One such event went down at Hollywood’s Arclight Theater last week for Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult.” Unfortunately, there was no open bar; whiskey shooters might have been a nice promotional tie-in for Charlize Theron’s rarely sober antihero Mavis Gary. Instead, we got free popcorn, soda and parking (still a pretty big score in Hollywood). But the biggest draw was a chance to see the movie with acclaimed co-star Patton Oswalt, who plays Gary’s unlikely confidant, high school loser Matt Freehauf.
Even better, the post-film Q & A was moderated by Garry Shandling. What connection does Shandling have with the film or Oswalt? None whatsoever. Shandling opened with a story about how he was randomly solicited by Oswalt over Twitter a few nights ago and thought, what the heck. “The message here,” Shandling deadpanned, “is don’t answer your Twitter messages or you’ll end up hosting an event at the Arclight.”
Shandling and Oswalt’s partook in an amusing 30 minute dialogue, which at times veered far away from discussion of “Young Adult.” Shandling usually managed to steer it back to the film, of which he seemed to be a genuine fan. Here are some highlights of the discussion.
It turns out the genesis of Patton Oswalt’s collaboration with Jason Reitman didn’t come in a casting session or in a meeting between agents, but rather from a movie night. “We became friends because we’re both film buffs,” Oswalt tells Shandling. “He screens movies at his house every Sunday and it’s always a movie he’s never seen. He likes to watch it with other people and see how they react. So we’ll watch ‘The Conversation’ or ‘Maltese Falcon.’ He got the script and he said, ‘I need to hear this read out loud because I don’t know.’ So we read it a couple times with different people coming in and reading different parts. When Charlize came in, to quote John Huston, 'the thing just happened.' And he saw it and said, ‘Okay, you two.’
To prepare to share the screen with the mighty Charlize, Oswalt hired an acting coach.
Even though Oswalt and Theron had connected during readings, the comedian was intimidated to share so much screen time with the acclaimed actress. “When I got this script, I got nervous because Diablo [Cody] wrote it so well. It walks this line between genuine pathos and real rage and if you go too far either way, it becomes pathetic or becomes too sitcommy. When I did the first reading with Charlize, she was sitting there being funny and talking and then the minute we started reading, she snapped right into the character. And I realized that it’s because of the years of experience that she can do that, so I figured I better catch up with that. So I hired Nancy Banks and I worked with her for two months. The process was drudgery. We wrote out the police report for what happened to Matt when he got beaten up. I wrote letters that he would have written to his parents in the hospital, trying to put on a brave face.”
Oswalt admits he’s at his most comfortable with his mouth open, standing safely behind a force field of clever quips and jokey dialogue. On the other hand, zipping his lips and relying on those other actor’s tools provided a big challenge. When his character, Matt, finally gets to share the bed with Mavis, they lay in silence post-coitus.
“I thought I’d be nervous because I’m lying there naked with her, but I ended up being more nervous because it’s the first scene that I don’t get to talk to her,” says Oswalt. “The whole relationship is based on being snarky and mean, and now I’m in this terrifying vacuum of, ‘Wait a minute, I’m just going to be physical with her?’ So once I got a few weeks into this, I just jumped into it. You have to allow yourself to be so raw and rung out...People don’t have quips in real life. They just go, ‘Oh Jesus, I better not say anything.’ I saw Jason do it because he’s such a pro, I saw Charlize do it. It’s just, start the scene. If you’re 70 percent ready, start the scene. The other person will almost always get you there. There’s a quote from Michael Caine, ‘A camera has never let me down.’ If it’s there, it catches it.”
“Roy London taught that people are actually saying something entirely different than what their actual intention is,” says Shandling of his own acting coach. “The key to a bad project is that the characters are speaking in subtext.”
When you hire a guy like Patton Oswalt, you have to expect they’ll be a bit of improvisation, even with Cody’s generally strong script. One of the film’s biggest laughs comes early in the film during Matt and Mavis’ first encounter at the bar. After tossing back countless glasses of Maker’s Mark, Oswalt delivers the line, “Take that, liver” with expert comic timing.
“Charlize and I weren’t really drinking alcohol,” Oswalt says of the scene, “but it was the fact that we were drinking so lustfully in this bar. I kept teasing her for every shot because of the way she was knocking them back. It was almost like the way a pirate drinks like in silent movies. That really was my genuine reaction. I realized later that it was a guy that looks like me being intimidated by a girl who looks like that. I can’t go, ‘Hey, I think you’re drinking yourself to death.’ So I hide it in a joke because I’m too scared to just go, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’”
One of the most interesting aspects of the relationship between Oswalt and Theron’s character in the movie is that, while it may not seem so on the surface, Matt is actually more at peace with who he is than Mavis. Another great line comes late in the film when Mavis asks Matt if he’s attracted to her. “Guys like us are born loving women like you,” says Matt. “That’s the only moment in the movie that I actually say what I mean,” says Oswalt. “It gets a laugh because I’m not being clever. It’s like, ‘Here’s what the fuck our relationship is about. I would have always done anything you said. There, I said it.’”
“She’s in two bell jars in this movie,” says Oswalt. “She’s a hot girl telling people she’s an alcoholic and people are going, ‘Aww, that’s sweet, you can’t have problems.’ And then, the one outlet she should have is being a writer, but she’s writing under this bible so she can’t express herself there either. My character is beyond having to hide anything any more. I know that I’m uncool, so in a way I have more freedom than she does.”
“Young Adult” is now playing in limited release.