Jon Gries – Dream Corp LLC
By: Kelly Kearney
Q) You play Dr. Roberts in Adult Swim’s new show, “Dream Corp LLC.” Can you tell our readers what the show is about and how your character fits in?
A) I truly love this show and in its own way it’s groundbreaking. There is so many ideas behind “Dream Corp LLC,” one of the things I like about it is it’s multi-layered. Ultimately, the story is Dr. Roberts has discovered a way to mine people’s dreams and through that correct psychological episodes people might be having. He can actually cut out the idea that someone might need therapy. It’s a one stop shop so to speak. At the same time, there is an underlying goal obviously that Dr. Roberts wants to push this technology further. I would say his deeper quest (which has yet to be fully realized obviously in these episodes) is that he’s trying to find a way to mortality. He’s fascinated and deeply invested in singularity and he has this incredible technology. For people who watch the show, I’m giving a very serious overview which it’s not. It’s a funny romp because he’s kind of fallen from grace with his tech associates from years past and he’s now working out of a mini mall except of course he’s mining your dreams and goes into your dreams with you. While he’s in there, he walks you through your dreams so for the viewer it gives you an amazing journey because of the depth of the animation. Particularly because its rotoscope it has this incredible psychedelic and almost realistic 2-dimensional thing and yet it leaves it open to do so many crazy things, it’s just a lot of fun.
Q) The show is a live action, office comedy combined with dream sequences using rotoscope animation. For the fans that don’t know, what is rotoscope animation and was there any challenges to filming both?
A) Well it’s so different than any other kind of animation in that we are filmed live and then we are extracted doing whatever we are doing and put with a completely different animated background. Then, the rotoscope is done on top of us, they animate over our forms frame by frame. It’s a very involved process and yet the effect is amazing. I just love the way it looks. Each episode takes about a month to do. It’s very involved.
Q) You play a doctor that specializes in going inside people’s dreams and helping them understand and and get over them. Will this dream invasion stop with people or will we see pet dreams or T.E.R.R.Y. the robot’s dreams, too?
A) You are spot on! One of the actual episodes we have filmed is going into T.E.R.R.Y.’s dreams so we are already exploring that. I really believe Daniel Stessen [the show creator] in his own way is a bit of a visionary and you know he doesn’t go into these episodes purely from the perspective of “let’s go have a good time and be entertaining.” He’s always thinking of the bigger picture. That’s what resonates for me. I mean, I’m as clowny as the next guy, but I love the fact there’s this kind of underlying odd truth to some of this. It’s not completely founded in total fiction. Where we’re headed technologically is such an incredible parallel.
Q) How were you approached about “Dream Corp LLC” and what was your audition process like?
A) Actually, I did not audition. Daniel contacted me and said, “I’m doing this pilot and I’m thinking about you for a character.” He mentioned a character, but it wasn’t Dr. Roberts. I guess at the time he was auditioning people and someone came in who was wonderful and he’d already been thinking about me for I guess it was the role of Randy. Mark Proksch just came in and killed it so he said, “No, not the Randy character. How do you feel about the part of Dr. Roberts?” I Immediately was flattered, but at the same time horrified because I was like, “What am I going to do?” It’s like a dog with a bone; you have to figure out how you’re going to approach a character. So, basically, I had a blank slate and though the character is written in there a lot of the discovery of the character came from both of us talking over time prior to filming the pilot and then after continuing to discuss Dr. Roberts and I think he started to come up with really good ideas and they worked. So, yes, I was very fortunate to not have to audition because had I auditioned I might’ve failed miserably. I’m not really good at auditioning and I’m trying to be a better auditioner, but I’ve never really been good at it.
Q) What was it about the show that made you want to be a part of it?
