You may not be familiar with his name, but you are almost certainly familiar with Mike White's work. He has written such indie flicks as "Chuck & Buck" and "The Good Girl." He also penned the big-budget "Orange County," "The School of Rock," and "Nacho Libre." White has also written for television's "Dawson's Creek" and "Freaks and Geeks."
I met with Mike White while he was on a press stop in Boston promoting his latest film, "Year of the Dog,' which he both wrote and directed. In a lot of ways, White mirrors the main character Peggy in the film. He is introverted and completely unpretentious (even while sipping a Fiji water). Throughout the interview, he seemed a little unsure of himself, peppering his speech with "like"s and "you know"s.
White is also a nice guy. As I left his hotel suite, he said, "See you later," like he really meant it. Like I would see him at a barbecue later in the week, even though I would obviously never see him again. It was a perfect illustration of everything White does; the moment was a strange mélange of the tragic, the comic, and the awkward.
The Tech: Dogs really form the main focus of "Year of the Dog." Do you have dogs yourself, or what was the inspiration for the film?
Mike White: It's kind of more inspired by a cat.
TT: Really? Why not "Year of the Cat"?
MW: Well, cats don't really lend themselves to the cinema in the way that dogs do.
TT: It's true. It's easier to train a dog.
MW: It's easier to train a dog. Although, during the film, the trainers said that it is easier to train a cat, but I don't believe it.
TT: Not my cats.
MW: Yeah, not my cats either. But, I had a cat that died. It was a stray cat that I had inherited and I was really bummed out about it I was really stressed with work at the time and I felt really sorry for myself and for the cat. It was one of those things were I got behind in the scripts I was doing and like, this show, this TV show I was doing, basically kind of shut down because I had just gotten so behind on stuff. If the cat hadn't died, I don't think it would have happened. So I was thinking, well that's kind of interesting. When the dust had settled and I had some distance on it — it was an interesting experience, and maybe there's a movie in it.
TT: One thing that struck me while watching the movie was the music. I didn't recognize it — could you tell me a little about it?
MW: Well, the music was done by a composer who is awesome. He's this guy who's done a lot of comedies and he started on the TV show "Buffy." I just wanted to do something that felt very, like, in its own world. And I just saw her [Peggy] as this woman who has this sort of idealistic view of things — almost a naive, child-like view, and I wanted it to reflect that.
TT: Did you write the part of Peggy for Molly Shannon?
MW: I did. I had done a show with her that ended really badly and that was a bummer. That was the show that I was doing when the cat died and I was just like, Molly is such a good actress and she is so fun and it would be so much fun to work with her on something that wasn't such a nightmare. I am just going to write something small that I know I can get made and push to get Molly in it and we can just have a good time and I got lucky and was able to do it.
TT: It was not what I expected. I was anticipating the larger-than-life Molly Shannon from SNL, but here she was toned down.
MW: One of the things I was excited about was for people to see how much of a range she actually has.
TT: Another thing about the movie is that you directed it — it's the first project you have directed yourself. How did that go and why did you choose to direct it?
MW: This project seemed manageable in scope. I felt that I wasn't gonna bite off more than I could chew. I have so much production experience that I became like a backseat driver. I started to even irritate myself, and I was like I need to just like just shut up and get behind the wheel or you know once I realized I could make my days and everything, I realized it was actually pretty fun.
TT: So you are definitely sticking to the smaller films, no more big studio films like "School of Rock"?
MW: Well I might write stuff like that. I just don't think I would direct it I would probably get more second guessing: "will everyone like this?," or "will this be fun for the whole family?"
TT: What are you working on next?
MW: I am supposed to be writing this movie with Edgar Wright, the director of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," which is just coming out.