The man who is best known for his role as Brad, A Hero in Rocky Horror Picture Show is playing another type of hero. A presidential hero. But this is unlike any president you have ever seen. In FDR: American Badass, Barry Bostwick plays the titular president whose polio came from a werewolf bite, and he uses his clout to stop the advancing supernatural threat. We chatted with the gregarious actor about his role, and about his upcoming first appearance at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
So you are going to Comic-Con?
I am. This will actually be my first year.
Yeah, I’ve never been before. I’m excited that I’ve been in a raunchy, weirdo film that makes it there.
Have you heard any scary tales about Comic-Con?
No. I’ve been to Dragon Con, and a bunch of the other cons over the years, but never Comic-Con. I’m quite fascinated by [cons]. It’s a whole genre of people that I don’t usually hang out with - other than the Rocky Horror people, who I love and adore. But these people [Comic-Con attendees] sometimes take those people [Rocky Horror fans] 100% further, in terms of bizarreness.
I’m always most fascinated by the artists [at conventions]. The people who design these comics. Those guys just fascinate me, that they have that kind of mind and ability, and they are sitting at this small table in a large convention hall. I’ve been in contact with a few of them over the years. I’ll be attracted to what they do or what they’ve done, and I’ll say, “Hey, you wanna make a feature out of this?” We have yet to be able to pull it together, but my hat is in the ring with these guys, to try to come up with something that is actually shootable. Most of them are so bizarre, and so outlandish that it is not something you can do on any kind of budget. Maybe I will find someone at Comic-Con.
So you will be shopping for a role for yourself at Comic-Con?
Of course. You are always shopping for roles for yourself. That’s what you do. It doesn’t matter how old you are. I just finished this film called Blowing Vegas Off the Map, for the Syfy Channel. It’s actually a really fun movie. We just shot it in lovely, hot Indio, California at Fantasy Springs Hotel and Casino. One of the producers on it is about to go to China to do a documentary about some revolution way back when. I said, “You got a part in it for me?” He said, “Not unless you can change your ethnicity to Chinese and speak Mandarin.” I said, “I can do it! I can do it!” If it is an experience I will relish and have a few good stories about.... I’m one of those actors who volunteers for a lot of things because I think it will be fun, interesting, or I’ll work with somebody who I didn’t think I would ever even associate with. This FDR thing is similar to that. I didn’t know these guys before they approached me. I just knew they had a penchant for raunchiness and bizarre, out-there kind of humor, and I was just in the mood. My sort of M.O. in the last few years has been to do the most bizarre things I can find and try to reinvent what makes me happy on film. I spent so many years playing boring husbands and fathers on television and in TV movies, and I never thought that was who I was. But I was making a living. Now I have the freedom to do these weird and wacky movies that I feel so much more akin to.
I don’t want to say it’s like “going back to your roots” with Rocky Horror, but it kind of is.
Yeah, because it’s a tongue-in-cheek... I wouldn’t say “revisionist historical document,” because Rocky Horror wasn’t revisionist in any way, but FDR is colorful, it is lively, it is shocking. But behind it all is an intelligence and someone who understands structure and entertainment. It’s not just a series of jokes, thrown together. There is actually some form to it - as was Rocky Horror. There were smart people behind Rocky, and I think that is why it survived. If you look at it as just a film, it’s really a wonderful movie. All of the goings-on around it have kept it alive - thankfully - but when you are sitting at home on Halloween, watching it without all of that, you can go, “wow, this is tight, it is fun, it has great performances.” I understand why it was picked for the Library of Congress.
So they came to you with FDR, or was this one of your “sought out” projects?
[The producers] came to me. I don’t know how my name got into their hat, but I was happy it did. I think it just came through my agent. I have good agents who not only get me the established miniseries and [prestige] films, [but the weird, quirky stuff]. At my level, you usually have small parts in big films or big parts in small films. I’ve had a lot of big parts in small films the last few years, and that’s what attracts me to them: it is way more in my wheelhouse, in terms of my real personality and sense of humor. I’m just a sarcastic asshole. I love going to work and having fun and trying to find the most bizarre, odd choices because these are things I wasn’t able to do in the 1980s, in terms of my television work. I’d come up with a bizarre, odd choice, and they’d say, “I don’t think that is going to work at CBS.” Maybe now that Leslie Nielsen is dead, I will have a chance.
