Danny DeVito is living his best life. When he’s not painting the town red with George Clooney or wilding out to EDM sets at Coachella, the freewheelin’ 71-year-old is busy wreaking havoc as the gleefully unhinged Frank Reynolds on the hit series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He keeps it real in interviews, too, eschewing canned answers in favor of, in Colbertian parlance, speaking from the gut. And today, DeVito’s gut is very hungry.
The acting veteran is at Sundance promoting his role in Todd Solondz’s Weiner-Dog, a tragicomic tale that follows a Dachshund’s journey from owner to owner, bringing joy and pain along with him. DeVito plays a mediocre one-time Hollywood writer turned sad sack screenwriting teacher who, when he’s not bestowing lame advice on his students, is desperately chasing the screenplay dragon. It’s a tender, heartbreaking turn, and a very different side of DeVito than we’re used to seeing.
“He’s got his own voice, you know?” DeVito says of Solondz, whose Welcome to the Dollhouse took Sundance by storm twenty years ago. “You know you’re following a guy with some kind of vision. I just don’t know what it is, ever!”
The same can probably be said of DeVito, who’s done it all over the course of his 40-plus year career. Taxi. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Terms of Endearment. Romancing the Stone. Twins. Batman Returns. L.A. Confidential. The list goes on. In addition to his rich acting career, DeVito is a very prolific film producer, having shepherded celebrated movies like Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, and Out of Sight onto the screen. On the latter film he met George Clooney, and they immediately clicked. “That was our first meeting, when we were putting that together,” recalls DeVito. “That’s when we first hooked up. And we’ve just become crazy friends over the years doing insane things whenever we’re together. He’s a really cool guy. I’m so happy that he’s married now. I’ve met his wife and she seems really nice. A big smarty.”
Clooney and DeVito’s wild nights have since become the stuff of TV lore—thanks to a particularly memorable guest appearance on The View by a still-drunk DeVito after a night of guzzling Limoncellos with Gorgeous George. “You know what he was doing that night? I didn’t find this out until later, but we were drinking Limoncellos like crazy that night, and he was pouring them out into a plant!” says DeVito, incredulous. “I was getting really twisted on these things. I had to do Fox & Friends at seven o’clock in the morning so I stayed up all night, which was my downfall. So I did the Fox & Friends thing, then I took a nap before I went on The View. Then I went on The View, and…the rest is history. I had a pretty great time, though!”
Like Clooney, DeVito has decided to speak out against the Oscars’ diversity problem, with the second straight year of all-white acting nominees.
“There were some good performances by people of color, and yeah, it’s blatant,” DeVito says. “We do live in a racist country. We have to evolve and have to realize that truth and reconciliation is here, too—it’s not only in South Africa or Cambodia. Young people have to learn what happened in our history, and we need people to know that we’re walking on the boards of genocide.” He pauses. “This is a place where people settled in and they came to be called Native Americans. Now all of a sudden these big ships appear out of the blue like demons in the daylight, and everything changed. Genocide happened and we’re all in it. But we can’t lean on that xenophobia. We need to understand what happened and realize that we’re all human beings who are cut from the same cloth.” “Listen to Noam Chomsky, get the Howard Zinn, and try to elevate your children, brothers, and sisters,” he continues. “There are a lot of things that we should be informing the younger generation about—as well as the older people in our lives who are stuck in the mud.”
Speaking of the younger generation, DeVito is also Feeling the Bern in a big way, throwing his weight behind the senator from Vermont for the 2016 presidency.
“I’m into Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie Sanders is somebody that we really have to focus on—especially now,” he says. “Whether or not the money buys the other contenders, we still have to stay together on Bernie because Bernie’s got the goods. He really knows what he’s talking about and he’s got all the issues down. He gets all these little donations because he doesn’t want to be beholden to anybody. Bernie will give us the best shot at getting equality for men and women, African Americans, and all people of color; he’ll give us the best shot at healthcare; he’ll give us the best shot at the international situation so that we don’t start blowing things up, and to try to pull back a bit on the Imperialism. We need to pull back on it. We can’t keep dealing with regime change and all this shit! You guys—the young people—have to look at this and say, ‘Enough of this crap!’” He adds, “I think a lot of people are starting to Feel the Bern—that’s a funny saying, but people are starting to feel the heat and the responsibility that we all have to at least give the planet a shot. We want to try to keep the Earth in a stable position for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
One candidate DeVito isn’t a fan of is Donald J. Trump. The mere mention of his name turns his smile into a scowl.
“You really don’t want that to happen,” says DeVito. “You want to have human rights and equality for everyone. You don’t want to shun the people who are in the middle and you don’t want to shun people on the right. You want to make sure everyone is educated—not propagandized, educated. Find out what the facts are. When [Trump] says ‘so and so are racists’ and ‘we should ban Muslims’ and all that, it’s ludicrous! It’s disgusting. You just look at how it divides us. It’s this old divide and conquer mentality designed to keep our heads spinning, and you don’t want to do that. You want to bring people together the best way you can.”
DeVito’s scowl immediately jumps back into a big smile when I mention the FXX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is currently in the midst of its 11th season. “I love doing that show,” he says.
When I spoke to Jon Hamm about his tenure as Don Draper on Mad Men, he admitted that playing such a dark, despicable bastard for so long eventually took its toll—not so for DeVito, however. “I don’t have any weight on me,” he says, grinning from ear-to-ear. “I embrace the insanity of it. I just go with it, you know what I mean? In a way it’s a little dangerous because I have Tourette’s anyway when it comes to saying stuff. I’m always saying, ‘Bush is a numbnuts,’ or this guy is that, and when someone encourages the Frank in me, I go right to it. It can be scary but it’s also fun. I’m the old man on the show at 71, but it’s fun to get out there and try things. Don’t let any moss grow under your ass. Have a little fun, you know what I mean?”