.
One of things that always makes me laugh when I watch the movie is how fake my interviews are because no one is interviewing me. I'm sitting there going "Well, you know, when Barry moved to Cleveland..." Nobody asked me to talk about that, I'm talking to [on film to myself] so I'm a big phony. "That's a good question, Bobcat, let me answer that." That always makes me laugh.
(Laughs.) I have a few questions about your career as a comedian and an actor and I promise not to talk about HOT TO TROT, which is actually one of my favorite movies if us girls are being honest here.
(Laughs.) No that's fine, haha, it's just...I can talk about Hot to Trot. Interviews get derailed when that's the first question people ask me.
Yeah, that was a strange way to start an interview but I love how you fired back.
It was very Andy Kaufman, you know.
So, your comedy really pushes the boundary, if not snapping it in half. Is there a deranged idea for a film you haven't tapped into yet that you plan on or would like to do?
There's a bunch of movies that I've written and I'm going to make which are all different kinds of genres. That's why I like making movies. I'm coming off of a raw footage, scary Bigfoot movie [Willow Creek], doing a documentary... I just want to keep making all different kinds of movies. For me the challenge is to see if I can take genres and mix them up a little bit.
I feel like with each movie you make you become more prolific as a director and now when I think about Bobcat I don't think about the actor from POLICE ACADEMY. I think about the director who made WORLD'S GREATEST DAD, WILLOW CREEK, and now, CALL ME LUCKY.
Yeah, you got it man.
It's funny, I can't really concern myself with changing people's perception of me because that's just gonna be what it is. I'm just making movies because I love making movies. There will always be people that ... I was in Detroit and I was in Ann Arbor at a film festival and this guy comes up to get a picture with me and he's on the street and he's like, "I'm your number one fan." I go "Oh, thanks." He goes "What do you do now?" I'm standing under a marquee that says Call Me Lucky while he asked me that. (Laughs.) It doesn't bother me -- if it did, I'd make myself crazy.
At the same time, I'm not concerned with reinventing myself, I think if I was concerned with reinventing myself, I'd brand myself a lot more and I'd have a podcast and I'd do all this crap. I just want to make movies.
That's what's great about you because that's how you come off, just doing what you want to do. You're making movies that you want to and you're not pulling a Mark Wahlberg and making press sign things saying that we can't talk about Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch when we interview him.
(Laughs.) No. Look, I'm the first one that knows that the people who are familiar with me, most of them are familiar with me from Police Academy, and then there's other people that know me through my stand-up, and now there's people who, it's not as big of a crowd, but a small crowd of people that know me as a filmmaker.
Something I find fascinating about your career as an actor I want to ask about. You used to credit yourself as Jack Cheese, which I think is pretty brilliant and weird and totally you, and I'm just curious what made you choose that name?
Oh, I don't know, it was laziness. I was doing a movie and I was doing another one and it was doing this few weeks that I had heat in Hollywood, so they were like "Well, you can't do that for no money," then I was billed as Jack Cheese. Then when Robin and I were going to play a comedy club but we were unbilled. We had booked like three nights in this club, we just said it was Jack Cheese and Marty Fromage [Robin's pseudonym in Bobcat's directorial debut Shakes the Clown], but some dingbat got that Marty Fromage was Marty from Mars, so they thought it was a play on Mork & Mindy, so they put "Marty from Mars" on the marquee.
That's hilarious and I'm sure you two got a laugh out of it at some point.
We definitely did.
You're in one of my favorite films of all time, TAPEHEADS.
Yeah, yeah. It's funny. I remember watching that movie with Robin and then my scene came up ... We were watching the movie and I had forgot that I was in it, I know that sounds really weird, but we both went "Holy shit," we stopped and rewound and watched the scene again.
That's hilarious, because I'm crazy about TAPEHEADS but I can't find you and I've seen it a million times. So that's a question -- where are you hiding in the movie?
I'm the guy selling some sort of stuff on television in an infomercial. I'm the super yuppy guy talking about ... It's like some kind of one of those bullshit things about how you can make money.
Robin and I were watching the movie and it was so out of character, you know, I'm doing this voice that I haven't done since forever. We were just as confused, we were like, "holy shit, that was you."
Yeah, I just had to ask about your scene because it was driving me nuts. Cool. Circling back to CALL ME LUCKY. What do you want moviegoers to take away from it?
At the end of day, I kind of want it to be two things. One, if you're a victim of abuse, I hope it gives you a little encouragement to discuss it with people. Something I should have put in the movie, because at the end it says, "If you're victim of abuse tell someone, tell everyone." I wish I had put "And if you're not, listen." Because you know that in a capsule is Barry's and my relationship.
What I think is important, though, is if you are a victim of abuse and you are telling everyone, the ones that matter will listen.
I understand how it's a lot to put on people, but if the movie ends up becoming something, that's another thing that makes it easier for people to discuss this stuff, that would be great, that would be great. This stuff lives in the shadows and the more we talk about it the better.
Your answer can't get better than that. I have just one more question. It's something you said in the film that really hit me hard. It's one of the most important moments in the film when you talk about how Barry helped you get sober. That says a lot about him and you and how much he cares about you and how disciplined you are. Right now I'm currently ... I have a friend who's helping me get sober and it's really hard. Addiction is a motherfucker that's taken some of the most brilliant minds in the industry. I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to frame this question, I'm not sure how to frame it well so I'm just going to ask what I have written down -- do you think addiction is a disease?
Yes I do. I think it ... Yeah, I do. I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of and I think that was the thing when I got sober there's so many people around me that fled and Barry was by my side. There's the handful of people, him and my brother, Jimmy. Today I have a special place in my heart.
Thank for answering that. It's a weird question I know but it hit home so I wanted to ask.
Thanks for your time and, man, keep on making movies. Everything you do is just getting better and better and you're getting more prolific as a filmmaker and it's great.
Well, thank you.
You're welcome, man.
Thanks man. Good luck with your health.
Thanks. Hopefully I'll talk to you again for your next film.
All right, bye-bye.
[Note: This interview was first published on Twitch Film.]