Zach Galifianakis, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck – It’s Kind of a Funny Interview
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted on October 8, 2010.
The movie version of Ned Vizzini’s popular semi-autobiographical young adult novel It’s 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, It’s 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 summer’s 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. While his character here has some very funny moments, Galifianakis’ acting is even more notable for the balancing act between humor and dramatic tension.
Also going against type are former child actress Emma Roberts as the kid’s potential love interest, Oscar Nominee Viola Davis as an empathetic doctor and Lauren Graham and Jim Gaffigan as self-obsessed parents.
Or, there is the 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 It’s 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.
Zach Galifianakis: This is my last interview [for the movie], right here. We’re very happy to promote this movie, but it’s a very…. They should tell people in acting, or anybody that wants and gets to be an actor and you’re a main character in a movie that there’s another side to the job. I never knew that part of it. (laughs)
The interviewing part?
Zach Galifianakis: Yeah. I guess I wasn’t paying attention because I never felt that that was going to happen. But, yeah, the promotion of it’s…
Will we become material in some routine in the future as a result?
Zach Galifianakis: Well I have a talk show kind of based on press junkets called “Between Two Ferns,” so that’s kind of how it came about. I imagine a fantasy of an interviewer being able to ask terrible, rude questions.
Give us a few minutes…
Zach Galifianakis: I’ve heard them all.
This was certainly a lighter look at mental health institutions than, say, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Were you trying to show the more positive aspects?
Ryan Fleck: 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 – a movie that’s playful and yet dramatic at the same time.
Cuckoo’s Nest is obviously the looming great mental hospital movie out there. Were there certain films that you looked at prior and said “that’s been done?” Or was there anything that you looked at and said “that’s an idea we can extrapolate upon?”
Anna Boden: Not actually in the mental health arena. Of course we’ve both seen Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s one of the great movies. We didn’t 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.
Zach Galifianakis: I think I was tempted to look at One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but then I decided not to do it because subconsciously you might take something that you don’t want to.
Ryan Fleck: 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?
Anna Boden: Yeah, I felt like I could really relate to the character that I was reading in that book – 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 didn’t 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?
Zach Galifianakis: The movie? I don’t think there’s any comparison. My high school, I mean there were a lot of mental, mental people there for sure, but other than that I don’t 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?
Ryan Fleck: 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 citing…
Anna Boden: Hal Ashby…
Ryan Fleck: Hal Ashby.
Anna Boden: … Robert Altman…
Ryan Fleck: … right. Scorcese. All these cinema guys. We’d forget about who had the initial influence on you when you were twelve years old. It was these movies – Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Anna Boden: … Sixteen Candles…
Ryan Fleck: 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 tradition.
Zach Galifianakis: 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 don’t 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?
Ryan Fleck: We know the film very well, so maybe we did…
Anna Boden: An unusual friendship?
Did you ever see King of Hearts?
Zach Galifianakis: I don’t know what that is.
It’s a great film from the 60s about an insane asylum with Alan Bates.
Zach Galifianakis: I love insane asylum movies. I love prison movies. I love when they’re specific like that. I do.
You certainly went a little far afield from your previous films, having fun with the cinematography and editing. That’s why I thought Harold and Maude. It really was a change, I remember thinking here’s the people who did Half Nelson….
Ryan Fleck: Yeah, we embraced the opportunity to do something totally different. It’s funny, we only made two movies and people think it’s such a departure. (Anna laughs) Could you imagine if we made a third really serious film? If we ever wanted to do something different, we’d be sitting here and you guys would think it would be very strange. But it’s 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 character’s 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?
Zach Galifianakis: It wasn’t difficult actually at all. I’ve said this and I don’t know what it means but this character is the most like I am than any other character that I’ve had to play, which isn’t speaking too highly about myself. Aside from the suicide stuff and all that, I think just because of the tone of the movie it’s more kind of real, at least in the dialogue back and forth between the characters. It wasn’t that difficult, and real funny is very hard to play. It’s very difficult; people don’t realize that it’s a lot of work to try to make a bunch of people laugh. So it wasn’t that bad.