So, no spoilers for those who may have some DVR’ed Wilfred ahead of them. But for those who have seen the season finale … whoa, right? It’s going to be a long wait for the next season, and the resolution of how … well, again, no spoilers. But it is going to be a long wait.
The good news is that there definitely will be a second season of Wilfred, my favorite new show of the year, the delightful FX comedy that brought together Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood (who proved he has as much skill with the funny as he does with the fantasy) with Australian actor/writer/producer Jason Gann, the man in the Wilfred suit.
I had a chance to chat with Gann, who’s been playing Wilfred since he co-created the series in Australia in 2007, before Thursday’s finale, and he, like that sometimes-naughty pooch he plays, is, in a word, charming.
That he’s enjoying the success of his first American TV hit and is very appreciate that viewers have embraced the show and his character so much is endearing enough, but during our chat he also talked about how excited he was to move to Los Angeles, because he sees Hollywood as a town and industry rife with opportunities for someone who wants to tell good stories. It’s a refreshing point of view, when so many people are cynical about the prospect of good storytelling in Hollywood.
But don’t take my word for it … dive in and get to know Gann for yourself, as he talks about the season ender, what’s ahead for season two, the delicate balance the show tries to strike between whimsy and touching on mental health issues, the Sesame Street stars who inspire him and the comedian who was integral to convincing him to don the hot, smelly Wilfred suit for FX.
TVSCREENER: I have to start by telling you that I love Wilfred, both the show and the character. I think it’s been the best new show of the year, and it’s just been such the perfect summer show.
JASON GANN: Wow, that’s really great. Thanks so much. I really appreciate that. Put a smile on my face. That’s a good way to start an interview.
It’s true. I wish I had my own Wilfred.
I hear that a lot. I’ve heard that statement a lot. And I say, ‘Do you really? Are you sure?’
Does that surprise you? Does it surprise you that, even given how ornery Wilfred can be, we all love him so much?
Well, it surprises me that people say they wish they had their own Wilfred. I didn’t hear that much with the old, with the Australian version. And I think that is because Wilfred … he was very negative. He was much darker. And even though I’ve maintained those elements in this character, (this Wilfred) is funny, he’s a lot more, I hope, more positive, a more positive influence with Ryan.
People do question constantly, is he on Ryan’s side, is he trying to help him, or is he trying to destroy him? And there’s that kind of balance that makes people say, ‘Well, it looks like they have a lot of fun in the meantime.’ Whereas I don’t think the dynamic between Wilfred and Adam (in the Australian version) … there wasn’t as much fun going on. The Australian show is primarily a love triangle, whereas FX were very clear with what they wanted early on, and that was a buddy comedy. So I think in our efforts to make it more of a buddy comedy, the relationship is a lot more fun between the two guys, and that maybe is why people are now starting to say they want a Wilfred. Because the guys do seem to have fun when they’re on their misadventures together.
Do you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm?
I think of Wilfred as a doggy Larry David in a way. He does what he wants to do, says what he wants to say without worrying what anyone thinks …
(Laughing) Yeah, without the intense paranoia.
Exactly. All the good parts of Larry David.
All the fun parts. It’s really exciting at the moment for me, just to see the feedback, the love for Wilfred that fans are giving. I’ve just discovered all of this artwork that people have been doing of Wilfred … Wilfred and Ryan … Wilfred and Bear.
Some of these pictures, these paintings, are just phenomenal. There’s dozens of them now. They’re on my Facebook … it’s really one of the most humbling gestures that I’ve had over the years with people’s love of Wilfred. It’s really surprising to me.
I think you’re going to see Wilfred Halloween costumes this year.
Oh, look, I get asked all the time where can they get one. Someone at FX said to me last year that we’re going to have to have a lot of these for Halloween next year, these suits. I’m not sure if they are selling them or not, but I know someone tried to start a website. I think that was shut down … so I don’t know where they’re going to be sold, or if people are going to have to get them made. I know there’s a hundred suits that FX had at Comic Con. There’s a hundred Wilfred suits. I saw them, and they’re better than my suit. I said to them, ‘They’re better than my suit!’ (Laughing) They’re really nice and fluffy and have this really nice texture. But then I thought that’s probably better. I think that the copies should be superior to Wilfred’s suit, because that’s part of the charm, just how rough (his suit) is.
