Hi Reddit: I've stopped by here a few times and it's always been fun! You guys probably know me as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, Sammy Jankis in Memento, or Stu Beggs in Californication. In the past four years, I've also been telling stories as myself on a podcast called The Tobolowsky Files.

Now we're trying to make a storytelling film. You can help us out and see some of our great rewards by going to our Kickstarter page. The rewards include my original script from Groundhog Day, autographed copies of my book The Dangerous Animals Club, and the opportunity to have me come to your house (if the price is right!).

So let's do this, Reddit. Ask me anything.

Edit: Verification.

Edit 2: It's 3:00 PM Pacific, we are two hours in and still going strong! At this point, I should probably point out that you can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Edit 3: After four hours of answering as many questions as possible, it's time for me to go. Thanks for all your questions, Reddit. It has been so much fun.

Comments: 1623 • Responses: 56  • Date: 

frank_sausage1273 karma

What are some of your memories of Harold Ramis, who sadly passed away today?

stephentobolowsky2659 karma

A few professional memories:

In the audition for Groundhog Day, I read with Harold Ramis and he said "Be as broad as you want. You're the spice in the stew. Bill is the stew." That's when I started attacking Harold as Ned Ryerson in the room. I almost took off his pants. That's when he said "Okay, okay! Not that broad."

Harold Ramis one day took me aside and said "Being an actor is impossible. You need four heroes in your life to succeed as an actor." What he meant was that you need help from four unlikely sources to succeed. It's too hard to do it on your own. You need help coming from where you don't expect it, like four Gandalfs riding over the hill on his white charger. Of course, Harold didn't know it at the time but he was one of my heroes.

We were filming the scene when Bill punched me. Harold said "Well, we have the camera set up here. How do you want to do it?" And I said "Well, do you want me to just stop spinning when I see the courthouse?" And he said "You can do that?" And I said "Yeah, I'm just going to stop when you tell me to stop."

He said, "You do whatever you want. Because comedy lives in the two-shot."

Finally, one personal memory.

We were at a party in the mountains in Malibu, Harold once pull out his guitar and played a new song he had written. It was so beautiful, so filled with joy. It almost felt like that was the real him.

Besides being a phenomenal actor and a great comedic director, he had something people don't have usually. And that's courage. He was brave. He was brave as an actor, he was brave as a director, and he was brave as a writer. That's the impression I had of him. As a man of enormous courage.

Discardodo1171 karma

No question, just wanted to say I loved you in Romeo must Die.

stephentobolowsky799 karma


LordWaffleDog914 karma

You've been in so many movies and TV shows. Have you ever gone to IMDb and thought, "I don't remember being in that?"

Thanks for everything.

stephentobolowsky2012 karma

There is one: Romeo Must Die. I CANNOT have been in that movie. I wrote to IMDB and I said "This is Stephen Tobolowsky. I don't think I've been in Romeo Must Die."

They wrote back and said "Are you really Stephen Tobolowsky?"

I said "Am I really in Romeo Must Die?" It was kind of a stand-off.

I don't think i'm in that movie. It's been on there for years.

Cybershell637 karma

I am making it my sworn duty as an internet detective to get to the bottom of this mystery

cyberjus259 karma

Did someone edit IMDB this already? I do not seem him listed on IMDB for Romeo Must Die (2000). I DO see him listed on Romeo is Bleeding (1993). That one shows as uncredited.

stephentobolowsky551 karma

That may have been the movie I was referring to! Pretty sure i'm not in that one either...

stephentobolowsky1270 karma

Goddamn it. I watched all of Romeo Must Die to see if I was in it. But now I think that the movie I actually might be in (and not remember myself in) is Romeo Is Bleeding.

A lot of times when you shoot a movie, like The Insider for example - that movie did not have a name at the time that I was shooting it. The name comes out later after the movie is done. So sometimes you make a movie and you don't know the name of what you've been in. So it makes complete sense that I might've shot something and not known whether it was Romeo Must Die or Romeo Is Bleeding. Complete Sense!

andytheg738 karma

Do people ever confuse you for Wallace Shawn and scream "INCONCEIVABLE!" at you in public?

stephentobolowsky1023 karma

Twice! I consider it high praise to be mistaken for Wallace Shawn.

