In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Griffin Newman is the ideal subject for a questionnaire-style, opinion-driven interview: Regular listeners to the movie podcast Blank Check (co-hosted by former A.V. Club contributor David Sims) know that Newman doesn’t shy away from a take or a bit, nor is he wary of steering a conversation deep into unexpected and intriguing rabbit holes. His knowledge of and passion for comedy, comic books, and cinematic blockbusters dovetail with Amazon’s The Tick, the latest television incarnation of Ben Edlund’s superhero send-up that casts Newman as The Big Blue Bug Of Justice’s anxious, winged sidekick, Arthur. With his character being tested for super-ness in the show’s second season, Newman submitted to The A.V. Club’s battery of 11 Questions, endorsing the merits of tacos with fried chicken shells, and sharing a theory for how he hopes the next Toy Story goes.
1. What’s your favorite fast-food menu item?
Griffin Newman: Is it a cheat if it’s a tie for me? There are two things, and they’re different, but they hit me really hard. One is Wendy’s chicken sandwich. I know a lot of people love the Spicy Chicken Sandwich—I have digestive issues, so I usually go with the mild. The mild, Homestyle Chicken Sandwich is the best fast-food sandwich in the game, period. And then I would say my previous tie would be the Cheesy Gordita Crunch, but I’ve gotten really into the Quesarito at Taco Bell. I’d say those represent my two pillars of fast food, too: A good fried chicken sandwich at any fast-food restaurant’s probably going to be the item I order, unless, category two, there’s some bullshit combination of, like, flour and cheese and beef. And the Quesarito is the apex of that for me.
The Quesarito was the first time in a long time where [Taco Bell] introduced a new item and it exceeded my expectations. The other one that was good, but they got rid of it—because apparently it was too expensive to prepare—was the the Naked Chicken Chalupa, the one where the chicken is the shell. That is incredible, and I had it, like, six days in a row, and then they discontinued it because apparently it took three minutes to construct as opposed to 40 seconds to construct.
AVC: It was the perfect tiebreaker: It met your fried chicken needs and your flour, beef, and cheese needs.
GN: That would be my answer if it still existed. So let’s make this interview a rallying cry to Taco Bell, to say “If you want people to give shorter interview answers, please bring back the Naked Chicken Chalupa.” This would’ve been one sentence if Taco Bell wasn’t a bunch of cowards.
2. If you could re-live an event or moment in your own life, what would it be?
GN: There’s this moment that I had always viewed as, like, the pinnacle of my life: I was at a Halloween party in, it must have been sixth grade or seventh grade. And it was, like, right at the threshold where the girls were starting to get interested in kissing, but most of the boys were too skittish about it. So all the boys wanted to watch Leprechaun on VHS, and I was the only boy willing to kiss the girls. They wanted to play spin the bottle, and there was a game established instead called “kiss Griffin” that was just people going around in a circle kissing me because I was the only boy.
That’s the answer that immediately jumps to mind, but then I feel very creepy saying that because then it sounds like the thing I’m trying to re-live is being kissed by a bunch of 12 year olds. So I guess what I’d like to re-live is that kind of situation happening again, but in the modern era with age-appropriate people.
3. Who’s your favorite fictional villain?
GN: Doctor Doom. That’s an easy answer for me. I think Doctor Doom is the all-time greatest. I’m a massive Fantastic Four fan. In high school, one of the things I would do in the post-“kiss Griffin” era when no one wanted to kiss me was stay at home and work on writing my own Fantastic Four screenplay. All of my notebooks from high school are just me scribbling down ideas for merchandise, or storyboarding—this whole massive Fantastic Four movie that existed in my mind in the innocent days before the first Tim Story–Jessica Alba Fantastic Four movie stopped me and killed all my dreams.
But the thing that I feel like every Fantastic Four movie has messed up is that Doctor Doom is kind of the main character. He’s the ultimate villain. Visually, so much of Darth Vader is cribbed from Doctor Doom, and George Lucas admits that. The weird, ominous horror of this masked man in a suit of armor. Even down to the cape and the mix of the cloth and the armor and all of that is very Darth Vader. But also the fact that he is not someone who is purely evil—he is someone who fully believes he’s doing the right things for his country and for his people, except he’s so blindly driven by ego and pride and jealousy that he can’t help but make the wrong decision sometimes. But I do like that sometimes in the comics, the Fantastic Four would go to Latveria to try to topple him, and the Latverians would be like, “We’re really happy. This guy runs our country well. We have a great economy.” [Laughs.] He’s like a pretty fair ruler, but at the same time he’d have a league of robot body guards who he would send out to try to kill people.
