Interview: Patton Oswalt (2012) Young Adult

Young Adult, the new dramatic comedy from acclaimed director Jason Reitman and Oscar-winning Scribe Diablo Cody has been garnering critical praise for its unapologetically frank portrayal of a woman who refuses to grow up. Part of the reason Young Adult is resonating so well with audiences and critics alike is due to its incredibly strong cast. Charlize Theron gives a fantastic performance, but does not carry the weight of the film on her shoulders alone. A surprisingly emotional turn from comedian Patton Oswalt is what helps Young Adult to stay well above the average dramedy fair. Working Author was invited to a post-screening Q&A with Oswalt, which was moderated by comedy legend Garry Shandling.

The moment the two comedians settled into their high-rise seats and test their mics, Shandling let Oswalt (and everyone) know exactly what he thought. “You my friend, as the kids say, killed it. I think you’re fucking fantastic.” He didn’t sugar coat, and by the reaction it gathers from the audience, everyone agreed. Oswalt was flattered, but Shandling didn’t let up, “I think your comedy is fantastic, and then to see you do a performance like this delights me to no end. I think it’s perfect.”

Fortunately for those in attendance, it was not all just singing praises. Both Oswalt and Shandling shed some light on the craft, and Oswalt spoke openly about his preparation for the role. “You walk this tight rope between genuine humor and real rage and pathos, and if you go too far either way it becomes pathetic or it becomes too sitcom-y, so I hired an acting coach and worked with her for two months.” Elaborating on the character he plays, Oswalt went into fascinating detail on some of the character-work he did outside of the film. For those not in the know, Oswalt’s character Mike Frehauf suffers into his adulthood the permanent handicaps caused by a high school beating. “I wrote letters that he would have written to his parents in the hospital, trying to put on a brave face when he was in.” Oswalt also detailed the difficulty ahead of him in shooting the film with an actress as experienced as Charlize Theron. “The minute we started reading she (Theron) would snap into the character, and I realized it was because of the years of experience she had…and I realized I had better catch up to that.” The amount of preparation that Oswalt put into the role is blatantly evident throughout the film. Despite Theron’s completely engrossing performance, it is Oswalt’s scenes with her that are the most interesting in the story.

One of the most touching points in Young Adult is when Oswalt’s character shares a moment of genuine emotion with Theron’s character, and the two end up sleeping together. Shandling singled that out as one of the most affecting parts of the film, “It’s moving…it’s when you’re lying with her and staring at her afterwards, and you have the gravitas to bring the wisdom at the end when you talk to her…you can not be anything but be solid with what you’re doing, because she’s giving it back to you so intensely.”

For those who haven’t seen the film it might be hard to imagine such a heavy scene between the two actors; but Oswalt elaborates beautifully “She was such a dream to work with. She gives it back to you, and she gives back exactly what you need in the scene.” When pressed further about filming the intimate scene Oswalt recalls, “I thought I’d be nervous because I’d be naked with her, but I ended up being way more nervous because it’s the first time we don’t even talk to each other. The whole relationship is based on being snarky and mean, but now…I’m in this terrifying vacuum.” Despite the trepidation though, Oswalt was able to find his success by just jumping into the scene. Approaching the scene bold and fearlessly certainly pays off, as the love scene between the two is easily the most resonant part of the film.

It’s always an enjoyable experience to learn more about what precisely goes into the films that we enjoy so much while understanding so little of the process. In the case of Patton Oswalt in Young Adult the pleasure in learning more becomes twofold. Coming to understand the process of how an artist so based in comedy can extend his talent to embody a role that demands so much dramatic range is a unique opportunity. If you’re a fan of Patton Oswalt, either from his comedy or ever-increasing resume of feature films, you’ll owe it to yourself to see his turn in Young Adult. Chances are you’ll echo the sentiments of Mr. Shandling and see how Patton Oswalt really does “kill it.”