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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter


by director Craig Johnson

I first encountered Wilson—both the man and the story—on Christmas morning. My parents, knowing I was a Dan Clowes fan, got the original graphic novel for me as gift (Dan Clowes has since told me he thinks this was a passive-aggressive form of child abuse). I read the book quickly and remember thinking “Wow, this Wilson guy is hilarious but, boy, is he an asshole.”

So I was shocked when I received the script, mostly because I couldn’t believe anyone was brave enough to turn Wilson into a movie. I read it, and was pleased to discover Dan’s script was just as salty as the graphic novel, but that it was also surprisingly heartfelt—it rendered Wilson as a fully-fleshed out human being, flawed indeed, but also deeply recognizable and ultimately relatable. And, to my mind, there was only one actor who fit the bill—Woody Harrelson.

Woody Harrelson is an American treasure. I believe he is one of the finest actors we have working, a performer who is at ease in the most over-the-top comedies and the darkest of dramas. He is also eminently likable—you just can’t stay mad at Woody for long, which is why you often see him playing bad dudes: serial killers, psychopaths, dirty cops and tortured detectives. While Wilson is not a “bad dude” he is certainly a difficult one, and only an actor as charming as Woody could make this prickly pear bearable for 90 minutes. God love him.

And don’t get me started on Laura Dern. No less of an American icon as Woody, Laura is one of the most fearless actors I have ever worked with. The mix of ferocity and vulnerability she brought to the role of ‘Pippi’ made the character come alive in ways I’d never imagined. The Pippi in the film is quite different from the Pippi character in the graphic novel and that is all due to what Laura Dern brings to the role—tenacity, intelligence, an ability to both break your heart and throw a punch. She’s the real deal.

As for me, I’m always attracted to stories about the outsider: the misfit, the weirdo, the curmudgeon, the weird kid in high school who everyone makes fun of—these are the people with interesting lives, who, through their unique stories and world-views, help us understand and appreciate our own lives. And no one does outsiders like Daniel Clowes. It was a joy for me to travel to Planet Clowes for this movie, to play around with his particular band of misfits and losers and hopefully tease out some truth in between the f-bombs and family dysfunction.

And maybe, just maybe, you might see a little of yourself in Wilson. But just a little. Any more than a little, call a psychiatrist immediately.

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