AVC: What were some of the ideas for merchandise you had?
GN: I had, like, five different waves of action figures planned out. And I would write scenes where they had to wear different costumes so that you would have different looks to be able to reflect in merchandise. So I had a big thing in the final fight scene where they’re trying to make their way through Doctor Doom’s castle, and Sue Storm uses her powers to turn The Thing invisible so that he could get by, smashing all the Doombots undetected. And the only reason I wrote that into this script—that’s probably incoherent if I were to look at it today—was because I thought it would be cool to have an action figure that was The Thing, but invisible.
AVC: And surely you had some Doctor Doom dress-up ideas, too.
GN: Yeah, ’cause I was all about Hulk Hands and any sort of dress-up items. I feel like the early 2000s—when I was too old to be buying these things—was the peak of those mass-produced role-play items. The only good thing that came out of the Tim Story Fantastic Four movies is they made Thing hands and feet. So I used to have these big foam Thing feet that would make clonking sounds when you walked around. And my mom would just yell at me to, like, I don’t know, work on my SAT prep.
4. What’s a line from film or television that you’ve incorporated into your personal vocabulary?
GN: Oh man, there’s so many of them. I’m really bad at this, where I paraphrase lines and work them into dialogue. The one I think about a lot is the Mr. Show lie-detector sketch—do you remember that one? Where they’re testing Bob Odenkirk at a job interview, and to make sure the lie detector works, they ask him ridiculous questions?
AVC: “It’s crack—it gets you really high.”
GN: That’s the line I use. Where they go, “Have you ever smoked crack?” And he goes, “Yeah.” And they go, “What’s it like?” And he goes, “It’s crack. It gets you really high.” I use that all the time for anything: I slot in any specific and the description of what it does well. Like, “Yeah, it’s sex. It’s great. It makes you come a lot.” “It’s a Quesarito. It’s great. It makes you feel full.” I use that all the time, usually in gross ways.
5. Who would play you in the movie of your life?
GN: I think the obvious answer is Josh Brenner who plays Big Head from Silicon Valley. But more honestly, it would probably be me playing him in the movie about his life story.
I do have the thing now, though, where when Josh Brenner shows up in a movie trailer, my friends will text me congratulating me on getting a big part. We did an episode on our podcast for What Men Want, and our listeners kept on tweeting and saying “It’s weird that Griffin isn’t acknowledging that he’s in the movie,” and they didn’t mean it as a joke. They’d seen the trailer, and one second of that guy’s face they assumed was me. So maybe we should do a whole Yankee Swap, and I’ll do the Josh Brenner biopic and he’ll do the Griffin Newman biopic.
AVC: It’s not even just the facial similarity there. I feel like you guys have very similar voices, too. If he were on the podcast, it would be impossible to distinguish between the two of you.
GN: I saw him at a bar recently, and for a second it felt like a Marx brothers routine of myself in the mirror. He was even wearing similar glasses, and we’re the exact same height. Like I felt he was my tether—no Us spoilers. But the other thing is he’s one of the Ninja Turtles on the cartoon show now, and I weirdly came very close to being Michelangelo in the last live-action Ninja Turtles reboot—the Michael Bay movies that he produced. I was like the second choice, and screen-tested and everything to be Michelangelo. So it feels like he’s living this better, alternate-universe version of my life where he actually does get to be a Ninja Turtle.
6. What’s a movie that you’ll always stop and watch if you’re flipping channels?
GN: I, like many millennials, have cut the cord and it does really change things when you don’t have that ability to flip through and find a movie you wouldn’t think to watch. But my girlfriend has cable, and we’ve been traveling a lot recently, so when we’re in hotel rooms we have cable. And I’ve realized, whatever scene it’s at, even if it’s a censored TV version, I will watch the rest of Magic Mike. Magic Mike is one of those movies for me where any section of it I can watch. And there’s enough weird Soderbergh levels going on where I always feel like I can get something new out of it. And all the numbers are good. All the performances are good. It was on CMT, and it was like this horribly edited version, because they had to blur out their butts and every other line of dialogue was cut out and certain scenes just, like, ended abruptly before the coke comes into the scene or whatever it was. But it’s still such a compelling, entertaining movie.
