Life has a strange way of going sometimes, and so perhaps it's not all that weird that a Peterborough man has somehow found himself fully immersed in the work (and mind) of actor Eric Roberts (Julia's brother). Yes, Doug Tilley—a film writer/avid tweeter—has an entire podcast dedicated to Roberts called Eric Roberts Is The Fucking Man.
Read our interview below with Tilley about all things Eric Roberts, and you'll soon be hooked on Eric (and Tilley's podcast) too...
PTBOCanada: When and why did you start the podcast?
Tilley: I was actually kicking around the idea for a couple of years. I'd been co-hosting a podcast about low-budget/microbudget cinema for a few years, and making guest appearances on plenty of others, but it was starting to get a bit incestuous. Endless podcasts about genre films, of varying quality, with the same people guesting again and again.
Podcasts as a whole were starting to get more conceptual. I listen to a lot of improv-based podcasts that are much more about setting the stage for interesting and amusing content than they are about investigating a topic in a serious manner, and then there's the Worst Idea Of All Time podcast, which spent a year watching the terrible comedy Grown Ups 2 on a weekly basis while documenting the emotional breakdown of the hosts. There's just such a freedom there, where you can take a fairly—or entirely—ridiculous idea and then take it beyond its extreme.
So, then early in 2015 I decided to just go with it. One way or another, I was going to devote a bi-weekly podcast to the life and work of Eric Roberts. I floated the idea around social media and there seemed to be some definite interest, but just because someone thinks an idea is interesting, it's no guarantee it would be interesting in practice. So, then began the process of defining what the podcast would "look" like.
The title, Eric Roberts Is The Fucking Man, came from Mickey Rourke's acceptance speech during the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards. He had won Best Actor for his performance in The Wrestler, but the thing he wanted to talk about when he got to the podium wasn't Darren Aronofsky, or his performance. He wanted to talk about Eric Roberts, who he co-starred with way back in 1984 in The Pope of Greenwich Village.
I was looking for a title, and I just happened upon the speech and when Rourke opened with "Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man", I knew I had to go with it. Even with the knowledge that the title alone might limit our audience.
Then, once I found a proper co-host in the form of writer Todd Rigney, all the pieces were in place.
PTBOCanada: But why Eric Roberts? Please explain.
Tilley: I suppose most people think I had some specific interest in Eric Roberts going into this, but it's not really the case. I was aware of him and his career, but I didn't have a particularly strong feeling—positive or negative—about his work. I hadn't seen most of his most beloved performances. It was really a combination of two things that drew me into the idea.
One, he was just starting to be so ubiquitous. Seriously. He's been almost comically productive over the past decade, including work in movies—both big budget (like The Dark Knight) and microbudget—TV, music videos, reality TV.. you name it, he's been on it. His IMDB profile lists over 400 credits, and it's growing weekly. So, the fact that there was so much to cover was obviously a big part of the idea.
Secondly, he's an actor people don't tend to have strong feelings about. They might be generally aware of him. Maybe as the brother of Julia Roberts, or the father of Emma Roberts, but there isn't much thought beyond that. I found it really interesting that here was a guy who, at his height, was at the peak of Hollywood. Oscar nominations, Golden Globe nominations, the whole bit. Now he's making movies like The Human Centipede III. How does that happen? Was it a rapid fall from grace, or something more gradual? I just wanted to investigate that a bit more.
Finally, it's just a ridiculous idea. The irreverance of it tickled me, and the idea of pouring time and resources into it just made the joke funnier. As my wife will readily attest to, I tend to find a lot of humor in my own jokes. Whether anyone else will find it similarly interesting or amusing is entirely up to them.
PTBOCanada: Tell us where you're at with the podcasts. Is it gaining in popularity?
Tilley: We just recorded our 14th episode, and the show is released every second Monday. Bi-weekly. While it would be easy enough to join a small podcast network, and get some cross-podcast advertising, I decided to host it myself since I want to have complete control over when it comes out and where it was available. I had some experience developing podcast hosting in Wordpress from some of my other podcasting work, so I put together a site to host the show and a proper RSS feed that could be submitted to iTunes and other podcast aggregates and we were off to the races.
It has been growing, actually. Really, the growth has all been about the guests we've been getting. I made a conscious effort to not, at least at first, reach out to my regular podcasting buddies. While it would have been very easy, I knew I wanted part of the concept for the show to involve personalities that I loved, and whom I had some sort of social media relationship with, but who I hadn't been able to have an extended conversation with. It's what has developed into the biggest joy of the podcast. Using Eric Roberts as an excuse to chat with some of my favorite writers, actors, commentators and personalities.
PTBOCanada: So each podcast focuses on one film/project he's done?
