“I got this movie the way a squatter gets an apartment,” cracks Patton Oswalt of “Young Adult.” “I was kind of already there with my hot plate, and they were like, ‘He doesn’t bother anyone. Let him stay.'”
That humble confession leaves out a few pertinent details, however. The standup comedian and actor actually first met the film’s director, Jason Reitman, several years ago when both were working the awards circuit — Oswalt for “Ratatouille” and Reitman for “Juno.”
After bonding, as the comedian puts it, “over our French bulldogs,” Reitman began inviting Oswalt to the weekly Sunday movie screenings at his house. Eventually, Reitman came by for the preliminary table reads for a new Diablo Cody script about a narcissistic mean girl and the unlikely bond she develops with the outcast she dismissed in high school.
Reitman clearly recognized that as disabled sports bar waiter Matt Freehauf, Oswalt isn’t just Charlize Theron’s darkly funny sidekick: He’s the movie’s bruised heart.
“The role was so well written and subtle,” says Oswalt. “What you realize very quickly is that this is a living, breathing guy with resentments and desires. As far as he’s concerned, this is his story, not hers.”
Oswalt threw himself into research for his role as a man still grappling with injuries he suffered during a brutal teen beating, working with a physical therapist to understand how Matt would’ve recovered and over what length of time.
In order to avoid doing any permanent damage to his own leg while enacting his character’s jerky, cane-assisted walk, he was also advised by said therapist to do a series of exercises religiously at the end of each day. Oswalt even went so far as to write a letter his character might have penned to his parents from the hospital.
Still, nothing prepared him for the scene where he disrobes in front of Theron’s Mavis.
“I’d be nervous stripping down next to John Goodman on camera,” he says with a laugh, “but I was stripping down next to Charlize. I could not get naked next to a hotter woman on the planet. I mean, come on!”