Catching Up With America's Coolest Dad, Peter Gallagher


For four seasons, America welcomed veteran star of stage and screen Peter Gallagher into its living rooms, as The O.C.'s Sandy Cohen -- the most righteous (in both the literal and dude-slang senses) surfer/lawyer/parental unit on TV. Gallagher plays a similar kind of father to Rose Byrne -- perhaps more deeply faulted, but just as passionate and well-meaning -- in Adam, the disarmingly charming Asperger's romance opening in theaters tomorrow. He talked to Movieline about his O.C. surrogate family, his current little-Sundance-movie-that-could, and another he starred in two decades earlier, from an unknown filmmaker named Steven Soderbergh:

PETER GALLAGHER: What's your name again?

MOVIELINE: Seth. You should be familiar with that one.

[Smiles] Yes. Yes I am. I was just writing the young Mr. Brody two days ago.

How is he?

He's great. We've been staying in touch -- Ben and Mindy [Melinda Clark] and I. I love those kids on that show. I love those boys. Great kids.

Do you physically get together?

Oh yeah! Well I mean Mindy came over on Sunday, and Adam and Ben were over a couple of months ago.

Do you revert back to what your roles were on the show, or are you just a bunch of buddies?

We're not buddies -- I'm too old. We're just the actors that we were. I mean, I like them and they like me, and I care about them.

You must have some kind of paternal influence on them.

Maybe...I don't know, you'd have to ask them. I know that when I call, they call me right back. I know that they've been to the house a million times and I've been to their houses a million times.

To celebrate Hanumachrismakwanzaa?

You mean Chrismukkah? [Laughs] I like that one even better!

Well that's heartwarming to know. You were the world's coolest dad to a whole generation.

Well, it's easy to be a good dad on TV. It's all the pleasure and none of the terror.

Speaking of dads, faulted or otherwise, I enjoyed your character in Adam.

I'm so glad. I think we're in such an environment, and I think people can feel it, where we've been lied to so consistently, and there are so many things offered to sale for us that we don't really want, that the power of telling a story well -- meaning giving the story all its dimension, and confusion, and gray areas, and conflict -- it makes them feel better about themselves. Because they recognize themselves!

It's when you're lucky enough to contribute to a story like that, but then actually see it find its way in the world. Fox Searchlight is the only game in town that can actually give a chance to a little movie like this. They're actually platforming this. No one's heard of platforming a movie in 15 years.

How does the current indie environment compare to the one in which Sex, Lies and Videotape was released?

The irony of it is that I was in Sundance for two reasons this year. One was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Sex, Lies and Videotape, and the other was for Adam. I was proud to be there for Sex, Lies and Videotape, but I was so happy to be there with a new movie, too.

The first place I saw Sex, Lies and Videotape was at Sundance -- it was the first place anybody saw it. And I'll never forget Steven standing up in his big Afro, essentially -- a whitefro -- and saying, 'Hello. We made this movie called Sex, Lies and Videotape, and if anybody would like to distribute it, come talk to me afterwards.' And there were a couple people in the front row who were clearly from the business and very successful [he imitates them chuckling]: "Oh yeah, $1 million movie, whatever." By the end of the movie, they were riveted. Then Harvey and Bob [Weinstein] outbid everybody by hundreds of thousands of dollars, spent $1 million on the movie, were the laughing stock of the business ... then proceeded to reinvent the business.

In both Sex, Lies and Videotape and Adam, and other very wonderful movies I've been involved in, I loved the script. Same with The O.C.: When I read that pilot, I thought to myself, this is a story for America now. It's about a family who refuses to abandon their principles, and still has the courage and heart to open their arms and embrace an outsider, even though they live in a gated community. I said, "That's America."

When you mention coming at the right time, I feel like there's a bit of a backlash brewing against what the studios are churning out at the moment. Movies like Bruno and Transformers 2 in particular, seem to upset people, who consider then cynical films and wastes of money.

You know what I liken it to? The auto industry insisting on building SUVs. It's like -- I don't care if it's the most profitable car for you to build. I don't want to drive one, because it costs too much to put gas in the tank. It's too big. "Yeah, well we're going to get a bailout and we're still going to build this." Well, then, you're going to go out of business. Years ago, Lou Wasserman said it all comes down to content.

When you come out of Adam, you think, "Wow. I must exist, because these people seem to have heard me. I'm not the only oddball out there thinking to himself, 'Why is life so alienating? And there's nothing in popular culture that reflects my experience.'" If we continue telling stories for 17-year-olds and under, where are we going to be as a culture? I grew up admiring guys with lines in their faces, because I wanted to know the stories about the guys behind those lines. I looked up to Jimmy Cagney, I looked up to Dean Martin and Jack Nicholson. Now it's like, once you get to 25, it's over? You got nothing left to offer. ♦