“To me, the best part about being famous is taking down phonies…” As God Bless America receives its UK TV premiere on Film4, writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad, Willow Creek) looks back on his razor-sharp, blackly comic satire, in which a middle aged man and a teenage girl take shockingly violent exception to modern-day US popular culture.
Was this a hard film to pitch? There’s a common perception that producers are risk-averse and afraid of controversy. Was that the case with God Bless America?
I knew that it would be hard to pitch so I avoided that and went straight to the people who funded World’s Greatest Dad. I knew we work well together. Plus I tattooed their name across my chest. Made it hard for them to say no.
It’s often easy to fall into the trap of presuming that characters’ beliefs closely match those of the writer/director, but how autobiographical are Frank and Roxy’s rants?
I always denied that I was Frank, but my daughter and wife at the time, they say that Frank is 100% me. I wouldn’t do what Frank does, but he’s about 80% me. (Okay, like 99%.)
I think most people would recognise Joel Murray from Mad Men, but your work with him dates back to Shakes The Clown and One Crazy Summer. Did you have him in mind for Frank from an early stage?
No, I didn’t. I was binge watching Mad Men while I was recovering from back surgery and I sent him the script asking him to be in it. He thought I was asking him to play Frank’s boss (Geoff Pierson’s role) because my communication skills were dulled by painkillers. I didn’t write it with him in mind, but he’s the right man for the job.
Tara Lynne Barr is a real scene-stealer – a force of nature. How did you find her?
Well, she came in and auditioned. Most of my movies I populate with old friends, but being that I wasn’t friends with any 15 year old girls (which is as it should be), I had to audition that part. She was so right for the role, I remember feeling panicked that she wouldn’t do the movie. Certainly glad she did.
You fill out the cast with familiar faces in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles, as well as actors from your previous films. What’s the story behind those? Do you like to make room for these cameos?
I suppose I do. When I work with friends, there’s a level of comfort on set that I really appreciate. It’s like there’s a short hand. Some days feel like a reunion. Makes for a fun atmosphere.
One of Frank’s targets in the film is the ‘Oh no, you didn’t say that!’ style of comedy. I find that interesting because your recent films (Sleeping Dogs, World’s Greatest Dad) have each stood at the border of what some would call ‘bad taste’, yet are still rooted in more sincere character concerns and social commentary. Is that humanity an integral difference, in your opinion?
Yes. I guess I was trying to underline the fact that there’s a lot of shock in the world that at the end of the day isn’t about anything. It doesn’t have any weight to it. I’m not easy to offend, I just don’t care much for sensationalism. I care about the intent behind the actions people take. A lot of things are said solely to make the person saying it famous, but that makes a person a phony. To me, the best part about being famous is taking down phonies.
You’d think that a broadside against popular culture would date quite quickly, but the world that Frank and Roxy are fighting against is still very relevant, especially the touchstones of social media and reality television. Do you think much has changed since 2011? Would Frank and Roxy have any different targets in 2015?
Yeah, they would have went after social media a little harder. I’m sure some anonymous internet troll would have gotten some hot lead in the face.