If I had seen Garret Dillahunt on the street prior to this September, I might have casually turned a corner and high-tailed it out of there given his penchant for playing insidious characters. But now that he's slaying me (in the good way) every week as Burt on Fox's increasingly hilarious "Raising Hope," I would walk up, arms outstretched, in hopes of experiencing one of Burt's signature hugs.
A change of pace -- and expectation -- was behind Garret's choice to join the comedy, but as he tells it, genre hopping has always been part of his plan.
PopWrap: I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but "Raising Hope" was not a show I expected to love this much.
Garret Dillahunt: I think a lot of people felt that way – the critical community has been so good to us, but a few wrote it off from day one. They were offended, called it the worst thing they’d ever seen. I wonder what they have to say now that it’s clear what we’re doing.
PW: I'd imagine that incredibly off-beat sensibility is exactly what attracted you to the show though, right?
Garret: It really was – most of the work I’ve done has been on the darker side of things, but I did start in comedy. I try, as much as I can, to change it up – I think that makes for an interesting life. So I thought it was time to do something funny, and I was so lucky that a really great one was out there.
PW: Does being so closely associated with darker projects make it harder for you to get hired to do lighter material?
Garret: I always expected to try everything, but ever since getting out of school and doing theater in NYC, I’ve had to fight for all of them. I started in comedy and couldn’t get a drama audition to save my life because everyone saw me as the sitcom guy. Then you get a drama and people think you can’t be funny anymore. I am well aware that there’s this need to constantly re-prove yourself.
PW: Well, I'm sure playing a rapist who has his head microwaved [in 2009's "Last House on the Left"] makes it hard for people to see you as a jolly fella!
Garret: [laughs] Wasn’t that horrible? We fought so hard to get rid of that, we weren’t pleased at all.
PW: Right, if I remember correctly the studio made you guys shoot that "more crowd-pleasing" ending.
Garret: Kinda, yea. It was the last thing we shot and the whole time we just thought, “really? We’ve made such a better movie than this.” But it’s fine – some people like it.
PW: Well for me that closing moment couldn't tarnish the genuinely unsettling horror movie that came before it. I really think it's one of the most underrated movies in recent memory.
Garret: I agree, it’s time for people to start discovering this stuff, huh? [laughs] I don’t want to use the word underrated anymore.
PW: Well, just threaten anyone who uses that word with a "Raising Hope"-style car lift.
Garret: That was a good stunt.
PW: So it was a stunt. I'm not too gullible, but the car was so small and you're so big, I definitely had a moment of "did he just do that?"
Garret: [laughs] I’m not that strong. Maybe we should have a warning label on the show just in case we put people’s backs out all across the country.
PW: When I spoke with your on-screen wife Martha Plimpton she expressed some concern at playing a grandmother at first, were you similarly skeptical?
Garret: It was a bitter pill since I had barely started playing fathers. But there are people I went to high school with who are grandparents now, so it’s reasonable. I’m glad it was a plotpoint that we were super young grandparents. I have to confess to a surprising sense of relief in a weird way because I don’t feel pressure to be cool anymore.
PW: How so?
Garret: I’ve never been the handsomest dude, I mean, I’m ok – but now I don’t feel like I have to be the best looking guy around. And when you’re relieved of that pressure, it makes you cooler.
PW: Whatever it is works because Burt comes across like a very cool guy.
Garret: I think he’d be a fun dad to have. Sure he’s got problems, but those qualities are completely offset by the fact he’s loyal and happy and honest.
PW: For me the moment we learned he secretly scared his son in order to get hugs was when I felt like we really learned what a sweet guy he is.
Garret: Yea, I would agree with you. For me, it was a surprise when we sang the lullaby in the pilot. That’s when I realized that for all his faults, Burt is the guy who gets up at 5am and play his guitar to put his kid to sleep. And he’s not angry about it. That was a great surprise. Him and Virginia are a formidable couple, and Martha & I have so much fun together.
PW: And you bring the guitar back tonight when Jason Lee guest stars, right?
Garret: Yea, Jason comes in as Burt’s hero -- Smokey Floyd -- who he met a long time ago when he lost the chance to play guitar alongside him. Now he gets another chance when Smokey comes back to town. Jason’s hilarious and he endured hours or Latex makeup every morning.
PW: Which must have stood in stark contrast to your costume needs.
Garret: Yea! Put on my PJ’s and go. They call me about 15 minutes before yelling action now. It’s pretty sweet.
PW: Then next week is the big Christmas episode -- what can you tell us about it?
Garret: You learn about Burt’s annual habit of making some extra cash at Christmas by finding out what the hot toy is, buying it in bulk and selling it back to the public at a considerable mark-up. It’s amazing how much that hysteria can be created.
PW: Was there something like that you had to have as a kid?
Garret: Oh, there were so many comic books – in their plastic bags, hung on the walls.
PW: Oh, so you were a big comic book fan -- any secret desire to play a superhero on the big screen?
Garret: Oh, that would be so fun – I don’t know who it could be at this point. Some aging vigilante who fights the powers of evil. Actually, there’s a great comic called “Powers” with some of the best dialogue I’ve ever seen – that would be cool. But we must get off this geeky topic. If you ruin my street cred .. oooh, boy, I’ll come lift up your car [laughs].
Martha and him are the best part of the show.