Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Canadian import Tyler Labine started his acting career in his teens, doing his time in his native land on such series as Road To Avonlea, Breaker High, and the obligatory episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark? before slowly but surely making the move into American television. Although Labine’s track record for long-running series is admittedly limited—only his turn as Sock on the CW series Reaper took him into a second season—his amiability has consistently kept his dance card full with TV gigs as well as movie roles, including Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Currently, Labine can be seen starring in the Hulu series Deadbeat, which recently received its own second-season pickup.
Deadbeat (2014-present)—“Kevin Pacalioglu”
Tyler Labine: Otherwise known as “Pac” or “Pac-Man.” He lives under a bridge in New York, he chases ghosts… There’s a little Pac-Man undertone to everything. If real geeks take a hard look, they’ll see. There’s lots of crazy stuff in there that has to do with Pac-Man, little Easter eggs for people. If you notice, my character is constantly lining up his snacks in little rows, like pellets. [Laughs.] It’s subtle, but it’s there.
Kevin Pacalioglu is a bit of a loser. I wouldn’t call him a drug addict, but… [Hesitates.] No, he’s a drug addict. He’s a loser drug-addict medium. We’ll just tie it all together like that. [Laughs.] He’s just a little sad, and he’s been dealing with this kind of… curse his whole life. It’s not a gift that he’s ever figured out that he can easily monetize. It’s something that he just tries to get through life, eke through life with this gift, and I think that really opens up the character for comedy, because he’s not out to really capitalize on anything. He’s just a good guy who wants to get through, and when he does want to help someone, he helps them purely for, like, a box of ill-fitting women’s clothing, or maybe the promise of a ghost handjob, or, who knows? But he’s definitely not raking in the bucks.
The A.V. Club: In at least one interview, Cody [Heller] and Brett [Konner], who created the series, discussed how the premise came about, and they said it was because they started wondering what might’ve happened to the kid from The Sixth Sense and rationalized that he would’ve turned out less like Jennifer Love Hewitt on Ghost Whisperer and more like The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
TL: [Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s always fun to try and channel The Dude. But you just want to pay homage. Not that I’m old, but I’m definitely aging, so he’s this pothead stoner sort of guy who’s just kinda gettin’ by, man. You know, he’s just doin’ it. And he’s kind of happy, but he’s not really that happy. And that, I think, is maybe where Pac-Man differs from The Dude. The Dude was content to be The Dude, but Pac—if you watch the whole season, I think you’ll see some sadness there.
He’s had to build up some walls, because he’s been a loner his whole life. He’s an orphan, and he never knew his parents. He’s in love with Camomile [Cat Deeley], or at least he thinks he is. At least his dick thinks he is. [Laughs.] But he can’t really make friends, because his whole world is constantly invaded and taken up by these souls that want something from him. So it’s hard to have a normal relationship. I mean, his only good friend is his drug dealer! Because for whatever reason, he can kind of relate to him and spout off about what’s happening. Meanwhile, his drug dealer’s like, “Sure, man, whatever. Just… let’s get high!” So there’s a real sad guy there in Pac, which has been really fun to play. We were always very aware that we wanted to go down the rabbit hole a bit more with Kevin and see just how low he can get, so hopefully that’ll be a part of season two.
AVC: On that note, you had to have been beside yourself with giddiness when you heard that the series had gotten a pickup for a second season.
TL: Yeah! Oh, man, really, really excited. I’ve only ever had one show go two seasons. [Laughs.] And that was Reaper, and even the second season of Reaper was cut really short. But you can see that I’ve definitely got a real soft spot for this kind of genre, this niche of a TV show, from Dead Last to Reaper to Deadbeat. I’ve always had a soft spot for this particular subset, the paranormal, ghost-of-the-week thing. So I’m getting another whack at it, and, yeah, there are elements of the characters I played on those other shows, but I’m looking forward to seeing if this one can go the distance, to finally see some of the things I never got to see with those other shows.
Reaper (2007-2009)—“Bert ‘Sock’ Wysocki”
TL: Sock! Sock, for me, is the one that got away. That character was a real awakening for me of just how much fun you can have as an actor. And I’ve got to give it to Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, the creators of the show. They never put a leash on me. Never. [Laughs.] Not even, like, one time.
Even Kevin Smith, when we shot the pilot, was like, “I guess this guy just does whatever he wants.” And he helped me a lot. He would give me great ideas off-camera. After we got picked up, the network and Michele and Tara were, like, “We don’t ever want you to stop bringing every bit of wackiness you have, and any kind of creative impulse you have, we want you to follow it on this show.” And I did. And there was a lot of stuff that didn’t make it, but there was a lot of stuff that did make it into the show where I was, like, “I can’t believe they put that in the show!” And I really got to flesh out a character that I had wanted to for a long time and had sort of done on other shows, but never to that degree. I had never really gotten to create a three-dimensional character out of that complete jackass kind of guy. And that’s what I got to do on Reaper, and I loved it. And I will always consider Reaper to be one of the highlights of my career.
