Interview: Jeff Garlin on I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

The Curb Your Enthusiasm actor talks about his directorial debut.

by | October 4, 2007 | Comments

Jeff Garlin sums up the simple goal of lonely folks
everywhere with the title of his new film:
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese
currently in limited release and available On Demand through the IFC
First Take program. Garlin, best known for his role as
Larry David‘s manager on HBO’s
Your Enthusiasm
, is also renowned for his improvisational skills. His lines
in Curb are non-scripted and he hosts a weekly improv set at the Upright
Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles. 

Garlin plays a pretty gruff character on TV, and
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese
— which he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in — shows us
his softer side. He stars as a struggling actor who sneaks out of Overeaters
Anonymous meetings to grab ice cream and starts brief flirtations with two women
Bonnie Hunt
). RT met up with Garlin in San Francisco to chat about
shooting in his hometown of Chicago, his favorite directors, and how much longer
Curb will be on the air.

Rotten Tomatoes: How was directing your own film?

Jeff Garlin: It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. The actual
filming — writing, filming, and even post-production and editing — I enjoyed
all that. I did not enjoy producing. Thank God
Erin O’Malley and
Steve Pink came
on because producing’s crazy hard. And I didn’t like raising the money. Also,
once you sell your movie, getting everything together for the studio is very
difficult. It’s almost as difficult as getting the money.  It really is a
nightmare. They don’t tell you about that in film books and film school.

RT: How much of your character in Cheese is

JG: The food stuff, it’s almost exact. I would sit in my
car just like I do in the movie. Same place, at three in the morning, eating a
bagel or pudding. It was much better doing it for a movie.

RT: Have you received much of a response from viewers?

JG: People who have eating problems have definitely
mentioned to me, "Thank you."  But it’s not the most completely honest
portrayal. I left something out because it wasn’t tracking: I had myself in the
movie overeating even when good things happened, which is how it is in reality.
The reality is [in] any emotional situation, a compulsive eater eats or an alcoholic
drinks. What people misunderstand is that when you’re a compulsive overeater,
you don’t just eat when things are bad. You eat when you feel anything. I took
that out because people were confused. They would say, "Why are you eating on
the hood of your car? She likes you!" I got so many questions that I just took
it out. I just want people to watch the movie, not to think, "Why is he doing

RT: How much of the film was improvised?

JG: Five to 10 percent.  It’s all my writing.  I probably
finished my first draft sometime in the mid 1990s and I rewrote it about 50 times
with about 50 different endings. I’m not making that up, the ending was always
the hardest. It always is.

RT: Despite having written this so long ago, the cast seems
perfect for each role.

JG: I wrote the parts for the actors for the most part. 
I’d say 70 to 75 percent — I know how Rotten Tomatoes loves percentages — 75
percent of the people in the movie, I wrote the parts for them. Especially Sarah
Silverman and Bonnie Hunt.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With Movie Stills: Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman, Jeff Garlin


RT: Were you always intending to star in the film?

JG: No. Originally I was writing it for no one in
particular, even though it was my voice. I always thought in the back of my
mind, "I’d love to play this." But I was being realistic in terms of getting it
made. At first I thought
Chris Farley; I wanted to show a different side of
Chris. He was a really nice guy, a lovely guy — but then he died. Then Curb
started getting a little more popular, but I still didn’t feel I could star in
it.  Then I approached
Jack Black and he read it and said,
"This is your voice. Why are you not doing it? You can star in a movie because you’re on Curb Your
."  And I said, "Oh, you’re right, I can, can’t I?" So then I

I still, at this point having starred in the movie and
being on Curb, wouldn’t care if I never acted again. I like writing and
directing. Acting’s fine if the script’s written by
Paddy Chayefsky and
directs it, but unless you have something like that, I don’t really
enjoy acting.

