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A Big Big Love

Expensive Swedish mattresses, adopting a Chinese baby, and actors John Goodman, Zooey Deschanel, and Paul Dano. It's the weird world of Matt Aselton's Gigantic, and we talk to the director about his debut.


Gigantic is the story of two odd ducks falling in love. Paul Dano (whom you last saw preaching and being yelled at by Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood) stars as Brian Weathersby, a shy 28-year-old salesman of expensive Swedish mattresses in New York. He has elderly parents (Jane Alexander and Ed Asner) and two older brothers (played by Robert Stanton and Ian Roberts, one of the founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade). His day-to-day is filled with working on his application to adopt a Chinese baby, and that’s pretty much it.

When he meets slacker heiress Harriet “Happy” Lolly (Zooey Deschanel), who’s picking up a $14,000 mattress for her overbearing dad (John Goodman), the two fall into a tentative connection, punctuated by strange happenings. Brian is stalked by/has hallucinations of a homeless man who’s constantly beating him up, and Happy works nights at some QVC-type television show. The film shares some similarities with Knocked Up; in this case, Dano’s playing the responsible, adult character about to jump into a big committment, and he’s quietly confident and surprisingly sexy, whereas Deschanel is flighty, irresponsible, and still attractively charming. Lovingly filmed in New York, Gigantic isn’t for everybody—it’s genuinely strange, and it could be off-putting. But if you’re on its loopy level, it has something to say about growing up and falling in love and the human need for connection, despite whatever neuroses our familes may imprint on us.

Tribeca had the chance to talk to first-time writer/director Matt Aselton about making the film, getting excellent comic actors to play quieter roles, and New York City.

Tribeca: What were you doing before this movie? You were a commercial filmmaker, right?

Matt Aselton: I fell ass-backward into filmmaking. I had a friend that worked at an advertising agency and he hired me, and from there I just started shooting television commercials. I did that for a long time. My production company is called Epoch Films. I think the thing that was probably most out there that people saw were the Volkswagen crashes. It’s usually the little ones that no one ever sees that people kind of love.

Tribeca: So that’s what a good liberal arts education [Williams College] can get you!

MA: I was an English literature major, and I can remember my father being like, "What the hell is that going to get you?"

Tribeca: Where did the initial idea for this movie come from?

MA: I’ve been doing commercials and reading scripts here and there and never really found anything I love. A friend of mine who I wrote the movie with—Adam Nagata—he had been teaching English in Tokyo. When he got back to New York, we sat down and wrote Gigantic. I think him coming back and me wanting to do something original was part of it. We liked the idea of a guy with a father who’s 80 years old, and two forsaken people, and what happens when you put them together. I wish there was more autobiographical stuff in there, but there’s not.

Tribeca: Your dad isn’t 80 years old, then?

MA: Well Paul Dano’s dad is a little bit older—72, 73—and I think that interested Paul. It’s a slightly different experience.

giganticTribeca: It’s definitely a quirky and strange film. Sincerely strange. What are your feelings on having films with quirky and strange elements?

MA: I love it, and I think that “it’s strange” is a better way of saying it than quirky. Quirky implies that it’s whimsical, and I think that we tried to make everything [that happens in the film] motivated. I think strange is more interesting to me than quirky, but strange without motivation, I think that can be annoying. We tried to make sure that it lives in some motivated world.

Tribeca: How was it shooting in New York?

MA: It was great. I’ve lived here for a long time—I’ve been walking around and shooting this movie in my head. We tried to make it more pedestrian and outer borough, so we tried to shoot it in places that were a little different. We embraced where we were: Queens and Brooklyn and parts of Chinatown. We shot it in March, and it’s the best light, I think, it’s a little bit lower. (That and the autumm light.)

Tribeca: Is Ian Roberts a genius or what?

MA: I think he’s probably the fastest comedic mind that I've ever been around. It comes from years and years of improv. A lot of people don’t know who he is. He’s lovely. What I was trying to do was trying to make him not so funny—because he can be so funny—it’s impossible because he happens to be one of those people with outrageous comic timing. He really liked the project, so I was really happy to have him. It was kind of crazy to have him and Zach (Galifianakis, who plays the homeless guy who stalks Dano's character)—another guy I've been watching for a while—who are both really good and funny.

Tribeca: His role mostly consisted of beating up Paul Dano. And he was silent!

MA: Zach and I talked about filming one night—as a possible DVD extra—us busting in on Paul and his girlfriend (Zoe Kazan, who stars in TFF '09 film The Exploding Girl) when they were out at dinner. Zach would just beat him up.

Tribeca: What do Zooey and Paul bring to their roles?

MA: They’re both really funny people. We talked a good deal about where, comedically, the movie played. They kind of got that and it wasn’t hard to make them funny in scenes. I feel like they both have the same sort of point of view and acting style, which is to kind of sit back and not try to take a scene over and very slyly insert themselves into places. When we cast Paul it was really kind of interesting thinking about who was going to play opposite, as the wrong girl really kind of throws the movie out of whack. Getting his intellectual equivalent was important to me. They had really, really beautiful chemistry. They're both immersive and nimble actors who can get the scene quickly.

Tribeca: What did you get out of making this film?

MA: Anything you do, you just end up learning a ton. I think what I learned the most, I kind of never give up on cast. The most important thing to me is casting and script. Everything else you can figure out, and I learned that from doing commercials. When it came to getting all those actors, I just never gave up. John Goodman was busy and in Berlin, he was filming two studio films, but I never stopped calling him. We sat down in New York and he was great. Whatever you do, don’t give up on casting.

Tribeca: What are you doing next?

We’ve [Aselton and Nagata] just written the next script, and it’s off to our agents and editors and all that stuff. It’s about an art thief who steals private art from L. A. homes. It’s more of a thriller-y kind of thing. I don’t know if thriller’s the right word, but it’s not a talkie.



Gigantic plays at the Gen Art Film Festival this Thursday, April 2. It opens in New York at the Village East Cinema on Friday. Click here for ticket information.


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