“American Dreamer” Star Jim Gaffigan Talks Acting, Indie Movies And Tucked-In Shirts

Photo by Justin Hoch.

Director Derrick Borte’s visceral new drama American Dreamer focuses on a day in the life of Cam, a former office worker turned downtrodden rideshare driver. When he’s not being ignored by his passengers or getting stiffed on tips, Cam moonlights as a chauffeur for Mazz, a hotheaded drug dealer with a knack for pointing handguns at people’s faces. Out of options and desperate for cash, Cam decides to kidnap Mazz’s young son in a last ditch effort to pull himself out of his debts.

Did I mention that Cam is played by comedian Jim Gaffigan? While he may be more recognized for his jokes about Hot Pockets and bears, Gaffigan has also starred in numerous films including 2018’s Being Frank and 2017’s Chappaquiddick. All of these films prove that Gaffigan is just as capable of giving a nuanced and compelling performance as he is at writing jokes about pastries. Before attending a screening of American Dreamer at Chicago’s Music Box Theater, I had a chance to speak with Gaffigan about acting, comedy and everything in between.

How did you get involved with American Dreamer? What was the lead up to production like?

Well, I’ve done a fair amount of dramas and smaller parts, and Liz, the casting director, was an advocate on my behalf to play the part… She knew the producer and she read the script, and she was saying that I would be good for the role. So then I got on the phone with the writer and the producer and kind of articulated how I see the movie and how I would play the role of Cam the rideshare driver. From there they gave me the role, and we shot this movie in 16 days, it was actually 16 nights because it was all night shoots, but it was great.

Describe your character Cam a little bit. He seems like a disgruntled rideshare driver. He’s kidnapping kids and all that fun stuff.

Cam is a rideshare driver and he is somebody who is divorced, he has a son, and he’s just trying to get by. He’s somebody who lost his job where he worked in an office and is kind of angry that things are not going his way. And so out of necessity he starts driving around this low-level drug dealer… And so he’s kind of this decoy, and he feels as though he’s trying to make a quick fix. The title American Dreamer, I know people can draw their own conclusions, but I think it’s kind of about how maybe the idea of the “american dream” is not working out for Cam, or maybe it’s about how he wants that quick fix, which is a narrow kind of thing. Kind of like “so I’ll just kidnap this guy’s kid and that will be it.”

How was working with director Derrick Borte?

Indies can be a mixed bag. Obviously entering any kind of film you become kind of a family [that is] very tight knit for a period. Derrick was the co-writer of this script and he made exactly what he wanted to do and had tons of experience shooting things. I think he’s done five other features. And you don’t know… You got to take a leap of faith in a lot of these things. The pieces really come together to work on American Dreamer which is really exciting.

How has the overall transition from stand up comedy to the acting world been?

Yeah, it’s been a long process. I love acting, I love stand-up, I love writing. [In] the entertainment industry, you don’t really have complete control of how you’re perceived. I’m grateful for the success I’ve had and stand up and I’ve always done acting. It’s an ongoing thing… That’s why I’m so motivated to get people to see it [because] getting people to see a film, rather than saying “I want to do serious acting roles” I can say “I’ve done serious acting roles.” But it’s been a process of twenty, thirty years.

Off-topic, but I just happened to see an ad for those tuck in shirts that you talk about in your stand-up. I found that to be perfect timing. Has your opinion on them changed at all?

It is interesting. [When] writing Quality Time, which is on Amazon and is my seventh special, Sometimes when I write jokes or I look at something, it’ll prompt me to veer away from something… or I’ll finally engage in it and I finally realize “Oh, I was wrong.” Like I had a bunch of stuff on hiking, and then I had done some hiking and thought “this is easier than working, it’s more interesting and you’re outside.” With the UNTUCKit shirts the joke is mostly about the commercial but, as a fat guy, I also like the UNTUCKit shirt. You know what I mean?

American Dreamer is out now in theaters nationwide, as well as on digital and on demand.

Originally published 9/21/2019 on UIC Radio.