In 2011, FX brought the show WILFRED to their channel. As is the norm for this industrious and innovative network the show startled viewers from the beginning. The series is about a dog named Wilfred who becomes friends with his neighbor Ryan. Now this would seem pretty normal to anyone except for one thing – Ryan sees Wilfred as no one else can!
Ryan is played by Elijah Wood, who is already a favorite among film viewers from a very early age. Its Jason Gann who plays the main character Wilfred that many might not know about.
From Australia (and his accent is a dead giveaway), Gann created short films and in 2002 he did a WILFRED short. In 2005 WILFRED came to Australian viewers and lasted two season. Gann, who is the co-creator, won awards as Tropfest for his work. Going from film festivals to films, in 2010 WILFRED came to America through the FX network.
I have been a huge fan of the show since the beginning so you can imagine my thrill at hearing what Gann had to say about playing this most unusual role.
Thanks for talking with us today Jason! How are you doing?
Your character does some pretty wild stuff, do you just go for it or is there something you won’t do?
Look, I will do anything. Like, I sucked ‘Kristen’ … toes this year, and I don’t know if you saw last night’s episode where I made out with Elijah [Wood].
Who wouldn’t make out with Elijah!
I mean, you go into these things… I came home from work the other day and my wife said, “So, is Elijah a better kisser than me?” And I paused and said, “He’s different, he’s different.” I didn’t want to offend anyone. But I mean, the only thing I’d draw the line on is going underwater with the suit, because I nearly drowned in it once before, because that suits gets really heavy. So there’s a scene this year where ‘Wilfred’ dives into a lake, and I had my trusty stuntman go and do that one for me. As far as the gross out stuff goes, no, I’ll do anything.
Do you find it difficult to keep from laughing on the set?
It’s really rare for me to … and start laughing in the middle of a scene. Occasionally, I do, but normally I’ll start laughing when I think about that all of this is seen through ‘Ryan’s’ POV, that ‘Ryan’s’ creating it. Some of the funniest stuff for me is when ‘Ryan’ has just accepted that ‘Wilfred’ does this stuff, like when they’re both taking a leak outside the car in the premiere this year and ‘Ryan’ just says, “Look, I’m sorry to keep going over this stuff all the time. I just need to get this clear in my head.” And to me that was as funny a line as there’s been, and it’s just like who are you rationalizing to, who are you justifying your behavior to? I’m kind of immune to the silliness of ‘Wilfred’ being in a dog suit by now. I’ve been in the suit for like 10 years, I think.
You recently quit Twitter, can you tell us why?
Yes, look, I got mad, I’ve got a baby on the way and I’ve just had some kind of crazy, kind of creepy, kind of fan obsession kind of weird things that at different times I’ve felt kind of threatened my private life and even at times feeling of safety… So I’m just taking a break. I’ll be back on there, but until my child is born and while I’m just setting up my new young family I just want to sort of try and make my life be as normal as possible and live like – I mean, I know there are a lot of celebrities who have a good career as well as also maintain a peaceful, kind of private life, and I’m just trying to get that balance right. I mean, if anything I kind of probably went a bit too far with the multi-media thing interacting with my fans, and had a very open kind of rapport with my fans, but, as I said, I’ve had a couple of crazy catfish-y type things happen to me and I just wanted to pull out for a while.
With a new family, will some of those feelings come into play in WILFRED this season?
Yes, yes, it’s really weird, every year there seems to be this weird synchronicity with ‘Wilfred,’ even if I’m not writing certain things it seems to be a real parallel in my life. And this year just by chance ‘Wilfred’ got married to ‘Bear’ and I recently got married in Vegas in a fast, impromptu marriage, and was kind of like, oh … now ‘Wilfred’s’ getting married, and then ‘Wilfred,’ there’s the baby that ‘Wilfred’s’ interacting with a lot, and I’m like holy … I’m going to have a baby. And then ‘Wilfred’ gets fat and I’m getting fat, which is kind of in sympathy, I think, to my pregnant wife, so one informs the other all the time. Yes, look, we’ll wait and see what happens next year, but there’s always some weird synchronicity. I had two scripts sent to me recently as well for some future scripts, and two roles that I’m looking at are both young dads, and it’s just weird, I’m like, oh, I never get sent these scripts, these things never come into my life, and then all of a sudden while this stuff is happening in my life the rest of it is, and it’s always been like that for me. When I was living a kind of wild, crazy party lifestyle I’d come home, it was like 4:00 in the morning or whatever, and things in my life would always seem to reflect what I’m doing, what I’m writing. And I wrote something recently last year, and a lot of my things these days seem to be about becoming a better man, so hopefully in a couple of years I’ll be writing things that are about goodness.
