After over a decade chasing down rapists, perverts, and thugs on Law & Order: SVU, Chris Meloni is ready to try something new. His first project after retiring from the force, They Came Together, is a goofy take on the formulaic romantic comedy, replete with long establishing shots of the Manhattan skyline, candle-lit dinners, and amazing coincidences. Meloni plays the buffoon boss to Paul Rudd’s hapless candy executive and makes a brief appearance in a soon-to-be soiled spandex superhero suit. It’s tempting to say he was cast against type, but it’s unclear whether that is actually the case.
As an actor, Meloni was defined by one role for so long that people forgot how funny and strange he can be. But his peculiar sort of fame – he may have the most recognizable face in New York – has also afforded him the chance to be himself. He flies his own plane to work and sometimes get drunk on set. He’s a lot funnier than Elliot Stabler and he seems like he’s having a better time. MAXIM spoke to him about life after Dick Wolf.
It seems like you’re probably in a pretty good place, financially and otherwise, to do whatever the hell you want.
I think having a little bit of a cushion affords you luxury, and I don’t mean of the monetary type. I mean creative stuff, the things you want to do, and what strikes you. That’s what I’m following: my gut.
You moved to California. Are there things from the East Coast that you miss and are there things that you’re glad to have left behind?
I’m glad to have left winter, the cold and the lack of light. I miss whatever energy is inherent in the East Coast. I don’t know. It’s where I’m from; maybe I’m just used to the way things are done. But, having said all of that, I appreciate what the West Coast’s got.
Given that you signed on to do They Came Together after playing a shell-shocked cook with a lot of weird fetishes in Wet Hot American Summer, is it safe to say that first movie was fun to film?
Well, number one, we were a little bit younger. Number two, most, if not all, of us didn’t have children.
Being isolated on a “location,” especially when it’s a camp in the middle of nowhere, lends itself to shenanigans. Unfortunately, I have to say that far less alcohol was consumed this time. But, it was still a hell of a lot of fun.
What is the atmosphere like on those sets?
Well, it’s just a constant atmosphere of excitement and fun and anticipation of the unknown. Everyone is exploring, moment-to-moment, what’s funny. It’s just always exciting. [Michael] Showalter and David Wain are wonderful guys to work for because they appreciate comedy so much. If you make them laugh, it’s always a big bonus.
Did you have room to improvise lines or moves, or is everything pretty tightly scripted?
I never felt too much of a need to improvise because with the stuff that I was given, everything I needed was on the page. Every once in a while we’d go off. If something struck me as funny, a physical kind of thing, I’d try it. Like, getting the disinfectant spritzed on my hand as I walk into the board meeting. That was my shit. Those small things.
Are you more of a one-liner delivery guy, or are you more physical with comedy?
I grew up deeply appreciating the physical. When I grew up, physical comedy was kind of in vogue. As a kid, I watched Jerry Lewis, I watched Abbott and Costello, I watched The Three Stooges. All of that is deeply physical comedy.
Though I also really appreciate the evolution of comedy, where it’s gone. Like Steve Martin and his absurdist stuff, which is what Wain and Showalter do. Now that humor is even more widespread, like in Veep. I appreciate it.
The Internet thinks you have a pilot’s license.
Is the plane a leisure activity, or do you commute?
I fly myself around in it, even from job to job. It’s a pretty cool way to get around.
Photos by Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images