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Galifianakis Gets (Sort Of) Serious In 'A Funny Story'

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Comedian Zach Galifianakis tries drama for a change, playing a mental patient in It's Kind of a Funny Story. hide caption

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Zach Galifianakis

Comedian Zach Galifianakis tries drama for a change, playing a mental patient in It's Kind of a Funny Story.

Zach Galifianakis became known as one of the funniest actors in the business after The Hangover catapulted him to stardom. But his newest project is a far cry from the high jinks of The Hangover.

In It's Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis plays a patient in a mental hospital.  The part is an exercise in understatement compared to The Hangover's Alan — and it isn't even as funny.

But as Galifianakis tells NPR's David Greene, "It's not supposed to be."

"It's a coming-of-age story, as they say, about a 16-year-old who is in a mental hospital with adults," he says. "So I play his mentor who is there [after] six suicide attempts."

Having never before been in a psychiatric facility, Galifianakis prepared for the role by visiting a few. He asked questions, listened to what they had to say, and got a feel for the people in a psychiatric ward — when he could tell them apart.

"In some cases it's hard to tell the people that are working there from the people that are patients," he says.

Galifianakis shares the story of having an entire conversation with a woman he believed was a patient. It wasn't until she invited him into her office that he realized she actually worked there.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, she's an administrator,' " he says. "But lovely, lovely people."

Watch Clips From 'It's Kind Of A Funny Story'

'Hey, What Is This Guy Doing?'

The very serious topic of mental health isn't exactly one you'd expect a comedian to tackle. Galifianakis says that while he knows there can sometimes be resistance to comic actors suddenly putting on a straight face, he hasn't personally seen any so far.

"I haven't felt any, 'No, fat boy, you're not allowed into this serious realm,' " he says. "It's funny: Dramatic actors get to play funny guys sometimes, but then when a comedic actor tries to be serious, people are like, 'Hey, what is this guy doing?' And I've never understood that. I don't think the comedian-serious role has the respect that it deserves."

'I Drive Around In My Tractor. I Do My Chores. I Chop My Wood.'

Galifianakis has been doing well-respected comedy for a long time, but it wasn't until later in life — when he was almost 40 — that The Hangover skyrocketed him to fame. He says that's probably a good thing.

"I've thought about it, and I'm probably pretty lucky that it happened later," he says. "Because if I were 25, I may have ended up buying seven Dodge Vipers."

He says that while life has changed since The Hangover, he's too old now to buy into the hype.

"Somebody said to me once, 'I want to be so famous I never tell the truth again,' " Galifianakis says. "I think that’s a very poisonous way to live."

Instead, Galifianakis has stayed very much in touch with his roots in North Carolina, where he and his siblings grew up putting on comedies for their parents that dealt with things like the Iran-Contra affair.  ("My brother and, in fact, my sister are funnier than I am.")

"I really appreciate being there," he says of his current home in North Carolina.  "I drive around in my tractor. I do my chores. I chop my wood. And I think — it's a good place to think."

But most of all, he says, "It is a place to get away from the very self-involved business of being an actor."



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