The actor: Arthouse audiences could be forgiven for thinking Congress had passed a law requiring Kevin Corrigan to appear in every independent film since 1990. The intense, quirky character actor appeared in big studio films like Goodfellas and Billy Bathgate early in his career, but found his calling popping up in supporting turns in acclaimed low-budget films like Trees Lounge, Living In Oblivion, Henry Fool, Buffalo ’66, and Slums Of Beverly Hills. Corrigan recently delivered a funny, poignant performance as an amiable Giants fan who looks up to sad-sack best friend Patton Oswalt in the brutally funny dark comedy Big Fan, which has just been released on DVD and iTunes.
Big Fan (2009)—“Sal”
Kevin Corrigan: The script came to me through my manager, and I liked it immediately, and I knew I wanted to be in it. And I was offered the part of Sal. And I didn’t know that the part of Paul was cast, so I just sort of furiously asked, “Who’s playing Paul? I kinda like Paul.” And they said “Patton Oswalt.” It had some similarity to another film I was in, called Buffalo ’66, where I played the friend of a guy who was in trouble. And I didn’t want to repeat myself. But when I heard Patton Oswalt was the guy, I was like, “Oh, I’ll be his friend.”
The A.V. Club: Buffalo ’66 and Big Fan both have a ’70s vibe and focus on people on the fringes of society.
KC: Yeah. It’ll make a great double feature someday.
AVC: Neither you nor Patton Oswalt are sports buffs. Was that a problem in playing a character whose life revolves around football?
KC: It wasn’t much of a problem. When Patton and I went to Sundance, or when we promoted the film here and there, we’ve gone with this idea that neither one of us are into sports. We didn’t know what we were talking about. We went with this idea that we didn’t know much about sports or anything. I’m not as anti-sports as I’ve led people to believe—I’ve been to a Giants game. I’ve been to Giants Stadium and I’ve watched games. I’ve watched lots of them, you know? I don’t really pretend to know what’s going on, but I’ve been immersed in the excitement of watching sports, particularly football. I like baseball, probably more than football.
AVC: Big Fan director Rob Siegel has mentioned in Q&As that Oswalt’s lack of knowledge of sports affected his ability to improvise.
KC: We didn’t know how to cheer for stuff. We didn’t know the specific things to say. Rob would have to feed us lines, and we would just insert the appropriate amount of excitement or passion. As far as specific things to say, Rob would have to give us line-readings.
AVC: On the Big Fan DVD, you explain your own “big fan” experience with Robert De Niro. What was that like?
KC: We were at the Boston Film Festival, and it was just me and Rob doing the Q&A. Patton couldn’t be there. When he is there, I say very little, because I just want to hear Patton talk, you know? When he does a Q&A, it’s like watching him do a stand-up gig. But this time it was different, because it was me and Rob and someone asked if either of us had had a “big fan” experience, and I pulled out the story about meeting Robert De Niro that I’d told a hundred times, but I had never shared it with a group that large. And it was fitting. It fit the occasion. I told it and it went over nicely.
AVC: Do you mind telling it one more time?
KC: I went to see this play at the Public Theater in 1986. De Niro hadn’t done a play since 1970, or something like that. So it was a big deal. The show sold out. I caught it twice. I saw it once in previews and then once again after it opened. I actually used to draw and paint and was pursuing that… I picked acting, finally. And I could still draw, pretty well, back then. And I really wanted to meet De Niro. And I thought the way I’d get to meet him was if I drew a picture of him. I got the usher to help me get backstage, and that’s pretty much how it happened. This usher took the picture backstage and he said he would see if he could get permission for me to come back. He liked the picture. That’s what it was. I don’t think he was interested in helping me out, but I had some friends with me, and they were like, “Show him the picture!” ’Cause he was trying to blow us off. And then I showed him the picture and he liked it a lot. So he agreed to help me. And he did. He came back, after about 10 minutes. He reappeared and said, “You can come backstage, but your friends gotta wait here.” So I went backstage, and that’s how I met him.
