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

target scene in color FOX Paramount Network universal monsters Musicals screen actors guild king arthur trophy spider-man spinoff NBC jurassic park 1990s Wes Anderson blockbusters king kong The Walking Dead festival psychological thriller documentary Stephen King hollywood elevated horror supernatural italian Winners South by Southwest Film Festival emmy awards Dark Horse Comics Mary Poppins Returns cooking Ellie Kemper mockumentary Apple TV+ indiana jones cartoon E3 Comedy Marvel Television Toys south america japanese Best and Worst Columbia Pictures HBO Max heist movie Reality superman robots Alien comics Elton John Starz scorecard Box Office award winner IFC TruTV 45 hispanic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt laika VH1 talk show Pixar sports new york dc YouTube art house See It Skip It Apple TV Plus werewolf comiccon black nbcuniversal WGN leaderboard docudrama LGBT documentaries SDCC ID prank Mystery discovery popular romance natural history YA American Society of Cinematographers hispanic heritage month cancelled television Watching Series comic Sony The Arrangement Vudu 2016 Apple Nat Geo Opinion Oscar Election Indigenous rom-coms mission: impossible live event critic resources ratings E! halloween gangster Pet Sematary scene in color film series Martial Arts worst dragons Disney Plus FXX quibi Chilling Adventures of Sabrina VICE Holiday fast and furious NBA joker summer TV psycho Mary Tyler Moore FX video on demand superhero Binge Guide TCA Epix Star Wars Celebration Comics on TV Ovation VOD Red Carpet Countdown HBO Turner Classic Movies archives animated 007 dexter Best Director BBC Infographic 24 frames Chernobyl Kids & Family diversity marvel cinematic universe travel Certified Fresh stand-up comedy DGA GLAAD news Television Critics Association political drama toy story Family Shondaland ViacomCBS CW Seed Shudder dceu IFC Films NYCC ABC Family medical drama jamie lee curtis green book Schedule wonder woman franchise fresh science fiction cancelled TV shows Podcast toronto spain Pop classics christmas movies Fargo MTV historical drama USA Network YouTube Premium TCA Awards feel good 2019 interviews cinemax Cosplay golden globe awards streaming Awards Sci-Fi spy thriller australia Trailer razzies 73rd Emmy Awards streamig TV renewals rotten movies we love GoT comic book movie Character Guide all-time ABC french theme song El Rey nfl stop motion dreamworks Masterpiece biography DC Universe Reality Competition suspense monster movies Black History Month SXSW TV Land Photos cancelled Academy Awards DC Comics Paramount police drama disaster OWN comedies indie sag awards screenings Broadway based on movie Trivia BAFTA Biopics Paramount Pictures Britbox a nightmare on elm street Brie Larson know your critic Sundance TV war Heroines reviews Women's History Month teaser crime thriller President Spike BET Awards Quiz First Look Awards Tour boxoffice young adult Disney+ Disney Plus facebook 20th Century Fox strong female leads Extras summer TV preview posters Star Wars DirecTV Song of Ice and Fire Amazon Studios 2015 Tarantino Universal blockbuster what to watch Rom-Com Hallmark Christmas movies Anna Paquin zero dark thirty die hard Paramount Plus Cartoon Network television Sneak Peek social media Sundance Now hidden camera thriller remakes Horror Winter TV Musical anime Ghostbusters serial killer Video Games Fantasy CMT Logo Universal Pictures 2018 Action Spring TV Disney Best Picture RT21 sequels Lifetime Christmas movies Geeked Week new zealand obi wan Writers Guild of America Superheroe Avengers docuseries Creative Arts Emmys CNN MGM tv talk Film kaiju breaking bad The Purge Calendar godzilla ghosts Tubi game show Food Network anthology RT History 99% cancelled TV series Fox News PBS Fall TV Sundance adventure composers Emmys films stoner scary Freeform saw zombies Rocky japan Amazon Prime adenture spider-verse movies Trophy Talk Esquire Comedy Central book Neflix summer preview YouTube Red binge debate best BBC America renewed TV shows Comic Book Drama Discovery Channel Captain marvel Summer SundanceTV 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Oscars obituary Television Academy The Witch 93rd Oscars Fox Searchlight royal family Endgame spanish 90s asian-american Warner Bros. international halloween tv Showtime cults Hollywood Foreign Press Association Nominations Exclusive Video casting Walt Disney Pictures Super Bowl transformers Amazon Prime Video Image Comics TIFF Instagram Live Spectrum Originals 94th Oscars Premiere Dates TV Pacific Islander Tomatazos satire action-comedy Legendary FX on Hulu olympics dramedy Best Actress History blaxploitation 2021 harry potter Thanksgiving TCA Winter 2020 71st Emmy Awards Funimation name the review scene in color series trailers sopranos chucky target CBS nature Bravo Cannes canceled latino Classic Film slashers First Reviews CBS All Access Mudbound golden globes broadcast AMC National Geographic Acorn TV crime finale doctor who Tokyo Olympics basketball TV movies scary movies kong PaleyFest marvel comics Travel Channel Disney Channel TBS Grammys Western video Holidays venice The Academy Lifetime Arrowverse Black Mirror Prime Video Comic-Con@Home 2021 HBO Go sitcom Marvel Studios WarnerMedia mob APB Teen New York Comic Con festivals kids Adult Swim versus free movies TCA 2017 Netflix parents pirates of the caribbean Sony Pictures aapi football boxing Music Tags: Comedy james bond twilight adaptation richard e. Grant 4/20 Pop TV canceled TV shows mutant mcc Netflix Christmas movies Crunchyroll Set visit Christmas live action Animation romantic comedy batman telelvision crossover Rock 2017 period drama Turner game of thrones new star wars movies dark politics Native scene in color legend slasher black comedy vampires Marvel rt labs Syfy Pride Month X-Men comic books MSNBC singing competition Valentine's Day comic book movies Baby Yoda ITV Marathons lord of the rings USA OneApp crime drama BET witnail series AMC Plus critics Emmy Nominations Amazon Film Festival dogs spanish language rotten cars Mary poppins foreign worst movies PlayStation Tumblr SXSW 2022 GIFs directors miniseries children's TV TCM Focus Features MCU A&E San Diego Comic-Con Superheroes A24 justice league space The Walt Disney Company rt labs critics edition Pirates concert ESPN 2020 Country zombie Disney streaming service child's play sequel 79th Golden Globes Awards TV One Hulu true crime Mindy Kaling Interview Crackle LGBTQ Rocketman ABC Signature Polls and Games aliens deadpool hist Nickelodeon unscripted 72 Emmy Awards 21st Century Fox Best Actor The CW IMDb TV Peacock Hallmark book adaptation women Hear Us Out Lucasfilm HFPA technology Star Trek criterion genre biopic rt archives vs. revenge TLC DC streaming service reboot streaming movies cops independent Year in Review TNT BBC One movie high school Lionsgate cats