I'm currently torn between several worlds. Whether to dance on "Glee," write short stories, or have lunch with aunt Miriam. The rest of my future could be determined by which path I take.

In the meantime, feel free to ask me anything you guys want! I'll be around for the next hour or so to answer your questions.

My new short story is available for purchase at stephentobolowsky.com and you can find my (free) weekly podcast here

EDIT 1: Proof on my Twitter account

EDIT 2: THANK YOU for all your questions Reddit! I have to step out for a bit, but I will be back in about 5 hours. Upvote the questions you like the most and I'll answer them later!

EDIT 3 (2:33 pm PST 3/14/11): Hi Reddit! I'm back for another 45 minutes or so to answer more questions!

EDIT 4 (3:27 pm PST 3/14/11): That is a wrap, as they say! I tried to answer as many of your questions as I could. Sometimes they are hidden in the "Load More Comments" link underneath.

Thanks for all the questions, Reddit! If you have a chance, please check out my new short story and my podcast. You can also feel free to e-mail me personally at stephentobolowskyATgmailDOTcom. If you guys/Reddit enjoyed this, I'd love to do it again sometime!

P.S. I also have a forthcoming book from Simon & Schuster in 2012. I look forward to sharing many more of my stories with you!

Comments: 1867 • Responses: 45  • Date: 

daybreaker640 karma

How many times a day does someone stop on you on the street with some manner of reference to Ned Ryerson?

stephentobolowsky623 karma

Probably on an average of five times a week. That means I mathematically have a couple days off.

PresidentSantos296 karma


Unpoetic44 karma


Bauer2425 karma

So did you turn pro with that whole belly-button thing Ned?

stephentobolowsky193 karma

The people from Punxatawny Pennsylvania invited me to visit them for Groundhog Day one time.

I tried the whistling bellybutton trick on stage in front of 10,000 people, and it didn't work. I bombed. It looked obscene. It just looked like I was trying to show everyone my stomach while whistling with my mouth. It was really awful looking and I deeply apologize for offending a lot of sensibilities in Pennsylvania.

BlackStrain106 karma

Do people throw Sneakers quotes at you very often?

stephentobolowsky248 karma

They throw "Should I phone you or nudge you?" I get that about twice a month.

HerbertVonTrollstein78 karma

Can we get a graphical breakdown of movie references people use and their respective frequencies? Right now we have:

  • Ned Ryerson: 20/month
  • Phone/nudge: 2/month

stephentobolowsky222 karma

  • Sandy Ryerson: 3/week
  • Freaky Friday: 1/month
  • Garfield: 2/month
  • Glimmer Man: 1/every 10 years

anexanhume77 karma

I feel for you. Microsoft should be paying you royalties for your lines in that movie if you ask me.

stephentobolowsky317 karma

Microsoft paid me for the first Bing commercial, and then they hired someone else to say "Bing!" They used my "Bing" for the first commercial! Then they got someone else to Bing!

woka27 karma

Does it annoy you that people on the street approach you so regularly?

stephentobolowsky80 karma

I think the answer to that is no, because everybody who approaches me is generally so pleasant. The only time it's difficult is when they interrupt dinner at a restaurant, saying "I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt your dinner, but..." and then they stay and chat for 30 minutes. Otherwise, it's great!

krodnoc367 karma

My favorite performance of yours was as Sammy Jankis in Memento. What was your own personal favorite role and why?

stephentobolowsky511 karma

Personally, my favorite role was Ned Ryerson. The reason why is because I felt like lightning was striking the earth while we were shooting that movie. A perfect storm.

Oh-Wee-Oh-Wee-Oh345 karma

Your IMDB profile says you were

Once held hostage at gunpoint at a supermarket in Snyder Plaza in Dallas.

What was that all about?

stephentobolowsky607 karma

A man saw I had mangos in my shopping cart. He pulled out a .45 and stuck it into my head, and said "I don't know why I picked you today." The only thing I could think of for some reason were scenes from the TV show medical center.

