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) just imagined Wilfred and their pot-smoking bonding sessions in the basement? Last week’s pre-season episode answered that question, hilariously (short answer: no … probably), and season two kicks off with the maddeningly endearing, teddy bear-humping, Matt Damon movie-loving, manipulative Wilfie pledging his friendship and devotion to a surprising, non-Ryan character.
I chatted with series star and creator Jason Gann about the new season, donning that hot, itchy dog suit again, what mischief Wilfred will spark for season two and what he thinks of the new movie Ted, with its similarities to Wilfred.
Have you seen the trailer for the movie Ted?
I’ve seen a couple of trailers for it.
I can’t help but think of Wilfred when I see the trailer, which looks very funny …
Yeah, when you see Ted smoking the bong on the sofa with Mark Wahlberg, I guess, you can’t help but draw comparisons, but it seems different enough for me. I’m sure both worlds can exist side by side. It is very different as far as the premise, I think. Are you asking me what I think of it?
Well, are you flattered that people, especially Wilfred fans, are going to see that trailer and almost certainly be reminded of Wilfred, which came first?
Look, I think that that’s flattering that people might think that. I think that Seth MacFarlane is in his own stratosphere as far as success goes. He probably wouldn’t even be … I know he is aware of us right now, because he joked the other day to our showrunner that everyone is saying he ripped off Wilfred. But I don’t think he has. We didn’t create talking … teddy bears. I’m not even the first writer in a dog suit, and we didn’t invent bong smoking. When I did the original pilot, the Australian version, back in 2004, I was nervous then that someone would come out and beat us to the punch, and so I was just relieved then that we got it out, so we were the first ones.
For it to be 2012 and there to be finally something similar, I think we’ve done pretty well. I really think Wilfred has evolved far more and is far deeper than smoking bongs and putting on a dog suit, acting inappropriate. Because that would get really tired really quick. There’s a lot of layers going on in the show.
I haven’t seen anything like that, in the previews, anyway, for Ted. It seems kind of standard fare … a movie comedy … it’s funny, silly. It’s probably got a bit of pathos at the three?quarter mark, and then it ends happy. That’s not the kind of story we’re telling, so they’re very different.
You’ve already filmed the whole second season of Wilfred … how are you feeling about it?
I’m pretty proud of it. It’s just getting at the stage where we’re starting to get some feedback and I’m really enjoying it. And it’s good to be out of the suit. I’ve been out of the suit for a week now. On reflection it’s always … it’s a lot more fun once it’s all done.
I’m just looking at some stuff now at the office and picking up some things, some last minute things that I left behind. These studios we’re working in, they’re actually being destroyed and they’re making apartment buildings here, so it’s pretty sad. They’re called Centinela Studios, and they’ve been around a while. They shot 7th Heaven here and a bunch of other stuff. It’s been a lot of fun shooting here. Last year, we shot on locations for (the whole season). But this year, we actually rebuilt the house in a studio, Ryan’s house.
It was great. I mean, it’s just so great to be able to walk 20 feet to your dressing room instead of getting in a minivan and driving up to location. Last year it was kind of like we were the TV show without a home. We were like gypsies going from place to place and annoying neighbors wherever we went, whereas now we had our own place. We built about four or five different sets in here, for different scenes, like the office stuff was here as well.
But it’s the end of an era, because there’s been a lot of stuff shot here. It kind of reminds me of old Hollywood.
Season one ended with a cliffhanger, which you wrapped up in a very satisfying way with the episode that aired last week. Did you know all last season how you would resolve the cliffhanger, which could have radically changed the direction of the show?
No, we didn’t. We were already shooting season one when (executive producer) David (Zuckerman) had the idea of the closet being sealed off. We weren’t really sure. We loved it, (but) then it was just a matter of whether FX would. They don’t traditionally do cliffhangers for their shows. That was the only thing, whether we would go with a cliffhanger. Then in the end, they liked the idea, and supported it. You take a risk when you do a cliffhanger. If you don’t come back for season two, you look pretty silly and you drive your fans crazy.
Aside from building the sets and shooting the show in the studio, did you make any other changes after having had the experience of doing a complete season?