The season finale is … wow. Cliffhangers, we find out new info on Ryan’s background, tying back to the pilot … and though there’s a lot of humor, it also definitely gets darker than the show has been most of the season. Did you intend all along to pack so much into the finale?
Well, I guess we just opened so many doors over the season that we had to take it somewhere. And what is different in the new version of Wilfred is that we really go into the psychology of Ryan, and what Wilfred may be to Ryan, or why Ryan has either created Wilfred or summoned him.
And because we’ve gone into that and the potential mental illness, we need to go there further. And so, as a result, things are just a bit darker towards the end when, you know, hopefully the audience, who’ve come along for the ride, have really invested in the characters and are prepared to think of it a bit more.
I mean, to actually make a comedy that really makes you kind of think is sort of unusual. And so that’s just a risk that we take. I mean, we’re concerned sometimes. I sometimes would worry that it’s not funny enough. But it doesn’t need to be, and so therefore, just make it as funny as you can, while giving sort of some brain food, something to think about, and hopefully people have come along for the ride.
Now, as it turns out, they have. And so now people are really talking about the characters and discussing the show and debating it, which is one of the things we hoped for.
And thinking ahead to season two …
Yes, we’ve been commissioned for season two, and when we go back to that, I suspect things will lighten up again, and we can go back to having more fun again. It’s just that, at the end of the season, we wanted there to be a bit of tension … just some good storytelling, I think.
Are you working on season two yet?
I’m ruminating at the moment. I’ll always have ideas that will come up, story ideas. The change in my work method with the new Wilfred was that I think of funny ideas and then make them work in the show. Whereas (producer) David (Zuckerman) comes from more of a story-driven background, where the story has got to work first and then you work out how to make it funny. So I know that David has got his ideas about where he wants the show to go. I tend to now put all my ideas in a file and then bring them out when they fit in.
You touched on it a bit … there seem to be two camps of Wilfred fans. There are the fans who, like me, are so charmed by the characters and the friendship between them, and the humor of the show, that we’re not really thinking, ‘Is Wilfred real? Or is Ryan crazy?’ We’re just kind of going with it. But then there are fans who love it, but also really want to know, definitely …
And I love that. Sorry to interrupt, but yeah, I think that between David and I, we have found a good balance for that. I’m in the same camp as you. What I feel like I bring to the show is a lot of charm and comedy. To me, it’s funny first. To me, Wilfred’s real. I need to think he’s real for me to be able to play him and for me to be able to live in him. I don’t really spend a lot of time questioning why he is in Ryan’s life.
For me, personally, he already was in someone else’s life (with the Australian series). To me, the character’s been around for nearly 10 years. I’ve kind of gotten used to having him around. I never really start to analyze too much about who he is or why he’s there, but I love that David’s really opened up that world. I’m really excited about it. I know Elijah’s really excited about it, because the Ryan character has got a lot of depth to him, as opposed to being a punching bag that (Adam) the Australian character was.
Do you think you guys will, or do you even want to, ever answer definitively why/how Wilfred is in Ryan’s life?
I don’t know if we want to do it definitively. Someone was asking the other day about Wilfred’s childhood and background, and we’ll never know the true story. I said that Wilfred changes his backstory all the time. He’s recreating his story to suit whatever purpose he has at that time. I think who Wilfred is to Ryan could be one of those open-ended questions, where we never really know. It’s up to the audience to decide. If we want to end the show, all we need to do is give that answer, I think.
But I think that’s one of Wilfred’s charming qualities. He reinvents himself.
People have called Wilfred a doggy version of Russell Brand, and the relationship between Wilfred and Ryan has been compared to Calvin and Hobbes, but what kind of things did you think about when you created Wilfred and thought about how you wanted to play him?
