The God Bless America director sits down and fixes his crosshairs on American culture.
Bobcat Goldthwait drinks his coffee black, and he doesn’t give a shit what anybody thinks about him. When LWLies walks into the lobby of a swish London hotel to meet him, he’s sat quiet and alone on a sofa waiting for us. This is not the Goldthwait we expected. The former Police Academy actor is most famous as a loud-mouthed scatter-brain who does things like set fire to chat show sofas. On a drizzly Monday morning, though, we find Goldthwait in a contemplative mood as he discusses his fourth directorial effort, scathing satire God Bless America.
LWLies: You’ve taken God Bless America on the festival circuit, is that a draining experience?
Goldthwait: Going to festivals and promoting a small indie is kind of like having a birthday party every week. Eventually it’s a little creepy and indulgent. At Toronto they have this Midnight Movie. It’s 1,400 seats, it sells out the whole time. I was there watching something and I thought, ‘Hey, I’ve got a movie that would go well here,’ and I scrambled to submit it. That was the place for this movie, with a big rowdy crowd at midnight. I didn’t know how it would play for Canadians, but I think some of these themes are universal.
Yeah, even though it’s about American culture, that culture is so influential that it applies here equally as much...
Just this morning looking around the dial [on TV], the influence… I was in London the first time I saw My Sweet Sixteen [sic]. There was a My Sweet Sixteen marathon, and I was like, 'Those children deserve to die, they’re horrible!' I was like, 'These are our ambassadors of goodwill. This is what people think of the US.' There’s this assumption that British TV is so much better, but you have just the same amount of shit!
You get EastEnders on BBC America, right?
I’ve heard it referenced on Extras, Ricky Gervais’ show, but I haven’t seen it yet. I do need to watch it. I would like to watch it.
You mentioned these children should die…
So is the responsibility with them?
No. Frank’s reaction in God Bless America is real simple. He wants people to act nice and act right. The movie isn’t the final solution! It’s not a remedy for what ails pop culture. What I’m trying to get at is to question our appetite for it. I just think it’s too easy to blame people who make the stuff, it’s the same kind of people who blame politicians for the way things are. It’s lazy. So many people are comfortable pointing fingers. I wanted to make a movie that asked, ‘Why are we so obsessed with being distracted the whole time?’ People say, ‘Why doesn’t Frank just turn off the TV?’ But I never watch the Kardashians, but I knew when she got married and divorced.
There’s no escaping it…
I think the digital age, one of the negative things about it is that people aren’t really concerned with listening to other people. Right now we’re having a conversation, but you don’t have to do that anymore. I’m aware the movie could be seen as an old guy yelling ‘You kids keep off my lawn’, but I am an old guy.
Do you feel you’re just preaching to the converted? Are any teenagers going to watch this?
If I was preaching to the converted I would’ve just made 90 minutes of killing people who the majority of people find annoying. Eventually, though, the wheels fall off Frank, and he finds himself being human so he’s guilty too. I didn’t just want to write a movie that was one note. Some of the detractors from this movie, that’s what they wanted to see. They wanted a scene where they go into a bank and start shooting them, you know. Natural Born Killers kind of pointed fingers at the media and the ghoulish nature of how people make celebrities out of killers, and I didn’t want to do that. I have noticed that this movie doesn’t work for people that don’t understand that it’s a movie! People get very mad. I’ve never killed anyone! The thing that makes me mad is people who can’t separate someone’s art from who they are. Or someone’s sporting ability. I’m a huge Woody Allen fan, his movies, but I don’t think I would like him at all, and I don’t think he would like me!
Do you find people find it difficult to separate you from your characters, like Zed in Police Academy?
None of that ever bothers me at all, because it’s like, I don’t really concern myself with peoples’ perception of me. If someone only knows me from that, I don’t have the time to go, ‘But I make movies that go to Sundance.’ I’m too busy making stuff to really care. I did have notoriety in the States and I didn’t enjoy it, it didn’t fix any holes in me. I like making movies cos I can say what I want to say, and I don’t have to perpetuate myself as a celebrity. I don’t have an interest in being a personality. I just want to be a guy who makes movies. Being famous for being famous doesn’t interest me.
