What to Watch

What to Watch With Steve Zahn

The former Bad Ape, cop, criminal, slacker, pilot, musician — and on — and now Valley of the Boom dot-com founder reveals what he's watching and why you should thank him for Game of Thrones.

by | January 11, 2019 | Comments

TCA WINTER PRESS TOUR 2018 (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) - The cast and executive producers of ABC series graced the carpet at Disney | ABC Television Group's Winter Press Tour 2018. (Image Group LA/ABC via Getty Images) STEVE ZAHN

(Photo by Image Group LA/ABC via Getty Images)

Steve Zahn is a quirky chameleon among actors. Over his nearly 30-year acting career, Zahn has played a Navy pilot (Rescue Dawn), a closeted college grad (Reality Bites), radio DJ–social activist (Treme), both police officer (Dallas Buyers Club) and hapless criminal (Out of Sight), a musician (That Thing You Do), reporter (Shattered Glass), and so very many more roles. One of his most celebrated roles was that of endearing Bad Ape in 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes.

Now he takes on the character of dot-com founder Michael Fenne for National Geographic’s newest series, Valley of the Boom, a documentary-scripted hybrid comedy series unlike anything that’s ever been on television before.

After experimenting with documentary-scripted hybrid drama Mars, which finished airing its second season in December, the network is trying its hand at comedy with a series chronicling the 1990s tech bubble in Silicon Valley, as told through scripted drama as well as documentary interviews with some of the real-life founders.

Zahn has definitely never seen anything like it — he rarely watches television, in fact, choosing instead to immerse himself in news and politics while at home with his family on his Kentucky farm.

He does have a soft spot for documentaries, which he discussed with Rotten Tomatoes when we talked to him about what he’s watching on TV, why he should be credited for Game of Thrones’ success, and breaking the fourth wall in the innovative Valley of the Boom.

What’s appointment viewing for you?

(Photo by Comedy Central)

I am the worst person that you would want to feature on a “What to Watch” list in the history of history. I have literally become my dad where my kids make fun of me about how much news I watch. That’s what I watch, but I can’t help it. It’s so f–king crazy right now. I feel like I’m going to miss out.

I just envy my kids when they can just sit and turn everything off and watch. I’ll literally sit there and watch with my son — he watches South Park religiously, he’s 18 — and that’s kind of the only time I actually pause and laugh. We stand there for like a half hour eating Frosted Mini Wheats, laughing, and then I go back to being neurotic about the end of times.

Well, what’s in your son’s streaming queue?

[Calls to son] Henry, what are you watching? [To Rotten Tomatoes] Eh, he said, “Shut up.” You know what we’re watching right now? We have screeners. I have to watch screeners, so we’re in screenerland.

What shows are on your DVR? Do you watch Game of Thrones or anything?

Making a Murderer (Netflix)

(Photo by Netflix)

Well, I’m not in to the fantasy stuff. I’m a documentary guy. I’ll watch, you know, [they’re] coming out with a new one. Remember the murderer? What’s it called? The big one, the guy in Wisconsin. Making a Murderer. I was working at the time and had to get up at 5:30 in the morning, and I remember watching that ‘til like 3:00 in the morning going, “F–k it. I’ll get two and a half hours sleep and I’ll go to work.’ I was obsessed. I get obsessed with stuff like that.

[As for Game of Thrones], I was working with Pete Dinklage. I was doing a movie with him up in Spokane, Washington, and I knew Peter from theater in New York, and we were hanging out during that movie — like, inseparable. He was offered that while we were doing this movie. He was like, “I don’t know, should I do it? It’s in Ireland.” I’m like, “Yeah, man. You have to do it. What, are you kidding me? It’s going to be great.” So I want to take credit for it. [Laughs]

What’s coming soon that you can’t wait for?

They Shall Not Grow Old (Warner Bros. Pictures)

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

I haven’t seen that BBC World War I documentary [They Shall Not Grow Old] that Peter Jackson did.

Steve Zahn as conman turned dot com founder Michael Fenne in National Geographic's VALLEY OF THE BOOM. (National Geographic/Bettina Strauss)

(Photo by National Geographic/Bettina Strauss)

Jean Bentley for Rotten Tomatoes: As a news junkie who likes documentaries, what do you think of the documentary-scripted hybrid of Valley of the Boom?

Zahn: Obviously, I’m totally into documentaries and I thought, Oh, this would be challenging and different. When you read it, it’s great because with this format you’re able to take a lot of fat out of a script and just get to the good stuff. That’s what’s really intriguing about it. I think if you did just a drama about the birth of the internet, I don’t know how fascinating that would be, or at least for how long, I don’t know. But six hours? I doubt it.

