Charlie Day Spills On It's Always Sunny, His Directorial Debut, And The Magic Of Mountain Dew [Interview]

There are dream interviews, and then there are the ones where you pinch yourself afterwards because you can't believe it's real. "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is my favorite TV series of all time, and my favorite character on the show is Charlie Kelly. So when the opportunity arose to chat with Charlie Day — the man behind everyone's favorite illiterate, cat food-eating janitor — I jumped at the chance.

Day is the new spokesman for Mountain Dew, the sweet citrus soda that will give you more energy than a jug full of Fight Milk. Such a pairing is deserving of celebration, so the fine folks at Mountain Dew set me up to chat with Day about "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," the latest on his directorial debut, "Pacific Rim," and of course, how to do the Dew.

After pacing my apartment with nervous energy, I sat down for a Zoom call with Day, who was warm, funny, and incredibly gracious. He delivered thoughtful answers to my tough questions and knocked the softballs right out of the park, as any good soda spokesman should. In the new ad campaign, Day gets a chance to do some fun stunts, sing a little ditty, and chug a whole lot of Mountain Dew. In addition to finishing the record-breaking 15th season of "It's Always Sunny," fans can also catch Day playing the romantic lead in his latest film, "I Want You Back," now streaming on Prime Video. Talking with Day was a dream come true, and now I'm thrilled to share it with all of you.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

'Anytime we get to go down a rabbit hole of stupidity, I absolutely love it'

You recently spoke on the "Always Sunny" podcast about how Charlie's illiteracy was a gag that just happened. And while sometimes it's a little silly, some of the resulting bits have been gold, like denim chicken or "The Gang Dances Their A**es Off" What's your favorite moment of Charlie's idiocy?

Oh my lord. Well, probably when he wrote a musical to propose to the girl that he loves without realizing that the themes of his musical are going to be interpreted in an entirely different way. But gosh, there's so many, there's almost too many to just pick one at this point. I mean, this season, I liked that Charlie didn't understand how Pittsburgh and Philadelphia can be in the same state. How you could have two cities in one state seem to blow his mind. So anytime we get to go down a rabbit hole of stupidity, I absolutely love it.

There's a brilliance to Charlie too, though. In "Charlie Work," you really get to see that he's a little bit of a savant as well. How do you and the rest of the crew manage to find that balance between savant and total dummy?

Look, I think that's actually true to life. I think that's more true to life than we want to admit. I've seen some of the smartest people in the world not know how to open the wrapper of a cheese stick. And at the same time, someone who might not have the book smarts of someone else might be much more world savvy. So I think, I like those differences. I think sometimes you just have to just find that little sweet spot in between about what's too smart or what's too dumb and that's a moving target. But I'm glad that it's not just all one thing. I think it would get boring.

'It's not a justification, but it's just another color'

And speaking of that, this season you got to do a big dramatic moment with your breakdown in the finale. What was it like finally having that cathartic moment for Charlie after all these years of being kicked around?

I think it was really cathartic for me as well, just as a person and a performer, just to let that out. And it was nice to do in terms of the story to just acknowledge the character's humanity just for a minute. I think audiences wouldn't love it if we dwelled on it forever and ever, but to stomp down the insanity for a minute and say, hey, let's just take a look at this guy. He's a real guy who's had a very messed up life and that might explain a little bit why he is who he is. It's not a justification, but it's just another color. So I really enjoyed getting to try to push myself to that place. And I've been really happy with the audience's response to it.

And what was it like working with Colm Meaney? I have to know.

Oh, we were so thrilled he was willing to do it. We flew, I think he was in Spain and we flew him out. And we were just big fans and we really wanted someone who could be funny, but someone who also had heavy, dramatic chops to just come in and play in our sandbox, and he was a total pro and a pleasure to be around. And I'm sorry we had to kill him off, but we scripted that before we cast him.

'I think the next thing that I write or direct, I think ideally would have to do with music'

You said you love the Nightman. Are we going to ever see the Nightman or the Dayman again?

A while ago, we toured around doing a live performance of the Nightman, which was an absolute blast. I think it would be a shame not to at least try that one more time. So who knows if we can coordinate our schedules and our home lives and our raising kids and all that just to get out and about and perform that show again, I'd love it.

Well, you are very musically talented. And I was wondering if we're going to see more musicality from you, either in your upcoming movie roles or on TV or anything?

Well, fortunately Mountain Dew reached out to me and asked if I wanted to sing a song for their commercial campaign. And I thought, what a great idea. I think that's really going to reach your audience and it's fun for me. Yes, I absolutely love just working on music and I have a couple ideas in mind and I think the next thing that I write or direct, ideally would have to do with music. I don't have anything in the works yet, but I have something I'm cooking up in my mind. But I'm not going to commit to it yet in case I can't pull it off.

'It was really just up for me to get the storytelling right'

And speaking of writing and directing, do you have any updates on [directorial debut] "El Tonto"?

Yes. So I'm re-titling it, and I've changed it a little bit. And I actually did a big re-shoot with Ken Jeong. I used the pandemic to, like Pixar does, stop and look at my project and change whatever aspects of it I wanted to change. And I'm going through the final editing now, but I had a lot of help from a really talented mentor, a brilliant man named Guillermo del Toro [pictured above as Pappy McPoyle in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"], who ... I was about to sell the movie, and I wanted to get his opinion on something that I really wanted to change, but I knew it was a crazy move to take the movie off the market and go through a change and sit on it for so long. And Guillermo was such a good influence that he said, "Listen, you just have to make this movie what you want it to be."

And he really not only urged me to do it, but was willing to let me bounce some ideas off of him. And he was a very busy man. So the fact that he was willing to peel aside some time to help guide me through that process ... So I went through those changes with Ken Jeong, who has now a very large part in the movie. And I think [he] delivers a performance unlike anyone's seen him perform: really hysterical, but also very emotional. And so I'm going to put the finishing touches on that this week. And then I'll start trying to bring it back out to buyers shortly. But I mean, between Ken Jeong and Kate Beckinsale and Adrien Brody and John Malkovich and Jason Sudeikis, the performances in this movie are so great. It was really just up for me to get the storytelling right. And I think I got it into a place now where hopefully it can find the right home very soon.

I'm excited to get it out there, finally.

'Stunt guys gotta work too'

Speaking of Del Toro, in "Pacific Rim," you played Newt. Would you be looking to play more genre characters? Would you be interested in horror or superhero movies or anything like that?

Yes, I love all that. It's just a matter of, will I be asked? But no, I am. And I have ideas like that, that I'm also developing, which are ideas of my own. But getting to work with someone like Del Toro was truly life-changing for me. Obviously, with this movie that I've been directing, he was just such an amazing creative influence. And I loved being in a — I guess a giant monster movie, you would call it. So I would really like to do more of that stuff if I get the chance, I'll jump at it.

As a Mountain Dew spokesman, you are doing a lot more physical comedy, but this is not your first rodeo with physical comedy. Have you ever gotten hurt over the years and what draws you towards keeping at it?

Well, yeah, I mean, I do have a tendency to throw myself into stuff to the point where sometimes it can be dangerous, but Mountain Dew had me do a few stunts, none of which were too risky. I think I got to crash through a wall, which was actually a lot of fun. But I just love making things, whether it's a "Pacific Rim"-size movie or it's "Sunny" or even these Mountain Dew spots, which I think are hilarious. I think I am someone who just really enjoys getting to do it. So oftentimes when someone wants me to do something, I throw myself into it. But I am getting to the age now where I'm starting to smarten up a little bit and every now and then I think, well, stunt guys gotta work too, so give them the shot!