Joel Murray talks about working with Bobcat Goldthwait on "God Bless America" and Disney/Pixar's "Monsters University"

Joel Murray is the youngest in his family of actors including Bill Murray and Brian-Doyle Murray. He is the star of Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest film “God Bless America” and he is voicing the character Don Carlson in Disney/Pixar’s upcoming “Monsters University”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Joel about growing up in the business and his work on the films above.

Mike Gencarelli: What did you think about “God Bless America” upon your first reading?
Joel Murray: You heard the story from Bobcat (Goldthwait), right? He was having back surgery, so I brought him over dinner and the first three seasons of “Mad Men”. Middle way through season two his wife said “You know, Joel could play Frank”. So he sent me the script but didn’t say a part or anything. I read it and told him it was great and I really liked it. I told him that I liked what he has to say and that it was time for a film like this. Then I asked him, “Who are you thinking about, you want me for the guy in the office?” He said “No Frank…the Guy!” I jumped at the thought of having the lead role in the movie, which doesn’t happen too often. Actually it has just happened once, really [laughs]. My first thought was hell ya! But then I had a couple of moments thinking that there could be some repercussions from this. I agree with about 95% about what he says in the movie. So I just thought “Why not?” My only fear was that seven Westboro Baptists would come visit me at my house. [laughs] But other than that I wasn’t too worried. What I love about his work is that all of his movies having something to say. So many comedies today are just like an extended shit joke.

MG: You’ve worked with Bobcat Goldthwait going back to “Shakes the Clown”; how was it with him behind the director’s chair again?
JM: When I worked with him on “Shakes”, it was his first movie and he was in clown makeup the whole time. You didn’t really think about him as an auteur, he was playing a drunken clown running around in make-up. On this film though, I was able to work hand-and-hand with him the whole time. I directed some stuff in the past and he was open to anything that I had to say and add. It was a fun relationship. It is awkward having your buddy give you a role that you didn’t audition for.  He didn’t give me a lot of notes or anything. All I kept getting from him was “Yeah, you really got this guy down!”

MG: How did you prepare for a character like Frank?
JM: I thought Bob has written it for himself. So I was kind of playing Bob in a way [laughs] but with his normal voice. I had a friend shoot himself in the mouth about 6-8 months before this came up. So when we started shooting, a couple of the scenes we did first was me with a gun in my mouth. That really takes you to a real interesting spot as an actor…a real depressing spot for that matter. So starting from there, I found a dark place to begin with and had a gradual upswing from there. His is never really that happy or excited though in the film. But starting from the darker corner was a good way to go as an actor.

MG: Was it challenging to blend the satirical comedy with the violent action?
JM: How do you blend it? Well, anyone that takes the violence in this film too seriously doesn’t get it. They also may be part of the problem that we are trying to kill. When you have a car montage in the middle of the film dancing around on the map of America, you know it is not taking itself that seriously. To do some serious acting on this, the comedy of it brought something to it. I grew up doing comedy and I have been fortunate enough to get into some serious roles as well in “Mad Men” and “Shameless”. So I’ve got to do some straight acting. It has been interesting to try and I have also learned a lot from my peers and my brothers. I watched my brother Billy (Murray) in “Broken Flowers” and I thought to myself “He’s seeing if he can do absolutely nothing and if it would work” [laughs]. Also in “Lost in Translation”, he was so introspective. So I just didn’t want to overplay it and keep it kind of close. I have a very expressive face, so I don’t need to be too over the top. But Bob was consistently giving me the thumbs up. So I guess it worked.

MG:  Speaking of your family, how was it growing up as the youngest in a family of actors? Do you feel that comedy comes easy?
JM: It was natural at home. Everyone was funny around the dining room table and that is where some of the comedy started in our house. You learn from them. I had some of the funniest people in America in my room growing up. There was also a high standard with them. I did plays throughout high school and college and when I got into improv, it wasn’t that easy but I had my background to draw from. I remember one of the first times my brother Billy came to see me at the Improv Olympic. I remember riding home with him and it was one heck of a quiet car ride, like I just struck out to win the World Series [laughs]. So they are a tough group to impress but we all created our own funny. There is stuff you saw on “Saturday Night Live” and from movies where you think that you grew up with that. I had more noogies on my head then anybody being the youngest [laughs].

