Jason Sudeikis interview

Jason Sudeikis has a real talent for making characters more likable than they probably are on paper. In the case of his new movie, Driven, he plays John DeLorean’s buddy, Jim Hoffman, a guy with a knack for bullshitting. He frequently lies, and yet there’s something oddly charming about the F.B.I. informant – maybe his honesty about being a bit of a phony. That’s not a level of self-awareness DeLorean, who’s basically Jim Hoffman if he achieved great success, shows in the movie.

The two friends are two sides of the same coin in director Nick Hamm‘s critically well-received drama, which shares no relation to the 2001 Renny Harlin movie co-starring Burt Reynolds. Based on a true story involving cocaine, DeLorean’s iconic car, and the F.B.I., it’s a wild true story about friendship and facade. It’s also a bit of a buddy movie with Sudeikis and Lee Pace playing close but distant friends, both comical in their own ways.

Recently, we had the chance to briefly talk to Sudeikis about playing Hoffman and figures from history, lessons learned from SNL and Second City, and his take on the long-gestating Fletch reboot.

Looking at your filmography the last few years, like Colossal, Race, and Driven, you seem kind of game for anything. Whenever you get a new script, are you just always open to any sort of role or genre?

Yeah, it really for me is driven by the story and then the character that I’m being asked to play within that story. I know that Race and this one, I really have enjoyed roles kind of like the person next to the brilliant genius. I don’t know if that’s just from growing up having lots of really, really talented friends or even through my generation that I did at SNL. I feel like I had to play that part in my real life next to Bill [Hader], Andy [Samberg], and Kristen [Wiig], too. Then, it’s like being the coach of Jesse Owens or the next door neighbor/informant of John DeLorean. It’s a little niche. Maybe I’ll get to play Salieri on Broadway someday in Amadeus, or Aaron Burr [laughs].

[Laughs] The comedy in Driven is played very straight. Does a lot of your training from Second City and SNL come in handy on a more dramatic movie like Driven?

Ultimately, yeah. In the big picture, for me, improvisation is all about the cast trying to be funny. The reaction role is always just sort of guarded, and to laugh is the intention. But really though, the biggest thing I feel that you get to learn from improv is the skill of listening, and that’s one that can be applied to anything in your trade, and in my trade, and in the future as parents. So, you have to listen. You’re not getting a role that the cast can’t play because they’re making it up as they go, and so are you.

So, it’s a little bit in some ways like Daniel in the Karate Kid, learning how to listen as a means to stay alive in a scene and stay active and stay present, and then lo and behold, when you start to work with scripted dialogue, you’ve got to still listen, even though you know what’s coming. You’ve got to act like you don’t, so that’s a big part of it. And then there’s two-person scenes, all those little runs like with me, boy, it’s so fun to get those, and do scenes with Judy [Greer] and Lee [Pace] and Corey [Stoll] and Justin [Bartha] as Howard Weitzman, yeah, you got to listen. And those four are a great example of people that are easy at those to do.

You have a lot of two-person scenes, especially diners and walk and talks. I imagine they’re just not as simple as they actually look to film. Are they?

Again, when you get to do those scenes with Corey and Lee, in this specific movie, it does, especially with walk-and-talks, because that’s as close to fear as you get, unless you got the opportunity and the luxury to do a famous Steven Spielberg wonder [shot] or something. You’re on a street or who knows where, an airplane tarmac, and you’re walking and talking, and you’re both in frame at the same time. So, you’re sort of feeding on each other’s rhythm, and you’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to stay active, even when you’re not talking.

They are harder in the sense that if it is a longer scene in a two-person walk-and-talk, if you throw a line or you get a little mixed on a line at some point, then you’ve got to go all the way back to one. And then, in diner scenes, shots that are in diner scenes aren’t as difficult to do in my opinion as dinner scenes, because then you have to…then you’re going around the whole table and everybody’s talking, and those take forever because everyone gets their own individual coverage. And you really have to dig deep to maintain that illusion of the first time when you’re on hour eight of family Thanksgiving dinner banter.

I’ve heard many directors say those are the worst scenes to shoot.

They’re tough. They really are. Scorsese and Tarantino have it figured out, rotate that camera around and have everybody speak from their own camera and then get the heck out of there. Do those in one take. Very few people can pull those off as elegantly as those two do.

What’s it like portraying real people? Looking at Larry Snyder and Jim Hoffman, how close do you want to get to the real guys?

I was never good at homework to begin with, but you can’t find anything on Jim Hoffman. The witness relocation program has done a darn good job with him. And then, Larry Snyder, there is much as…to be honest, he had a lot of innovative ideas in the realm of coaching track and field, but there’s not much to be found about him either, so I kind of got lucky. I sort of did it the same way I did with impressions on SNL. For me, it’s about the essence of the person versus sounding like them or walking and talking. I think I can differ if I was charged with playing someone as iconic as Freddie Mercury. Then, people know what that is, and so you got to bring the thunder there. But these two guys are kind of again mysterious gentlemen just on the outside of these giant spotlights of Jesse and DeLorean.

Even though there was nothing to learn about Jim Hoffman, how deep did you dig into his profession and world? Were you ever reading about drug smugglers and flying planes?

I didn’t. To me, I need to know exactly what is it about this guy, this other human being that’s not me, that’s in a totally different situation than I am that I can connect with something I’ve either gone through or hope to never go through. It’s all make-believe. For me, it’s likely the very human elements, like, Jim Hoffman was a man who held this other man on a pedestal. And it’s tough to have a relationship with someone, be it platonic, romantic, whatnot, when you are so busy deifying someone. So it’s a real fall from grace from my opinion then, at least the version of the story we’re telling with the unreliable narrator, that is my character.

I’ve seen this guy, this American dream, as I say on the phone, kind of insinuate that he wants to do a coke deal. And I have that scene with Judy when I’m really mad, that’s about realizing all statues have clay feet or whatever the expression is. Don’t meet your heroes [laughs]. It’s a cautionary tale that I think he really, really looked up to DeLorean. He can talk to anyone.

He’s better at bullshitting than DeLorean. 

Yeah, exactly, exactly. I mean, Jesus, you get carried away to the friggin’ White House these days. I think that Jim Hoffman is probably better suited for these times than maybe he probably was in the early ’80s. He’d only get to be an F.B.I. informant and Instagram star.

[Laughs] I want to ask you about Fletch. Knowing how much you love and look up to Chevy Chase, I’ve always wanted to see what your take on Fletch would look like. What did you have in mind for the role, and could it still happen?

Yeah.

I’d really like to see that.

Oh, gosh. I appreciate that. My take on him is that he is the guy that’s always in search of the truth and was letdown all over the place. I don’t know how familiar you are with the books that Gregory McDonald wrote, but he came out with several of them, about a dozen or more. And I love Chevy Chase’s version of him, his take on him. He’s like one of those actors that I was raised on in a way. Him, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Michael Keaton, Bruce Willis, all these guys that I was like, ‘Oh, that would be neat to grow up and be like that one day,’ now realizing that ‘Oh, they’re actors.’

My take on it would be that it is less about the disguises and more about the search for truth, which is more important now than it’s ever been. If that were to ever happen, that’s what I can surmise it would be because the truth is on trial these days in many different ways, so Fletch might be the superhero that we both need and want.

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Driven is now in limited release and available on VOD.

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