This week, standup comic Patton Oswalt makes his dramatic debut in Robert Siegel's Big Fan (read the review) — about Paul Aufiero, a man obsessed with the New York Giants and whose mortal enemy is fellow sports talk caller Philadelphia Phil. But when his favorite player beats him up, leaving him in a coma, Paul spirals into moral indecision. Does he want justice or does he want his team to win? The incredibly polite Oswalt talks to City Paper about fandom, Philly and his first foray into drama.
City Paper: This is a pretty big week for you. You've got the movie, you've got the standup DVD [My Weakness is Strong].
Patton Oswalt: Yeah, it's weird, man. We certainly didn't plan it this way, but it all kind of came down the way that it did — but I'm not complaining.
CP: How do you feel about opening a movie in Philadelphia where your main enemy is named Philadelphia Phil?
PO: [laughs] I kind of like it, I think it's exciting. I like that we're trying to use the rivalry in the film and use it in real life. Why not? I think that Philadelphia audiences are really going to love this movie. They'll at least have a thrilling time being pissed off.
CP: I know you shot one scene on Passyunk Avenue, but did you guys do any other shooting here?
PO: No, I've spent a lot of time in Philly but that was really a one-day thing. Went in the morning, shot in the afternoon, then came home. The bar scene itself was not shot in Philly. It was shot in Staten Island. We couldn't find a bar in Philly so we mocked one up.
CP: Really? Out of all of the bars in South Philly?
PO: We couldn't find one that would let us shoot for a reasonable price. They were all busy and I don't think they were too excited about having a movie in there shutting down business, which I totally understand.
CP: Especially a movie that disparages the Birds.
CP: Have you ever spent time within Philly's fan culture?
PO: I don't really follow sports so I'm not that familiar with whatever the fan culture may be. Is it really intense? How are they feeling about the whole Michael Vick thing? Talk about a big moment of judgment for someone. How do you reconcile that?
CP: I think the city is having some problems with that. I think it's mirrored within Paul's story in that you have a city that so wants this team to win and so wants this team to do well — but has done this reprehensible thing.
PO: What if there's this fan of the Eagles, a diehard fan, but he has this real moral quandary with it? I'm sure those people exist.
CP: You say you aren't a hardcore sports fan, but you talk about how much of a geek you are a lot in your standup. Do you see the two areas of fandom mirrored at all?
PO: I certainly do, there's a definite parallel. It's the same spark, it's just a different fuel. Like, a fanatic Christian and a fanatic Muslim could find so much in common because they have a spark. A Philadelphia Phil or a Paul could find something in common, but they have different fuel and there's something so tragic about that.
CP: It's interesting to hear people talk about sports teams as "we" instead of "they" — like when I'm at a bar and some guys are talking about the Birds, it's "We're on the field." Is that the way it is with your fans, even though it's not live or necessarily as active an experience?
PO: Definitely. People literally treat movies like they're their teams. They treat filmmakers like they know them — "Oh, I think he's really going to pull it out this time." They get into the lives of their heroes.
CP: Is that what attracted you to the movie?
PO: It was such a well-written script. [Director] Robert [Siegel], who is such a great writer, entrusted his script to me — and if he saw the ability in me, I thought maybe I should just do this and not myself doubt so much.
CP: Had you seen [Siegel's writing debut] The Wrestler at this point?
PO: I wouldn't see The Wrestler for another month, but oh man! Did you see it?
CP: Yeah — it was one of those movies you felt in your gut. I think the parallels between the two films are interesting, in all of these film-geeky ways.
PO: It's all in that universe, which is kind of great and exciting.
CP: But this is your first dramatic role. Was it something you had thought about before?
PO: I never thought I would really be able to pull something like this off. But in my mind I wasn't an amazing dramatic actor.
CP: You've experienced a lot of the film industry now as both an actor, dramatic and comedic, and as a script doctor. Is there a place you feel more comfortable — in front of the camera or at your desk writing?
PO: I like doing a little bit of everything, I think I can do it all. I like that I can hop back and forth. I just don't differentiate. I'll keep going back and forth — I'm not dong any set plans for my future, I don't see the point in that.