We spoke with Elijah last week and he told us about wearing the dog suit. Was it strange seeing him in it?
I didn’t see any of that. I got a photo of him with the head on, and he put the head on one day, in season one, I think, but he wasn’t in the whole thing, and he was freaking out, I think he thinks that it’s some kind of sacred … . I wasn’t there at the time but someone asked me, “Are you okay if Elijah gets in the suit?” And I was just like, “Yes, anyone can get in that suit.” There was one guy that was doing a behind-the-scenes type thing and he’s like, “We want to shoot something with ‘Ryan’ and ‘Wilfred’ but it doesn’t need to see your face. Do you want to do it, but it’s going to be the back of you, or are you happy if I get in the suit?” And I said, “Dude, get in the suit, please.” So there’s nothing sacred for me. In fact, I like it when other people are in the suit. But, no, I didn’t see …, so I’m hoping that there’s a photo or something.
Is there someone you’d like to see be a guest star on WILFRED?
Jack Nicholson. Do you know, someone said to me, one of the show runners, the new show runner said to me the other day that apparently Anjelica Huston is a big fan of the show, and so hopefully we’d love to try and get her involved, and maybe that’s our angle, maybe she can get Jack involved.
How would you cast Jack?
Look, he may have to be maybe ‘Wilfred’s’ dad or something, some dad that doesn’t want to know him, or an uncle or something.
What do you think it is about the show that people are drawn to?
Well, hopefully it’s the comedy. This season we go around reading … show runners, and in the beginning of the season we definitely sat down and said, okay, we want to really focus on the comedy this year and really don’t lose sight of that in all of the …working environs, psychology and the madness and the mythology of Wilfred, and we have 22 minutes of television pretty much … allowing for commercial air space, and so we don’t have a lot of time to tell a story and …, so we have to have a lot of dog-isms and stuff. And ultimately it’s a comedy so it has to be funny, so I think, me personally, what I bring to the show and what I strive for is to make it funny. I think that if people are laughing, then you’ve got them. But I don’t think we can overlook the dog ownership element that people are fascinated by the inner workings of their dog’s mind and what they may be thinking. I’ve had countless fans and stuff just say that … look at their dog the same way now after watching Wilfred and just …when the dog’s licking their face or trying to lick their mouth, wondering exactly what he’s thinking as he’s doing that.
Is there any improv on the show at all?
Again, we don’t have a lot of time when we shoot, and we shoot an episode every four days, and …, so we don’t have a whole lot of time, so we’ve pretty much honed those scripts down to the point where we don’t have a lot of extra space. But inevitably we end up cutting things anyway, something always ends up getting cut, so we try and avoid those as much as we can by making the writing super tight. But having said that, when we’re rehearsing a scene or even sometimes when we’re in the middle of shooting a scene, something like a strikingly obvious possible adjustment, a new line or an extra …, and that can even happen in the edit or in the sound. I was doing some ADR, additional dialogue recording, the other day for a Wilfred … where ‘Wilfred’ .., tackles this old lady to avoid her getting hit by a car, even though she’s not really in danger, and there was no line on there in the scene when we shot it, but then when I did some ADR they wanted just something in there and I just put in there, “Look out, …”, as he … tackling her, and then … down and … was just saying it’s like probably one of his favorite lines now in that episode. And so we’re … opportunities to enhance, but no, we don’t really have a lot of time to improvise.
Are there still challenges filming the show?
