'Wilfred's' Jason Gann on the Comedy's Season 2 Renewal and Going from 'Hero to Zero'
The co-creator of the FX comedy series opens up about his career ups and downs since creating the Australian short film on which the show is based.
Wilfred’s Jason Gann has gone from “hero to zero” a few times in his career.
At the moment, the multihyphenate is enjoying hero status in the U.S. after FX on Saturday picked up the comedy -- based on the 2002 short film and subsequent Australian series he co-created -- for a second season.
Gann was all smiles Saturday when The Hollywood Reporter caught up with him at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills, where he reflected on how a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking guy in a dog suit has been his life for nearly 10 years as well as what’s ahead as the comedy co-starring Elijah Wood ramps up ahead of its Sept. 8 season finale.
THR: When did you first find out about the Season 2 renewal?
Gann: [Friday] night [Fox Broadcasting chairman] Peter Rice was talking to me and Seth MacFarlane at the Fox party. I had said something to Seth about having a guest role on our show and Peter said to Seth, ‘We have to get you in an animal suit in Season 2.’ I walked away from that going, “Peter Rice said something about Season 2?!” I’ve met Peter a few times and he’s a funny and smart guy. I don’t think he says anything by mistake. I felt like that was his little way of being cheeky and letting me know.
I’ve been around long enough in this business to know until it’s happening it’s not happening. Once, in Australia, I had two TV shows and a feature film up and they all fell over. I got one show back up, Wilfred, and then the complete ass feel out of my career and I was evicted from my house. It was awful. I went form hero to zero.
I slowly built myself back up and there was another stage, I had three different shows at three different networks and again, it was like, “Jason, you’re the toast of the TV scene.” And they all fell over again. I got one back up again, and it was Wilfred. Wilfred just keeps doing it for me. In November this year, it will be 10 years since I wrote the short film [on which Wilfred is based] with [co-creator] Adam Zwar. Even though we only did 16 episodes in Australia, and already we’ve done 13 here and by the end of next season, this [the U.S.] version will be the Wilfred that is the show. For me, it is the show. It’s incredible that the character has stuck around that long.
THR: What have you learned from adapting the series for U.S. audiences?
Gann: What I really discovered as an actor -- writing the character of Wilfred – is that he’s just got so much more depth now. In Australia, he was kind of one-note: Angry, dark, moody, belligerent, and I think that reflected the relationship he had with the Adam [Zwar] character. Elijah’s role with Ryan, and when we tested it and saw it on film, it’s like Wilfred is his bodyguard. I really wanted to bring that in [with the FX take]. Even though he’s his saboteur still, he’s also a protector and a guard.
THR: He’s both the angel and the devil sitting on Ryan’s shoulders.
Gann: When we were in preproduction, before we had any publicity shots, someone took a publicity photo from Lord of the Rings of tall Gandalf with his arms around Elijah’s Frodo and they superimposed Wilfred’s head on [Gandalf]. It had this real protective [feel]. I have the picture in my house. It said a lot; it already felt like a new relationship was being born.
Wilfred this season gets involved with these characters: When he became the mad scientist and he became the dapper aristocrat as he was going to seduce the giraffe. This week, he gets possessed by the dead dog that Ryan owned as a child. I’m getting, as an actor, to really stretch Wilfred out and do some exciting things.
THR: Any lessons you’ve learned as a writer and prospective showrunner?
Gann: Yes, showrunning is really hard. (Laughs.) Right now, I’ve fallen in love with acting again. When I was a young actor, I thought I could take the world. Working in Australia for 20 years was like surviving in a desert, so that’s when I became a writer and a producer. Now, I’m getting to live the dream that I thought was never going to happen, I’d forgotten about it. Right now, I’m really falling in love with the craft of acting again and I’m still creating shows. I don’t think there’s a hurry [for me] to be a showrunner because I see what [Wilfred showrunner] David [Zuckerman] has to go through and it really is your whole life. If I was a showrunner on my next show, the acting would have to take a back seat and I just want to ride this out. People are really responding well to Wilfred and in a way, that’s what I’m born to do. When everyone is sick of me, then I’ll go behind the scenes and go into Phase 2.
THR: What can you tease about the rest of the season ahead of the Sept. 8 season finale?
Gann: Right now is the real fun time of Wilfred and the real maniacal part of the buddy comedy, but we still touch briefly on what’s going on in Ryan’s head. Last week with the Raffe thing – when he was peeing at the window – it was a scene of, ‘Who are these guys?’ And we really start going into that in the later episodes [of the season]. For those who are really invested in the characters and the story’s twists, I think there’s a lot of reward for that.
THR: Do you enjoy the maniacal or the heartfelt parts of the series most?
Gann: I enjoy the heartfelt stuff. My philosophy of my career, and I learned it when I was a stage actor – I played Hamlet once, and a review said, ‘This must be the funniest Hamlet ever,’ but every night the schoolgirls would cry. The first time they were crying as I was dying as Hamlet, I thought they were laughing at me, I thought it was a bad move. A friend told me they were holding each other, crying. My philosophy is, “Make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, pull the rug out from under them and then dry their eyes with laughter.” I love that bit where they’re crying because they love the character but then start laughing. I love the journey you can take with an audience. I get away with a lot in that [Wilfred dog] suit.
THR: Have you already started thinking about ideas for Season 2? Will it take anything from the Australian series?
Gann: I really haven’t even given it a minute’s thought. There was two years break between Season 1 and Season 2 of the Australian series because there wasn’t going to be another one and it came back to the public domain. You empty the well when you write, and you don’t hold anything back. If you have a great idea, you don’t say, ‘I’ll hold that back.’ Even though we did have a lot of Season 2 stuff, a lot of things would come up and we’d say, ‘That’s fantastic, but it feels like a Season 2 story.” We have a file with those tucked away. You just empty the well and by the time you start again, the well replenishes itself.