But if you saw Wally and me together in person, there'd be no mistaking one for the other.

SonOfKrampus652 karma

How often do you just randomly see yourself on TV? Is that a weird experience or are you used to it?

stephentobolowsky2445 karma

The weirdest experience was when I was in Canada. They had three channels on the television. All three had me in various in stages of baldness. It was like Dorian Gray in reverse. I just kept getting older and uglier so I went down to the bar and got a drink.

phishterrrrrrr566 karma

Is your Penis as big as it is claimed to be in Californication?

EDIT: You look like one of those guys with a freakshow esque member.

stephentobolowsky907 karma

My wife has instructed me that all such questions have to be referred to her.

EmperorPoo672 karma

Mrs. Tobolowsky, is Stephen's penis as big as it is claimed in Californication?

stephentobolowsky1127 karma

My wife says "Of course!"

Illini-11306 karma

He's rich as fuck and hung like a moose

stephentobolowsky933 karma

I had to re-say that line for the "airplane version" of that episode. We had to change it to "He's rich as LUCK and has LUNGS like a moose".

I said to the sound editor "Lungs like a moose??! WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?" But that's what we had to say.

masteractor516 karma

Fav behind the scenes memory of working with Bill Murray?

stephentobolowsky1762 karma

We were about to start shooting Groundhog Day and on the first day, there were 500 townsfolk gathered there to watch us. Bill looked at me and said "Do you know what these people need? DANISHES." Bill took me into the local bakery and bought every single baked good in sight. He put boxes in my arms and we ran out and started throwing the doughnuts and sweets at the crowd.

It was the greatest public relations move I've ever seen.

misfitzl427 karma

So, Mr. Tobolowsky. Who's the boss?

stephentobolowsky632 karma

Emily Cutler and Dan Harmon are collectively The Boss. They reached out to me and helped me through a very difficult time (when I'd just had open heart surgery. They gave me my first job after).

heartbeat10924417 karma

Was Sammy Jankis the actual identity of Lenny in Memento?

stephentobolowsky695 karma

My 12-year old son Robert, when he saw the movie, said "Absolutely" in response to this question, and he was right about everything else in the movie, so that's what I choose to believe.

Ultraberg281 karma

Heroes is coming back. Given your bizarre experience last time, would you be opposed to appearing in it again?

stephentobolowsky446 karma

I seriously can't imagine a re-tooling of Heroes that does NOT include Bob Bishop. I mean, he was essential to the show, people!

HOWEVER, there is the matter of having had my brains extracted from my head. But it's television! Anything is possible.

the_dude_imbibes253 karma

My voice is my passport.

It's kind of fucked up, Ben Kingsley saying you would never be matched up with Mary McDonnell. Like Robert Redford is anything so special. Did you take this rejection personally?

Anyway, thanks for doing an AMA. I love Stu on "Californication." As a proven (and awesome) character actor, looking back on your career, do you ever envy "leading men" with their smarmy chiseled jaws, chin clefts and good looks? Contrast what you do with your art as compared to any random pretty boy who skates by on good looks.

I'm an asshole, I'm realizing.

stephentobolowsky276 karma

To Sir Ben Kingsley: Anything Ben says has to be true. I'm not worthy of Mary. I know this. (Ben Kingsley: the greatest storyteller I've ever seen in my life)

the_dude_imbibes140 karma

Stephen Tobolowsky offers a somewhat serious response to my stupid joke during his AMA, ignoring my legitimate question.

I ain't even mad.

stephentobolowsky498 karma

The difference between character actors and the leading men is that everything the leading men do is on film. Character actors have to invent that life off screen and bring that reality on screen. It's much more imaginative work and the hours are better.

(Do I envy them? No. David Duchovny - I've never seen anyone work so hard for so many hours in my life! 16 hour days, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. No thank you).

La_Chron_James190 karma

Do you smoke marijuana?

stephentobolowsky1276 karma

I used to. The birth of my first son happened, and whenever I put him to bed, I'd light up a big joint to relax. Then, one night my wife was working, I put the baby to bed, lit up the big joint and my son woke up crying. And I realized I was too toasted to take him to a doctor if anything was wrong.

I threw the pot away. Have not smoked since.

