“This is great,” Jason Gann says of the view of greater Los Angeles from the balcony of the penthouse club where Fox and FX are holding a party for their actors, writers, producers and the Television Critics Association.
Australian transplant Gann is the title star and co-creator of WILFRED, which has its second-season finale tonight on FX at 10 PM. Gann and Adam Zwar originally made WILFRED as a short, which became a series for two years on Australian television, before being adapted by David Zuckerman for a new version on U.S. TV. In all of them, Gann stars as Wilfred, a dog who appears to one man – in the current version, Elijah Wood as Ryan – as a guy in a dog suit. As WILFRED viewers know, this is one of the least peculiar aspects of the series, which goes places most other TV shows would neither dream of nor dare.
ASSIGNMENT X: Was there a creative decision to have this season of WILFRED be a little more linear?
JASON GANN: No. Because things get so altered at the end of Season 1, we were obliged to counter-balance that with the sneak-preview episode with Robin Williams, and I think that one was fairly abstract. [Mid-Season 2], things are more linear and more traditionally comic, but they start getting weird.
AX: Did you reach out to Robin Williams to do a guest appearance, or did he come to you and say, “I like WILFRED”?
GANN: Elijah sent me an email [when] they were promoting HAPPY FEET 2 [which stars both Wood and Williams in the voice cast] and Elijah said that Robin wanted to say that, “He thinks you’re effing hilarious and that he would love to be in the show – maybe he’d be a cat or a dog or something.” And I went into the writers’ room and said to David Zuckerman, “We’ve got to find a role for Robin Williams.” So we played with that [psychiatrist] role that he ended up playing, it was the closest thing we could find. And we hoped that he’d do it – there are no animals [played by humans] apart from Wilfred in this season, so there was no cat or dog to cast him as, so we spent a long time – “Is it big enough? Is it funny enough?” And then we just heard back, “Yeah, he’s doing it.” A very magic day for me, because Robin Williams – I mean people say things about idols and heroes when they were growing up, but Robin really was for me, and he’s one of the few people that are famous and successful that you have a response to that even after you’ve known him for a little while, you still get sort of spellbound in his presence.
AX: Bear’s gender got revealed in that episode. You had previously said you were going to keep that ambiguous. Was that intentional?
GANN: That was a mistake. We were at Comic-Con and I was talking about how it’s not gender-specific and no one knows what Bear is, and then someone said, “No, you said it,” and I said, “Where?” and they pointed it out. David was there and Elijah was there, and we all just went, “Damn.” You have to be so careful. Maybe I’ll have to cover that in Season 3 and maybe Wilfred can call her “her.” And Ryan can say, “But you said that he …” Do a gender change or whatever.
Bear is a lot of fun to write for – we just have to be careful we don’t over-write for him. Or her [laughs].
AX: Are you and Elijah Wood finding new things within the Ryan/Wilfred chemistry?
GANN: Definitely. Last year, I mentioned that Elijah doesn’t corpse much, he doesn’t break up laughing in the middle of the scene very much. I don’t either. And in fact, the first time he did was on the last day of the [Season 1] shoot, and he was like, “Oh, my God, that’s the first time I’ve broken up all year.” I was like, “Yeah.” Well, this season, he broke up laughing during a scene on the first day, and it happened fairly regularly throughout the season, so I really think that he and I are starting to tap into a vein of humor that is fairly unique and I know the things that can set him off. There’s a face that I pull – he replicates my faces I pull – and it’s fun, because then I get to see what I look like through his [viewpoint] when he does it. And sometimes I’ll do something, he’ll laugh, and I’ll say, “Do it, do it,” and he’ll replicate what I just did, and then it’s like, I get to see a mirrored version of something that I just did, because it’s rare that there’s an actor that’s so good at being able to mimic performances on that molecular detail, so yeah, we’ve got a really good rapport.
AX: A lot of the episodes in Season 2 end with Wilfred and Ryan on the couch. Sometimes it looks like you’re both on the verge of laughter.
GANN: There was one [“Resentment”] – I said, “When you were out, I found one of your old t-shirts and I was feeling a bit lonely, so I snuggled up with it.” And he goes, “Oh, that’s really sweet.” And I say, “And made love on it.” And he’s like, “Aggh!” We cracked up a lot on that one
AX: Do the two of you ever just sit there and riff?
GANN: A little bit. We shoot an episode every four days, and we’re making twenty-two minutes of television, so we really shoot fast, so we don’t have a lot of freedom to improvise. But when we rehearse the scenes, we play and sometimes when I’m rehearsing the scene, I’ll get an idea, the germ of an idea, and I’m like, “I’m going to shoot it that way before this is done.” So we’ll shoot it the way it’s written and then try a couple of different options.
