Funny man hopes to be taken more seriously
When audiences hear Zach Galifianakis’ name, what most likely comes to mind is a raunchy, ridiculous kind of comedy that young movie-goers have come to adore over the last five years, a la “The Hangover.” But in Ryan Fleck’s film adaptation of “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” based on the novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, Galifianakis takes on a much more serious, somber role. While the movie is categorized as a dramatic comedy, it’s still an escape from the normal type of laughs that audiences have come to know Galifianakis by so far in his career.
“The first question I ask is, ‘Is there any nudity?’ When I find out there’s not, I’ll read the script anyway,” Galifianakis said, talking about how he chooses a role. “But seriously, it’s kind of new to me to be able to choose things, so I don’t really have a pattern yet, but most of it is comedy. But some of it is a little bit more of a grounded comedy that has some realism to it. That’s how I got involved in this.
“I like characters that are fragile and a little bit on the edge,” Galifianakis said. “I feel like (the character of) Bobby was certainly one of those… and he also has the capacity to be angry, so it wasn’t much of a departure from my real life.”
Bobby is one of the patients at the hospital where the film’s main character Craig (Keir Gilchrist) admits himself for a minimum of five days in an attempt to deal with his depression, the origin of which he can’t pinpoint.
“I hope, honestly, first and foremost that people are entertained, because I think that’s the main purpose of films,” Gilchrist said. “And then I hope people gather a message about hope [and] finding people — and how connections with other people can be healing.”
Gilchrist’s character admits himself to a psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn and, upon meeting Galifianakis’ character, is reminded of how many things in life can be rewarding.
While in the hospital, he also meets Noelle (Emma Roberts), a patient of the same age whom he begins to have romantic feelings for.
“One of the great things about this story, about Ned’s book and the character of Craig is how he learns to appreciate what he has, and I feel like I need to remind myself to count my blessings a lot of the time,” Roberts said. “I think we’d all be a lot happier if we did that more often.”
The movie may not be an atypical comedy, but in this day and age, director Ryan Fleck feels it’s an appropriate movie for college students.
“I think that college students have a lot of the same pressures that the characters are going through in this movie, and I think it’s tough times for young people,” Fleck said. “Getting a job when you get out of college, that seems to me these days quite the impossibility almost, and I have a lot of sympathy for college students. [This movie] might make you feel better for a little while.”
While Fleck tried to stay faithful to the book, he admitted to making a few changes in the film adaptation.
“There were a number of patients we had to trim down or take out, which would have been nice to keep in there,” Fleck said, “but we had to take them out, because we have a 90-minute movie, and we didn’t have time for it.”
Galifianakis too feels it’s an appropriate movie for an age-group that is, in his view, put under far too much stress.
“I think the pressure put on college students is ridiculous; it’s crazy,” Galifianakis said. “I think college puts too much pressure on people, and I think society is putting too much pressure on young people… It’s good for people who work on ulcers, but [laughs] chill out, young ones, and those who are chilling out too much, go clean your room and study some.”
Galifianakis may be primarily a comedic actor, but he takes his roles seriously. For “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” in order to better portray a close-to-the-edge mental patient, he did his homework.
“I went to a couple of mental facilities in New Mexico, and I observed, took some notes and asked some questions,” Galifianakis said. “I noticed a couple of people in the facilities who I think could function on the outside, and I kind of think [my character] could function on the outside, but he does have the wicked possibility of snapping.”
Above all else, Galifianakis feels that the setting in which the movie is shot makes for a great film, and he hopes audiences feel the same.
“I liked the location of the story,” he said, commenting on why he was originally drawn to the script. “I think a mental hospital is a very specific place where good stories can evolve because of where a group of people are forced to be together.”
“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” comes out in theaters Oct. 8.