Martinlutherqueens166 karma

Loved you on Californication- Any interesting behind the scenes stories or even just a favorite scene to film?

stephentobolowsky676 karma

Any of the sex scenes with Pam Adlon had to be the best. I always had to sign a 4-page contract that said no part of me would enter any part of Pam.

Pam's ad-libs during the scenes had me laughing more than panting. It was such a good cast, such a good crew, and Tom Kapinos was a great writer/producer. Singularly my favorite acting experience.

Funny Californication moment, off the set: I was at synagogue and they were carrying the Torah around. My rabbi leaned in and said "Loved Californication last week." It seemed so right and so wrong.

letsgetitoff74 karma

I thought there would be a lot more Californication questions

stephentobolowsky316 karma

Let me put it this way: Californication was so fun to work on that crew members would cancel their vacation so they could work on this show.

KingOfTheRod128 karma

Are you familiar with the band The Dismemberment Plan? They got their name from one of your lines in Groundhog Day? Also, I could look it up on IMDB, but did I see you in Seinfeld the other night as an natural healer? If that was not you do you get confused with other character actors when you are spotted in public?

stephentobolowsky177 karma

I wrote that scene! I don't think they got that from me - I'm pretty sure I stole that all from Dennis, my insurance guy.

Stoltz3123 karma

What's one thing about yourself that people don't know about you that you wish they did?

stephentobolowsky295 karma

That I wanted to be a geologist, and then an astronomer. But I didn't like the outdoors and I couldn't fit into the space suit. So instead, I play one on TV!

Frajer100 karma

What happened to your character on Glee? You started off so integral and I feel like you just vanished?

stephentobolowsky162 karma

I'm not sure. It was fun working on that show. They brought me back for a pink dagger episode that also worked well, but as they say in television euphemistically, "they went in another direction."

ImNotVenom91 karma

How is Christopher Nolan on set ? How did he treat you ? Any story you can share from the set of Memento ? Thank you for the ama!

stephentobolowsky180 karma

Chris Nolan has a lot of fun on the set. We shot things I never imagined we could or would shoot (e.g. the shot of my eyeball. Chris would say "We're going to do this shot that's just going to be of your eyeball." Or "We're going to do this shot that's just going to be your lip."). Everything was light and loose in Memento. The cast was so jolly . Everybody was hanging out, taking photos, having so much fun. It was like dorm day in college.

KingKuranes87 karma

Favourite cheese?

stephentobolowsky207 karma

Definitely Roquefort without question, although now I prefer the hard cheeses.

TecumsehSherman86 karma

Why did you stay with Tobolowski?

Mel Brooks > Melvin Kaminsky

Woody Allen > Allen Konigsberg

I'm not saying go overboard or anything, but Steve Tobes or something would fly easier in Hollywood, no?

[EDIT for formatting]

stephentobolowsky322 karma

First of all, it's Tobolowsky with a Y.

My first agent, Carol, told me I could never work with a name like Tobolowsky. I said, "What name could I work with?" She said, "Adams. I could sell a Steve Adams." (Hey! Maybe that's why I want to work with Amy Adams!).

So I said, "Okay, why don't you tell everyone that you have a Steve Adams and we'll see if they bite."

Nobody bit. Nobody wanted Tobolowsky OR Adams. So I stuck with Tobolowsky.

The good thing about Tobolowsky is that it goes all the way across the marquee. It goes all the way around the screen. People notice it.

quantumquixote82 karma

Hi Mr. Tobolowsky! What would you consider your spirit animal?

stephentobolowsky411 karma


meanttodothat75 karma

You did a hammy spin as Ned in Groundhog Day, then did it again in Garfield. Just letting you know I caught that.

stephentobolowsky169 karma

Correction: the hammy spin in Groundhog Day was motivated. The hammy spin in Garfield was...perhaps too hammy. But it was a long day. I was working with rats. The producers said they were trained rats, a bucketful. They asked "Do you mind if we put peanut butter in your ears to make it look like the rats are eating you?" I said yes. I shouldn't have done it.