It really frees us up. There were really no rules, and [creator] Matthew Carnahan was just brilliant with that. He really let us play. It turned in to one of my favorite jobs by far, aside from my putting on a fat suit and a wig. It was like doing a play. It was insane. I was on board at page 10 when it said he does an interpretive dance in the sanctuary of the church. I was like, “Wow, what? This is insane.”

Your character is definitely an interesting guy. How did you channel him?

I was so intrigued and so excited to be offered it, number one, but then the fear sets in. Then you go, “Wow, how am I going to do this?” It’s not like a play where you get four weeks of rehearsal. It sucked. You have to just do it. Matthew was so encouraging and so great. He just said, “Man, you’ve just got to dive in” — which is literally like doing a film. You do any character, it’s, like, the beauty of it: You jump off a cliff into the fog and hope that there’s water below. That’s what you do. Day one of filming has got to be as consistent, as good, as the last day.

It’s frightening, especially with somebody so broad as this guy. So I was constantly trying to find ways of making him less broad, basically, and more accessible to people and vulnerable and all those things that makes characters great, nutty. This guy was so smart. He’s so intelligent, he’s so assertive, and his faith is everything. There were a lot of qualities I felt were admirable.

Some of your costars’ real-life counterparts were interviewed for the documentary parts of the show, but not your character. Did you approach playing him differently because of that?

It gave me a little more room, actually. I was happy about that. They tried to get him, but it didn’t work out. But in the end I was happy that was the case because then you’re not reminded of the real guy. It’s really odd that my character is somewhat kind of a fictional guy and yet he’s not just because of that. All I saw was one interview that he did with Chris Cuomo like in ’98. It was just a very strange short interview, like 15 minutes, but that’s really all I needed. I was really intrigued and blown away by this guy that I assumed was this kind of boisterous dude, larger than life, and then I saw this interview and he was this really kind of meek, soft-spoken, high-pitched guy. Very intelligent. I was like, “Wow. This is the guy?”

Steve Zahn as conman turned dot com founder Michael Fenne in National Geographic's VALLEY OF THE BOOM. (National Geographic/Bettina Strauss)

(Photo by National Geographic/Bettina Strauss)

Going back to the interpretive dance, you frequently break the fourth wall on this show. What was that like?

That was really fun. It was so theatrical, you know? If you just in two sentences explain this to somebody without explaining how we did it, it sounds boring. I mean, a six-hour show about the birth of the Internet is not really that exciting unless you’re, like, an IT guy. When we addressed the camera, it was just quick and it wasn’t like we were just breaking the rules to break the rules, so it was appropriate to the story.

And I don’t know, I haven’t seen anything like this. I guess American Animals is a similar kind of storytelling, which I love, and yet it’s totally different from that in a way. That was more of a film to me than it was a documentary. This is truly kind of split in two, a documentary and a film.

I’m trying to think of other things — like Touching the Void. Have you ever seen Touching the Void? About the climbers. Damn, that’s a good movie. You’ve got to watch that. And that’s a drama. That’s explaining a mountain-climbing expedition that goes awry and it’s phenomenal, but it’s done in the same kind of way where they are basically reenactments of what they’re saying — they’re done with high-quality and good people. It’s not like the History Channel — no offense to the History Channel, but some of those Civil War documentaries [where] you have overweight guys from Ohio reenacting Pickett’s Charge, and it just doesn’t work.

Speaking of documentaries and climbing, have you seen Free Solo?

Dude. It was phenomenal. I’m a big Alex Honnold fan. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, and I’d go on his website and find out where he was climbing and stuff. I actually went to a screening of Free Solo in New York and met him and I’m so blown away by that guy. That documentary is insane.

I’m pushing that to everybody, by the way. I’m like, “You have to see this. It’s insane.” And Won’t You Be My Neighbor. What a great documentary.

Valley of the Boom airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Nat Geo.

