Thomas Lennon On His Rare Leading Role In 'Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich,' Plus Updates On 'Cannonball Run' And The 'Reno 911' Sequel [Interview]

Usually, when Thomas Lennon shows up in a movie, it's to be the comic relief. He does have the comedic cred, coming from The State and creating Reno 911!, and you just know how Hollywood likes to put actors in a box. So it's sort of a coup that Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich cast him not only as the lead actor, but as a serious leading man.

Edgar (Lennon) works in a comic book shop and comes into possession of one of Andre Toulon's evil puppets. Once he discovers the root of their evil, he tries to stop them. But if the previous 12 Puppet Masters are any indication, this is a job that will take much longer than one movie.

Lennon spoke with /Film by phone about his role in Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, now in theaters and VOD. Lennon is also a prolific screenwriter with his partner Robert Ben Garant, having recently written the screenplay to the Cannonball Run remake. He also offered us an update on the new Reno 911! movie.

Was Puppet Master a rare opportunity for you to have a lead role in a film?

Well, that's a very good point. If you've followed my career, I tend to play best friend of a very handsome guy, or doctor who has no name whatsoever, if you've noticed. Yeah, it was fun to play just a character who even has a name that's not like Chief of Staff or Doctor.

How did it come about? Did they seek you out?

Yes, they did. I got the script which came in from Dallas Sonnier, the producer. The script I thought was just completely insane. It'd be worth reading the script if you haven't read the script just to see what a movie like that looks like on paper. I mostly just thought, "You can't do the vast majority of this in a movie." It was the most violent thing I've ever read, other than the details of The Black Dahlia murder itself. It was so ultra violent. Then somehow we did that. I really liked Wither, the [directors] as we refer to them, the Swedes, had made. Here's what's interesting. I wasn't sure why they wanted me for a Puppet Master movie until after I saw the movie really. Now that I've seen it, I totally get why they wanted me because I'm that weird combination of am I kidding or am I trying to be deadly serious? Honestly, even I when I watch the movie can't tell if I'm kidding or not.

Was this your first love scene in a movie?

Paul Rudd and I, of course, were nominated for an MTV Best Kiss award so I don't want to slight that. And then of course I think I had sex with a Xerox machine in Bad Teacher but yes, with a lady, this would be my first ever. Oh, but Dangle did some pretty heavy man on man stuff in Reno 911! which brings us back to, yes, it seems like this is the first time with a lady.

Were you a fan of the Puppet Master films back in the' 80s and '90s?

The first time I saw a Puppet Master film was probably right after I read the script to Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Then I went back in time and saw the original Puppet Master with William Hickey of course. So currently I've seen two Puppet Master films which are Puppet Master and Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. I'm well aware that there's a lot of canon that I'm not versed in yet, but it gives me a lot of room. I've got a lot of screenings in my future I guess.

You wrote and directed the horror comedy Hell Baby so were you a fan of the genre?

I am. If I'm going to watch a movie, 90% of the time, if the option of what I've heard is a solid horror film exists, that'll be what I watch. I don't tend to watch a ton of comedies. If horror exists, that's what I would much rather see. Also my son happens to be really, really deeply into horror films so it's fun for us because we just started watching a lot of stuff together.

Did you feel The Littlest Reich went even further than you did in Hell Baby?

Oh way, way, way further. Hell Baby is a PG lark compared to Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich which is like an NC-17 bloodbath.

Was working with the actual puppets more difficult than you expected?

Other than working with the Swedes, working with the puppets is probably my favorite part. Really what you're doing a lot of the times is you have to manipulate the puppet killing you. It ends up being a lot like you're just playing two roles. You get to play the part of yourself and puppet killing you, which is a treat.

Even if you survive?

I come real close on a couple and there's a lot of blood on me at the end. It is a spoiler, but I do seem to survive. It's hard to say which of the puppets survive because at some point there's like 40 puppets in the film. Either at least one of each has certainly survived and also I certainly hope we get to do another one because I just want to have a scene with the Leech.

