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Bobcat Goldthwait on “Sleeping Dogs Lie”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2006]

When you think of Bobcat Goldthwait, chances are what comes to mind is that anxiously pubescent growl he adopted for such ’80s-defining staples as “One Crazy Summer” and the “Police Academy” series, but that voice is a stigma he’d like to overcome. After starring alongside Dabney Coleman and a talking horse in “Hot to Trot,” an experience he says made him feel as powerless as a “cog in the machine,” he retaliated by making his first short film. In 1992, he made the directorial leap to features with his drunken-bozo extravaganza, “Shakes the Clown,” a hilariously irreverent cult classic that even Martin Scorsese has admitted he loves. Goldthwait’s latest effort as writer-director is “Sleeping Dogs Lie” (formerly titled “Stay” when it premiered at Sundance), which could almost be a mainstream rom-com if it weren’t for its premise… When a young woman (Melinda Page Hamilton) is egged on by her fiancé (Bryce Johnson) to reveal her darkest secret, their relationship is forever distorted after he learns that once, out of curiosity in college, she gave her dog a blowjob. More shocking is that the film is hardly a gross-out comedy, but a straight-faced exploration of honesty in relationships. I sat down with Goldthwait before the film’s release, half-expecting to hear that excitable voice, but was instead charmed by his soft-spoken, self-deprecating demeanor.

I thought the original title, “Stay,” had a far more poignant double-meaning.

I loved that title a lot more myself, actually. It was the decision of whomever owns the other “Stay,” the Marc Forster film, that won out. That’s the reality of it. You know, I bummed out a little bit over it, and then I realized that in making the movie, I didn’t really have any restrictions for good or bad. It’s what I had in mind, so if I had to compromise on one thing, at least I can live with that.

The film certainly has a homegrown, do-it-yourself spirit.

Yeah, it was real guerilla. We shot in 16 days and stole… uh, borrowed things from various productions. I always knew if we were going to make it, it was going to be a really tiny budget. Even in the indie world, if you have people giving you millions of dollars to make a movie, you have other people you need to listen to. And making a movie as small as I did, there were no notes. The thing that really exceeded my expectations was Melinda, who is such a great actress. If she wasn’t as strong as I believe she is in this, it would’ve been a whole different movie and really corny.

Everyone will probably focus on the bestiality, but there’s nothing really subversive beyond that. You’ve made a surprisingly sweet dramedy out of something entirely offensive.

Well, thanks. That was the experiment, the overall kind of big cosmic joke for me, if I could make a heartwarming dog-blowjob movie. It does have serious beats in it, and the upbeat ending is still kind of… well, I don’t want to ruin it. I remember when I was writing the [ending], it made me really happy. (laughs)

What ran through your mind when you chose this particular taboo? Like, why not incest?

The reason is because that involves other people. I wanted it to be something she did alone, that was really it. And it’s about a woman because it’s a fact that men are kind of disgusting. If it was a guy, people would go, “yeah, whatever.” You know what I mean?

Especially after the success of “Jackass: Number Two.” Much worse has hit multiplexes.

It’s funny that you bring that movie up, I know all those fellas. Sarah de Sa Rego produced our movie and did the costume design; everybody had nine jobs. But she just came back from traveling all around with those guys, doing the costumes and things on “Jackass 2.” PJ… uh, Johnny Knoxville was like, “Hey, come over here.” He’s just showing me raw footage and you know the horse [semen-drinking] scene? I threw up. If I had a bigger meal in me, there would’ve been vomit in the room. But it was a chunky dry heave, definitely. It was just like, bam! Dude! I didn’t know that that was coming, so I got sucker-punched.

You’ve kept a fairly low profile since “Shakes the Clown.” What were you up to prior to “Sleeping Dogs Lie?”

I was directing [TV’s “Chappelle’s Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live”] for a while, that was a lot of fun, and I just wrote this script. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to write this movie and it’s going to get into Sundance.” About a year later, Sarah read it and said, “This is pretty good, we should make it.” I had no agenda or plan. I made another movie in-between, “Windy City Heat,” that was on Comedy Central and just came out on DVD [last month]. I think all three of my movies have different tones. “Shakes” is kind of like my take on a John Waters comedy, you know what I mean? Even though “Windy City Heat” is part reality, the other part is very improvisational, so it’s my stab at — and I’m not saying I’m as good as these guys — what Christopher Guest does. Then this was my attempt at a grown-up movie, like Woody Allen or Neil LaBute. If I’m lucky enough to keep directing, I don’t have much interest in doing the same kind of movie over and over again. Until any one of them is a success, then I’ll just do nine versions of that one. (laughs)

If it does become a crossover hit, what would you ideally like to work on next?

You mean, would I make “Stayin,” or actually, it’d be “Still Sleepin”? If this does well, it means that we could possibly make another small movie without breaking and entering. If you had me on a graph, I keep making movies for less and less money. The last script I wrote is probably even smaller than this movie. I have the inverted Hollywood career.

The trade-off is creative freedom and not having to use someone else’s material.

That’s the thing, I certainly didn’t do this to be the poster child for indie films or anything. People can say, “Well, you have connections,” but this really does go to show that in 16 days, anyone can make a movie. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but I hope other people get inspired to go do it, y’know? It’s almost like the equivalent of what the web has become for musicians and people who make shorts. You can actually make a feature for… well, this movie cost less than a mid-life crisis sports car.

Years down the road, what would you like to be known best for?

I would love someday if I was lucky enough to keep making movies and people say, “He was in ‘Police Academy’? What were those movies?” I know that if I drop dead, my obituary photo is going to be me in a police uniform. But I’d be really happy if I was also known as someone who made movies. I don’t really want to act, and I think fortunately, Hollywood has spoken and nobody is hiring me. (laughs) It’s good that those two things are in sync.

I’m getting married this weekend. Do you have any advice of what I shouldn’t say to my bride-to-be, besides that time I blew a dog?

Yeah, I think you should definitely, uh… lie to your spouse. I think that’s important. Don’t push people to tell the truth, it’s just emotional blackmail. I think you should keep all deceptions going. Lying is very important to a healthy relationship. (laughs)

“Sleeping Dogs Lie” opened in limited release October 20th (official site).

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