RT: Who are some of your favorite directors, past and

JG: Wow. Today: I love
Alexander Payne,
Wes Anderson, and
Nicole Holofcener.  She’s a friend of mine and I really love her movies. I love
Friends With Money,
Walking and
, and
Lovely and
. She’s just great, I love her. 

Then, if you go back, there’s
Charlie Chaplin,
Ernst Lubitsch,
Billy Wilder,
Preston Sturges,
Howard Hawks,
Hal Ashby,
John Ford,
Paul Mazursky.  Certainly
Martin Scorsese,
Akira Kurosawa,
Federico Fellini,
Francois Truffaut. I’m a freak for great movies. I love movies.  There are
hundreds of filmmakers where I love at least one or two of their movies.  Oh! 
Woody Allen and
Albert Brooks.  I love them and always forget to mention them
because they’re obvious, I think.

RT: I Want Someone reminded me of
many films by directors on the list you just mentioned; it had a lot of heart and the characters constantly surprise the
audience. Was that something you were intentionally going for? 

JG: You know what, it’s who I am. So I can’t say I was
going for it. I just wrote and I made the movie. I never said, "Okay, we’re
going for pathos here." I work really organically.  So that either is who I am
and it’s what I do or it’s not. I think this is a very un-romantic comedy. When
you see a bad romantic comedy, you see the script, the director, and the actors
trying to create this warmth and this pathos and this feeling that you care
about them. That cannot be manufactured — it’s either there or it isn’t. RT: There are a lot of characters in the film that only
have one or two scenes in the film, like
Amy Sedaris and
Dan Castellaneta, but
you almost feel like they are there throughout the entire film. For those small
roles, did you have specific actors in mind?

JG: I most definitely wrote it for them. Yup, yup, yup. The
guy I learned that from was
Preston Sturges.
[He] put such great care
in the writing and casting of the small parts. Because you’re the postman in a
scene and only have two lines does not mean you should be boring in the scene.
You should be an interesting postman that has something interesting to say. Not
necessarily a joke, but that you’re three-dimensional. Who are you? How do you
feel about being a postman? I don’t go through this with the actors, but when
I’m writing I certainly think, "Where is he coming from?  Who is he? Who is his
wife? How does he feel about what’s going on? What is he contributing to the
scene? How is he purposeful in this scene?" And then I will also think, "Who
should play this, if I could pick anyone?"

RT: How has life been since the success of Curb Your

JG: It has a cult following, but it’s also become popular.
It’s weird and strange to me. Very strange. I didn’t expect it to be a failure,
but we did what we thought was funny. When you do that, you never know how
people will react. It’s like my stand-up. I remember when I’d be playing in
front of six people who had no idea who I was, and didn’t like me. Now I play in
front of a sold out show each week. When I say sold-out, it is like 100 people,
but still. I’m very appreciative of all the success I have, I’m lucky.

RT: Do you hear references to the show when you’re out and

JG: It’s funny; I hear them when I walk down the street.
People will say things to me, and I’m not making this up. Except for "big
vagina" I have no idea what they’re talking about. They’ll say something to me
and I’ll say, "I have no idea what you’re talking about." Then they’ll tell me
what was going on in the episode and I’m like, "Oh, right!" If I’m reminded I’ll
remember, but there are so many lines that I don’t remember offhand.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With Movie Stills: Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman, Jeff Garlin


RT: How was it transitioning from supporting actor on Curb
to lead actor in Cheese?

JG: There is no transition. I’m just in it more. I approach
everything the same way. Just throw me in an environment and I react how I react
and just do what I do. There’s a lot of preparation no matter what I do. I don’t
take myself seriously, but I take what I do very seriously.

RT: I heard you had a lot of problems on the actual shoot
of the film.

JG: There are always tons of problems on an independent
film. I enjoyed myself.  One got me down, but I reacted by laughing
hysterically. We filmed for an entire day and the sound guy didn’t record sound
and so, the only thing I could do was laugh. I laughed so hard because it was so
absurd. I had a vision of this dude in my office telling me how great he is and
how pleased I’d be.