AVC: One of the greatest shames about your work on the series is that you didn’t get to work with Ray Wise more.
TL: I never got to work with Ray Wise. I got to hang around with Ray Wise a lot, and we’re still buddies. In fact, I was actually trying to get him involved with Animal Practice. But I’ve also got another movie that I’m producing that I’m going to call him about, too. Ever since Reaper, I’ve just been dying to work with Ray again, but it just has to be the right thing. So hopefully we’ll find it.
AVC: So do you feel any better about Sock’s stepsister subplot now that it’s behind you a bit more? Because when you and I first discussed it on the heels of the show’s conclusion, you had some pretty strong feelings on the matter.
TL: [Laughs.] Did I? Well, it was a bit of a harsh-realization moment for everyone, I think. I don’t know why, but I have this sort of likability that seems to come through even when I’m playing sort of questionable characters, and with Reaper, we had pushed it so far in season one, yet people were still, like, “Yeah, we love the guy! Give us more!” Not everybody, obviously. I think Sock rubbed some people the wrong way. But I think the goal of season two, honestly, was for them to see just how crazy and depraved they could make my character by having me try to fuck my stepsister. And succeeding! But that, apparently, was the line. That’s where people stopped liking my character for a second and started going, “Uh, actually, you’re kind of a slimeball.” So I think we realized that, yeah, I’m likable, but only to a certain degree. You can’t just make me fuck my stepsister and hope that people are going to go along for the ride. Because they certainly didn’t. So I don’t know, that was a big misstep in season two, but as soon as they realized that it was going nowhere, I think we corrected it pretty quickly in the hopes of a season three. We were on the right path by then, but it never happened, unfortunately.
Animal Practice (2012)—“Dr. Doug Jackson”
TL: I guess 2012 was my real push and my creative need was that I wanted to make sure that I came out of the gate doing something different. That was my eighth TV series, as I’m sure you’re aware of. [Laughs.] And I was, like, “If I come out doing Larry [from Mad Love] or Sock [from Reaper] again, or some incarnation of a very similar character, then not only am I going to be kind of peeved with myself, but if I start being called a one-note actor, I won’t have anyone to blame but myself.” So I decided to kind of try to something a little different, and that’s why I wanted to play this straight-man bleeding heart, Doug Jackson, on the show. And there was still comedy involved. It’s not like it was a totally dry character. But it was fun to explore the TV realm in a different way, and I really enjoyed it.
AVC: Given that you’d kind of played a twist on that same Sock-esque character for the past several series, was it weird to have to fight those instincts? They’ve got to be pretty solidly ingrained at this point.
TL: Oh, yeah. But I’ve been able to really stretch my chops in a lot of movies, from [Rise Of The] Planet Of The Apes to Tucker & Dale [Vs. Evil], and in Someone Marry Barry, my character is kind of similar to the Sock or Larry characters. But it was really fun to kind of hone my chops elsewhere and then come back to TV, which has been so good to me, and try to sort of round out a character in a very different way.
We had Jay Chandrasekhar come and direct an episode, and [the series producers] kept having to remind me, “It’s more effective, and we really, really like seeing your character be more earnest and keeping things grounded.” My character was the most grounded, for sure. I mean, we had Bobby Lee and Betsy Sodaro being, like, complete jackasses on the show, which made me jealous. [Laughs.] And when I started trying to be a jackass, too, they were, like, “No, no, no, you don’t understand: it doesn’t work if you do it, too. We need you to be grounded.” I felt like the older brother, and the director keeps telling me to act my age. But it was fun. Really fun. And as a result, I think people who saw the show saw a very different side of me.
AVC: Hey, that’s great. So tell me about the monkey.
TL: [Sighs.] All right. The monkey. [Laughs.] No, the monkey was awesome. I’m not gonna lie. She was really, really great. In the beginning there was a little bit of tension, because I think we got some flak for a couple of additions to the #NBCFail hashtag, which was living large at the time, but it was a really a neat environment. It was a totally unique environment to work in, and she was treated so well. And she’s a really friendly monkey, too. She’ll get up there, and she’ll prance and preen, and lemme tell ya, she will clean your scalp clean as a whistle.
And as the show progressed, and once we got the storylines a little more secure, they were sort of… I wouldn’t say omitting the monkey, but minimizing the amount of monkey high jinks on the show. Because like we were always saying, “It’s not a show about a monkey. It’s a show about people that happens to feature a monkey.”