[Laughs] So you want to be the next Leslie Nielsen?
I’ll be the next Leslie Nielsen. But he kind of used up the genre, the intelligent, off-the-wall comedy. There have been so many rip-offs of it that it has diluted the genre into slapstick crap. So somebody has to come up with another way to do this. I think Ross Patterson, who wrote FDR, has a good shot at it. He’s very contemporary. He’s a young guy so I think he understands what will entertain a young audience. He has intelligence and he does his research and he’s just out there. He gives a performance in this - he plays a senator, and there is a scene in which he improvises a long monologue. [My character] asks him to come to Washington, and he improvised this monologue that was just one of the most brilliant pieces of film acting. When he cut it into the film, he cut about half of it out. I wanted him to keep the whole thing in, because it was riveting. But anyone who sees the movie will likely think, “That’s risky acting.”
That is what was also interesting about this film. He cast really good actors, who had so much experience, and were capable of having this totally serious point-of-view in the film. If we had gone “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” tongue-in-cheek with it, it wouldn’t have worked. Everyone had to play it totally serious. And they did. There are always a couple of people who want to take it way over the top, and when you are working on a piece that is over the top by its name and nature, you as actors have to underplay it, and allow the humor to come out of the situation. That is what Ross was able to assemble and keep under control. The only thing out of control in the movie is his dialogue and the storyline. Ross had me doing a lot of ghetto slang. I constantly had to ask him what stuff meant. We did a bunch of promos for the film - I did about 25 or 30 of them - I didn’t know what 23 of them meant! There was all this ghetto slang and references to contemporary music and hip-hop things. I always had to ask Ross what stuff meant, and “what is that thing I do with my hand?” [Throwing up gang signs.] I learned a lot during this movie.
But not a lot about FDR.
I knew nothing about FDR. In fact, I now know even less about him than I did before I started [the movie]. YouTube is every actor’s homework nowadays. I listened to a couple of FDR’s speeches and I bought a documentary about him, but I quickly realize that none of it was anything I could use in the film. I did try to add a little bit of his dialect, and I found a ring similar to a family ring he always wore. Then there was the obvious hat and cigarette holder. You paint these movies in very broad strokes, and hopefully you choose a couple primary colors that tell the story quickly. You can’t get into a lot of minutia. It was so fun to do. It will probably end up being one of those cultish things. I hope people see it, but I don’t want my 14-year-old to see it - every other word is the F-word! I told [my kids] I didn’t want them playing this movie in the house. My wife would turn off the TV if something like this was on.
Was there any scene that was particularly memorable for you? It seems like the whole thing was a lot of fun.
It was. It’s an ultra-low budget film that had to be done quickly. We didn’t improvise it, but it had that sense of improvisation because it was done so quickly and there was really no time for rehearsals. You just got out there and tried to make each other laugh, moment to moment. If we found it funny, our day was complete. We are just hoping that someone else finds it funny! The ensemble really has to be on the same page when it comes to this kind of over-the-top sense of humor. I’m actually quite astonished by it. I honestly thought it would be a lark, something to fill a couple weeks, and maybe I would get a scene for my reel of something really bizarre and funny and shocking. And dammit, they made a good movie out of it! Now I’ll have to live with it for the rest of my life.
When my husband first saw the poster for FDR, he thought it was a joke. When I told him I was doing this interview, and what it was for, he said, “You mean that’s for real?!”
[Laughs] I don’t think history teachers at the local college will be teaching this as revisionist history.
Between this and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, do you think this will be a new trend? Turning presidents or historical figures into ass-kickers?
Nah, I don’t think so. First of all, how many presidents have there been?
Um, 45 I think? No, 44.
Okay, 44. So there are only 44 movies you can make. That does not a genre make. Who cares about Polk? Or if Herbert Hoover fought zombies? You have to be an iconic president. There are werewolves, there are zombies... give me three or four other movie monsters.
Vampires, aliens, swamp creatures, mummies...
Bigfoot... killer tomatoes... I hope no one makes another because I hope we have dominated the genre. They’ll say, “Well, if we can’t live up to FDR: American Badass, we aren’t even going to attempt it.” I’m thinking this is the end of the road for this genre because this is the height of perfection.