JackRB64 karma

Hi Stephen. I've been a fan of the podcast since the beginning but I don't recall you discussing any stories from one of my favorite movies, Sneakers. Got any good ones?

stephentobolowsky128 karma

If you're a podcast listeners: In the first scene, when I'm in the Chinese restaurant eating dinner with Mary McDonnell, out the back window, there is a karate studio and there are two people fighting in it. They were hired by the film. One of the fighters of the karate studio was my dear friend's Bob's son, Matt. So the Bob from the podcast (the marine), his son came back from serving overseas and became a stuntman in Sneakers and he is the stuntman in the back of that scene.

BadLieutenantColumbo64 karma

1) Do you have any sort of special totem (an object in your pocket, a piece of clothing) that you take with you from job to job?

2) Your personal storytelling is masterful. How do you separate "stories from my life" from "stories from my life with someone else," so to speak? Is there ever a time where an experience you've had with someone else becomes wholly your own?

stephentobolowsky161 karma

When I started off in show business, I made it my goal to always take one item that would remind me of the show. It could be a coffee cup, a rock from the set, It could be a piece of my costume. But I ended up with so much crap on my closets and my shelves that I had to change all that.

Now I use my memories as my totems. They take up far less room.

myotherlog60 karma

*next What movie are you making next?

TheShrinkingGiant59 karma

What role is the furthest you've ever been from who you are in real life?

stephentobolowsky175 karma

Probably Clayton Townley in Mississippi Burning. I grew up in a white flight area outside of Dallas with absolutely no black people, so I had zero prejudice at all against anybody. I was unaware that people actually had racial prejudices, so it was shocking to me when I discovered that was true.

RegularGuy81550 karma

Hi Stephen, I'm a massive fan of The Tobolowsky Files. I have 2 questions:

  1. I know you are working on a 2nd book. Is it a revised version of more 'Files' stories, and if so, which ones?

  2. When writing these non-fiction stories, what obstacles have you found yourself in? For example, have you found yourself writing a long description of some place or event, only to realize that it leads nowhere or will just leave the audience confused? Or have you had to shift the order of events in order to create a satisfying arc? In my writing courses that I took in college, these were the kinds of things we had to consider.

stephentobolowsky71 karma

  1. Not really, even though there will be a handful of "Files" podcast stories IN the book. But there'll be a LOT of new material and a different kind of narrative from the first book.

  2. I try not to shift events around too much when I tell a single story. What I do instead is create different arcs from the same events. Let me try to explain. For example, in "The Voice From Another Room," it centers around a few events but over many years to create a singular narrative. I compress the events so that they go into one story, but there are other stories that intersect those events that will have their own life and place.

Horwitz72144 karma

You have worked with so many of the great actors and on some really fantastic projects. These projects all had your signature influence on them. Who or what project has had the most influence on you?

stephentobolowsky91 karma

In no particular order:

Alan Parker - for taking weeks out of his life to teach me about making movies Harold Ramis - for filling the time of Groundhog Day with so much joy and so much insight on how to film comedy Twelfth Night Repertory Company - working in children's theater, seeing the enormous effect theater had on children's education

LewisDodgsonHere42 karma

What's your favorite dinosaur?

stephentobolowsky170 karma

It's changed over the years. It used to be Godzilla. But Godzilla's not a REAL dinosaur. So I moved over to T-Rex, but T-Rex was too uncontrollable. Now, I like the little proto-dinosaurs, the little baby dinosaurs before the Jurrassic age.

MrPrestige38 karma

Hi there Stephen, pancakes or waffles?

stephentobolowsky142 karma

Definitely pancakes. The pancake mix I use is heart healthy, which is important to me. And I don't really use syrup so the indentations of waffles are not advantageous.

Martinlutherqueens37 karma

Have you and Duchovny ever hooked up?

stephentobolowsky113 karma

I never hooked up with David. David is incredibly scholarly and I wouldn't mind a MENTAL hook-up, if you know what I mean. He's the only actor I know that owns the OED.

superdago37 karma

You are one of the preeminent "That Guy" actors in Hollywood. You're in so many projects, get to work with pretty much anyone, and always great. Film fans will recognize and appreciate you but the paparazzi probably doesn't bother you too much (I assume). Which leads me to my question... how did you end up with one of the best jobs in the world and what can I do to approximate such success?

stephentobolowsky98 karma

There are many roads to the top of Mount Doom. Mine was through theater. I studied theater and I thought that was going to be the way. But that paradigm comes and goes.

