Jason Lee Guest Stars on NBC's "Up All Night"

By Alyssa Grillo and Jamie Ruby

Jason LeeJason Lee is probably best known for his role as Earl Hickey in the comedy series My Name is Earl. He more recently landed the leading role in the series Memphis Beat on TNT. Lee will also be reprising his role in the upcoming film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked, due out next month.

Lee recently appeared on the NBC comedy Up All Night. He talked to the digital media to discuss this new project.

NBC Conference Call
Up All Night
Jason Lee

November 4, 2011

Jason LeeQUESTION: Because of you I don't eat chocolate pretzels anymore.

JASON LEE: Well, great.

QUESTION: How did your cameo on Up All Night come about?

JASON LEE: Well, you know, they just reached out to me, and of course I was very excited -- great cast and great show. I had seen it, and it was good to be back on TV. And Memphis Beat got canceled, and it had been a while since I had done any kind of comedy on television, so it was really, really cool to come back and work on a great show. And so, they keep having me back, which is great.

QUESTION: On My Name Is Earl, how long did it take you to grow that mustache and do you have any grooming or growing tips for anybody out there trying to grow a mustache like you?

JASON LEE: Well, fortunately, I didn't have to do much grooming, because he was Earl Hickey, and he wasn't the most groomed cat. But I had the mustache for about seven months of the year, and it took me probably six weeks to grow it.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about working with the cast on Up All Night?

JASON LEE: Fortunately, they're all very cool people, and so, as a guest star, you hope for that, because you want to be able to just blend right in and have fun and have it feel comfortable. And certainly, great show regulars help that immensely. And so, fortunately, all of these people are very cool. And with Maya, I think there's great chemistry there. She is very playful.

And everybody's just been totally inviting. There's a lot of improv and goofing off. And, you know, I feel right at home, and so I thank them immensely for making it comfortable for me.

QUESTION: You have a young daughter, do you see any of yourself in Reagan and Chris?

JASON LEE: Oh, my gosh, totally. I'm a father twice over. So, yes, absolutely. And it also helps playing a dad on the show, because I can totally relate and identify with that energy of being a father. And hopefully, that translates well. My character's daughter on the show is - I think she's, like, maybe 11 or something. So, it seems to be a good fit anyway.

QUESTION: This show is hilarious, and it's been getting so much acclaim. When you walked onto set, did you get a sense of why it's working so well? Was it the chemistry between the actors?

JASON LEE: It's definitely the chemistry, but it's also the talent of the actors and that there's certainly a lot of talent between the three of them, and the writing is really sharp. And as I like to see personally, it's got heart. It's accessible. It's not better than thou. You know, it doesn't have that sort of undertone -- that comedy undertone -- to it. It's accessible. It's identifying. And at the end of the day, you relate to the people.

And there's a sweetness to it too, which I think is very cool. And like with my character coming in and sort of grounding Maya's character a little bit. It's a well-rounded show. It's believable and very cool in that way. And so I think that's a big part of the appeal for me -- is that it feels like a well-rounded, real show.

It's not just funny, you know?

QUESTION: You talked a little bit about the improv. Was it hard to get through some of the lines? Because I mean, we're watching it and laughing our heads off. Was it difficult as actors to get through a scene?

JASON LEE: Yes, there was definitely some laughing with me and Maya messing up lines and goofing off and adding things that make the other person chuckle, but that's the fun of working on a comedy, is that you get to play like that. And it's been nice to play and have fun because I hadn't really done that in a while, because it's been a few years now since Earl.

So, it was good to get back into that comedy world and play. And what helps is when you have great cast members to work with that are actually really cool, and they aren't jaded and all of this stuff that you sometimes hear about. They're just good people that like to have fun. And it's also cool that every single cast member is a parent. Like, we all have kids. So, that's really cool.

QUESTION: How does Kevin compare to Earl?

JASON LEE: Oh, man. He's way more straight-laced, a little bit more clean-cut, doesn't have an awesome mustache, unfortunately. This is sort of like me playing it straight, I guess. It's definitely funny, but it's nice that it's just sort of this sweet guy from next door who sort of grounds Maya's character.

And I like that I get to be funny, but it's also a little bit sweet. And he's just a good guy. It's nice to just rely on the relationship with Maya and try to make it real and fun and believable. And, you know, going from Earl which was kind of outlandish at times, and certainly a blast to do, it's kind of nice just to see, as an actor, what does it feel like to play it straighter?

Which I haven't really done much of, so that was cool.

QUESTION: Is this a one-shot deal, or is there talk of you becoming a returning character?

JASON LEE: I've already filmed three episodes, so apparently, it's a returning kind of deal, which is kind of cool, because I'm having a great time.

QUESTION: A character like Kevin who is such a nice guy is so different from Earl or even Brodie from Mallrats. So what's a through line there for you? What do these characters all have in common? And what is it that you look for in a character that you connect to? How do you know you connected to it?

