INTERVIEW Writing, Directing, and Molly Shannon
Mike White Discusses 'Year of the Dog'
You may not be familiar with his name, but you are almost certainly familiar with Mike White's work. He has written such indie flicks as "Chuck & Buck" and "The Good Girl." He also penned the big-budget "Orange County," "The School of Rock," and "Nacho Libre." White has also written for television's "Dawson's Creek" and "Freaks and Geeks."
I met with Mike White while he was on a press stop in Boston promoting his latest film, "Year of the Dog,' which he both wrote and directed. In a lot of ways, White mirrors the main character Peggy in the film. He is introverted and completely unpretentious (even while sipping a Fiji water). Throughout the interview, he seemed a little unsure of himself, peppering his speech with "like"s and "you know"s.
White is also a nice guy. As I left his hotel suite, he said, "See you later," like he really meant it. Like I would see him at a barbecue later in the week, even though I would obviously never see him again. It was a perfect illustration of everything White does; the moment was a strange mélange of the tragic, the comic, and the awkward.
The Tech: Dogs really form the main focus of "Year of the Dog." Do you have dogs yourself, or what was the inspiration for the film?
Mike White: It's kind of more inspired by a cat.
TT: Really? Why not "Year of the Cat"?
MW: Well, cats don't really lend themselves to the cinema in the way that dogs do.
TT: It's true. It's easier to train a dog.
MW: It's easier to train a dog. Although, during the film, the trainers said that it is easier to train a cat, but I don't believe it.
TT: Not my cats.
MW: Yeah, not my cats either. But, I had a cat that died. It was a stray cat that I had inherited and I was really bummed out about it I was really stressed with work at the time and I felt really sorry for myself and for the cat. It was one of those things were I got behind in the scripts I was doing and like, this show, this TV show I was doing, basically kind of shut down because I had just gotten so behind on stuff. If the cat hadn't died, I don't think it would have happened. So I was thinking, well that's kind of interesting. When the dust had settled and I had some distance on it — it was an interesting experience, and maybe there's a movie in it.
TT: One thing that struck me while watching the movie was the music. I didn't recognize it — could you tell me a little about it?
MW: Well, the music was done by a composer who is awesome. He's this guy who's done a lot of comedies and he started on the TV show "Buffy." I just wanted to do something that felt very, like, in its own world. And I just saw her [Peggy] as this woman who has this sort of idealistic view of things — almost a naive, child-like view, and I wanted it to reflect that.
TT: Did you write the part of Peggy for Molly Shannon?
MW: I did. I had done a show with her that ended really badly and that was a bummer. That was the show that I was doing when the cat died and I was just like, Molly is such a good actress and she is so fun and it would be so much fun to work with her on something that wasn't such a nightmare. I am just going to write something small that I know I can get made and push to get Molly in it and we can just have a good time and I got lucky and was able to do it.
TT: It was not what I expected. I was anticipating the larger-than-life Molly Shannon from SNL, but here she was toned down.
MW: One of the things I was excited about was for people to see how much of a range she actually has.
TT: Another thing about the movie is that you directed it — it's the first project you have directed yourself. How did that go and why did you choose to direct it?
MW: This project seemed manageable in scope. I felt that I wasn't gonna bite off more than I could chew. I have so much production experience that I became like a backseat driver. I started to even irritate myself, and I was like I need to just like just shut up and get behind the wheel or you know once I realized I could make my days and everything, I realized it was actually pretty fun.
TT: So you are definitely sticking to the smaller films, no more big studio films like "School of Rock"?
MW: Well I might write stuff like that. I just don't think I would direct it I would probably get more second guessing: "will everyone like this?," or "will this be fun for the whole family?"
TT: What are you working on next?
MW: I am supposed to be writing this movie with Edgar Wright, the director of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," which is just coming out.