Ed Helms Talks Playing The Douche Bag In Jeff, Who Lives At Home

By Eric Eisenberg 2012-03-15 13:17:31discussion comments
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Pat, the character played by Ed Helms in the Duplass brothersí Jeff, Who Lives At Home, is a fascinatingly layered character. Though the film initially portrays him as a selfish, egotistical prick, as the story continues and we watch him suffer through the realization that his wife might be having an affair we understand that he actually is a sweet, devoted guy underneath. It was this redeeming factor that let Helms really play out that awful side early on.

A couple weeks ago I had the chance to sit down one-on-one with the actor to discuss not only Patís inner workings, but how he chooses scripts as the star of a television series, why he almost turned the project down, and the pressures of improvising with the Duplasses.

Being the star of a television series, obviously youíre more limited in the time that you can commit to making movies. What do you typically look for when choosing a script and what was it about Jeff, Who Lives At Home in particular?

To me itís about, ďIs this an exciting story that I want to be a part of? Are these people that I want to work with? And can I fit it into my schedule?Ē [laughs]. Thatís usually the biggest wild card. But if those things are in place then I am so psyched. And I really donít think about it from a scale standpoint. If itís a story and people that I am passionate about working with and for then thatís going to bring out the best in me and thatís going to have the most positive effect. I have fun doing it, and it will all sort of shake out in a positive way. I try not to make those decisions on like, ďIs this a big movie or a big enough movie?Ē or whatever.

This movie sort of had it all. It was such a cool script and such a cool group of people to work with.

Does character work into it also? Are you looking for characters that arenít like Andy Bernard?

That fits into the script, ďIs this a story I want to be a part of.Ē So absolutely, absolutely itís important. Thatís not to say absolutely that I looking to depart from Andy Bernard consciously, but I think that probably, if Iím analytical about it, those are things that Iím gravitating towards Ė things that kind of change the game a little bit. Thatís just sort of what Iím drawn to creatively as opposed to a conscious decision to break out. But Andy Bernard is such familiar territory, itís been five years now of full television seasons doing this, and I think that Pat, this character, provided a very different kind of avenue for me.

And itís funny because I didnít want to do this Ė when I read the script I was about 40 pages in I was like, ďNo way Iím doing this. This character is reprehensible. And Iím not drawn to that. I want to play characters that I understand and that I think are cool Ė even if theyíre flawed, like Andy, for example or Stu in The Hangover. This one I was like, ďThis guy is such a jerk. I donít want to be this guyĒÖ until I got further on and got through to the end and I realized like, ďWow, this is actually just a really honest portrayal of a complex guy who wants to be a better person than he is.Ē And thatís what I could relate to. Alright, he may be a jerk, but heís mad at himself for it. And that, to me, is redemptive Ė and he finds a little bit of self-awareness through the course of the movie. And thatís like a painful but wonderful arc.

I need to say at this point that I absolutely loved this film and I loved all of the characters. And even though Pat shows very little respect for other people, and heís a real jerk to his brother, at the same time he really does have this really core quality to him that you really can connect with. Because he really is just human.

Iím super, super excited to hear you say that! Because I was terrified that he would just kinda be this douche bag, but it was really important to me to find something redemptive in him and that kinda freed me up to really be the douche bag early on [laughs].

Was the character that you read in the first draft of the script basically the character that you see on screen or did he undergo some changes through collaboration through production?

I would say that Mark and Jay [Duplass] painted a character that I could really sink my teeth into. And of course I brought a lot to Pat just in terms of his behavior, but his choices, his context, his damage, those were all things that were written in there and for me the challenge was kind of like accomplishing that vision that Mark and Jay had. But I understood it. I felt like I got this character the more we talked about it. My first meeting with Mark and Jay it was like, ďYeah man, this is cool. Weíre on the same page and we sorta see this character the sameĒ and that was exciting.

The Duplass brothers have a very unique style. Theyíre two of the few filmmakers shoot in chronological order, they donít do rehearsals, they shoot a lot of mastersÖIím curious, from your perspective, how they compare to other directors youíve worked with. And in terms of rehearsal, do you prefer to have it or do you like to find it on the day?

I donít like to rehearse too much. I like to rehearse just to where Iím not thinking about blocking and Iím not thinking about my lines. In this case, with the Duplass brothers youíre not thinking about your lines anyway because youíre improvising the whole time. It is a very different way of shooting but itís familiar to me because itís hand-held cameras, kind of like a documentary style, which is certainly something Iím familiar with from The Office. Itís two cameras so Iím very comfortable with that sort of set up. That said, with Mark and Jay, like on The Office we improvise a little bit here and there, but itís pretty short takes. Weíll play out maybe a two or three page scene of The Office once or twice a week, but itís not like all the time. Mark and Jay, every scene is pretty much the entire scene every time you do it. Itís very rare that weíre going in for inserts and pieces. And that can be tedious, but it also just gets you to some really cool places and you find some amazing shit. I love it. I would love to do another movie with this whole gang, with Jason [Segel], Iíll do anything with Jason, ever. I just think heís the greatest and we had such a good time. And Mark and Jay, I would do anything for them. I just love those guys and Iím partly in awe of what they got out of me, they being Jason and Mark and Jay. Love it.
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