Paul Feig: Freak and geek

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
September 14, 2008

Paul Feig has made a career out of capturing children’s angst. As the creator of the critically acclaimed but short-lived TV series “Freaks and Geeks,” Feig succinctly captured the lives of teenagers. With Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!, Feig tackles his first children’s book.

“I tried to infuse the same voice into this book as I did on my old show — the story of an outsider who is trying to figure out his place in the world,” says Feig, who turns 46 this week. “It just so happens that the world Ignatius ends up in has even more problems than the world he was trying to escape.”

Feig, who is co-executive producer of “The Office,” is no novice to literature. His earlier work includes the revealing memoirs: Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence (Three Rivers Press, 2002) and Superstud: Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin (Three Rivers Press, 2005). Fans may also recognize him from small acting roles in “Knocked Up,” “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” and “Arrested Development.”

Q. Why did you write a children’s novel?
A. I didn’t actually set out to write a children’s book. When I told the editor about my idea, they decided that this book would be suitable for kids 9 to 12 years old. I was a little insulted at first ’cause I actually thought it was suitable for adults. It’s a marketing thing and I can’t deny that this book is suitable for the children’s market. But I do think the stories are universal and that a broader range of readers will enjoy the book.

Q. Which was more challenging, the novel or the memoirs?
A. This book, I think, because a memoir is just writing what happened to you and making sure you have the facts straight. I really had a good time writing it because I like to find characters and make them behave the way real people do. That’s how I write for movies and TV shows. I often ask myself, “So if this happens and a character does that, what would really happen?” People seem to respond to that.

Q. How much of you is in this book?
A. I’m not that profound of a writer, so everything is always based on me and remembering how I was at various ages and how I reacted back then. I will say that using myself, I always know how the character is going to react because I’ve been there.

Q. How surprised are you when people recognize your face or your name?
A. I’m always surprised when anyone knows who I am. I think what tends to happen is that there’s a certain group of people that knows what I do — people like myself who are all sort of former outsiders. A lot of us gravitate towards things like journalism or writing scripts. We were the square pegs.

Q. You have a knack for capturing kids’ angst. Do you and your wife plan on starting a family of your own?
A. No, we aren’t going to have children. That’s one of the things we bonded over when we were dating. I love my work so much, but it’s a 12- to 14-hour job every day. I get so much satisfaction out of what I do and I work with so many kids. Then I get to send them home to their parents. And I pay them so they do what I say. It’s a great system!

Q. What was the reaction when your friends and family found out you were writing a novel instead of another memoir?
A. When I write a memoir, everyone is on edge. They all want to know if they’re in it or if I’m going to write anything embarrassing that relates to them. With the novel they don’t care so much because even if I use some of them as the basis of a character, they can deny it’s them.

Q. What kind of student were you?
A. I did terrible through high school. School didn’t really click for me until college. I loved how open it was and that you could take as much or as little responsibility as you wanted for your college career. I went through a big period through the end of my 20s where I really wanted to go back to college. That’s how much I loved it.

Q. So right now, which are you: freak or geek?
A. Both! It’s weird being an adult now. I love doing stuff for kids and all, but I like being an adult. People want to remain kids these days. Aging doesn’t really make me feel any older, maybe because I’m also dipping into the kid world with my projects. I feel bad for people who are perpetually trying to stay young. It just seems futile. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to be an adult because I thought it was all about coming home and mixing yourself a martini. And it pretty much is.

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