If you were to explain what you do for a living to a small a child, what would you tell him or her?
I would say that I tell stories.
When you were little, is that what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Yes, I knew it since I was eight years old.
That you were gonna write and act and direct…
Yeah, tell stories. When I was growing up my father would take me to see plays in Manhattan. He loved films and he would show me movies that were way beyond my understanding and comprehension at a young age. You know, a lot of kids are so into sports and I had zero interest in sports, just zero. So I felt very alienated, I felt “What’s wrong with me? Everybody is into sports, everybody is making friends.”. My dad did community theater and I just thought it was so fun. And then I liked the idea of making people laugh and that is how I made friends, I became the class clown to try to make friends. You know, I was a kind of melancholic kid, but I realized that I would get happy when I made people laugh. And so that’s how it all started.
Which encounter was the most influential in your career?
The encounter that changed my life was meeting Bill Lawrence who created Scrubs. I had been auditioning professionally since I was 13 years old and, you know, I got little things here and there, but nothing really substantial, nothing major until I got Scrubs. He was just the perfect person because we had the same exact sense of humor.
How old were you?
I was probably 25/26. There were more famous people that were up for the part. I mean, they were famous people, I was a waiter (we both laugh). He really believed in me and he did everything he could to help me get the part. Getting that big TV show changed my whole life.
If you were to describe I Wish I Was Here in three words what would you say?
Family. Love. Infinity.
Because I think one of the things that the film tries to do is to wrestle with trying to be the best person you can be. If you’re someone who thinks about the insanity of how we are these little creatures running around on this planet in the middle of infinity, it’s really hard, sometimes, to be present and to not be obsessed about everything else. And the title I Wish I Was Here is meant to say I wish I was not so mind-fucked by the infinite universe and how we die and how our lives are so short and all these things and just be in the moment. That was the goal.
You wrote both Garden State and I Wish I Was Here and I feel there’s such a strong sense of being lost in both of them. Would you agree with me?
Yes, they are about being lost. I wrote this last one with my brother, but yes, I do feel lost. I think that’s a very human thing that people relate to, or maybe not, maybe I feel more lost than other people, but… Whatever age I am at I never feel I have the answers I thought I would have at that age. There was a line, it used to be in the movie, I think it got cut out “There’s never any answers, there’s just bigger questions.”. You know, you get to be at a certain age when you’re thinking about your parents and death and how long you’re allowed to go after your dreams before you have to give up and provide for your family… In Garden State, you just got out of college and you’re there thinking “What the fuck am I going to do with my life? I don’t know what to be.” And there are also spiritual questions. I think a lot of people throughout history have turned to religion looking for answers. So, if you’re not religious, I am not religious, you kind of have to learn from scratch. The answers are not provided for you, there is no comfort in “Here’s a book of answers follow these rules.”
You feel you’re not getting any answers?
No, I think you do learn. You definitely learn. I’m 39 years old, I’ve learnt a lot, but the movies are about searching for who you are.
If you were to be able to meet your fifteen year old self and give yourself a piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?
That the world doesn’t owe you anything. So, everything that you want, whether it’s love, career or success or health or happiness, well, you have to proactively go get and work hard for. Nothing comes easy and no one said anything is fair, so if you want love you have to go out and work hard to find and maintain love. If you want success in your career you have to work your ass off at it.
There was some criticism towards you using KickStarter as a funding tool for I Wish I Was Here, especially from twitter users and bloggers. I wondered at the time if that was something you expected or if it did come as a surprise?
It was not something I was expecting. It funded in 48 hours. I felt bummed that the experiment, the adventure, was so misunderstood. I was surprised that I had to spend a whole year, more than a year, trying to explain it and no matter how hard I tried some people didn’t like the idea of crowdfunding a movie.
But you’re not the only one, other well known actors and directors have used KickStarter as a funding tool in the past, right?
I’m the only one who really took heat for it. They didn’t really give Kristen Bell heat for it, they didn’t give Spike Lee that much heat for it. LeVar Burton just had one for 1.3 million dollars. They just didn’t like that I did it. The funny thing was that for me it was an experiment in artistic integrity. Most people don’t know, unless you’re really in the business, that everything that comes out of Hollywood is affected by corporations, by test audiences, by interests that are different than what the artist has in his brain. And that is just an accepted fact. So the idea behind crowd funding the movie is that if we remove the corporations, I’m not saying the movie would be perfect, but it would be interesting to see the end result, if you were a true fan. For me, if David Fincher were to say ‘I’m gonna crowdfund a movie because no one wants to make it”, in two seconds, I would support it.
It means freedom…
That’s what the experiment was, I thought it’d be cool, because crowdsourcing is such a new thing. When it worked so successfully in 48 hours a lot of people got a bad taste in their mouth. I feel bad about that, but I don’t know what else to say, I just saw it completely differently. I could never escape the fact that people thought that the money was going into my wallet. Not only it was all going into the movie, but tons of my own money was going into the movie. In fact, I will lose a lot of money on the movie. So, that was frustrating. What can you do other than explain yourself? I don’t think I will do it again. The people loved it, but it just took too much heat from the rest of the world, I just wanna make movies, I don’t wanna be a politician.
What’s the sexiest quality in a woman?
What can be her biggest turn off?
Being rude. Being unkind.
What’s the best quality about you and what’s your biggest flaw?
My biggest flaw is probably that I get so much joy from doing what I do in my career that people close to me would say that I focus too much on work and making movies. I’m sure my family, friends, exes would say that I spend too much attention on it. My greatest quality, I think, is that I am very loyal and I have a lot of love to give to the people in my life.