Road To Avonlea (1992-1993)—“Alphie Bugle”
TL: Oh, my gosh. Road To Avonlea, Canada’s biggest television export, I believe. [Laughs.] Sarah Polley, that was the launching pad for her career. And it was my first time working for Disney, which would become a very, very frequent occurrence for me. I started on that when I was 10 or 11, shooting in, like, minus 55 degree weather—this is Celsius, mind you—out in Markham, Ontario, and Uxbridge, Ontario. I guess I was kind of the shitty kid of the town gossip queen, if I remember correctly. Eulalie Bugle, that was my mom’s name. She was the shitty gossip queen, and I was the even shittier son, who thrived on the gossip my mom told me, and I was her little spy, so I’d go out and find more gossip.
AVC: So you obviously started acting when you were young, but what made you decide to get into acting in the first place?
TL: Well, me and my brothers—I have two brothers, an older one [Cam] and a younger one [Kyle] —our dad was, like, the guy with the first microwave on the block, and we had the first VCR on the block. Beta. Better picture quality. [Laughs.] And then he also had a Kyocera video camera, and we started scripting movies, auditioning the kids in the neighborhood, setting up stunts, all the way up to doing these, like, franchises of movies. So our mom and dad were, like, “So do you guys want to actually do this?” We’re, like, “Well, what do you mean? We are doing it!” “No, but actually make some money doing it. Do you want to, like, get an agent?” Of course, we’re, like, “What the fuck’s an agent?” So he went into downtown Toronto and got us agents for kids, and we started acting. And we all really, really liked it. It was never a push from my parents. It was always them trying to… I guess meet some sort of creative needs that we had, you know?
2gether (2000)—“Noel Andrew Davies”
TL: Yeah, all right. [Laughs.] 2gether was—I think that was the first time I realized I could play a complete asshole and still have people like me. I remember being a horrible piece of shit in that movie. I mean, he was written that way, obviously, but I was the really young record executive who reps the opposing hit boy band. I think they were called Whoa, and they had a song called “Rub One Out,” which was their big hit and a very, very thinly disguised song about masturbating. But I remember I worked with Kevin Farley, which was really cool. It was right after Chris had died. It was neat, though, because I got to know Kevin a little bit, and he’s a really, really great guy.
So I got to work with these great guys, and I got to be a complete dick on the set. It was really fun. And I worked with Nigel Dick, who was a really funny, awesome director who did a bunch of music videos. So it was a neat experience. Plus, I got to smoke Nat Sherman Fantasias in that. There were all these multicolored, hand-rolled, $12-a-pack cigarettes. Maybe it was the first time I realized that I could get away with being a bit of a diva, too. [Laughs.]
My Boss’s Daughter (2003)—“Spike”
TL: That’s how I met John Papsidera, who’s a great casting director out here. He brought me in, I did a taping, it was just me and him, and I was pretty young, so I hadn’t been in L.A. for very long. I remember leaving the taping and being, like, “Well, that sucked my dick.” [Laughs.] I just thought it was a horrible audition. I’d never really played a redneck-y wife beater ever, so I didn’t know how to do it. But then I got the call, and they were, like, “Yeah, it’s shooting back in Vancouver,” so I got to go back to Vancouver and shoot for four days with David Zucker, which was really cool, and Molly Shannon.
In fact, I was talking to Molly Shannon at one point, and she told me that she picked me out of all the tapes. They asked her who she wanted to play her abusive husband, and they let her watch the audition tapes of the people they were considering, and she picked me. So I remember at that moment being super-duper flattered. I already had a big crush on Molly Shannon, but then I got to go do all these scenes with her where I was fake beating her up. That really solidified that crush, that she would let me play that kind of character. She even let me beat her between takes! No, I’m just kidding. [Laughs.] That didn’t happen. But we had a really good time shooting it, and it was a really great moment to sort of get to know and hang out with David Zucker, who’s obviously a comedy legend.
At one point, I had to wear all of these fake tattoos in the movie, and he took me aside and he said, “Which tattoos are actually yours?” I said, “This one on my shoulder here, and this one over here.” He said, “Well, that one on your shoulder is great, but I want to go back in and berate the makeup artist for how shitty your real tattoo is, and I’m going to pretend that it’s makeup, and I want you to get into a fight with me in front of the crew.” And I’m, like, “What?” He’s, like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’ll be hilarious.” So we went out, and it was at the end of the day, and he says, “I just wanted to say that that’s a picture wrap on Tyler Labine, and look at how great all these tattoos are! Look at all this great tattoo work! Except for this one. This one is horrible. What a stupid tattoo.” I go, “Yeah, that’s my real tattoo, David.” “Oh, please. What kind of fucking idiot would get that as his tattoo?” And we went into this whole bit for the crew, and it really descended into this proper fight, and we never told anybody! Well, I think he said he told people the next day it was a joke, but I didn’t tell anybody, because it was my last day. So everybody just thought that this day-player actor got into this big fight with David Zucker. [Laughs.] And for him, that was awesome. That’s just his sense of humor. I remember being slightly mortified, but then I went, “Okay, well, I got to have an inside joke with David Zucker, so that’s pretty cool.”
