The dirty old man, like the Chupacabra, tends to be more wishful-thinking myth than flesh-and-blood reality. It’s one of those clichés that people repeat because it makes growing old seem less frightening. But the sad truth is, age rarely makes somebody dirtier. If anything, they become more repressed and conservative. And then there’s Danny DeVito, the exception that proves the rule. DeVito is a legitimate dirty old man—not in a playful way, like the kind that make church folk smile and children roll their eyes with mock disdain. Seriously dirty.
It wasn’t always that way. During the first half of his career—the 80s and 90s—DeVito was dirty in a middle-of-the-road, made-for-TV kinda way. Whether directing movies like Throw Mama From the Train and Death to Smoochy, or playing roles as diverse as “the short guy” and “the really short guy” in Tim Burton movies, DeVito created gallows humor for Middle America; dark stuff, but the suburban mall version of dark. But over the last few years, the 64-year-old DeVito has transformed into one of the most giddily subversive, hilariously dirty old men working in Hollywood.
The evidence is everywhere. On the FX sitcom It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia—which ends its fifth season next Thursday, December 10th—DeVito portrays the lecherous and deadbeat dad Frank Reynolds, who is so staggeringly abusive that it’s almost impossible to list his many misdeeds. They include (but are not limited to) coaxing his son into “no rules” sexual favors, using a staple-gun to create a stigmata, showing up at an orgy for the buffet, collaborating with a homeless guy to commit “fecal forgery”, tricking his children into eating human meat, and attempting to bang his sister-in-law at her husband’s funeral.
The non-fictional DeVito is just as gloriously offensive. Last June, while being interviewed for a Philadelphia news show, he waved around an open beer can and asked the female reporter if her skirt offered “easy access.” It was a public spectacle reminiscent of his drunken (or at least hung-over) ramblings on The View just a few years earlier, where he gave Rosie O’Donnell a lap dance and railed against President “Numbnuts” Bush. The loveable goof who once made your parents laugh on Taxi has apparently grown up to become the lovable pervert who scares the shit out of your parents.
I spoke to DeVito after he’d returned from a family vacation in Paris, which he’d documented on Twitter with several photos of gnarled troll feet visiting French monuments, an allusion to his Troll character in The Nightman Cometh musical from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in which he demanded payment for access to a “boy’s hole.” In other words, all conversations with DeVito invariably lead to filth.
Eric Spitznagel: In a recent episode of It’s Always Sunny, your character, Frank, said “I don’t know how many years on this earth I got left. I’m going to get real weird with it.” Could this also be described as your personal motto?
Danny DeVito: Absolutely, yes. I think we should all look at life that way. It’s not so much that you always have to be weird, which is something that both Frank and Danny like to do. It’s just that you shouldn’t forget your own mortality. We only have so much time on this planet, you know what I mean? It’s like what Edgar Allan Poe once wrote: “Tick tock, tick tock, one step closer to the grave, motherfucker.”
Did he say “motherfucker”? That doesn’t sound like Poe.
He might have said “bitches,” I don’t remember the exact quote. Whatever, I’m paraphrasing. It’s about embracing the day. Here’s a perfect example: When we were shooting the It’s Always Sunny Christmas DVD, they told me, “We’re going to do this scene where you get naked.” And I’m like, “Oh, naked, huh? Okay, let’s do this.”
That’s where you come crawling out of a leather couch, naked and drenched in sweat?
Yeah, that’s the one. I immediately went along with it because I am like Frank and you never know how long you’re going to be around.
So you agreed to get naked because life is fleeting?
Pretty much, yeah. (Laughs.) I mean, not to be a gloomy doomsayer about it. It’s not like that was my only motivation. Sometimes it’s just fun to do something different. Of course, when I agreed to it I didn’t realize I’d be coming out of a sofa and it was during a Christmas party. I didn’t think there’d be other people there. There were like a hundred extras on the set for that scene.
Did you give them some advance warning, or do you like the element of surprise?
Yeah, they knew about it. You gotta tell ‘em what’s going on.
If only to avoid lawsuits.
