Michael Showalter InterviewYou may remember Michael Showalter from Wet Hot American Summer and you've probably seen him on his hit Comedy Central sketch comedy show Stella. In The Baxter, Michael takes on the task of writer, director, and lead actor. The Baxter is a term used for the guy in the movies who got the girl but was never really right for her and usually got left at the alter when her ex-boyfriend breaks up the wedding ceremony.
Michael wanted to be The Baxter for this film. Check out who his favorite baxters are of all time:
So where did the transition from the stage and tv move to movies?
Michael Showalter: I think in my mind I always wanted to do that; I'm a huge movie buff, always aspired to being a filmmaker, I maybe wanted to teach film to be a cinema studies major. So, I think it's been an evolutionary process getting to this point – starting out with writing sketch comedy tv and then a sketch comedy movie and then graduating from writing a sketch comedy movie to writing a movie about movies. And then maybe my next movie will be just a movie about people.
You've discussed this film as being Capra-esque and old fashioned, and maybe Lubitsch.
Michael Showalter: Definitely.
Writing that kind of comedy these days is kind of risky -
Michael Showalter: Because no one knows who they are.
Do you think those kind of comedies can come back?
Michael Showalter: I have no idea, I have no idea. I'm fairly confident in thinking that what I think is funny isn't necessarily what the world thinks is funny so I don't know what pulse I have my finger on. But I know that in screening the movie I think if word can really get out, people will really like it and appreciate being left off that hook for one movie at least. The trend in comedy is so much towards ‘let me just shock you with how gross we can get.' You talk about those guys and it's so sweet in what they're doing; the laughter is not coming from not having to take a shower afterwards, it's just sweet.
Is this meant to be a parody or did you mean to write a romantic comedy?
Michael Showalter: Little bit of both, I both am parodying, somewhat sending up the genre, but at the same time embracing it. I like romantic comedies and I care about my characters and I want them to succeed and everything, so it's a little bit of both. It's not Scream, it's a romantic comedy, it's sincere.
Did you always have the ending in mind?
Michael Showalter: You mean having Paul Rudd drive away?
Michael Showalter: Yeah, that was always the ending.
How much of Elliot is Michael and vice versa?
Michael Showalter: I think at the time I made the movie they were closer than they are now; it's been a little over a year since I made the film. Making a movie is a transformative experience because you're scared out of your pants every day for six months or something dealing with people and that's Elliot's biggest problem is dealing with people and so that was mine too. But I identify with Elliot's – Elliot tries too hard and means well; things don't come as easily to Elliot as they do to Bradley. That's what makes me like him; that's what makes me identify with him.
Do nice guys finish last?
Michael Showalter: Sort of seems like it. But this movie is a fairy tale and there's really no lesson here. I really think that nice guys find nice girls. But it's a fairy tale; it's a movie that uses Hollywood's version of love as its theme and that's certainly not the real world.
You portray a very presentational style of acting, which people associate with a broad comedy; do you think people will have a hard time associating with Elliot as a character?
Michael Showalter: I am worried about that. I think that will happen. I think there will be people who will be alienated by my performance, he's very stylized. I tried to stay true to that character and I really tried to pluck that guy out of a movie and put him into the central role. I didn't make him into a leasing man; he is that guy, he is a dufus and sort of a laughing stock at times. And so I guess that's just a risk I'm going to have to live with, but I hope that people see that he's a human being.
You mentioned Bill Pullman, but who are your favorite movie baxters, including Philadelphia Story?
Michael Showalter: Well, Ralph Bellamy did it about 30 times over his career in like 30 movies, and more recently Ben Stiller in Reality Bites is a classic baxter. And I was talking to some people about Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, he's a good baxter, and Teri Garr in Tootsie is a good baxter. (laughter) They're in every movie, there's a baxter in every romantic comedy. You just think of one and you'll think of one. In Four Wedding and a Funeral, he ends up marrying the girl they call Platypus Face or Duck Face and she's sweet and she's nice, she's just not Andie MacDowell. G-d forbid, you're not Andie MacDowell, you're just a person. In Serendipity, Jon Corbett plays a baxter, he's in the asshole category of a baxter – there's like a sub genre of baxters, asshole baxter in Old School. Jerk, there's like abusive baxter, the boyfriend in Wedding Singer, the thong-wearing boyfriend. But in each case, the minute you see them, you know they're wrong. The instant they walk on the screen, they give you some information that immediately makes the audience turn to the person sitting next to them and say ‘He's wrong for her, it'll never work out.' In Keeping the Faith, Ben Stiller goes out on a date and she punches him in the stomach, but before that, she laughs; the minute she laughs, you know she's wrong for him. So in this movie and we see Bradley's girlfriend, and she snorts when she laughs, and we're immediately suspicious whether or not Bradley and her are going to last. So, I'm playing with that whole idea that the characters have these quirks about their personalities that we've been conditioned to believe equal wrongness.
Why don't you think he doesn't go for Michelle Williams character at the beginning?
Michael Showalter: That's a good question, and it's always funny watching the movie, the audience is like ‘What?' And I definitely tried to do that, and that's sort the ultimate baxter move is to miss the obvious. But the answer is Caroline is what he thinks he wants, Caroline is what Elliot is convinced he's looking for. She's successful, she's gorgeous, she comes from a good heritage, she went to an Ivy League school; he thinks that's what he wants. With Cecil, there's a more organic connection, but he can't recognize that.
Can you talk about some of the names, they seem sort of representative.
