Interview: WILFRED’s Jason Gann On Hanging Up the Dog Suit

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Wilfred” | 30 min. | TV-MA | Creator: Jason Gann, Adam Zwar | Stars: Elijah Wood, Jason Gann, Fiona Gubelmann, Dorian Brown, Chris Klein, James Remar, Nestor Carbonell and Harriet Sansom Harris

This evening, “Wilfred” aims to mark its territory with its fourth and final season. What once started as a fun show about a man (Elijah Wood) who can see a dude (Jason Gann) in a dog suit, while others see him as a dog, has turned into one of the best series on television. And while it’s saddening that after tonight there are only eight more episodes, I believe I speak for fans when I say we’re excited to witness what the series finale has in stock for us.

This new season answers some of the questions that we were left with at the end of the third season, but it also affords a whole other event of queries. So hold fast, because you’re in for a ride, and a fun one at that.

But while you wait for tonight to roll around to see the first two episodes of the new season (airing back-to-back), check out our interview with the man in the dog suit himself, Mr. Gann. We rang him up during his off time in Spain to shoot the breeze about the final season, hanging up the dog suit, the possibility of a Wilfred movie, second chances and character parallels.

You can also view our interview with Fiona Gubelmann, who plays Jenna on the show, here.

Last time we talked you mentioned that you would love to teach a master class in physical comedy after hanging up the dog suit. Well, we are nearly there. Is that something you would still consider, or do you have plans after the season is done airing?

Jason Gann: Yeah, no, I’m not really thinking about that right now. I think that may be just a few years away. I got an animation series that I am working on now with FOX, and I’m hoping that goes well. I also got a few other ideas that I will be pitching around soon. So I’m not going to leave television just yet. But a master class in physical comedy? [Laughs] I obviously was feeling very confident on that day. But right now, I’m really tired. We just finished shooting our last season and there was a real sense of exhaustion afterwards. Elijah [Wood] and Randall [Einhorn], our director, said it as well, because this was much bigger than a regular season. I think it was the pressure of the whole show coming to an end. So I’m just relaxing now [Laughs]. I’m overseas on a farm in Spain. The furthest thing from my mind is work right now. I’m just going to spend a week here and enjoy the farm [Laughs].

Whose decision was it to end the series with season four? Was this more your idea, or was it a collaborative decision?

Gann: Oh, it was a collaborative decision on the behalf of the network [Laughs]. We would have kept going. I think you would have to be crazy to quit a job like this. Even though we always thought that four or five seasons would be a good number to end it on, after season three I felt that comedically the show had found its rhythm. But really, I feel blessed because we were given an opportunity to finish our story in these final 10 episodes. We feel really lucky that there was a great show of respect that we were given this opportunity to bring the show to its conclusion, even though the show may not have been like a ratings sensation. I think that FX has been really proud of what we’ve done creatively, and the painting has been completed and it’s there for everyone to see now. I do believe that history will be kind to the TV show that is ‘Wilfred’ over the years, and that’s going to be fun to watch the response grow. But it was super emotional more than anything, because we all knew that we were closing the book on this production that we are all very proud of.

That’s what Fiona [Gubelmann] was saying the other day. She said she didn’t have anymore tears left in her.

Gann: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. Well, also tonally in the show we didn’t really pull any punches. You know, we really told a complete story, and I am really proud of that. It’s weird because during one of the many wrap parties ‘Wilfred’ was playing on the screen. I turned to Elijah and told him that it’s so weird now to watch any of the old episodes – not because I rarely watch the show – but we were watching it in the closing weeks and we forgot how good the show was, really. I had. But everything, the whole show means something different to me now. It’s like when you leave your home, travel and then come back; you know home for the first time. It’s like I finally get our show, now that I know how it ends. As much as people would like to think that we knew where we were going to end this when we started at the beginning, we don’t. We didn’t know what the show was going to be like during the pilot. And we never knew what was going to happen after we wrapped each season. But now that I know how the story ends— all the Easter eggs we laid and all the moments that were shared between Ryan and Wilfred completely changed for me. Say you’re watching your favorite movie. When you think back on it, you think of the whole movie. You don’t just think of the movie up to the three-quarter mark and say it was a brilliant movie. It’s not until the movie is completed, then you know the whole story. Now the whole ‘Wilfred’ story comes back to me and I am really proud of it.

