Fred Willard is known for his improv skills in movies like Waiting for Guffman
and Best in Show
, and lines like, “You know what they say about blind prostitutes? You have to hand it to them!” Blu-ray Bob sat down with one of our very favorite funnymen to talk with Willard about his role in Youth in Revolt
, which is available on disc this week, and much more.
How does one get a "special guest star" credit in a movie like Youth in Revolt much like Heather Locklear got on Melrose Place?
Fred Willard: I don't know! [laughs] It's all negotiations. I just kind of ignore those things. I was once with a comedy troupe at the Roxy and we were supposed to get special guest star billing. Someone came down before the show and said, "Rip Taylor demands special guest star billing." So we went back and said we want "very special guest star" billing. And then Rip said he wanted "very, very special guest"star billing." As far as Youth in Revolt is concerned, I worked on director Miguel Arteta's very first film when he got into AFI, so it was fun to work with him again.
Your Youth in Revolt character, Mr. Ferguson, is very sympathetic to illegal immigrants. Did you concoct a back story in your head for this character to help you play him on-screen?
Fred Willard: Yes, he's very socially aware. He's like an old liberal who jumps into every cause, very soft hearted, and he falls immediately for the ruse about the clothes being taken away by the INS. So I end up in the truck with my shirt off. I never come up with a back story—a lot of actors will write one down—but in the back of my mind I know where these characters are coming from.
What is Mr. Ferguson's stance on Arizona's immigration law?
Fred Willard: Oh, he would be outraged. He would be right down there at the border trying to cross from Mexico into Arizona while leading them, without even knowing all the particulars.
There is one scene in Youth in Revolt where you are face down on the carpet tripping on mushrooms. How fun was shooting that scene with Justin Long?
Fred Willard: For three days I had to come in and the director said, "Stay on the floor and look down. You're looking closely at the weave of the carpet. You are interested in what you see in the carpet." At least I wasn't forgotten—it was centered on what I was doing down on that carpet.
You strike comedic gold when you are paired with Christopher Guest in his mockumentaries, like This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration and Best in Show. How much of those characters—like your wisecracking dog-show announcer in Best in Show—is written for you and how much is just you ad-libbing?
Christopher Guest would tell us what kind of dogs were coming out and we just went on and on. In Waiting for Guffman
, he shot 30 hours of film and cut it down to 85 minutes, so a lot of my favorite things were cut. As the announcer in Best in Show
, I thought, I'm going to say anything that comes into my mind. I wasn't judicious—every bad joke, every good joke, every observation, I said. I just got into that mindset of an ex-jock who is kind of a fish out of water who tries to put his two cents in.
You had such chemistry with Jane Lynch on-screen in For Your Consideration. Are you two friends in real life and what are the chances of you popping up on Glee?
Fred Willard: I don't know. I'd love to be on Glee and it's a good show for young people to get into and watch.
Tell me about your role as Frank Dunphy on Modern Family because I hear you will be coming back for a second season
That's a very popular show and everyone seems to love it. Well, the producers called me and said, "Fred, we'd be thinking since day one how to get you on this show." They said I'd be Ty Burrell's father and they had me on the Christmas episode on Skype talking to them from my home in Florida. Then they brought me back in an episode where I drove across the country with my dog because my wife was allergic. It was great fun, so they asked me to send a photo so they could hang in the house since I'm part of the TV family now. I had an idea to have a family reunion at Disney World, so we'll see what happens with that in season two.
You have a whopping 215 acting credits on IMDb stretching back to 1966. Does any role stand out for you as the most challenging?
Fred Willard: One of my favorite roles is a Laverne & Shirley I did. I played a con man with another guy trying to blow up a wall between the pizza alley and a bank. I also did a role on the last season of Castle and it turned out that I killed a TV show host. It was challenging because I never played a murderer before. I found an interesting thing: when you're doing a serious role, you depend a lot on the director. When you're doing a comedy, they kind of leave you alone. If you're funny, you use your own sense of how to get into a character. But the director of Castle said, "Fred, I want to see pain and not your anger." I thought that was good direction, and that was a whole new acting world for me. I'd like to do more serious roles.
You've had the opportunity to work with some up-and-coming young actors. Who are the funniest and have the potential to have us laughing for years to come?
Fred Willard: I think Ty Burrell on Modern Family will have a great future. And also Nathan Fillion on Castle has a self-effacing style and doesn't take himself too seriously. I thought he was terrific.
Can you tell me a few of your favorite comedies that you have on DVD or a Blu-ray?
Fred Willard: I love anything by Albert Brooks and Woody Allen. My favorite comedy, though, is Danny Kaye's Court Jester because Danny Kaye influenced me so much. There are such classic comic bits in there that some people don't even realize, like "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle." It's some wonderful old-time comedy, and I actually have that one on disc.