Secret of his success
TJ Miller on his moderate talent and major work ethic
In 2010, TJ Miller, the camera-clinging hero of Cloverfield and Chelsea Lately regular, was filming Yogi Bear 3D when he noticed that something was amiss.
“I started narrating my thoughts to other people,” says the 34-year-old. “I would explain how a conversation was going to go: I’ll talk about this, then this, then this, then I will connect back to the first thing, so ideally, at the end of the sentence, we’ll have come full circle and it’ll be perfectly bookended.
“People thought I was Oscar Wilde. My mind was moving really quickly. But really, my brain was bleeding. And because there was more activity in the right frontal lobe. I was going physically insane.”
Miller has subsequently mined his near-fatal arteriovenous malformation for stand-up material. But that’s hardly unusual for the star of HBO’s Silicon Valley. American comedy, as he says, has had to increasingly retreat from traditional targets.
“A lot of comedians are talking about death now,” he says. “That’s a good thing. We don’t talk about death nearly enough in general. I’ve started doing stuff about nihilism and time theory. I’m an absurdist. Which has worked out. Because you just can’t do political satire any more. In America, you’re either red or blue. So you’re either preaching to the choir or preaching at the deaf. We’ve had to move on.”
Even if you don’t recognise Miller as “that guy” from She’s Out of
My League (2010) or Transform
ers: Age of Extinction (2014), odds are you’ll know him when he opens his mouth: “I have a very distinct voice. I sound like a drag queen who has been singing and chain-smoking all night.”
He has, accordingly, lent his pipes to the How to Train Your
Dragon films and Big Hero 6. In the US, he voices a talking ball of snot in commercials for the de- congestant, Mucinex.
“People always know it’s me,” laughs Miller. “Sometimes kids hear me speaking and they say: ‘Hey, were you in a movie?’ Once I was in a drug store, shopping and talking on the phone, and this woman comes into the aisle and looks at me and says: ‘That was so weird. I was just buying Mucinex and, suddenly, I could hear the mucus man talking.”
Today, the curly-haired, Denver-born star is in London ahead of a special fan screening of Dead
pool, in which he plays the eponymous anti-superhero’s weasly sidekick, a character conveniently called Weasel.
“I always get those parts,” he says. “My character in She’s Out
of My League was called Stainer; I’m Tuffnut in How to Train Your
Dragon. I’m the mucus man. My most normal name was Fred for Big Hero 6. But everyone else in Big Hero 6 was called stuff like Gogo Tomago. So Fred was weird. And now I’m Weasel. And he really does weasel out of everything. He truly does not give a f**k about anything or anyone else. But he is candid about it.”
We can’t know if Deadpool, a star vehicle for Ryan Reynolds andthe snarkiest, sweariest offering from the Marvelverse so far, will break any box-office records, but it is unlikely to be rivalled or equalled during this calendar year (or any other) in its use of a particular ‘c’ word.
“Cock is said a lot,” says Miller. “We tried a lot of new compounds: Cocksmith. Cock-goblin. Cock-thistle. Cock-swaddler. Ryan really likes the word ‘cock’. He likes words that sound funny. And cock just sounds funnier than dick. It has that ‘k’ sound. It works. It’s not that I swear a whole bunch but when I get to cussing, I want it to be a little weird and different.”
Miller likes to joke that his first name is spelled in the white trash-friendly formation “Teejay”, though he was, in fact, born Todd Joseph, son of ER psychologist Leslie and attorney Kent. “I didn’t win a whole lot of arguments growing up,” he says.
He has always, he says, possessed a self-deprecating streak, something we might have guessed by his summation of his role as a sportscaster in the forthcoming Goon sequel as: “About a quarter as funny as Anchorman. Maybe less. So get ready for that.”
Much of that sensibility can be traced back to the state of his birth: “I don’t think it’s an acci- dent that the creators of South Park come from Colorado,” he says. “Denver is a young city. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s full of people who were headed to California but who looked around, said, ‘This is f**king beautiful’ and decided to chill where they stood. Maybe that’s why people there have a cynical, sarcastic sense of humour. It’s a Rocky Mountain thing.”
He may not take himself too seriously, but he does take a rigorous approach to his work, having done stand-up six nights a week for years before he got a break in Hollywood.
“That’s why I’m successful. It’s not because I’m super-talented. It’s because of moderate talent and work ethic. With those things, you too can be the voice of Mr Mucus. Life is fundamentally tragic, so being a comedian is the best thing you can do for society.”
I’m successful because of moderate talent and work ethic. With those things, you too can be the voice of Mr Mucus. Life is tragic, so being a comedian is the best thing you can do for society
Directed by Tim Miller. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, TJ Miller, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni, Jed Rees, Stefan Kapicic, Randal Reeder. 16 cert, gen release, 107 min
Already the beneficiary of some bafflingly positive reviews, this squalid, misogynistic entertainment speaks of a chronic insecurity in the superhero universe. Constantly apologising for its own idiocy – the credits describe the director as “some douchebag” and the male lead as “God’s Perfect Idiot” –
Deadpool plays like a dim 15-year-old’s impression of what a grown-up superhero film might look like.
The protagonist still dresses in a leotard, but he says rude words and he gets to see actual bosoms. You don’t get that in
Thor. You do, however, encounter such things in the dire Kick Ass and the worse
Kingsman. Far from being any sort of innovation, the sweary, 16-cert po-mo action film now constitutes it own horrible genre.
To press home its supposed sophistication, Deadpool dares to touch on terminal illness. Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, an army veteran who now spends too much time picking fights in a seedy bar. Following a grim cancer diagnosis, he is edged towards a sinister organisation that has the power to cure him and grant him the usual superpowers.
Unfortunately the treatment also makes him movieugly (that’s to say severely sunburnt) and sends him just a little off his rocker. Before too long, he’s quarrelling on the overpass while dressed as a Mexican wrestler. He is Deadpool.
Just as the James Bond films parodied themselves before the likes of Get Smart and Our Man Flint got in on the act, the Marvel series has never kept its own tongue far from its cheek. Deadpool’s quips are more profane and self-conscious than Iron Man’s, but both heroes use humour as a way of distracting from accumulating preposterousness.
The tone here is of the barroom boor who prefaces every unforgivable insult with “no offense, but…” Does the description of Morena Baccarin, who plays Wilson’s girlfriend, in the credits as “some hot chick” excuse the utter feebleness of her role? Perhaps that acknowledgement casts an ironic filter over the casual sexism and outright misogyny that appears elsewhere in the film.
In one of his endless downstage asides, Deadpool suggests to an imagined female audience member – presumed to be swooning at the gore like a Victorian aunt – that a “boyfriend” must have “dragged her” to the movie. No offense, but girls don’t much like Marvel movies. Hey, babe, come back. Have you no sense of humour?
Directed by Tim Miller, formerly a visual-effects artist, the film does employ a satisfying crunch and squelch in its promiscuous action sequences. The framing duel on a motorway combines the mayhem of Mad Max with the comic bloodletting of Monty Python’s Black Knight to anarchic effect.
Reynolds recovers from the embarrassment that was The
Green Lantern (inevitable subject of yet another selfdeprecating gag here) with a wink-heavy turn that mixes hemlock in with his familiar smooth charm.
The film, however, ultimately sags beneath the weight of its promiscuous frankness. If you keep telling us the product is cheap, exploitative, unreconstructed rubbish you risk us taking your words at face value. No offence, Deadpool, but you suck.
“It’s because of moderate talent and work ethic”
Note to self Ryan
Reynolds in Deadpool