Invasion (2005-2006)—“Dave Groves”
TL: That’s the other one that got away. Invasion is the other real highlight of my TV career, I think. And Shaun Cassidy and I will make another TV show together. I can guarantee you that. The when and the what are yet to be determined, but we really want to. Dave Groves was the first and only time that I ever got to play a conspiracy theorist, and I really dove into it. I mean, I really got into it. There’s a real subculture of conspiracy theorists out there, and there’s just so much amazing proof of so many amazing things that people just don’t ever talk about, except for these guys. [Laughs.] And the way they talk about it, the forums they find to talk about it—it’s a really neat, unique individual who goes that far in their life to be dedicated to something that everyone else says is bullshit. So I really loved playing that kind of character, and it was playing the jackass in a very different way. He wasn’t just this morally rudderless character that was lacking of any sort of plan and going with the flow by the seat of his pants. He really believed in something and would do days and days of research to prove these points to people who would eventually just laugh in his face. And I loved it.
Plus, the show was just so big-budget and awesome to do. We had, like, the whole back lot of Warner Brothers, and we had amazing actors on that show, like Bill Fichtner and Kari Matchett and Eddie Cibrian. And I still to this day don’t know why that show got canceled. We had great numbers, we had a good show, good critical acclaim… I don’t know. But it was a really fun show. The only drawback was that I was wet a lot. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’ve mentioned before that Shaun Cassidy, who created the series, had a massive bible that laid out where the show was going to go.
TL: He did! When we first sat down to shoot the pilot, he brought all the main cast into a top-secret room at Warner Brothers Ranch and had us all come in, he sat us down, and he had his Expo board, and he gave us all a copy of the bible—which we weren’t allowed to keep—and broke down exactly where the show would go over the course of the entire series. Not just season one. He explained what the aliens were; he had [hand-drawn] diagrams of what they were going to look like in certain stages of gestation and when they finally became the hybrid humans, and what they’d look like when they finally became the highly evolved aliens that they were going to be. He had it all mapped out. My jaw hit the floor. I could not believe how much work this guy had done on the show. And he writes, like, four pilots a year… and he’s doing that across the board! [Laughs.] But I know Invasion was his baby. He’d wanted to make it for a long time. It was incredible to be working with a creative mind like that, and I think people still have yet to realize just how amazing that guy is. Hopefully he’ll get a show that proves to everybody that he’s one of the most creative minds in TV.
Are You Afraid Of The Dark? (1994)—“Mark Peterson”
TL: Wow. I did that when I was 15. It was shooting in Montreal, and I think I was down there for two weeks. I went with my dad as my chaperone, and we got down there and I shot only a few days out of the two weeks, and we had all this per diem, and at the time I was, like, “Let’s go spend it in Montreal!” My dad was like, “Let’s go to some nightclubs!” [Laughs.] I was, like, “What?” He says, “They don’t care in Montreal, man. Let’s go to some bars. I’ll take you out. Let’s go find you a pair of chinos, tuck your shirt in, we’ll get you a belt and some nice shoes…” I’m, like, “There’s no way this is gonna fucking work!” And we go to the first bar, the guy at the door goes, “ID?” And my dad says, “No, no, no, he’s fine. I’ve known him his whole life. I’m his dad.” And the guy says, “Fine, go in.” So my dad and I went and ripped it up in Montreal! It was a real bonding moment for my dad and I. We were drinking pitchers of beer and playing pool… it was just great. And it was kind of a Canadian rite of passage to do Are You Afraid Of The Dark? So if you got to do that, you were sort of foraying into Disney territory, which meant you might get scouted.
Behind The Camera: The Unauthorized Story Of ‘Mork & Mindy’ (2005)—“John Belushi”
TL: The John Belushi thing was very surreal. I had some super bad nightmares about his family coming after me and just asking me to let sleeping dogs lie. I think whenever someone that beloved by the world gets portrayed in any light, it’s going to get picked to shreds no matter what. I’m just glad they recognized that I wasn’t there to do an impression, that I just wanted to capture some of the same energy he had. But I, uh, definitely will not be agreeing to any biopics in the near future. [Laughs.]
Breaker High (1997-1998)—“Jimmy Farrell”
TL: That was my first TV series as a regular. It was a UPN show, but it was from Saban TV, who did all the Sweet Valley High and Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers and all that shit. They were, like, “Well, we’re gonna take a foray into high-school-on-a-boat territory!” [Laughs.] Oh, well, that sounds interesting! I had auditioned for it very early on and for, like, every male character on the show, including [Ryan] Gosling’s part, Sean Hanlon. Eventually they called me back and said, “Look, they’ve actually written a character for you. They just want you to come back in and read it. Are you up for that?” And I came in, read for it, and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s perfect!” So I got cast before anybody else in the show, and I had to help audition and read with other actors coming in to play my cohorts, one of whom eventually ended up being Ryan Gosling.
