Mike Birbiglia Details His Next Project, His Acting Future and Why He's Skeptical of Hollywood (Q&A)
The comedian-director spoke to THR at the WGA Awards on Sunday, giving updates on his next film and explaining why he doesn't want to act in his own movies.
Few people get as much mileage out of one story as Mike Birbiglia.
An extra-multi-hyphenate -- he is a comedian-actor-writer-director -- Birbiglia wowed last year's Sundance Film Festival with his debut feature, Sleepwalk With Me, which was co-produced by radio icon Ira Glass and won the festival's audience award in the best of next category. A semi-autobiographical story, the film derived from a stand-up routine, book and radio play of the same title. Now he's working on another film, based on his latest stand-up act, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend.
Birbiglia spoke with The Hollywood Reporter at the Writers Guild of America's East Coast chapter's award show on Sunday, where he was presenting the award for top comedy variety or late night show. Because he was friends with each nominee, he brought Reese's Pieces on stage to give each of the losers as a consolation.
STORY: Mike Birbiglia Makes Joss Whedon a Generous Offer and Hustles His Film, 'Sleepwalk With Me'
The Hollywood Reporter: Have you heard from your "rival" Joss Whedon recently?
Mike Birbiglia: No, I haven’t. Although I’m really looking forward to his Much Ado About Nothing. I can’t wait. It premieres at SXSW. I’m thrilled. He’s finally come down to our level, working at our budget level. We’ll see how he does it.
THR: Right -- when you have all that 3D, it’s easy.
Birbiglia: Exactly. All the tricks, all the wild cranes and helicopters ... Let’s see if he’s a true artist. Let’s see what he’s really got.
THR: So what are you working on now?
Birbiglia: I’m writing a screen adaptation of [his most recent stand-up act] My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. Which will have a different name, but that was the jumping-off point. I’m working on that right now, and I’m shooting a concert special of My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend in about a month from now, and that should come out in the fall.
THR: So are you getting a lot more interest in doing films now that Sleepwalk With Me was well received?
Birbiglia: It seems like it, yeah. But I’m just kind of focused on making sure that I can maintain the integrity that we had with Sleepwalk. We were able to do things because it was under the radar that I don’t think any movie is able to do. We were just picking out footage during the edit left and right and just dropping it in, going, "What about this? What about this shot?" The monologue of how “all these years we stayed together because we didn’t want to make the other person mad,” it was in post. It was in the original scene. We dropped it in. It was a line that I had written in a previous draft that Ira really liked, and he said, “I think that’s a really beautiful piece of writing, why don’t we drop that in again and see what happens?”
I don’t feel like you have -- there were kind of a few chefs at that point in the edit. It was me and Jeffrey Richmond, who edited the film, and Ira Glass and Seth Barrish, who was my co-director. And no one else. We could do whatever we wanted. It was kind of building a consensus. And I get the feeling that that’s not always the case at all the larger movie-house operations.
THR: They have money involved in it.
Birbiglia: And it’s a business. I understand why. But if you’re making something lower-budget, you’re able to fiddle more, which fits my process. My process is very trial-and-error, same with Ira.
THR: You’re always working on things in stand-up.
Birbiglia: Stand-up is very much like that, and Ira, he produces a radio show every week, so he’s constantly cutting things in 10 different ways to see how it goes.
THR: Are you going to act in it?
Birbiglia: I think so. I would like to not, long-term. I mean, I think I will continue to act as long as it’s helpful, as long as it makes it funnier or makes it better, but I feel like what I’m doing is very specific voice-wise now, so I feel like I’m in it, and it just doesn’t take as much direction. It just has a personal feel.
THR: So if you wrote something that was not based on stand-up, you’d want someone else to act in it?
Birbiglia: Probably, yeah.
THR: Because you want to focus on directing?
Birbiglia: Yeah, and also, honestly, I think there are better actors.
THR: See, most directors demand to be the stars.
Birbiglia: That’s smart. Sylvester Stallone did it with Rocky. I would say only if it’s fitting, but if I conceive of something that it’s not an obvious fit, I don’t want to force a square peg in a round hole.
THR: What did you think of Christoph Waltz on SNL?
Birbiglia: I didn’t see it because I was performing, I was in Buffalo. It’s so sad, because my wife said it was great. I always live tweet SNL. This is my favorite cast in years. I love this cast, I think it’s an incredible ensemble cast, and Seth Meyers writes the hell out of that show, and Colin writes the hell out of that show. That show is incredible. Naseem [Pedrad] and Bill Hader, Vanessa Bayer is incredible. Everyone on that show is incredible, and it seems like they’re having a good time. Christoph Waltz, I didn’t see it last night, but Django blew my mind. Blew my f----ing mind. I was like, that was one of the best movie experiences I ever had. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.
THR: Is that your best picture choice?
Birbiglia: I haven’t thought about it, but if you’re holding my feet to the fire, sure.
THR: Now that you’re in the movie business, has it surprised you how focused people are on awards?
Birbiglia: Yeah, it seems kind of silly, but in some ways, of course the movie industry wants to advertise the movie industry.
THR: The analysis of who’s going to win, it is reminiscent of an election, a political race.
Birbiglia: It is politics, literally. But it’s great for like, Lucy Alibar’s film [Beasts of the Southern Wild] got nominated for a bunch of stuff, and so it’s great for smaller films like theirs that maybe wouldn’t have been seen by all of America, it gives it a second look, which I think is wonderful. Same thing with like, Silver Linings, it got nominated a lot. It’s not a small film, but it’s a smaller film. I think they’re good in that sense, so long as you don’t take too much stock in the whole thing.
THR: As a comedy guy, does it annoy you when people like Justin Bieber host SNL?
Birbiglia: I watched it, but [laughs] I don’t remember it all that well.
THR: So maybe he’s better off as just a musical guest.
Birbiglia: Well Justin Timberlake is unbelievable. When Timberlake does it, you’re like, he’s like the ultimate host ever. He should host forever.