Interview: Dermot Mulroney On Dirty Grandpa, And Phallic Face Graffiti

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Dermot Mulroney has an IMDb page a mile long, but even he never quite pictured starring alongside Robert De Niro in a movie like Dan Mazer’s comedy Dirty Grandpa, and OnScreen managed to sit down with the man to ask him about his outrageous new film:

Now, to start off with, you’re no stranger to comedy…

No, I’ve been doing funny the whole time. No one really noticed, until Dan Mazer came along? But that’s what I’ve been asked to do from the very beginning. Even in those supporting roles, even if it’s a serious movie, I’m kinda the one that has the part that’s funny, even if it’s just a tiny little bit. That’s my theory recently.

Well, what are the particular challenges with an out-and-out comedy like Dirty Grandpa as opposed to a more overtly serious film?

I didn’t find anything difficult with this part, really, because of the way Dan was directing it, and everyone was so cool and relaxed. So my endeavor in this film would have been to hold up my storyline, be believable so that those guys could be ridiculous and, y’know, get dragged around with phallic graffiti on my face. That’s what I was there for.

Speaking of Dan Mazer, I spoke to him the other day, and he mentioned how he places a lot of emphasis on keeping things fresh on set; getting his actors to try different approaches and different lines, and tailoring a film to its actors. How does that approach, and indeed how does he, compare to other directors you’ve worked with in the past?

I’d say Dan was much more open than most directors I’ve worked with to invented dialogue, or brand new scenarios that he would add to the scene, which is probably a better way to put it. Sometimes that amounted to- what he means by suiting the film to its actors is just letting these guys run wild, guys like Adam Pally and Jason Mantzoukas, Henry (Zebrowski) and Mo (Collins) who played the cops, Aubrey Plaza. These guys who can just amazingly dazzle with fresh humour right off the top of their heads. Improv’ing, really. My role wouldn’t really have permitted it, as much as I looked for spots to do it.
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You’re positioned as something of an antagonist to Dick’s (Robert De Niro) storyline…

Yeah, I’m an opposing force, is what it is. So, it’s light, but the idea is that I’m trying to keep my son heading in the conservative, marrying-the-partner-of-the-law-firm’s daughter direction. And his grandfather is trying to pull him out into adventure and mayhem.

Right, and you mentioned keeping it believable but still unlikeable, so how as an actor do you toe-the-line in keeping it still believable without becoming a more mustache-twirling, cartoonish villain?

(Laughing) Well you can ask anyone who knows me, including Dan, I’m simply not as likeable as I seem. So for me it wasn’t a stretch to be kind of a prick.

(Laughs)

You know what I mean. It’s great writing, what’s on the page and what’s on the screen. And there are some great tasty bits that Dan Mazer captured in the process. It’s a fun kind of movie, it’s dirty, and if you don’t like – whatever, Richard Pryor or Jonah Hill, and everyone in between – then you don’t like this movie. But me? I’ve always liked raunchy comedy.

Carrying a lot of that raunchy humour is De Niro himself, and a lot of actors cite him as an enormous influence on their career, so what it’s like to be with an actor of that calibre, especially when he’s doing something as outrageous as Dirty Grandpa?

It’s really interesting. What I’ve seen with a lot of the great actors I’ve worked with is that they sort of go into a neutral gear in between when they [act], and De Niro does it too. It’s energy conservation, where you’ve literally been on so many sets, and you’ve had so many idle conversations with actors and crew members, that it takes its toll on your energy. So I did see him preparing, in between [takes], by storing up. And then the wildest shit happens when the cameras come on, and come spewing out of his mouth, you can hardly believe it… the contrast. And it goes into high-gear, straight off the line. It was really cool to watch.
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Of course, you play Zac Efron’s father in the movie. Dan Mazer called him something of an “unknown quantity” going into filming. What was your impression of him before, and did that change over the course of filming?

Oh, no, I could tell just a little. I saw Neighbours, and I though Zac was a very proficient comedian. So, I had no doubt that we’d, the three of us [Mulroney, Efron, De Niro] would make a great family, the three generations. So I bought it hook-line-and-sinker from the start. And he’s a multi-talented guy. Obviously, now that I know him, I’ve seen what he’s done; dancing, acting, comedy, drama. He’s been at it since he was an early teenager. He’s worked with a lot of people I know, and everyone has the greatest things to say about him. So, I’d only add to that, he really impressed me.

And whats was your absolute favourite time on the set of Dirty Grandpa?

Absolutely in the ice cream truck with Jason, and Bob, and Zac. There are a handful of bizarre scenarios I’ve found myself in, in films over the years. This one? Might top it all. Just because I never imagined, even if I thought I’d ever play Robert De Niro’s son, or be in a movie with him, I never imagined it in this particular way. It’s unimaginable. It left a mark.

Especially on your face, in the form of genitals.

(Laughing) Especially in the form of male genitalia of several assortments, yes. Exactly.

Dirty Grandpa is in cinemas now, rated 15. Watch the trailer below.

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