Jim Gaffigan Finds Drama In Movies Like Linoleum More Satisfying Than Comedy [Exclusive Interview]

At the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival, comedian Jim Gaffigan delivered a fantastic performance playing two different characters in Colin West's puzzling and poignant drama "Linoleum." The film follows Gaffigan as Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a failing children's science TV show called "Above & Beyond" who has always had aspirations of being an astronaut. But suddenly, a mysterious space-race era satellite coincidentally falls from space and lands in his backyard, forcing him to relocate to his sister-in-law's house with his wife (Rhea Seehorn), who is looking to get a divorce. Things only get worse when a doppelgänger named Kent, a real astronaut who looks suspiciously like a younger, clean-cut, uptight Cameron, moves into his neighborhood and steals his TV show. Meanwhile, Cameron strikes up a friendship with Kent's teenage son (Gabriel Rush), who also takes a liking to Cameron's daughter (Katelyn Nacon).

On the surface, it feels like there's a lot going on in "Linoleum," but that's kind of the point. Every storyline coalesces into this beautiful tapestry of life, love, and everything in between. For Gaffigan, taking on a dramatic role like this is much more satisfying than getting laughs on a stand-up stage. Though it seems like Gaffigan has only recently taken an interest in dramatic roles, it's something he's always been interested in as an actor. We spoke with Gaffigan about what drew him to Colin West's "Linoleum," the challenges of creating two different characters, and one particular scene that scared the hell out of him.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'I'm not saying I find science boring, I find it confusing, so I was interested in that'

What was it that drew you to this script?

Gosh, it's been such a journey that, I mean, honestly, initially I was like, "Oh, this is a lead." I think I was also fascinated by the challenge of portraying somebody who was enthusiastic on science. I'm not saying I find science boring, I find it confusing, so I was interested in that. But of course, the more I read the script, it was really what the story's about and about the relationship and what the script, and eventually the film, turned out to be, and the questions they're presenting. So I wanted that challenge. 

There's also the fact that I play two characters. That's kind of like ... I don't know what to compare that to. That's kind of like free lunch, you know what I mean? It's like, for an actor, you get to play two characters, and then those two characters interact. That's pretty fun. So the math behind figuring that out from a character standpoint, not the filming, that's really fun stuff.

Speaking of which, how did you go about developing each of those characters in the movie? Did you have input to their look and the differences in their personality? Because I love that the glasses Cameron wears really helped set him apart from Kent, giving him a somewhat goofy demeanor, and then Kent has that very specific mustache for somebody who's super uptight.

Yeah, there was an ongoing discussion. That's also really what's fun about indie films. Every project I've been on, when you're developing a character, you talk about it with the director. But I do feel like there was a discussion of when we were going to shoot Kent's stuff and how we were going to do it, and now we contribute. So we're like, "Do we shoot all the Kent's stuff at the beginning? Kent is an astronaut or a former astronaut, so I can't have a beard, but we want him to be different from Cameron and he has this confidence."

So when I was constructing, some of it you build it from the script. I saw Kent and Cameron as two different people, but they're, in some ways, two different versions of me. We all encounter, often within the same hour, moments where we feel like Kent, where he can do nothing wrong and the world is his. And then moments where we feel like Cameron, where we are the victim of circumstances. And just vocally, I wanted Kent to maybe have a greater touch with the old school notion of masculinity versus Cameron.

It's weird, because I have all these kids, and I see my sons as they grow up in different kind of situations, they will lower their voice to sound different. They're not aware of it, and it's not consistent, but it's just an interesting glimpse of that, and I wanted Cameron to just have a lower register.

Yeah, that makes sense. 

'I'm thrilled that I have the opportunity to portray some of these dramatic roles, because I find the dramatic roles much more fulfilling'

When you started out in comedy, did you always have aspirations to eventually veer into more dramatic work? It feels like more recently you've definitely been digging into more dramatic roles rather than sticking to the comedy side of things.

