Iowa native Tom Arnold was in Iowa City Wednesday to show and promote his new movie “Happy Endings.” Arnold held a news conference in the afternoon, then stayed for an evening screening of the movie in the University of Iowa Memorial Union. Arnold plays the father of a gay teenage son in the film.

“This is a film that’s different than any other film I’ve ever done,” Arnold says. The film opened in select cities this week, then will be shown at more screens July 29th. “It’s a comedy, sort of,” Arnold says. “Friends” actress Lisa Kudrow co-stars and John Ritter’s son plays Arnold’s gay son in the movie.

“We’ve gotten luckily — unusually for me — some really good reviews and notices,” Arnold says. Arnold is a friend of Don Roos who wrote and directed the film. “He wrote this part for me,” Arnold says. The character Frank is a vulnerable guy in his 40s who dates younger women, buys them expensive gifts and still pays their bills after they break up. After he read the script, Arnold didn’t think Frank was much like him.

“My wife’s like, ‘Wait a minute. We had our first date. I was 26. You took me to Gucci,'” Arnold recounted during his appearance in Iowa City. “I said (to my wife) ‘Well, that was because you had a job and you were barely scraping by and I wanted to take you somewhere nice and I can’t expect you to have the clothes. I mean, that’s not fair…It just was the right thing to do’ and so there’s a little bit of that in there.”

Arnold, who has been in or worked on 40 movies, says “this might be one that you see and you talk about it later.” Arnold admits the studio heads tried to convince the director to put another actor in the role. “I saw the list,” Arnold says, and it included big names like Michael Douglas and Alec Baldwin. “I said ‘Hey, you know, if you can get them, I don’t blame ya’…but it came back around and it’s been a very, very wonderful thing and it’s called ‘Happy Endings’ — coincidentally — and it’s certainly been.”

The movie was first shown publicly at this past spring’s Sundance Film Festival. “I probably had the greatest moment for an Iowa kid in the history of the world. Right before the film started…the guy that runs the festival grabbed me out of my seat and said ‘Come here’ and I figured they were kicking me out, you know, because they were on to me,” Arnold says.

“He took me back stage and it was dark and this guy steps up and it’s Robert Redford and he says ‘I can’t meet everybody but I saw the movie and I had to meet you.'”

The critics, too, are praising Arnold’s performance. Arnold, a native of Ottumwa who is now 46 years old, attended the University of Iowa before breaking out as a comedian. He was hired as a staff writer for the t-v series Roseanne, and then he married the star of the series in 1990. They went through a very public divorce four years later. Arnold is currently the co-host of a talk show on Fox Sports. (Thanks to WSUI’s Paul Flahive for the audio from Arnold’s news conference.)

Official movie website with trailer