Interview: Jeff Garlin on I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

The Curb Your Enthusiasm actor talks about his directorial debut.

Jeff Garlin sums up the simple goal of lonely folks everywhere with the title of his new film: I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, currently in limited release and available On Demand through the IFC First Take program. Garlin, best known for his role as Larry David's manager on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, is also renowned for his improvisational skills. His lines in Curb are non-scripted and he hosts a weekly improv set at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles. 

Garlin plays a pretty gruff character on TV, and I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With -- which he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in -- shows us his softer side. He stars as a struggling actor who sneaks out of Overeaters Anonymous meetings to grab ice cream and starts brief flirtations with two women (Sarah Silverman and Bonnie Hunt). RT met up with Garlin in San Francisco to chat about shooting in his hometown of Chicago, his favorite directors, and how much longer Curb will be on the air.

Rotten Tomatoes: How was directing your own film?

Jeff Garlin: It was probably the most fun I've ever had. The actual filming -- writing, filming, and even post-production and editing -- I enjoyed all that. I did not enjoy producing. Thank God Erin O'Malley and Steve Pink came on because producing's crazy hard. And I didn't like raising the money. Also, once you sell your movie, getting everything together for the studio is very difficult. It's almost as difficult as getting the money.  It really is a nightmare. They don't tell you about that in film books and film school.

RT: How much of your character in Cheese is autobiographical?

JG: The food stuff, it's almost exact. I would sit in my car just like I do in the movie. Same place, at three in the morning, eating a bagel or pudding. It was much better doing it for a movie.

RT: Have you received much of a response from viewers?

JG: People who have eating problems have definitely mentioned to me, "Thank you."  But it's not the most completely honest portrayal. I left something out because it wasn't tracking: I had myself in the movie overeating even when good things happened, which is how it is in reality. The reality is [in] any emotional situation, a compulsive eater eats or an alcoholic drinks. What people misunderstand is that when you're a compulsive overeater, you don't just eat when things are bad. You eat when you feel anything. I took that out because people were confused. They would say, "Why are you eating on the hood of your car? She likes you!" I got so many questions that I just took it out. I just want people to watch the movie, not to think, "Why is he doing that?"

RT: How much of the film was improvised?

JG: Five to 10 percent.  It's all my writing.  I probably finished my first draft sometime in the mid 1990s and I rewrote it about 50 times with about 50 different endings. I'm not making that up, the ending was always the hardest. It always is.

RT: Despite having written this so long ago, the cast seems perfect for each role.

JG: I wrote the parts for the actors for the most part.  I'd say 70 to 75 percent -- I know how Rotten Tomatoes loves percentages -- 75 percent of the people in the movie, I wrote the parts for them. Especially Sarah Silverman and Bonnie Hunt.
 

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With Movie Stills: Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman, Jeff Garlin
 

RT: Were you always intending to star in the film?

JG: No. Originally I was writing it for no one in particular, even though it was my voice. I always thought in the back of my mind, "I'd love to play this." But I was being realistic in terms of getting it made. At first I thought Chris Farley; I wanted to show a different side of Chris. He was a really nice guy, a lovely guy -- but then he died. Then Curb started getting a little more popular, but I still didn't feel I could star in it.  Then I approached Jack Black and he read it and said, "This is your voice. Why are you not doing it? You can star in a movie because you're on Curb Your Enthusiasm."  And I said, "Oh, you're right, I can, can't I?" So then I did. 

I still, at this point having starred in the movie and being on Curb, wouldn't care if I never acted again. I like writing and directing. Acting's fine if the script's written by Paddy Chayefsky and Martin Scorsese directs it, but unless you have something like that, I don't really enjoy acting.

RT: Who are some of your favorite directors, past and present?

JG: Wow. Today: I love Alexander Payne, Wes Anderson, and Nicole Holofcener.  She's a friend of mine and I really love her movies. I love Friends With Money, Walking and Talking, and Lovely and Amazing. She's just great, I love her. 

Then, if you go back, there's Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, Hal Ashby, John Ford, Paul Mazursky.  Certainly Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut. I'm a freak for great movies. I love movies.  There are hundreds of filmmakers where I love at least one or two of their movies.  Oh!  Woody Allen and Albert Brooks.  I love them and always forget to mention them because they're obvious, I think.

RT: I Want Someone reminded me of many films by directors on the list you just mentioned; it had a lot of heart and the characters constantly surprise the audience. Was that something you were intentionally going for? 

JG: You know what, it's who I am. So I can't say I was going for it. I just wrote and I made the movie. I never said, "Okay, we're going for pathos here." I work really organically.  So that either is who I am and it's what I do or it's not. I think this is a very un-romantic comedy. When you see a bad romantic comedy, you see the script, the director, and the actors trying to create this warmth and this pathos and this feeling that you care about them. That cannot be manufactured -- it's either there or it isn't.

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