Seth Green contains multitudes. Now he's added yet another line to his very varied resume.
Readers of this site know the 45-year-old actor/writer/director best for his geeky oeuvre, which is broad and accomplished. A sampling includes Emmy-winning, multi-hyphenate work on Robot Chicken, the ADD stop-motion animated show that he created; voice roles in just about every other adult-skewing animated series; and live-action roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Austin Powers series, and many others. But he’s got other interests and creative ambitions, too, and they coalesced this summer in his live-action directorial debut, Changeland, a buddy dramedy in which he co-stars with his longtime friend and creative colleague, Breckin Meyer.
The film is equal parts an exploration of relationships, a travelogue, and 86 minutes of emotional catharsis, set in idyllic (and occasionally chaotic) island scenery in Thailand. When he starts to get a strong suspicion that his wife is cheating on him, Green’s character, Brandon, invites his best friend Dan (Meyer) on the surprise vacation he had planned for their anniversary; he leaves in the middle of the night, hoping that time away and some counsel from his friend, whom he hasn’t seen in several years, might help. They meet a number of oddball locals (including one played by Macauley Culkin) and new friends on a journey that flows at the pace of a hidden resort getaway.
“I went to Thailand in 2009, and all of the things that I witnessed, all the people that I met, just the experience that my friend and I had, it really felt like a movie,” Green told SYFY WIRE during a recent interview on The Fandom Files podcast. “And all of the backgrounds and locations, it was so beautiful, it just felt like an incredible place to put a story.”
Green went long on the movie during the conversation, and also spoke about some more geeky items, including when Robot Chicken will return for its 10th season (mark September on your calendars) and the fate of his Howard the Duck. Below is an edited version of the conversation — the whole thing can be heard in the episode of The Fandom Files embedded within. Changeland is now available on VOD.
**Editor's note: Green's representatives got in touch to correct the date mentioned in the interview — Robot Chicken is back in September, not October**
This movie, a quieter story about two guys in Thailand, feels like a departure based on your comic books and comedy career. Especially for a directorial debut.
I guess I didn't think about it being a departure, and I really didn't consider how people would interpret it, or the impression that people have gotten of me over the last 10 or more years. I've spent my whole life acting, and I've gotten to do all kinds of genres, comedic and dramatic, adventure, or fantasy. And so I guess in my head, I do all of these things and they're all different expressions of me, so I didn't consider it any more risky or any more difficult for an audience to connect with. I just was inspired to tell this particular story, and that's what led me to directing it.
I didn't even think about it as auspicious as a directorial debut. It was more that I had this story to tell, and there wouldn't really be any way to hire someone to do it, both to translate my vision into their brain nor to get anyone as passionately interested in telling the story as me. So for this kind of movie, the largest scope that this movie could have, the amount of money we could possibly get to make it, the width of its distribution, I knew that to make this kind of movie the way that I wanted, I'd have to do as much of it myself as I could. And obviously, enlist smart and talented people to help me accomplish it in the time and for the budget that we had.
So what was it about this particular story that you wanted to tell so much?
I've always loved very simple things in movies, something that transports you to a place, or something that gives you the space to think about yourself. I find some of the best lessons I've learned about life I've learned through entertainment or through experience. I like the idea of telling a story about friends, and I just wanted to pass on some things that I'd learned over time, just about what it is to take responsibility for the life you're leading.
I really like the idea of showing a very casual and human relationship just between two guy friends. I don't see that represented too often, and there's a lot of talk about toxic masculinity and aggressive male behavior, or just a white privilege point of view, and I didn't want to get into any of that. I just wanted to show a different slice of life.
Everybody says "Write what you know," and so this story was something that felt very familiar to me. Having a friend over a long period of time, and taking an adventure together, and being held accountable for the things you've said and done, and making a decision that you want to do better, that you want to try harder, that you want your life to be more meaningful and not just feel like a passenger.
Breckin’s character is bummed because your character didn’t go to his photography gallery opening because it was at midnight. It’s still with him like a year later, and he says, "You couldn't have been tired for one day?” That really spoke to me, because I live in New York and it's really easy to say, "Oh, I live uptown and it’s too late, sorry." Those kinds of things stick with people.
You make choices every day what you will or won't bear, and you weigh the importance of whatever it is you're sacrificing against how well you'll be able to stay involved in something else, and it's tough. It's really tough, especially the busier everyone gets. The older you get, it's very busy. It's really hard to keep up with everybody, but those little things, it's so important. And if you really want someone to be there for you, you have to show the same willingness.
I love that idea as well that Breckin's character was willing to fly halfway around the world just so his buddy didn't have to take the second flight by himself. He jumped up. He had a moment where it could work, and his buddy was like, "I actually need you." And he said, "Look, I know that we're not in the best place, but we're still these friends, and I'm going to show up."