Wilfred changed a lot in season one from the Australian Wilfred in that he would take on little characters within his character, like whether he was being possessed by Sneakers, the dog of Ryan’s childhood, or he was the scientist plotting to poison Ryan with chocolate, or the aristocrat who was just trying to seduce the giraffe.
It was so much fun. That was something we just discovered in writing season one, and so I’ve continued with that and just the lightness of the character. Wilfred’s light and fun and almost childlike and innocent in certain areas, so I’ve taken that a bit further in season two.
When you said that, it made me think of the scene, which is one of my favorites of the first three episodes, when Wilfred’s having the discussion with the pigeons about how much he was loved by Ryan’s co-workers at the office.
I love that because suddenly Wilfred’s a standup comic. You know what I mean? I like the bit where he’s like, “So, how many of you work here? Show of hands?” He’s got that, like a street performer. It’s like, well, they all work here. This is where they work. It’s fun watching Wilfred struggle at things, as well, because he’s so manipulative. When things don’t work out for him, that’s a lot of fun.
When I talked to you last season, you mentioned that the Wilfred costume was particularly hot. Did you find a way to deal with that for season two?
Actually, it even was worse this year because we were in the studio, a big warehouse. In the morning, it’s cold, but as the day goes on, it just heats up. The suit that I wore is a different suit. You know when he goes in season one to seduce Raffi and he’s groomed? Whenever Wilfred gets groomed, it’s a different suit. Basically, it’s the same material, but it’s never been washed, so it’s actually twice as thick. The material doesn’t breathe at all. I wore that suit for a couple episodes toward the end of the season. Basically, I cook in it so much that, after a while, I go past the pain threshold into euphoria.
They’ll say, “Jason, Jason, do you want to get out of the suit?” I’m like, “No, no, let’s keep going. Let’s do another one. Let’s do another one.” I’ll be standing crazed, and people are hearing me singing from miles away, and it would look really weird if you didn’t know me or didn’t know what show you were watching.
It’s kind of like hitting the wall when you’re running?
Exactly. That’s right, yeah. Because otherwise, putting that suit on and off, people would think, “So what? You’re just putting on clothes, taking them off.” But it’s like water torture. If it’s a couple of drops of water, no problem. When it’s a couple of hundred thousand drops over and over and over, and something finally snaps inside my brain.
There are so many great little touches that I’m sure fans of the show notice and love … in last week’s episode, Wilfred’s wheelchair, and the arm that became his bong. Whose idea was that?
(Laughing) That was my pitch in the writers’ room. Because someone had pitched in the story that maybe he was passing a joint. I’m like, “No, no. He’s got to … ” I just said, “If you just pulled the arm off of the wheelchair and turned it around, and it’s a packed pipe, and he lights it up and offers it to Ryan …” Everyone was, “Yeah, that’s great.” Then I turn up on the day of filming, and there it is. It looks exactly like what I imagined. That’s one of the most fun parts of the job, is when just a random idea like that can come up, then one day you turn up and someone’s made it real. Then it’s shot and edited, and now you’ve seen it. To me that’s still the most incredible, exciting part about this job.
Do you get feedback from fans about details like that?
Yeah. I think our show is one of those likely that people are watching over and over, and so we have the little scenes in there that we’re quite aware that you may not notice on the first viewing. But the fans will get it on the second or the third.
How did the Robin Williams guest appearance come about for “Progress”? Was he a fan of the first season?
Yes, he was. That was exactly what happened. He was working with Elijah on publicity for Happy Feet 2. Elijah sent me an email to tell me that he is a big fan of the show, and thought Wilfred was hilarious, and that he would be interested in doing a guest spot. I went back into the writers’ room and said to David, “Robin Williams asked to be in our show. We’ve got to find something for him.” David said, “Well, we’ve broken all the stories. There are not really any characters.” I said, “No, no, you don’t understand. We have to find something for Robin Williams.” He was such a hero of mine as a kid. We were able to isolate that character and say, “OK, how can we finally make this work if Robin was to play it?” But still, we weren’t sure that he would do it, because we didn’t know if it was big enough, or if it was funny enough, or worthy enough for him to do. We sent it off and just hoped for the best. He read it and said, yeah, he’d be glad to do it. I haven’t been so nervous about meeting someone, so nervous and excited at the same time, about meeting someone as I was him. You know, going up to him and just those two days that he was on the show … it was a real highlight.
