‘Wilson’ is an upcoming comedy film following the exploits of the misanthropic Wilson, who tries to reunite his family. The Knockturnal got the chance to interview several of the stars, the director, and writer of the film. ‘Wilson’ comes out in theaters March 24th!
We were on the red carpet for the film’s special screening with the cast at the Whitby Hotel. Additional celebrity guests included Robert Kennedy Jr, U2’s The Edge, Meg Ryan, Rhea Perlman, Don Lemon, Katie Couric, Dick Cavett, Sandra Brant, Gay Talese, Tom McCarthy, Kerry Kennedy, Jessica Joffe, Jess Weixler, Carol Kane, Dan Fogler, Ben Rosenfield, Michael Nathanson, Rel Schulman, Henry Joost, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Oren Moverman and Onur Tukel.
ISABELA AMARA (CLAIRE)
The Knockturnal: Can you tell us a bit about your character?
Amara: Yes! Claire is a sixteen-year-old girl who is severely bullied in school. She doesn’t have a lot of friends or parents, because her parents aren’t around, so she kind of raises herself. She has very, very low self-esteem – that is, until she meets Wilson and Pippi, who then teach her about life, and that it’s okay to be herself. And then she starts to come into her own.
Were you familiar at all with the graphic novel, and if not, what appealed to you about this role?
Before getting the audition, I was not familiar with it. But what really appealed to me was Claire’s honesty, and how truthful she was, and how much pain she was going through. Because I feel like everyone goes through a lot of pain, and that’s not something we necessarily touch on a lot in this industry. So I thought, “what a great idea!” Especially since the script is phenomenal – it’s written by Daniel Clowes, and he’s this great mastermind. He has such a weird outlook on things that’s so real, and I really love that. Also, the opportunity to work with these amazing actors, and this amazing crew. So, pretty much everything appealed to me.
You also just finished filming for Spider-Man: Homecoming. How was that experience different?
It was very different – high-security, very hush-hush on everything. I didn’t have as much creative freedom on that as with Wilson. This was a low-budget film, and Fox Searchlight is amazing at giving us the opportunity to be creative. But it was a great experience, and I’m glad I had it.
JUDY GREER (SHELLY)
The Knockturnal: Can you tell us some about your character?
Greer: I play Shelley. I’m Woody Harrelson-turned-girlfriend. Wilson (Harrelson) is someone who’s very honest, and does not mince words. He doesn’t mind talking to anyone – he wants to talk to everyone. He gets himself into a lot of trouble because of it.
What specifically appealed to you about the role?
The script, Woody, and Craig Johnson. I read the script, I watched Skeleton Twins, and I’ve always wanted to work with Woody Harrelson for as long as I can remember. Those three things together were what did it for me.
What was it like to work with Woody, as fellow actors but also as love interests?
Oh my God, I mean – I would’ve served coffee in one scene to him. It was so fun. He’s a really great actor, we all know that. I just tried to shut up and listen to him, and follow his lead. But he’s kind, and a great listener, and really fun to hang out with on set. He’s spontaneous – I never felt like he was out of character while we were working together. Everything he did added to the movie, and it was really inspiring. I’m really hoping that someday he’ll teach me what he does to prepare for a role, because he’s really good at… the acting.
The film jumps around from comedic, to dramatic, to romantic all at once. What was it like to play all these different emotions?
I don’t really think about that too much. I kind of let that be my director’s job to tell me if I’m in the wrong tone. I don’t know, I just play the scenes as they come. I wasn’t too worried in this role about missing something. I just tried really hard to listen to Woody, and to respond to him throughout… well, it sounds stupid, while saying lines. I think Shelley is very hippy-dippy, and very good about letting Wilson be Wilson. So I just tried to not get too in my head while on set.
You just finished filming on your directorial debut. What was that like?
It was great! It was fun to have a lot of power, and control. People had to listen to me. I was really excited for that to happen.
CRAIG JOHNSON (DIRECTOR)
The Knockturnal: You were a fan of Daniel Clowes before the film. What was it like to work with him?
Johnson: It was a dream come true. It was a little nerve-racking, because I didn’t want to screw it up. He’s got such a specific world and aesthetic, and I wanted to preserve that aesthetic, but also inject myself into it as much as the movie would allow.