I was lost back there. I didn’t know anybody. There’s no reason why I would have. I was 17. I’d never met a celebrity or seen one in person. There were a bunch of them back there. I was studying acting at the time in a young people’s program. I was really starstruck. I mean really starstruck. I didn’t know how to process the experience at all. I got very, very nervous and tongue-tied. I should have just walked away. That’s what I would do now, but at the time, I was so determined to get backstage. It was just that my ability to deal with getting backstage didn’t match my determination. I was able to get in there, but I couldn’t handle being there. Meeting him was something I was not prepared for. Back then, he wasn’t doing any interviews and he still had this mystique, you know? No one really knew anything about him. So I tried to have a conversation with him. It didn’t really go well. I asked him a question that came out really inarticulate and it wasn’t the kinda thing he wanted to deal with, anyway, after coming offstage. I think his character tries to commit suicide with a gun. He didn’t want to make small talk. I think I asked him a weird question. I was trying to get in his head and I don’t think he liked that. He declined to answer my question. And that was it. It was very awkward.
AVC: The picture you made for him was De Niro and Marlon Brando.
KC: I put them together because they work together in people’s imagination. At the time, he was considered to be the heir to the greatness of Marlon Brando. But he had won an Oscar for playing the same character Brando had played. He was like Son Of Brando.
AVC: The picture of Marlon Brando is his character from The Missouri Breaks, right?
KC: I really liked the older Brando at the time. I was really into how he was looking in Last Tango In Paris and The Missouri Breaks. His hair was going grey and long. And he just looked more interesting. My concept was “1976.” It was like the 10-year anniversary of both of those films, so I brought Travis Bickle together with Brando’s character from The Missouri Breaks and I made it look like they were together, you know? I had done a lot of artwork back then. It was just fan art. I was just an unabashed fan. I had not even seen The King Of Comedy at that point. There were still a lot of holes in my knowledge of De Niro’s films. When I finally saw The King Of Comedy, I was really embarrassed. There’s a scene in the movie where De Niro’s character is fantasizing that he’s having lunch with his idol, Jerry Lewis, and some fan comes up to them, having drawn a picture of them together. And De Niro looks at the picture and is not pleased, because the girl made Jerry Lewis bigger. But in real life, I was that girl, presenting a picture to De Niro, backstage at the Public Theater.
Goodfellas (1990)—“Michael Hill”
KC: I was reading a magazine with Scorsese on the cover. There was an interview with him, and I think at the time, New York Stories was out. And The Last Temptation Of Christ was out, and they were catching up with Scorsese, asking him what was next for him. He said he was going to make a movie out of the book Wiseguy. That was the first time I became aware of Wiseguy, by Nicholas Pileggi. It was a New York-based movie about the mob, and I had an agent by that time, so I brought this to my agent and said, ‘I want to be in this. Can you find out if there’s any part I can play in this?’
My agent at the time looked into it and said, ‘There’s nothing for you in this.’ I just kept asking her about it. A month after I initially asked her about it, she called me and said ‘You’ve got an appointment with the casting director of this movie, and it looks like there is something in it for you.’ So I guess my persistence paid off in that regard. I went in. I read for the casting director and then she said, “Can you come in tomorrow and meet Marty?” And that was it. I went in. I met him. I read for him. I remember my father helped me with my audition. He helped me memorize all my lines and ran my lines with me. And I didn’t read for the part that I got. They made everybody read Ray Liotta’s part. So I played Henry Hill in my audition. It was pretty fast. I think the whole meeting took five minutes altogether. It was a good reading. I just told Scorsese what a huge fan I was, against my better judgment. I got in that moment again of meeting this giant figure that meant a lot to me, and was I gonna mess it up by showing my hand? He didn’t seem to mind at all. I think he was really flattered. He cast me. I went and watched that movie today. I can’t believe he cast me in that movie. I don’t really look like Ray Liotta that much. [Laughs.] I look a lot younger than him.
AVC: Are there any scenes with you and De Niro in Goodfellas?