A) To me, the show was this amalgamation of… there was something so contemporary about it. It’s not far from the truth and yet it’s a bit ahead of its time. At the same time, it harkens back to one of those midnight madness movies that I would go to when I was in high school – you know that played at the art houses. It has sense of that English dry humor with a mix of psychedelia. I truly contacted Daniel after I read the script and said, “I hope you know how brilliant this is. This is so brilliant.” I was immediately knocked out by this. I just went to Comic Con and I was talking to the folks from Adult Swim and I was saying, “Whether you pick this up, understand that one day this will be in a museum to be shown.” I really think it’s brilliant. Its voice is truly original and not beholden to anyone but the characters and the story itself. So, there is no sense into making anyone happy. A huge shout out has to go to Adult Swim because I love the network and I love their sensibility and I love the fact that they are representative of that virtue of the fact they let their creative people do what they do. They are an irreverent network and it’s so fresh and exciting for me. I said to Daniel after we finished filming the six episodes, ”I can do this for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t care if I did anything else. I just love it.”
Q) With media platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, what made Adult Swim the right choice for “Dream Corp LLC?”
A) Daniel had been a fan of Adult Swim from way back when it was Liquid TV. That was the first place he went and I’m speaking for him, but I do know from having to discuss it, that was his dream spot. He didn’t want to go anywhere else, that was a dream come true for him.
Q) What have you found challenging about your portrayal of Dr. Roberts?
A) The crazier the better. From an actor’s standpoint, the challenge is in the cast I’m working with. They are all so brilliant. In an odd way, because I’m a little older than these guys (I won’t say how much) I feel like I’m playing catch up. They keep me on my toes and keep me going because they are so brilliant. The other challenge is I tend to have more of the dialogue in the episodes and when they were filming it I went into a vortex. I was there all day everyday working on it, learning my lines, and sometimes when you’re learning lines quickly you lose the time. You have to work on character choices and that’s where you have collaboration with the other cast members and Daniel in particularly because when we are on set. I’m trying to get the words out I have to think, ‘What am I actually doing?’
Q) The show is a total riot and must be a lot of fun to film. Are there any funny behind the scene stories you could share with our readers?
A) The inevitable that when we do the things we do and because the mood is so heightened as we’re doing it obviously, there are little accidents along the way and things that fall apart. I can’t think of any one specific event that has happened. I can only think just like walls falling away or like sometimes it would feel like we were doing an Ed Wood film because the things that were supposed to be treated with the most reverence would just fall apart. A few times, T.E.R.R.Y. would get stuck and he would just wander away in the middle of a scene. Things like that would happen. There would be these great moments where we were sort of locked in this dialogue and the robot was going AWOL by himself, which in the moment was always really funny. Something a lot of people that don’t know was that T.E.R.R.Y. the robot was made by the Jim Henson Company, which is kind of a big deal because Jim Henson’s company usually only makes things for Henson Productions so this is a big coo because there’s such amazing and creative people there.
Q) You’ve done a lot of film work over the course of your career, but I think most people remember you as Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. What is it about comedy and comedic roles that really draws you to them?
A) Uncle Rico is like a pop icon now; I hope “Dream Corp LLC” garners that same kind of popularity. I’m still trying to figure it out. But not dissimilar to “Dream Corp,” Uncle Rico was offered to me. I didn’t audition for it and basically when they were casting Napoleon Dynamite they were borrowing the office of an editor who had just cut a film I had done called The Big Empty. And Jory Weitz, who was the same casting director for both Napoleon Dynamite and The Big Empty put out a couple offers for Uncle Rico to actors who wound up turning it down. He just suggested they watch some footage that I had just filmed for The Big Empty and that’s how it came about. It was just one of those things where I said sure let me read it and my manager was saying, “These guys have no money, you don’t want this.” But I said, “Well, let me read it. I’m not going to turn something down if they don’t have money, but the quality is there.” The script resonated with me and by page fifteen I was laughing out loud. I will say, I have always considered myself a dramatic actor, but as I do more and more comedy – even when I am doing dramatic roles – I always see the comedy in them somehow. There are times that I will goof off just to let off a little steam and take the comedic approach to that role and then reset and get back into the dramatic approach. So, I guess there’s a bit of me that’s a clown. I was always a clown in school, but I’m not a stand-up comedian. I was always a guy who could create a character or a caricature and just kind of run with it. I guess the answer is comfort. I find comfort in the comedic side of things.