Well, originally, Adam (Zwar, co-creator of the original Wilfred series) was telling me about this dog who terrorized his owner’s new boyfriends. And so I just started improvising out of that, thinking about how he would behave, interrogating the boyfriends, kind of like Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents.
And then we started thinking about it more, and about how there would be a conversation between two blokes, and one of them happens to be a dog. So I really wanted Wilfred to be a dog who thought he was human, but just stuck in a dog’s body. He’s frustrated by his body, the frame he’s in. Like in the pilot when Ryan says, ‘Why didn’t you climb over the fence?’ And Wilfred says, ‘I don’t have arms.’ Ryan goes, ‘What are they?’ And Wilfred says, ‘Legs!’ He’s really pained by the body that he’s born into, because he feels like he’s so much more than that. I think a lot of dogs that are spoiled probably go through this internal crisis as to who they are. So I really wanted that.
I worked in a lot of children’s shows, comedies, back home … and I always think back to the classic Bert and Ernie routines from Sesame Street. I just thought, growing up, that they were that perfect comedic dynamic of the hapless, dumb one who’s almost like a philosopher in his naivety and ignorance, and then then the brainiac who’s really intelligent, but has been driven crazy by his idiot friend. And these two have this dynamic where one just infuriates the other one, but they’re also, obviously, really close friends. I really like that dynamic.
When you brought the show to FX, did you consider at all the possibility of not playing Wilfred, of working strictly off camera?
When it was first suggested to me, the exact quote was, ‘I’m not putting that fucking dog suit on again.’ That’s exactly what I said. It was my manager, Jeff Kwatinetz who sold the show, who had the idea of this new version, this new angle. It was me as Wilfred. He said, ‘I know you don’t want to do it. But hear me out.’ Then he pitched it to me in a way that intrigued me, and said, ‘Look, this show is going to happen over here one day. You’ve got a window to play this role now or someone else is going to play it.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever. Who could possibly play it?’ He said, ‘Oh, the name Zach Galifianakis has been mentioned.’
I said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. If you can sell it, I’ll do it.’
It’s a big risk as an actor. I’m actually very shy by nature. So, to be in front of a lot of people, the whole crew and everything, in a dog suit, when no one knows what you’re doing … and they’re just thinking, ‘I hope for your sake that this works, because if it doesn’t, you look like an idiot.’ But I guess there is a high return now from that risk, because people really love the character, and it’s really put wind in my sails. I really want to continue doing it and make people laugh.
You and Elijah have such great chemistry together. Was that instantaneous?
It was instant, yeah. He’s just such a giving actor. I always say with Wilfred, we are all telling the same joke. The show is one joke. But we didn’t want character actors coming on, trying to make a name for themselves, trying to do their comedy shtick, competing against what is already working. What Elijah did straightaway was play the truth of the situation, and basically told the jokes with me for a whole scene. Straightaway, it wasn’t his ego. He wasn’t showing off.
Sometimes when you’re working with other actors, you kind of want to slap them and say, ‘Get in here. Let’s do this scene. Let’s do this. Be in here. I don’t know where you are, but I know you’re not in the scene. You’re acting and you’re showing off.’
So to have someone come in and just be so giving and consistent and humble is such a treat. It’s a rarer treat than it should be, really.
The funny thing is, Elijah and I are very different people, coming from very different backgrounds, career-wise, as well as personally. Yet immediately, we just had that instant connection. It is fun. Whenever I’m feeling like I’m not in the scene, I’m not connected, it’s usually because I’m not looking at Elijah enough. I’m not feeding off him enough. An acting teacher once said to me years ago that if you’re ever feeling that you’re not in the scene, you’re not in the moment, then look to your other actors. Look them in the eyes, because there’s a good chance that one of them will be, and you can feed off that. I always think about that. So, to this day, whenever I feel like I’m not in the moment, I just look into Elijah’s dreamy baby blues and I’m there.
Speaking of baby blues … Wilfred loves Matt Damon. Why?
(Laughing) You’ll have to ask David Zuckerman that. I don’t know. I think he has a mad crush on Matt Damon. That was one of the new things that appeared in the FX show, so I can’t answer that. Wilfred used to be obsessed with Alex Baldwin. Alex Baldwin.