The funny part of the story is that Gosling came in from Florida, and—I think he was on some teen show at the time, or he was still dicking around with The Mickey Mouse Club or something—but he showed up and was in the corner of the audition room. And I had brought in a friend of mine to read for the part, and I was pushing really hard for him. Ryan’s sitting in the corner in a leather jacket, and he’s all tan, with his Leonardo DiCaprio haircut, and me and my friend Bill are making fun of him. [Laughs.] I was being a complete dick! I wasn’t really making fun of him, I guess, but he was trying to get into the conversation, and I’m going, “Oh, this kid’s too cool for school, I’ve got to take him down a peg or two. You’re in my house! You’re on my floating school, man!” But then he came in and read for it, and my buddy blew it big time, but when Gosling left, we were all, like, “Holy shit, that kid can act, man!” He was funny and basically he was the best actor I’d seen come in for that role, let alone any other role I’d auditioned for in my life. And he was just 16! The only complaint I had was that I still thought he was maybe too cool to play the character. So they flew us to L.A., and I read with a whole bunch of other people who were reading for Sean, but Ryan came in again and just killed it.
We shot that show for, like, nine months—we shot 46 episodes—and then it got canned, but it’s still stayed on the air for 15 years! So they made some money off that show. I didn’t. [Laughs.] But Gosling and I have remained friends ever since, so that’s great, and I’m still friends with a lot of the people from that show. One of my best friends in the world, who I lived with for eight years, was on that show with me: Scott Vickaryous, who played the tough guy of the show, Max Ballard. It was just a real formative time in my life. I went through a big ego blowup where I thought I was just God’s gift to acting. I’m on this stupid kid’s show, but we were, like, boy-band famous for awhile. We couldn’t go to the mall without getting mobbed. It was insane. And I just let it get a little out of control. But I was only 19, so I’m glad I learned that lesson really young, you know?
Flyboys (2006)—“Briggs Lowry”
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011)—“Robert Franklin”
TL: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was one of those things where I was on a little vacation with my wife, who was very pregnant at the time, and I didn’t know where the next gig was coming from. I remember that day we were sitting by the pool, and I was having my breakdown where I was going, “I’m never going work again, I’m not getting any good movies, and I don’t know what’s going on with Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy,” which were dumped as far as I knew at the time. And then I got a phone call from my Canadian agent in Vancouver, and he just said, “How’d you like to do another movie with [James] Franco?” And I was, like, “Yeah, but, uh, what is it?” “Oh, just a little installment in a franchise called Planet Of The Apes!” I was, like, “Oh, my God!” My mind raced, and I’m going, “Surely Tim Burton’s not directing this one.” But he knew it was Rupert Wyatt, and I knew Rupert’s work. Plus, it was shooting in Vancouver, so I got to go home, shoot in the city, and work on this huge potential blockbuster. It was really great. And it was one of those reminders that things do come along. Whenever I get into my despair mode, usually something pops up, and it kind of keeps me sane.
So it was a great filming experience, and Franco and I—who had previously left kind of a bad taste in my mouth after we shot Flyboys—we really didn’t get along very well. He didn’t really get along with anybody, to be honest. So I took Planet Of The Apes not only because it was an awesome project, but partially because I was, like, “I’m going to go stick it to Franco, man! I want to get some fucking answers as to why he was such a dick when we were in London!” And I told the producers that, and they were like, “Are we going to have a problem?” I’m, like, “Nah, I mean, I might just punch him in the face, but…” And, they’re, like, “Look, we will fire you. You can’t punch James Franco in the face.” “Okay, obviously I’m not gonna punch James Franco in the face. I’m just joking!” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “I might punch him. I don’t know what I’m going to do!” [Laughs.]
But, no, I met him on the first day that I was shooting, and he came up to me and gave me a hug, and he was, like, “It’s so great to see you, man!” And I kind of put it on the back burner for two days, talking to my wife and planning all the things I wanted to ask him about, but finally I just gave him a gentle nudge and said, “What was going on in England? What happened with you and [director] Tony Bill? And why were you so miserable?” And he just laid it on the line. He told me everything. He just copped to everything, and we had a really great bonding moment. He was really apologetic about his behavior and basically asked if I could just give him another chance. So I’m like, “Yeah, obviously.” And now we’re buddies. So, you know, Planet Of The Apes was great even if it was just for that, and I was like, “I’m really glad we got to work this out.”
It wasn’t like we didn’t get along at the beginning of Flyboys. It was just that by the end of the movie, everyone was kind of, like, “What is this guy’s problem?” Especially me, because at the beginning I thought we’d really hit it off. But by the end, he’d really turned. So it was nice to have him sort of admit that some things went on there, and he wanted to become buddies again. It was great.
AVC: Setting aside the Franco factor, how was the rest of the Flyboys experience, getting to film in London and all?
