The 13th Floor

Interview: Part Two of Getting Deep with GRAVITY FALLS Alex Hirsch

For part one of this interview, please click here-

As I sat down with GRAVITY FALLS creator Alex Hirsch, we were knee deep in Xpcveaoqfoxso. That’s not a typo, that’s a cipher for “Weirdmageddon,” the apocalyptic multi-episode season finale that pits the heroes of Hirsch’s show against the extradimensional nightmare villain Bill Cipher once and (possibly) for all.

It’s a major event for the series, taking place at the end of the summer, just before Dipper and Mabel will go home forever and leave the adventures behind. This week’s episode brought back old villains, killed more than one supporting character, destroyed one of the iconic artifacts of the series and featured several surprising cameos. If you haven’t seen the episode “Xpcveaoqfoxso,” be wary of SPOILERS.

Otherwise, we invite you to join us as we continue our conversation with Alex Hirsch in his tavern in the middle of Disney Animation headquarters, a place known affectionately as “Drunkle Stan’s.” For the first part of our conversation click here, and for another extended audio interview with GRAVITY FALLS creator Alex Hirsch, check out this week’s B-Movies Podcast.

S1e12_nopeopenope You have people on the show now who are respected adult entertainers. One of the great minds on the planet, Neil deGrasse Tyson is on your show.

Alex Hirsch: That’s right!

BH: When Neil deGrasse Tyson was on your show, did he say he loved GRAVITY FALLS?

AH: You know, honestly, there are many mysteries of the universe which Neil deGrasse Tyson could help untangle. But he never untangled for me exactly how it was that he came to agree to be on the show. Someone asked him on Twitter and his response was, “In this instance I felt compelled.” That was all he was going to give us! That was a god damned delight.

He was so cool and nice and it was utterly surreal to have him in the booth. “Okay, so you’re a pig, Neil. Can you make a grunting sound? Don’t say the word ‘oink.’ You know what, trying saying it instead.” When you’ve got Neil deGrasse-Tyson’s time for an hour you can’t help but ask him obnoxious questions. I think I asked him why dudes have nipples and he answered for about half an hour.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Gravity Falls

BH: And you only had an hour!

AH: Yeah, so we had to rush with the rest of it. Every single time something like that happens I have to pinch myself. I still can’t believe it.

BH: Louis C.K. is in this week’s episode

AH: Yeah, holy shit, right?

BH: …as “The Horrifying Sweaty One-Armed Monstrosity.

AH: That’s going to have to be on his IMDb now. I’m sorry, Louis!

BH: That’s going to be on his lifetime achievement reel. Was Louis C.K. just available? Did you write that and just need someone to be a funny voice?

AH: It came through, again, just like we were talking about. That word of mouth. I hope he’s cool with me saying this. Sorry Louis if you’re not. But he actually, in just a sweet moment – I don’t know if he was drunk on an airplane or just was feeling magnanimous – he contacted me through the internet and out of the blue, just like the finger of God coming down out of the clouds and tapping me on the head. I’m such a huge fan of his. I consider him to be one of the best of the best of the best.

He just said, “Hey, looking forward to Season 2. My daughters are crazy about the show. They can’t wait to see it. It’s funny and great. Keep going.” And that was right before the second season premiered. So I wrote back an enormous, sweaty “Oh god! I love you so much! Oh thank you thank you thank you! Hey if you ever want to hang out sometime!” and of course he didn’t get back to me.

About a year later when we were working on this episode and there was this giant monster, I shot him an email saying “Hey, would you like to voice a…” The subject line of the email was “Would You Like to Voice a Hundred Foot Disembodied Head for the Disney Channel?” And he said “Yeah, sure, sounds fun.” It was again, a crazy, crazy pleasure working with him. You’ve seen the episode?

BH: I have seen the episode.

