Although it's hard to compete onscreen with Charlize Theron's gorgeous face or mile-long legs, Patton Oswalt does a pretty damn good job of it in Young Adult. In the new film from director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, Oswalt's character Matt Freehauf is an old-school nerd who ends up being an unlikely drinking buddy for former prom queen Mavis Gray. Mavis (Theron) is only in town to liberate her ex-boyfriend from his happy marriage and adorable new baby, whereas Matt lives with his sister and spends most of his time painting figurines and brewing his own liquor named after the Mos Eiseley Cantina in Star Wars. His legs disabled due to a beating in high school by jocks who mistakenly thought he was gay, Matt acts as a sort of cynical angel on her shoulder as the two form a strange friendship that's alternately antagonistic, hilarious, dark, and disarmingly vulnerable.
Oswalt is known for his work as a comedian and in movies like Ratatouille and Big Fan, as well as on TV shows like Bored to Death and United States of Tara. To fans, he's also known for his genial nature, biting wit, and extensive knowledge of all things awesomely nerdy. Movies.com enjoyed a chat with him during the Young Adult press blitz of 2011 and came away with an even greater appreciation for all things Oswalt.
Movies.com: I know you've worked with Diablo Cody before, but were you surprised at how dark Young Adult was?
Patton Oswalt: I was actually excited and gratified at how dark it committed to being, but I'd worked on United States of Tara and I know how deft she is with the darkness. I don't want to sound flippant, but she's able to touch on it and then surf into the light and then back, just the way that anyone's day goes. Your day, you know what it's like. It goes back and forth, despair, victory, and she's able to really touch on that pretty well, but this is, you know, she picked a character that we're gonna follow all the way down. Let's see where this goes, you know?
Movies.com: I read that you mine a lot of these experiences for anecdotes for stand-up. This is an interesting experience, with the Oscar push and we're at the Ritz-Carlton with all these people like me coming in for 10 minutes and 20 minutes and stuff -- what are you going to do about this? [both laughing]
Oswalt: You know what, I don't know yet. It was one of those things where it's like, I have to go through the whole thing, and as I've been warned, this is going to go on for quite a while… If I go into this thinking, like, where is there going to be a bit, then I will miss certain things and I'll edit certain things out. I want the whole thing to happen to me, and then when the wave recedes, I'll see what's left on the beach and that will be the bit. Just like when I did the Ratatouille press conference, and I actually ended up learning some stuff about myself there. [laughs] And I do a bit about that. This, I don't know what it will be yet, but it is going to be something, because this is pretty overwhelming.
Movies.com: That's kind of what Mavis does as well. She overhears people, she picks up on stuff. Any writer or creative person picks up what's happening around them.
Oswalt: Again, that's a weirdly positive aspect about Mavis, though, is even though she's doing everything for the wrong reason and for horrible motives, she does wade into life, and sometimes just by dint of that action, she ends up bringing out some pretty real nuggets into her writing. What you just hope is that she'll do that for something with just her name on it that actually speaks to her soul, or, if she's even ballsier, speaks to her lack thereof, which would be a really, I think, noxious and startling document, if she ever put it down on paper. Could you imagine if Mavis wrote a tell-all, or if Mavis wrote a memoir? Holy crap.
Movies.com: Matt's such an amazing character, and I also liked how punk rock he was, with the Vandals poster and the stickers on his crutch.
Oswalt: I picked all those stickers out. I picked out every sticker on his crutch, and I picked the shirts, because I went over the timeline of when the beating would happen and what the recovery period was, so all the shirts are bands that he would have been listening to right before the beating. In other words, the last time his life was good. So it's like he's wearing these emblems of when life was good, which, again, it's the same symbolic thing as the type of cassette tape that Mavis is listening to. They both have their early '90s symbols on them, their little totems… Listen very closely whenever Mavis or I enter a place of business; the Muzak is a Muzak version of an early '90s song. It also makes you wonder, is that the Muzak song that's playing or is it a reflection of our characters' minds shifting it to that song?
Movies.com: And there's an interesting parallel in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World in that you have this thing where you want to go back to where you're comfortable, and as Mavis says about her ex, people knew you at your best. What is it about that? You almost did that as well, in real life.