Are you a big TV watcher?
Probably not as much as I should. But Breaking Bad I do. Deadwood was on last night, and I forgot just how much I really love that show. I just thought Deadwood was the best TV show ever made. The dialog is so rich and amazing that I just go back and play it again and again and again. Not a lot makes me do that … I love watching Ancient Aliens. That was my favorite show on the History Channel, but it’s on the same time as Wilfred, so I can’t really promote it.
I read an interview where you said Wilfred has made you fall in love with acting again. Why?
Yeah, I have. I’ve kind of fallen in love with it again. I think it all has to do with just a different perception that Hollywood has of story guys. It’s really tough to survive in a small country like Australia doing what I do. People can perceive you as being a control freak or, what is it that they say, jack of all trades, master of none if you’re doing more than one thing. So you play down your skills and abilities, because people get weird about the fact that you can be a writer and an actor, let alone a producer or a musician or anything else that you might be good at.
Whereas over here, when I brought my shows that I created to people … I came over here initially just to try to sell formats to shows. I wasn’t selling myself at all. I just wanted to sell the formats, sell ideas, because I’d heard and I knew from talking to (Sex and the City series creator) Darren Starr that Hollywood ran on ideas. It wasn’t just about who you knew or who your dad was. It was about if you had the good ideas and you had enough determination, you could be successful.
So I came over here to sell formats and everyone said, ‘Look, these are great, but you’ve got to be in this stuff. You’re fantastic,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, really? Well, OK.’ So yeah, weird, I unintentionally sold myself as a comedic performer.
Wow, I’m sorry, I promised I wouldn’t take up more than 20 minutes of your time, but we’ve been chatting for almost an hour …
Yeah, that’s OK. I like talking. I tend to have sentences that are more like paragraphs, a lot of commas. I’m a comma freak.
Do you write the way you talk?
Yeah, I do.
I think that’s the key to good dialogue.
Yes! That’s why … I think one of my best skills as a writer is dialogue between characters. Because I write like I talk. Someone who really does that well, who became a favorite of mine several years ago, is Charles Bukowski. He became a hero of mine for a while, because he did that so well. When I’d read his works, I’d feel like I was hanging out with an old friend. I’d feel like I was having a conversation with a friend. I think that’s a great skill, if you can write as you think.
I’m just a bit … people say to me all the time that I say things that people think but don’t normally say. I think that sometimes that’s a good thing and maybe sometimes it’s not. But I don’t know. I just don’t have any time in my life for dishonesty. That doesn’t mean that I say things that are going to hurt people and use being honest as an excuse. Some people say, ‘I’m just being honest. I’m just being honest. I’m just being honest’ … ‘You really don’t look good in that shirt. I know it’s the only shirt you’ve got to wear out. But I’m just being honest.’ People can be really mean.
Look, I’m rambling. I’m rambling now. I can go and sit. I’ve made my point. Thank you so much, Kim. It’s been really great … that’s why I waffle on, because I know that you are interested in what I’m saying. So, I’m enjoying talking to you.
I am too, thanks so much, Jason. And now I’m sad, because I’m going to have to wait until next year to see more Wilfred. I may have to go find a Wilfred suit for Halloween just so I can see him again.
Well, if you do, make sure you get a photo and send it to me.
I will. I’ll send it to your Facebook.
You’ve got to go on my Facebook. You’ve got to see some of these paintings that people have done. And there’s another site this girl has created, called Fuck Yeah Wilfred. She’s from Brazil. It’s incredible. It’s amazing.
What is it called again?
It’s called … what, you couldn’t remember that? (Laughing) Fuck Yeah Wilfred.
(Laughing) Yeah, I just wanted to make sure I heard that right.
You heard it right.
Googling it now …
Charlie Sheen, Russell Brand and Louis C.K. are getting most of the attention, but I’m most excited that one of the best new shows of last TV season — Wilfred – returns for its second season on FX tonight (10PM ET). Season one of the series ended with a cliffhanger — had Ryan (Elijah Wood) [...]
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