Zach Galifianakis stars as Bobby, a psychiatric patient and mentor to 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) in It's Kind of a Funny Story.
Zach Galifianakis stars as Bobby, a psychiatric patient and mentor to 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) in It's Kind of a Funny Story. K.C. Bailey
Zach Galifianakis is best known for his unruly red beard and his role in last year's comedy smash The Hangover, about four friends who hit Las Vegas for a bachelor party and spend one big night on the town — a night that goes horribly wrong.
But his latest movie role is quite different from — and much more serious than — his earlier comedic characters. In It's Kind of a Funny Story, Galifianakis plays a man named Bobby who was institutionalized after trying more than once to kill himself. Bobby becomes an eccentric mentor to a high-school student who has just checked himself into the same facility because of lingering suicidal thoughts. Galifianakis says that before he took the role, he visited several psychiatric facilities in New Mexico to do research.
"I based the character on some things that I had seen there," Galifianakis tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "One of the things that's interesting to me is that there are a number of people who seem like they can make it on the other side. But there's something behind their eyes — a little darkness, some anger and sadness — and I kind of based [this character] on that."
It's not the first time Galifianakis has done substantial research for a role. For The Hangover, he says, the first thing he did after getting the part was think about how how to get into the mind of his character, a misguided soul who doesn't quite fit in.
"The guy doesn't have any friends. He can't drive a car. There's questionable boundaries physically," he says. "I wanted this guy to be someone in his late 30s who had gone to raves a lot and probably done too many pills, and then his brain got fried a little bit. And he's still wearing the same clothes that he did back at his raves in the mid-'90s or early '90s, and that's the back story that I had for him."
Galifianakis got his own start in that same mid-'90s era, doing stand-up on Comedy Central and making several appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Reno 911! Those roles led to appearances on The Sarah Silverman Show and in several nationwide comedy tours. Galifianakis currently hosts a series called Between Two Ferns on the Funny or Die website, where celebrities sit down with Galifianakis and chat, literally between two ferns.
He's also a cast member on the HBO series Bored to Death, where he plays a comic-book illustrator. He'll appear in the upcoming film Due Date, alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx.
On nonverbal forms of expression
"I get very tongue-tied — and it's really a bad profession to be in when you can't speak very well — but the nonverbal things that I see actors do, I really love. I like that the expression can say so much, and a lot of times you don't have to say anything. I guess I do concentrate on that a little bit. I think it helps that I have a really heavy brow. Probably not great for evolution, but probably pretty great for trying to make a point."
On filming nude scenes
"I don't mind people laughing at me. The nudity thing is — you shoot a movie and then, for me, I forget about it. I remove myself from everything. And then the movie comes and you're like, 'Oh, that's right, I was wearing a jockstrap,' and then there's a 15-minute discussion over the phone with your mom about the jockstrap and how you weren't raised that way, and you agree with her and she has a good point. It sounds a little corny, but when you hear people really enjoying it and getting a kick out of it, and it's not too gratuitous, it makes me happy to make people laugh."
On his writing job on Saturday Night Live
"I think they have trial periods, but I thought I was being hired as a sketch performer and they said, 'No, you're writing sketches for other people.' I was really kind of bummed because I had auditioned two or three times. Back then, it was very competitive for a new person to come in and try to do their sketches. They do these things called table reads where you write your two sketches per week, and it was completely quiet the whole time my sketch was being read. It was really awful. I remember Tina Fey was sitting next to me and she just patted me on the back, like, 'Don't worry about it, kid.' "