They set it up for a sequel. Is the plan for you to keep fighting the puppets?

I haven't really heard anything about it. I know Dallas talked at the LA premiere about doing a prequel but you might want to check in with him about that. I do think that that is part of his plan, to do a prequel to this one.

People are going to want to see them pick up where this ended.

Gosh, I would hope so. And, I hope it picks up from where it left because honestly, with a prequel, I can't make myself look any younger. But I can look a tiny bit older.

Your character is a collector. Is there anything you collect in that world?

There's not much I collect although I've been at Comic-Con probably every year the past 12 or 14 years. So there's only a couple things I collect. One is I have every copy of the Goon comic book that exists and every edition, and a lot of original artwork by Eric Powell. So that really is one of the only things that I have. In fact, if you watch Puppet Master and you look around the comic book store that Edgar works in, you'll see The Goon is represented on every wall and everything people are holding.

I haven't read that one. I'll have to check it out.

Oh, The Goon is amazing. The Goon is a comic book by Eric Powell who also does one right now called Hillbilly which is incredible. And Goon is about a guy and his buddy, The Goon, who's kind of pranky in the 1940s. And they just beat the shit out of zombies with their fists. It's one of the most beautifully drawn and funniest comic books you'll ever read.

Did you geek out over any of your Puppet Master costars?

I have been fascinated by Udo Kier probably my whole life. I don't remember the first time I saw him in something but it was probably My Own Private Idaho. I just thought who on earth is this weirdo? He's amazing. I just wanna see way more of this guy. Then of course, once you peel the onion, you realize Udo Kier is in several hundred films so he's basically everywhere. He's the gift that keeps on giving and the fun thing about Udo is the Udo person  is really no different. The onscreen and off screen persona are basically identical. Meeting Udo is a little bit like that scene in My Own Private Idaho. "You want a lift?" It pretty much is.

You don't have a scene with him. Did you get to meet him?

We had personal time together but no screen time. What did we do? I feel like when you're hanging out with Udo, there's wine drinking and stories. I know we ate grilled cheeses together a lot. There was a grilled truck and Udo's like, "Yah, get me a grilled cheese."

Has The Cannonball Run remake changed since Doug Liman is now directing?

You know, I haven't really heard any updates on that except that I'm obviously very excited about it. The original movies were a huge part of my childhood when I literally wanted to be a stuntman when I grew up and a lot of that was probably because of Burt Reynolds and movies like Cannonball and of course Hooper. So they're a huge part of my childhood and our take on the new Cannonball movies was what if they were better than you expected. It's worth a try to create with a new script. I don't know how much is changing or how much is staying. I haven't really heard that much about what's happening right now. I think Doug Liman is an unbelievable director. Edge of Tomorrow, I'm still picking up pieces of my mind from how amazing that was. We're thrilled that he's doing it.

You announced a funny title for a Reno 911! sequel, Reno 911!: Miami, New York-New York-Las Vegas 89109. Do you have a plot and started writing yet?

That was sort of the funny title. That was the original idea. The idea has actually changed substantially since then. That was a thought of a follow-up which got taken seriously. There really is a real idea and I wish I could say it but I feel like if I say it, it almost spoils it. Let's just say Ben and I are actively engaged in it and it's just an eventuality.

Is it taking them to a different city again?

Actually no. I can't give you any more but we're engaged. We will follow through at some point, I promise.

What other writing projects are you engaged in?

I have a novel that comes out February 26th. It's called Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles. It's about a cop who works in a world of leprechauns.

Is that, not young adult, but youth fantasy like Harry Potter?

No, it's very young adulty. I look at it, the inspiration was definitely Douglas Adams' works. There's a lot of humor in it and it takes itself pretty lightly. It is definitely, yes, in the young adult category.