SXSW 2014: Patrick Wilson, Matthew Bomer & Jack Plotnick on Space Station 76
One of the quirkier films at South by Southwest, a virtual haven for quirky films as it is, was Space Station 76. The comedy featured a slew of characters on a space station imagined as if it came from ‘70s sci-fi, directed by Jack Plotnick, a regular in Quentin Dupieux movies like Rubber and Wrong. Patrick Wilson and Matt Bomer attended SXSW with Plotnick. Wilson plays Captain Glenn, a captain keeping a secret that everybody already seems to know. Bomer plays Ted, the ship’s mechanic who tries to be a good dad, even though his wife is having affairs and trying to turn their daughter against him. I spoke with the trio in Austin about their latest, and upcoming films.
CraveOnline: I know you’ve directed a little bit before. Was directing always your plan when you got into acting?
Jack Plotnick: I doubt I had a lot of plans. I just knew I loved acting. I started out as a young person thinking I was going to do this in theater for my life. Then I discovered sketch comedy. Seth Rudetsky, my comedy partner, and I performed for years together. We had an act we did at Caroline’s for a year and a half. That led me to Hollywood and it kind of just started to grow. Your dreams change based on what you love. I was always directing but did I think I was going to direct feature films? I don’t think it was on my radar but I fell in love with it, so I’m really happy it’s happened.
Was it important for the comedy that you all take the world of Space Station 76 seriously?
Jack Plotnick: Well, it was incredibly important for the movie that we take the world seriously because in the end, it’s a drama. I felt everybody got that to approach it totally real and to take their problems that they’re all struggling with totally seriously. But then the situations are just so uncomfortable and so real that I think the comedy came from that. When you set a bunch of people on a spaceship in the ‘70s, you kind of have to treat it like it’s really happening or else it just becomes a parody or a wacky comedy and that’s never what our goal was.
Was it important for both of you as actors to play it like straight sci-fi?
Matt Bomer: I just approached the scenes with the given circumstances being what they were. Obviously you try to familiarize yourself with whatever set you’re working on and have a certain level of comfortability with whatever the level of technology is, but other than that I think we just approached it like you would almost any scene. I sort of left the tone to the nuance of Jack’s direction.
Jack Plotnick: But I will say, all these actors are so brilliant and they understand how to find the comedy in something that’s very real. So absolutely you see everybody has moments that tickle me.
It seems like Glenn has been alone in that cockpit for so long.
Patrick Wilson: Yes, he has.
How lonely do you think he’s been?
Patrick Wilson: Extremely. You don’t do something like this and just play “he’s kinda lonely.” You have to go “suicide.” That’s sort of what he’s talking about with the tone and the comedy side of it. You have to trust those circumstances and the comedy does come out of the desperation. That’s not to get too actor-y, but otherwise you’re just sort of playing a gag.
Matt Bomer: It was in the script.
Patrick Wilson: It really was and Jack was very conscious of that. Any other set piece, any other genre, any other costume and you’re playing a very troubled man. That’s the fun of bringing out the comedic elements but really it was all in the script. Yes, that’s a long way of answering. You have to play it to 10. You don’t just play kind of upset. That’s not dramatic or funny.
Ted is a really good father, isn’t he?
Matt Bomer: He’s one of those guys who’s really trying to do the right thing and is just in a situation where no good deed goes unpunished. He really believes that if he does all the right things for his family, everything’s going to be okay. He’s the mechanic. He wants to fix things.
Jack Plotnick: It just all blows up in his face
Matt Bomer: He does have the best intentions.
Is Space Station 76 more of a tragedy than a comedy?
Matt Bomer: What did you think?
Jack Plotnick: What’s the difference, really?
Well, it’s why I ask. I thought it was more melancholy.
Matt Bomer: One has a little bit of time added to it, right?
Patrick Wilson: That’s always the thing that’s most interesting to me, is people’s reactions. What they expect and what you get in return. I’m fascinated by a movie that you have some people laughing at the tears or finding these very real and emotional situations where you may feel “Oh my God, I feel so bad for this guy” and the guy next to you is going, “This is ridiculously funny.” That’s cool to me.
That’s, to me, then we’re all in the same movie because then it becomes very personal, your relationship with the suburbs, relationships, sexuality, all that stuff. That to me is where we don’t give you a lot of answers. We just hand you a situation and go, “There, how do you feel?” That’s fun when you can do that in a film.
What were your impressions when you first saw the set?
