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Thomas Haden Church Rolls On

Thomas Haden Church Rolls On (photo)

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A day after he traveled home from the sound of thunderous applause at the Tribeca Film Festival, Thomas Haden Church was driving through the pouring rain outside his ranch in Texas when he called to discuss “Don McKay.” Church left knowing the darkly comic film about a janitor who rekindles a relationship with a high school sweetheart after hitting a dead end 25 years after the fact was “not going to be for everybody,” but that writer/director Jake Goldberger’s unexpectedly twisty take on why most reunions after that much time don’t work was working for the audience. Much of the credit belongs to Church, who’s long brought the pathos to his most bitingly funny performances. Church was all smiles at the film’s premiere, which as an executive producer on marked his second effort behind the camera in a creative capacity, following his directorial debut on the underseen and underappreciated 2003 pot comedy “Rolling Kansas.” As he drove through the stormy weather, I asked Church about his time on the festival circuit, as well as working with Charlie Kaufman on his equally underappreciated ’90s sitcom “Ned and Stacey.”

Were you pleased with how the festival went?

The screenings were beyond my greatest expectations. The audience was just rollicking and then stone silent at the poignant moments, but they were launched right back into the ribaldry with the story. The audience embraced it, and that’s all you can hope for, that people understand it and are compelled and they want to go for the ride and they don’t regret it when the ride’s over. They don’t regret being there.

You were working with a first-time filmmaker in now-32-year-old Jake Goldberger on “Don McKay” — could you relate from your experience directing “Rolling Kansas”?

Oh, sure. I’ll say this and it’s not false humility — going into “Don McKay,” Jake had fashioned a much better script than “Rolling Kansas” had, a more complete emotional story. [In “Kansas”] we went for overblown comedy set-pieces that we thought worked into the story, but didn’t really have anything at times to do with the narrative, which was a real thing that happened to me when I was a sophomore in college. I told the tale on Conan O’Brien and the audience went berserk that some dumbasses had stolen a bunch of pot from the government and gotten away with it — that’s when we decided to write the film. But it was always an incomplete emotional journey. We tried to make as much out of it as we could.

With “Don McKay,” Jake is a young guy, and to imagine such a complete emotional life for a man 20 years older than him, I was just absolutely enthralled by that. It took four years, give or take, from when I first read the script and met him to when we were actually shooting a film. We got to be very close and in the interim, tweaked it and sharpened it, but the story was always an emotionally complete tale, which is what every actor wants to play, no matter whether you have three scenes or 30 or 100.

05062009_DonMcKay2.jpgBecause of that long development period, had this story resonated for you more personally as the years have worn on?

It did. I’m not exaggerating — the first ten pages of the script, I knew that that guy lived inside of me. Jake and I always had a very succinct understanding of who he was. And yet it still was a tremendous challenge, probably is the most challenging thing I’ve ever tried to do. It was also at a very difficult time in my personal life. I had a relationship that was breaking up, and it fueled in a weird way the emotional isolation of the character. He’s a very lonely guy [whose] adult existence is completely defined by tragedy. That’s a very unique thing to play, but to play with restraint. You don’t have “once an act the guy is quietly sobbing” or shit like that — you never know until all of those things are revealed in the third act of the film what this undercurrent of sadness and possibly tragedy in his life is.

That ambiguity is probably what had so many people talking about it at Tribeca.

Which is great. I mean, look, it’s not going to be for everybody. There’s a suspension of disbelief throughout the movie that some people are just not going to be able to wrap their heads around. And we knew that. It’s a movie that you’ve got to be willing to go with the flight of imagination. But I’ll say this: nobody left. All three times the theaters were full and nobody left. [laughs] It may never do any business, but that’s all we can ask for at this point.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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