As Robert Francis “Bobcat” Goldthwait was twitching his way across cinema screens nationwide in the “Police Academy” films of the 1980s, few would have guessed that one day he’d be directing Oscar-winning actors. But over the past few years, Goldthwait has not only done that, but has proved himself to be one of the film world’s boldest screenwriters and directors.
After spending years as a stand-up comedian, doing his own tours, making guest appearances on late-night TV and appearing in comedic movies, he honed his craft in TV-directing with “Jimmy Kimmel Live” from 2004 to 2006. He followed it with the movie “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” a film chosen to compete in Sundance Film Festival’s 2006 competition.
With his newest film, “World’s Greatest Dad,” Goldthwait has taken his filmmaking skill to a whole new level. Starring his longtime friend Robin Williams as the father of a vile-mannered teenager, the film is easily Goldthwait’s most mature and accomplished work to date. Bankrate spoke to Goldthwait about the twists and turns of his increasingly fascinating career path.
Bankrate: How are you enjoying meeting with all the media to promote the new film?
Bobcat Goldthwait: It’s much more fun promoting something I’m proud of than promoting some giant studio (monster) I was in. What kills me — and I’ve been there — is that I understand why they make robot movies and “G.I. Joe’s,” and even why an actor takes the job. But when I see actors on talk shows talking about their character, I’m like, “C’mon, man, seriously?” It’s OK to take the money, but don’t sit there and (talk about your character). I might be the biggest whore in the world, but at least I’d say it’s not that good.
Bankrate: What inspired this film?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Just that my daughter’s a terrible person (laughs). No. Everyone’s asking about my daughter, and I actually like my kid. No, I wanted to make a movie about a middle-aged guy who turns down what American pop culture perceives as success — the hot chick, fame, everything — for the right reasons. I’m really happy that the character, at the end of the movie, is writing for the right reasons, not writing for fame. He’s writing to just write. It wasn’t until I started doing that in my own life that I became fulfilled. I’m not gonna use the word “happy,” but “fulfilled.”
Bankrate: The difference between writing this movie and acting in the movies you were just referring to, in other words?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Yeah. It’s weird. In our culture, everybody’s supposed to be happy all the time. Being fulfilled is not a thing people even think about. But being fulfilled is way better than being happy. We’re the People’s Republic of Spring Break. We’re just supposed to keep the (party) going for 24 hours. “Woo hoo!” It’s so juvenile.
Bankrate: Why did you think Robin Williams would be right for this role?
Bobcat Goldthwait: I didn’t write it for him. I always try to write with someone (in mind), and it was with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s voice in mind, actually. Then Robin saw “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” and he read (this script), and he was like, “I’d like to do it.” It just changed everything for me in a good way. It was like, “Wow. This won’t be another movie I shoot in two weeks with a crew from Craigslist like the last movie.” I only had one moment of panic the night before, like, “Is he gonna listen to me? When I say, ‘We’re gonna do it again,’ is he gonna say, ‘I have an Academy Award, and you were in “Hot to Trot.” We’re just gonna do it my way.'” But it was the direct opposite.
Bankrate: Once you found out Robin was coming aboard, how did that change your idea of the character?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Not much, because about a week in, he finally said, “Oh, I get it. I’m playing you and me.” It just dawned on him that he was playing a version of the two of us, because both of us are guys who needed to grow (a backbone).
Bankrate: What do you mean by that?
Bobcat Goldthwait: I had a career for the first 20 years where I never said “No” out of insecurity, and also everybody in show business telling you, “You gotta take this, you gotta do that.” About five, six years ago, I said, “I’m done.” I’ve made the joke: “It’s nice that my retirement came at the same time people stopped hiring me.” But the reality is that there are ways for me to be in the public eye with reality shows. Part of me withdrawing was, I didn’t want to be a celebrity just to be a celebrity.
Bankrate: That’s such a common route these days.
Bobcat Goldthwait: I was just like, “Who cares.” Now, in our culture, all you really have to do is stand in line. They always sniff around asking me if I want to be one of those comedians on those VH1 shows that are making fun of people, where guys you don’t know are making fun of guys you used to know. It’s like, did Gary Coleman really have to be taken down a couple of notches? I think life has already done that. Do we really have to humble Vanilla Ice? So that kind of work is always out there for me and I just decline it.
Bankrate: Robin had some great moments of tension in this film, especially a scene on a talk show where he has to publicly display love for his son while suppressing his contempt. How did you get him where he needed to be for that?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Robin may have actually had a breakdown making this movie. By the time we got to the talk-show scene, we both were really exhausted. We’d been working for four weeks around the clock, and he would be dealing with tragedy and getting beaten up all day. So we shot this scene, and it wasn’t working, and both of us knew it. And I said, “Just play this. Play how absurd all this is.” And we did another take, and that’s what came out and that’s what’s in the movie. And he goes, “I think I had a breakdown.” I go, “Are you OK?” He goes, “Yeah.” I go, “Can you do it again?”
Bankrate: The recession has made it tougher to get projects done in Hollywood, but it’s also reduced the fees that stars — possibly like Robin — are being paid. What effect did the recession have on your ability to get “World’s Greatest Dad” made?
Bobcat Goldthwait: When we went to Sundance with “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” there were a lot of people buying movies. This time, three of the companies that bought movies then don’t even exist anymore. I was at this breakfast thing that Robert Redford throws, and I’m paraphrasing here, but he was talking about the recession, and he asked, “Why are you making these movies?” And I’m not making these movies to hit the lottery. Finishing these movies and having an audience, even if it’s a small audience, that’s the destination. Sundance is the destination. The idea that I get to watch my movie with 4,000 people in one week exceeds my expectations. So this one’s weird, because now more people might be able to see it, and that’s exciting and nerve-wracking.
Bankrate: You were a successful stand-up comic, and now you’re directing Oscar-winning actors. Is being a director finally earning you a better living than being a successful stand-up?
Bobcat Goldthwait: No, not at all. I do stand-up so I can keep making indie movies. Stand-up comedy supports my movie habit.
Bankrate: How often do you do stand-up now?
Bobcat Goldthwait: I just came back from eight cities in 10 days. Because of the recession, I do more dates to make the same amount of money. But as my girlfriend would say, “That’s like saying my diamond shoes are too tight.” It’s like, “Boo hoo.” A lot of people don’t have jobs. You’re lucky you have to do three nights at the Funny Bone instead of one, and you can still make your nut.
Bankrate: And do you still get checks from the “Police Academy” films?
Bobcat Goldthwait: No. Those disappeared. When Ronald Reagan was in charge of SAG, he struck a deal where the money you get back gets cut in half every time. So eventually it just disappears.
Bankrate: Do you anticipate a time when you’ll just be a full-time director, making a great living that way?
Bobcat Goldthwait: Nah, I don’t see myself making a living as a director. I don’t count on it as an income. But I don’t see myself stopping making movies.