JASON LEE: Well, you know, I try to have everything that I do, hopefully - I don't know - contain and maintain some sort of humanity or believability or likeability. I think that's kind of important. When I filmed Chasing Amy, I was really worried about - because there's such harsh language and such negative talk of lesbians that I said to Kevin, "I worry about that a little bit, because I'm a good person, Kevin, and I don't want the audience to hate my character and to hate me." He said, "You don't have to worry about that." And I didn't really know what he meant at the time, but basically, he was saying, "It's more of an insecurity." He's saying it's more of a little boy thing. You could never be dick, in other words, is what he said, which I thought was very flattering.

But, I think, if you commit and you add some sense of sensitivity or some reality or humanity to it, and it's a little deeper than what you might see on the surface, I think it comes across as being a little bit more human. And so, yes, I guess I've just never really been afraid to commit and be vulnerable. And I think that's important.

QUESTION: I grew up skateboarding, and I know a little bit about your skateboard company -- Stereo Sound Agency. Can tell me a little bit about the significance of the name? And is there anything that you find in common between being a skateboarder and acting?

JASON LEE: Oh, wow. Well, Stereo, we were - back in the day, we were very influenced by the old ja era and Blue Note Records and whatnot. We were very much a retro-based company. We took a lot of artwork from old record covers and stuff. So, we've used everything from, like, stereo sounds to - the Stereo Sound Agency was just a name to imply an old-school group, kind of a retro group of skaters called the Sound Agency. Almost like a comedy troop, but skateboarders.

QUESTION: Great. And anything in common between skateboarding and acting?

JASON LEE: I think timing and gut feeling - you know, instinct. When it feels right, it feels right. When it doesn't, you know. And certainly, executing skateboard tricks and the energy of everything, the timing of it, the coordination, the balance of it all, I think it's all kind of similar. It all comes from the gut. And so, you kind of fine-tune that organically over the years learning how to skateboard.

QUESTION: How is it different for you being on the TV set versus working on a film?

JASON LEE: Oh, wow. Film is slower. TV is much faster.

It all depends on the material. But technically speaking, TV is much faster. I personally think a lot of TV is getting really, really good. And I like being on TV. I like the schedule. I like the workload. I like the consistency of the workload and having a job that is fun that I get to do every day. And have a big character arc over the course of the season, that's always really cool. It really depends on the material, but I kind of think I prefer TV.

QUESTION: The way you described Kevin is sort of a "down to earth" guy, single dad and stuff. It doesn't seem like the kind of guy that Eva would normally even encounter. So, can you talk a little bit about how they meet and how they get together?

JASON LEE: Well, I think it's a reflection of, ultimately, who she is. I think Eva is very likable, sweet, innocent, and he brings that out in her. And I like that she's not afraid to be that way around this. She's still very kind of smart-assy and jokey and when they're around other people and whatnot, and it's all fun and endearing. I think it brings out a cool side of her, and it certainly allows me to do something a little different which is very cool -- kind of play it a little straighter and be a little bit more, I guess you could say, leading man - whatever the term is - or just kind of "the guy," which I never really do, coming from Earl and things like that.

QUESTION: Are your scenes mostly with Maya? Or do you work some with Will Arnett and Christina Applegate as well?

JASON LEE: I've done three episodes so far which is really cool and gotten to play with everybody, which is great -- mainly with Maya, but some with Will and some with Christina so far. And everybody's amazing.

QUESTION: When you're coming in as guest on a show early on in the first season, do you feel more of a sense of freedom to create something brand-new with less history on the show?

JASON LEE: Yes, there's definitely that. And it also helps that everybody is very cool. There is certainly that thing of everybody's kind of getting into it all at the same time. But even still, if it were the fourth season, good people are good people, and it makes it that much easier.

You certainly don't want to come onto a show where everybody's already over it already. Everybody from Will to Maya to Christina are very happy to be there. You can tell. There's a great energy on set. The writers are always there -- very happy and laughing. And it feels like everybody's eager to make a good show, and that's always a good sign.

QUESTION: Through your career, you've always done Kevin Smith's films, My Name Is Earl, Chipmunks, Memphis Beat, so so much diversity. Is there any genre you'd like to tackle if you hadn't?

JASON LEE: Wrestling. I don't know, man. I don't think so. I don't know. Maybe I'll come up with something, but I just like the idea of working. I used to not want to do cheesy and maybe not do certain types of movies, and things change all the time. Like, you have kids, and you thought, "Wow, I have kids now, and gee. And oh, wow, I'm getting offered this Alvin movie. Wow, I bet my son would like that," and I don't know if that's something I would've done when I was 25 years old or, you know, doing the Kevin Smith stuff.

Everything happens as it happens and unfolds over time as you grow and life changes. And then, you find that you're just really happy to be a working actor and getting, hopefully, decent work and expanding and broadening your horizons and all of that stuff, and that's been good fun for me to play different things over the course of what will, hopefully, be a long career as a working actor.