Tag Cloud

festivals GIFs Family mutant Trivia binge twilight stoner spinoff all-time Cartoon Network TCM TV renewals blaxploitation PBS See It Skip It Apple TV Plus cats Esquire Elton John tv talk transformers Mary Tyler Moore cinemax GoT Spring TV robots Trophy Talk Ovation DC Comics Extras zombie directors anime Year in Review YouTube Disney+ Disney Plus Summer versus nature vampires Awards Academy Awards TNT Disney Channel Discovery Channel football CMT YouTube Premium Baby Yoda FX streaming BET name the review OneApp Character Guide Fall TV Election video on demand television Adult Swim ratings Sci-Fi 2020 rotten Mystery Western Stephen King unscripted Sony Pictures Universal Bravo Spectrum Originals Comedy Central mockumentary Tomatazos CBS casting YA SundanceTV 4/20 Chernobyl OWN reviews best Super Bowl NYCC VH1 romantic comedy singing competition 007 USA Infographic Disney streaming service rotten movies we love aliens Ellie Kemper chucky Country Tarantino Creative Arts Emmys teaser Showtime 21st Century Fox A24 Britbox American Society of Cinematographers justice league Comics on TV Amazon LGBT Quiz canceled zombies Binge Guide Writers Guild of America toronto movies animated Rom-Com nbcuniversal cancelled television ABC Family medical drama criterion comics Tumblr Shudder composers Dark Horse Comics scary movies period drama Television Academy ghosts NBC Comic Book a nightmare on elm street documentaries toy story sequels halloween Winter TV reboot elevated horror TCA Winter 2020 dark WGN History Crackle HBO Go TruTV 2017 GLAAD psycho war based on movie Freeform ESPN YouTube Red stop motion canceled TV shows natural history Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Superheroe series werewolf Turner comiccon HBO Max Superheroes Countdown latino FOX E! documentary Drama Mary Poppins Returns worst hollywood Amazon Prime Video CBS All Access Marvel asian-american Animation children's TV VOD hist Teen Classic Film RT History Biopics Musical Lifetime Oscars Nominations Brie Larson stand-up comedy laika TCA 2017 zero dark thirty Pride Month AMC Starz Comedy psychological thriller Hear Us Out boxoffice Emmy Nominations 72 Emmy Awards Hulu ITV talk show TCA WarnerMedia ABC Fox News technology Marvel Studios FX on Hulu Box Office Spike SDCC PaleyFest First Reviews Acorn TV sports game show politics die hard foreign PlayStation festival Mindy Kaling President Winners TIFF south america Apple Awards Tour comedies DC streaming service dramedy game of thrones dogs cars 24 frames Vudu finale 2018 Syfy BBC green book First Look 71st Emmy Awards Logo comic independent Film Festival Pirates Pop TV Amazon Prime Holiday spider-man franchise Rocketman IFC spanish language Endgame The Arrangement Nat Geo Horror X-Men Amazon Studios political drama Tubi National Geographic BAFTA emmy awards Certified Fresh critics Music harry potter Toys Nickelodeon hispanic CW Seed discovery fast and furious Ghostbusters Best and Worst Star Wars Action DGA Reality Competition screen actors guild Watching Series TBS news Food Network spy thriller disaster 45 SXSW historical drama cults VICE venice El Rey Valentine's Day Video Games Podcast Sundance Now social media 20th Century Fox MCU travel Premiere Dates movie spain Apple TV+ LGBTQ joker superhero what to watch Trailer Sundance TV Kids & Family blockbuster E3 Reality cartoon Set visit cancelled TV shows Disney Plus MSNBC IFC Films 2019 Film The CW Song of Ice and Fire 2015 indie Hallmark Christmas movies worst movies golden globes Turner Classic Movies breaking bad FXX Pet Sematary Holidays Shondaland Photos diversity Masterpiece cops concert HBO Paramount Anna Paquin CNN Marathons Cannes TLC Black History Month sag awards crime thriller Television Critics Association Lionsgate cancelled The Witch Lifetime Christmas movies Rocky dceu classics Interview 2016 video BET Awards crime Hallmark Grammys MTV APB Epix child's play adaptation true crime Travel Channel scorecard Musicals A&E Mudbound doctor who witnail crossover crime drama Women's History Month docudrama screenings Peacock thriller Warner Bros. supernatural mission: impossible free movies Lucasfilm serial killer BBC One The Purge Polls and Games jamie lee curtis Paramount Network Heroines miniseries biography Walt Disney Pictures space USA Network Fantasy Christmas award winner Sundance sequel Marvel Television DirecTV Cosplay anthology Pixar romance Red Carpet films DC Universe TV Land RT21 Calendar dragons obituary richard e. Grant TV Arrowverse quibi sitcom TCA Awards The Walking Dead christmas movies kids BBC America Star Trek Mary poppins Captain marvel revenge Columbia Pictures Chilling Adventures of Sabrina nfl indiana jones science fiction Black Mirror police drama batman Schedule universal monsters Pop Sneak Peek Rock Emmys Thanksgiving book dc Disney cancelled TV series theme song remakes slashers San Diego Comic-Con New York Comic Con Crunchyroll renewed TV shows adventure Martial Arts Netflix Christmas movies cooking strong female leads facebook Avengers Funimation Opinion satire Netflix parents