And you should be. It’s been such a wonderful ride.

But thus far I’ve only watched the first few episodes of the new season, and I got to tell you, I’m in love with it all over again. As I told Fiona and Dorian this week, something that I always liked about the show is that it doesn’t take this safe course. It doesn’t spoon-feed us answers. We don’t just watch this show, but we participate in a way. It’s like onion and a puzzle. We peel it back and try to make meaning of it, then we try to put the pieces together. Is that something that keeps things interesting and engaging for you during the writing process? Because from a fan’s perspective it’s quite fun.

Gann: Yeah. To be brutally honest, there have been times where I thought that our show had suffered because we hadn’t gone down that path and spoon-fed our audience enough. Some audience members who may have had less patience than others couldn’t define it easy enough. They couldn’t find it easy enough to persevere with the show. A lot of the times, even this season, when it comes down to things getting cut – you always shoot more than you need – comedy always goes first. From my perspective, that’s the most difficult thing to deal with, when we’re talking about so many lose ends and story that we have to cover. That’s been my criticism of the show in previous seasons. I kind of blamed it from time to time for us, you know, not being able to maintain our strong following at times. But you know, it’s different. Now, people really seem to be getting it. I wouldn’t have it any other way now. With the way that people watch TV now with Netflix and Hulu and stuff— there are people who are starting to get the show now, watching it for the first time. Season three only came out a week ago or something on Netflix. Some people are beginning to discover the show now, and I’m loving that. I guess that’s been the learning curve for me. It informs my writing ability, my storytelling ability and the other things that I write.

Yeah, I totally understand that. You bring up an interesting point that I’ve noticed with the way people watch TV now. People are not as patient as they used to be. I think that’s why these shows tend to have better lives after they’ve been off the air. Maybe that’s why “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” is so big, because people can watch them back-to-back.

Gann: There are exceptions, of course. I will often watch shows over a series and say I really like this show a lot, and then I won’t watch it again. But when people mention it, I will say that’s a great show. I’ve noticed in Hollywood, in the industry, that a lot of people have a great deal of respect for [‘Wilfred’]. They tell me that they love ‘Wilfred.’ But when I talk to them about what they’ve seen, they’ll probably say an episode from season one and have been meaning to watch it. So definitely. And also, when you think about shows like ‘Wilfred,’ there’s not much like it. People want to see good stuff.

Back in Australia, they never wanted the show to end, and I brought it to America. We had people who wanted to invest in a Wilfred movie back there, and I wasn’t interested in doing a movie. It came up again when I was in America, and again I was like, ‘Nah. TV shows on film— I’m not interested. But then as we were doing this season it came up a few times. I spoke to Elijah about it and we both agree if the story is there, we’d be interested. So maybe in a few years or something, you know, if our audience continues to grow overtime. Wilfred is such a unique character. I’m not even going to try to find something or create something like him to play again. But it would be a shame to never see him again.

Man, I hope so. That would be great. But something I’ve noticed is you’ve written two episodes a season. Of course, you contribute to every episode, but you actually penned two episodes every season. And I got to be honest with you, “Sincerity,” episode four of last season, was my favorite episode of the series, next to that dance number that you did to “Dance Hall Days.” Did you pen any more episodes this season?

Gann: No. I was in the writer’s room a lot, but I didn’t actually write any episodes this year. There was one episode that we were talking about that I pitched, but in the end, it didn’t fit in with the season arc. This year David Zuckerman came back as the showrunner. He wasn’t here last season, or the season before that too much. He was more in the background. This year he came back on board and it really was about getting the answers in Ryan’s psychology, the story of the dad, and what is Wilfred? There was just so much of that, that I couldn’t really write any.