7. What possession can you not get rid of?
GN: I was a very nerdy kid who was mostly interested in how movies got made. Even from the time I was 5, I just wanted to watch behind-the-scenes specials—when those still existed on TV—and read about special effects and things like that. So when I was, like, 6 or 7, my parents bought me this Toy Story book that I really wanted, that was like a coffee table book on the making of Toy Story. It’s super dense and academic. It’s 15 inches tall, and it’s super heavy, and it’s got this lenticular cover, but inside are really dense explanations of how the art department works, the pipeline for rendering computer animation. It’s the least kid-friendly book of all time. And I would read it to myself every night before I went to sleep, and the book is pretty beaten up at this point. It has weird crayon marks on it and the cover’s almost ripped off. I don’t think I will ever get rid of that thing. It symbolizes this moment where I started going so deep on how things got made, and it crystallized in my mind that I like wanted to do that. I wanted to be the person who made stuff in some way, or at least contributed to the process of making stuff.
AVC: It feels like there’s an additional layer to that, too, with it being Toy Story and the whole franchise being about the difficulty of parting with things that are really important to us.
GN: I think the movie definitely fucked me in that way. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m such a pack rat. It’s like half Toy Story and me just feeling so emotionally invested in everything I’ve ever owned that I don’t want to give it away to whatever the Bonnie is in my life. And then the second level to it is I live with an overwhelming, completely baseless terror that I’m going to get dementia, and that only owning everything that I ever touched in my life will ever remind me of the life I lived. Essentially, I need to be someone who makes enough money to have a massive storage facility so I don’t have to live in the most cluttered apartment of all time.
AVC: How are you feeling about the previews for Toy Story 4?
GN: I liked the new trailer a lot. I know a lot of people got really turned off by it. I had been living in fear of this movie for years, ’cause I thought they should leave well enough alone and they seem to have had such trouble making Toy Story 4. They went through multiple directors—including John Lasseter, who has now become the disgraced expat of Pixar—and they went through so many writers that it just seemed like the movie was a disaster in the making. The new trailer looks really good. It looks like what I want out of another Toy Story. It looks like they’re introducing enough new themes that it’s not just them retreading the same territory.
But you also have to factor into this that I’m a lunatic who has Google search alerts for any leaks of Toy Story merchandise or packaging or Russian blog entries. And I’m constantly Star Wars-style trying to piece together the plot from all these leaks of like, “Here’s the shampoo bottles that are about to come out” and “What does the shampoo packaging say about the potential plot of the movie?” So I at this point have this entire fan theory in my head of what the movie is going to be and what story they’re telling. The new trailer reaffirmed a lot of those theories for me, but I might just be grasping at straws right now desperately trying to convince myself that this movie isn’t going to destroy me.
AVC: Do you want to share that theory?
GN: My theory is it’s about the toys all coming to terms with the fact that being dependent on a child is maybe a canard. It’s been three movies of Woody so desperately preaching the values of “It’s all about being there for a kid. It’s all about that relationship with a kid. It’s all about helping the kids.” And the reason they’re bringing Bo into Toy Story 4, and the reason they’re bringing Forky in as a new character, is that Forky represents someone who doesn’t even want to be a toy, and Bo represents someone who was so thoroughly thrown out and abandoned that rather than become angry and bitter in the ways that the villains of the last two Toy Story movies did, she learned how to enjoy her own life without it being based on that relationship. That it’s essentially a movie about people who are obsessed with their career and can’t be alone with their own thoughts, and learning how to enjoy retirement. They’re empty nesters who can’t center their life around their family and their children and have to figure out who they are. So if that’s what the movie is, I’m going to love it. And if it’s just a retread, then I’m going to be the angriest person in the world.
AVC: And if that’s how it turns out, it sounds like that’s the kind of thing you could live with and look forward to it reflecting your own existence someday.
