Bobcat Goldthwait talks God Bless America

Bobcat Goldthwait first became known in the world of comedy for his energetic stand-up performances and, at times, controversial content.

When he began making films, the world saw that this approach to things would define his career. Both Sleeping Dogs and World’s Greatest Dad proved to be comedies that moved away from the mainstream into darker territory. For fans of the out-spoken comedian, his most recent offering does not disappoint. God Bless America stars Mad Men’s Joel Murray and 18-year-old Tara Lynne Barr, who have become disillusioned with modern America and decide to take drastic action. The film comes out today and you can find out about getting tickets to the London premiere here.

The Film Review caught up with Bobcat himself and asked him about this film and his plans for the future.

What inspired you to make a film like this?

One of the tipping points was when I was in London for World’s Greatest Dad. I had never seen My Super Sweet Sixteen and they were having a marathon of the show. I just thought, these children are horrible people. It was horrific to me, it would be like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding being the only show we saw. I was terrified.

Do you mean to go for stories that are quite shocking, or do you want to choose ones that really influence other people?

I don’t really think about them in any terms. They just come to me and I write them, I don’t think “ well this would really freak everyone out and blow their minds”. I think of them as fables, not as accurate portrayals of anybody’s life. Just to make a comedy doesn’t interest me – I hope I do make people laugh, but I also want it to be about something.

So are you trying to get a message across?

Not really. It’s usually always me working something out in my head and I usually don’t know what it was until a year later.

For me, God Bless America isn’t about the fact that if we got rid of X, Y and Z, the world would be a better place. It’s about why we have become so interested in being distracted all the time. It’s either the iPhone distracting us, or it’s talking about things that really aren’t important. Some people ask why Frank doesn’t just turn off the TV, but it doesn’t matter, it’s society.

I am really trying to figure out how I think about things when I make these movies. What became the theme of World’s Greatest Dad was really what I hadn’t learnt at that time. I think in God Bless America, I was just trying to figure out where we are going as people.

Frank gives a speech in his office about commercialism and people being concerned with shallow things. He feels isolated in his place of work, why did you set this scene there?

I guess it was a good place to have him feel out of sync with everybody else. It’s about the cacophony of non-versations that are always going on around you.

You got an A-lister cast with Robin Williams in World’s Greatest Dad. How did you choose Joel Murray to play Frank?

This movie was so far out of the system, on my own terms and pretty low budget. This means I basically had the last say on the cast. Joel had been my friend for a long time. I sent him the screenplay and he thought he was going to play the boss at work, until I said no, “you’re Frank”. He was surprised to be chosen to play “the guy”.

And Tara Lynne Barr as well, why did you choose her?

Yes, she’s amazing. There’s a movie called the Sterile Cuckoo with Liza Minelli, who was probably the same age as Tara. She’s just bouncing around the room and that was kind of who I based the character on when I was writing it. I didn’t want her to be a clichéd goth character, she had to be some kid who was ostracised simply because she was smart.

Who else did you work with on this project?

I killed all my friends in this movie. There is Tom Kenny, who does the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, Melinda Page Hamilton who was in Sleeping Dogs Lie, Alexie Gilmore from World’s Greatest Dad and then there are people from all the way back in Shakes the Clown. I like working with my friends. Also, my wife is the costume designer and my daughter works in the costume department.

Why did you choose the title God Bless America?

It was a pretty snarky title and just hit me, like World’s Greatest Dad, or Sleeping Dogs Lie. My movies all fit on a coffee mug or T-shirts.

How do you find low-budget filmmaking in this digital age?

The cool thing is, nothing prevents you from making a movie now. If you have access to a digital camera, you can make one. I have a feeling that the next one I make might be like that, because I want to make another movie quickly. Sleeping Dogs Lie was a crew from Craigslist and we shot it in two weeks. The World’s Greatest Dad was shot on film and I was thinking, this is probably the last time I’m going to get to use film. It does look pretty.

Do you have a favourite part of God Bless America?

I like the scene where they’re sitting around playing Russian roulette and where Frank is teaching Roxy how to shoot a gun. It’s quite sweet as they are bonding.

Why did you give Frank a moral aspect to his character?

I wanted people to empathise with him. If he was just crazy, then people would have only seen him as a crazy guy. It would be more awkward too, if you empathised with him while he was killing. At first you’re rooting for him, then eventually it should go off the rails. Eventually everybody should be called out in the movie.

Frank and Roxy both make long speeches about things they hate. Does this reflect your own opinions?

I think people confuse it with a list of things I don’t like. I don’t care much about certain things, but I do hear people complaining about these things. I think most movies have no opinions and people are so afraid of offending others. Opinion is so foreign in a movie that people assume that whenever the characters in my movies have an opinion, that it has to be directly mine, but it’s not necessarily.

Your sense of humour can be quite dark. Do you find yourself being a critic of your own work?

Yes, I think everybody who is fortunate enough to make movies is. You sit there and cringe when you watch it, especially this one which I kept editing. That is one of the downfalls of the digital age, I was actually able to put stuff back in after watching it.

So will there be more on the DVD?

There’s more television on the DVD. There’s a baby talent show called the Jersey Shorties and more television that I though had become a little redundant. There are also a lot of ad-libs that are done by Chloe’s Show (the parody of My Super Sweet Sixteen) and more Frank TV. It’s really based on a lot of current programmes.

Do you have any interest in going back in front of the camera?

No, I jokingly say that I retired when people stopped hiring me. I would be really happy if I could just make movies and sit in the back. Making movies is all the perks of being in show business. You’re anonymous, but you can still have a lot of influence.

What’s next for you?

One of the movies I’ve been trying to get going is a musical based on a Kinks film from the 70’s, called Schoolboys in Disgrace. I only have a handful of English friends and while they can sing, most of them are not right for this movie, so that’s been one where I have to get people attached to get money, because it’s much bigger than the other movies I make.

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