The kind of episodes that I wanted to write, there just wasn’t space for it. I just wanted to enjoy playing Wilfred, you know, as a performer. The hours that I put in in the writer’s room and going from there to shooting, it killed me. I just wanted to enjoy being an actor, and I really did this year. If you’ve seen the first few episodes, we really do touch on the story, and then we spend a few episodes on just fun, self-contained stories. But after episode five or six, things really ramp up. We do some really cool stuff this year. You’re really going to be surprised with what happens. From the sound of what you’ve been saying, you’ve really enjoyed the areas where we go, and for that reason alone, you should really enjoy what we do.

Over the years I’ve talked to a few filmmakers that have said usually the work you do is a little bit of a reflection of yourself. Writers try to incorporate what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking and what they’re experiencing in life into their work. Is this something that you agree with? Are there any episodes that you’ve written or contributed to that reflect who you are in any way?

Gann: Without a doubt, mate. That’s a great question, and I’ve been a great observer of this whole symphonicity [sic] sensation; it’s just incredible. I noticed that even though when I was an actor in my theatre days I couldn’t believe how the roles I was playing seemed to, not mirror identically, but resemble greatly, what was really happening in my life, how I was perceived.

Wilfred is certainly a dog on steroids, but it’s weird because some of these scenes of parallels between Wilfred’s life and my own life happen when I’m not even writing it anymore. It’s a bizarre situation. Last year Wilfred got married to Bear, and I got married; there was a baby who was born, and I had a baby— there are many, many things that are really close to home. When I first did the short film and I showed it to my friends, my friends just said, that’s just you in a dog suit. Over the years Wilfred becomes that creature, and [Zuckerman] will say, ‘even though it’s you, it’s not Wilfred. I don’t see Wilfred when I’m talking to you.’ I’m glad that my life isn’t literally reflective of ‘Wilfred,’ season four, for reasons that shall be revealed, but it is definitely a very strong symphonicity.

In the season opener Ryan gets a second chance at fixing the things that went astray at the end of last season. Is there anything in your life that you wish you could have that opportunity for— a second chance, or to make amends?

Gann: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s funny, man. I try not to have any regrets in my life. I don’t know if you know but I was a musician before I was an actor. I had this band in Australia before I came here, and out of all the bands I was in, this was this one where I felt like I really wanted to get the CD heard and get the music out. And then there was a tragedy with one of the guys and his family just before we were going to record, and we went on hiatus. But we never recorded it.

So 12 years or more now, I haven’t been able to listen to the demo of that band, because there are just too many unfortunate, painful memories. Not the fact that we weren’t a big hit back then; it was a fact that the songs that we wanted to record were never put down. No one got to hear those songs. But not long ago, when I was shooting ‘Wilfred,’ I got in touch with the guys again. And before we knew it, I basically wrote them a letter and just said I wanted to record the album. I told them, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s give it a go again. I’ll record the vocals here back in Hollywood. Let’s get the band back together and do the album.’ [Laughs] So we’re actually going to do that.

It’s actually really exciting right now because we’re too old to do it, but we want it. You know what people say? It’s not about the music; it’s about you and the people who put it together? It really is. I got nothing to prove to anyone. But I think it’s going to kick a– and be one of the hardest rock albums around. So it’s weird that you ask that question. I got many regrets, but I try to make peace with them because you just realize that you get so many gifts along the way. Like with the band, I am really looking forward to just finished what was left undone. I mean, I thought I was too old even when I was in the band to be a rock star [Laughs]. So I am definitely too old now, but I am really looking forward to recording this album.

Nah. Good music is good music no matter how old you are.

Gann: That’s really how I see it now. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that. So stay tuned.

The fourth and final season airs tonight with back-to-back episodes only on FXX.

Feature Photo: Jason Gann as Wilfred. Photo courtesy of Frank Ockenfels/FX.
Center Photo: Elijah Wood as Ryan Newman in episode 1: “Regrets.” Photo courtesy of Ray Mickshaw/FXX

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