TL: That was the best. It was a giant British boys’ club, and we just pubbed it every night. [Laughs.] I mean, for a lot of that movie I’m just standing around in the background. I was a very highly paid extra, basically. Actually, not even highly paid, I wouldn’t say. But we just made lifelong bonds. I’m still really good friends with a couple of those guys over in London. Franco and I are obviously still buddies. We just couldn’t have had a better time. And it was kind of a miserable shooting environment—the weather was horrible, we were all freezing all the time, it was raining a lot—but then we got to do things like go up in open-cockpit World War I fighter replicas and literally go do barrel rolls and loop-de-loops in the sky, and dive to a hundred feet. It was really incredible, an experience I wouldn’t take back for any amount of money. It was awesome.
Zack And Miri Make A Porno (2008)—“Drunk Customer”
TL: Ah, yes, “Drunk Customer.” Well, as you know, Kevin Smith and I have a working relationship as well as a friendly one. I think season one of Reaper had just broken, and he called me and said, “Do you want to come out to Pittsburgh and do this little bit part in my movie?” And I was, like, “Yeah, I’ll do anything for you, man. Let’s do it!” But he wouldn’t tell me what it was, wouldn’t tell me what the script was really about, wouldn’t tell me what I had to do. All he could tell me was that I was going to be a drunk guy. Which, fortunately, is all the character ended up being. [Laughs.] But he wouldn’t give me the sides, he wouldn’t give me anything.
When I got there, all he did was give me was his little bible/script that he carried around with him, and he said, “Don’t lose this, but I want you to read what you have to do. But blow it out, do whatever you want.” There were only, like, three scripted lines for me. He said, “I want you to make up a bunch of shit.” I was kind of taken aback, because that’s not really his style. But, anyway, he gave me the bible, and what do I do? I immediately lose it. [Laughs.] I lost it for an entire day. He was pissed. I mean, he was really pissed. But then I found it in my trailer the next day, and I brought to him was, like, “I found your fucking bible, man. Are we okay?” He’s, like, “Yeah, we’re okay, man. That would’ve been bad, man.” I said, “I know, I know. Never entrust me with anything valuable.”
Anyway, when we shot it, he just said, “Go ahead and do whatever,” and I kind of came up with the “hug it, chug it, football” thing and all that stuff. The only thing that was in there was the Roethlisberger thing, which I turned into “Roeth-Pittsburger.” And Seth [Rogen] and I had a whole run at the door, some of which is on the DVD, I think, talking about Jesus, and I keep thinking he’s talking about cheeses. And I keep commenting on his beard, because we had the same exact sort of beard at the time, and we thought it’d be funny to make a joke about the fact that we were both Vancouver boys with the same sort of appearance. But, anyway, it was a really great experience, and I’m into doing another thing with Kevin. We’ve talked about it a little bit, so hopefully it’ll happen.
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010)—“Dale”
TL: Yes! I guess I’d come back to Vancouver for a wedding, and my Canadian agent, Tyman Stewart, calls me and says, “I’ve got this script called Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. Do you want to read it?” And right away I was, like, “Oh, what the fuck is that, man? Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil…?” And he was, like, “Ah, just read it. I think you’ll like it, actually. It’s really funny.” So I gave it a read, and I immediately was, like, “Oh, this could be really, really great! Who’s involved with this?” And my agent goes, “Uh, nobody.” [Laughs.] He said, “There’s no other actors attached yet, there’s barely any producers on board.” But Eli Craig was at the helm, he wrote it and was set to direct, and he was in Vancouver scouting, because they were at one point maybe going to shoot some stuff up in the Research Forest at UBC, and he just asked if I’d meet with him at this restaurant downtown.
So I did, and he just bowled me over. He’d done so much work already on his movie, he had such a sharp vision of what he wanted to make, and I wanted to make sure that, even though he wrote it, he had a really great understanding of his own material, you know? Like, I knew why I thought it was funny, but I wanted to make sure it was the same reason he thought it was funny. Because if we’d been mismatched in that regard, it could’ve been a very dumb sort of parody, a spoofy movie. But he just sort of laid it on the line and said, “You know, I like you from Reaper, but that’s not what I want you to do.” And it was the lead in a movie, and at that point I’d only ever played one lead, which was in a very obscure Canadian movie that you’ll probably ask me about later. [Laughs.] And I said, “Well, I’m totally willing to take a chance on you for this movie if you’re willing to take a chance on me, because I don’t have a track record as a leading man or anything.” I’m a very different type of leading man, obviously, but we just sort of had this understanding that was, like, “Yeah, let’s jump into this together!” Because my only hesitation at that point in time was, “Who’s going to be involved? What’s going to happen with this movie?” So it was basically just Eli that I had to go on and believe in, and he gave me more than ample reason to believe that he would be able to handle this kind of movie and execute his vision very well.
