A Lovely Chat With Paul Scheer About Deathbed Confessions And The Secret He Won’t Take To The Grave
Paul Scheer (The League, Veep) knows no limits when it comes to piling on the projects, and it’s honestly impossible to imagine how the comedian finds time to juggle such an array of TV projects and web series with film appearances, podcasting efforts, and keeping himself grounded through family life. Although most of his projects lend themselves to lightheartedness, his upcoming film, Summer ’03, visits a slightly darker subject and emerges as a coming-of-age tale with a spin seldom seen on screens large or small.
In the film, Scheer plays Ned, the father of a teenage girl (Joey King), who receives two jaw-dropping pieces of information (one being about blowjobs) alongside her grandmother’s deathbed. Ned’s subsequent visit with his mother unleashes an even more massive ruckus, and although the film is also deeply funny, these characters embark upon very heartbreaking journeys. Summer ’03is a beautifully rendered film, albeit one filled with agonizing life lessons.
Scheer was gracious enough to speak with us about the project. He also got real on the subject of deathbed confessions and revealed a little secret, which might be great life advice, in the conversation below.
Summer ’03 is a film that gets down to immediate business. Grandma drops these awful, fiery truth bombs on her deathbed and flatlines, leaving chaos in her wake. It’s a highly dramatized spin on extended hospital vigils, but do you think the story is relatable?
I don’t know if it’s relatable as much as, well, I’ll say this: the story’s actually true. The story is based on something that actually happened to the director, Becca Gleason, and that’s why the whole script was made. And that’s one of the reasons why I kind of related to it. The fact you have these people in your lives, these grandparents, these aunts, these uncles, the ones that you always know are a kind of pain in the ass. And you feel like they’re out to get you, and so I think I related to that element of it. I think that the idea of her dropping these truth bombs on everybody — I’ve never experienced that — but I definitely feel like there are people in your family (at least I do) that are trying to always mix it up. And the older they get, the less inhibitions they have, so they are more ready to tell you what’s what.
I actually watched this movie a few days after having a totally random conversation with a friend about deathbed confessions. We concluded that they’re ultimately a selfish act. Would you agree?
[Laughs.] You know what, I feel like, “Why not go out with a bang?” I mean, you’re correct, it is a little selfish, but I think when you get older, you lose these inhibitions, and you’re right, you don’t get to be there to watch people [deal with the fallout], but I think maybe you save the deathbed confessions for the people that you don’t like? Maybe that should be the caveat. People who need some comeuppance, but yes. It is a wimpy way out, you gotta be there to watch people squirm.
The film’s trailer isn’t subtle. It aims squarely at the blowjob demographic when grandma talks to Joey King’s character. Were you prepared for that when you read the script?
That deathbed confession happened so early that I was like, “Whoa!” And that’s what kind of got me into the film even more. I thought it was such a fun idea. And it’s such a crazy thing to tell a 16-year-old girl, and that immediately brought me in. When you’re reading these scripts, a lot of the time, you see the same stuff. It’s like these dramedies, of a bunch of people in their 30s in a summer house, and [they’re] like, “Oh, I don’t love my wife” or “I’m not ready to have kids, I’m still a kid at heart!” This just felt so different, and I also just love that it was a coming-of-age story that was told in a very different way, a very female perspective that I feel like I don’t get to see that much.
Your character, arguably, receives the worst confession of all, right?
Look, my character is seemingly the most loved by this woman, his mother, and she tells him that his father is not his father. That it’s somebody else. And that is the worst possible thing you could ever hear, so what essentially happens is that each one of these confessions spirals out a member of the family. And so I feel like for me, it was really fun to play a dad who was just growing unhinged inside while acting like, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” And I could really relate to the idea of, “Okay, I get it,” but also unraveling, too.
You’re also a dad, and your character kind of loses his mind after grandma’s news and disappears for a while. How do you feel about him taking flight?