I ended up talking to the man about my father, Chad Everett, and eventually I invited him over to my house for dinner. Unfortunately I gave him my real address. Fortunately the swat team intervened and dragged him out kicking and screaming.

I tell the whole story about this on my movie

oaoao120 karma

stephentobolowsky105 karma


[deleted]40 karma

Having lived through such an experience, are you more able to act these types of scenes? Also, how accurate are movie depictions of hostage situations like that?

stephentobolowsky208 karma

I don't know about all hostage situations. All I knew was that I had to keep tap dancing (metaphorically) or that guy was going to kill me.

As for those types of scenes, I don't think I've had a scene like that in a movie...But it DID affect one role. GLIMMER MAN with Stephen Seagal, where I played the serial killer. I adopted the same attitude as the man who held me hostage did when I put the gun to the priest's head.

adokimus64 karma

That's extremely intense. I'm impressed you were able to channel the experience. I'll be renting it later just to see this scene.

Someone previously mentioned your roll as Sammy Jankis, which I thought was outside the realm of character acting (you were amazing by the way). How was working with Chris Nolan? Did he let you in on his interpretation of Sammy Jankis at all when directing you? Did you play Sammy as if he were really Leonard Shelby or as the guy that Leonard met while doing insurance claims? I've listened to your podcast that references your audition for Momento and it sounds like you interpretted Sammy and Leonard as two different people, did that change at all while filming?

(A lot of people think that Sammy was really Leonard, since Teddy says at one point that Leonard's wife didn't die in the attack and Leonard has a brief flashback of himself in Sammy's place pinching his wife/using the insulin needle. The idea being that Leonard repressed some residual memories of killing his own wife with insulin and created Sammy in his head.)

stephentobolowsky27 karma

I played Sammy as a different person than Leonard, because that was the reality in Leonard's mind, and it's part of the mystery of the movie. It was certainly the most challenging role I've ever had to play, a character who had no memory. That was tough.

pranayama233 karma

Thanks for this AMA!

Awhile ago, NPR had a story about how supporting actors in Hollywood were getting paid less and less money. One veteran actress said that she used to make $300,000-500,000 per year doing guest spots, but was now making $70,000 doing the same amount of work. At the same time, big stars and studio heads continue to rake in millions.

Have you also experienced this drastic decrease in pay as a supporting actor? It seems this income disparity is reflective of the general gap between the super rich and the working poor in the US. Do you have any ideas on how to bridge this gap within your profession?

stephentobolowsky352 karma

There's been an enormous drop in pay for supporting acting in general. It's not all definable by management vs. proletariat. Number one, there are a lot fewer shows. Number two, there's a lot less venture capital to fund movies and shows.

I talked to a writer who said five years ago, TV studios bought 400 scripts to look at for potential sitcoms. That number has been cut to about 90. Out of those 90, only 6 might get made. Out of those 6, maybe two get to the air. There's just less product.

It's not just actors. Cinematographers, lighting technicians, soundmen. They're all getting less because there are so few opportunities.

JessePinkman217 karma

The story about being partly responsible for Radiohead's name is interesting. Are you aware of the Washington DC band The Dismemberment Plan, who say their name is "from the movie Groundhog Day. There's a guy who chases after Bill Murray and tries to keep selling him different types of insurance and 'the dismemberment plan' was one of them. It just stuck." You say on The Files that you wrote that scene yourself. That means you named another highly influential band. So what I'm asking, Mr. Tobolowsky, is what should I name my band?

stephentobolowsky289 karma

1) I have heard about the Dismemberment Plan and I am so honored!

2) Flaming Kittens. Or a line from my latest Glee show, Pink Dagger.

lloydbraun69188 karma

What's the hollywood female attention like, being a character actor?

stephentobolowsky650 karma

Most Hollywood women don't recognize me as an actor, but rather think I'm a barrista at Starbucks.

ibbyibby168 karma

How did you find about reddit?

stephentobolowsky84 karma

I found out about Reddit through my good friend David Chen. No one from Reddit contacted me.