So I jumped on board very early on, and we talked all the time on the phone about who could be Tucker, who could be Allison, who could be Chad. And he was also going through the whole list game, which—I don’t know if you’re familiar, but it’s where they cast someone who’s not a name, like me, and then they need to plug stars into the movie. And they were calling in guys like Johnny Knoxville and Dane Cook, and Eli kept calling me and started going, “I don’t know, I don’t think I should do this.” And I just kept saying, “Don’t do anything that you don’t want to do. Don’t make the movie that you don’t want to make. Just make sure you stay true to your vision.” And he met with a few people, and then eventually he landed on Jason Sudeikis, who I knew quite well, and we were thrilled about him. But at the last minute, it didn’t work out, because Jason had to pull out, but then, lo and behold, the best Tucker that I could ever imagine in the world dropped into our laps. [Laughs.]
Alan Tudyk showed up, like, a day before we started shooting, we met, and I was just, “I love this guy!” I’m such a fan of his work, and he was such a great guy to work with, and then at the table read he just murdered it. He clobbered the script. And we were, like, “Okay, I guess let’s go make Tucker & Dale!” And that was it. We did it for much less money than we would’ve if we’d had a Dane Cook or a Johnny Knoxville, but I don’t think it would’ve been the movie it is if it had been anyone other than Alan. So it worked out the way it should’ve.
AVC: So what’s the story on the sequel? First there wasn’t going to be one, but now there is. Can you speak to where things stand on that now?
TL: Yeah, I don’t actually know a lot, but I can tell you what I know, starting with the fact that Alan and I announced it officially at HorrorHound, this big horror convention. About two days before we went, Thomas Augsberger—the producer from Tucker & Dale—contacted us and said, “Uh, yeah, you guys have got to stop telling people that we’re not doing a sequel, because officially we are going do a sequel.” And me and Alan were, like, “Oh, okay!” Because we had been really flip about it and saying, “It’s never going to happen, don’t get your hopes up,” and making some pretty bad jokes about dumb sequel ideas. And Thomas was, like, “You know, that’s protected property.” [Laughs.] “And we are doing a sequel, so we can’t have the stars out there bashing the potential for a franchise!” And we were, like, “We’re not! We just thought it wasn’t going to happen!” So he told us to go ahead and start telling everyone that we’re going to do it.
Since then, I guess I’ve been through about two or three, maybe four synopses for the premise of the sequel. I can’t really talk about those, but Alan and I have come up with a couple of ideas, too. Eli [Craig] and Morgan [Jurgenson] obviously have the main claim on which idea we’re going do, but I also had a couple of writer buddies of mine step in—who I also can’t really talk about!—and take a stab at it. So, really, all we’re doing right now is just working on making sure we don’t make a piece of shit. [Laughs.] Alan and I have both said adamantly, and at least semi-publicly, that we won’t attach ourselves to anything we think is less than great. I feel like that’s the only thing the movie has going for it: its integrity.
We certainly didn’t get a lot of press, we didn’t get a major release, we didn’t get any money… We don’t have anything to protect except for the integrity of what made that first one funny and what made it work. And if we were to make a second one and attempt to sort of get a cash grab or just capitalize on whatever momentum the first one still has—well, I think that’d be a shame, and I wouldn’t want to be a part of that. So it has to be good, and it can’t be the same joke. We know that. We’re getting tons of fans writing in and going, “You can’t do this, and you can’t do that…” They’re giving sets of rules for what we can and can’t do for the sequel! [Laughs.] But we’re all in agreement on one thing: Nobody wants to make that sequel. It’s got to be a sequel worth making.
Boston Legal (2006)—“A.D.A. Jonathan Winant”
TL: Man, I feel like I have a long story for everything—this was a really huge, exciting time in my life, but it also ended up being one of the biggest disappointments for me. I got a call from [co-producer] Bill D’Elia right after Invasion got canceled, so I was kind of down in the dumps about that. He said, “We created a new character on the show that we’d love for you to play. He’s a guy who passed the bar really easily, he’s kind a dreamer, always staring out the window, and he quit being a lawyer for, like, four years right out of law school and just kind of went on a vision quest and was a surfer…” [Laughs.] All this shit. I was, like, “Right on, man! This is sounding great!” And he goes on, “You’ll work at the firm, and eventually we’ll work you up to being a partner,” and I’m going, “This is amazing!” I really liked Boston Legal, and it was a big dream of mine to get on a show that was already successful, because I’d been on so many fucking canceled ones already.
Well, about a week before I got there to start shooting, they changed the character to being Jonathan Winant, assistant district attorney, so I didn’t work at the firm anymore. And there were two other lawyers they were introducing who worked at the firm instead of my character, played by Craig Bierko and Constance Zimmer. So I was, like, “I don’t understand. How do I become a part of the show if I’m just the A.D.A.?” And they said, “Well, what David [E. Kelley, co-producer] likes to do is, he likes to give everybody a five-episode probationary period, where you come on the show as a new regular and, basically, at the end of five episodes, we’ll decide what’s going to happen, if you’re going to stay or not.” So I sign this contract to do, like, seven years of the show pending the five-episode probationary period.
