Zach Galifianakis is known for his comedic turns in the Hangover trilogy and Due Date. But the comedian is taking on a more serious role, portraying real-life businessman Ty Warner, the creator of the Beanie Babies.
The Beanie Bubble, which hits select theaters on July 21 and premieres globally on Apple TV+ on July 28, tells the story of the biggest toy craze in history, Ty’s Beanie Babies, and takes an in-depth look at how a doll came to define an era.
Los Angeles: What was it about Ty Warner that drew you to this story?
Zach Galifianakis: He was different from characters which I’m usually asked to play, that’s probably number one, selfishly! He also was a very complex, layered person that on the page never came across as one-dimensional and that is always easier to play. We didn’t have time in the movie but I wish there was more exploration of his childhood. I wish that if I had a chance to talk to Ty Warner before we shot the movie… that was one thing I was really interested in, that he had a very bizarre childhood.
Do you have sympathy for him?
I don’t think he had sympathy for himself, I don’t think he was built that way. But I do have sympathy for anybody that had a tough childhood that probably informed them as an adult in a negative way. I think the negative pockets of his life are from a childhood that was very unmooring.
This is a biopic but there’s very little source material on Ty Warner, how challenging was that as an actor?
The pluses are there is no tape on Ty so I didn’t need to mimic him. Even if there was a lot of tape, I’m not a mimic so I would have probably tried to figure out a version of him. You find an essence in a character if there’s not much to be drawn on. There’s no interviews, there’s a book about him and there’s plenty there but what makes him tick and walk the way he does, that’s not really what I would have been interested in anyway. I was more interested in the timing in which the story happened, the way women were probably treated back then and the American male ego to allow all that to happen.
What were your memories of the Beanie Babies craze at the time?
I remember it being a thing. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is such an odd business!” But you heard about it in the news, it was definitely in the ether for a while. There were years where you would hear about it! Me personally, and my younger sister, we weren’t a Beanie Baby family, we were strictly Cabbage Patch.
Did you meet any Beanie Babies collectors to get a grasp of what made them tick and what drew them to the product?
No, I didn’t. In the book, and there even some pamphlets that I found, you could see the passion of these young women in the suburbs who were doing the early trading of the Beanies or even writing up profiles of them. That to me is so bizarre, so crazy!
But what’s interesting about it is they weren’t really looked at as stuffed animals or toys to be played with, they were more looked at as stocks to be traded for a lot of people. I’m sure there were kids that played with them for the right reasons but a lot of times it became, “Put those toys on the shelf they shouldn’t be touched!” That also was an interesting part of this that I think Ty created, I think that was his genius. At first he hated the suburban mom traders, he didn’t understand them, but then he realized that they can increase the value of these toys.
It’s set in a specific time period but it’s so relevant to now with the NFT and Crypto craze, do you think humans are hardwired to have this money-driven mindset?
I think we are. If you’re born into it, it’s the system you know! I never really thought about capitalism and all that stuff until I got older. It’s like “Oh, wait a minute, we live in a wonderful system.” Yes, but there’s these other things that come along with extreme capitalism, which is many more billionaires, business practices are more foreign to who we are as humans, so I think there might be a limit on it.
I think the Beanie Babies were a canary in the coal mine of many stories explaining how we got where we are now, especially the greed part. That greed and what it all costs, that’s sold to us, I don’t think that’s inherited to us as human beings. Even how America started in the slave trade, those were the first business practices. I think we have inherited, unfortunately, a lot of those practices: greed, what it all costs? Who cares about the environment? Who cares about other people? Those are old American business practices that I wish we would learn that ain’t cool!