How did you go from being an actor to a director?
The weird part was that with Sleeping Dogs Lie, I started all over again. I’d made all these screenplays that never got made, I thought, ‘Can I even write?’ So the challenge there was, can I write a 100 page script that other people can read and understand? So I wrote it and didn’t think I’d ever make it. Each time, the germ is always about, can we make this?
Where you ever reticent about discussing the state of the media with God Bless America?
When you decide to do this kind of movie, you are going to have detractors, but I didn’t really think of it one way or another, it was just the next script that came out of me. I don’t think too much about it. I have no five year plan! I just write screenplays. After World’s Greatest Dad I wrote five screenplays, and this was one of them. This one was weird. Normally they come out of me pretty fast, but this one took about a month and then I had to cut out 80 pages because so many more people got killed.
God Bless America is kind of a fantasy. There aren’t any real repercussions until the end, are there?
Yeah. One movie I did reference a lot was Badlands. They don’t spend too much time with police chasing them. I really wanted to avoid that scene of Harvey Keitel sitting in front of a map of the US going, ‘I gotta get inside their brains! I gotta figure out where they’re going!’ It was always a fantasy. I always consider the last three movies I made as fables.
They’re quite surreal in some ways…
It’s quite funny. The lead characters I always treat as very real people, then other things can be really one dimensional and cartoon-y. I look at Preston Sturgess, the lead character was always a little more fleshed out and there’d be other people who just came in.
Was Frank kind of a conduit for you to talk about things that were on your mind?
No. I agree with about 80 to 90 per cent of what Frank says, but these aren’t the people that occupy my mind. I don’t really have anger toward Green Day, I kind of like Green Day! Some of it’s just dialogue, and other things not. So much is watered down nowadays, and so much tries to appeal to everyone that characters end up not having opinions like real human beings. Because this movie has a 50-year-old guy who has clear opinions of something, people think, ‘Well, that’s a stand-up comedian who does these rants in a movie.’ It’s like, but why would I? I have access to stages! I just did a cable special where I got to rant for an hour. I’m not going, ‘I gotta get my jokes out there for the people!’ The kind of movie I hate is where everybody talks in zingers; that drove me nuts when I was a kid watching Neil Simon stuff. It’s not just Diablo Cody!
Yeah, why do you hate Diablo Cody so much?
Why do I hate Diablo Cody? I picked Diablo Cody [to rant about in God Bless America] because my daughter’s really funny, and when she says something funny, people go, ‘You’re like Juno.’ She says, ‘Dad, I want to stab them in the throat when they say that.’ So that girl in GBA did not like Diablo Cody. Anybody who thinks that girl would like Diablo Cody is not letting her be a real character. Are you out of your mind? You think this girl who’s a psychotic killer will go, ‘Oh good, Juno’s on!’ I gotta tell ya, I really don’t care about Diablo Cody! She’s like a boy band; I don’t know anything about her.
Talking about popular culture, you’re not on Twitter, are you?
I should be, but I’m not. I already have an addictive personality. I find Twitter’s a great way for narcissists to show the world what bad spellers they are. I don’t feel like getting into Twitter wars with strangers! It has a lot to do with the fact that I’m not concerned with peoples’ perception of me. I want to tell stories; I don’t want to be more famous. I don’t think anybody can understand that. While I was ego-surfing, I read a review of GBA where this guy said, ‘Bobcat has so much to say, give him a talk show.’ I was upset and offended. He didn’t get the movie at all! If Frank said, ‘Fuck Bob Goldthwait, he was in Police Academy and now he’s going serious as an artist?!’ I wouldn’t have been upset. Or if I was watching a Diablo Cody movie and somebody said that, I wouldn’t write a blog going, ‘Diablo Cody saddens me, wah!’