AH: That end tag with him just rambling? None of that is written. That’s just, “Alright Louis, here’s your motivation. You want to eat people but you’re too lazy to physically chase them. What comes out of your mouth?” We have probably an hour of just improv’ing of that. Maybe I can put it online sometime. It’s amazing.

BH: So in the episode proper, was “Get in my mouth” his idea or was that you? 

AH: That was the premise. The premise of the bit is, you want to eat people but you only have one arm and it takes a long time to drag yourself across the ground. So you’re kind of like an obnoxious guy with a Greenpeace flyer, kind of hollering at people on the street to get in your mouth. [Laughs.] Everything he said was his version of that.


BH: I want to talk about Bill Cipher. Was Bill always going to be the big bad of the series? Or is he just the big bad of the season? Tell me a bit about the origin of Bill. 

AH: Sure. Bill was always a character that we wanted to put on the show, although we weren’t entirely sure how, from the very get-go, from the very beginning. I love the idea. You build your stories around your characters’ hopes and fears and their wants and their insecurities and what bothers them. It’s really fun to make characters uncomfortable, particularly characters who seek comfort. So Dipper by design is a character who is obsessed with knowing things. So if you work backwards from that you say, what would drive that character insane? How about a character who knows everything but won’t tell Dipper? That impetus is where I conceived the idea of a character like Bill.

The sort of more practical sense of why did I dress up the Illuminate pyramid as Mr. Peanut just came from… you know, when I was a kid I was really obsessed with conspiracy theories and I would go online, and you’d see some crummy GeoCities site where some guy was talking about how, it was my childhood so it would be about how Britney Spears was in the Illuminati and she’s a shapeshifting reptoid and you can tell because her belt has a triangle on it.

And I thought, “I’ve got a kids show. How amazing would that be if I could literally do that guy’s fear?” [Laughs.] If I could literally hide the Eye of Providence in every single episode and somewhere, some dude in a trailer park is like, “I was right!” So a combination to both service my story and to drive conspiracy theorists utterly insane gave birth to this character, basically.

BH: It’s my understanding that his voice is based on David Lynch

AH: Yeah.

BH: …and you tried to get David Lynch?

AH: We did, yeah! We tried to get David Lynch and it’s honestly probably a good thing that we didn’t get Lynch. Not because I don’t think he would have done a fabulous job. He’s awesome. But just because he is an elusive character and when Bill became more important it was good that we had somebody in the office who could just run upstairs and do the voice, because Bill has more appearances.

But no, it’s true. The idea for the voice is 100% David Lynch’s Gordon Cole in TWIN PEAKS where he’s deaf and he SHOUTS EVERYTHING TO AGENT COOP LIKE THIS! For some reason that seemed to me a hilarious take on an obnoxious villain. It’s just my crappy David Lynch impression doing Bill.

BH: Well, TWIN PEAKS is obviously a big influence on this show

AH: The interesting thing is, “influence” isn’t entirely the right term because I had never seen TWIN PEAKS prior to selling the show. I knew TWIN PEAKS existed. I knew about the idea of the Pacific Northwest as a spooky place, and I knew about references to TWIN PEAKS in other media, and I knew that a friend of mine once said the show scared his mom so much she projectile vomited in the kitchen.

I said, “This sounds too damned good to miss! I gotta finally watch it!” But I didn’t finally watch it until after I had sold GRAVITY FALLS, and once I did see it, then I said, “It would be fun to put maybe one or two little nods in here, because I am so simpatico with the vibe here and love it so much.”


BH: But you did watch EERIE, INDIANA though, right?

AH: Yeah, that’s a much more direct influence. GRAVITY FALLS is unambiguously a rip-off of EERIE, INDIANA and I can say that now that it’s popular. I remember in the beginning people were like, “Have you ever seen a show called EERIE, INDIANA?” and I’m like [laughs too loudly] “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve never heard of it!” I’m just like, are they going to run me out of town on a rail?

