Martin Starr Was Never a Nerd, Not Really

The Apatow apostle and Silicon Valley nihilist is coming into his own as a leading man, but he still loves a dick joke.

Throughout his career, Martin Starr has been typecast as a nerd, outcast and a, well, freak. But the actor, who made his bones in Judd Apatow’s gang while still in his teens, is stepping into the role of leading man in his new film Amira & Sam, out January 30. In the movie, Starr plays a military veteran who falls in love with a Muslim woman in New York. It’s charming and thoughtful and completely unlike Silicon Valley in every way, a description that might sound like an indictment but isn’t. Consider it a showcase of Starr’s talent and proof that he’s been playing dweebs all along. He never was one. Not really.

Starr spoke with Maxim about the peculiar state of his career and, of course, the future of dick jokes.

It’s interesting to see you in a lead role. And a romantic lead, too.

If by interesting you mean disappointing, I understand.

No, no. It’s good.

It felt great. If anything, I felt more pressure because I did approach it differently. I think because I was so concerned with that pressure of the entire movie sitting on my shoulders it drove me to be more involved. With the script, I gave notes and threw things in myself during the process. We got to a place where we were happy and as we were shooting my involvement was a lot different than it would normally be. It felt like I was producing more than I had before, even though that wasn’t the credit I was after. But that’s not always appropriate. On Silicon Valley, for example, everyone has a role to play and there are people who are very good at their jobs and it’s not my business to do any of the things I did on Amira & Sam. It just made me aware of how to step up and I feel more prepared moving forward having had this experience.

How similar did Sam feel to other roles you’ve played in the past?

It always feels new. But this feels the most close to me. This isn’t me by any means, but a lot of the smaller things and the subtle jokes that are in there are close to me. I put a lot into this character. I never played a character who was trying to woo somebody. It was fun to mess around and really try to charm her.

So you’re saying you’re not like Gilfoyle on Silicon Valley in real life?

Yeah, I hope not.

Were you surprised by the immediate reaction Silicon Valley got when it premiered last year?

I am surprised by everything. I was surprised that Freaks and Geeks didn’t find an audience. I was surprised that Party Down got canceled after two seasons. By nature of those two things, I’m always surprised that something I’m a part of is finding its footing. It’s just as surprising on either end. And it’s incredible to see something find its audience as well as Silicon Valley has.

Wasn’t there talk of a Party Down movie at one point?

Yeah. I wish I had some concrete information for you. This is my favorite question to not have an answer to. I wish I had gotten it going. But when it comes down to it, the creator wasn’t really figuring out how to move forward in a way that made the best sense. There were a lot of thoughts but they couldn’t quite bring it to fruition.

Have you shot the second season of Silicon Valley yet?

We’re on episode nine right now.

Are you allowed to say anything about the new season?

I don’t know what I’m allowed to tell you, to be honest. We definitely pick up where we left off and keep on with so much ridiculous shit that happens. I don’t want to ruin any of the jokes, but Kumail [Nanjiani] and I really get to have some fun. We get to play in that area of nerdom where we did in the final episode of season one, where we overanalyze something that is just trivial. Kumail and I continue having our husband/wife relationship.

Any more epic dick jokes?

I can’t speak for the dick jokes. We set a penis bar that is pretty high. It would difficult to go above that. It’s a penis-shaped bar. But hopefully we’ll live up the expectations we set this season.

You don’t actually shoot in Silicon Valley, do you?

We don’t. We shoot at Sony here in LA. So we didn’t have Internet for a while and North Korea hacked into all our phones. Just another day at the office.

Is there a certain type of role you’re looking for now that you’ve tackled a romantic lead?

No. I’m open more now than ever. In the past few years, I’ve been trying to expand my creative vocabulary and try parts I wouldn’t have tried before. I think Sam, in this movie, is one of those things. If something scares me in a good way or all the pieces fit and it inspires, I’m game for almost anything. I definitely want to try everything that is available to me and push myself to grow. On my own, I’m focusing on writing and that will allow me an outlet to also create characters I can potentially play.

That seems like a really positive place to be in as an actor.

I feel so lucky to be doing this at all so every opportunity is a total gift.

Photos by Jeff Vespa/WireImage