Jero79153 karma

Out of the people you've worked with. Who is the biggest hidden gem? Which actor/actress should deserve more attention for his/her work?

stephentobolowsky312 karma

Not that she doesn't get attention (she won a Best Actress Oscar), but I was amazed by Sandra Bullock. She is a beautiful, intelligent, generous, and remarkable person.

stephentobolowsky316 karma

Tim Allen and John Travolta were incredibly surprising. Tim Allen was scholarly. Always reading, incredibly articulate about history and literature. John Travolta had more energy than any person I've ever met and was always generous to his fans, no matter where we were shooting, no matter how hot the day was (when we shot in Santa Fe, it was over 118 degrees). He always had time for fans. (I know this isn't exactly what you meant by the question but that's what comes to mind)

MisterMet147 karma

What do you think about the "second life" Groundhog Day has had since its theatrical release. I don't remember how it was received at the time, but now I've seen it show up on best film of the decade lists and even seen it referenced as one of the best philosophical movies of all time. Did you have any idea working on it that it would reach those levels?

stephentobolowsky348 karma

I felt when we were shooting Groundhog Day, it was BECOMING a great film. You never know how the public will take to it.

The first reviews of Groundhog Day were mediocre. Maybe better than mediocre. Mediocre plus one. But they were like three out of four stars.

It was only later that people realized that this was one of the greatest comedies of all time.

The ingredients that make it timeless are Danny Rubin's brilliant script and Bill Murray's performance, which is one of the greatest comic performances of all time, and Harold Ramis's absolutely invisible direction (in a good way: Most directors have a tendency to put their ego in front of the story. Harold Ramis simply told the story.)

I discuss the making of Groundhog Day in graphic detail on this episode of my podcast

Thinksforfun133 karma

Did you enjoy working on the set of Deadwood? How was the whole western experience for you?

stephentobolowsky236 karma

Deadwoood was one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. Three times that I can think of, I felt I had time travelled and was standing in a complete, beautiful and dangerous world. The cast was remarkable. The writing was unlike any other show.

gonz03716 karma

I always kind of wondered, and I don't know why. I guess because it's just so dingy that I assume it just smells awful, but what did it smell like on that set?

stephentobolowsky31 karma

Answer #1: It depended on if there were livestock in front of you. Answer #2: It got pretty ripe. Nobody's clothes were washed for months. So it got ripe.

onlyprevost130 karma

I always imagine that David Duchovny is as cool and witty as his character on Californication. Is he really anything like that?

stephentobolowsky67 karma

I think he is. I think David's cool and witty and an ENORMOUS baseball fan.

anye123115 karma

I'm sure I'll be one of many praising you for your role in Deadwood. Sorry if this is awkward, but this is genuinely my favourite scene with you (mildly NSFW). I laugh every time!

What was your favourite moment on that show, on or off-screen?

stephentobolowsky86 karma


A bull shitting on my shoes.

Listening to Ian McShane tell theater stories.

ESJ106 karma

Question about "Memento": Chris Nolan seems to have a farm of principal actors he likes to work with: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, etc. But how does Nolan interact with the actors playing secondary characters? Did you get the sense that you might be coming back for some role after Sammy Jankis?

stephentobolowsky150 karma

I wish! I've seen Chris on a couple other films, but didn't get the parts.

More details on my work with Chris Nolan

FleetingDasein106 karma

As a fan, I'm eagerly expecting your appearance in an episode of Community this season. Did you enjoy working with the cast? Is the episode as good as I think it's gonna be?

stephentobolowsky91 karma

I loved working on COMMUNITY. The cast was hilarious. I had no scenes with Chevy Chase but he came over to our set anyway to say hello. Chevy and I had done two movies together, and he wanted to know what was shakin'.

As for the episode, I hope so. It was pretty funny when we shot it.

