Interview & photos by Dan Skye
For successful artists, there often comes a breakthrough moment – the point when they know they’ve stepped through the magic doorway and life will never be the same again. That moment came for Dan Fogler in 2005, when he won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee. Since then, he’s been scoring big laughs in films like Balls of Fury, Kung Fu Panda, Good Luck Chuck and, now, Take Me Home Tonight with Topher Grace, set for release in March. Dan’s also got Disney’s Mars Needs Moms in the can, and he’s a producer with Studio13, the film and theater production company he helped to found. He also writes constantly and is currently directing his second feature film. As he puts it simply: “I can’t sit still.”
We’ll take him at his word. During our interview, Dan jumps from his chair whenever he feels the need to act out his thoughts. He performs instant, dead-on impressions of showbiz notables and has no problem engaging in a two-sided conversation with himself in order to make his point better. Best of all, he likes to stoke his creative energy with a good sativa – which, he says, calls to him: “Tell the kids to come and play!”
We think we’ve heard that voice before. Meet Dan Fogler, everyone.
This is our annual Cannabis Cup issue. Have you ever been to the Cup or visited Amsterdam?
Yeah, I was out at the coffeeshops, and on the menus, they note the strains that won the Cup.
Do you have any strain worth mentioning?
Laughing Buddha, which was delicious. I got it in the Amnesia coffeeshop – I can’t believe I remember that! Oh, and G-14 … that was pretty awesome. I like the sativas; I like the up, the energy.
You were born in Brooklyn and came from a theater background. How did you get to Hollywood?
My dad’s a surgeon, my mother was a teacher – I went to private school, found acting there. I did plays and musicals, went to Boston University for acting, and basically learned Chekhov and Shakespeare and danced around in tights – all those things that you wouldn’t normally associate with me.
I’m someone who’s considered a character actor. You’re told you’re not going to work until you’re 35 or 40 – I was only 20, so what do you do? You get with your friends and you create parts for yourself. And that’s what The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee was. In that musical, my character, Mr. Barfeé, is essentially a 12-year-old incarnation of all of the angst I had as a kid – and all of the allergies that my brother had as a kid. I put them into this one character, and that became Mr. Barfeé … and the next thing you know, you’re winning the Tony Award for something you’ve created. And then the doors are open for your career.
What’s it like when suddenly everything changes overnight?
When I got nominated for a Tony Award, I had a lot of knocks on the door from television. Then, when I won the Tony Award, it was movies … from Broadway to ahhhhh!
It was insane: “Here, do you want to do a film with Chris Walken?” Yes, sir! “You wanna do a movie with a couple of other star people?” Absolutely! I was like a kid in a candy store. On the set of Balls of Fury, I’m running around in short shorts and a shimmering jacket on, with a ping-bong paddle and a bionic suit, and people are saying: “You won a Tony Award?”
So your new movie, Take Me Home – you must have seen the script and noticed that your character does a whole lot of cocaine?
Yeah. This is a disclaimer: I’ve never done cocaine in my life. I just wanted to let you know that.
Still, you looked like a pro. We were very impressed.
It was powdered milk. So when you get it into your sinuses – if you’re actually crazy enough to snort it – it creates like a drip in the back of your throat, a mucousy kind of drip … which I hear is similar to doing cocaine.
Yes, it is … if memory serves.
When I read the script, I was like: “This is awesome!” I grew up in the 80s – it feels like a lost John Hughes movie. I like that my character was wound very tight and, by the end, he’s totally disheveled and his hair is everywhere. He’s a lunatic by the end of the movie.
Thankfully, he’s hitting an apple bong by that time, too. What do you think this movie says about the ’80s?
That we were naive and wild and ready to spend like crazy. We have a lot to learn looking back – and, in some ways, it seems history is repeating itself. I sense, in my friends, that there’s this attitude: “The world is going to hell in a hand-basket, so let’s just party our worries away.” That’s what seems to be going on now. Um, I’d rather they focus on trying to help change the world for the better ….
This is getting so deep, man! [laughing] It’s a party movie, man! It’s just a wild party movie.
Your character seems to be cut from the same cloth as those that John Belushi played. You’ve already played a few of these guys ….
Yeah, in Good Luck Chuck, I was the guy that liked to support grapefruits; I mean, that was kind of crazy. Then you got Balls of Fury – I guess he was a King Kong maniac. I guess he did go off the deep end at some point, but that was before the movie began. In Taking Woodstock, I’m like a free-flowing, ’60s-style hippie. But I think this is the first movie where you see that iconic Belushi insanity.
Characters like these go back to Shakespearean times – like Falstaff, who is the classic big, drunken lunatic with a heart of gold. Who doesn’t like playing those characters? I love the sweaty, wild, in-your-face stuff.
Do you feel you’re in danger of being typecast?
No. Hollywood may typecast me because of the way I look or my size, but I feel I’ve done enough eclectic work – I think I’ve played a full spectrum of different characters … and I hope to in the future. I have movies coming out that, I think, show my range.
You’ve also been cast as the late, great Sam Kinison.
Yeah, that definitely falls into the category of “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.” The character basically starts out as an innocent and then goes off the deep end. Many people think of Sam as a talented guy who died choking on his own vomit. You know: “Oh, Sam Kinison – he died from some kind of overdose.”
The truth is, by the time that he died, he was on the road to being sober. It’s not just a story about this guy who got mixed up in the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle and burned himself out; it’s the tale of a fallen angel, essentially. There are so many comics out there who praise him, and they say that he was a guy who was cut off and never reached his potential – kind of like Lenny Bruce.
