AB-SOLUTELY FAB TO MEET YOU
ED HELMS TOOK A BIT OF CONVINCING TO STAR IN VACATION, REVISITING A CHEVY CHASE CLASSIC – AND TO DEAL WITH CHRIS HEMSWORTH’S ABS
Ed Helms is a modern-day renaissance man. We know he’s funny – The Office and three crazy Hangover films attest to that. He’s also smart, cutting his comedy teeth as a reporter on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. He’s known to jump on stage with Mumford & Sons to play a bit of banjo and has just released an album with his bluegrass band, The Lonesome Trio.
“It’s not breaking any Billboard chart records or anything,” says Helms of the latter, “but, for the people that respond to that kind of music, it’s been a really wonderful response.”
And these days he’s a leading man, filling the big shoes of Chevy Chase in Vacation, a reboot of National Lampoon’s 1980s road-tripping comedies.
Yet it was on the set of this very movie where Helms met the man who may just out-renaissance him: Aussie Chris Hemsworth.
“I’m kinda sick of that guy. Yup. I’ve had enough!” exclaims Helms, tongue firmly in cheek. “Obviously he’s insanely good-looking, he’s a great actor ... I didn’t expect him to be as naturally funny as he was, so that pissed me off.
“Then I was like, ‘Well, if he’s all of those things, then he’s probably an a**hole in person’. Then he happens to just be the coolest, nicest guy I’ve ever worked with. Then you just sort of throw up your hands and you’re like, ‘Goddammit, I guess I love you too!’.”
In Vacation, Helms is Rusty – grown son of the infamous Clark Griswold. Wishing to recreate the questionable joys of his childhood, Rusty packs wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and the kids into the car for a cross-country trip to Walley World. It doesn’t take long for everything to go wrong.
Hemsworth pops up along the way as the well-endowed husband of Rusty’s sister Audrey. And filming scenes with Hemsworth clad only in undies required Helms to avert his eyes.
“The elephant trunk in the room took up most of my field of vision but I just tried to stare at a sofa that was off to the right. Yeah, that underwear was an eyeball magnet,” Helms recalls. “Once I got over the sight gag of the underwear, I was obsessed over his abs. Taking any kind of attraction out of the equation, they’re just ... stunningly ... perfect ... abs.”
There are Thor abs hidden under Helms’ shirt too, right? “Oh my God,” he laughs. “I have what in the States is being referred to now as a ‘dad bod’ – I’m real mixed on whether or not to feel flattered by that.”
While he gets his “melancholy and contemplative expression” out through his music, Helms, 41, says his comedy work comes from his “more lighthearted and buoyant side”. In Vacation, that buoyancy is turned up to 11.
“Rusty’s kind of an extreme version of me,” he says. “I wish I could be as relentlessly positive as Rusty; he’s just unstoppable.”
Yet Helms almost stopped before Vacation began – as a fan of the ’80s franchise, he was “extremely hesitant” when offered the reboot.
“Those movies are so sacred to me. They’re a big reason that I do what I do – I mean, Chevy Chase is the hero for me. As a kid, if they had action figures for Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray and Steve Martin and Martin Short, I would have been playing with those instead of Star Wars action figures.
“So to remake Vacation was like a cardinal sin. But, when I read the script and realised it’s not a remake at all, it’s effectively just a sequel 30 years later, and that we’ve never seen the adult Rusty so I can create him from scratch, that made it incredibly exciting.”
While Clark Griswold had swagger, Helms sees Rusty as a reflection of a new-millennium trend in movie comedy.
“For a few years, it’s been the rise of the schlubby guy who’s more sensitive and vulnerable,” he says, “versus in the ’80s where it was much more aggressive and alpha male.”
The cherry on top of Helms’ Vacation experience was getting to play with the real-life Chevy Chase action figure – Chase and Beverly D’Angelo cameo in the new film.