LYT: [laughs] You don't want to be like Heath Ledger, getting too Method about it.
PJ: There's no reason to do that.
LYT: So what sort of preparation do you do as an actor, if I may ask such a pretentious question? Is it just the classic thing of "just say the damn words"?
PJ: No, no, no - nothing is. I ran through them, even for the promo, I worked with Adam a lot, because you have to figure out how to get the right tone. For many, many people, what you want to do to be menacing and scary is to go louder. But for me, I can't do that - I'm as loud as you can fucking get! So you've kind of got to come in under it, be more menacing - I thought a lot about focus. A lot of what I'm doing is not acting towards what people think of as creepy, but acting against the parts about me that I try to make not-creepy.
One of the reasons I wear glasses professionally is at the size I am, and my face, to soften things. I try to speak clearly, and I try to have a little bit of a crispness, all because it's very, very hard to say the word "big" without following it with "dumb." [laughter] You have to kind of fight against that a little bit.
So I didn't walk up and kick kittens or cause trouble. I just tried to think what would look good. I did probably 25 takes in rehearsal, for Adam, and get the feedback from Adam, and letting Adam do his job. Adam is a phenomenal, breathtaking director. He's just fabulous.
LYT: Totally different genre, but I remember quite well in Michael Moore Hates America, where you give the filmmaker the advice "You're going to fuck it up!" and he keeps replaying that. Do you hear that in your head when you make a movie?
PJ: Oh sure, sure! That's all you think about, is that you're going to fuck it up - and you are! You are. As Arthur Penn once said, "You start out every movie project trying to make the best movie ever made, and end up just trying to stay alive till the next day." [laughs] You know, it's a hard thing. Every movie you do is starting a business, and most businesses fail. It's always difficult, and once again, Arthur Penn, who was a really important teacher in my life, said "There are three things that are important in a movie, or any piece of art. One is to have fun while you're doing it. Two is to do something good. And three is that it be well-received. Two of those are 100% within your control, and one you have no power over whatsoever. And yet most people just concentrate on the third." Just let the third go and do the other two.
I've tried to follow that - it's very difficult to, but you know we, very parallel to this movie in such odd ways, made a documentary about Vermeer, a movie called Tim's Vermeer, which is a documentary about a 17th century painter. It couldn't be more high-brow. Nobody wanted to make that. I pitched that all over, and nobody would do it. We did our own money - all our own money - and made it. It took us five years. As we were making it, it wasn't like the world was clamoring to buy it from us. People weren't clamoring to put it out. Then we finished it, and it was at Telluride and Toronto and the New York Film Festival, and I think it's an understatement to say it's doing very well - pretty much beyond any of our wildest dreams. We just tried to do the best movie we could.
Kind of getting back to the Zach Braff, the one or two trolls saying "Why doesn't a rich guy like you use your own money?" The answer is, I did. I used all my own money on The Aristocrats. I used my money, along with Teller's, and a little of Tim's, to make Tim's Vermeer. And this movie, I simply don't have enough money. It's a very simple sentence like that. Making a documentary movie, making those documentaries, costs about as much as a house. And I am successfully enough that I can float a house for five years. I am not successful enough that I can float a business for five years. Vegas has been very good to me; not that good to me. There are very few people - Spielberg, you know - who can actually write a check to do even a low-budget movie without any help. I'm certainly not one of those people. We've got this movie stripped down so that we can do it, for kind of whatever money we get from here, but the more money we get on the funding, the bigger a movie it will become. The bigger star we can go with for the star of the movie. The more car chases we can have, essentially. And so, yeah, we're pretty excited, and it's also taking off, from what people say - I've tried to be a student of these things, but I'm not an expert - from what people say, this is taking off better than most other people who do crowd funding.
LYT: Why not go with Kickstarter or Indiegogo, and go with a lesser-known crowd sourcing site?
PJ: I always go with the lesser known! [laughs] I don't drink Coca-Cola. I don't know. I think it's just this weird little personal thing, that the people from FundAnything came to us, and they had an even more laissez faire view towards it than Kickstarter or Indiegogo. I mean, I've invested in both; I've given money in both Indiegogo and Kickstarter. I have projects that I've given money to there. With FundAnything, I've given money to three or four projects there, but there just aren't that many yet. But I love being involved in it, and I like the way Kickstarter was doing it, and very simply, I like the people. I've met Brad and the guys that run FundAnything, they seem like - I'm just saying it's an approach, not an avoidance - I didn't meet anyone from Kickstarter or Indiegogo that I didn't like, it's just that I kind of clicked with the people from FundAnything, so we're going with them.