KC: No, but there was a scene where all the characters in the movie are in the same place at the same time. It’s when Henry Hill gets married. And everybody’s there. I was there that day. You don’t see me in the scene, but I was there. And De Niro was there. The whole cast was there. It’s before everybody starts getting whacked. I was sitting at the table with the bride and groom. I remember looking and seeing De Niro at a table not far away from where I was sitting, looking completely different from how he looked four years earlier in that play. I remember feeling a little nervous. I hid out in my spot. I didn’t try to meet him. I haven’t tried to meet him since then.
True Romance (1993)—“Marvin”
KC: Reservoir Dogs had been out, so Quentin Tarantino was the new hot filmmaker at the time, only he didn’t direct True Romance. Tony Scott directed it. I think the character’s name is Marvin. But he’s never referred to as Marvin in the movie. Some guy calls me Mad Dog. An actor named Frank Adonis, who was in Goodfellas and Raging Bull—we were fellow gangsters in True Romance—he told me about a real-life gangster named Mad Dog Cole, and he said I could play that guy. They hadn’t made a movie about him. I got to be called something onscreen. Nobody ever said, “Hey Marvin,” but Frank Adonis ended up saying “Hey. Here you go, Mad Dog.” But then you watch the credits and you’re like, “Where’s Mad Dog?” But that was fun. At that point, I was getting used to seeing actors that I liked. Gary Oldman was on the set of that movie. That was exciting. I liked him a lot. I’m prone to idolizing actors.
I did read one of the other Random Roles pieces, the one you did with Michael Shannon, who I’ve worked with and like a lot. I did a play with him. He talked about frowning on actors who imitate other actors. Mike’s an original. I can see how he doesn’t play that game, where he’s coming from, he wouldn’t. But I would. I’ve had many idols growing up. The inclination for idol worship comes naturally to me. Or it did, anyway. I think I’ve gotten over it. It came as naturally to me as wanting to act. There are a lot of actors whom I love, who personalize their work. I want to know everything about them, like De Niro, like Gary Oldman. I saw him on the side of a bus yesterday, and it looked like he was playing the lead in some movie.
AVC: Are there actors who inspired your method of acting?
KC: Too numerous to mention. So many. A lot of famous actors and a lot of non-famous actors. People continue to influence my work now who aren’t even actors. I was influenced by friends and relatives growing up. One thing I can agree with Michael Shannon about is, he wouldn’t take credit for his good work in the movie. He said it was really the script and the director, and he was just following directions. I have to agree with that. When I was working on Big Fan, I didn’t really feel like any lines needed to be changed or enhanced or expanded upon in any way. I thought it was a solid script. All you had to do was what it said. Now having said that, I did bring a lot of my father and my brother and people I know into the performance with me. There’s a reason I responded to the script, and it’s because of these people in my real life. There’s a movie that came out last year, one of my favorite films. I think I’ve seen it 10 times now. It’s called Beeswax, by Andrew Bujalski. And I just love the people in this movie so much. I don’t know if I’m going to start acting like them the next time I play a part. But I learned a lot about acting and being in front of the camera from watching them, and I find out that nobody in this movie is an actor. It was written and directed by somebody and performed by these people we’ll never see in another movie, because they’re not actors and they’re not pursuing careers.
AVC: There’s a certain freshness to non-actors who don’t necessarily have training or experience. They bring something you wouldn’t necessarily get from a professional actor.
KC: You pick things up from anywhere. James Cagney used to do things. He had mannerisms, like the way he would shrug his shoulders or hitch up his trousers and they’re, “Where did you get that? Why do you do that?” He talks about some guy he saw doing that who used to hang out at the corner of 78th Street and 3rd Avenue or something when he was a kid. Inspiration can come from anywhere. But I do love actors. I wish I could drop a bunch of names, but there are just too many.
Bad Boys (1995)—“Elliot”
AVC: What was it like being in a big action movie?
KC: I remember very little about that project. I remember going to Florida to do it. Coral Gables or something. I remember being a little nervous. I think there was something with a gun. I remember things proceeded very quickly, really fast. I remember the director calling “action” before anything was even set up. Maybe that was just his way of getting people to move faster. There were guns involved in the scene, and I thought it was kind of reckless to not wait for the special-effects people to do their job, especially when I was the one who was getting shot. I don’t think I was ever in any real danger, but I just remember thinking… I don’t know. I never saw the movie. That’s not one I think about that much.
