Actor Stephen Tobolowsky has made a living telling other people’s stories. In his new book, he’s telling some of his own.As one of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors, Stephen Tobolowsky has played a Josh Groban stalker on Glee, portrayed a superhuman with a Midas touch on Heroes and, in Groundhog Day, personified an obnoxious insurance agent who accosts Bill Murray — repeatedly.
But Tobolowsky’s most colorful highlight reel is offscreen. In fact, he’s led such a fascinating life that he has written a book, The Dangerous Animals Club (Simon & Schuster, $24), to chronicle his true stories.
“When you’re in an exotic sort of profession and you’re anonymous, like I am, you sort of become a very effective fly on the wall,” Tobolowsky says in an interview with American Way. “You end up with an opportunity to see a lot of things.”
The book’s stories span more genres than the 100-plus movies and 200-plus TV shows Tobolowsky has filmed. Looking for a screwball romance? The actor and his girlfriend once spent a Eurorail journey evading a conductor, even going so far as to clamber outside the train. Tobolowsky’s account about his vindictive college professor turns out to be as much of a psychological thriller as his movie Memento. A tearjerker? That would be the day his mother died twice. As for science fiction, well, Tobolowsky describes filming a cheap movie in which the evil alien creature looked like “a green teenager covered in calamari” noting, “It did not inspire fear, only hunger.”
Just don’t expect too many movie stories. “Unless they speak to something deeper, they’re not really universal in interest,” Tobolowsky says. (He does, however, detail a scary encounter with a rodeo bull during the making of Wild Hogs. Turns out character actors don’t warrant stunt doubles.)
The actor’s first foray into story?telling was a 2005 documentary called Stephen Tobolowsky’s Birthday Party. He also currently produces a podcast of his stories on Slashfilm.com that is syndicated on National Public Radio. There’s one common denominator in all his recollections: a philosophical outlook.
“Memory rarely serves as a measurement of time but rather as a measurement of meaning; the associations we make are rarely linear,” Tobolowsky says. “We can never predict what moments will rise to the level of significance. The strangest, smallest things can become your evening star.”
Stephen Tobolowsky shares his two biggest tips.
1. Swallow your pride.
“Continually say yes, even if it’s for no money. Usually it’s going to lead to contacts you couldhave never had anywhere else. Work begets work.”
2. Rinse and don’t repeat.
“This business will try and put you into a box and say, ‘That’s what you do.’ The big secret is that you have to be open to reinvention, not invention — turning the pie around and taking a bite from a different side of the pie.”