I also think - FundAnything shouldn't hear this - I'm afraid it's the truth from my point of view, the projects that I've contributed to, and enjoyed contributing to, I did not care at all what site they were on. I've cared about projects. It's like Hollywood, when they talk about networks - is this an NBC thing, is this a CBS thing? I don't know anyone that gives a fuck about that. You watch Breaking Bad, does it really feel like to you - I don't even know what it's on, AMC? - does it feel like an AMC show? No, it doesn't matter. It's kind of the same thing to me, with Kickstarter and Indiegogo and FundAnything - I guess there are some quasi-political or sociological reasons you would pick one over the other, but those aren't mine.
LYT: Lloyd Kaufman says the only branding that people go to just because of the brand is Troma or Disney.
PJ: Who said that?
LYT: Lloyd Kaufman, the guy who runs Troma.
PJ: Yes, that's exactly true. That's very well said.
LYT: You've become a go-to libertarian political pundit, whenever anyone wants to interview a celebrity libertarian. Is that something that accidentally happened, or is that something you seek out in any way?
PJ: I don't know the difference between "seeking out" and "allowing." I've always been very willing to speak about it. I try - I try - not to speak beyond "I'm just a celebrity saying things." I am a little bothered by celebrities being passed off as experts, and I try not to do that myself, although some people would say that the medium is the message and I do that automatically. But I like it! I like being able to talk about that, and I also like that because of getting a little bit into the pundit world, I have two good friends: Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr. and Glenn Beck are good friends of mine, and I love kind of showing that off.
LYT: So is Glenn Beck actually saner than he comes off?
PJ: Well, I don't know how much you've watched him. If you watch what people pull as clips of him, he's pretty fucking crazy. If you actually watch him and listen to him for more than 15 minutes, he's pretty sane. It's a little bit like Howard Stern in the late '80s - if you didn't listen to Stern, and people just gave you clips and said "Listen to this compilation of misogynist stuff Howard says," it was horrific. But in context, you understood him, kind of deeply. It's the same thing with Glenn, that in context, it doesn't seem that bad. I don't see the crazy, in other words, even in his professional work. I certainly don't see it at all in his amateur work.
LYT: It's interesting - I used to watch his show on whatever it was before Fox, and it seemed like night and day when he went there; a little more overdramatic once that happened. But I don't want to derail this into a conversation about him.
PJ: The truth is, you start filling up X amount of time every day, and you start mining parts of yourself that weren't what you went with. So I think you have a valid point there.
LYT: Do you see a similarity between doing a magic show and doing some of the pundit shows? There's a mix of showmanship and deeper substance. Does it seem as much of a show from the other side?
PJ: Nothing ever seems like a show to me. I'm kind of sorry to say that you're speaking with the person with the least cynicism you've ever talked to. I really believe that people in show business and people in politics are overwhelmingly speaking from their heart.
LYT: That is not the answer I would have expected, but that's cool.
PJ: I do magic, but I do magic in a way that tries to tell the truth that's in my heart, and I see no joy in lying and manipulation, except for the purpose of joy.
LYT: Is there anything else you want to say about the movie before we go?
PJ: Yeah. We can make it! [laughter]
LYT: I don't think you're going to have a lot of trouble getting the money for this.
PJ: Well, thanks! I hope we make it, and I hope it's good. That's what I'm always hoping.
LYT: How's the funding looking so far?
PJ: It's about triple what we expected, so it's very likely. At the money we're at now, we can do something, so we will make a movie. It's just how fancy-ass it's going to be is the decision now. We're going to make something. Adam can work with any budget; so can I. So we'll make something.
LYT: So this is more like the Indiegogo model, where you get to keep whatever you raise - it's not like Kickstarter where you have to give it back?
PJ: Yeah, yeah. We'll make a good movie with whatever we get.
LYT: That's good to hear; certainly keep us apprised.
PJ: You'll have so many updates you won't believe it!
As of this writing, there are 38 days left to go on Penn Jillette's fundraising appeal for Director's Cut.