Yeah, it was something that I always wanted to do. It probably appears like I'm doing it more now, but it's just the opportunities now exist. Whereas before, the opportunities that were presented were far different. I could find that annoying, but it's the entertainment industry. You have no control over these things. The entertainment industry, they're really risk-averse. They don't want to take a gamble on things. I'm thrilled that I have the opportunity to portray some of these dramatic roles, because I find the dramatic roles much more fulfilling. Comedies are always fun, and obviously I love writing my own stand-up, but a dramatic role, even a dramatic scene, I find more fulfilling than getting some laughs.

That's interesting to hear. I wanted to ask about a specific scene. In the very opening of this movie, it's quite jarring, because you have a Corvette just slammed down on the ground right next to you. Were they able to shoot that where you were actually in the scene when they dropped that car on the ground?

I was there. I mean, this was an indie.


I remember, because we didn't shoot it the first day or anything, but I think it was near the end of the shoot. And I was like, "All right, nice to know everyone." Because they had dropped it from a certain level, and they wanted to drop it from a higher level. Obviously, the producers were very safety conscious...

Of course.

... But it did feel — like, my jump was because it scared me.

I'm sure the sound alone has to sound like a car crash happening right next to you.

Yeah, definitely.

That's really cool. 

'The same obsessing that I put into my stand-up comedy, I put into developing a character and those layers'

I also wanted to talk about the science show scenes, because that's something that really feels like right in your wheelhouse, and I'm sure that was a lot of fun to shoot.

Yeah, it's interesting because science was never my thing. So one of the challenges was like, "All right, not only do I have to learn this science," or relearn it. I'm sure at one point I knew some of the things that I was saying, but I had to bring an enthusiasm to it. So I definitely approached it like, I could bring the enthusiasm that my youngest son has around science.

But also, it was a unique challenge, because [in the movie] there's Kent, there's Cameron, and then there's Cameron on the show. Cameron on the show, he has to be different from Kent. So he has to have some of that vulnerability, but the enthusiasm for science and sharing the fascination for science was something I had to find. Because science, to me, it is interesting once I knew it, but it was something that I knew I didn't want to just know the lines. I wanted to be able to communicate that enthusiasm that I feel for acting and stand-up and that my youngest feels for science.

Absolutely. What kind of roles do you see yourself attracted to as your career continues? You talked about dramatic roles being more rewarding than comedy, but as you've taken on more of these roles, do you have a taste for something specific that you might want to do? Something that you're waiting to come along that you'd be really excited about?

It really does come to down to portraying characters that have an arc and that are growing, or changing, during the things. Because that's the real fun thing about dramas or dramedies. Whereas comedies are just pure fun, and it could be really fun to shoot, particularly if you're working with funny friends, I'm trying to be useful with my time, too. I have five kids. I get offered some stuff, and I'm like, "God, that would be fun," but that's just three days away from home for no reason, really. You know what I mean?

But I like the obsessing part. The same obsessing that I put into my stand-up comedy, I put into developing a character and those layers. Even how we were discussing Kent and Cameron and Cameron on the show, some of developing that is really fun. Working with writers and directors, the really good ones, there is a collaborative spirit, and they want you to bring things in to the creative process. So it's fun. The sense of community, too. Maybe because I do stand-up so much that I love the community of creating a character in a dramatic setting.

"Linoleum" is playing in select theaters now. Residents of Los Angeles, Ohio, and New York can attend these screenings with live Q&As

  • Laemmle Noho 7 in North Hollywood, CA: Friday, Feb. 24 at 7:10PM. Q&A with director Colin West and Rhea Seehorn.
  • Gateway Film Center in Columbus, OH: Saturday, Feb. 25 at 7PM. Q&A with director Colin West.
  • Quad Cinema in New York, NY: Sunday, Feb. 26 at 1:30PM, 4:15PM, and 7:30PM, each with Q&A with director Colin West and Jim Gaffigan.