Jack Plotnick: For me, I was a kid in a candy store. I’d been obsessed with the 1970s vision of the future since I was a little boy and first visited Walt Disney World and went to the Contemporary Hotel and rode a monorail. People told me, “What is with your apartment?” because it was literally a ‘70s spaceship. For me, especially when we built that long, white, circular hallway that is the heart of the set, I never wanted to leave it and it broke my heart when we took it down.
Our effects supervisor, Billy Brooks, actually took home a piece of it and his bedroom is our set. It’s very evocative for people, especially kids of the ‘70s who grew up loving that and thinking that was going to be our future. I was thrilled and our set designer Seth Reed blew it out of the water. He’s a genius.
Matt Bomer: I’m the same way. Ever since I saw Alien I used to pretend like my house was a 1970s version of the future. I would pretend like I would push the button to open the door so I guess it was sort of the realization of some childhood dreams as well.
Patrick Wilson: Mine was Buck Rogers.
Matt Bomer: Nice.
Patrick Wilson: Buck Rogers for me. That’s vision of the future and then getting to meet Erin Gray was really thrilling. She’s an agent for the Con circuit.
Is that why you met her?
Patrick Wilson: Total side note, I met her because one of her clients is on “Doctor Who.” So my son is obsessed with “Doctor Who” even though he’s American and seven. So I went there and we were meeting, talking to John Barrowman. There were a couple people that I knew and she was like, “Hi, I’m Erin.” I was like, “I know.” “I represent these people.” I was like, “That’s awesome!”
You cited Alien. Wasn’t Alien already the gritty, run down future?
Jack Plotnick: No, some of the rooms in Alien were not run down, but I agree with you. A lot of them were, but that room that they’re in when they wake up.
Matt Bomer: The Nostromo didn’t seem run down to me.
Jack Plotnick: The room where they wake up, the room where they eat lunch, all white. I agree with you, they did invent a run-down future but the whole ship wasn’t. We have a part of our ship that is very run down where Ted works in the belly of the ship.
That’s the part of Alien I’m thinking about, when the acid drips through all the floors.
Jack Plotnick: Totally inspired, that set was totally inspired by that scene.
Patrick, what stage of preparation for Ant-Man are you in right now?
Patrick Wilson: Early. Yeah, early. Early stages.
Is it coming together more like a comedy or a superhero movie?
Patrick Wilson: Oh, I can’t. Look, Edgar Wright is Edgar Wright. I can’t obviously talk about it but the same reason I love Edgar Wright and want to work with him is probably the same reason you do. There’s a reason that this is the movie he’s been shepherding for several years to get it right. I feel like he has.
How close is The Conjuring 2?
Patrick Wilson: I have not read the script. Now it’s just about schedules and Vera’s show, working around everybody else to be ready. I guess we already have a date but that can change. It’s a year from Halloween.
According to the end of the first film, isn’t the Warrens’ next cast Amityville?
Patrick Wilson: Nooo, no. I didn’t walk away with that. I think that was just more of a little nod. I don’t think they would go [there]. I mean, they’re not. You know they're not. It’s out there. It’s dealing with The Enfield Poltergeist.
Obviously we love James Wan’s horror movies, but isn’t it okay if he wants to take a break from it and some other hungry director can come do their take on it?
Patrick Wilson: 100%. The thing about James is you look at the difference of his horror movies, he pushes the envelope in every single direction. Matt was just saying, that’s the same director from Insidious to Two to Conjuring to Saw. To me that’s somebody pushing the boundaries. He can do anything. I can’t wait to see his Fast 7.
Matt, what do you hear about Magic Mike 2?
Matt Bomer: There’s a script in the works right now. Tentatively it will begin in the fall. It’s not a finished script, I haven’t seen it.
Have you met with Channing Tatum as a director as opposed to a costar?
Matt Bomer: No, I haven’t. There’s not a director set yet. Channing does a dynamite job of pretty much anything he does, so I think he’ll be amazing as a director if he so chooses.
Jack, is there more directing or more acting up next for you?
Jack Plotnick: Hopefully some of both. I have a show called Disaster that I cowrote and directed that’s running Off-Broadway now. So actually the hope is that I’ll direct it on Broadway before the end of the year. Go to Disastermusical.com!
I love the weird films of Quentin Dupieux. What did you learn from working with him that applied to Space Station 76?
Jack Plotnick: You know what, I did learn a lot from Quentin. Most of all, don’t worry about the system and just do it. Just pick up a camera, raise the money and make the movie yourself. I learned that from him and from Richard Day who made the Girls Will Be Girls movie. I adore Quentin and he is a genius. Also, brilliant framing. Excellent, very thoughtful framing and I wanted to do the same.