I think we’ve got to do everything we can to get him on the show one day. But, season two, it didn’t come up. I mean, we really do put the characters first and create the show that we want to create, and sometimes when we’re at work on a character, we’ll say, “Oh, such?and?such would be good for this role.” But it really is one of those things where … even with Elijah playing his role, we needed a certain actor to play Ryan, and he won that role with his great acting. We don’t really do any stunt casting for the gimmick of it. I mean, people have been suggested to us before, that definitely fit into that stunt casting category and we’ve said, “No.” Then we’ll get, “Are you crazy? Imagine the publicity you’d get.” We’re like, “Yeah, but at what expense?” You know? We’re setting up this world.
You have had so many great guest stars. Will Dwight Yoakam return as Bruce in season two?
Yeah, yeah. I think I tweeted it … I said I thought this show was fucked in the head, and then Dwight Yoakam showed up. That guy … oh man, he’s his own person. He has a lot of fun with Bruce, and he really had even more fun this year. We love having him on the show.
Bruce is one of the few connections to Wilfred’s past. Will we find out more about Wilfred’s pre-Ryan life in season two?
Yeah. That’s one of the great things about Wilfred … he could be 100 years old. Do you know what I mean? He just has this history that may be real or may be fabricated, but we have no choice but to take him at his face value because you’re talking to a dog. We find out his middle name in one of the episodes.
One day, I’m reading the script, and I see it, and I’m like, “All right, it’s as good as any.”
You didn’t come up with the name, then? It was a surprise to you?
I didn’t come up with that one. That one was a surprise to me and then once it’s said in one episode, before you know it, it comes up again later in another episode. Then it’s season three, if we have a season three, we might find out where he got the name from. You don’t know, but it’s funny how these little threads start and then you pull it out and it becomes this big, ongoing thing.
You mentioned Twitter … do you enjoy it? Some people love it, some people hate it, but it must be interesting to have that direct interaction with fans.
It took me a long time. I’ve had that account for a few years now and I think I tweeted like three times before FX asked if I’d like to tweet (more) for the show. I’ve enjoyed it, but I think I was thinking about it too much, like it seemed like a lot of work for me. But now I, just about two months ago, fell in love with Twitter, because I was always just a Facebook guy. Now I have really been enjoying tweeting more as me. I’m looking forward to tweeting during the shows again this year. I would think I’ll do it a lot more.
I saw that someone had tweeted you a photo of a tattoo they’d gotten of Wilfred and Bear. That’s real commitment. Are people still sending you a lot of drawings and things of Wilfred?
People do art. Someone painted an oil painting of me. That’s why I’ve actually stopped by the studio today, because of another painting that a girl did, and I have the whole wall just covered with prints of people’s artistic impressions of Wilfred, or Wilfred and Bear, or Wilfred and Ryan. They’re all so different, but they’re all so brilliant. The most humbling thing for me is that people are taking their time and creative energy, and it’s inspiring them to use their creativity to express their attachment to the characters. It’s just wonderful.
Do you have a favorite thing that someone has done?
No, I don’t have a favorite. Well, the oil painting, I just had it framed, and I’m going to actually get a fireplace to put under it (laughing) … to me, that was … I just love them all, but to me, that was when I looked at that and said, “Oh wow.” Like, that painting will probably live way beyond me. I was trying to imagine, like you see, oil paintings of people from hundreds of years ago. That’s when I thought about how Wilfred has existed. Wilfred is here. One day, it will be gone, so I’ve got to enjoy it. I was wondering if my grandkids are going to look at that and wonder, “What was he thinking?”
Can you imagine, can you look down the road and see, if you’re doing a fifth season of Wilfred, what that would look like? What Ryan and Wilfred would be doing at that point?
Sometimes when I’m in that delirious, euphoric state that I was talking about earlier, in the suit … I come up with some really crazy ideas. I pitched something the other day and David just looked at me …
What’s the craziest thing Wilfred does this season?
I just walked by editing and saw (a scene with) Wilfred, just being like Rambo. He gets so caught up in those characters.
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) […]