ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with paint director Brit McAdams about the Owen Wilson-led drama movie. McAdams spoke about how Bob Ross inspired Wilson’s character and the movie’s concept. paint is now playing in theaters.
“In paintOwen Wilson portrays Carl Nargle, Vermont’s #1 public television painter who is convinced he has it all: a signature perm, custom van, and fans hanging on his every stroke … until a younger, better artist steals everything (and everyone) Carl loves ,” reads the movie’s synopsis.
Tyler Treese: You wrote the script and directed Paint, and the idea of “what if Bob Ross was going through a crisis and had to deal with time passing him by” is great. What really led you to go down this path with the idea? I feel like some people would think of that, chuckle, and not explore it further. But you do such a great job fleshing out this entertaining concept in turning it into a very fun movie.
Brit McAdams: Oh, thank you so much. I worked at VH1 in my 20s, when it was a music channel, and I spent a lot of time around musicians who I loved and looked up to and really respected. I found that a lot of them weren’t the people I’d hoped they would be, and that was hard. He was a real bummer to really love someone and love their music and then be like, “Oh. You can love the art, but not love the artist.” So the idea with watching Bob Ross as a kid and just loving the power that he had over my mom and my sister and I when we would watch him, and just that power he had over you.
This idea of “what if someone wasn’t using that power for good?” I think so much of our world is … we look up to people and we hope they are the heroes we want them to be. But what if, for this character, for Carl Nargle in this film, he’s been a rockstar? He’s been the biggest fish in the smallest of ponds in PBS Burlington since he was 22. Would that person ever evolve beyond that? For me, that’s a question of what matters in life. We’re all going to die and we’re all going to be, in a lot of ways, forgotten. So what’s the most important thing?
Is it that you’re a famous person for 20 years? Or that you’re nice to people? Having all these people I really looked up to and respected maybe not be the people I’d hoped they would be … I like the idea of telling that story of seemingly the nicest person in the world, this, this PBS painter who should be the nicest person, and what if he isn’t that person? How would he evolve beyond that? How would someone so trapped in the past and only worried about himself evolve beyond that? So that’s the genesis of the story.
I love the film’s exploration of local celebrity because I definitely remember that I’d see the local weatherman out and about and it was a big deal — everybody was pointing them out, and I don’t really get that sense today with how things have changed with media. What did you like most about exploring that idea of the local celebrity? Somebody that’s a big deal, but only to this very hyper-specific location in a certain subsection of people?
I feel like that’s the world now. I do feel like when I was a kid, there were five TV channels, so we had the same heroes. My son is 10 and his favorite YouTubers are DanTDM and all these people. He would lose his mind meeting any of them. So I do think you still have that. I think your celebrity’s a little bit more specific, maybe. But you know, I do love the idea of the biggest fish in the smallest of ponds because it’s everywhere, right? If you’re the boss in an office, you’re the guy. If you’re the best bowler, you’re the guy.
People gravitate towards the place where they’re special. My wife and I would joke that when Barack Obama goes home, he’s the guy who can’t park the car in the driveway, you know? No matter what, whoever you are, you’re still the idiot who forgets to close the back door and the dog gets out. So you have these people who are stars in whatever world. But at the same time, when they go home, they are not those people. Everyone sort of wants to be seen as stars in some world … I don’t know. I like the idea of embracing those characters. Every town, every building, every workplace has those rock stars. So just embracing the biggest fish in the smallest of ponds.
That’s so fun, and I love the name Carl Nargle. I feel like the name was so important. How did you land on Carl Nargle? Was there a lot of iteration for it?
Carl Nargle’s been around for a while. I wrote the script — it’s now 13 years ago. So Nargle is one of my good friends, Marty Nagle. So his last name is Nagle and Don Danello would call him Nargle when we were 18, so that’s Nargle. And then Carl is my friend Chris Brown … we were in our early 20s and we got talked into his spin class after a long night out, and he’s a very, very large person, and he was in the back of the spin class, and we had to wear name tags and he gave himself the name Carl instead of Chris. The spin instructor was really, really encouraging Carl a lot to focus and turn the knob to the right and get out of the saddle and Carl was really struggling.
