Thomas Harris chats with The House star Jason Mantzoukas…
There are few purveyors of the unhinged as purely hysterical as Jason Mantzoukas. Appearing in everything from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation, and The League, he has carved out a niche playing manic eyed psychopaths in significant, if small roles. With The House, he translates that charming despicability to the big screen in what is his first major role. In a film dominated by the standard Will Ferrell-child-dizzy-on lemonade-hyperactivity, Mantzoukas manages to steal each scene he is in.
I was lucky enough to chat with Jason over the phone about everything from his improv experience as part of the Upright Citizens Brigade, his “bad movie” podcast How Did This Get Made and his experience meeting Tommy Wiseau.
How is it that you ended up with the role?
I knew the producers and the guys that wrote it and the director and as it was all coming together, people told me about the movie and specifically about this part Frank and having me audition. So originally I came to it because I knew the players involved. When it started to come together with Will (Ferrell) and Amy (Poehler) I really just luckily auditioned for it and got the job. It was pretty straight forward, but I was benefitted with having worked with the directors, writers and producers.
There’s a long history of UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) members and gifted improv comics in the film. What was the level of improv like?
There was at times for sure. Director Andrew (J. Cohen, director) purposefully put a cast together of people that either had come out of UCB or similar backgrounds and also people that worked together before. I’ve been doing stuff with Amy for 15 years, and extensively with Nick Kroll, Rob Huebel, Lennon Parnham, Michaela Watkins, Andrea Savage. We’ve all in one form or another been working together for years and Andrew purposefully put together a cast who already had a familiar working relationship. He could have when needed let us improvise without having to figure it all out because it’s baked into our relationships.
You seem to have a rather brilliant history of playing despicable characters.
I just want to interrupt; I think you said despicable when I think you meant to say charming…
That’s why this character has the right balance. Where does he fit in the great pantheon of Mantzoukas?
He definitely, purposefully isn’t as broad as the other characters because it was very clear that this movie takes place in a very real grounded world in a very real set of circumstances and I very much wanted frank to be-while more off the rails than most of the other characters in the movie-I still wanted him to feel like he belonged in the word, that he was part of the group. Unlike lets say Adrian Pimento (Brooklyn Nine Nine, a delightfully unhinged cop) or Dennis Feinstein (Parks and Recreation, a delightfully unhinged purveyor of perfume), or Rafi (The League, a straight up psychopath), because I’m in so much of this movie and I had to track Frank’s emotional journey, even a little bit, it’s not like it’s the main thrust of this movie or anything, I still had to be aware of this journey he was on. I needed to not have him as crazy as most of the other characters I play, or not as despicable as you said.
This is your first major role really.
For sure for sure, this was one of the first times-you often shoot a movie out of order-that I was in so much of the movie that I had to track where my character was emotionally in different scenes. Mostly I just pop in and out in three or four scenes being me, but this was much more significant woven into the fabric of the whole movie which was very exciting and massively satisfying.
Is there any discussion of bringing How Did This Get Made to London?
Honestly, it’s always part of the conversation when we talk about the places we have not been and we would like to, the two biggest ones being Australia and the UK and I think truly we will get there but right now, Paul (Scheer) and June (Diane Raphael) have two little kids and their travel is significantly curtailed by that. We also have cut down touring the last couple of years because of that and all three of us are busy so even finding the time to record the podcast normally has been more and more difficult in a good way as we’re all becoming more and more successful.
May I ask about your role in The Disaster Artist (James Franco’s retelling of the making of The Room)?
The role I play in it you won’t recognize from the movie. I play this very small part where Tommy Wiseau goes to make the movie, he kind of goes to these guys who run a rental house for equipment and it’s me and Hannibal Burress and we sort of take advantage of him and his inexperience. It’s really funny and as a fan of the movie and having done it on the podcast and I was just frankly excited to be part of it.
Did you get to meet Tommy?
I did, when the movie screened at SXSW Tommy and Greg were both there which was just beyond exciting. He is intense.
Many thanks to Jason Mantzoukas for taking the time for this interview.
The House is released in UK cinemas on June 30th.