As a dad, I would never, ever disappear. That’s the one thing I really couldn’t quite relate to, but there’s the idea that we’re still adults. When you become a parent, you believe that it’s all fine, that you’re able to handle everything. But you’re not, you’re still a human being, and there are still things that upset you, and you grieve, and you are still learning. So the idea that each one of us is not really having a coming-of-age but having this moment where we’re, you know, dealing with all of our issues.
All hell breaks loose in Summer ’03, and you’re also in the horror-comedy Slice, which involves a gateway to hell. You’ve said that Slice — and I’ve been perhaps too fascinated by this — is the most difficult film to describe, but your descriptions keep getting better, like you’re working something out.
Do you want to take another crack at it?
I think I can describe it totally now. Slice, to me, is this movie that’s like Scooby Doo by way of David Lynch. It’s this kind of fun world, midnight-movie theme film that really, for me, was really exciting and different compared to what else is out there in independent movies today. But as far as the plot, I guess I could tell you, “Yeah, it’s about a bunch of pizza delivery boys who get killed,” but that doesn’t tell you much of anything because it’s also a world in which ghosts and werewolves and witches all co-exist, and there’s a big government conspiracy going on to pin these murders on the ghosts, but maybe it’s also the witches, and the werewolves need to clear their name. It doesn’t fit in a box, I would say.
You’ve been in a few other horror films, including Piranha 3D. Ethan Hawke once said that horror sets are the cheeriest he’s ever been on. What’s your experience on horror sets versus your extensive dives into comedy?
Horror and comedy probably have the closest energy of any genre because I feel like they’re both trying to elicit a reaction out of you. They’re trying to get you to feel something. Whether it’s pure shock or making you laugh, but they’re both coming from the same spot, and I feel like that’s the thing that’s so universal about the two of them. And so on a horror set, you can still get jokes in. Some horror movies have the best jokes. The Thing has really funny moments, and Alien, too, along with really scary moments. Horror and comedy really compliment each other.
You have several projects in the works right now. One of them is rebooting Galaxy Quest for Amazon. Given how invested sci-fi fans are about relics of their teendom and childhood, are you nervous about the Internet wolves out there?
One billion percent. Yeah, but you know what? You can’t focus on that. For me, I’ve grown up as a fan of Galaxy Quest. I love it so much. It’s like part of me, so it’s like my perfect film. It’s a comedy, it’s sci-fi, and when I first took on this film, I was really nervous and didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t let go of it, and that’s what made me come back to it. I just kept coming up with ideas, and I finally went back to Paramount and said, “You know what? I think I do have a pitch.”
The truth is this — no matter what I do, it doesn’t affect the movie Galaxy Quest. That movie will always be perfection, and if there’s anything attached that’s to it afterward, it doesn’t retroactively hurt anything, and that’s the one thing that I take issue with [in] the way that people react to reboots or sequels or anything. It doesn’t affect what you love about the franchise, it just means that you didn’t get “that feeling” twice in a row. For me, my big thing with Galaxy Quest is trying to create something that feels uniquely original for people that are more young and my age when I watched the film. I want to continue this story, and these amazing character are already out there. I think of it as Blade Runner 49 and less of Galaxy Quest 2.0.
Let’s finish with a little more deathbed talk. If there was any confession that you wish you could make before dying — something that maybe isn’t even true, maybe just a good way to go out — what would you say and to whom?
Oh my gosh. Well, it depends on who I’m talking to, but oh wow, this is a really good question … you know, I don’t hold that many things in. Hmm, here’s what I would say on my deathbed …. [dramatic pause] … Every year, I bought myself a birthday gift, and I didn’t tell anyone.
That’s very mysterious.
That’s a little secret. You know, I don’t need to wait for other people to get it for me, I’ll get it on my own. There you go.
So that’s true, or not true, or you don’t want to say?
That is true! Every year, I buy myself my own birthday gift. I know myself pretty well, and it’s to celebrate my birth. I’m all on board with that.
I should do that, too!
It’s a good way to celebrate yourself. That way, you get exactly what you want.
Summer ’03 arrives in New York City and Los Angeles theaters on September 28.