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People In Film | Jeff Garlin

Jeff Garlin | Just Your (Para)Normal Everyman
Listen carefully to Perry Babcock, the character voiced by multi-talented actor Jeff Garlin in PARANORMAN, and you will soon recognize some of the distinctive vocal inflections. Yes, it’s same voice behind the affable Captain in WALL-E and also Buttercup the golden unicorn in Toy Story 3, two Pixar classics that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. If you are an adult TV fan then you’ll also put a face to those husky/high-pitched cadences: why, that’s Jeff Greene, Larry David’s loyal manager in HBO’s acclaimed comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Approached to play the flustered father to PARANORMAN’s title character, Garlin fairly jumped at the chance “because I’m completely intrigued by ghosts and because when I was a kid, horror movies were a favorite of mine.” But don’t think this was just a scary stroll in the park for Garlin. “When people say, ‘Oh, doing animated movies is easy,’ I tell them, ‘No, it’s intense.’ Because in live-action movies between takes you go to the craft service table, while they reset this and that, and it’s relaxing. On an animated movie, you’ve always got to be using your imagination – and you might be doing a scene over and over again.” Jeff Garlin’s talent stretches beyond acting and voiceovers, to encompass also writing, producing, directing and performing stand-up comedy. In all his work, there is a roguish, everyman quality, one made all the more endearing by his willingness to poke fun at himself. As an actor, he often says bashfully, he is very comfortable just playing variations of himself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. "I played the villain on Baywatch once, an evil disc jockey who tries taking over the beach, fights with David Hasselhoff and has a fantasy sequence with Pamela Anderson. I think it was the best acting I've ever done –– even though when you watch it, it's obviously not good acting but when David Hasselhoff is yelling at you, you try not laughing,” Garlin told The Guardian, referring to his character in that episode, Larry “Loomin” Large. "And I didn't laugh, so I think it's pretty fantastic on my part."
Jeff Garlin | Curbing His Giggles
Garlin spent three seasons on NBC’s Mad About You, but it is his sidekick role opposite Seinfeld creator Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm with which Garlin is now most closely identified. Garlin draws on his years of improv in order to play David’s best buddy, a fictionalized version of himself who is married to the compulsively foul-mouthed Susie Essman. Watch Garlin spar with David in their loose scenes spent griping together and you’ll swear they are constantly on the verge of losing it, but Garlin has to hold it together as David’s designated straight man. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a classic of comic embarrassment, a series that Garlin also executive produces and occasionally directs, and has won numerous plaudits including the Golden Globe for Best Comedy, The Danny Thomas Producer of the Year Award from the Producers Guild of America, and the AFI Comedy Series of the Year Award. Subversive, snarky and acutely alert to life’s annoyances, the HBO series turns comedic conventions on their head. "In order to recover from having your lead character be not inherently likable, you have to be unbelievably funny, which I think our show is," explained Garlin to the Chicago Tribune. "It's like [1970s British comedy] Fawlty Towers. Basil Fawlty [played by John Cleese] is not likable per se. Larry David is not inherently likable. And many, many shows have failed with lead actors that are not likable. But the difference between those shows and our show and Fawlty Towers is that ours were really funny." British comedy is a major touchstone for Garlin. "Monty Python changed my life,” he once told The Guardian. “I watched the original Office. I love The Mighty Boosh and The Goon Show. I'm a fanatic about Ealing Comedies.” Such affection prompted Garlin to write a project with the UK’s Steve Coogan, whose screen personae are often in the same cringe-inducing molds as those of compatriots Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen, but the collaboration was shortlived. “I'm a big morning writer and he's a big afternoon guy, obviously because he likes staying out late at night. We got along great and it was coming together slowly, but it didn't work out." Never mind. Garlin’s latest film PARANORMAL is another product of British wit.
Jeff Garlin | The Walter & Woody of Chicago
Garlin’s brand of self-lacerating stand-up comedy borrows from his comedic idols of the 60s and early 70s: Mort Sahl, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Shelley Berman, Jackie Gleason and Walter Matthau. In his routines, Garlin combines vulgarity and vulnerability to expose his personal foibles and innermost secrets. A lifelong battle with food, including elaborate efforts to hide the fact he once ate an entire tube of refrigerated cookie dough, is one such confession. Another is how he went to the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland to throw his infant son's foreskin into the moat. A native of Chicago, where he was raised by parents who owned a plumbing supply business, Garlin began performing his one-man-shows while at the University of Miami. But it was when he returned to his hometown and joined the cast of Chicago’s celebrated Second City ensemble that Garlin’s career took off. This troupe remains one of the enduring wellsprings of American comedy, an assembly line responsible for the likes of Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and all manner of Saturday Night Live alumni. Garlin’s neurotic comedy and a lifelong obsession with the Chicago Cubs invites inevitable comparisons with New York’s Woody Allen, another local sports fanatic. But it is Walter Matthau to whom he relates most. He explained to the AMC blog, “I look at Matthau now and say: I could still have that career -- although I'm not as good as he is and never will be. I love Walter Matthau, everything from Charley Varrick to The Odd Couple to The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. He was unique and natural. I have a natural acting style. I hope my personality becomes as least half as distinct as his.”
Jeff Garlin | Directing Himself as the Lovelorn Schlub