GN: It’s one of the things I like about the Toy Story franchise. They’re very existential, and they’re very much about stages in your life. The journey of Woody throughout the movies is a journey of a guy constantly reassessing what his place in the universe is. And every movie he starts up with this very firm idea of “This is who I am and this is what I mean to people.” And by the end of the movie it’s totally upended, and he has to learn to accept the new reality. And this feels like this is the ultimate reality for him to accept: Maybe there’s more to life than being a toy. He’s constantly redefined what his existence is as a toy, and my hope is that Toy Story 4 is him being like, “Maybe I can just wander the Earth. Maybe I don’t need to have a kid.”
8. What specific skill would you bring to a post-apocalyptic society?
GN: I think I’d be really bad in a post-apocalyptic society, and I’m trying to think if I could bring any skills. I’d like to think that I would be some form of entertainment: My grandfather was one of those guys who served in the military, but his job was booking the USO acts. So he was in the military, but he wasn’t in the shit. He got the bravery of saying that he served, but his job mostly was, I don’t know, to coordinate with Bob Hope or whoever. I feel like that’s what I would want to do. Rather than fail at one of the survival-based skill-sets like hunting or gathering or building shelter—all things I’m terrible at—I would rather be like, “You guys take care of all that, and I’m going to feed the soul.” I would be the guy who would go out there and book the post-apocalyptic revues or the talent shows, and then tell myself that it was as important as the people who are keeping us alive.
9. Who is the most underrated person in your industry right now?
GN: I feel like there’s so many actors today who never get enough credit, and get taken for granted. I feel like there’s this notion that a lot of great actors “just play themselves,” which I always kind of resent. There’s a value on people who transform and totally disguise themselves in a role, which I find as exciting—when it’s done well—as everyone else does. But I also think there’s something selfless about the people who are just like, “I know exactly what color I am on the palette. I’m just going to let people apply me that way.”
Kenneth Choi is a guy I think about a lot. He’s in everything these days, but he was Lance Ito on The People V. OJ Simpson, and he was in the first Captain America movie. He’s one of those guys who’s good in every genre, in any type of role and feels pretty selfless in terms of how he approaches stuff.
10. If you could be in any band, past or present, which one would it be?
GN: My favorite band of all time is Guns N’ Roses, but I wouldn’t want to be in that band, because every story I’ve read about being in that band sounds like a nightmare. So I feel like the answer isn’t like, “Which band do I like the most?” It’s like, “Which band seems to have the most harmony within it as a group?” I feel like Devo seems pretty chill. Like, you had brothers in that band, they were all friends, they were in art school together, and they still get along, and they weren’t living crazy unsustainable rock-star lives. They were always, like, art-school nerds who were doing this conceptual project, but then ended up having massive success. That’s the speed I can run at.
11. What would you do during The Purge?
GN: I’m already so much of a hermit and also a homebody, I don’t think The Purge would change my lifestyle much at all. I would just find the most secluded and most secure location, and as long as I have wifi and a good stack of graphic novels and things that keep me busy, I would just go on uninterrupted, doing my same usual bullshit. Zero crimes. I have no compulsion to commit crimes. All I want is for people to just stay out of my way and leave me alone, so The Purge is just a good excuse to do that without looking misanthropic.
Bonus 12th question from Zachary Levi: “If you could be any animal, what would that animal be and why?”
GN: I was obsessed with pigs as a child. And I always liked the idea that pigs were, like, super smart, but they didn’t get the credit for it. They didn’t feel the need to show off—outside of Babe, who was maybe a little attention-hungry. But the pig’s life feels kind of crappy. It’s more mud than I want to deal with. It’s a lot of competition for the trough.
This is what’s ironic: Pigs are probably my favorite animal, but I wouldn’t want to be them. My least favorite animal is probably the cat, and that’s the one I’d want to be the most. ’Cause the cat has the closest lifestyle to my own: Let me stay indoors. As long as I have a box to shit in and a corner to sleep in, I’m fine. Just leave me alone. I guess I would want to become my greatest enemy and be a cat.
AVC: And what’s your question for the next person?
GN: “What is one work of art you would remove from history if you could?”