Interview: Patrick Wilson is ‘Barry Munday’

By  · Published on October 2nd, 2010

The title character in Barry Munday isn’t exactly the kind of character you’d picture when you think of actor Patrick Wilson. He is a giant man-child who has yet to grow up. A mostly failed womanizer, saddled with a dull work life, who fancies picking up girls at Chili’s and playing video games in his underwear. He’s much like you and me, but nothing like Patrick Wilson.

Despite these not so flattering characteristics, Barry is likable. He’s that well-intentioned guy who’s not entirely self-aware who does perhaps more harm than good, and yet you still root for him in the end. So when he inpregnates a girl who’s not exactly his type, you buy him wanting to stick around to finally take responsibility and enter manhood. That’s what Barry Munday is about: Manhood.

Wilson has played characters in the past that don’t exactly have the highest self-esteem or are the ideal heroes, but Barry is different. He’s not the typical protagonist and Wilson embraces that fact. After Hard Candy, Little Children, and Watchmen it’s surprising to see Wilson in this type of role, and that seemed to have been apart of the attraction to becoming Barry Munday for him.

Here’s what Patrick Wilson had to say about emasculated men and Barry Munday.

It’s a bit surprising that after Little Children and Hard Candy you weren’t offered more comedies, was it nice being offered something so different?

(Laughs) I guess, looking at it from that perspective… Anyone who knows me knows I’m kind of an idiot, so I always felt like it came to finding the right sort of people that believed in me. Chris D’Arienzo, the director, felt like he wanted something different. Some of the people who were attached to it before were also not known for comedy, but I think that was the idea: having someone you wouldn’t normally assume in this role. In the book, he was a little bit more of an everyman, but I selfishly wanted to make an outlandish character to have some fun.

Typically, with these types of movies, you have the crazy characters surrounding you and the central figure is the more grounded guy. I thought in order for us to buy him in this world, let him be as odd as the rest of the film.

Wouldn’t you say he’s grounded, though? He feels real.

Oh, definitely. It’s not like I created some crazy guy, but I felt like it was just as bizarre as the story was. I’ve played a lot of emasculated men whether it was emotional or physical or whatever, so despite the bizarre setup, it’s a real journey of somebody becoming a man and becoming a father. But I agree with you, he feels real.

With a character like Barry, you could easily go over-the-top. Can you talk about playing a character that is a little odd, but never making him a cartoon?

It’s funny, whenever I teach master classes prominently with musical theater kids you can adapt this rule to the question you’re asking: Whatever your reality is whether it’s a broad musical comedy or Greek theater or whether it’s Watchmen or Barry Munday, that character lives in his own reality. There are real choices and real emotions that they’re dealing with. Once you get to the core of what the guy is about, which is: Funny guy, yes. Lonely guy, yes. Searching for what it is like being a father and having no father? Great. All of those I can put into any character and they’re in most.

Once you got that core and the script supports it, you can go as broad as you want. We could’ve made Barry even broader, but you get in that first scene who he is. I feel like once you can establish the core of somebody, and it’s the same with Watchmen too, you can go as broad as you want. Then you’re putting on stuff whether it is hair or weight or the glasses, and then you’re creating a character externally. But for me, there has to be a real character.

The story itself could have been done very overly broad as well. What’s it like when you explain the concept of the film and say it’s not that overly broad comedy that it sounds like?

Oh, it’s terrible. Chris and I have become very good friends, but trying to describe the movie to someone it doesn’t sound funny at all. It sounds stupid and in bad taste. Like you get, “Oh, yeah. That’s gonna be a real fun movie, good luck with that one…” Imagine explaining it like, “So then a guy gets his nuts cut off,” and it just doesn’t work. And please, for a guy that almost had it done in Hard Candy and it happened in Little Children with Jackie [Earle Haley] and Dan Dreigberg was certainly emotionally castrated, so I’ve dealt with that enough in movies. If it wasn’t good I wouldn’t want to touch it at all, but with this I felt like I couldn’t say no. It was too different and too cool of a character that I haven’t played.

Did you find making Barry likable at all difficult?

I never go into a role thinking I got to make a character likable, but again, you do feel like on the page when you see the word “Ladies Man” it always comes off as so slimy. Once I figured out that Barry is actually the most positive person you’ll ever be around and that he’s actually an eternal optimist that’s lonely, I think those are things people can latch onto and also pull for.