Michael Showalter: Yeah, it's interesting that you say Cecil is like a swan, because Caroline's last name is Swan. I guess Caroline is a swan in bloom. Cecil Mills, all the characters have funny value, but people have said Cecil Mills – Cecil B. DeMille, it makes sense to me because she is the most classic characters, you can imagine her being discovered in the Wall Shop. And then Elliot Sherman, that's when people said Jack Lemon's character in The Apartment, his last name is Baxter, but these are all coincidences, this is nothing. Wendall Wimms, my friend, people say Wim Wenders, which may be subliminal because Paris, Texas is maybe my favorite movie of all time. The downstairs neighbor's name is Stella, which that is a clue. And the one hidden, funny name in the movie is David Wain, who plays my brother-in-law Louis, his last name is Lewis, so his name is Louis Lewis. But, my favorite director is Alfred Hitchcock, and he's just a guy who I totally digested everything he ever did; he's the kind of guy who does that – takes every opportunity to give clues to the audience and I recognize him doing that and I think that's so great. That's what makes going to a movie fun for me is to give the audience those little clues and have them try to connect the dots. It was no intentional thing other than I try to give my characters names. Elliot was easy, The Baxter has to have a dopey name, he has to have that. I was thinking of that scene in When Harry Met Sally and she's telling him about the first guy she's ever had sex with named Sheldon. And he's like ‘Sheldon? Sheldon? I can just imagine how that was ‘Ooh, Sheldon' And so The Baxter had to have a name like Elliot, Walter, or Sheldon, or Engelbert, but that's too crazy.
What's your weirdest wedding incident or experience?
Michael Showalter: None thus far, most of my weddings have been pretty tame. But I did have an experience of having a girlfriend once and I was going to try to win her back. There was a gathering at a bar and I knew she would be there and I got dressed up and I went to the bar to win her back. She had arrived at the bar with her new boyfriend and they had come in on his motorcycle and I thought that's about as low as I'll ever get. (laughter, mixed with sorrow). That's about as small as I'll ever feel.
What's the most romantic risk you've ever taken?
Michael Showalter: I don't know, too personal.
You mentioned Stella, are you looking to get this cast in the show?
Michael Showalter: Elizabeth Banks did an episode, Paul Rudd did an episode, most of people in The Baxter have done an episode. Dinklage, anytime he's in New York, he's going to do the show. And Justin Theroux tried to do the show, but he was filming in Miami shooting a Michael Mann movie and couldn't make it, but if we do another show, we will definitely have both of them do the show.
Any plans for a second season?
Michael Showalter: Not yet, but we're all feeling pretty good about it. Comedy Central is pretty behind the show.
Was it a coincidence Paul and Elizabeth are in this and 40 Year Old Virgin?
Michael Showalter: Yeah, probably, Paul and Elizabeth were in Wet Hot American Summer as well. People are really catching on that those guys are really good at comedy so it's good that they're being seen.
Is the fart track in this going to be the same in this?
Michael Showalter: No, I don't think so. No, The Baxter is very self-evident is – it's been nice to see that adults enjoy it and I'm really excited that the Wet Hot fans will like this and recognize the sensibility and it will certainly work for them, but it will hopefully not eliminate certain people.
What's the hardest thing to write, direct, or act?
Michael Showalter: I think acting I can feel the most stuck. Directing and writing I feel if I work at it hard enough and if I stay up late enough, I'll get it and I'll figure it out. There's a compass inside me with acting that this is all I got, cause if that's not good for you, we're f*cked, because if I'm in something and you want me to do it like this and I can only do it and that doesn't work, then we're done cause I can't do it any other way. And so I really admire actors who are adjustable and adaptable, it's exciting to watch.
With regard to the script, from the initial concept, how did you go about developing the story?
Michael Showalter: I tried to first imagine a Hollywood romantic comedy about Bradley and Caroline. So it's about this woman who meets this guy and she dated for 15 years throughout high school and college and he comes back into her life and she's about to marry this schnook, and they keep running into each other, and through a series of misadventures, they realize they're madly in love with each other. That was the first layer; the second layer was actually we're going to tell this story through this guy catching little snippets of that first story. We're only seeing the portions of the larger story that he was present for and so there's more to Bradley and Caroline that the audience doesn't see so we see as much as Elliot sees.
Why don't we fall for the fool?
Michael Showalter: I have no idea, I don't think I'm wise to love in our society today. Apparently, geek is in, the geeks are in like The 40 Year Old Virgin and My Date With Drew, Beauty and the Geek; geeks are making a comeback.
How do you view improv in something like this? Peter [Dinklage] was saying how it's easier to do it with people he's comfortable with.
Michael Showalter: As long as it's not playing against the story and it's for the story, I'm all for it. I'm not precious about dialogue at all; a good ad lib is probably the best line in a movie. Peter really came in and got right into the character and you kind of have to roll with it. My job is really just to make sure they're staying within the story, and the boundaries of the story. I actually think when the scene is really tight, in terms of the structure, it's the actors outlet because they always have something to go back to. We can veer off of this cause we can go back to it later.
Who chose Michael's clothing?
Michael Showalter: That was his choice to wear women's clothing; his idea was that his character wore her clothes.
Did you want it to have a period piece feel?
Well, I wanted it to have a burberry; I wanted it to have that Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra feel. Everyone's buttoned up and popular; it's not supposed to be period, but it's supposed to suggest it.
The Baxter also stars Michelle Williams, Justin Theroux, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Rudd. Coincidentally, Paul and Elizabeth are both in 40 Year Old Virgin together as well. It's a film for everyone, especially if you've ever been dumped for an ex - just kidding. It's filled with laughs and Peter Dinklage as the wedding planner!
The Baxter opens in theaters August 26th, it's rated 'PG-13.'