Se­cret of his suc­cess

TJ Miller on his mod­er­ate tal­ent and ma­jor work ethic

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

Dis­tinct voice

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.”

Self-dep­re­cat­ing streak

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

DEAD­POOL ★★

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.

TJ Miller

“It’s be­cause of mod­er­ate tal­ent and work ethic”

Note to self Ryan

Reynolds in Dead­pool

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