AX: This season, it seems there are more episodes where Wilfred actually does teach Ryan something and doesn’t try to undermine it later.
GANN: Well, there are only so many times you can fool people into thinking, “Oh, this time Wilfred is pretending that he’s teaching him a lesson.” [Wilfred] does care about [Ryan]. You know what it is? I just thought of it. If the part of Wilfred that is Ryan’s subconscious, the part of Wilfred that is Ryan self-sabotages, but at the heart of it, he does have his best interests at heart. So that’s why there’s this constant pull one way and the other from Wilfred, trying to help him, trying to sabotage his life. It’s in the same way that individuals can be self-destructive and other times try and salvage their mental health. In Season 2, [Ryan] does make some progress.
AX: Sometimes the lessons are a little obscure. For instance, I can see where Ryan needs self-confidence, but does Ryan need to know right now how to parent a teenager, as in the episode where Wilfred had an emo haircut and was behaving like a neglected teen?
GANN: [laughs] Yeah. I think in life, there are only so many different lessons we learn before we start learning the same lessons over again, so yeah, depending on how many seasons we do, we need to combine new, creative ways to tell a similar kind of story. That was an episode that was just pretty crazy in where Wilfred went. But people really loved the comedy of it, and I guess as long as Wilfred’s funny and people love him, then I’ll still do the show.
AX: Would you say Season 2 has been more arced than Season 1?
GANN: Yeah, there’s a really strong season arc that hopefully not many people see. I did notice someone on Twitter guessed something that I went, “Whoa! Either we were a bit sloppy or someone is very sharp.” We laid in Easter eggs throughout this season for clues, so that people, when they watch the show again – because this does tend to be one of those shows that people can watch several times – can look back and say, “Ah, wow, they said that in Episode Three and then it comes up in Episode Eight.” I’m really excited about where the season arc goes.
AX: Was the WILFRED panel at Comic-Con more of a rock star experience this year?
GANN: The panel was rock star-like, yeah. The episode we screened was an episode that I wrote [“Avoidance”], and to hear the audience go along with every little bump and turn in the road, it was like they really knew the characters so well and were along for the ride. Because in the writing, there are always big jokes and big plot points and big story points, and you expect them to get a response, but there’s a lot of very subtle stuff, character stuff, that may not necessarily seem funny on the page, but it’s just kind of clever, and that got some really great responses. There were laughs that I didn’t expect. And then to get up on stage in front of two thousand and five hundred people and see people dressed as Wilfred in the auditorium, it was a special moment I’ll remember for some time. It’s great talking to people who really see the show and think about it.
AX: Speaking of that episode, where Ryan tries to help Wilfred with a leg cramp and Wilfred winds up getting over-excited all over Ryan, does the WILFRED creative team ever hearing anything from FX Broadcast Standards and Practices? I mean, is there anything they’ve said, besides “You can’t say the F word”?
GANN: Yeah, we lost a few frames of our favorite scene that we actually screened at Comic-Con. It was a money shot and we weren’t allowed to show [on the broadcast] what we showed at Comic-Con.
AX: Will it be on the DVD?
GANN: Yes. [laughs] I’m sure there will be deleted scenes. We always shoot more than we use.
AX: Well, you certainly do things that don’t show up anywhere else on television.
GANN: That’s my favorite moment in the writers’ room – when we’re doing something that I can safely say, “That’s never been done before.”
AX: Is Randall Einhorn is directing all the Season 2 episodes?
GANN: Yes. Last year, we had to blast through some [episodes in a hurry], and there were three episodes in the middle that the network didn’t shoot, but this year, we were able to have Randall there for the whole lot. I think that he was already brilliant, but he’s just getting better and some people have asked me if it’s a different d.p. [director of photography] – it looks more beautiful, the images look more pretty this year. It’s the exact same team, but it is a very visually pretty show to watch.
AX: Do you want WILFRED to keep going?
GANN: [laughs] Yeah. I need WILFRED to keep going. WILFRED has been really good to me. You know the history of it being a short film back in 2002 and then two seasons in Australia. Well, it seems that several times in my career in the last ten years, I’ve had a lot on for it to all fall apart, but the one constant thing has always seemed to be WILFRED. WILFRED seems to just keep coming back and saving me from the wolf at the door. So it’s like WILFRED was blessed by some lucky star. I’m really proud of it and I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve got this character that is so original, and I really believe it’s a show that people will be watching for many years to come.
AX: Is there anything else we should know about WILFRED right now?
GANN: Nothing else. [laughs] There are some things that even I don’t know about WILFRED.
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Article Source:Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with WILFRED star Jason Gann