You shot it in Thailand. It's one thing to direct a movie and another thing to direct it in an entirely different country halfway across the world — not to mention shooting on water a lot of the time. Did you have to work with local crews? What were the logistics of doing this thing?
Well, it was probably easier than you think, but in looking at it from anyone else's perspective, it seems crazy to try and do it. But since I'd already been there, when I was there on the trip, I was thinking about what it would take to shoot a movie there. Any time we were in some exotic location that I thought would make a reasonable background, I thought about the mechanics of actually bringing a film crew there, and what it would take to accomplish that feat. And so when I was writing it, I kept all that in mind.
I imagine you had to be very ready for anything but also couldn’t just go down to a prop shop to get some extra supplies if needed.
One of the benefits of having directed Robot Chicken for so long and gotten to make movies my whole life is that I've gotten to see firsthand some of the ways that you can clear obstacles or prevent problems from coming up. I just did a ton of prep work.
The smartest thing that I did was I got a local production team called Living Films, who had been making movies in Thailand for over 25 years. Getting a local team that knew everybody, that knew all the logistics, that had a great relationship with the government or the board of tourism or the national parks. There's a huge cinematic infrastructure in Thailand for making movies. A lot of the films that they make are action films, or about police corruption, or highlight something like human trafficking or something violent and not as desirable. So everyone was actually really happy to get to work on something that was celebrating just the basic human lifestyle of people.
I’m planning a trip that’ll include Thailand, so selfishly I want to know where you went, because the locations are pretty incredible.
The first part of the movie at a resort on Phuket called The Slate, which is a fantastic place. They take a boat on an incredibly common tour that tourists do, where they go out to some small islands, including James Bond Island, and they get to kayak around some of these sea caves, and depending on the level of the ocean at that point, you can go through some of these lower exposures and kayak through these tiny channels into lagoons and whatnot. It's pretty incredible. You're out in the middle of nothing, and you see some ancient formation that's been there for thousands if not millions of years.
And then we go to an island called Ko Phi Phi, which is this tiny island, and all the people that live there work there, so you have a lot of people that run diving tours, or snorkel tours, or they run the local restaurants, or they run any of the hotels, or hostels. And my favorite thing about Ko Phi Phi is if you're a tourist, it feels like a party place, and if you live there, you feel like you're the employees of a summer stop, or the employees of some epic Vegas experience.
People come there for 24 hours at a time, and the whole place is lit up like a neon, electric party made of fire. But if you live there, you just see this infinite rotation of tourists that arrive on the shore. They go on the snorkel tour, and then they stay for the nightlife, and then they leave in the morning. And if you're the one putting on the show, you get to see the people just come day after day from all over the world, and they have the same kind of magic experience. We were there for two weeks, so I got to experience both sides of it.
So, Robot Chicken. You have a 10th season coming up. When will we see it?
I want to say that we'll premiere this new season in October. I think that's what happens. And it's 20 episodes that will get broken up into two releases of 10. So around October, this first 10 will run, and then in 2020 the next 10 will run, and we'll see the 200th episode toward the end of next year.
Hitting 200 episodes is pretty insane.
It is, it's crazy. It was never anything that I anticipated, and honestly I can't spend a lot of time thinking about it or else it corrupts my ability to make it. The thing that's always kept us making a show that I think is entertaining is that we're always trying to entertain ourselves. We've always trusted our gut as to what is funny, but each year we bring in different crops of young writers and get their perspective on the same format, which is how I hope we keep it fresh. But we don't really think about any of the pressure that comes with milestones. We just try to continue to make the show as great as we can.
Like with this 200th episode, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to make it something different while still feeling like Robot Chicken. We wanted to do something we've never done before, but we didn't want it to feel different than the show itself.
How do you parody what’s happening in the world right now? It’s so heightened, any joke on it might feel just beyond the brink, too big.
Well, there are certain allowances for the fact that irony doesn't work in the same way, both from an intellectual standpoint and also because we culturally have pushed past so many boundaries that it's hard to interpret something as fantasy. We always come from the same place, which is that pop culture is something that binds us all.
That was the exciting thing that happened in the beginning of Robot Chicken. All of these things that we thought were so exclusive to ourselves, that we were the only ones who saw this commercial or this show. We thought we were the only ones having these private musings about all of these ideas, and then the first season came out and connected with viewers. And the first time we went to Comic-Con and had a room of 1000 people, they not only got the joke, but they were grateful that someone was talking about it. We realized that we were all thinking about the exact same stuff.
That's what we trust is there is a bit of pop culture that is transient, that happens just today, where it's "covfefe," or whatever it is that exactly in this moment, and then there's the other stuff that really sticks around, that lasts for 20 or 30 years. The stuff that everybody sees or everybody thinks about that isn't just an internet meme for this week or this month. It's the stuff that really sticks permanently. That's usually what we'll focus the most on. Anything that we feel is transient, we won't put it on for a very long spot, but anything we know is going to resonate for a while, that's the stuff we try and feature.