RT: How do you feel about I Want Someone to Eat Cheese
being available On Demand?

JG: It’s IFC’s First Take and it’s a new program
where they take independent movies like mine, and while it’s platforming in
theaters, it’s also available at the same time On Demand.  I’d prefer that
everyone sees it in the theater, but that’s a little bit too idealistic. I’m
happy that people can see it in any case. We have a theater in LA called the Arclight. There are no commercials and there’s a doorman who introduces the
movie — everything about it means no one is going be rude and it will be a
pleasant experience. I have gone to many theaters where it is so unpleasant with
the commercials before the movie, the volume, and the disrespect of the
filmgoers. So I understand people not wanting to go to the theater. Generally,
this movie will play at arthouses, so it will get good and smart audiences. It’s
much more of a problem when you have a big mass release of something that you
care about, because it might not get the respect it deserves in big theaters.

I find that, in our country, movies are looked on as
popular entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining, but film is an art
form. It’s like a painting. It’s like
Ingmar Bergman.Watching
The Seventh
is like watching a painting, it’s a piece of art. There’s a lack of
respect for popular entertainment and art.

RT: Since there is no advertising, how will fans hear about
Cheese, other than word-of-mouth?

JG: All I’m going to say is try and see the trailer online,
and if it appeals to you, please see it. If it doesn’t, don’t go see it. Or do
go; that’s very nice of you to go see a movie when you didn’t like the trailer.
But really it’s all about the trailer. The trailer is not misdirection. The tone
of the trailer is what the movie is.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With Movie Stills: Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman, Jeff Garlin


RT: Chicago almost seems like its own character in I
Want Someone to Eat Cheese With

JG: We filmed a lot of exterior shots in Chicago. A lot of
the film takes place outdoors, and I felt like I had to shoot in Chicago.

RT: Looking at the cast and crew, a majority of the people
involved are somehow deeply connected with Chicago.

JG: I actually would have liked to have pulled it off where
everyone was from Chicago. I also wanted to show the real Chicago in a movie. In
most movies about Chicago, they always show the "L." It’s usually very
superficial they way Chicago is shown. They’ll show those things but then film
in Toronto. Even with the stuff I shot in LA — which were interiors — it was
really difficult finding interiors that looked like they could be Chicago. I
also had a goal of never showing the "L". But then, by God, there’s a scene
where the "L" comes by in the background, but it was perfect.  I thought,
"Okay, I’ll keep it.  I’m not going to be a jerk about it."

RT: Not too many films are shot in Chicago. Are you going
to continue to try shooting your films there?

JG: Certainly, I would love to film in Chicago. But it is
more important for me to shoot a film than shoot in Chicago.  I have no desire
to shoot in Canada, so I can tell you all my movies will be shot in the US. I
moved to Los Angeles to work in Los Angeles. Chicago’s my home town so I’m happy
to work there. I don’t really want to leave. I don’t want to shoot in North
Carolina or Toronto. A lot of people shoot in these places and I understand it
saves them money, but I’d rather make less money and sleep in my own bed at

RT: Do you know how many more seasons of Curb Your
there will be?

JG: There will be no more seasons, I think. I don’t know
for sure, that’s my gut feeling. Every year I think it’s the last year, more so
every year. I thought for sure last year. But who the hell knows?

RT: Does the cast want to continue doing Curb?

JG: Sure, we’re not stupid.  I love doing Curb. I’m
not going to be the reason the show stops.

RT: Does the Curb schedule allow you
to shoot many films?

JG: Most certainly. I have breakfast with my children in
the morning, I might even take them to school on my way to work. I film all day
and come home. Even if I come home when they’re sleeping, I’m happy to see them
and they’re happy knowing that when they wake up in the middle of the night with
a bad dream, dad will be there.

I Want Someone to Eat Cheese
currently has a 77 percent Tomatometer. Click here to see if it’s playing in your area, or check it out On Demand through IFC’s First Take.