So it was one of those things where it was one of the funniest things in my life, hearing this from behind me, this large person on a spin bike who might throw up on a spin class being called Carl. It’s the combination of two old friends’ names and nicknames. Most of the people in the film … my sister is Alexandra Moore, her husband’s Donald Moore. It’s all my friends’ names in the film, which I love. My friend, Marty Nagle, his daughter’s Bridget. So every character is pretty much named after someone. owen [Wilson], when he talks about his early films, he’ll talk about so-and-so Tenenbaum really liking this, or whatever. With Wes [Anderson] and Owen, they’ve done the same thing in films, which I love. If you have to pick a name, why not have it be your own personal joke.
That’s so fun. Owen does such a great job and really goes all-in on the character. What impressed you the most about working with Owen and seeing him back in this type of comedy role? He’s such a pro.
Yeah, the cinematographer, Patrick Cady — who’s my old friend — an I … I worked with Owen on the script and we spent months Zooming and talking about it and stuff, but when he steps in front of camera with his hair and the beard … I turned to Patrick and I said, “Holy cow.” Just this idea that it was going to work. Owen is a really unique person where he has, in a lot of ways, experienced a similar life to Carl Nargle, the character he plays, where he has been a star for most of his life. Can you get trapped in there? Can you grow beyond that?
He’s also an Oscar-nominated writer, so he’s really good with scripts and character development and calling out stuff that doesn’t make sense. When you look at Wes Anderson’s films that he wrote with Owen, those are characters you don’t see in anything else. So he’s really good about having unique characters and calling out stuff that he has seen before. He’s such a good guy. Between takes, you’ll see him making sure the camera operator has a blanket to sit on or whatever. He’s just a nice, good, smart guy, so he just brought so much to the film — not just as an actor, but in every way. As a writer and as a person, and also just setting the tone for the whole production. He’s just a good guy.
I remember when the the first image was released for this movie, I saw him dressed up and I thought of Bob Ross and thought, “I’ve got to see this movie.” His involvement is such a selling point. How was it, getting him involved in this project? You mentioned you wrote the original script 13 years ago.
Yeah, when Owen and I connected … we’re the same age. He just looks a lot better than I do. We have similar senses of humor and references and also, he’s someone who has experienced so much of this in his life that he and I just had so much shared experience that once he and I started talking about the script, there was a shorthand in that it really made sense to us. Having him on board just really made everything sing.
I wanted to ask about your background a bit. I saw that you worked with Kat Williams on American Hustle, and I think he’s one of the funniest people to ever walk the earth. How did that working relationship start?
In the worst possible way. We had the same manager, which sounds horrible to say, but it sounds like it could not work. But Kat’s a genius. Kat is such a good guy and he’s so smart and I learned so much from him about comedy and his world and the way he sees the world … that guy can cut through anything in an instant. So his perspective on the world … he operates at a genius level. Being around him, a lot of times he won’t say anything, but you see that he just sees everything, for better or worse. loved working with Kat and anytime I see anything he’s doing, I’m just amazed by his ability to see the truth in the world and present it in a way that’s so insightful and funny like that. He’s a flat-out genius.
I feel like he gets overlooked and taken for granted. He should get his roses a bit more, for sure.
Yeah, I feel like there’s a resurgence that will come. There’s just going to be something that will pop. He’s had moments where he has been at the absolute top of the comedy heap and that will happen again with him. There’s going to be something where people are reminded. His fans love him and that guy will sell out any arena anywhere, but there’s going to be a moment where he returns to and overwhelms the zeitgeist with something specific. I can’t wait to see what’s next with him because he is a genius.
I love the scene where there’s a breakup, and it’s over CB radio. It’s so hyper-specific and so over-the-top. How did you come up with that scene?
Well, we had a van growing up. His van, Vantastic … Carl Nargle’s van is a big character in the film. We had a van growing up. I actually picked up my prom date in a van with a fold-down bed in the back, which is just … I mean, she had no interest in me, which was, I guess, a relief to her mom. [Laugh]. But just… geez, Louise. What a horrible idea.
We would do long drives a lot, and I love the CB culture. We had a CB, and we also had the speaker on the van so we could talk to people outside. So as a kid, as a 12-year-old, to have a CB and also this megaphone feature, …I just loved the idea of that. That combined with the worst possible way to break up with someone, doing it over a CB, where you’re hoping that you can stay good buddies. [Laugh]. It was a gift. It was a gift because he uses that CB all over the place. So it was just a really fun way to break up with someone.