All the films you’ve directed seem to be about outsiders, is that something you enjoy writing?
I think they’re people who do horrific things one way or another. Bestiality, posing as your dead son, killing people… But I never see them as freaks or the butt of these scenarios. Sometimes, I guess, but it’s only because of bad decisions they’ve made.
You make films with some provocative ideas…
To make a movie where the by-product is to make people laugh, I don’t have a problem with that. But these last three movies are about other things. It’s just the way I end up writing. I felt that if I was going to spend all the energy, I wanted it to be about something. Not that I wouldn’t make anything lighter. Here’s the funny thing, my agents would hope for me to do a big comedy.
Something with Jason Segel perhaps?
Dear God, that sounds terrible! I would have no interest in that. If you said to me, ‘We want you to go do a horror picture’ or something, that would interest me because I don’t know how to do the mechanics of that. I think most things you do, your personality creeps in. Like Martin Scorsese, obviously he’s great and all that stuff, but no matter how dark his movies are, there’s always really funny stuff. He clearly has a personality, you know?
Unlike Michael Bay?
One thing about Michael Bay, I have a friend who works with him, they’re not BFFs but they work together. I asked him, 'Just tell me this, does the guy like the movies he makes?' He goes: 'He loves the movies.' I go, 'Okay!' Honestly, at least he loves them.
He obviously makes movies for himself; do you do that, too?
God yeah, but the difference is that some people make movies and then they have a lucrative brand. I guess I have a brand, but it’s not lucrative! I always joke, my movies make hundreds of dollars, you know. I’m just making them to make them. I don’t think of them as reinventing me in people’s eyes. I’m connecting with a tiny group of people. I would really love, I’m 50 now, I hope I can make another 10 or 15 films. Or more. I’m just gonna keep making them.
It’s interesting that you’d hate to do a big comedy, considering they’re remaking Police Academy…
I say that they’re going to do what they did with 21 Jump Street; they’re going to make it a comedy this time. I don’t think they’d ask me [to be involved], but if they did… I would do it if somebody asked me, just because people who do enjoy those movies would be excited. But I don’t think they’d ask me anyways. When you see a reunion and someone’s not there, you have a bad feeling about that person! But I don’t think we have to worry about that, nobody’s going to ask me. They just hired another writer, so they had three writers… [laughs] I don’t know what they’re doing! I don’t know, man.
You weren’t actually in the first one, people forget that…
No. I do stand-up and I get people showing up with a DVD of the first one saying, ‘Will you sign this?’ I write, 'I’m not in this movie, sincerely Bobcat Goldthwait.' That happens a lot!
You have 78 acting credits on the IMDb now. How does that feel?
That’s a lot of stuff! I used to have this weird feeling about that, but I realised that all of it helped me become a director. It was all helpful. So I don’t regret it. I just wish… It would’ve been nicer if earlier in my life I could’ve figured out what I really enjoy doing. I probably would’ve been the guy wondering if he could’ve been a comedian or trying to be on Sabrina The Teenage Witch or something like that.
You’ve done TV, movies, radio… Do you just love all types of media?
No, because I feel like a lot of it has been a journeyman looking for a gig. I will say this: there’s so much to be said for just making stuff. So I have that kind of attitude now behind the camera. To me, making a short with my friends… I feel the same making a tiny short as I do making a feature. There’s no difference at all. The same energy goes into it. I don’t see one as better or worse. As far as all the jobs I’ve had, I really never had that experience of looking at myself and going, ‘Yeah, nobody’s going to do that better. You really killed it! Top that Will Ferrell!’ I’m not a huge fan of my body of work.
Do you consider yourself outside of Hollywood now?
Oh, 100 per cent. People attempt to project what I’m doing as ‘part of Hollywood’, you know. There’s a lot of conservative complaints, ‘There’s another movie from Hollyweird, blah blah.’ It’s like, I couldn’t be further out of it.