Patrick Warburton has found himself a niche playing ironically comical egoists like the role he's best known for, the thick David Puddy, Elaine's sometimes-boyfriend on "Seinfeld." He also had a five-episode stint on "Newsradio" starring as the self-described "evil" Johnny Johnson, a suave corporate raider with a sense of sportsmanship but absolutely no scruples.
What makes Warburton so adept at these roles is his innate ability to somehow endear an audience to these noxious nimrods. It's a certain St. Bernard-ish charm the big (6'3"), barrel-torsoed actor exudes that makes him adorable to women while coming off to men like the kind of guy they'd like to knock a few back with at the local sports bar.
This kind of appeal was exactly what writer-director Robinson Devor needed for the supercilious Hollywood wannabe at the center of "The Woman Chaser," his tongue-in-cheek film noir adaptation of Charles Willeford's sardonic pulp novel.
Warburton is perfectly cast in this sarcastic movie industry farce about a used car salesman in early 1960s Hollywood who becomes convinced -- based on nothing but his own hubris -- that he can write and direct a momentous, innovative feature film. He wants to attach a legacy of some kind to his name, Richard Hudson. Writing a book or creating a sculpture (he's sure he could do both) seem like way too much trouble. Any idiot can make a movie, he reasons. But Richard Hudson isn't just any idiot.
"He's a big ass," Warburton offers with a amiable and earnest but deeply ironic smile.
In San Francisco to promote the film, which played the festival circuit in 1999 but is just now getting a theatrical release, Warburton looks a little like an over-grown frat boy lumbering through the luxurious Prescott Hotel in a two-tone Hawaiian shirt and a backwards baseball cap. Yet he doesn't seem uncouth, in fact, he seems to feel right at home. It's just the sort of dichotomy that makes him so strangely appealing when cast in these loutish roles. So I ask him...
|Q: How do you go about endearing these innately irritating characters to the audience?|
A: I don't know if I ever really considered making a connection with the audience. (In the case of "The Woman Chaser") I wanted to bring Hudson to life the best that I could and hope that the audience would find the satire and irony and humor, you know. I think that Puddy was just plain guileless. He wasn't terribly sharp but he wasn't an idiot. He was just...
|Q: He was a lug.|
A: He was a lug. There ya go. And then...Johnny Johnson, he was... I don't wanna...this is going to sound awful, but... he was "sitcom evil." It was fun playing Johnny Johnson. He was evil, but I guess he was evil like the Grinch is evil.
Richard Hudson is just a brutish, self-serving ass. Although you do have some empathy for him, I'm not exactly sure why. I'm just glad that (audiences) do. I'm very flattered and (it keeps me working). I mean, I've got three kids I'm going to have to put through college. Four! I've got a fourth on the way.
|Q: Congratulations! I bet they're thrilled you've been cast as "The Tick" (in Comedy Central's new live-action version of the sarcastic superhero cartoon).|
A: Yeah, they are. We shot the pilot. We don't go into production until October. It was a lot of fun, 'cause Barry Sonnenfeld directed it. He's a lot of fun to work with. He likes to make martinis at the end of the day. Although you can't have martinis at the end of every day. Maybe some of you out there can. I can't.
|Q: When you got this part, did you read the novel?|
A: No. I read the screenplay. I actually have a copy of the novel, but it's a vintage copy and I'm afraid I'll hurt the pages. My wife found it on the internet. It's a $250 version of a 50-cent book. It's wrapped in plastic.
|Q: I was curious as to how different the movie was from the novel...|
A: Rob Devor, who did the screenplay adaptation and directed this, pretty much stuck to (the novel), from what I understand. He was a real stickler -- (a) pain in the ass -- when it came to dialogue and character speak and style. He didn't want any deviation whatsoever. And that was primarily to preserve the integrity of Willeford's work and not his.
|Q: Did you go out and rent a whole armload of cheap noir movies?|
A: Devor gave me a copy of "Kiss Me Deadly" (a 1955 Mickey Spillane adaptation) which he rented. This is over a year and a half ago, and I still have that copy. He probably owes about a thousand dollars on it. I never watched it. I think I should watch it now. But I didn't want to watch it, because I felt like, at the time, I had a clear enough idea of character and style, I didn't want to watch another performance, no matter how good it was, and try to emulate anything. My only job as an actor is to try and understand the character and, to the best of my ability, bring this character to life.
|Q: Understand the character and know what the director wants.|
A: I think so. I really do. Maybe I'm just f**king lazy. (Affecting a whiny voice) "I don't want to see this movieeee! What if I don't like it? I wanna watch 'Caddyshack' again! Why're you making me watch a movie for homework?"
|Q: (Whining, too) "It's an old movie! It's in black and white!"|
A: (Laughs) Why in God's name would I want to watch a black and white movie?
|Q: Sounds like your character when he decides that writing books or sculpting takes too much time and too much study, so he'll make a movie!|
A: I love that whole thought process. (Reads) "A synopsis by Richard Hudson. From an original idea by Richard Hudson..." He tries to get away. But he doesn't.
|Q: That scene where he pitches the studio is extraordinary, because it's such a lame story, but the pitch is so exciting.|
A: Yeah, he's so into it. There's something very boyish about Hudson. He's dangerous and he scares you because he's a big ass and he's self-serving. But then there are times when he's just like a pathetic little boy. Maybe that's why you can empathize with him a little bit, 'cause you just see what a pathetic creature he is. How lost he is.
|Q: Do you think this film might bring about a Willeford revival? (Willeford also wrote "Miami Blues.")|
A: Yeah. He's the real deal. He's a real genuine piece of Americana that's been buried for a while.
|Q: Have you read any of the other Willefords?|
A: No. But they're on the list, you know? Willeford wrote a western, apparently! I just found out yesterday in an article that Willeford wrote a western.
|Q: Do you like westerns?|
A: I love westerns. I've always wanted to do a western.