Side note: it's very difficult, especially in comedies, to know how the finished product will be because of the editing and the music, which are put in later. I did an episode of GLEE in which, when I saw the finished product, they had cut out all of my jokes. You have no control over how the COMMUNITY ep is going to be, really, but it was a great script.

Bernardito101 karma

Stephen, love your work. How was it to work on "Heroes"?

stephentobolowsky230 karma

Absolutely incomprehensible. I had no idea what I was doing on any given day.

Hear a ton more details about this on this episode of my podcast

notBrit89 karma

When did you first feel like an actor? When did you realize that this would be your life and career? Through all of your roles, how have your agents dealt with your perpetual role as a supporting cast member? How have you?

And thank you for making movies. Your roles are consistently perfect.

stephentobolowsky169 karma

Thank you.

I knew I wanted to be an actor in first grade at Sunday School when they wanted me to play David tending the sheep. They gave me a staff to hold and I suddenly felt transformed. I felt like I could see the sheep. I felt like I could write those psalms. I felt like I could kill Goliath. It was magical, and there was no turning back.

As for my role as a supporting cast member, my agents love it. My manager loves it. They feel that they have a lot of latitude in offering me scripts. They don't have to be too careful about what I do next, because they figure there's always going to be 3-4 more coming around the bend.

Apathetic_Aplomb89 karma

What role have you had the most fun playing?

stephentobolowsky212 karma

Either Ned Ryerson (Groundhog Day) or Stu Beggs (Californication)

EDIT: Accidentally typed in "Sandy Ryerson" above! So many questions to respond to!

friedscrimps89 karma


stephentobolowsky166 karma


Film, you tell one story usually over three months. Television, if you're doing a sitcom, you have five days. If you're doing a filmed hour show, you have 8 days. Fewer takes, fewer chances to get it right, and the executives care less.

ZachsMind86 karma

How does "funny" work?

stephentobolowsky201 karma

"Funny" only works in context. You will notice that in a movie, funny works best in a two-shot. Experienced directors know this.

Usually, funny works by making the meaningful meaningless.

macclatom82 karma

Did you and River hang out while making "Sneakers?"

stephentobolowsky139 karma

No. Truthfully, I've regretted it. My scenes didn't shoot at the same time and I didn't go out of my way. I've always considered it something of a missed opportunity.

EgoSumAwesome78 karma

I remember on Heroes at one point you had to hold up an iPod to the screen and say "TAKE THIS, ITS FULLY LOADED". Does product placement like that bother you or is it just a part of the job for you?

stephentobolowsky41 karma

It's definitely part of the job. When you're doing a show that's technology-based, like HEROES. You expect things like that. But when you're in comedies, you don't. That's when it throws me.

Imez72 karma

Why do some actors become (awesome) character actors, and some leading men? Is it all looks? Is it frustrating to be typecast?

stephentobolowsky139 karma

First, I think it IS looks. Certainly for leading men.

The thing that makes a good character actor, I believe, is work ethic. Every character actor I know who works a lot in movies or television works a lot at home - on the script, on researching their role, on trying to bring as much as they can to whatever is on the page.

sadiewren72 karma

How was hugging Bill Murray?

stephentobolowsky193 karma

It was actually fantastic, because Bill improvised that in the moment. That scene was shot in one take. It wasn't written that way.

matwcb64 karma

In some of your podcasts (which I love) you have referenced bible stories and religious experiences. How have these affected your career?

stephentobolowsky157 karma

It's surprising. When people see me on the set if I'm reading a religious book for research (either the Talmud or the Bible), in Hollywood, there's a closet religiosity. Directors, wardrobe people, other actors, come up to me and go "Oh my God! You're religious! I am too!" They come out of nowhere. I'm very shocked by it.

But generally, I think people have to have SOME spiritual life to survive, whether it's based in traditional religion or something else. You have to because we are spiritual beings by nature.

invincibubble61 karma

I recognized your name immediately—though admittedly my first thought was of your stint on "Heroes."