Trees Lounge (1996)—“Matthew”
KC: At that point, I had been in two movies with Steve Buscemi. I met him on the set of Billy Bathgate. I was really happy to meet him, because I knew him from the movie Mystery Train, which I went to see on my own. He was outstanding in that movie. His performance dropped on my head like Newton’s apple. It was just one of those things where, like, “Who the hell’s that?” There’s a guy who I’ve wanted to imitate and be like. Super-nice guy. We had some mutual friends, so we ended up talking on the phone a few times. Then we ended up in a movie together called Living In Oblivion, and became familiar. Then he put me in Trees Lounge, which was—not his directorial debut, he’d made a short film before that, but it was his feature debut as a director. Actually, I think the part I played in that was supposed to go to one of our mutual friends, an actor named John Costelloe. I think he was supposed to play my part. He dropped out for some reason or another, and I ended up playing the part. I was supposed to be Steve’s cousin or something like that. It was really flattering, because I liked being related to him, even if it was just in an imaginary setting. I felt related to him. I still feel related to Steve Buscemi. And Michael Buscemi, too. I feel very close to them. Anyway, that’s a great movie. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but he captured something in that. I had a lot of fun doing that.
Kicked In The Head (1997)—“Redmond”
AVC: In 1997, you starred in Kicked In The Head, which you also co-wrote.
KC: Yeah, I made a movie with that director, Matthew Harrison, in 1993 called Rhythm Thief. A black-and-white, 16mm feature, made for $11,000 in the East Village, when the East Village was still a no-man’s land. Matthew and I hit it off. That was the most important role I’d had in a movie up to that point. There was a lot riding on Rhythm Thief. I really cared about the success of that movie. I stayed in touch with Matthew as he was editing it. We shot it in the summer, and by around Christmas, he was still working on it. At that point, I was going through some big relationship turbulence. I was crashing at different people’s houses. I would call Matthew up from pay phones and ask him how things were coming along with Rhythm Thief. Then I would tell him about all the terrible, awful things that were happening to me, and Matthew would laugh a lot. I remember hearing his laughter on the phone there. He would tell me, “You should write all that down. That would make a great movie.” I guess it was therapeutic in that sense. I was able to be objective about my problems. Then we did make a movie out of it. We co-wrote the script, based on all those stories I told Matthew. It became Kicked In The Head. Scorsese, who was a fan of Rhythm Thief, watched it while he was editing Casino, apparently.
I don’t remember how Matthew got the film to Marty, but Marty was down with Rhythm Thief. He really liked it a lot, and asked Matthew what else he had, if he had any other scripts, and he said, “Yeah, me and Kevin Corrigan are working on a script called Kicked In The Head.” And that’s how Scorsese ended up executive producing Kicked In The Head. But where we only had $11,000 to make Rhythm Thief, suddenly we had millions of dollars to make Kicked In The Head. But it was still kind of an $11,000 story. It was a low-budget movie made for… I don’t know, I don’t know how much the budget was. Four, five million. Which is still a low-budget movie, but not for us.
Anyway, we got all these actors to be in it. Like James Woods. I was a huge fan of James Woods because of Once Upon A Time In America, another De Niro movie, and a TV movie he had done called Promise, where he was the schizophrenic brother of James Garner. That was all fun. I felt like I was out of my depth, though, working with him. I haven’t written a screenplay since Kicked In The Head, but I know people like it. Someone came up to me just yesterday… I’m in L.A. I was at Amoeba Records, some young guy came up and said he was a big fan of that movie. That was gratifying. You know, it was like I couldn’t have my cake and eat it, too. I don’t want to knock my own movie, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Because it was like, “Oh shit, so this is what it’s like to make a so-called autobiographical film?” Then you watch it and it’s like, “Ugh, yeah that’s sort of what it was like, but not exactly.” There’s a discomfort that comes with the attempt to write about yourself.
