08/07/2012 08:33 am ET Updated Aug 07, 2012

Zach Galifiankis, 'The Campaign' Star, On Why He Liked It Better When He Was An Underground Comic

"I have a love-hate relationship with the entertainment business." This statement from Zach Galifianakis didn't particularly surprise me when I met with him at a Soho hotel room to discuss his new comedy, "The Campaign." With "The Hangover" in particular, I have always got the sense that he's never been 100 percent comfortable with his current status in Hollywood.

Galifiankis is hard to read when you first meet him: Pleasant, certainly, but also a little guarded in his own comedic way. As our brief allotted time went on, it felt like he was, while not fully letting his guard down, coming to the conclusion that I didn't have any particular sinister angle. "I was happiest when I was an underground comedian," he said. This statement didn't surprise me either.

In "The Campaign," Galifianakis plays Marty Huggins, the surprisingly sympathetic Republican candidate who challenges Will Ferrell's bumbling Democratic candidate for a seat in Congress. Here, Galifianakis explains why nobody can accuse this film of taking sides politically, why he doesn't particularly like being famous, and why you shouldn't be too optimistic about Confederacy of Dunces ever coming to fruition.

Hello, sir.
What's your name?

Hi, Mike. I'm Zach. [Points to a cooler of beverages] There's Red Bull?

Oh, no thank you.
That's a recording device?

[Sarcastically] What is that? An iPhone!?

It is an iPhone. Have you seen one before? They are everywhere these days.
Yeah, they are. Unfortunately, they are everywhere [laughs].

As an observation: People just love you.
They do?

I met with a group of pre-college journalism students earlier today and was asked what I had coming up. Of all the names, people responded very positively to yours.
Where was this at? At DeVry?

Oh! Well, I'll take that compliment. That's nice. Nothing against DeVry -- they have a hell of a football club.

You're pretty outspoken politically. But here you're playing a sympathetic Republican candidate.
Yeah. And I think that's what I like about it. I don't think anybody can accuse, in quotes, "liberal Hollywood filmmakers," of picking a side here. We didn't want to do that. We wanted to make it broader than that. At first, this movie was going to look like 'The War Room." Did you ever see that documentary about Clinton?

That's what it was going to look like. And then it just became something bigger. But, to play a sympathetic Republican candidate -- I'm glad we went against the grain a little bit, as far as that goes. There are great people on both aisles, it's just the system is broken.

This movie takes place in North Carolina, your home state. Is there a sense that you can poke fun because you're from there, but if someone else did you'd take it personally?
I think in comedy you have to make fun of something, or it's not going to be as good. So, when you're doing that, sometimes there are people that can get offended. But, I don't think I'm really doing anything. I mean, I know people who talk just like the character that I'm doing.

So do I.
Exactly. So, what: They're not supposed to be in movies? Do you know what I mean? So it's supposed to be just watered-down people? Someone asked me -- not that this is what you're asking me -- "You really are playing this really kind of over-the-top, effeminate kind of guy. Weren't you scared to do that?" So, you're telling me that there aren't over-the-top, effeminate people? So they shouldn't be represented in films? To me, it's just crazy. No, I think people like to be made fun of -- if they have a good sense of humor about themselves. And the state of North Carolina can laugh at itself.

But you have a sense of ownership, too.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's helpful. That is helpful.

When you were on set, did you and Jay Roach ever talk about "Eternal Flame"?
[Laughing] No, but I have spoken to his lovely wife [Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs]. I did a comedy special once where I [used it as part of the act].

That's why I brought it up. Now you're working with her husband.
Oh! So you know that. Yeah ... and it was just bizarre that I met her years later, Jay's wife. Jay and I never really discussed it, but his wife and I have.

It's a good song.
It's a great song. It's great song. They're great, The Bangles.

You're very good at deadpan humor. Do you have situations in which you're trying to be serious, yet people are laughing?
Yeah. It's a bit of a burden. At my brother's wedding and my sister's wedding -- not that they were marrying each other -- but at my sister's wedding, years ago, I started crying. And everybody thought it was a joke. So, I don't know if you've ever been in front of the public crying and having everyone laughing at you -- it's really not a good feeling. And the same thing happened at my brother's wedding. It is one of those things that people think I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not "on" all of the time. I like to be sincere as much as I can. Especially at weddings [laughs].

I may be off base, but I feel that you have a love-hate relationship with "The Hangover." That you don't always like being associated with the die-hard fans of that movie. Does that make sense?
It makes sense. It makes sense, but I have a love-hate relationship with the entertainment business in general, I think. I am a bit of a baby: I like to be in movies, but the "being known" part is the drag part.

That's an interesting point, because you were working for many years before "The Hangover." After, things changed, as far as fame goes, almost overnight. Was that weird for you?
I was happiest when I was an underground comedian that nobody ...

So you were happier when you were doing stuff like "Dog Bites Man"?
It's just, my life was less complicated. And not being followed into airport bathrooms by 14 year olds. Nobody would like that.

You're now attached to "Confederacy of Dunces." I want that to happen, but why should I believe that it's going to happen this time? I mean, John Belushi was attached to this project at one point.
I know, right?

Please tell me it's different now.
I can't make that prediction because from my little knowledge of movie making, there's always a lot of talk of projects. And especially this one that has been handed down.

John Candy was once attached.
Yep! So, there's always a possibility that it won't happen -- just like any other movie. There's always that possibility: financing falls through, you can't agree on the script.

Twenty years from now, a reporter might be saying to an actor, "You know, Zach Galifianakis was even once attached to 'Confederacy of Dunces.'"
You know what? More than likely, that's what will happen. But, it is in motion. I will say that.

How did this come up? Was this discussed with director James Bobin on the set of "The Muppets?"
No, I called someone and said, "Is there anybody doing anything with that book? I know it was really hard for years, is anybody interested?" And then James, the director of "The Muppets," he and I spoke about it. And the producer wanted him to do it and that's kind of how it happened.

Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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