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SXSW: Capone gets the giggles while talking to 21 JUMP STREET's Rob Riggle!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

Rob Riggle is often a comedy's greatest asset. After years of working with Upright Citizens Brigade, as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, or appearing in countless Human Giant and Funny or Die sketches, Riggle has established himself as a go-to guy when a project needs a comic actor with a gift for booming improv. One of my favorite post-SNL Riggle moments came as the Booze Cruise captain on "The Office" back in 2006.

Since then, he has appeared in one-off or supporting roles in such TV shows and movies as UNACCOMPANIED MINORS, "Arrested Development," STEP BROTHERS, THE HANGOVER, THE GOODS, KILLERS, THE OTHER GUYS, "Chuck," "30 Rock," LARRY CROWNE, and the recently released BIG MIRACLE (in a nice, non-comic turn) and as the voice of the villain O'Hare in the monster hit THE LORAX. At SXSW this year, I caught Riggle screaming a lot in NATURE CALLS, with Patton Oswalt and Johnny Knoxville. But the interview we did a couple of weeks ago centered on his supporting role as the douchebag gym teacher Mr. Walters in 21 JUMP STREET.

In person, Riggle is a dialed-down version of the boisterous persona he often give us. He's well aware of his gifts and abilities, and is wonderfully articulate when discussing comedy or anything, for that matter. Needless to say, the man is easy to talk to is gives a great interview. Please enjoy Rob Riggle…

Capone: Good morning.

Rob Riggle: Hey, how’s it going?

Capone: Good. I think there’s a common theme among a lot of the characters that you play in that you’re like the quintessential jackass most of the time. I think you really kind of perfected it in some of those Funny Or Die shorts that you did. What is the key there?

RR: Well I’ve told people before, because I came from an improv background. I came up doing the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and my favorite game to play, that being the thing that I enjoy the most, is arrogant ignorance, just a guy who’s large and in charge, but just totally wrong headed. I always enjoyed watching guys like that. To me, I could watch those guys all day, because they entertain the shit out of me. So that’s one of my favorite things to play and given an opportunity I like to play that.

Capone: Funny enough last night, when you and Jonah were pretending to be the bickering couple going at each other, you picked the female role.

RR: [laughs] That goes back to improv training. When you start a bit, you’ve got to fall into your characters. He took the role of the guy, so I had to jump in the role of the lady there, and one person usually is going to be crazy and one person is going to be straight and so I was the straight person and Jonah was the crazy person. And that’s the straight person’s job, to feed the crazy person stuff to go on.

Capone: But you only needed a couple of words. You said, “We agreed before we left the house…” and we’ve all heard that voice, either in reality or in our heads. I’ve heard some other actors who are known for improvising on movies say that they'll get a script or they will meet their director and maybe the script isn’t that strong, and the director say, “You’ll make that funny when we shoot.” Do you ever get frustrated with that attitude like.

RR: Yeah, that happens. Not with this one. These guys wrote a really good script, and all we did was we did what was on the page, but then the directors and Jonah were very good about saying, “Alright, let’s play now. Let’s have some fun. We got that, let’s play and see if there’s anything else out there.” That’s where the improv in this movie came from, not a place of “We’ve got to rewrite,” it was more of a place of “We got it, let’s play. Let’s just have some fun.”

I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard this. Apparently, Bill Murray said at one time when somebody asked him “How do you pick scripts?” He said, “I read a script and I decide how much I have to rewrite it.” Yeah, there’s an element of that sometimes, and I find like if I go do an internet spot or a commercial, you end up doing things, and there’s not a whole lot of meat on the bone a lot of times, and so you just out of sheer pride of “I don’t want to do that.”

Capone: It’s your reputation.

RR: Yeah, because you’re like “I don’t want to do that. Let me see if I can try to come up with something that’s more in my voice.” So then you end up rewriting or writing, and nine times out of ten they use that stuff and then you feel ripped off because you didn’t get a writing credit. But you’re like “Whatever, I guess.” That’s the way it is, so what are you going to do?

Capone: You and James LeGros were so good in BIG MIRACLE. That could have been its own little movie. It’s still funny, because you get the accents, but it’s not comedy. It’s just great acting, and you don’t get to do those kinds of characters that much. Do you kind of enjoy finding these real characters to sink your teeth into?

RR: Yes. I love the fact that we got to play a couple of Minnesota guys and I didn’t have to be a jerk. I didn’t have to be that arrogant ignorant; I could just play it straight and yet still have fun with it. I’ve studied method in New York. I’ve studied at the Atlantic. I’ve tried all kinds of different things and I just try to make it as real as possible for me. With a character like that, I just try to imagine if this was me and I was in this situation, or if I was this guy and had all of this stuff. You just do up the math and try to come up with something. Like this character, Mr. Walters, I plucked from many football coaches and gym teachers and drill instructors and people that I had in my life and condensed them down to a Mr. Walters-type character.

And I left the [facial] growth, because I wanted him to look like he’s got one foot in the door, one foot out of the door, because I know a lot of coaches that were like, “I’m just doing this teacher thing to pay my rent, dude. I’m not in it to win it. Just run your laps and shut up.” I knew guys like that; we all do.

Capone: You can tell he’s at his most happy in that scene during the Peter Pan play, where he’s just down there like yelling things out. That’s his element. So when it comes to more straightforward acting, what else have you done that’s been like that that you’ve really said “I want to do more things like that.”

RR: My whole career has been comedy, and usually I’m playing a bigger-than-life character or at least a heightened version of reality, so there’s not a whole lot on film that you would see, but I’ve done little productions in New York. I’ve done scene work. I’ve done things like that. I had a shot a more dramatic role, a more serious role and I got offered the part, but I couldn’t do it because THE OTHER GUYS started at the same time, so I did THE OTHER GUYS. I hope I get another shot at doing something more dramatic, because I would love to give it a shot. I don’t know if I’ll get that shot, but I’d love to.

