"A Futile and Stupid Gesture" tells the story of National Lampoon — how it was founded as a magazine, spawned the movies "Animal House" and "Caddy Shack," provided some of the talent for the original "Saturday Night Live" cast and then met an ignominious end.
Will Forte and Domhnall Gleeson star as co-founders Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, who got their start writing for Harvard Lampoon. After graduating, they used their experience to launch National Lampoon.
Directed by David Wain ("Wet Hot American Summer"), the film premiered earlier this week at Sundance and will debut on Netflix on January 26.
It's a smaller production than Gleeson's most recent on-screen role — as the sniveling General Hux in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."
When The Frame host John Horn caught up with Gleeson at Sundance they discussed how he got his start acting and why he was drawn to the "anarchy" in the script for “A Futile and Stupid Gesture" — among other topics.
On the differences between big studio productions and smaller movies.
The really big movies that are made well I really enjoy. I love going to the theater and watching those, and getting popcorn, and it being an event sort of thing. I'm glad that 'Star Wars' gets made. I think Rian Johnson made a really good movie there. So the kind of militant thing of 'everything is screwed and there are no good movies made anymore and it's all just these things, I'm not on board with that 'cause I like a big movie. But I am very, very happy that they're not the only movies that are made.
On what playwright Martin McDonough meant to his career:
One of the largest reasons I'm an actor is Martin. I was thinking about doing writing and directing, that's what I was studying in college. I was 19. And I had an acting agent, but had never really auditioned for anything. It was kind of like, We'll see if that ends up being a thing. And then they sent me the script for "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" which is one of the best pieces of theatre ever. I just adore it. It made me laugh and I was so excited because I was all about films. And Martin had brought all the anarchy and the madness of films — the films that I was into — and put them into this amazing play. I can safely say that I don't think I would be an actor if it hadn't been for his work exciting me.
On the common idea that attracted him to each of his projects:
As I got older and [acting] became my full-time job. I realized that for it to not just be a job, for it to continue to be something that I loved, you want it to be a challenge, something that maybe you thought you couldn't do. And so I think the reason that a lot of the jobs are different from each other, are different in tone and theme and character, is that you try to keep yourself excited.
On what appealed to him about "A Futile and Stupid Gesture":
I've seen David Wain's films. I liked his style and I liked the sketches that he had done previous to that. I think with the meta thing, people can really take it too far — to the point where all they're showing is that they are smart and there is no enjoyment for the people watching the movie. They're like, Right I see you're smart. And when I read this, the anarchy and the self-knowingness of the script was hilarious. But it actually added up to something in a way I was surprised by what starts out as kind of a comedy script.
On the challenge of playing someone who is still alive:
That's part of the thing of knowing when to leave stuff down and just enjoy the room. The great thing about this was that David had interviewed Henry Beard, or talked to him on the telephone, about his experiences with Doug Kenney. [Beard is] a very smart man, a very funny man. But he was also a very good man. I liked that about him. He didn't enter into the whole thing of the absolute madness. The great thing about the way this film was made was that in that room of people, everything is changing every two seconds, the best joke wins. The spirit in the room is about invention. But I had told David that I really enjoy improv and the moments that aren't scripted. And I said to him, Look, Henry generally was the smartest person in the room. He had amazing jokes, very cerebral. That's not the kind of thing I can ad lib.