Catching Up with Wilfred Co-Creator and Star Jason Gann

TV Features

Wilfred’s final season premiere was titled “Amends,” but it might as well have been “Answers.” After three seasons of teases and a flock of red herrings, the show is poised to finally deliver on the mythology front. Showrunner David Zuckerman is back after a third season hiatus, and the first two episodes (“Amends” and “Consequences”) were vintage Wilfred, hilarious and strange. The show has jettisoned most of its secondary characters, narrowing the focus to Wilfred and Ryan. Bone voyage, indeed—but not before the boys do a little digging.

Paste caught up with the man in the suit, co-creator and star Jason Gann, to talk about the final season, shining moments and regrets, and making his makeup artist cry.

Paste Magazine: Did you feel more pressure writing this season because it’s Wilfred’s last, or was it liberating, like being a president who doesn’t have to run for reelection?
Jason Gann: It was liberating. We were under no pressure for ratings. I’ve sensed—and gotten a bit of feedback online—that some of the less diehard of our fans were growing a little bit frustrated with the lack of answers. You know, this dragging out the whole “What is Wilfred? Will we ever know what’s going on?” It was good to take the gloves off and really go for it. No one at the end of this season is gonna be saying, “I’m not satisfied with the answers.” Which is not to say that they are one hundred percent definitive. The reality of Wilfred has always existed on multiple levels, so we have some conclusions that satisfy multiple realities. I’m really proud of that. I think everyone will be left feeling satisfied, but also like, “Wow. Do I even know what just happened?”

Paste: Although the premiere had flashes of Lost, Wilfred generally doesn’t remind me of anything. What do you consider to be Wilfred’s influences or predecessors? What if anything do you watch or read for inspiration?
Gann: Lost is definitely an influence on David Zuckerman. He even made a reference to it, I think, at the end of Season One. I personally have never seen an episode of Lost, so it’s not an influence of mine. In all honesty, sometimes those elements of Wilfred haven’t been my main focus, my personal contribution. I love them, but I would literally fall asleep in the writers’ room sometimes when we’d talk about those things. These long-winded intellectual conversations. My contribution is really to the comedy of it, and the romance, the love story between Ryan and Wilfred.

As far as influences go, I agree with you that there’s nothing quite like this. I’m a fan of certain shows like anyone else—I love Breaking Bad. I loved Welcome Back, Kotter, and The Benny Hill Show and The Paul Hogan Show. A lot of physical comedy stuff. That’s one of the things I’m proudest of with Wilfred, some of the physical comedy that I get to do. That’s one of the benefits of having me in the writers’ room: If a good pitch comes up, they have Wilfred in the room. I’ll get up and do it.

Paste: Sure. Do you have an example of one of these moments?
Gann: In Season One when Wilfred was being possessed by Ryan’s childhood dog Sneakers, we came up with a scene where Wilfred found Sneakers’ collar and put it on. And I don’t know where I’ve seen this, but in a couple movies there’s a woman trying on the necklace of the matriarch of the family, or the dead ex-wife or wife. Or the maid is trying on the necklace and she puts her hair up in a bun and she’s admiring the necklace on her chest in the mirror. So I kind of did that, put my ears up on my head and held the collar like a woman. And I must have done that in the writers’ room fifty to a hundred times, and I never got sick of it. Still to this day it’s my favorite moment. I’m so proud of it and the way it actually happened. It was exactly as I imagined it in the room—and it’s even made better because one of Wilfred’s ears gets stuck on his head, it doesn’t fall down naturally. He suddenly has this moment of embarrassment where he shakes his ear out; he’s been caught in an intimate moment with himself.

Those kinds of things are probably my biggest contribution to the show.

Paste: In a broader sense, what are you most proud of with the show?
Gann: I’ve created and developed in excess of twenty different shows. Some of them have just been two-page pitch documents. Many of them have been developed with networks, but not made. There are quite a number of pilots that were written but not made. So far, the only one that’s made it the full-length from granule to actual conclusion is Wilfred. After we finished shooting, I felt this overwhelming sense of pride and exhaustion.

