BH Interview: 'This Is 40's' Graham Parker Ready to Mock Self, Not Progressive Protest Songs

Graham Parker flashes some pretty thick skin by playing a version of himself who helps Paul Rudd's character go broke in This Is 40.

The Graham Parker featured in the Judd Apatow comedy, a grizzled rocker who can't sell a fraction of the disks he once did, might make a less assured artist reject the role outright.

Of course, there were some perks to his self-deprecating acting debut.

“First class flights and free lunches, I'll just start with that,” Parker tells Big Hollywood. “I felt like I was back in my heyday with a limo to Letterman every year.”

That was when Parker emerged as the prototypical “angry” rocker with albums like Squeezing Out Sparks. But Judd wanted Parker to embody something else for his dark comedy, the notion of his lead character choosing artistry over commercialism--and the painful results that follow.

This Is 40, now out on Blu-ray and DVD, stars Rudd and Leslie Mann as a married couple staring down a milestone birthday a few days from each other. Rudd's indie rock label is dying, so he pools all his remaining resources into Parker, a respected singer/songwriter with virtually no brand recognition in an era dominated by Justin Bieber, Beyonce and Carrie Underwood.

Parker says he felt he could pull off his first acting gig, but he still approached the moment with fear.

“Oh, man, pop singers are terrible actors. We're all bad,” he says, adding Apatow's faith in him helped assuage any trepidation he felt on the set.

"The trust that he gave me throughout the whole thing was quite amazing. I was touched by it," Parker says. Apatow was also willing to let The Rumour, Parker's backing band during his commercial heyday, join the project.

The role required some on-set improvisation alongside a veteran cast (Rudd, Chris O'Dowd, Albert Brooks) with Apatow shouting at directions to stir the creative pot.

“I had to be really on my toes all the way,” he says, who channeled his own father to jazz up a comically inept moment when the on-screen Parker complained of having gout.

Off-screen, Parker remains a prolific songwriter even if his sales numbers aren't as robust as they once were. He's also reliably left of center politically, using the occasion of his reunion with The Rumour to charge his latest album, Three Chords Good, with a number of ideological tracks.

He may have a thick enough skin to mock his modest record sales, but he's not so forgiving when questioned about his left-of-center songbook. He doesn't even like writing progressive numbers, to hear him tell it.

“Sometimes I can't help but get a bee in my bonnet. It's really not something I aspire to,” he says of his political songs. “I'm more about the swing and the groove.”

Songs like Arlington's Busy, a condemnation of the Iraq War on Three Chords Good, and the anti-anti-abortion song Coathangers leave him vulnerable to conservative critics. And he doesn't appear to like that one bit.

“I do not wanna write a song like Coathanger so Andrew Breitbart can rage against me on his web site. It's not my idea of fun," he says.


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