Garlin’s Second City connections are evident in his 2006 feature film directorial debut, I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. Shot over two years, this low-budget labor of love is a wistful adaptation of Garlin’s own solo stage show of the same name and features many Second City contemporaries including Bonnie Hunt, Dan Castellaneta, and Tim Kazurinsky.  Garlin’s character is an overweight, romantically-starved actor who does improv, lives with his mother and constantly cheats on his diet. Straddling the line between comedy and melancholy, Garlin’s genial film has its fans, particularly among those who fall for edgy comedienne Sarah Silverman, here playing Garlin’s off-kilter love interest, or want to see Gina Gershon as herself in a subplot that revolves around proposed revival of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1955 Marty. “It celebrates its modesty, it becomes our friend, we're surprisingly touched by it even though it doesn't rock us. If there is such a thing as a must-see three-star movie, here it is,” wrote Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Roger Ebert. “Laid back and affectionate, Cheese is the movie version of a dear friend you could spend all day with,” noted the New York Times. As for Larry David, Garlin revealed in interviews on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! that the film bothers him – because the title ends in a preposition. Next up as director is Dealing With Idiots, a film that Garlin wrote and will star in, about pushy little league parents who drive their unsuspecting children to succeed at sport. Filmmaking is not completely new to Garlin. He has also directed both Jon Stewart (Unleavened) and Denis Leary (Lock-n-Load) in their HBO comedy specials, and he helmed This Filthy World, a 2006 documentary on the work of John Waters. In that instance, Garlin told The Guardian that he saw his job as staying out of the way and letting the laughs breathe. "John Waters – what a fine gentleman! I told him I wanted to let his stories unfold without too many camera moves and so on. I don't want to edit him, or rewrite him, I just want him to do what he's gonna do. He's already great without me stepping on him.”

Jeff Garlin | Going Lean And Green

As a movie actor, Garlin has stayed largely on the supporting sidelines. He made his film debut in the Dolly Parton comedy Straight Talk, had bit parts in the comedies Senseless and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and could be seen opposite Julia Roberts in Steven Soderbergh's meta-movie Full Frontal. He finally gained co-star status with Eddie Murphy in Daddy Day Care, a potty-humored summer release about two fired marketing executives who open up a childcare business, that got tepid reviews but grossed $164 million worldwide. Garlin's role in The Rocker, as a down-trodden father who lives vicariously through his son’s rock band led by Rainn Wilson, solidified his on-screen credentials, but it was his vocal antics in WALL-E that brought Garlin his widest global audience. It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate choice for the Captain, the only significant human voice in the animated film, since the story confronts two of Garlin’s major preoccupations: environmental disaster and human obesity. Garlin has written two strikingly honest books about going green and lean in an effort to reduce both his waistline and his carbon footprint. In WALL-E, his character leads an orbiting spaceship full of overweight and slothful human exiles back to Earth to take charge of its big clean-up. For a change, one of cinema’s fat guys gets to save humanity.


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