MG:  Lastly, tell us about your role Don Carlson in “Monsters University”?
JM: The first trailers didn’t really show any new characters. In the new trailers, I am the guy with the mustache in the cloak that is evoking the initiation rites. Don Carlson is a student in his 40’s that has been laid off and decided to go back to college and learn the computers. So he is in this lame frat with the other guys but he is 20 years older than them all. He was a fun character. He is a little bit Minnesota-ent and sounds a little bit like my brother Brian-Doyle Murray but not exactly, I swear [laughs]. I didn’t go there!

Bobcat Goldthwait reflects on "God Bless America" and new Bigfoot movie "Willow Creek"

Bobcat Goldthwait is known best for his role of Zed in the “Police Academy” franchise and for work as a stand-up comedian. “Share The Warmth” still holds up and is an incredibly funny stand-up show. Bobcat has been spending his time doing what he loves most – writing and directing movies, like “World’s Greatest Dad” and “God Bless America”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Bobcat about “God Bless America” and also his new Bigfoot movie “Willow Creek”.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about the origins of “God Bless America”?
Bobcat Goldthwait: There are a couple things leading to its genesis. First, I was in London and there was a “My Super Sweet 16” marathon on – going back about two years now. It really bothered me that is the way that we are represented. I wrote the script initially as a Christmas present for my wife, I guess that came from me being cheap [laughs]. I think this is a really screwed up time and I wanted to write a movie that is, as I say, a violent movie about kindness. I think if I made a documentary on how we are becoming attached from each other, it would be preaching to the converted. So being a fan of films like “Bonnie and Clyde”, that and also TV networks were the big inspiration here.

MG: What inspires you most about directing?
BG: I just write a lot of screenplays all the time. When I can get a budget to make them I go out and do it. Some of them are much smaller budgeted and some are bigger. What inspires me to keep directing is that it has almost taken be 30+ years in show business to finally find something that I really love doing. I really love writing and directing movies. It is the job that I have found most rewarding that I have done in my career.

MG: How do you feel you have matured as a director since 1991 with “Shakes the Clown”?
BG: Hopefully I am getting better in what I am doing [laughs]. If I were to make “Shakes” now, I do not think that anything positive would happen to him. It probably would have ended with him jumping off a bridge or something [laughs]. I am hoping that I just keep evolving. People that I admire are directors like Steven Soderbergh, who just keeps making movies and don’t seem to be too concerned about how he is conceived – in a good way.

MG: Joel Murray was amazing in the film, tell us about casting him?
BG: Joel is an old friend of mine. I had back surgery and my wife and I watched a whole set of “Mad Men” that he had dropped off. He thought it would be good for me to occupy my time with [laughs]. With him in mind, my wife suggested that we cast Joel as Frank. When I sent him the script, he thought I wanted him to play a small part…not the main guy! That is what was one of the best parts of making the movie was to get to work with an old friend. Him and I then got to travel all over the world going to film festivals and hanging out. It was great.

MG: What was your biggest challenge with “God Bless America”?
BG: I think you are always faced with the major issues of budget, even for directors like Christopher Nolan. How can you make an action film for well under a million dollars? It is still a lot of money but when you compare it to other action films, it is nothing really. So that is definitely the biggest challenge.

MG: Do you see yourself ever returning to acting?
BG: I think for me to actually be in a movie, it would have to be something that would be a lot of fun or something I couldn’t say no to. I always joke I retired from acting the same time people stopped hiring me [laughs]. I do small cameos in my movies but that is usually brought upon my necessity like someone is out that day or something. In “World’s Greatest Dad”, the guy slated to play the limo driver didn’t show up, so it ended up being me. In “God Bless America”, I quickly jumped in when we were stealing a shot at a festival with the balloon game. There was an empty seat where you keep getting wet, so I jumped it and got water shot at me.

MG: You’ve recently came out of retirement to do some stand-up; how has being on stage changed for you?
BG: Stand-up is different. Some nights I really like it. But then sometimes people come with expectations for me to be a character from 30 years ago. Having that aspect becomes boring after a while. But when people are there solely due to films I did in the 80’s -or I don’t mind if they come due to that – but it is a drag when they have come with only those expectations. Sometimes it is hard to combat that.

MG: What next for you? Is “Schoolboys in Disgrace” in the cards?
BG: “Schoolboys in Disgrace” is a film that is something that I am always working on and meeting about. That is a bigger movie with a bigger budget, so it is taking a little longer for me than usual. I am just wrapping up the final touches on a Bigfoot movie that I shot called “Willow Creek”. I actually went up to where the Patterson-Gimlin footage was shot 45 years ago and that is where we shot the movie there on location. So that was very excited.