Challenging, yes, I mean every year is, like right now is challenging. We make the show and we never know if we’re coming back for another season or not, and you do your best. We want the show to improve and we want our audience to grow, and so we take on board as much as we can, feedback that we get from tester audiences and stuff like that, and so we’re constantly trying to hone our craft and make a better show. And so it’s just difficult, and right now we’ve done it, you do your best in the writing room and you do your best on set, and you do your best … and then it’s out there for the world to see and you just let it go, and then you’re in the hands of the gods and it’s up to the … elements. And so I guess that’s probably the most challenging part has been just sitting back and letting nature take its course … control.
Is there some place that we’re going to continue seeing Ryan’s relationship with Jenna change?
Yes, it kind of gets turned on its head towards the end of the season. That has been a … challenge in the writing of the show. When we did the pilot, the show really became like a buddy comedy with a love triangle angle, rather than say the Australian show which was purely a love triangle. So it became this buddy comedy and then once we got into the real psychology of ‘Ryan’ sometimes it was like, oh, what do we do with ‘Jenna’ and ‘Drew’? So this year we kind of … look, we’ve got to do something … and so we have gone and really kind of … down a little bit towards the end of the season, without giving too much away, a lot of … was as a result of ‘Ryan’s’ kind of … where it wasn’t wanted. … and, yes, ‘Wilfred’ has to … choice of royalties as well, because even though ‘Jenna’ is his owner, ‘Ryan’ kind of takes care of him most of the time. Yes, we can expect to see some fun stuff with ‘Jenna’ and ‘Drew’ towards the end of the season.
What do you think of the one hour time slot of WILFRED?
I think the one hour blocks of Wilfred were just for the first few weeks. I know it’s a little bit unorthodox and we get a week off, and I think then we’re back in the single episodes. Kind of like I mentioned before about sort of letting go, I’ve learned over the years to just forget about that stuff. It really is out of my control. I don’t know anyone that has ratings boxes, so there’s no one I can contact to say, “Make sure that you’re watching Wilfred at this time of day, to help us,” or whatever. It totally is out of my control. And also, I just handed it over to the fans now and …, really, you know? I actually did watch it last night, and I laughed my ass off, and so that’s the best that I hope to get out of it now, is I’m proud of it and if people can find it, great. Yes, it was kind of weird, because we don’t have Louie anymore, we didn’t have Louie this year, and there’s been … changes at the other shows, but that kind of stuff, that’s totally out of my stratosphere. My job is to make good television.
What is it about FX that really attracts them to shows like WILFRED?
I was talking to John Landgraf a couple of years ago and … and he said to me, we were talking about that very thing about what makes FX better than everyone else, and he said, “… all these people here, they can all be earning more money somewhere else doing something, but they actually all believe in what they’re doing.” And that’s at every level. That isn’t just at an executive or creative level, it’s everyone in marketing and in every department. I think the marketing guys just won some massive award … . They’re fantastic. We have so much fun … and I really think that there’s a vision that has been suggested from the … and it really does go all the way down and everyone feels like they’re really part of something special. I know … really lucky because my manager … who convinced me to do this show again over here, when he contacted me in Australia … and he pitched me the idea of doing Wilfred again over here with me as ‘Wilfred,’ at first I said sort of flatly “No,” and then eventually he convinced me to try it again with a new direction. And I said, “If you can sell it, I’ll do it.” And he was pitching it around town and when he first contacted me he said, “Look, I think we’ve got the probably network, they’re called FX,” and told me a little about them. And I said, “The perfect network is the network that wants to make the show, whoever they are, I don’t need to know any more.” And then I came over here and we shot the pilot and I … watch this network and see, since I’m going to be on it, what they do, and I was … on my feet here, to be on a network like this is a blessing for me. After a lot of years of struggling to maintain my creative voice, and even though that meant sometimes not having … to perform from, I mean, to finally have a place like FX to do this kind of work is a real blessing.
Thanks to Jason Gann for joining us today to talk about this crazy and wonderful show that is WILFRED. The gang will be back July 11th at 10:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on FX!