Who is Zach Galifianakis, really? The comedian has so thoroughly disappeared into bearded-weirdo roles in The Hangover, Bored to Death, and Up in the Air (plus his delightful web show “Between Two Ferns”) that it’s hard to get a handle on his real-life personality. On the red carpet before last night’s New York premiere of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story — in which Galifianakis plays a mental patient who befriends a newly admitted 16-year old (United States of Tara’s Keir Gilchrist) — we put the question to the man himself.
You’re tired of everyone thinking you’re that dude from The Hangover, aren’t you?
I always find that people don’t know what acting is when it comes to me and my roles. Movies are acting. They are not real. This role, though, is pretty similar or the most similar to who I am in real life — more so than other ones.
I can’t tell if you are really earnest or if this is more shtick.
It’s work and it’s filming. People think my work is all fun and games, but I don’t. It’s work and it’s serious. It’s fun, but it’s work. Look, it’s more fun than most things that I used to do. I was a busboy at a strip joint and I didn’t like that. I was a house cleaner and I didn’t like that. I was a nanny and didn’t like that.
You didn’t even like being a nanny?
I didn’t like it because I was 28 years old and I hated the children.
You seem pretty normal.
Well I also try to be on my best behavior for certain people and for certain reasons, too.
What’s going on with “Between Two Ferns”?
Well there was one two weeks ago with Sean Penn. Less is more. It’s the timing that makes it tough. But I like to leave them wanting me more. It’s tough to get it together. I have to be in Los Angeles, and I have kind of a love-hate relationship with L.A. I sort of don’t like to be out there.
Can’t you get ferns somewhere besides L.A.?
I can’t get guests elsewhere. I could interview the ferns. But I have to get the guests or no one is going to watch it.
Were there any memorable characters you met while doing research in mental facilities for this role?
I went to a couple of mental-health facilities in New Mexico and hung out and asked questions and wrote down some things. That’s how I did my research. There was one woman who was really funny, who I was convinced was a patient, but turned out to be one of the counselors. She was really funny and I really was convinced when I was talking to her that she was a patient. Like when she said, “Come to my office.” I was like, Oh, well I guess that’s what she calls her bedroom — “the office.” But it was a real office and she was a real administrator.
Why haven’t we seen you at any fashion shows this week?
Oh, I’d love to sit up front and boo them and yell things like “who gives a shit!?”
What’s your style?
My style is community-college librarian.