I had a long illustrious career in children’s theater getting in and out of these goddamn costumes, and it was hell for me. That was what informed Wilfred; that was where I got the idea, from being in that suit and being so miserable in it. And that’s what got me through the many changes. I get in and out of that suit forty, fifty times a day, and it drives me insane. So I’m really proud that Wilfred is a part of history now, and I’m not even gonna try to top him as far as characters go, because I think he’s so unique. I don’t think there’s anything like him. I’m just tremendously proud.

Recently I had a party at my place for the crew. And we had Wilfred on in the background, and I’m sitting there watching some of it and I go, “Fucking hell, this is great! This is a really good show.” And it’s so weird now because we know what happens in the end. Every episode we’ve made, every story we’ve told is different because it’s been concluded. So that’s what I’m most proud of—that we’ve made it across the finish line. Wilfred exists. Wilfred has lived. And it will be around long after I’ve left the planet.

Paste: On the flip side, what would you have done differently?
Gann: I would have liked, in all honesty, if we had another one or two seasons. I believe that we did lose a lot in ratings because we probably leaned too heavily on the mythology and the darkness of the show. I felt we could have still had that, but not compromised as much of the comedy. I’ll never know whether we would have had more longevity if I had put my foot down more and arm-wrestled more for the comedy. I’m not sure; it’s all about compromises, you know. I guess part of me just wanted to keep the show on air as long as we could. But life’s too short to fight too hard for too long over the same issues.

Paste: I thought you guys did a really good job in the premiere of balancing mythology and comedy, and handing them out simultaneously. Are you personally as interested in the mythology as you are the comedy, or is that just something you feel you owe the fans?
Gann: A couple years ago I would have said that if it was up to me, we would be just a comedy. But I’ve gotta say, I love the conclusions that we’ve come up with, the solutions to these loose ends. I mean, we don’t even know at the end of each season what we’ve done. We had an idea of what that statue was, but apart from where we think that statue came from, we had none of the mythology for this season.

And that’s the way it’s always been. We’ve never known where we were going. In the past that’s been frustrating, because it’s like, man, we’re just fucking with them here, you know? We need to know where we’re going with these. We should have an idea. Often it felt to me like we were directionless, and meandering, and repeating ourselves, and that was an ongoing debate in the writers’ room that we’d all have. But I really feel that this year we’ve satisfied that. Any of those reservations that I’ve previously had have been put to rest, and I’ve fallen in love with the mythology.

Paste: How did it feel to wear the suit for the last time? I know it’s really heavy and hot, so in some sense it was probably a great relief. But it must have been bittersweet.
Gann: It was bittersweet. When all the cameras are ready and the second team has rehearsed it all, and we’re about to shoot, the first AD will go—the last thing that I’ll hear before I suit up is—“Suitin’ up! Suitin’ up!” And then I get into it, and the last time, it was like “Suitin’ up.” It was very heavy. I mean the last few we shot on that last day were all so very heavy. Going through that last scene, we’d done a few takes of it, and it was the kind of scene where we couldn’t just shoot a lot, for certain reasons. So our director Randall Einhorn—he’s a former DP, so from time to time he’ll take the camera and shoot it himself. Because we could only do it a finite number of times, he took the camera, and we shot it from a few different angles. It was taking a little bit longer than we thought—it always does. But then Randall said really quietly to Elijah and me—he looked at us and he said, “This is the last one, guys.” And we looked at each other and went, “Fuck, man.”

Paste: No pressure.
Gann: Well, the pressure was gone; we’d already nailed it. It was just filling in pieces. It was more joyous. Like, soak this one in, because this is the last moment that Ryan and Wilfred are doing anything. So yeah, it was bittersweet.

At the end of every season, I always take home my own makeup, my own nose, because I never know if it’s the last time. It’s kind of a ceremony. And I warned the makeup artist—I knew she was very emotional about it ending—I said, “Look, I’m just gonna tell you now, this is the last time you’re taking off the nose.” And she cried, a lot of tears. And I put on sad music and stared at her, like a tormenting smile, as she was trying to fight back the tears, and I looked at her menacingly, with this maniacal grin, like: Yeah. Cry.

Evan Allgood is deputy editor of Trop. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow and maybe later unfollow him on Twitter.

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