Rob Riggle has been building a resume of awesome. He gets to show up, kill for a couple of minutes and make most films he’s in better by his presence. Like screenwriter Michael Bacall, this 21 Jump Street star has been keeping busy, having also just appeared in Big Miracle, The Lorax and Nature Calls, which just premiered at SXSW. We had a chance to talk about improvisation, his career, and what it means to be a working actor. Check it out…
You’ve had three movies in the last three months, have you done more promotion for these movies than you spent shooting them?
ROB RIGGLE: (Laughs) One would think that’s definitely a possibility. I’ve definitely been out on the road for the last couple. But I spent more time on the movies.
That’s good to hear. With a film like this, you’re known for your improv skills, are you ever shocked if you get it in two takes?
(Laughs) It’s awesome if we do, that means we’re rolling. I do get a little nervous, I’ll say “Are you sure you don’t want to try anything else?” But if we get it in two takes that’s glorious.
As a comic assassin – as it were – do feel that they expect you to do more takes?
Comic assassin, I don’t know how to take that – your words, not mine. I’m not expected – if we only have two takes, I’m going to get it done in two takes, but if we have time to play or time to improvise, I’ll go on as long as they’ll let me.
In 21 Jump Street you’re playing a Gym Teacher, how method do you get?
I did study the method in New York for three years. But here I went back in my life and I just plucked from some of the football coaches I had, some of the gym teachers I had, some of the driving instructors I had, maybe a couple drill instructions. I went through the alpha males I’ve known in my life and plucked some of their worst characteristics, and I threw it into Mr. Walters.
Do you think about his home life at all? Does he watch Cougar Town?
I don’t know if he watches Cougar Town, but he’s definitely on cougartown.com.
Do you like playing gym teachers and the like, you’re a big guy, do you mind being typecast?
It’s not playing a gym teacher specifically, I find myself playing a lot of authority roles, and that’s fine with me, because there’s a lot of fun to be made of authority roles.
Do you have a favorite type to play?
No, just anybody who’s large and in charge and totally wrong headed.
Do you like having a type, do you hope to transition?
Of course, no one likes to be pigeon holed, no one likes to be thought of only doing one thing – of course I want to do other things. I was happy with Big Miracle that I got to play a good guy. I’m always looking forward to playing other roles, but I’m not shying away or ashamed of it.
What was the most memorable part of shooting?
I loved the location. But my fondest memory is the cast.
With this film you spend a lot of time working against Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. Could Channing keep up with you and Jonah?
Channing knows his way around a bit, he’s a funny dude, he’s got natural comic abilities, and I hope he does a lot more comedy. And he’s a good guy too, he’s great to hang out with. I think you’re going to get more and more comedy out of Channing, or at least I hope he does. He knows what he’s doing.
Was it structured so you had time to play?
A little bit, only in the sense that we did play, and everyone knew how to play and that was fun. That made it real easy. Because if you’re playing with someone who doesn’t like it or understand it, then it doesn’t work. But if you do it with people who get it, then it’s off to the races. Everybody, directors, actors, knew how to play and have fun.
So you’ve been on sets where you’re asked to improvise and people don’t understand what you’re doing?
Absolutely, what you do then is you don’t do it. You just stick to the script, and that’s fine. But I find myself enjoying both. You get paid to do the script, and I prepare for that, and I am capable of doing that, but why not? If you’re comfortable with the character, and know how he’s going to respond in any situation, why not play with it, you might get something good.
Did you have any specific goals in terms of the improv, do you have aims?
With improv you can’t plan, you just to go with the moment. There’s a lot of things in the movie that aren’t on the page, but they were discovered while we were doing the scene. The script was outstanding, but when we were doing it you didn’t have to wholesale change anything, you were adding little moments within the scenes that just enhanced the whole thing.
Sometimes then when you hit the looping stage, or even the premiere, are you sometimes surprised what makes it in the film? Do you forget some of the bit?
When you improvise a lot you do forget what you said, you forget which take you did, and say “Did I say that? I must have.” And then you do remember some takes and that didn’t make it in. That’s the collaborative process, but that’s just a generalization. With this movie they definitely chose well.
I don’t want to get into spoilers, but did you have much interaction with the action stuff?
Yeah. The shootouts, I’ve done action stuff in other movies, and I was a marine, so I know my way around a weapon, so it wasn’t a problem.
With that background, do you ever want to correct people?
I don’t want to be that guy, but I am safety conscious, so I definitely keep my eyes on people.
Have you ever had to say anything?
No, I don’t know, I try to be nonchalant about it. Gently pushing weapons down. (laughs)
With the marine background, how does an action scene feel in comparison to the real experience?
They’re totally different (laughs). Totally different. Blanks are not real bullet. The fear factor of hearing a bullet go over your head is not the same as a blank. They’re different, very different.
Having worked with Adam McKay, Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, you seem in the comedy nest as it were.
All I know is I get opportunities, and when I’m lucky enough to get one I try to make the most of it. If it goes well I’m hoping I get another chance. I know it sounds basic, but there’s no secret here, I’m a working actor, so I try to do my best so I keep working, that’s it.
What have you got coming up?
I did an independent film with Johnny Knoxville and Patton Oswalt called Nature Calls, and that’s premiering at SXSW film festival, and then I’m back to the grindstone.
So you’re going to have two films at SXSW, and now four films in two months.
That’s right. I’ll be down for the full weekend. The weird thing is that they all landed at once.
The IMDb lists some of your writing and directing credits, is that something you hope to segue into that at some point?
Absolutely, in Hollywood if you wait for people to write and create something for you, it’ll never happen, so you have to create your own thing, and hopefully people get on board with it.
What are you working on for yourself?
I have a deal over at HBO, I’m trying to develop a show, I’m writing. You’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross? You know ABC – Always be Closing? My policy is Always Be Developing. ABD. I’m always, always writing. If it’s not stand up, I’m writing pilots. If I’m not writing pilots, I’m working on a screenplay, because that’s what you have to do in Hollywood, especially if you’re on whichever list I’m on, which is not the A list.
Do you treat it like the gym, do you set aside two hours a day?
I wish I was as disciplined as that. I’ll go days without writing, but then I’ll have a six hour, seven writing marathon. It ebbs and flows. Some people are able to sit down and write, I like to have a little muse, something to spark my process.
Sometimes when you’re writing, it percolates. You can’t always sit down and write a couple pages or a thousand words.
Exactly, sometimes I’ll get to a place where I feel like I need to write, and someone will say “why don’t you?” But it just doesn’t work like that. You can’t just sit down in front of the computer and have something that’s inspired you.
21 Jump Street hits theaters March 16. Check it out.