An Interview with Stephen Tobolowsky, star of “Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party”
BY KEVIN CARR
Stephen Tobolowsky is a the veteran character actor who has appeared in more than 100 films and more than 150 television shows. Kevin discusses Stephen’s film “Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party,” an assortment of strange tales from his life. Listen to the audio file to hear the brand new, exclusive story of Stephen’s research into his role as a KKK leader in the film “Mississippi Burning.” Excepts from the interview follow.
Hear the entire interview…
7M: HOW DID THIS MOVIE COME TO BE?
About seventeen years ago, I was standing in a kitchen, drinking a beer, telling stories from my life. And a whole bunch of my friends and coworkers were standing around laughing a lot. And a German friend of mine, Robert Brinkmann, who’s the cinematographer said, “You know what would be funny? If we did a film with you in your living room telling these stories.” And I thought, “Yeah, that sounds really great, like paint drying or grass growing.”
We kinda forgot about it, but it set the wheels in motion. About two years ago, Robert and I both had nothing to do, and he called me around Halloween, and he said, “Remember that idea we talked about like over a decade ago? Do you have time to do it now?”
We cobbled together this loose collection of stories from my life. The stories had to be true and they had to happen to me.
7M: HOW LONG DID YOU SHOOT?
The bulk of the shooting occurred over two days. The first day, we shot out at the ocean, and then we shot me cooking sausages. And then we shot me barbecuing sausages, and then the party and then the evening. That was all done in one day, and I never talked so much in my life.
7M: IS THIS A TYPICAL BIRTHDAY PARTY FOR YOU?
Oh God, no. It is typical in that I will end up with people kinda gathered around telling a story. It is not typical that I have people come over to my home and have people sit on the couches and I talk to them.
7M: I WAS EXPECTING MORE CELEBRITY STORIES. WHY WERE THEY NOT IN THE FILM?
[Director Robert Brinkmann] wanted me to come up with showbiz stories about Mel Gibson and all the people I’d worked with. I said that I think people end up finding showbiz stories a lot less interesting than they think they’re gonna find them. I think life stories are more interesting and more universal because all of us have been in dangerous situations. All of us have maybe been in situations when we’ve had a bad date. Or we had a good date. Or we became fathers and mothers. They’re more universal topics. So we settled for a smattering of kinda like a 50/50 between showbiz stories and life stories. And in the editing of the film, a lot of showbiz and life stories were cut out.
7M: WAS THIS ALL RAW FOOTAGE?
It’s all raw because there was no script and no rehearsal. As a matter of record, every story is a first take. The raw footage of usable stories, of stories we had that were good that worked were about four hours. Maybe 3 hours and 40 minutes.
7M: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR POSITION AS A CHARACTER ACTOR?
With everything, there’s good and bad. With that, there’s more good than bad. For example, the success or failure of a film financially never rests on me. I get to do all sorts of thing. My life is variety. I’m not stuck.
7M: HOW MANY FILMS HAVE YOU BEEN IN?
I don’t have an exact count, but I think this year, I’ve gone to over 100 films and certainly over 150 television show.
7M: WHAT IS YOUR TOTAL BOX OFFICE
I have no idea. I haven’t even stopped to think. But then aren’t we entering into the area of the fallacy of counteracting causes. You know, “Freaky Friday” and “Garfield” did great. But I don’t think they did great because of me.
7M: LET’S END WITH SOME PRETENTIOUS JAMES LIPTON STYLE QUESTIONS…
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FOOD?
WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE FOOD?
Pasta on the airplane
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Beauty and energy
WHO OR WHAT DISCOURAGES YOU?
Sloth and apathy
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CURSE WORD THAT REALLY ISN’T A CURSE WORD?
Oh, right. (with sarcasm)
WHAT SMELL DO YOU LOVE?
Roses in the garden on a hot day
WHAT SMELL DO YOU HATE?
My cat’s wet cat food the day after
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU BECAME A FULL-TIME ACTOR?
I read books to a blind woman
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU REFUSE TO DO?
Working for my Uncle Hiamey full time
IF ELVIS WERE STILL ALIVE, AND YOU MET HIM AT A TRUCK STOP IN WICHITA FALLS, TEXAS, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE HIM TO SAY TO YOU?
It guess it would have to be “Love me tender.” Wouldn’t it?