When actress Fiona Gubelmann first read the script for FX's buddy comedy Wilfred, she was understandably confused. The show, which is a US version of the Australian original, centers on the relationship between a depressed lawyer, Ryan (Elijah Wood), and his next door neighbor, Wilfred, a foul-mouthed, horny, alcohol- and drug-abusing Australian man (Jason Gann) in a dog suit. At least that's how Ryan sees it after waking from a failed suicide attempt via pill overdose. To everyone else, including his owner, Jenna (Gubelmann), Wilfred is just a regular butt-sniffing, cat-chasing dog.
We may never know if Wilfred is real or merely Ryan's delusion or death bed hallucination, but the unique dynamic of the show, from its more obvious dog vs. man jokes to Wilfred's role as a wisdom-imparting sage for his unstable pal, makes it must-watch television. Complex recently spoke with Gubelmann, an endearingly sweet and bubbly California girl, about how she makes sense of scenes that could all be in a loon's imagination, the important role FX plays in allowing a strange show like this to develop, and how life has changed since she got her very own viral breast video.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Wilfred is such a deep, multi-layered comedy. How did you initially wrap your head around the story?
By reading it a lot of times! [Laughs.] The first time I read the script I was blown away by it. It was the funniest thing I’d read in a long time, very unique. The first layer that was funny was just the witty lines that Wilfred was saying. Then, I finished reading it and I was moved by the story. I was not expecting that. In comedy it's usually joke, joke, joke, done.
I didn’t quite understand the whole context of the man in the dog suit, so I went back and watched the seven-minute short of the original Australian Wilfred on YouTube and was like, “Oh my god! This is genius!” Just seeing Jason Gann in the dog suit, I was fully able to understand the show and the humor of it, and then I was just hooked.
It's not entirely clear if the Wilfred-Ryan relationship is real or all a figment of Ryan's imagination. When performing, has it ever been difficult to make sense of the world and how Jenna would act in it?
No. I mean, in terms of my relationship with Wilfred, I look at him as he is my dog and I treat him like I would my own pets.
When it comes to trying to figure out what exactly is going on, in terms of what Wilfred is to Ryan—Is Wilfred real? Is Ryan crazy?—I have my own opinion. One time, [developer] David [Zuckerman] started talking about what was going on and I said, “I don’t wanna know.” I have my own personal reaction to the material when I read it and when I watch it and that’s what I love about the show, that it's something different people can have different interpretations of.
At Comic-Con this year, someone was asking David what’s going on with Wilfred and Ryan and he responded that, if they ever say what’s actually happening, half the people are gonna hate it anyways, so you might as well enjoy the journey. I personally am hoping they never explain. I like that people can watch it and have their own viewpoint and feeling and attachment to the project.
I read that in the early stages there was room for you to add to the Jenna character. How did you change her from what existed on paper, and how did that initial US version differ from the Australian one?
I don’t think the idea was to have her as dark and as down as the girl in the Australian series was, but I feel they wanted someone slightly more tomboy next door. Everyone says I’m like the girl next door. I brought this bright, sun-shiny, happy, bubbly energy that they hadn’t pictured, and they liked it.
It was a nice contrast to the other characters, 'cause they’re so dark. You see in the first episode when Ryan is trying to kill himself and it's so heavy, he opens the door and it’s bright sunshine and I’m like “Hey! How are you? Can you watch my dog?” There’s a stark difference between the two of them and what’s great about Jenna is that she’s pursuing what she loves to do and she’s in this state of movement where as Ryan is kind of stuck.
How do you see Jenna having evolved from the first season through this season?
First season, we didn’t get to know Jenna well. Her stuff was a lot lighter. This season, Jenna is actually in the show a little less but evolves more as a character. The stuff I’ve been getting to do has been incredible, very emotional, meaty stuff; she’s changing a lot. This season, Jenna’s relationships have really changed. She’s figuring out who she is and what she wants and is realizing that some of the things she thought she wanted may not have been what she actually wanted.
She’s learning the truth about people and who they are and sees things differently. It's interesting seeing the way Jenna deals with issues and conflicts versus the way Ryan deals with things. You get to see her struggle a lot. It's been really fun for me getting to have different emotional levels, and we got some sexier stuff this season.
How difficult is it to keep a straight face with Jason saying raunchy things in a dog suit?
It’s actually not too hard, just because we shoot at a very quick pace. We shoot four days per episode. I really have to treat him like he’s my dog and it keeps me grounded. But Jason is very silly and because we have been such good friends that can be a problem sometimes because I’ll look at him in the eyes when we’re shooting and I just wanna burst out laughing. I think that’s the harder part.
What do you make of the furry costume fetish and the sale of Wilfred Halloween costumes?
I am not too familiar with the furry costume fetish. In fact, I didn't know much about it until I recently Googled it. But I love that so many people bought Wilfred Halloween costumes last year! My parents even went as Wilfred and Jenna. And at Comic-Con it was so cool to look out during our panel and see fans dressed in their Wilfred costumes. It's amazing to be a part of a show that has such incredible and dedicated fans. I feel so lucky.
Where did the idea for Jenna's "Squishy Tits" video come from?
I’m not quite sure. I remember last fall going and hanging out with the writers and they were telling me that idea. I couldn’t stop laughing because I thought it was so funny. I loved it. I loved that Jenna’s boobs exploded at the end of the video. David sent me the link to that video to watch before they actually sent it out there and I was dying, I was laughing so hard. I never thought that my chest would be the subject of a video like that. [Laughs.]
I never thought that my chest would be the subject of a video like "Squishy Tits." Now people tweet at me all the time and they’ll end it with #squishytits.
Since that aired, have you had a lot of people calling out "Squishy tits!" to you?
[Laughs.] People are. People love it. I was hash tagging "squishy tits" and people were attaching the link to it and going crazy about it. Now people tweet at me all the time and they’ll end it with #squishytits. [Laughs.] I think it's hilarious.
What was it like shooting that video?
It was so much fun! We did it a whole bunch of different ways and totally goofed around and a lot of the stuff didn’t even make it because they’d probably cut us from the air! [Laughs.] That was actually the last day of shooting season one and the night before the guys had shot until 3 a.m. I went off to shoot and Elijah actually came to set at 10 a.m. that day just to be there for me. That’s how cool and supportive a guy he is.
What does FX do that allows a unique show like Wilfred to find its audience and thrive whereas quirky shows elsewhere might not last more than a few episodes?
What's so cool about FX is that the amazing people running the network really foster and support creativity. They are a very hands-off network and have created an environment where artists can create something unique and special. Also, they have created this "formula" where they produce their shows on a very tight budget for the first few years so that they can afford to let the show find itself and its fan base, and they don't have to worry about canceling a show two episodes in because its numbers aren't high enough for the budget.
Of all the life lessons at the beginning of Wilfred episodes, which is your favorite and why?
One of my favorite Wilfred quotes is the Steven H. Coogler quote from the episode "Respect" [1.05]: "Seek respect mainly from thyself, for it comes first from within." I love it because I have found that self-respect, love, and general happiness must first be found within. You can't live life expecting other people or things to make you happy. If you can't be grateful and appreciative for what you have, you'll never truly be happy.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)