Q) As a vegetarian, how did you get through the Uncle Rico scenes when he was eating the steak?
A) During that scene, I was not a vegetarian at the time. The steak; however, was sitting out all day and was precooked. It was 105 degrees out as we were filming Napoleon Dynamite and it was sitting out hours and getting rancid. They might’ve thrown it in to the microwave really quick to get the germs off it, but I didn’t want to eat it. I didn’t want to swallow it and I knew I was going to have to turn around and speak and didn’t want to have a hunk of meat in my mouth while I was speaking. So, I threw it out of my mouth. In fact, when I did that, nobody knew that until I told the producers that I did that. They had no idea as they didn’t see it on screen. I fooled them and I said, “Guys, the only reason people know about that is because in the commentary they mentioned it.” But they [the producers] did not know. They’d watched it over and over again and I said, “You don’t even see that as I walk back to the step and I’m throwing meat out of my mouth?” They didn’t know. As it turns out, now I am a vegetarian or I should say a pescetarian.
Q) You’ve worked on a number of great projects throughout your career is there someone you would most like to work with or still dream of working with?
A) I will tell you, if Jon Waters wanted me to be in anything that he was doing I’d be there in a second because I’m a huge fan. If there was anyone I could work with, Jon [Waters] would be one and as actor I’d love to work with Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine. Those two actors, for me, are freaking amazing. Jack would be the most fun for me because I think there’s a sense of playfulness in what he does and I think that I can’t help but do that. I can’t help but goof around that way. I don’t get on set and get a serious scrunched up face, even if I’m doing a drama. I’m sure that’s to the chagrin of the other actors that have a different process, but it’s almost like taking the approach to hitting a baseball you know? I don’t want to walk up there and squeeze the bat as tight as I can. I want to walk up there nice and relaxed so I can see the pitch and adjust if I have to say to a fast ball or a curve ball. If I’m loose and relaxed, it will manifest itself into some kind of funny thing that happens – a choice I guess. For example, Uncle Rico is flexing his muscles in the café and that was a choice that literally as the scene was going on happened right then and there it wasn’t planned. It was a wonderful thing that popped up, not sweating it so much and trying to keep relaxed. I want to say Jon Waters would be great and Peter Weir. I’d love to work with Peter Weir, the Coen Brothers and Jon Waters. Those three are the top three on the list. If you know the any of them, give them my number!
Q) Like most of the world, you are on social media. What’s it like having instant feedback on your work from your fans?
A) Here is the thing when you say social media, I don’t have Facebook so I don’t know how that works but I do have Twitter. When we did the “Napoleon Dynamite” cartoon, FOX asked me to start a Twitter account and I did. I never stopped it. It’s still there even though I don’t put too much work into it. I will throw something out there from time to time. As far as IMDB goes, I don’t look at the message boards and I’m sure there are people that hate me and I’m sure there are people that love me. That’s just kind of the way it always is. I try not to pay too much attention to that. Again, it harkens back to what I was saying about Adult Swim and “Dream Corp LLC” about doing what they want to do and being irreverent. They don’t have to kiss ass to a higher power. They are basically given a license to do what they want and I feel like if you worry too much about what people are saying about you, you might choke at the free throw line so to speak.
Q) Besides “Dream Corp LLC,” are there any other projects in your future that the fans should know about?
A) I’ve been writing and just finished a screenplay and about to start pounding the pavement with it. Again, it’s right out of the genre that would make Jon Waters happy and proud because its totally a midnight madness type film. I’m also writing another screenplay that’s a little less fringe and it’s a true story about a college football team. I’ve been doing that kind of stuff on the side. This year I did a film in Korea with Liam Neeson and just yesterday I worked with Mark Proksch on a pilot he has for Comedy Central. He asked me to do a role in it with him. It was nice to see him again since I hadn’t seen him in a few months since we wrapped “Dream Corp.” I’m happy to work on his show. I’m proud of him because it’s a pretty cool show and well written. He’s a good writer.