What else do you have in preparation?
I’m directing this movie called Don Peyote, which will be released at the end of this year. It’s the second film I’m directing; the first one was Hysterical Psycho. Then I have this book, this graphic novel, Moon Lake, and it’s like The Twilight Zone on THC. Essentially, it’s an homage to everything that I grew up watching late at night: Tales From the Crypt, Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, even Heavy Metal: The Movie. It’s all in there.
Now, I’m directing the movie based on the book. It’s a dream come true to me, an homage to everything that I grew up doing or watching on TV. I love comic books and graphic novels and these books, so I thought: “Why not create my own view of a graphic-novel/comic-book universe and try to do a spin-off from that?” It’s just wild, zany, dark sci-fi horror.
I’m also putting together a show, kind of like Wayne’s World on THC … or Pee-wee’s Playhouse on pot.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse on pot? That’s redundant.
You’re only 34. Do people trust you as a director?
I think you have to be observant. It does help to have a movie already under my belt – that it’s gone to festivals and it sold. So that helps. But during the first venture, even though I was working with all friends, yeah, they questioned me every step of the way. It wasn’t until we got to see dailies together and saw a rough cut that they were like: “Ohhhh … not bad.”
I’m also directing myself in Don Peyote. Basically, what happens is my character bumps into a guy with a “The End Is Near” sign. He doesn’t really have a purpose in life, so he gets obsessed with everything that the sign means. He starts collecting interviews from across the full spectrum – everyone from New Age people to economists to medical people – and he really tries to pick their brains about what they think is going to happen in the next couple of years, where we’re headed as a species. But it opens up all of these different questions: Where are we from? Where are we going? Who are we? Why are we so scared of dying? It’s filming in New York and LA, then in Peru and Costa Rica.
Damn, you’re a busy man! This isn’t stereotypical stoner behavior.
I can’t sit still. Yeah, you can’t really sit around and wait for the phone to ring.
Does pot help you creatively?
Ganja plus meditation enhances and basically lubricates you, allowing you to dream while you’re awake. You come up with some incredible stuff that you never would’ve thought of if you weren’t dabbling in THC. The more I smoke pot and the more work that I do, the more I realize that we’re right about this plant. I mean, don’t overdo it, but every day something new about THC is discovered. There is a spiritual communication that we are totally missing out on by shunning that world.
Where did you first discover marijuana?
In college. That’s when it really started, at Boston University. In my freshman dorm, there was this kid who turned his entire room into a bong. He was an engineering student, and you opened his room and it was all black light and just billowing smoke everywhere. He had these pipes that came up from the corners of the room and rose to the ceiling. All of these people sat in the corners, like shaman people, and blew the smoke into the thing – and there it was, like this whole network. That guy works for NASA today.
Are you serious?
No … but I wouldn’t be surprised. It was an amazing device.
I smoke a lot when I’m writing. I find that I’ll smoke and be able to spit out, basically, a regurgitated play in a weekend. Then it’s, “Oh, shit, where did that come from?” For a film, I make lists, lists of new ideas, and then spend the sober moments trying to sell all of that stuff. For me, pot is – it’s attached to this endless well of creativity. Pot is like: “Tell the kids to come and play!”
Woody Harrelson felt that his association with pot may have impacted his career. How do you feel?
In past years, maybe … but nowadays? Everybody is smoking. Woody was a pioneer; he had the balls to put it out there. And now his career seems to be stronger than ever.
What’s the toughest thing about being an actor?
It’s like you sign up for a ship’s journey and do your best to bring everything back home, and you don’t even know if anyone’s ever going to see it. You put your heart and soul into something, but you have to have this kind of Buddhist philosophy. You draw something – you draw this mandala in the sand. Then the wind brushes it away, and you have to not worry about it. You just have to let it go; you have to move on to the next thing. It’s hard when you’re really passionate about something. You’re like, “Wow, that thing is really worthy of praise, and it just sits and collects dust.”
There are too many cooks in the kitchen in a lot of situations. It’s not like you’re a painter and you’re painting with a critic – you have nine painters, and they’re all coming in and tweaking. I watched Hearts of Darkness: Francis Ford Coppola was so fed up with the Hollywood system that he went off and said, “Screw it – I’m just going to make my own stuff and see my vision to its fruition.”
I take that as a cue. Like Orson Wells, when I direct my things, I do everything – I try to keep it very close to home, even pay for it out of my own pocket, because I think it’s really important to see your vision in the end and not get veered off-track. You have to literally not care, because you’ll have so many ups and downs along the way. You’ll realize the downs suck – but in the long run, it makes for a great biography.
Thousands of actors still jump into the business yearly. What advice would you give to aspiring actors?
Only do it if you know that, even if you get nothing out of it and may end up an old man with a hat, tap-dancing for money, it’s all you know and it’s all you love. If you’re not in that mindset, you’re screwed.
You say you make a point of helping out other actors.
When I got out of college, I saw conquering this business as me armed with a Backstage magazine and a spoon, trying to climb a glacier. Painstakingly, you make it up this hill – this glacier – and you find that it’s a lot easier to do when you have friends around you.
A lot of people say, “I’m gonna fuckin’ do it myself – I’m going to make things happen, I don’t need anybody.” You couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a war, and everyone is fighting to get to the same place. You’re better off grabbing the brothers and sisters around you who are in your platoon. Together, you have a better chance of making it.