Okay ladies, let’s face it: we go to UChicago. Why state the obvious, you ask? Spring break is just around the corner, and let’s just put it out there: my mind has been preoccupied with other things, namely finals, and I know yours have been too – so don’t try to cover it up! Amid all of the hard work and hardly working (procrastination, holla!), I’m still trying to find things to do over break. No plans yet? I’d definitely suggest going to go see Jeff Who Lives at Home. It’s made a huge showing at Independent film festivals, because frankly, who doesn’t enjoy a movie about finding your destiny? This movie, starring a more serious side of Ed Helms, comes out March 16th, and from what I’ve seen, definitely seems worth a watch. When I say serious, I mean serious. On the movie’s official website, you can enter to win a retreat with Deepak Chopra. We are talking serious destiny-finding, soul-searching, good stuff here, a perfect remedy to the impending post-finals crash.
Recently, I had the chance to talk with Ed about his role as Pat, Jeff’s (played by Jason Segal) brother, a confident man with a goatee who forms a stronger bond with his family as he tries to determine whether or not his wife is having an affair. Along the way, we also discussed taking a more serious route, meeting the expectations of being a funnyman, personal fashion statements, and even a bit about the meaning of life.
Q: OK, so the three leads in this film, between you, Jason Segel, and Susan Sarandon are recognized as, you know, three of the funniest people in Hollywood. What was the comedic chemistry and experience like between the three of you?
Ed Helms: It’s kind of a funny – or curious movie, I should say in that it’s not – it might not be what you expect from Jason Segel and me. Obviously, we both come from a background of doing a lot of comedy and Susan Sarandon, obviously has done some great comedy work as well. But, this movie kind of in keeping with the Duplass brothers’ tone, it sort of rides the line of – into drama a little bit. So, we actually had a really good time improvising, but not necessarily finding the funniest jokes as much as sort of just finding the most authentic way to do a scene. So, I would say the chemistry was fantastic, like, we just had an amazing time working together. But, it wasn’t always about finding the laughs, it was just kind of a new challenge for me because it was about finding realism and authenticity.
Q: How are you similar to your character in Jeff Who Lives at Home?
EH: Well, I think that – let’s see, well, I think that character kind of wants to do the right thing, he wants to be a good guy and I certainly share that. This guy gets in his way a lot and I certainly get in my way a lot. I don’t think I’m quite as dysfunctional as this guy, at least I hope not, but I do share that kind of struggle to be a better person. And then of course, we also look a lot alike and we have the same voice, but we have a very different fashion sense, to be clear.
Q: So did the goatee help you get into character?
EH: Pat wants so desperately to be the better version of himself. And I think also something that characterizes Pat, it’s not just being a better person, being like a really cool dude. That is important to Pat, and that’s where the goatee comes from. It’s something that Pat, as someone closing in on middle age, sort of sees as this lifeline to youth somehow. And it’s a misguided attempt to kind of feel edgy and young and you see it a lot. I think that goatees, you know, a lot of people have goatees for a lot of reasons and some of them are good reasons and some of them are bad reasons. Pat has it for bad reasons.
It absolutely helped me get into character. Every time I saw that goatee in the mirror in the morning, I just felt like that guy. I felt like kind of a needy guy and it was a hell of a lot of fun. Also, in New Orleans walking around town in a goatee actually you fit in a lot better. So, I felt like kind of – like, on set I felt like the needy character of Pat, but walking around New Orleans, I felt like this sort of cool cat.
Q: Speak of getting into character, have personal experiences have contributed to any of your major characters, such as, like, Pat or Andy or Dr. Stu Price?
EH: Well, I – certainly in The Hangover I’ve had that exact experience, scene for scene played out in my life. But really, I think this is part of why I became an actor, because I am a very boring person, but I love the fantasy of being these sort of wacked out characters. And I get to explore these things in a very harmless way. Anyone who actually did the things that Phil and Stu and Alan do in The Hangover probably would either be dead or in jail right now, but we got to do them all with no consequences. So, that was – just as actors – a hell of a lot of fun.
I guess I’ve had a lot of life experience. I’ve traveled a lot, but not anything I would say specific to these characters. Just more than anything, it’s sort of observing and experiencing human behavior and experiencing the highs and lows and emotional roller coasters that life is.
Q: So is the movie really that much of a contrast – more dramatic, I mean? How did you work with that?
EH: I hadn’t done a lot of drama. I mean, in high school I was in All My Sons and that might be about the most dramatic thing I’d ever done. I have always just wanted to do silly comedies and you know, I wanted to be in Ghostbusters and Vacation and – you’re too young to know what those movies are, but Animal House and Fletch and all that Caddyshack. Those were my formative movies. So, I was never really drawn to drama. This movie, I think, kind of – it’s not drama, I wouldn’t call this movie drama, I would just call it, like, in a sense that sort of realism but with a really nice comedic touch to it.
This movie doesn’t shy away from the kind of painful aspect of a dysfunctional life whereas my character on The Office is arguably very dysfunctional, but you don't really see the pain very often. It’s played for comedy. This is a little bit more played for reality and I hope that it resonates. It’s up to audiences, obviously, to decide for themselves, but I’m really proud of it and I hope – I think that Jason Segel just is a genius and we had so much fun working on this thing and I hope that it resonates for people. So, it might be a little bit different than what people expect, but I hope in a good way, like, kind of a nice little – a nice treat, if you will, a little twist on the expectation.
Q: Last, but not least, would you talk about the differences between TV and movie filming and which one you prefer, if you're allowed to say.
EH: I’m lucky to get to do both. I love them both equally. The differences are when you work on a movie, it’s like this kind of summer camp feeling because everyone just comes together for this one event and you're there for six weeks, eight weeks, whatever it is and it’s all kind of run and gun and there’s this sort of exciting energy to just get this one thing done. On a television set, it’s sort of like going to school, but like to a school that you enjoy because it’s regular, it’s all familiar people, it’s a regular schedule. It’s something that has been a – it’s an ongoing process, year after year. So, it has a very comfortable feeling that way.
The actual work itself is very similar, obviously, but there’s just a little bit of a different energy and a different kind of approach to it. You can sort of have a normal life happening during television production, but it’s much harder during movie production. And I really do, I mean, I was joking at first, but I really do love them both. I love the comfort and the fun and the just sort of familial vibe on The Office and I love the excitement and the kind of daring of a movie.
Jeff Who Lives at Home opens March 16th in theatres across the country.
Questions and answers have been slightly modified to improve cohesiveness.