Fred Willard Collaborator Jennifer Coolidge Remembers 'Comic Genius' - Rolling Stone
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Fred Willard Collaborator Jennifer Coolidge Remembers Late ‘Comic Genius’

“He figured out some genius process that I could never quite decipher. Everything he did was unexpected,” actress says of late Best in Show and A Mighty Wind co-star

Jennifer Coolidge attends the world premiere of "Like a Boss" at the SVA Theatre, in New YorkWorld Premiere of "Like a Boss", New York, USA - 07 Jan 2020

Jennifer Coolidge, who acted opposite Fred Willard in 'A Mighty Wind' and 'Best in Show,' remembers the late actor as a "comic genius."

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Jennifer Coolidge, who appeared opposite Fred Willard in the revered mockumentary films Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, remembers the late actor as a “comic genius” with a rare gift for improvisation and extreme commitment to his craft. “He had such an innate sense of what funny was, and he was so in tune he could just blindside you,” Coolidge tells Rolling Stone in a statement of Willard, who died Friday of natural causes at age 86.

“When we were filming Best In Show and actors were responsible for improvising their characters dialogue, there were these times before you’d go to set and you’d see Fred quietly whip out a little notepad and jot down some last minute ideas,” she says. “And if he cracked a smile you just knew, ‘Oh my God!! I gotta go watch this live. This is gonna be good.’ Even when I saw him with scripted material, he seemed surprised after he’d deliver a line, as if it hadn’t come from his mouth  and it made it so brilliant . I’ve never met anyone else that had figured out the magic of being surprised by oneself.”

Coolidge, who collaborated with Willard in a string of Christopher Guest films, praises the comedy legend as “an original” in his field.

“Fred was like the baseball player that steps up to the plate and hits home run after home run — but he’s blindfolded,” she continues. “He figured out some genius process that I could never quite decipher. Everything he did was unexpected. I’ve never seen anyone break the unflappable Christopher Guest as much as Fred did. He knew what he was doing but he made it all come together to look like an accident. There was just never a bad take with Fred. His commitment made even dialogue with no substance into priceless hilarity.”

Several of Willard’s other co-stars saluted the late actor after his death. Michael McKean, who appeared with Willard in multiple movies, including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, tweeted: “I’m at a loss for words, a state Fred Willard never found himself in. My friend for 40+ years, a great comic actor who had no competition because there was only one of him. We were all so lucky. Goodbye, Fred.”

Parker Posey, who starred with Willard in five Guest films, called the actor “brilliantly funny” in a statement issued to Rolling Stone, noting, “Whenever Fred was improvising on set, we’d crowd around the monitors to watch and squeeze each other to hold in our laughter.”

Bob Balaban, Willard’s frequent co-star, called him “the kindest, gentlest funniest man” he’s ever worked with. “His wit knew no bounds,” he said in a statement. “He didn’t do jokes. He made ‘ordinary’ funny and every word I ever heard him utter on- or off-camera was always unsparingly true.”

Read Coolidge’s full statement below:

Fred Willard was a comic genius. I don’t think anyone would disagree. He had such an innate sense of what funny was and he was so in tune he could just blindside you. When we were filming Best In Show and actors were responsible for improvising their characters dialogue, there were these times before you’d go to set and you’d see Fred quietly whip out a little notepad and jot down some last minute ideas and if he cracked a smile you just knew, ‘oh my God!!I gotta go watch this live. This is gonna be good.”’ Even when I saw him with scripted material, he seemed surprised after he’d deliver a line, as if it hadn’t come from his mouth and it made it so brilliant . I’ve never met anyone else that had figured out the magic of being surprised by oneself .

Fred was like the baseball player that steps up to the plate and hits home run after home run – but he’s blindfolded. He figured out some genius process that I could never quite decipher. Everything he did was unexpected. I’ve never seen anyone break the unflappable Christopher Guest as much as Fred did. He knew what he was doing but he made it all come together to look like an accident. There was just never a bad take with Fred. His commitment made even dialogue with no substance into priceless hilarity.

He was an original. He was focused. Retained everything. When you ran into him he could always recall the last conversation you had with him like You has just spoken to him .He created these brilliant characters that seemed so sincerely oblivious to everything and were so pure that if you didn’t know Fred at all you’d almost believe he wasn’t in on it. I loved that he wasn’t a schmoozer. He was a gentle soul. I would constantly run into him at animal fundraisers big and small. He was at all of them. He was there for the dogs and cats but he would also be there to support the abused farm animals .Whenever I saw him I’d say “of course Fred is here “..

I always thought the funniest thing about Fred was that when you gave him a compliment, he always seemed surprised by it like it was the first time he’d heard it. But that’s impossible – everyone must have been gushing over Fred. He was so modest that maybe he had no idea of how adored he really was. But maybe now he will know and see the true impact he made on us all. Thank you, Fred . Xox

In This Article: Fred Willard

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