The question I have for you is "Why do you think it's the best job in the world." If you can handle constant rejection, if you can handle months of unemployment, if you can bear all the pain of this business, what do you see as the upside? If the upside is working on great material, or meeting fascinating people, then it could be for you.

2feetorless36 karma

How funny was Ramis in real life?

stephentobolowsky115 karma

When Harold was directing, he always seemed to be on the verge of laughing. It was like he always had some joke in the back of his mind that he wasn't telling anybody. No matter how long the shoot day was, no matter what tensions were on the set, he had this kind of twinkle and smirk that you thought he was going to break into laughter at any moment.

And I think it shows, certainly in his acting work. Every performance has that complete joy.

unknownfy2435 karma

what is the best meal you've ever eaten while being on set?

stephentobolowsky107 karma

I was doing a show in San Diego, Manhattan, AZ. They had Mexican food on the set, that was the most glorious food I ever ate in my life. Sent chills up and down my spine. It was probably the lard.

whiteshado33 karma

Memento is one of 4 movies I own. I make every girl I start seeing watch the movie with me. If she doesn't understand what happened by the end then our relationship ends. Your movie is my girlfriend test. What was your reaction to first reading that script?

stephentobolowsky131 karma

When I read Memento, I was halfway through and I screamed to my wife Ann, "This could be the best movie I've ever read. It better not crap out at the end."

I finished Memento and I threw it across the room, and Ann heard it. She said "Did he ruin the ending?"

I said, "No, it was the best script I ever read." It was shocking how good that script was.

1ninjaunicorn30 karma

You've worked with a lot of famous actors in your career. Is there someone you haven't worked with yet that you really want to?

stephentobolowsky75 karma

Yes. A living Marlon Brando.

But among the living, Amy Adams. She's great. I think she's the best actress around now. Everything she's in. Her, American Hustle, The Fighter, the list goes on and on. And it doesn't matter how big or small the parts she plays - she dominates the movie.

americanrecluse29 karma

In the podcast and book, I'm struck by how respectful is your treatment of your ex-girlfriend Beth. Did you discuss this with her before embarking on the stories, or did you cross your fingers and leap?

stephentobolowsky48 karma

I crossed my fingers and took the leap. Then I contacted her through a friend and showed her the stories before I released them.

Kknowsbest25 karma

What is the best advice given to you on your career?

stephentobolowsky95 karma

Best advice was given to me by Bob Darnell: ex-marine, actor, friend -"Always remember as an actor, you're running a marathon, not a sprint."

Best advice given to me personally was by Mel Gibson when my wife was pregnant with my first.

Mel Gibson said, when you're baby is born into the world, always have music playing. Dance with them as soon as you can so they know they're coming into a beautiful place.

kelicraig25 karma

I just rewatched The Grifters. Any comments/anecdotes to share about that one?

stephentobolowsky57 karma

When I auditioned for Stephen Frears for The Grifters the audition was so terrible. Stephen Frears was quite brusque. I left the audition and threw the script away and told my agent "We don't have to worry about this one."

When I got cast and showed up on the set, Stephen was the most gracious, the most charming, the most giving director I think I've ever worked with. It's hard to have enough superlatives for Stephen Frears because he's the ultimate actors director. He really wants the actors to shine and he gives you such an enormous support system that it was hilarious, the difference between the audition and being on the set.

FriedNaiveFog18 karma

Mr. Tobolowsky, I've enjoyed everything I've seen you in, obviously I'll never forget Ned Ryerson, and you're great in Californication.

I also really enjoyed your work in Deadwood, and while watching Justified recently, I noticed that you have worked with Timothy Olyphant in both of them. I was wondering if you're friends with him and if he brought you in to Justified after getting to know each other on Deadwood, or is there some other connection between the 2 shows and yourself?

Thanks and keep up the great work.

joshamania15 karma

If you get around to answering this, Mr. Tobolowsky, would you mind talking about the tendency for actors to appear alongside each other through different shows? For instance, it seems like half the Deadwood cast has been in Justified in some way, shape or form.

Is this a producer thing? A director thing? Or is the community so small that I just don't notice it until I notice it?

stephentobolowsky28 karma

There was a direct overflow from Deadwood into John from Cincinnati. Same writing staff and some of the actors jumped over too.