Capone: You've worked a lot with Will Ferrell and his team. What do you like about the atmosphere of a set that he’s a part of?

RR: Well Adam McKay is a Chicago-trained, Second City, Improv Olympic guy, and he’s the real deal and he’s an improviser. Will is a Groundlings, improviser. They know how to do bits. They know what they are doing. They speak each other’s language without even… They will just slide into a bit instantly, and I knew how to play with those guys, thank God.

So that’s why I was lucky enough to have worked with them so many times, because I know how to play. We play well together and we enjoy each other. I love being on their sets, because you do it once by the book, once with notes, in the can, “now let's do five more. What do we got? Let’s go for it. Let’s just shoot the lights out.” We go in places that are bizarre and hilarious and weird, and sometimes it gets used and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the joy it it, because you never know what you’re going to find in those improved moments.

Capone: Do you have a moment like that they you’re particularly proud of, where you came up with one of those improv moments from one of his movies?

RR: Well yeah, there’s a scene in STEP BROTHERS that didn’t make the final cut of the movie, but you can find it online. It’s where I’m meeting with Will Ferrell, and I have a heart attack. If you get a chance, you should check it out.

Capone: I think it’s on the DVD, right?

RR: It might be.

Capone: I thought it was.

RR: But that was all improvised. That whole thing, we just started screwing around. We'd done enough takes that we were comfortable and we knew what we were trying to accomplish and we just blew it out and we took it to… I had a heart attack, I died, I’d come back. We just kept going, and it was a blast and we were dying. It was just pure joy, like we really enjoyed doing it, and those are really fun moments. Then you find things like that scene got replaced with the scene that’s in the movie now where Adam Scott and Will are talking, and I keep yelling “Pow.” Well that’s not in the script, we just improvised that. We just improvised “pow,” and again Will knew exactly how to play that, because it wasn’t in the script, but I just “pow,” and he's like “Why does he keep doing that?” He knew exactly that he had to call it out because you can’t ignore that, and those are just rules that you learn from doing improv and stuff.

Capone: Let me talk about a couple of things you’ve got coming up. I’ve seen THE LORAX already, and you’re in that as the bad guy. How early in the process did you actually see what that guy looks like? He’s a weird-looking dude.

RR: It was the second voice session I had. They had the character ready to show me, and instantly I was just like “Ha!” I loved it and was like “Oh my God.” It was perfect, because he was this big [indicating short].

Capone: It’s that haircut that scares me.

RR: I wanted to give him a big voice if he was that little. If he runs bartertown, so to speak, I wanted him to have a big voice.

Capone: You tell me, does THE LORAX have an environmental and anti-business message that all conservatives should get angry about?

RR: See that’s the thing. I was on Leno the other night, and Bill O’Reilly was on, and I was promoting THE LORAX, and I said, “Everybody can enjoy this movie,” and I leaned over and I patted him on the knee and was like, “It goes across all political lines,” because I’m sure there will be people who will try to make a football out of it.

Capone: It’s already started.

RR: Has it really?

Capone: Yeah.

RR: I’m in the center on a lot of stuff, so I’m not out on any fringe, okay? But tell me why it’s bad for a kid to hear the message, “Take care of your environment. Care about the world around you”? Just stop there, that’s not bad. That’s really all that we are saying. The book, Dr. Seuss’s THE LORAX, was just saying, “Take care of the world around you.” Who doesn’t want to hear that message?

Capone: It’s anti-business though not to cut down trees. Come on, you know that.

[Both Laugh]

RR: You know what that is? That’s lack of creativity, lack of creative business mind. I’m sure a true capitalist could find a way to make environmentally friendly stuff profitable, which I think they’ve already started with wind farms. So don’t tell me that there’s no money to be made on the environment.

Capone: I’m going to head down next week to SXSW and you’ve got a film there with Patton Oswalt called NATURE CALLS. I know nothing about this movie.

RR: It’s a fun movie. I think the original title was SCOUT MASTERS and I think it will be fun. I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know how it’s pieced together. Yeah, yeah. It should be fun. I know we had fun doing it, and the late Patrice O’Neal is in it.

Capone: That’s right. That was his last movie, right?

RR: We literally just finished filming when he had his stroke, so it was really sad, because he was a super nice guy. He and I were on the movie together the whole time, so it was sad, but it’s a great chance to see him again. I don’t know, I’m excited to see it.

Capone: Then you’ve also got HELL AND BACK, which sounds like a great story.

RR: It’s going to be fun. It’s animated. But it’s a stop motion, not claymation, but a stop-motion animation.

Capone: With machetes?

RR: Yeah, it’s going to be really cool. They were showing me all of the sets and stuff, and it looks like it’s going to be amazing and they brought on some really funny, great people, super talented people. I’m really excited for it, and we’ve already started doing some sessions, and it has been a blast and Tom Gianas, who is directing, he’s an SNL alum writer, just a really talented guy who’s directed a lot of HUMAN GIANT stuff.. He’s directing this and he loves improv. He comes from that world as well, so he loves to let you roll. You do a pass on it, and then he’s like “Anything?” And you’re like “Let me try something,” and you see him in the room going like this [thumbs up], and you’re like “Okay, I guess that worked.”

Capone: Is it geared towards adults? It seems like a very dark story. You can’t do a kid’s movie about someone going to hell.

RR: I’m not 100 percent sure, but it’s definitely going to be PG-13 or R.

Capone: Okay. I can get behind that. Well I may see you down in Austin, because I'll be doing interviews for the other movies. It was good to meet you.

RR: Good to see you. All right.

-- Steve Prokopy
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