Melissa Hank: I loved your guest spot on Raising Hope as Smokey Daniel. What was it like playing a rock star? And would you return to guest star on that show?

JASON LEE: It was awesome, because I got to be kind of obnoxious and, basically an exaggerated version of what I thought that type of guy would be. And so, it was really goofy in the makeup and the hair. And clearly, when you're dressed like that, you're going to exaggerate things a bit, and that was a lot of fun. And I'd love to come back as that character. Or, I said to Greg Garcia recently, I'd like to just come back to the show, period, and do something. I know everybody from Earl, I think, so far has guest starred on that show, which is really cool.

QUESTION: What would you say you enjoy the most about a guest starring role rather than a series regular?

JASON LEE: The only difference is I have more time off. And that could be a bad thing or a good thing depending, you know. When you're on Earl, you're working every day, and it's long, long hours. You know, this is like a couple days a week as a guest star, which is cool. But certainly, it's fun to really get in there and to be able to work a lot, but it's awesome that I'm getting to guest star on a show like this.

QUESTION: You have a lot of experience with comedy. Do you feel that there's a formula for good comedic TV?

JASON LEE: I say it every time. It's certainly good jokes, but even more so, I think, it's does the thing have some kind of heart -- some semblance of believability or humanity? I really think comedy has to be sincere and grounded. If it's forced or if it's too much winking at the camera, I think it dies early, and it becomes old. I think a show like this is super funny, but it's also identifiable, and you root for this couple with the new kid. And it's ultimately endearing at the end of the day, and I think that has more legs.

QUESTION: How much improv gets into the actual show?

JASON LEE: It's mainly what's scripted, but maybe little things that they change or maybe a writer or one of the actors might suggest an alternate line. There's a little trailing off kind of goofy improving at the end of the scene or adding to a line or something in good fun, just being silly. But, structurally, the main stuff is what's being shot, and that's a testament to the good writing that already exists on the page.

QUESTION: What's been one of the highlights of working on the show so far?

JASON LEE: Oh, man. Just the fun of it, you know? Meeting new people and working with people that you've seen before but haven't worked with and discovering that they are a pleasure to work with and good fun and that everybody's really trying to get along well and do something - eagerly do something worthwhile. That's very cool to be around that kind of energy. And just really, honestly, the excitement of - it's flattering when you get offered to do something like this with such good people. You feel like you're doing good work, and you're having laughs with people. It reminds you of how fun acting is and can be.

SCIFI VISION: Out of all the Kevin Smith movies that you've been in, what has been your favorite role?

JASON LEE: Oh, boy. Probably Brodie, because that was my first acting gig ever and the memory from that and that being a lead into this whole crazy movie industry having just come from skateboarding and not knowing anything about moviemaking and having to tackle all of that dialogue and then getting feedback from people that - you know, that it worked and that was beyond exciting for me. So, I have fond memories of that first experience. I was 24.

SCIFI VISION: Has there ever been a role that you've been offered that you turned down and that you regret now?

JASON LEE: No.

QUESTION: So, have you finished filming the new season of Memphis Beat? Are you on hiatus? What's the deal?

JASON LEE: You're behind in the times, pal, because they pulled the plug on that thing.

QUESTION: Did they really? I knew you were going to say that. I thought I had read it and was dreaming or something. Ah, well. We get you do all these other great shows. Do you have any other shows lined up that you're going to be doing guest shows or any other show of your own?

JASON LEE: Well, I'm working on developing some stuff for myself, and that's been exciting, and fleshing things out and trying to find a new home somewhere to star in something. So, we're underway on that. No, nothing concrete yet. So in the meantime, I'm having a great time guest starring on Up All Night.

QUESTION: It sounds like you're having a wonderful time.

JASON LEE: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Work when you want to and [don't] when you don't have to.

JASON LEE: Yeah.

Jason LeeQUESTION: What drives you to be an actor?

JASON LEE: Not knowing how something's going to turn out, trying to figure it out, and then seeing if it works. That's what drives me.

And, you know, and I say this, as far as how would I do it? Scene by scene, you're dissecting the thing with the director and the other actors. Maybe I should enter from this door? Maybe I should say the line like this? How about we tweak this? What about this? It's the experimenting of the process of it, and then going, "Oh, that seems to work. Okay, let's move on." And then, you see it at the end of the day, and you see if it worked or not. And if it did, you take a little win. And if it didn't, you try to start figure out. And so, it's a constant learning process.

QUESTION: Well, you've got to really use that when you're doing something like Alvin and the Chipmunks then, because how do you know if you're doing a good job when you're acting against something that's not there?

JASON LEE: Oh, boy. You hope you have a good director going, "That worked."

QUESTION: If you were not acting for a living, what would you be doing right now?

JASON LEE: Oh, boy. Well, you know, I'm a photographer, and I do that all the time in my spare time. I travel and take pictures and have for many years now. I don't really shoot commercially, because that's not really my thing. But, I reckon, if I weren't an actor, I would probably find a very creative way into commercial photography.

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