Buffalo ’66 (1998)—“Rocky the Goon”
KC: I met Vincent Gallo through a friend of mine, an actress named Bianca. We were both visiting her. She was in the hospital. She got sick. By the time I went to see her, she had bounced back, made a complete recovery. I walked in the room and Vincent Gallo was already there, visiting with her and telling stories. And I went, “Oh. This is the guy Bianca’s always told me about.” He’s a very entertaining, very interesting guy. And that’s where I met him. Then, three years later, I met him again at the Sundance festival, and he had seen me in something, and he liked me as an actor, and he said, “We could be brothers.” He put his face next to my face and got someone’s attention and said “Don’t you think we could be brothers?” And I reminded him that we had met before, and then he remembered me, remembered the clothes I had been wearing. Then he said, “I want us to work together, so I’m going to send you this script. We’ll play brothers.”
A year later, I got a script from him and there was no brother in the movie. He had offered me the part of Goon. Not his brother, but his friend. I thought maybe I had gotten it wrong. Maybe he’d said “I want you to play my friend in a movie.” But he confirmed it. He said, “That thing where I wanted you to play my brother, that’s a different movie. I’m not going to make that movie. I’m going to make this movie. And I want you to play Goon.” I didn’t want to play Goon. I didn’t feel comfortable playing that part. I don’t know why. I was kind of afraid to play it. I saw the character as being really, really vulnerable, and I guess I was just a coward at the time. I didn’t see the opportunity to play a great part. It just looked like a dangerous job that I was too chicken to accept. I turned it down. The story of how I got the part back…
I got nominated for an Independent Spirit Award [for Kicked In The Head] and didn’t win. I went to the awards ceremony, and I thought “It’s great just to be nominated. If I don’t win, I don’t care.” But I did care. First of all, I got drunk. Then, when I didn’t win, something happened to me. I felt very disappointed. I started to feel self-loathing. I started to have a really bad time. I left feeling really horrible. I had a lot of other things going on at the time that probably contributed to that. I went back to my hotel, and I really needed some company. I really needed some kind of validation. I was having a breakdown. I was mad at myself for being disappointed about not winning. I thought I could handle that. I couldn’t. I just felt like a piece of shit. I thought “I’ve got to get out of feeling this way. I’m going to call someone who really believes in me.” I called Vincent Gallo, because I still had his number. And I said, “Vincent, I really want to play that part now. I would be honored to play that.” And he said, “You want to play that part now?” “Yeah, I don’t know, I’m sorry I passed on it. I’d really like to do it now.” He said, “Well, I’ve already offered it to someone else.” “Oh shit. All right, I’m sorry.” “Listen, I’ll get it back. I really want you to be in it.”
So apparently he had given the part to someone else, and then fired that person and gave the part back to me. This did nothing to help me. Now I felt guilty that I’d taken the food out of somebody’s mouth. Working on that movie was as trepidatious as I thought it was going to be when I passed on it, because I internalized all of these things about it. But you know what? Vincent once said to me “You are this character.” I said, “I know. I know I’m this character. I don’t want anybody to know that I’m this character. If I play this part, everybody’s going to know that that’s really me.” But then once I was onboard, that was it. I had to go there. I had to expose myself or whatever. That’s where acting can get really weird.
I can watch that movie now, and that’s not me at all. And yet on another level, it is. I was very close to it. Once we shot it and it was over with, it wasn’t something that I looked forward to seeing. That was a new experience for me, because every time you’re in a movie, you can’t wait to see it. But not with that movie. I wanted to bury it. I felt like it was an act of penance. Like the way Harvey Keitel makes up for his sins in the streets in Mean Streets. I make up for my sins in my work sometimes. So I wasn’t even curious to see how that movie was going to come out. Well, my parts of it, anyway. I remember having this conversation with my agent at the time who was telling me, “I can get you out of this. You don’t have to do this movie.” But I said, “No, I have to, because I gave Vincent my word. I have to do it. I want to do it.” “Well, you don’t have to have your name on the credits.” So, if you notice, I’m not credited. My name isn’t on the movie. That’s because my agent at the time was able to have my name removed from the credits. Now I did sign off on that, thinking that if my name wasn’t on the credits, then no one would know I was in the movie. That’s kind of like a baby putting its hands over its eyes thinking that no one will see him.
