Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan talk about playing it straight in ‘Birdman’

Watching funny people perform dramatic roles can always be an interesting experience, especially if other parts of the film are funny.  In Alejandro González Iñárritu's film “Birdman,” Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan have two of the more serious roles in what is a dark comedy.

The film itself is centered on Michael Keaton's Riggan Thomson, a movie star who has opted to head to Broadway to write, direct, and star-in a play.  Galifianakis appears as Thomson's friend and manager, Jake, while Ryan is Thomson's ex-wife, Sylvia. 

No small part of both roles is keeping Thomson on the (relatively) straight and narrow.  They act  as a reality check on Thomson's flightier notions, which is what makes their roles somewhat more serious than those of other people in the film.

Do not think though that just because Ryan and Galifianakis are funny people that they had any desire to show that funny while filming.  When we sat down with them last weekend to discuss the movie, they explained their reasons for that.  It wasn't just that they felt it was unneeded either (although that was a part of it).

“I find comedy harder,” Ryan said.  “So, it's easier for me to keep it straight.”

Galifianakis agreed on comedy being more difficult, and added that there were “A couple of times where I felt like I over-improved and I think I got from Alejandro's expression, 'We don't need any of that.'” 

“Birdman,” as co-stars Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough have said, was not an easy film to shoot.  Everything had to come together in the right way to make it work, and it did.

“When I saw the film,” Ryan said, “I was blown away. I had no idea.”  She explained that the movie, “Knocked me sideways.  I had never seen any film like this.”

Some of the moments in the film that worked on screen, as Ryan explained, were born of necessity and nothing else.  The example she offered was a scene in which she and Keaton were in Thomson's dressing room and the only way that they could work out how to get all the necessary people and cameras in place and still have it feel right was to have Keaton lying down on his dressing room table.

Ryan concluded the story by stating that this wasn't the only time these sorts of decisions were made.  In fact, she said  that there were, “These magical discoveries all throughout the process.”

The result of those magical discoveries, as Drew McWeeny noted in his review, is “one of the most thrilling piece of film craft” that he has seen this year.

“Birdman” opens today.  It also stars Emma Stone and Edward Norton.