Adapted from Daniel Clowes’ 2010 graphic novel of the same name, Wilson (2017) follows a neurotic and lonely protagonist (Woody Harrelson) as he reunites with his estranged wife and meets the teenage daughter he didn’t know he had. The film was directed by Craig Johnson, who won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for his breakout hit The Skeleton Twins at Sundance Film Festival 2014.

ScreenPrism caught up with Director Craig Johnson, Graphic Novelist Daniel Clowes, and actors Judy Greer and Isabella Amara at Wilson's Sundance 2017 premiere. We talked about the film’s message of speaking one’s mind, the complex character of Wilson, adapting Clowes’ story for the screen and much more.


On growing to love the character of Wilson:

When I started writing the book, I found him very off-putting, but I had to find a way to love him in order for the book to work. I hope the audience can find that in themselves. He’s sort of a vital character to introduce to the world right now, where actual facts are in dispute. Here’s a guy who will say the truth and [accept] the consequences.

- Graphic Novelist & Screenwriter Daniel Clowes

On what stood out about the script:

I [thought the script] was deeply heartfelt. It’s a beautiful representation of a lonely man trying to find some connection in the world. I think that stands out to me. That someone in his mid-life can try hard to have a coming-of-age if you will. 

- Actor Judy Greer (Shelly)

On playing Wilson’s daughter:

My character Claire is a troubled teenager. She gets bullied a lot and her parents are absent from her life. It’s very overwhelming when her biological parents come into her life out of nowhere. She’s very depressed and Wilson (Woody Harrelson) and Pippi (Laura Dern) really teach her to love herself and teach her that it’s okay to be different.

- Actor Isabella Amara (Claire)

On the film’s genre:

We talked a lot on set about how producers would label [Wilson] a dramedy because it’s really dark, but it has a lot of funny moments in it. We were saying that the movie is life. Everything in life has its ups and downs. The whole movie is so truthful and so real. That’s the reason we all loved the project. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions.

- Actor Isabella Amara (Claire)

Excerpt from Daniel Clowes' graphic novel "Wilson"

On translating his graphic novel onscreen:

[The film is] very close to the way I envisioned it. [The graphic novel and the film] sort of bounce off of each other. It’s like seeing your dreams projected onto a wall. Every character is based on someone I know and there are little intimate details from my life. It’s very odd to see that in front of an audience.

- Graphic Novelist & Screenwriter Daniel Clowes

On what she learned about acting from Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern:

I’m a perfectionist. Coming on my first set and being a lead, I was very anxious about making sure my lines were right, and that everything was nice and in place. Woody taught me that there’s beauty behind spontaneity. Even though you should go on set and be prepared, there’s beauty behind allowing yourself to just be.

From Laura, I learned to be humble with everyone and be the nicest and most loving person you can be. From an acting standpoint, I learned to take my craft seriously – especially in my emotional scenes – and to layer my characters and make sure they have depth and complexity.

- Actor Isabella Amara (Claire)

Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern in "Wilson"

On how she chooses film roles:

I like to look for a journey in a person. Even a smaller role can have a beginning, middle and end. I try to look for some type of growth in a character, and maybe one event that happens in my story that changes me.

- Actor Judy Greer (Shelly)

On his directorial influences:

[My influences] go back to Robert Altman and old Miloš Forman movies. Also Alexander Payne, who was actually taking a look at this movie before I got to do it. I looked at him as almost this spirit animal as I was making this one.

- Director Craig Johnson

On what she took away from the film:

[Wilson] is often mistaken for being angry, but I think he just doesn’t know how to softly reach out and find love. I think it’s a movie about all of us looking for love and our different ways of going about it.

- Actor Judy Greer (Shelly)

Actors Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Woody Harrelson and Isabella Amara at Sundance 2017

On "disappointed optimists":

[Wilson] enters every relationship with optimism. [He thinks]: “This is going to be a meaningful relationship,” and then he’s very quickly disappointed. I relate to that. I always think people who are often thought of as misanthropic or cynical are actually disappointed optimists.

- Graphic Novelist & Screenwriter Daniel Clowes

On the film’s message of honesty:

I think [this film underlies] the importance of telling the truth and speaking your mind – especially in this day and age. Maybe we can all be a little less precious about the way we communicate with other people. It’s also just about [finding] connection with our fellow humans.

- Director Craig Johnson