(Laughs.) Yeah, yeah, right. You can’t imagine what it’s like. When somebody says to you, “Your character comes out of a couch naked,” you don’t know what it’s going to be like until the flounder is moving across the naugahyde.
I’m sorry, did you just say flounder?
A naked flounder! I felt like all I needed was to be dipped in flour and put into hot oil. We could’ve fed the whole crew! (Laughs.) It was like serious Dim Sum before it goes into the fryer. (Delirious laughter.)
That’s a lot of disturbing imagery you’re giving us.
I did try to be responsible about it. I tried to take off a few pounds before the shoot, just to prepare. I wanted to be fair to everybody who had to see my naked body. (Laughs.) I had to give them that much.
Do you use some sort of flesh-colored loin cloth, or did you just let it all hang out?
I went with the ballsack. You stick everything in a sack and then they tie it up like a little change purse. (Laughs.) Just so you’re not dangling. Or trolling.
Trolling is a perfect word for it.
The Troll would be trolling.
Thanks to It’s Always Sunny, you put the word troll in a whole new context.
You saw the musical?
Not the live show, but I saw the FX version of The Nightman Cometh musical.
(Sings.) “You’ve got to pay the troll toll if you want to get into this boy’s hole!”
You make rape sound so harmless and catchy.
It’s not really about rape. The troll is just interested in that bag of money. As long as his pouch is full, he doesn’t care who gets hurt.
College students make up a big portion of the audience for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Do you think the show acts as a positive moral compass?
Without a doubt. I tell all the young people in my life—my kids and godchildren and anybody else of an impressionable age—I just tell them to watch the show. You’re only going to learn from the show. It really is an education. Fuck college. You know what I mean? Watch It’s Only Sunny in Philadelphia.
That’s a good message for the kids today. Screw your education!
Yeah, exactly! (Laughs.) Get your friends together on a Thursday night, order up a few kegs, watch our show and start the weekend right. That’s what I would do. Forget homework! Have a few dozen limoncellos.
I like how you slipped in that plug.
Limoncello, baby! You know about my limoncello?
I do, but by all means, pitch it to us again.
It’s an absolutely wonderful drink. You can buy it almost anywhere now. If they don’t have it at your local liquor store today, they’ll have it eventually. It’s made in Sorrento (Italy) with organic lemons and super filtered alcohol, which is really pure and really, really strong. It’s just a fantastic drink. It’s all natural, there’s nothing in it that’s artificial, and it’s kosher.
So there are no excuses. Enjoy it during Yom Kippur.
(Laughs.) Yes, exactly! Why not? No guilt!
Is this the same limoncello that you and George Clooney were drinking the night before your drunken free-for-all on The View?
No, no, no, no. That was long before my involvement in the importing and producing of limoncello. That happened when George and I were at a Manhattan restaurant with our publicist, and at some point after dinner we started drinking limoncellos. I got pretty wasted on it. (Laughs.)
Were you still wasted the next morning?
Here’s the true story. I went home at midnight and I was up half the night walking off the effects. I went on the Internet and started emailing Rhea (Perlman, his wife), who was out in California. By the time I was looked up at a clock, it was five or six o’clock in the morning. I took a shower and went to The View. The rest is history.
Just so we can tell the difference, what are you actually like when you get drunk? Does your voice change? Do you get a little too intimate and start telling everybody that you love them?
I usually get really mellow. I go the other way from wordy. I don’t get belligerent or out there. I like to have fun. I’ll dance if there’s a dance going on. It’s hard to say. I don’t really know what I’m like when I’m drunk because I’m drunk. You know what I mean? I’m not really paying attention.
And as long as we’re gathering information, what’s George Clooney like when he’s smashed?
He’s very crafty about drinking. He’s Irish, so he’s got an amazing tolerance. I’ll be on the table, dancing like an idiot, but George will be surrounded by women, just smooth as anything. If you’re at a bar, stand near Clooney. He’s like a babe magnet.
Okay, so back to limoncello and The View…
I did the show and maybe three weeks later, I was getting all sorts of nasty letters about the way I talked about George Bush.
When you call him “numbnuts”?