Tilley: With the knowledge that Eric's work is so diverse, we had to come up with a concept which would be able to incorporate that variety. So, generally we cover two "projects" per episode. That usually means movies, but it could also mean a movie and an episode of an hour-long TV show. Or, two hour-long TV shows. Or, a few sitcom episodes and a movie. There are a lot of combinations. The main thing is that it usually encompasses about three hours of content. Since we have a guest who is expected to watch this material too, we have to sketch that out well-ahead of time.
And it's certainly not just movie junkies! Our most recent episode featured the illustrator Brandon Bird, who is quite world renowned for his pop-culture paintings—often involving characters from the Law & Order TV franchise. I knew Brandon had actually painted a portrait of Eric Roberts a few years back for the purpose of putting on lunchboxes, which he sold through his website, and that he had met Eric Roberts and gifted him one of the lunchboxes. So, when it was decided to devote an episode to Eric Roberts' two Law and Order appearances, he seemed like the perfect guest. And he was.
For the most part, I've been reaching out to film critics and pop-culture writers. People who I know have a strong "voice", and would tolerate being grilled about Eric Roberts for 90 minutes.
PTBOCanada: Any sense of whether Eric has listened to any of your shows? Any correspondence? Have you emailed him? Tweeted him? Dreamed about him?
Tilley: It's the eternal question, right? "Does Eric listen?" "When is Eric going to be on the podcast?". The fact is, I would be *horrified* if Eric Roberts listened to the podcast. Needless to say, while we always take a pro-Eric Roberts stance, it's not always particularly complementary. However, the fact is that he's at least aware it exists. He's tweeted out links via Twitter a few times now, and since we've been involved with promoting some of his recent projects, that necessarily gets back to him. So, my understanding is that he's aware that someone has made a podcast about him called Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man.
Whether he's ever listened or not? I don't know. I'm a lot more interested at the moment in getting people who have Eric Roberts stories to tell. We interviewed a director a few months back who had Eric Roberts act in their short film, and getting that sort of perspective is something I find really interesting. What's he like to work with? What are his quirks? That sort of thing.
But, yes, I did recently have a very vivid Eric Roberts-related dream. In it, he gave me his blessing. I'll take that as confirmation to keep going until the cease and desist letter arrives.
PTBOCanada: Is the ultimate goal to interview Eric Roberts himself on the show? Is that the finale/Hollywood ending sotospeak??
Tilley: Not at all! In fact, as I mentioned, I feel like it would be absolutely humiliating to have the man himself on the show. I mean, how should someone react to discovering there's a bi-weekly podcast about them? Flattered? Maybe. Weirded out? Almost certainly. It's not something we've pursued up to this point.
Frankly, I'd be much more interested in having, say, his wife or one of his kids guest on the show. After all, this is a podcast about Eric Roberts. Having him on sort of defeats the purpose.
PTBOCanada: He was even in a Rihanna music video. What do you make of that?
Tilley: Oh yeah! In fact, Eric Roberts has a long, storied music video history. Mariah Carey's video for "It's Like That", "Mr. Brightside" by The Killers, "Smack That" by Akon. The guy loves to work, and music videos are just another medium to conquer.
This year alone he's appeared in two fairly notable music videos. First, both he and Mads Mikkelsen appeared in Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" video, and then recently he appeared in Chris Cornell's music video for his song "Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart". Small appearances in both, but it's all part of the legacy.
As soon as the right guest comes down the pipeline, we'll certainly be devoting a full episode to just examining Eric Roberts' music video career. Because, of course we will.
PTBOCanada: Eric is rather eccentric in his choices. Getting inside his mind like you do, why would he have appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap?
Tilley: I wouldn't pretend to speak for him, but I will say that the more we chat with people who have interviewed him or worked with him, the more insight we get into how and why he chooses his roles. It's important to note that his wife is his manager, and it appears that at some point in the past decade there was a conscious decision made to move away from larger, long-term projects, and instead focus on smaller appearances that would allow him to better control his schedule.
There's a fun anecdote in his Random Roles interview with Will Harris explaining why he chose to do the ridiculous Roger Corman-produced film Sharktopus. Basically, it boiled down to a free vacation for him and his family. So, why not? He loves to work, and gets to travel around the world and basically have full control of how often and how hard he works. Sounds like a pretty good life to me.
In terms of his reality show appearances, I imagine it all seems like a lot of good fun. Whether it be swapping wives with Robin Leach, or letting ghost investigators into his house, he seems like a guy who is open to all sorts of new experiences, and isn't hampered with a particular ego about what sort of projects are "beneath" him.
PTBOCanada: What was his best role you think? Worst?