No, it’s true. When I was a kid I loved EERIE, INDIANA. I probably only saw like eight episodes. I know there was only like a season of the show. It was one of those things that I could never find the time slot. I sometimes wondered if I made the show up. It occupied almost this urban legend space, which was perfect for the subject matter, being as it was kind of an X-FILES for kids.

And it was very melancholy. You really got the sense that they’re not going to win here, they’re never going to get answers, no one’s ever going to listen to them, and that was very relatable as a kid because that’s how you often feel. It’s absolutely fair to say that in some ways GRAVITY FALLS is me making more episodes of a show that was shot down in its prime that I loved when I was seven, you know what I mean? With my particular twists and influences on it.

BH: Are there are any shows like that, or movies that maybe aren’t obvious from the outset, that are an influence on GRAVITY FALLS? 

AH: When I started the show and when we sat down with the writers I basically said, “Take any of your 80s-90s Spielberg type movies about kids in an urban or suburban area where one magic element tosses their life upside down, whether it’s E.T. or GOONIES or BACK TO THE FUTURE or what have you.”

There’s sort of a genre of that type of normal kids cast into an abnormal scenario, and that was… I said that’s the palette of this series. Plus more of a comedic angle on it, but I want to take us through those kinds of adventures and each episode should be in its own way almost like a little movie. It should have that same structure of, our kids have their own homegrown problem, plus they’re exploring that through the visual crazy magical sci-fi aspect of the day. So pretty much everything I consumed growing up went into that pot.


BH: I can’t help but wonder if that’s one of the reasons it has such a great appeal to adults, that it plays so much like the stuff we enjoyed when we were kids. And now we’re making our kids watch it.

 AH: Right. [Laughs.] Yeah, either they’re making you watch it or you’re making them watch it. The hope with an homage is that if you figure out what made something good the first time, and you try to make your thing good for the same reasons but not by copying just the superficial aspects of it.

What did those movies have? They had a feeling of empowerment for the kids characters. They had a feeling of wish fulfillment and they a feeling of groundedness. There were always real world repercussions. If you’re harboring E.T. the government’s going to come after you. If you have a time machine you’re going to potentially blip yourself out of existence. There’s always a cost. There’s always a price. And there’s always lingering changes to your world based on that magic, and I think that helps ground it.

BH: So there’s a lot of different monsters in GRAVITY FALLS, and a lot of different sci-fi concepts. There was a recurring joke on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER where they said every monster was real except leprechauns, because that’s stupid. Is there anything in GRAVITY FALLS that, if only for your own personal preference, is off the table?

AH: I would never – and I’ve said this before – but I would never show an alien, a living alien proper, hanging out with the characters. Not because it’s so outside of the palette of our series but simply because to me, aliens represent the ultimate mystery. Once you’ve seen their face the mystery is dead. In one of our most recent episodes we had the characters go underground and find a massive alien craft buried underneath the town. That to me was exactly the sweet spot of how close I would ever want to get to aliens because you can see their bones, you can see some of their technology, but you don’t actually get to be there with them. That to me preserves that spirit of there’s still something unknown in that world.


BH: We’re in the middle of Weirdmageddon

AH: That’s right.

BH: I am impressed with how crazy you’ve been getting so far. How far can this go and for how long?

AH: [Laughs.] In terms of our endgame and exactly where everything’s headed, I must be very, very vague. I can say that I feel very fortunate that I’ve been allowed to make a television show. I didn’t expect I’d get a season, and when that season was over and I was very very tired and almost didn’t want to make a second season, just because I wanted to sleep for a year. But lo and behold we wound up with a second season. Every time I make something I want to give it a thousand percent, and I want to top what was done before, and I want to have fun with it. GRAVITY FALLS has wish fulfillment for the characters but also has wish fulfillment for me as an audience. I want to see the most surprising, strange, bizarre things that I can. I will say that Weirdmageddon will only get weirder, but that’s all I can say at the moment.