Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My interview with the stars of "Due Date"

Zach it to 'em, Robert!
By Raymond de Asis Lo / L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star)

Robert Downey Jr. ( left) and Zach Galiafanakis.

LOS ANGELES — When actor Zach Galiafanakis took a bottle of 2006 Roth Estate wine from the mini-fridge inside the Four Seasons suite where we were holding our roundtables during the Due Date junket last week, we had no idea that he would pop open the bottle, pour each of us a glass, and, to our amazement, start drinking in the middle of the interview. We knew we were in for one delightful and funny interview — one that would become the most laughter-filled I have ever had!

“You chug it down, baby, you’re gonna be all right,” Zach’s Due Date co-star Robert Downey Jr., obviously trying to control himself from laughing, half-smilingly told the journalist from Australia when she hesitated in taking a sip from her glass. “He wants you to taste it.”

Zach, who became an overnight sensation after his breakthrough role in last year’s blockbuster comedy The Hangover, was with the celebrated actor during the interview. Both actors star in Warner Bros.’ hilarious road movie Due Date, the latest comedy from the director of The Hangover, Todd Phillips, which opens in Manila tomorrow, Nov. 5.

During the interview, as in most parts of their movie, Robert generously allowed the up-and-coming comic to steal the spotlight in the roundtable interview from him. “I don’t mind that he steals the movie five times over because he deserves it,” he said acknowledging the portly comedian’s unintentional tendency to take the limelight away from his co-stars.

To the comedian’s credit, it was likely he took the bottle of wine to mask his apparent unease with all the chaotic goings-on that is typical of a big Hollywood junket. He would ramble on for a minute or two and quickly apologize after thinking he might have spent far too long in answering a question. Robert, the veteran of the two, sat amused by his co-star’s feigned naiveté yet complete and refreshing candidness.

From the time he broke out with last year’s monster hit The Hangover, Zach has been nearly unstoppable. “I feel like it’s too much, like overexposure, but, you know, everybody who could get a work takes the work — and I enjoy it,” he asserted before adding, “I am hoping to take a breather after January for a couple of months and then maybe slow down a little bit but I gotta tell you I enjoy working. It’s never been part of my life that that much work all just flooded in.”

Robert nodded his approval before facing Zach and telling him, “Dude, all those years when you weren’t on the radar, people would say, ‘Oh, there’s this other guy, Zach Galiafanakis,’ people would all agree that you were funny and offbeat and a complete original but there was no traction behind it to go into the atmosphere and it all happened just like a lickety-split…”

“Yeah, it’s been pretty fast the past year and a half but I am pleased with it,” Zach added. “I am just telling Robert that it’s weird to be sitting with him and discuss the movie. I never would have thought that that would have been the case. I was just doing stand-up and I didn’t have the aspirations really to be doing all these kinds of things. I am so very pleased that this happened.”

What happened was pure Hollywood magic. You work nearly unknown in the sidelines for more than a decade and in just one flick of the finger you have the highest-grossing comedy of the year. Of course, it helped that he had director Todd Phillips keeping an eye on his potential before finally giving him his breakout role last year. “Zach has a great fearlessness about him and I think you have to have that as a comic actor,” he said.

Zach’s stories of his early struggling days as a wannabe actor were odd and anecdotal one would be tempted to think that the comedian was just mostly making them up if not for the traces of sincerity in his demeanor when he was relating how he persevered to break into the business.

One of the funniest stories he told us that afternoon was when he was new in New York and trying to become a stand-up comic. His first paid gig was to entertain a bunch of four-year olds at a Foot Locker shop. When he found himself running out of material to keep the kids preoccupied he resorted to what was perhaps a precursor to how crazy his career trajectory would take him later. He took out several permanent markers and invited the kids to draw or write whatever they want on his face — all for 50 bucks! After his gig, “it was raining and I was walking home and my brother, who was visiting with me, he happened to take a walk and he saw me and he just looked at my face with all the drawings on it. Every actor must have a story similar to it…”

Robert immediately exclaimed, “No, that didn’t happen to me,” before breaking into laughter.

The actors share a distinct chemistry both on and offscreen that director Phillips expressed how lucky he was to have found two perfect actors to portray two mismatched guys sharing a cross-country ride from Atlanta to L.A. — with the hilarities and all! He had both Robert and Zach when he was drafting the story.

Before we got the interview started, the two actors huddled for a minute in a corner and shared a hug before taking their seats. “This is what happens,” Robert declared when we asked what the hug was all about. “All real moments happen around a f--ing press roundtable. This is pathetic!” He did not share what they talked about and immediately changed the topic to the writing on the shirt worn by the journalist from Mexico.

Robert and Zach are neighbors in the tony neighborhood of Venice, California. Zach, in what seemed to be a puzzling story in the beginning, shared his encounter with a homeless guy he found sleeping under his car. He called the police to report the guy and when he was asked to describe the guy, he realized that his description of him was the exact description of what he looked like. He just told the police: “Look, when you get here, there’re two of us.” But it’s not the kicker of the story. “I actually felt sorry about calling on him because I know somebody from before who was the same and would wake up in strange places,” he added while giving a subtle nod towards Robert in apparent allusion to his colorful past. Robert, who has since sobered up and has been enjoying great career resurgence after doing the mega-blockbuster Iron Man, briefly pretended drawing a blank face but ultimately smiled at another of Zach’s inspired joke.

The Oscar-nominated actor is enjoying a three-year blockbuster streak. Before the success of Iron Man, he was mostly written off as a has-been after his bouts with unsavory headline-grabbing issues about drugs and alcohol addiction. That movie and its sequel cemented Robert’s superstar status in Hollywood. After Due Date, he is set to star in the sequel to last Christmas’ blockbuster hit Sherlock Holmes while Zach heads to Thailand to film the sequel to The Hangover.

“We both have sequelitis,” Robert joked before concluding the interview.

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