Yeah, yeah. (Laughs.) I’m pretty proud of those. I’ve got them all framed. And I got some gifts, some limoncello. And one guy, who’s in the liquor business, he said to me that limoncello sales went up 21% after I went on The View. So I said to Rhea, “I love limoncello. I know where the best limoncello is made. Maybe I should get into the business.” And I’m really happy that I did. I went back on The View a year later with my first bottle and gave it to Whoopi (Goldberg). Did you see that?
No. Did this really happen or were you just hallucinating after too much limoncello?
It totally happened! (Laughs.) It was a year after the thing with Rosie. I came back on the show and I brought a bottle of my limoncello. The producers told me that I couldn’t bring alcohol on daytime television, so I put it in my pants. If you watch the episode now, it’s kinda obvious, because I’m stiff-walking. But at the time, nobody noticed. (Laughs.) In the middle of the interview, I just pulled it out.
I’m sorry? You just pulled “it” out?
The limoncello! (Laughs.) C’mon, nothing like that. Don’t make this dirty!
Can you promise that every bottle of DeVito’s limoncello has been in your pants?
What? Are you crazy? No, man, that’s too many bottles. I’m going to do a thing in Atlantic City in the beginning of December. It’s something like 4,000 bottles of limoncello. It’s gonna be huge. And also, there’s a little bit of danger here because I do have a scratch n’ sniff lemon on the label.
What’s that now?
(Laughs.) It’s true.
Wait, hold on. I’m not sure I understand what you’re telling me. You’re worried about putting these bottles in your pants because the lemon smell might rub off on your penis, or your penis smell might rub off on the scratch n’ sniff labels?
You don’t want to contaminate that smell, man.
You don’t want the label to smell like your balls?
Well, you know it’s not out of the question that one day we’ll be marketing my balls. Why not?
I’m confused. How is this related to limoncello?
No, no, forget the limoncello. The limoncello stands on its own. I’m talking about my balls. My balls are pretty important. (Laughs.) If I’m going to turn my balls into merchandise, it’s gonna be… (bursts into laughter) I’m gonna do it in the right way! And I’m going to find the right distributor for my balls! (Laughter.) Just like the way I found the right distributor for my limoncello.
Good for you. A lot of celebrities don’t put much thought into the marketing of their genitals.
Yeah, you don’t want your balls dangling out there with somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing. (Laughs.) If there’s any message that people get from this interview, I hope it’s this: Protect your balls, baby!
You once claimed that you and Rhea Perlman had filthy sex in the White House. I’m probably going to regret asking this, but was that just a joke?
The thing is, Rhea and I are married. We were having sex even before we were married. So whenever we’re near a bed and it’s nighttime, our tendency is to have sex. So we were at the White House, showing our support for Hillary’s Children’s Defense Fund, and we were invited to stay the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it’s a really gorgeous bed. And we kinda turned it into, you know… (long pause) we turned it into Sodom and Gomorrah.
(Laughs.) Oh sweet Jesus!
Let me just leave you with one thing. The Lincoln bed is very, very big. It also has bedposts. So if you’re thinking about doing anything even remotely filthy in the Lincoln Bedroom, don’t forget to bring the long restraints.
Did you remember to bring the long restraints?
Naw, we just used towels. But in the morning, Rhea wouldn’t untie me. I begged her, but she didn’t care. She’s like, “You can stay there all day.” That’s the way it is sometimes. They leave you tied up, man. That’s the bad part.
Did you forget your safety word?
I guess I did.
What is your safety word?
(Long pause.) Gigautica! (Laughs.) Gigautica!
Gigautica? Is that even a real word?
Gigautica! It means, “Let me out.” Gigautica! “Do not push that knife any closer to my neck!” Gigautica! “Cut me down!”
I think you’ve actually managed to outdo Willie Nelson.
I did? How so?
He smoked dope on the White House roof. But I don’t think that holds a candle to S&M in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Oh man, I love Willie Nelson. I co-hosted Saturday Night Live with him once. He’s the only man from Texas who admits to inhaling. He’s a great guy.
Next time you’re at the White House, you should bring him with you.
Oh man, it would be something. We’d roast some bones and tie each other up.
Just make sure he knows your safety word.
Gigautica! (Laughs.) It’s a good word, man.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com