When I did Atlas Shrugged recently there was an overlap from Calendar Girl and from One Man's Hero. Same actors, same crew people. My guess (and this is only a guess) it has to be some producer or something up in the line that shared all those productions.

crystalistwo15 karma

Sir, thank you so much for being a guest in our house here. A comment and a question.

I think it's criminal that you have to audition for anything anymore. When you mention a recent audition on the podcast, I let out a sigh of frustration because it's clear the people hiring you are too uninformed about your body of work.

What advice would you give a young actor who is thinking about transitioning from the stage to film? How is the process different Are there good classes somewhere for the actor to adjust their skills?

P.S. Would you consider putting out to the universe that you would be perfect to play Sheldon Cooper's father on The Big Bang Theory?

Thank you for making the world better!

stephentobolowsky19 karma

That's sweet.

There's a huge difference b/t theater acting and film acting. The difference is proximity. When you stand on stage, you are telling the story to hundreds if not thousands of people. When you are doing a film, you're really only talking to one person. The camera is telling the story, not the actor. So your performance has to be as if you were in the front seat of a car with the person sitting next to you. You're that close to them.

The biggest problem is transitioning is usually stage actors are too "big."

There are plenty of good classes in Los Angeles. If you always tell the truth, you're on the right track.

preggit12 karma

Hey Stephen,

Love your work all the way back to Spaceballs! Was there a specific opportunity you were give in your career that you felt was your 'big break'?

stephentobolowsky37 karma

Definitely Groundhog Day was a big break.

The formula for a big break is: you have to be in 1) a good movie, 2) that everybody sees, 3) that you're good in. If one of those factors is not present, you don't in fact have a big break.

FinglasLeaflock12 karma

Hey Stephen! Big fan here, but I saw your previous AMA too late to get a question in. Thanks for your nice comments on Harold Ramis up above in this thread -- it's a sad day.

My question: If you had the opportunity to recast / remake one of your favorite movies (that you're NOT actually in) and give yourself any role you wanted in it, what movie would you remake, and what role would you take for yourself?

stephentobolowsky20 karma

Gene Hackman in The Conversation. I think I could do a great job with the part, and I loved that movie. Great film.

jabm00011 karma

Hey Mr. Tobolowaki,

I'm actually in the same frat as your son but he doesn't know that I know that his dad is famous. Just thought I'd say that and good luck on your movie!

stephentobolowsky12 karma

Thank you! We're lucky to have two great children.

yungtrees20910 karma

What's one advice that you would give to an aspiring film director?

stephentobolowsky20 karma

Tell stories that matter to you, not stories that'll sell.

driven_snow10 karma

What was it like being denied by Jamie Lee Curtis then having your revenge by repetitively failing her daughter as her resentful high school teacher?

stephentobolowsky19 karma

The more Jamie Lee Curtis could deny me means the more scenes I had with Jamie Lee Curtis which is good for me. What an exquisite person. Beautiful, friendly - she would bring fresh cookies to the cast.

In movie casts, there often develops a sort of leader of the production. Jamie Lee Curtis did that in Freaky Friday. She was kind of the den mother of the entire production. She made everybody feel warm, welcome, and comfortable.

Noland1509 karma

My World of Tanks user name is Tobolowsky.

There are likely thousands of nerds who have cursed that name after being killed in game.

stephentobolowsky12 karma

Great! I am so happy about this.

thebiglibrarian7 karma

What's your favorite book and why?

stephentobolowsky15 karma

Favorite book: David Copperfield. Why: Charles Dickens

Another favorite book: Man's Search for Meaning. Brilliant and short.

DerikHop5 karma

ned...ned ryerson? ITS BEEN YEARS SINCE IVE SEEN THAT lol, watch out for that first step, its a dewsey! Great scene.

What do you think about the cast of Californication, are they actually said sex-addicts??!! what about yourself, fellow sex addict?

stephentobolowsky7 karma

The true addiction of the cast of Californication is that everybody on that show (for real) - David, Pam, Evan, Natasha - is fighting to be good parents. Everybody on the show has had life crises, difficulties, etc. and everyone has put their kids first.

It's the one thing that unites everybody on that show.