Oswalt: I know, I know. I don't want to sound cliché here, but life gets really, really scary. As you get older and have more wisdom to deal with it, your body begins to betray you, and you begin to really perceive not only your own mortality but how little time you have left and how much of it is going to be spent helpless, so you want that time when your limbs were going to be supple forever and you didn't have weird aches and you didn't have to worry about, you know, what rebellious thing is going to appear in what part of your body… I just think that it's a real part of the human condition. It's a very childish reaction to things, but I think the only way to get over it is to indulge it for a little bit and come out on the other side. You have to feel how childish it is and how much of a waste of time it is, so that you can then get over it. That's how I feel. That's why I almost did it. It's like, okay, let's feel how this is and then we'll go the other way.
Movies.com: You're very active on Twitter, but I haven't seen a lot about this press tour.
Oswalt: Because usually my brain is so fried at the end of the day, or as it's happening, and I just feel like, I don't want to be rude while I'm talking to someone, or if someone comes in and I'm sitting there Tweeting and stuff, I just don't want to do that… Also, there's just so many really huge things happening right now on the planet that I'm Tweeting more about that. Twitter is in itself already so inward-gazing, so if I'm inward-gazing about my inward-gazing, I'm afraid I'm going to create a white dwarf and it's all going to collapse in on me.
Movies.com: It's an intense time in New York right now.
Oswalt: It's amazing. It's very intense.
Movies.com: Have you been down to Wall Street at all?
Oswalt: No, not yet. I mean, I finish at 10 o'clock every night, and I want to collapse. And again, I feel like such an a**hole for saying that. These people are committed and freezing, and I'm like, I talked all day. Wah. Then that feels terrible.
Movies.com: I haven't been either, and I live downtown.
Oswalt: So I don't feel so bad now. Okay, good.
Movies.com: I'm just a shmucky writer, so I should be down there. [both laughing]
Oswalt: Yeah. I'm so afraid this is one of those things that when my daughter is in her twenties [and asks], "Hey, were you at this stuff?" It's like when I talk to my dad and he's like, "I wasn't at those damn marches." And I almost wonder if he wishes he were, just to go, "Yeah, I went there." But he's like, "I had to raise you guys! What are you talking about?"
Movies.com: How has social media affected the way you relate to your fans? My friend just interviewed you, and you said that you read a lot of the sites.
Oswalt: Oh, yeah. I think social media is -- it has been nothing but positive for me, because I do have a closer connection with my fans, and also it makes people aware, not just someone like me but everyone, how much more intelligent and wired-in and aware the average fan of things are. That's why I'm glad there are so many movies sites, because I hope a studio would look at this and go, "Well, if there are this many movie sites, it means that a much bigger part of our audience is actually pretty movie-savvy, and we don't need to keep dumbing stuff down for them."
When I'm on Twitter, my followers will @ mention me and write something funnier than I've written or someone who's not a comedian but has a Twitter account, someone that I follow, is so much funnier, I'm like, yeah, the audience is pretty savvy. Give them smarter stuff. You don't have to give them dumb sh*t. They're ahead of you. Think eight jokes ahead or think five jokes beyond the most obvious idea. So, if anything, I think, I hope -- this may be me being optimistic -- I hope that social media keeps artists and creators on their game… When people bring up, "Yeah, there's these commenters" and blah blah blah, [but] if you're reading, if you, as an artist, are reading commenters and getting angry, that's your fault. They're not there for you to read. You're wasting your time. Even if someone writes something sh*tty about you, they've taken the time to register a name and write something up so you had an effect on somebody. So be happy with that and move the f*ck on.
Movies.com: And making movies like Young Adult helps further the cause of making smart, honest things.
Oswalt: God, I hope so. I'm so flattered to get to be part of it, that I'm part of something like that, because this is what I bitch about about movies all the time. It's one of the reasons I did Big Fan. There was no money in it, it was really hard working conditions, but it's like, all you do is bitch about [Hollywood movies]. Well, someone wants to make one. Why don't you put up. Put up and shut up.
Young Adult opens in limited release December 9th and goes nationwide on December 16th.