God Bless America is one of those films that is going to ring true or fall flat based on your own opinions. The simple idea of taking out the rude, I’m-the-only-person-that-matters kind of people can be cathartic to watch and it is wickedly humorous. You will likely laugh, then catch yourself, and realize you might agree and resume laughing. That’s why I was so thankful to sit down with director Bobcat Goldthwait and the two stars of the film, Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr at SXSW. We discussed modern technology, reality television, audience reactions, and much more. Check it out below
BG: It was very cathartic while we were making it and right now we’re in the middle of seeing how people react so no, that hasn’t gone away. It’s been kind of funny, like the other night I went to see Joel do improv and afterwords the TMZ people were there with their camera in my face. It was kind of fun to tell them “oh, you’re really going to love this movie!” [laughs]. So I’m still enjoying that.
Joel Murray: As far as actually getting to shoot people in the film for awhile there, after we wrapped shooting I really missed the ability to kill people [laughs]. I would say it’s like “Strip Joint Syndrome”; after you’re at a strip joint for about three days you’re like “oh, that chick should take her clothes off for me” [laughs]. It was the same thing; somebody would cut me off in traffic or some lady would be buying stuff at the store with food stamps and get into a Rolls Royce out front and you’re like, “where’s my gun? I was doing the Lord’s work a week ago!” [everybody laughs]. Yeah, I kind of missed it.
Tara Lynne Barr: It really made me more aware of the jerks on the road or at the grocery store or the mall.
BG: You keep thinking “I could’ve killed you!”
If only [laughs]. Obviously Alice Cooper was a part of this film in a very specific way. Was it difficult to reach out to him?
BG: I think it was my wife who said “just send him the speech!” so we sent him the Alice Cooper speech and he was very helpful. He was even helpful with his music; some of the people with their music, they only own the tapes of them singing but maybe they don’t own the publishing. But he and his manager got involved and really encouraged people to give us the licensing to his music.
There are a lot of riffs on television and especially reality television in the movie. What do you guys watch on TV, if anything? What do you think transcends beyond the chaos that you were showcasing?
BG: I’m not above it, although I did make a decision a few years ago to stop watching reality shows. But I’m not above it, I’m not asking people to not watch reality TV and stuff. My main concern is it’s a violent movie about kindness and I’m just saying maybe we can do better than a steady diet of the worst in people and then making that our conversations and making these people like part of our family and follow them like sports events. But you know it’s our world; I’ll stop and watch a little bit of RuPaul’s Drag Race I’m not above that, it’s fun, but I’m not telling people to boycott this stuff.
What about television in general, not just reality?
BG: I do have shows I’m a fan of, there are a couple of comedies I watch, but I started laughing when you asked that question because I watch a lot of real crime [laughs]. I mean I watch a lot of crime reenactment shows, 48 Hours on ID, I watch it all day. And last night it hit me, there’s a scene [in God Bless America] where he’s watching a thing on Charles Whitman and it’s the only thing that makes him go to sleep and that’s completely based on my life [laugh]. I sleep like a baby as soon as they say like “they met in high school” and I’m like “oh, she’s gonna kill him” and I find that very comforting [laugh].
JM: You gotta find out who that narrator is.
BG: Have him read “Goodnight Moon” [laughs].
JM: I watch a lot of TV, and I boycott the reality pretty much as much as I can. And my wife watches The Housewives of “Anywhere” and I say like “honey, we’re actors. They’re stealing our jobs, do you understand this?”
That’s the way I feel.
JM: Imagine freelance doctors taking doctor’s places..
BG: Guys who didn’t get degrees.
JM: Guys who didn’t get degrees and they’re performing surgery because it’s cheaper and that’s the bottom line: it’s cheaper to hire these guys than to do shows with writers and actors. Those shows are scripted, there’s nothing real about them; the fact that Lamar [Odom] and Khloe [Kardashian] were hanging a sex swing and they were gonna use it and they were caught in the middle of that the other night…there’s nothing real going on there. They weren’t really gonna have rampant wild sex on film if the sex swing didn’t break; it’s crap. They’re scabs basically; they’re Union breakers and I think everyone should boycott this stuff. And my wife doesn’t listen to me; she watches her Housewives.
TLB: How can I follow that? [laughs] I don’t have TV because I live in a dorm without TV.
Makes your choice easy [laughs].
TLB: So I usually just watch South Park, The Daily Show, Bill Maher.
JM: I’ll watch The Amazing Race. That’s more of a game show.
TLB: It’s a competition, it’s not just watching these people live their lives.
