The Actors: Patton Oswalt comes of age in ‘Young Adult’

A BOOST: "A movie like this will hopefully give me the exposure to work with other directors I like," Patton Oswalt says.
A BOOST: “A movie like this will hopefully give me the exposure to work with other directors I like,” Patton Oswalt says.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Loopy on a powerful cocktail of Zithromax and DayQuil to fight an infection that’s making him cough like a “fat Doc Holliday,” Patton Oswalt is on a tear. . Bouncing from the merits of podcasting to the taboos of Comic-Con, the 42-year-old comedian is a veritable human Wikipedia, tossing thoughtful film and book references into every topic he touches. Flu medicine notwithstanding, it’s a thinking man’s stream-of-consciousness conversation.

What makes it all so much fun is that Oswalt is doing the exact thing he’s supposed to be doing. Whether it’s costarring in director Jason Reitman’s new film, “Young Adult,” writing a book of essays or performing stand-up, Oswalt collects stories and ideas like a hoarder crams shelves full of knickknacks.

“I’m in this business for the money — and the anecdotes,” he quips. “I’m not going to lie that I’m not in it for the money, and sometimes the money wins over the anecdotes. But the money lets you explore the stuff you want to do.”


Patton Oswalt: A Nov. 6 article about actor-comic Patton Oswalt misspelled the first name of director Uwe Boll as Ewe. —

Oswalt’s interests are expansive. A military brat from Virginia, Oswalt is hopeful that what is sure to be a profile-raising role as the moonshine-making, action-figure-creating disabled man in Reitman’s dark comedy, which opens Dec. 9 in Los Angeles, will lead to some interesting opportunities, one way or the other.

“A movie like this will hopefully give me the exposure to work with other directors I like, or [give me] the breathing room that if [eccentric horror director] Ewe Boll wants me to go to Germany to do something, I can go. Because I also want to observe Ewe Boll and write about that experience,” he says, as he sops up his wild boar bacon carbonara at one of his favorite neighborhood haunts, Little Dom’s in Los Feliz. “I still want to be a stand-up and you can’t be a stand-up if you’re not living life.”

His latest experience, costarring in “Young Adult,” challenged him as an actor. In the film, which stars Charlize Theron as a 30-something ghost writer of young adult novels who peaked in high school, Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf, a former classmate of Theron’s character who was savagely beaten by jocks who mistook him for a gay kid. The beating left his legs permanently damaged, forcing him to walk with a brace. He serves as Theron’s moral compass when she comes to town looking to steal her old boyfriend from his wife and new baby.

The role, which is primarily dramatic, forced Oswalt to go deep into character. He worked with an acting coach for the first time — writing out a police report of what he imagined happened to his character — and consulted a physical therapist on how to master his disabled walk.

It’s a step beyond the character he embodied in his last dramatic role — playing Paul Aufiero in the critically acclaimed indie “Big Fan.” “This guy is very articulate and smart, but there are those moments when that fails him, and I wanted to know that I could play that,” he says.

To the Oscar-nominated Reitman, Oswalt was the only guy who could play it as he and screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno”) imagined the role. “Patton just had a bead on this guy,” says Reitman, who hired Oswalt after the comedian did a few table reads for Reitman, who was deciding whether to direct the film. “He knew how to play him as troubled and broken and at the same time funny. And I knew he knew how to not judge Charlize’s character, Mavis, which was really important.”


Oswalt’s interpretation of his character is essentially the bizarro version of his own life. His choice two decades ago to pursue a comedy career rather than stay in northern Virginia, move to the suburbs, and marry his college sweetheart — as he almost did — saved him from becoming the able-bodied version of Matt Freehauf. “That would have destroyed me and I would have been a really unpleasant person had I stayed.”