Tilley: I can obviously only speak to what I've seen, which is but a small amount of his massive filmography. I'll say that one of the original concepts for the podcast was that we would pair a film from his Hollywood period—say, from 1978-1990—with one of his more recent films. However, we quickly discovered that we were burning through the Hollywood films pretty darn fast.
But that does mean that I've now seen most of his more celebrated work, and it's actually turned me into a fan of his. I know that sounds silly coming from someone who is already devoting too much of his time to Eric Roberts' career, but it was only in watching a lot of these earlier films for the first time that I started to really develop a healthy respect for his skill as an actor.
With that said, his performance in Star 80 is pretty amazing. Just the sleaziest, scariest role, and he tackles it with such nervous, drug-fueled energy. It helps that it's a great film, but he's really its core, and he's just astoundingly good in it. Honestly, he's excellent in all of those early roles. Watch The Pope of Greenwich Village, Runaway Train and King of the Gypsies and you'll see why there was a time when he was one of the most exciting actors of his generation.
In terms of worst.. Man, you can take your pick. One of the difficulties of the podcast is that sometimes we don't know how much Eric Roberts we're going to get when we choose a subject. A film like Wrong Cops features him for, legtimately, about 60 seconds. But in terms of the worst Eric Roberts film I've seen, that has to go to the Brian Michael Stoller directed movie Miss Castaway (also known as Miss Castaway and the Island Girls) which features Michael Jackson in a supporting role! It's just horrible. Just one of the worst comedies you're likely to ever have to suffer through.
Fun fact for this particular interview. Brian Michael Stoller was born right here in Peterborough, Ontario!
PTBOCanada: If you could meet Eric Roberts, what would you ask him, discuss?
Tilley: Honestly, I'd want to ask him about anything except his entertainment career. There are plenty of pop-culture interviewers who are better at doing that. The sort of nuts and bolts of the life of someone who has experienced massive fame, but has now—by all accounts—settled down. What does he do with his leisure time? What's his relationship with his kids like? I know he's big into animal rights. I'd like to explore that. Who are his friends? What does he do for fun?
I mean, obviously those are stalker-esque questions, but I'd sort of feel like I wasn't being true to the podcast if I didn't skirt expectations a bit.
PTBOCanada: He's all hip on social media—Twitter and Facebook—yet his website looks like it was built in 1999. Please explain.
Tilley: With a yahoo.com email address! Hey, I know it. You think I should offer my services to redesign his site?
I figure he just realized, as most celebs did, that a personal website isn't really a proper first line of defense anymore. Or, heck, maybe his wife tends to it in-house? I'd like to think so.
And we all know that social media is so immediate, and alive, and active. It's such a different animal. Eric Roberts tweeting about how great his son's album is, or how much he's enjoying X-Factor, or David Duchovny, or whatever is just so.. adorable. It provides some weird, and occasionally hilarious, insight into the man. Of course, that's with the caveat that we don't really know who controls his social media.
PTBOCanada: What is the evolution here? Will the podcast ever turn into a Eric Roberts Is The Fucking Man documentary turn into a biography? How far can you take this?
Tilley: Well, I certainly don't have any plans to stop. To be honest, I feel like it's only a matter of time until some director gives Eric Roberts a meaty part that he can pour his talents into, and he could very well have a Tarantino-esque renaissance. Just last week Guillermo Del Toro was praising him up and down on his twitter feed. Our only goal is to preach from the mountaintop that Eric Roberts is the fucking man.. and hope that people listen. Where that leads is entirely out of my hands. I just host a podcast.
PTBOCanada: Do you have an encyclopedic knowledge of him by now? Healthy obsession?
Tilley: Neither! I mean, I guess a sort of obsession, since knowing what he's working on is part of the design of the podcast, but what I'm quickly realizing while doing this show is that there are many people who are vastly more devoted to Eric Roberts and his career than I am. While I'm more than happy to devote a shockingly large part of my life to something my wife colorfully describes as "a waste of time", I'm certainly no expert on the man. Nor do I necessarily want to be.
This show is simply an excuse to get together with funny, interesting people. Any Eric Roberts knowledge learned is just a fortunate byproduct of that.
PTBOCanada: If this Eric Roberts podcast ever ends, who would you fixate on next?
Tilley: Hell, there's a wealth of underloved, underexplored character actors out there. I've already had a number of people approach me suggesting they want to start their own podcast devoted to a single actor or director. I say, go for it. Podcasting is such a beautiful, democratic way of communicating. Sure, you may only ever find a small, devoted audience. But they are your audience. Keep plugging at it, and who knows what might happen?
You can listen to Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man podcasts on Tilley's website or on iTunes. Follow the podcast on Twitter here.