The graphic novel employed various art styles. Is that something you try to play with in the movie?
We don’t, actually. That is very much the aesthetic of the graphic novel, and Dan’s screenplay adaptation eliminated that. It would just be too experimental, and probably a little distracting. It’s a brilliant way to do a graphic novel, but the movie is more straightforward.
What was it like to work on a movie that took a different look at the family comedy, with such a dysfunctional group of characters?
If you really think about it, I think all families are dysfunctional on some level. It might seem like this is a bunch of dysfunctional losers, but if you start looking a little deeper, you see very human desires that are relatable. I think one of the themes is that you may not get the traditional family you’re seeking, but family can come in all forms, and in surprising ways, and that’s part of Wilson’s journey.
How well do you think the cast did in capturing the essence of Clowes’ characters?
I mean, I won the cast lottery. And I have to give props to Daniel Clowes for the supporting roles. Even if the actor was coming in for a day, Daniel created these roles that these amazing actors wanted to play. Even the littlest roles had something to play. That’s how we got Margo Martindale for a day or two. Actors like Mary Lynn Rajskub, Lauren Weedman, David Warshofsky, Brett Gelman… they all showed up, even just for a day, because the roles were so good. And because I think they all wanted to work with Woody.
What was it like to work with Woody, specifically?
Oh, it was a dream come true. You can sort of die, as a filmmaker, after working with Woody Harrelson. He’s an American treasure! He’s been one of my favorite actors forever. I was thrilled to do a comedy with him, as he hasn’t done much comedy recently, but I’ve always loved his comedy, going back to his Cheers days.
Are there any other projects you have on the horizon? Any other graphic novel adaptations?
There are some graphic novels I’m interested in, but nothing yet. I’m directing a movie in the spring for Netflix that I wrote that is a twist on the high school sex comedy. It’s called ‘Alex Strangelove.’ So we’re just getting it up and running now.
What are the odds you’ll direct a big comic book-style movie?
I don’t know, I’m not really a huge superhero guy. I would love to do some kind of big, adventure movie at some point – I’m a child of the 80’s, so I’m a child of Spielberg, Lucas, and all of those directors. It would have to be the right kind of big movie, though.
DANIEL CLOWES (WRITER OF GRAPHIC NOVEL & SCRIPT)
The Knockturnal: What was it like to adapt your own graphic novel for the big screen?
Clowes: It was very cool. I don’t really know what else to say.
You’ve been adapting your own work since 2001. Have you seen the film landscape change, as there are more comic adaptations?
Well, it’s funny. There’s more mainstream comic book movies, but movies like Ghost World can’t even be made anymore. Ghost World was a medium-budget indie film, and it did really well for what it was. Now, no studio would ever give me money for a movie like that. You’d have to shoot it for a hundred thousand dollars with no-name actors. So things have gotten much worse, actually. (laughs)
Was it difficult to try and rework the graphic novel for the movie script?
Well, I knew I couldn’t do what I did in the graphic novel with the different art styles. I knew that would just come across as weird and pretentious. So I focused on the character and the story, the two things that I thought could be brought to the screen.
Do you have any other upcoming graphic novels or films?
I’m working on a new graphic novel that will be out in three or four years. That’s how fast I am. (laughs) And I’m working on a screenplay for a book I wrote called ‘Patience,’ which came out last year.
LAURA DERN (PIPPI)
The Knockturnal: Can you tell us about your character, and what about the role appealed to you?
Dern: I just fell in love with Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel. I feel privileged to be speaking his words, and to be directed by Craig. I love Wilson – I love all the characters, but I particularly love Wilson and Pippi’s love story. Hopeful brokenness is what made cinema great in the 70s, so any time there’s a gem that comes along and reminds me of what made us all fall in love with Hal Ashby’s films is a dream come true. This is one of those, and I think Daniel writes from that place, so we’re lucky actors.
How do you think the film brings a new dynamic to the genre of family comedies?
Oh, it’s just in time, when America needs to look at what real family value is. That value is in honesty, and in loving, and in complication and mess. Not in somebody’s idea of what we’re supposed to fit into, that isn’t authentic. I’m very proud to be part of a family like this.