From Wet Hot American Summer to Anchorman to I Love You, Man, the funny guy’s been breaking girls’ hearts and guys’ balls for decades.
In the new flick Our Idiot Brother, you play a well-intentioned stoner whose attempts at good deeds come back to bite him. Why are you so good at playing lovable morons?
I like characters with a shred of optimism running through them. That’s why I like hanging out with younger people—they’re not bitter and they believe everything’s possible. Then you start to get older, and you’re like, Oh, nothing’s possible.
You were a teen idol for a while after playing a heartthrob in Clueless. Did you have girls following you everywhere?
There were a couple of hot teenage girls along with girls who were, like, 10 when the movie came out, and I was meeting them 10 years later. But I already felt like their father at that point.
Which of your films changed your life the most?
Wet Hot American Summer was the first one that felt like my own sensibility. It was just so fun. And Anchorman marked a tidal shift in my career. After that I started working with Judd [Apatow] and doing a lot more comedies.
Did you know that the movie website IMDB says your “trademark” is a “low-key, sardonic sense of humor” and “deadpan delivery”?
It’s true. I’m actually suing Jason Bateman because he’s infringing on my trademark, and I’ll have none of that.
What other lies has the Internet spread about you?
What’s weird is that anybody can write anything, and once it goes online it’s permanent. My very first biography on IMDb, which was written by a manager I had at the time, was not true. I’d taken this course in England, and Ben Kingsley came in one day as a guest teacher, and I did a scene from Hamlet. It was a random day, one scene. But my manager made it sound like I had played Hamlet in a production that Ben Kingsley directed. For years people have asked me about that, and I think, If Ben Kingsley ever heard this, he’d say, “Who?”
You should just embrace it.
Oh, yeah: “Ben? He was great. He really showed me the way of the day.”
Let’s go back to Anchorman—
I know, I’m talking about theater, and anyone reading your magazine is going, “Oh, fuck off!”
Yeah, we have to start talking more about boobs.
If anyone’s reading this, it means they’ve already looked at every single boob in this issue. How many people do you think will read this while taking a dump? Someone’s going to read that and smile because they’ll realize they are, right now, dropping a deuce. I feel like I should go to the toilet now to finish this interview.
That would be a first.
I go for the highbrow stuff, though. Is it weird that I masturbate to The Economist? Unh, those articles. The deficit, unh! First-quarter spending, oh, my God, I can’t hold it any longer! Unnhhh, I Bernanke’d! I don’t even say I orgasm; I say I “Bernanke.” That joke sucks. And do you know what the saddest part is? I was weighing, do I go with Bernanke or Greenspan or Larry Summers? Bernanke just sounded funniest.
These skills must’ve come in handy on Anchorman. Did you improvise the line where you named your cock and balls the Octagon, James Westfall, and Dr. Kenneth Noisewater?
Yeah. I think [director] Adam McKay yelled out, “Octagon.” Kenneth Noisewater was a name I’d seen in a directory when I was doing prank calls as a kid. And James Westfall was a college roommate of mine. The idea was that I was never going to tell him about it, and then he’d see the movie and realize that he was actually my left ball. I knew that would give me great pleasure, just picturing him.
Did you get a call from him?
I did. He tried to play it cool, but I think he was psyched. It’s affected his business, too. When he meets potential clients, they’ll be like, “Have you seen Anchorman?” And he has to tell them not only has he seen it, but he’s actually the testicle.
And have you heard from Kenneth Noisewater?
No, but he does exist. I want to know if he saw the movie and was like, “Wait a minute, what?” Granted, I did take some liberties, because the Ken Noisewater I saw in the directory did not have an M.D. But maybe he saw the movie and was inspired to take the MCAT. Change course. “I’m going to leave this career in urban planning and become an internist. I saw this movie, Anchorman, and took it as divine intervention.”
What’s the movie people quote to you most often?
In the past year or two it’s been I Love You, Man. A lot of people say, “Slappa da bass.” Just the other night I was leaving a Yankees game, and the dude in front of me just goes, “Latress on the menjay.”
So with all this success, what’s the one thing you’d go back and tell your 18-year-old self?
Fuck everything! I’m kidding. Just enjoy every moment. Don’t take any of it too seriously. I’d probably say to spend as much time with my dad as possible, because he died a couple of years ago, and when that shit happens you’re just like, Fuck, I wish I could've done this and this. Ending on a hilarious note. That’ll have your readers rolling in the aisle! Or the bathroom stall.