Leila Latif


Fred Armisen: ‘I’m wimpy about pain’

As he plays an overwhelmed indie director in Judd Apatow’s Covid comedy, the actor talks stunts and believing there really are no small parts.

Fred Armisen is a busy man. After ending his 11 years at Saturday Night Live in 2013, he created and starred in Portlandia, Forever, Los Espookys, Documentary Now and Moonbase 8, recorded a Netflix special and became the in-house drummer for Late Night With Seth Meyers, all while writing and performing music. Rather than be slowed down by lockdown he joined Judd Apatow’s Covid-themed Hollywood satire The Bubble, playing an out of his depth director tasked with creating blockbuster Cliff Beasts 6 and saving the movie industry.

LWLies: Is there a philosophy that you’re following with all these projects?

Armisen: I just go little by what looks like fun. With The Bubble it’s Judd Apatow, he’s someone I’ve known for a while, so that was an easy one to decide on. In terms of emulating, I like Matt Berry’s career and I like the way that Jane Lynch picks her projects. As much as I’d like to say that it’s a hundred percent about the project, sometimes it’s about location. If I get offered to shoot in England, I’ll make it work.

You’re a fan of England?

I’m obsessed with England. I walk around wanting to thank every British person I meet. I want to say thank you for all the music you’ve made. British bands are a huge part of my life. I spend a lot of my day thinking about British bands. The Damned, The Clash, The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, The Slits. These bands not only did they change my life they continue to. I still am obsessed with them.

Sometimes it seems like most men over 50 in London can tell you about a crazy night they had with Joe Strummer.

And every time I’m like, ‘Please tell me about it!’ It’s an endless obsession, and it’s weird because as I meet British people, I think they’re thinking the same thing. Guz Khan who plays Howie in The Bubble is from Coventry. And I’m like, ‘Guz! The Specials are from Coventry!’ I really think that Guz walks around all day thinking, ‘Hey, I’m from where The Specials are from.’

Guz plays the comic relief in this giant action movie Cliff Beasts 6. As a comic actor has that sort of role ever appealed to you?

I think you got to be a little louder for that. I think my volume isn’t right.

They’re not loud but there are so many details in your performances that feel very precise.

These are the parts and roles that work best for me. I don’t think that I’m good at being the main thing. I think my work has gone best if I do something not too big, if it’s very specific and maybe a little odd. It’s where I’m happy.

With your character Darren in The Bubble, at first he was the only person who I was actually rooting for, but it’s almost a villain origin story for him.

Because just giving a director like that so big of a chance, they get greedy. He wants to complete this movie as opposed to worrying about everyone’s safety and mental health. Almost everyone in this has a kind of villainous quality; I like that there isn’t exactly a hero. I never watched something and go, ‘I’m so glad there’s a straight character in this’. I like it a little crazier, when there is constant imbalance.

Darren is the Sundance darling director who is handed a huge dinosaur film – did you base him on Colin Trevorrow?

No, it’s a mix of different people. I even tried to interview Judd to be like, ‘How do you communicate with actors?’ There’s like a look from a couple of people, there’s an attitude from a couple of people. There are some directors who I called and asked, ‘What do you do to make an actor happy when they’re out of control? How do you bring them back?’ [Darren] just tells everyone, ‘I’m on your side, I’m on your side,’ when nobody’s on anybody’s side. That’s what he’s doing in that awkward hug in the pool, which was a great awkward space to be in water indoors, even with what it does to the sound. We just wanted to make it super weird.

In terms of weirdness, how important was the long glossy wig?

That fed it. What that’s supposed to represent is ‘indie’ right. An indie director who is supposedly cool and they just plug into this franchise. And he has all these hipster t-shirts and sweaters that are very ‘indie movie festival’, that kind of director.

For an actor, I guess the worst nightmare is to have an incompetent director willing to let people get hurt and physically fight his actors to keep the movie going?

Yeah, I’m wimpy about pain. I remember once on an indie thing where someone wanted me to fall and look convincing. It was a reasonable thing to ask, but I’m not good at falling or looking like I got punched. But the budget was so small, there was no room for a stuntman and I just did a bad job at it. There were some stunts in The Bubble; I had this fake fight with David Duchovny. In my mind it looked pretty good. I was like, ‘Hey, this is really selling it!’ but it looked so lame and Judd thought it was so funny. And we all laughed but inside I was trying to make it look like a great fight.

Published 1 Apr 2022

Tags: Fred Armisen Judd Apatow

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