My question is, as a character actor do you in general find yourself very deliberatetly trying to alter the type of character you play (thus being a character actor as in "an actor with many characters") or do you feel you're more often hired to play one particular type (being a character actor as in "an actor who looks/sounds/acts like this specific supporting role")?

I realize you've definitely demonstrated your range in your career so it's not meant at all as a slight to you as an artist, but I was just curious if you found that in the business you're more often cast for your variety or for your look.

Either way, great work and thanks for the AMA!

stephentobolowsky94 karma

I think it's important for character actors to change venues. Moving from film to TV to theater is vitally important to keep from being stereotyped. Whenever I come back to TV after a period of time of being away, I always seem to get a different type of role. Example: Stu Beggs.

nthitz57 karma

Ah my favorite role of yours was as Tor Eckman in Seinfeld! Was it hard keeping a straight face doing that healer routine? Especially with the way Jerry can get going...

stephentobolowsky35 karma

I got a call from Mark Hirschfeld, head of casting for Seinfeld, who asked me if I could come over and meet with Jerry. They were trying to make this part work.

At that particular time in history, I was working on a movie where I had to learn sign language for the deaf. So when they asked me if I could make Tor funny, I asked "What if Tor could use sign language?" and I demonstrated. Most of the things in the show were things I just made up.

More about Tor here.

andrewsmith198653 karma

Any crazy antics on the Groundhog's day set?

stephentobolowsky123 karma

Often when people make comedies, it's very serious business. The " "Groundhog Day"'s set was pretty workmanlike. The "Glee" set is wild and crazy and people are always cutting up, and it can make it more difficult to focus on the comedy!

Batatomic9252 karma

What was it like working with a director like Christopher Nolan? Any interesting experiences to share?

Also, any advice for somebody trying to get into either film direction or film/television acting?

Cheers, love your work.

stephentobolowsky112 karma

A great director to work for. He had us improvising dialogue and lines in scenes for which there was no dialogue, which was difficult in that I had amnesia and so I couldn't remember what I had said.

WonkaCheeseburger48 karma

Who is the biggest asshole in Hollywood?

stephentobolowsky82 karma

Define asshole.

sdfilmguy38 karma

I noticed that between your podcast and a few of your roles ("The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars", "Hercules", etc) that you have done some good voice-only work.

Which do you prefer as an actor and as a "get out of bed and go to work" guy, live "full" acting or voice-only work?

Also, can you do me a favor? I've always wanted to hear someone type the word "Passport".

stephentobolowsky83 karma

Voicework is fantastic to work on. I still feel like I have a lot to learn in that arena, and I'm always amazed watching voice actors working with me.

For me, nothing beats getting up at dawn and driving to the set of DEADWOOD, rehearsing in the dark, and shooting when the sun rises.

Also: Passport.

quixilistic35 karma

What was it like working with the cast of Glee with them being much younger than you and much less experienced?

What was your favorite piece performed on Glee? I personally loved the Journey performances. I'm a sucker for the 80's.

Thanks for the AMA! Love your work.

stephentobolowsky89 karma

It's hard on the set of Glee because the set is so young and the producers work them like slaves in a salt mine. It's long days but they're filled with fun.

Last week, I saw one of the greatest musical numbers I've ever seen on Glee sung by Amber Riley. Look forward to it!

(I love Journey too).

jonl00127 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. As a very good character actor, you get to work with an incredibly wide variety of people. Who are some of the very best directors and actors that you have worked with?

stephentobolowsky52 karma

Best directors: Alan Parker, Ridley Scott, Harold Ramis, Christopher Nolan

[deleted]24 karma


stephentobolowsky90 karma

How about theater? Some of the most fulfilling experiences have been in theater. The money is in TV. The life experiences you usually get on a movie.

druzal15 karma

Is there any type of role that you wish you could get but typecasting has prevented?

stephentobolowsky42 karma

What roles I can't get? I can't get the girl (except Pam Adlon)