BG: As Frank says, “we make celebrities out of people with the ability to stand in line.” There should be a little bit more of a gatekeeper. I mean like him or not, even Screech had to audition.
TLB: [Laughs] Well-said.
Have any of you shot anything in real-life before this movie?
BG: You mean a gun? [laughs]
A gun or shot a gun at something.
BG: It was really funny taking Tara to fire a gun for the first time because I actually have it on camera. She shoots, shoots, shoots, shoots, then looks at the camera with a crazy face [laughs]. But yeah, I have a gun now and I go to the shooting range. It’s like when Frank says “I’d be hypocritical against guns because I own one.”
JM: That line got a big laugh last night, and the laugh is two-sided: “maybe we shouldn’t have guns at all” is one side and “maybe we should have guns” being the other side; it’s a double-edged laugh.
BG: I think it’s because we’re in Texas [laughs].
You mentioned that you were very happy that South by Southwest picked up God Bless America. What does it mean to you to be a part of this festival? How have you felt about the reaction and being in Austin?
BG: I think this [SXSW] is one of the best places to introduce this movie to America; people have been very receptive and nice. But for me Austin’s cool because there are a couple filmmakers that are my friends that live here and I’m gonna get to see their movies this weekend so that’s another cool thing about it.
TLB: First time in Austin, first time at South by Southwest…
First time in Texas?
TLB: No, I’ve been to Dallas! I don’t know if it’s the best…
I’m from Dallas [laughs].
TLB: Well in that case it’s really great.
BG: After Dallas, this is the next best part of Texas [laughs].
TLB: But it’s actually just my second film festival so I’m just really happy to be here and people seem to like the movie, so that’s a good sign.
JM: I’ve been down here for the Big Stinkin’ Sketch and Improv Festival twice and for some golf tournaments and I love Austin; I think it’s such a great town, but this is the first time for South by Southwest. I’m excited, we’re both excited to be big stars in a Hollywood movie. But yeah the weather could be better [laughs].
Did you [Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr] get God Bless America right away or did you have a different reaction at first? And are you nervous about audience’s initial reaction to the movie?
JM: I loved the script right away; Bob sent it to me and I of course said “well, what do you want me to play, the guy in the office?” and he said “no, Frank. The guy.” And I said,”hell yeah, I don’t get offered leads in movies very often.” But it rang true to me right away; upon first viewing, there’s some trepidation that some people might get angry or come after me, but I’m hoping that doesn’t happen.
BG: Yeah I’d like to make it clear that both Joel and Tara would like to work with Woody Allen and Diablo Cody [laughs]. The movies I’ve been fortunate enough to make always have that problem; when you hear the premise you think it’s a one joke thing. And the other thing I do that make it hard for people is that they’re comedies but they’re not joke driven; if you’re not someone who empathizes with characters then they’re not comedies.
TLB: It’s not going to work for everyone. There are gonna be a lot of people who are pissed off by the film but that’s almost the best part; you’ll get a certain crowd of people who really, really get it.
We live in a very interactive world, with constant side discussions going on at once. Do you own a cell phone? How long do you go without a cell phone and do you feel like a crackhead just wanting to check it?
JM: We were all jonesing during that question [laughs]. I used to laugh at the people with the iPhone who were constantly looking at it, but I’m just as bad now.
BG: This is the world we live in. I’m not against phones and what they do, but God Bless America is more about the inconsiderate. As someone who still performs as a comedian, there are certain places where I go on stage and people aren’t at the show; they’re just sitting there recording the show and it reduces to people to being cameramen in their own lives. I had this epiphany on stage the other night; I was performing and I saw all these people holding up screens and I thought “this is the world, this is how it goes.” I can either be a grumpy guy, or just realize this is how people appreciate you now.
JM: The one speech [in God Bless America] about “when was the last time you had a conversation without looking at a monitor over someone’s shoulder?” is so true. We had everybody in my family get together for the holidays this year, and then you cut to six guys on a couch all of them looking at their phone will watching a basketball game. None of them conversing.
BG: I went up to Willow Creek looking for Bigfoot in Northern California and my cell phone stopped working. It was unbelievable; it felt so awesome. It was like freedom. But then when I almost got stuck…[laughs].
TFS: You got lost?
BG: I was deep in Sasquatch territory, in a road where moss had formed. And then all of a sudden I hit some snow and I’m stuck; the phone’s not working, I’m on top of a mountain, no one knows where I went, and I’m like “…is this really how you’re gonna go out?” [laughs].
God Bless America is now on VOD and arrives in theaters on May 11th.
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