There are two types of people that you refer to as a ladies man: There’s the guy that is dismissive to every other women that he doesn’t want to be with, but Barry isn’t that guy. Barry kind of loves everybody (laughs). I always felt like his optimism and good attitude made you get past that he was trying to sleep with girls. At the same point, I didn’t want to water him down by trying so hard to make him likable, but to just make him interesting.

Wouldn’t you say it’s important for Barry to be likable in some sense? If he weren’t, would you really cheer for him to succeed and become a father at the end?

Oh, I’ll give you that. Every role I’ve ever played, same with Hard Candy, I don’t care if you like me or don’t like me, but I do want you to care. You have to care. If you’re not pulling for this guy then you’re dead in the water. For me, you certainly want to care because you want to feel towards the end of the film, “Come on, Ginger. Take it easy on this guy; he’s not that bad. He’s trying.” It becomes a very genuine arc for him and he wants to man up and have some responsibility, so there’s certainly an argument for that.

When the movie starts out, you get this odd feeling that this guy was raised without a father and you find out that was the case, and when you read the script did that make a lot of sense to you as well?

Yeah. I kind of felt like that. It made complete sense. [Spoiler Alert] In the book there’s more of, and we left it on the cutting room floor, there’s more of really questioning whether the kid is the Asian neighbor’s and then finding out the dad is Asian [Spoiler Over]. All that stuff is much more prominent in the book. In that first scene you see of Barry and his mom looking at those photos together, that was Jean [Smart] and I’s first scene together. It was already into heavy mother-son relationship right at the beginning. It was, “Nice to meet you, and then now we have a thirty-five year mother-son relationship. Go!”

Barry is sort of the last guy you’d think would want to be a father. What do you think motivates him?

In those terms, he’s a very basic person. The fact that he doesn’t have any testicles anymore takes away from the fact of so much of his life was about overcoming his loneliness by going out with as many women as he could, which made him feel cool. When your whole sex drive is taken away, which was weirdly what kept him going, I think he was faced with this impending fatherhood. It literally comes down to that.

Don’t you think his womanizing was makes him even sadder? He’s trying to get women just so he can feel loved.

Yeah, but isn’t it like that for most people? I mean, I’m thirty-seven and I had my fun when I was single, but I’m sure anyone who goes out for that many women they’re obviously lonely and looking for something. I’m not condemning it, but he also doesn’t really have any friends. When Donald is his best friend and doesn’t even know the most major thing that happened in his life, it’s sad. Not everybody goes after women because they’re extremely lonely, but I think he’s incredibly lonely because he doesn’t have any friends, so maybe it’s more so for Barry than the average person that sleeps around.

Aren’t Donald and him perfect for each other in a sense that they’re both people still trying to live in the era they felt cool in?

What we tried to do with these guys is we wanted to put them in the era that they felt the coolest in, so everybody is in eighties and the seventies. With Barry, Chris and I talked about early nineties post-High School rugby shirts. He’s a little pudgy and he’s still trying to act like he goes to the gym. For each character, you want them to feel like they’re dressed for the era they felt cool in. Ginger, she is more so like a grandmother.

But when you get to the end, Ginger and Barry are basically the same people.

Of course. Look, the movie is funny and quirky, but I also think it has a tremendous amount of heart. I’ve never felt so weirdly removed from a character where I genuinely miss Barry and Ginger. I guess they change at the end because they found each other, but they don’t really change (laughs). They’re the same kind of oddball people and I think that’s what makes it so sweet. It’s not like he’s cool all of the sudden and loses his look. He’s still the same dork.

You mentioned earlier how you’ve played a lot of emasculated characters. With Barry Munday, Watchmen, Little Children, and even Lakeview Terrace that seems to be a theme you play into a lot, is that just a coincidence or is that just a theme you find appealing?

Probably a little of both, and also for what I get hired for. To me, I always gravitate towards scripts that have a real arc where the character can have a real journey. Whether it’s Hard Candy or Watchmen, with Nite Owl being what motivates Dan, or Little Children, him feeling totally emasculated and his journey trying to be a man and have some responsibility similar to this story. That’s usually where I start anyway, but as a result of me liking that I’m probably better at those. It’s a little of both.

So you’re okay with playing characters that are slightly similar thematically?

Yeah, I guess. I think they’re all sort of different characters, but in the most basic sense, yes. They’re all men and I think Dan Dreiberg is drastically different from Brad in Little Children, but at the same time it’s a guy who has no identity and is searching for that. He just needs to figure that out by the end of the story, and that’s Barry as well. He has no identity. For him, his identity is being a father.

Barry Munday is now playing in limited release and on VOD.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.