Interview: Stephen Tobolowsky on Groundhog Day, acting and living the dream

“I was able to watch this movie become a cult classic. And then now, I just cross out cult. Because it’s a classic.”

Stephen Tobolowsky, talking to The Comic’s Comic last February before introducing a 20th anniversary screening of Groundhog Day at the 92YTribeca in New York City. Today is Groundhog Day all over again, so what better time to look back at my talk with Tobo about that classic film.

“In my life, I have spoken to classes on Buddhism, motivational classes — the Oakland Raiders flew me up to Oakland because they used Groundhog Day as a motivational film for their team. Don’t ask me why.”

I don’t know if it’s working!

“I don’t know! But the idea was, you can’t make the same mistakes over and over and over again. You’ve got to evolve. So it’s one of those films that strikes a universal note. And it’s been a joy to watch over the last 20 years.”

Groundhog Day may be turned into a Broadway musical next! Tis true. What’s next for Tobolowsky is a voice-over role in the upcoming big-screen version of the cartoon, Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Tobolowsky is one of our great character actors — his resume most recently has had him playing Stu Beggs in Showtime’s Californication and another Ryerson (Sandy) in FOX’s Glee. He has done CGI work in screens small (Heroes) and large (Garfield), used his voice as his passport in the movie, Sneakers, and appeared in The Insider, MementoDeadwood, CSI: Miami, the earliest episodes of The Mindy Project and much, much more.

I asked Tobolowsky about how Ned Ryerson changed his life and career from being “that guy” to “that’s the guy from” guy — “Ned has made me world famous,” Tobolowsky told me — which thing is the thing he’s recognized for (it’s Glee for the kids, Californication for older ladies), how non-glamorous filming a sex scene can be (NSFW alert!), as Tobo told me “for five hours of shooting, my face was buried in a Stay-Free maxi pad!” He also talked about living the dream he had as a boy of becoming a working actor, and yet not being quite as famous as Al Pacino, which is a good thing considering the lengths he observed Pacino going to after leaving the set of The Insider to be in disguise from fans and potential lawsuit-seekers.

“People recognize me, but not usually as an actor,” Tobolowsky told The Comic’s Comic. “They usually think I was the guy who worked at Starbucks, or taught science in their school, or sold their parents insurance. They don’t recognize me that way. So I’m pretty safe.”

Speaking of what’s safe and what’s not…

I wondered how the rise of social media has changed and/or blurred his roles as a person and as an actor — Tobolowsky is on Twitter @Tobolowsky and produces his own podcast, The Tobolowsky Files. He replied with a tale from the Torah, updating it for today’s times to explain how murdering of one’s reputation is no longer the second-worst crime their is; it’s now entertainment?! “But that is what our society is now. That is entertainment. I mean, you take a look on television, and even in the news, the purpose of entertainment has  been to murder reputation. That is the world we live in now. I don’t know that we’re better for it. I don’t know.”

Roll the clip!

Related: Here is that talk Tobolowsky gave at the 92YTribeca last year following his interview with me, with a story from The Dangerous Animals Club and the next book he’s writing.

Stephen Tobolowsky played insurance agent Ned Ryerson in 1993’s Groundhog Day, directed and co-written by Harold Ramis.

But for you Sneakers fans, here is my very rough attempt to make a Vine so long ago with Tobo…

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →