It’s weird watching Patton Oswalt grow up. The guy who made a career out of jokes about murdering both George Lucas and KFC mashed potato bowls now has material about the insomnia brought on by his 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter. When we talked to him on the phone this week, he told us he’s even watching sports now, or at least reading about them regularly. Don’t panic if you’re an old-school Patton fan: As evidenced by his upcoming projects, he can still bring the strange. He’s reteaming with Diablo Cody on the December release Young Adult (he was on her canceled Showtime series The United States of Tara); and his mini-series for Adult Swim, The Heart, She Holler, produced by the Brooklyn eccentrics who made Wonder Showzen, is the most bizarro television thing we’ve seen in years. In it, Patton's character inherits a white-trash nightmare of a town when his cult leader daddy dies, leaving him with only an endless supply of VHS instructional videos as his guide and two insane sisters (Kristen Schaal, Heather Lawless) as his antagonists. We spoke with him ahead of Sunday's premiere about how the show is like a "mountain of meth," reteaming with Cody, and improv overload.
Patton Oswalt: Let’s fuckin’ do this. I’m ready, man!
Wait, hold on for a second.
So you’re not ready?
Now I am. I just did fifteen push-ups.
That segues into my first question: You grew up a military brat in Virginia. How accurate is your redneck accent in The Heart, She Holler?
The problem was I grew up in Northern Virginia in a suburb outside of D.C., which was very much one of those bedroom communities. So it’s like people who grew up outside of Manhattan, they don’t have a Brooklyn or Long Island accent.
Everybody sounds like Tom Brokaw?
Yeah, it’s like a flat, culture-less place. Now, when I would go and do like, gigs down in Southwestern Virginia, like Norton, Blacksbrook, that’s where you get that delicious Virginia Southern accent, which I don’t think a lot of people really understand. It’s so much different than the Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida accent. Very different thing. I happen to love the Virginia accent. It’s sort of lyrical.
I read somewhere that the modern Southern accent is probably closer to the Elizabethan accent than the modern British accent. But anyway, you sound like an armchair phonologist.
I just like people. I like individuals and I love the fact that sometimes the way people try to hide an accent or how they try to acquire an accent — it’s all very much about character. And it’s kind of gorgeous. It is a thing you are born with and you can very much change if you want to. You know how sometimes when people get angry and their real accent will come out?
Right. When did Adult Swim go so far beyond pot? This show seems like DMT programming.
Yeah, I know. Maybe their early shows were gateway shows to the shows they’re doing now. Maybe Jack Webb was right when he was saying that alcohol is the flame, heroin is the fuse, and LSD is the bomb. Maybe he was right! Maybe right now we’re in their PCP years and eventually we’ll get into their methodone years and then we’ll have their kinda sad midlife relapse years where they don’t understand that their tolerance has gone down and they’ll just OD.
So you think The Heart, She Holler is a PCP show?
I think The Heart, She Holler is a mountain meth show where the catalyst is brake fluid. It’s like the cheapest meth. The kinda meth where even desperate meth heads are like, “Is there anything better than this? This is way too harsh.”
I’ve never seen you in that much costuming before.
Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever been in that much costuming before. It was fun! It was an acting challenge to be that besuited that bewigged and that betoothed. I have a newfound respect for people like Jim Carrey and Mike Myers. Although in a way when I was a little kid I used to idolize Boris Karloff and Lon Cheney, so maybe I’ve come full circle. Those motherfuckers had to emote under pounds of makeup and fur, so hey.
Did you have any say in this character, or did you just deliver the lines the way Vernon Chatman and John Lee had written him?
The scripts were so well written. And I’m a little leery these days; I think right now there is an undeserved sort of fashion and fad for improv, where people improv before they even read the script. And again, a lot of great stuff comes from improv all the time. But sometimes the script is awesome, and you will look really good if you read the fucking script. So I read the scripts first and I saw that they were good. I think I ripped a couple things here and there, but it was never anything major because Vernon and John’s writing is so dense and lyrical to the point of mythology. And I wanted to sort of capture that rather than add my own bullshit input.
You just made a movie with the Queen Nerd, Diablo Cody. In both United States of Tara and the new movie Young Adult, you play an unattractive dude who bends over backwards for a hot woman. Do you resent Diablo yet?
Hey look, I can’t resent somebody for capturing my life so well.
Has that scenario played out in your life?
I could never get close to super-confident women in high school, so no.
But what about now? Was your wife a cool girl in high school?
So you finally got her.
Yeah, I beat her down, and I’ve got her.
Were you surprised that Tara got canceled? Spielberg was involved!
Well, the ratings weren’t great. I was just bummed out because the writers were really starting to hit on all pistons in season three, and they were going to take that show in some amazing directions. And we never got to do it. It’s just frustrating as a writer and knowing what writers go through.
So this character in Young Adult is obsessed with Star Wars. Could you resist ad libbing any of that?
Well, we talked about the character beforehand. Before we started shooting, I sort of suggested a couple little character things with the action figures and stuff like that. But I wasn’t riffing that much while I was on set. I’m not saying I’m against riffing. I’m all for riffing and improv after the script has been read. But it seems to me that a lot of that happens before anybody even cracks the cover. “Well I’m just going to add my own flourish to this.” Why don’t you see if there might actually be a brilliant character in there? Why don’t you read it first?