When Vincent heard about… He didn’t know this until he was going to lock picture, then he found I didn’t want my name on the credits, and he called me, too. He was really hurt by that. I didn’t talk to him at that time. I got the message and was, “God, I don’t know what to say about that.” I justified it later on. “Well, that’s part of my performance. The conceptual performance. It’s just going to be me as this character, uncredited. I’m there, but I’m not there.” I don’t know. I finally went to see the movie, because Vincent called me again when it was going to play at the New Directors festival at the Museum Of Modern Art. He told me that I was really good in it, and he hoped that I would want to see it someday. Then I started to feel bad, because I really respect him as an artist. I think the first time I saw it, some of those ghosts came back and prevented me from seeing it objectively. But then the second time I watched it… I watched it on videotape a few years after it came out, and I laughed like crazy. I thought it was really funny. In the years after that, I got recognized from that movie a lot. Just like Vincent Gallo said I would. “People are going to remember you from this.” “No! I don’t want anybody to know I was in that.” “It’s going to be the thing people remember you for.” “Oh, great.” I’m proud of it now.
Freaks And Geeks (2000)—“Toby”
KC: I was friends with Judd Apatow by that time. Judd had tapped me and an actor named David Krumholtz for a new show. Get him to do a Random Roles. I had been in a movie with him called Slums Of Beverly Hills, and Judd wanted me and David to be in a TV pilot he wrote called Sick In The Head, where we were roommates. We did the pilot, which was a lot of fun, and getting to meet Judd and getting to know him was great. He’s a great guy. Sick In The Head did not get picked up, which was a disappointment, but Judd stayed in touch, and the next time I heard from him, he was directing that episode of Freaks And Geeks, and he wanted me to come and play a guy who was a pot dealer. He grows pot, but he also makes fake IDs, so that was the whole story. The kids on the show want to go to a bar. One of them knows where to get fake IDs, and it’s from me.
I remember doing a scene with those guys, with James Franco, one-on-one with him. Then I was in a scene with Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini together. I remember not being happy with my performance. I remember feeling uptight. It was funny, because Judd gave me a lot of freedom, and yet I remember feeling uptight. Like I wasn’t being natural enough, or that I wasn’t connecting, or that I was caught up in my head. He called me the next day after seeing the dailies, and he said, “You’re great. Get over it.” I’m like “Yeah, yeah. I’ll take your word for it.” It was fun and everything. It came out a lot better than I thought it did, which is the case a lot of the time.
Slums Of Beverly Hills (1998)—“Eliot Arenson”
KC: I had worked with the director of that film before: Tamara Jenkins and I had worked together on her film called Family Remains in ’93. The guy that I played in Beverly Hills, Eliot—in Family Remains, I played a very similar part. It was the same guy. It was the same relationship. He’s in love with the girl that’s based on Tamara. In Family Remains, the girl was Annette Arnold. In Slums Of Beverly Hills, it was Natasha Lyonne. I had to audition for the part, too, a couple of times. I think maybe the producers had a different actor in mind. But Tamara, I think, she was, I don’t know, someone was fighting for me to be in that. I thought, having worked with her already, that I would slot right in. I didn’t think I would have to fight for that part the way I did. I remember reading for it a couple of times and wondering why it wasn’t just offered. Around that time, also, I had gotten to meet Woody Allen, the one and only time that I’ve met him, and I ended up getting offered both jobs. I thought “I don’t really know when I’m going to have another opportunity to meet Alan Arkin.” It was a bigger part anyway. There was no question, really. I wasn’t going to not work with Tamara. I go with the people that I work with.
I had worked with her already, and we were going to work together again. But I did pass on a Woody Allen movie to be in Slums Of Beverly Hills. I figured maybe I’d have another chance to work with Woody Allen, but I don’t think I’ll have a better opportunity to work with Alan Arkin, who was another one of those actors I idolized. I probably knew who Alan Arkin was before I wanted to be an actor. My mother was a big fan of Alan Arkin. I remember we watched the movie Popi on TV. I remember my mother laughing because of him, because of how funny he was. And I started laughing, too. It was an education in subtle humor.