A stand-up comedian, Zach Galifianakis has appeared in several comedies, including Dinner for Schmucks, Up in the Air and What Happens in Vegas, but his breakout role came in Todd Phillips’ blockbuster hit The Hangover, the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time.
Galifianakis is currently starring in Phillips’ new comedy Due Date, playing Ethan Tremblay, an aspiring actor who is a walking disaster. When he meets Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr), who is trying to get home to be with his wife for the birth of their first baby, Ethan manages to get the two of them thrown off the plane. This leads to a cross-country trek, with Peter, Ethan and his dog Sonny.
Is this character closer to your standup persona than the other characters you’ve played?
No. I don’t think that Ethan Tremblay is anything like me. God. I hope not. My standup is more like how I am in real life. I don’t really do a character in standup. It’s just a bunch of sentences that are supposed to be funny. This Ethan guy is a lot more complicated, I think.
What’s your take on the character?
Well, his reasons were not intentional. When you’re doing standup you’re kind of doing, ‘Hey. I thought of this. This may be funny.’ But Ethan has no idea he’s being funny and I think that people that are not self-aware and a truck with no brakes is really kind of funny. He’s saying things but he doesn’t understand why they’re funny which I think is inherently funny.
Did you have any say in the look of Ethan?
I really like to look bad in movies! Originally Ethan was dressed like a hippie but I wanted him to be more arty – or, what he would thinks is arty. He has a perm, he has his dance shoes and his really bad tight jeans and the scarf as an accessory; he wants to be an actor and this is how he thinks actors dress.
We know you as a comedic actor, but you have a pretty powerful scene in this film too. Was it hard to switch gears in that scene?
No, it wasn’t. It’s fun to do. I think that probably, editorially, it might be difficult to put together but I don’t know. If you can make people a bit emotional watching a scene and then make them laugh prior to that, I think you don’t see it that often. I think that Todd got it right. But the whole thing about that scene, the bathroom scene I guess is what you’re talking about; to me it’s not so much what Ethan does but it’s the look on Robert’s face that I think sells that, as Robert told me yesterday!
Are you hoping this will turn into a franchise?
As far as the franchise stuff goes we were kind of fantasizing on the last day of shooting. I’ve never seen a movie jump genres. So the sequel would be more like Cape Fear. My character is not actually dumb at all this whole time, and I then stalk Robert’s family.
What was your relationship like with Robert filming this?
I think that Robert and I formed a friendship on this movie, albeit a very antagonistic but fun relationship. He’s really very funny and he makes fun of people a lot and for some reason I like to be made fun of.
We kind of took care of each other on the set – very different from what was going on in the movie. We’d talk every morning about how to make a scene work. It was great. It’s funny how hanging out with a legitimate actor raises your game.
This is the second time you’ve worked with Todd, can you talk about the rapport you have with him?
Todd and I have the same sense of humor. We like stuff that has a bit of a taboo element – things that are funny specifically because you’re not supposed to laugh at them. As a stand-up comic, I love it when audiences laugh before they realize maybe they shouldn’t have, and then start to question themselves.
That’s not to say that you can’t be offended by something Todd or I do in a film, I’m often offended by the things I do in movies.
Can you talk about the opportunities that have opened up for you as a result of The Hangover?
We were shooting Due Date in Albuquerque last year on Halloween and I went to a Halloween party. I didn’t really know anybody. I went with a couple of people from work and I was just dressed normally and there was a guy there dressed as the character from The Hangover. So that was a bit freaky.
Todd has told me as of late that I’ve never thanked him for anything and I’m here just to say that I’m probably not going to do it today. (he laughs) Todd helped me. He took a chance in plucking me out of the standup scene. Nobody knows a movie is going to be so big and we just kind of got lucky and I’m thrilled that it happened.