Q&A – Patton Oswalt on How Hard It Is to Be a Big Fan

Best known as a comedian, Patton Oswalt has taken on a serious role in writer-director Robert Siegel’s Big Fan. Unlike with most sports movies, the point of view in this one is from the fan’s perspective — and a devoted one at that. Oswalt plays the titular groupie who loves the New York Giants, especially fictional linebacker Quantrell Bishop, despite being the victim of a violent assault by him. The actor dissects the fan mentality, including his own.

Q: The thing I was struck by with this movie, is the nature of fandom. How do you stay a fan when your idol does something despicable?

A: Jesus, that’s the question of the hour right now. What if you’re a fan of Sarah Palin or Michael Vick? What do you do? How do you reconcile that? People have to do that every day. It’s not that abstract, if what you’re looking at is the social contract between us and the people we worship, and what we allow. People like Michael Jackson or Sarah

A: That’s not the line for him. He sees it as a weird form of pride: “Here’s my chance to show people how much I love my team. Now I have solid proof I love them more than anybody.” But what if my character saw Quantrell Bishop raping someone, and got away with it? What then? Is it easier to allow when it’s against you, or someone else?

Maybe it comes down to how much damage you think the person can do. If they’re not mean to you, but maybe they’re mean to PAs or waiters, you might think, “The guy’s an asshole, but he’s a good writer.”

Q: Do you watch your directors to learn from them, for when you become a director?

A: I’m watching the director, and how the director relates to the DP. You learn how you can articulate what you want without dictating something. Robert Siegel was so good, he had a great DP, and he was all about, “Let’s keep it simple, let’s show the environment.” Steven Soderbergh would walk into a room while we were shooting The Informant!, and he would know where he’d want the cameras instantly. He’d just know — he wanted to swoop on down there, and land on that, and here we go. Even for emotional scenes, we’d only need two or three takes.

I love people who know what they’re doing. Someone like Soderbergh has done it a million times and knows what he wants and how to do it. Soderbergh would be insulted if you called him an auteur, though. He’s a pro. I have no love of auteurs.

Q: What about geniuses?

A: People say to Stephen King and Alan Moore, “You guys are geniuses.” Alan Moore would be like, “I’m an excellent writer, but I’m not a genius. It’s just I’ve been doing this every day for my whole life. I better be excellent at this point.” The longer you do things, the less you need to prep.

It’s such an amateuristic society right now. People were screaming amateurism during the OJ Simpson trial, because the police went straight to him as a suspect. These are homicide detectives, who’ve been doing this for decades, and in most cases, it’s the husband, so they’re just saving everybody some time and going there first. It’s the amateurs who shout conspiracy theories.

Q: When you make the leap to directing, will you write the stories as well?  

A: I’ve written a lot of movies, and even sold a few; they just haven’t been made yet. I wrote two comedies last year, and I optioned a science fiction story, The Extra, by Michael Shea, one of my favorite writers of all time. But I’m writing my own science fiction story as well, a sort of what-if-this-continued plot. Something that seems innocuous now, but might not always be.

A futurist pointed out to me that there is no such thing as a dystopia, which is usually portrayed as a grim and horrible future. But we’re living in a dystopia right now. If you showed someone from the 1900s our world — where if you sleep with someone you can die, and the air is brown at night, and there’s the nuclear bomb, they’d think it’s a nightmare. Anyone living in a dystopia should never act like it’s a dystopia; they should think it’s great. And the ones pointing out that it’s a dystopia, everyone else thinks are crazy.

Q: You’re also joining the Battlestar Galactica spin-off Caprica as Baxter Sarno. What’s the appeal of scifi to you?

A: That you can do things in the genre that you can’t in a
straight-ahead movie or TV show, like arguments about God and abortion.
But in Battlestar, because it’s the end of the human race, they can. All of that hidden stuff, I love it.

And I love the part about what happens to human beings. Ray Bradbury pointed out that Star Wars is not science fiction, it’s an adventure story set in space. Singing in the Rain
is a science fiction film, because you have the world as it is, then
sound is introduced. What happens to people now that this new
thing is there? That’s all science fiction is.

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