But they’d obviously decided before I even showed up there that that character didn’t exist anymore, so I’m just playing this kind of straitlaced assistant district attorney, and they just kind of tested me the whole time. They wrote these crazy monologues—I’m talking, like, two- or three-page monologues—that I would get the night before, and you’ve got to do everything verbatim with David E. Kelley, and they’d be, like, “You’ve got to come back in tomorrow and do them.” So I did. I did everything they wanted me to. And they started giving me some funnier bits to do, but then they decided they wanted to keep me a bit more straitlaced, and they kept assuring me that I was going to win this case, and then they were going to recruit me at the firm. But I noticed that Constance and Craig were getting much more play, and they were really intertwining them with the show and sort of forgetting about my character.
Finally, Bill sort of came to me and said, “Look, I think you realize by now that we changed our minds before you got here, but we had a contract with you, so…” [Laughs.] He’s, like, “It’s not your fault, we love you, it’s just that David is prone to doing that. He has flashes of inspiration, and things change in a heartbeat.” And that’s what makes him so great: He’s willing to change things and shake the foundations. But at the time, it was still a really big blow, because I couldn’t help but feel that I’d blown it somehow. Bill taking me aside and really nicely reassuring me that it was nothing to do with me was great, but I still just had to leave on that note—and we’d already sent out this big press release about how I was joining the show, so it kind of sucked. I’m not gonna lie. But it was really great to work in that environment. It was a really fun environment.
Control Alt Delete (2008)—“Lewis”
AVC: Would this be the “very obscure Canadian movie” you feared would come up?
TL: Possibly. [Laughs.] Control Alt Delete was the brainchild of my older brother, Cam Labine, and he had been writing this movie as a series of vignettes for, like, four years. All these crazy sort of examples of what love can be, on any level. It doesn’t have to always be what we all think it is, where you meet somebody at the Laundromat and fall in love. Like, there was a woman who falls in love with a 15-year-old pot dealer in Grandview Park in Vancouver; there was a story about a comedian who fell in love with a woman with no sense of humor, and she ends up getting him to teach her about comedy, and in the process she becomes a very successful comedian and he loses his sense of humor. And then there was this story about a guy who falls in love with his computer, who was actually fucking his computer. He’s addicted to porn and realizes that he wants more than porn, and then he realizes that he’s actually attracted to the physical manifestation of the technology, and he, uh, decides to devise a way to actually fuck it.
And gradually all of the other stories started to fall by the wayside, and the computer fucker just started to come out, clear as day, as the movie that we wanted to make. And for some reason, I was, like, “Yeah, I’ll be that! I’d love to do that! I’ll fuck computers for you, bro!” So we worked on it for a couple of years, and we got really great Canadian actors to do it. We got almost a million dollars to make the movie in Canada, and we went out and we shot it. And I fucked computers like a madman. [Laughs.] I’m really, really proud of that movie. I’m really proud of my brother and all our friends that we made it with. People didn’t get it, which I think we knew going into it. We weren’t making it to score a commercial success by any means. Can’t really imagine families going out to see the computer-fucker movie on a Sunday night, you know?
But we made the movie we wanted to make, with no restraints. Nobody was holding the reins except for my brother and me. And I love it. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out, man. It’s a really weird, bizarre, fun, quirky movie. There are moments in it where I’m watching it, and I’m, like, masturbating on camera and sticking my dick in a computer, and going, “Now that’s what you call a brave actor!” [Laughs.] But then I was watching it with my family at the film festival, and I was cringing, feeling more than a little squirmy. But I still held my head up high, because I was, like, “Yeah, that’s right, I made my choice… and I’m sticking to it!”
Dead Last (2001)—“Scotty Sallback”
TL: Aha, I see what you did there, saving Dead Last for dead last. Very clever. And, oh, how the critics loved it when we premiered in dead last in the ratings. [Laughs.] But Dead Last was my first foray into American network television. At the time, The WB was still kind of hip or whatever, with lots of teen shows that were doing pretty well, and I came down to Warner Brothers to test with Nikki Cox for what was then called The Untitled Nikki Cox Project. I flew down, and it was my first test, and I thought it went really well. I mean, I got to kiss Nikki Cox over and over again, which was not anything to complain about. But then they ended up giving it to this other guy who auditioned for it, who was a really great guy. I’d met him a bunch of times before that. So he got the job and I was set to go home, but then I got a call from my agent saying, “There are three other projects at Warner Brothers that are interesting in you coming in and talking with them about the projects.” So I’m, like, “Oh, cool! I’ll obviously stick around for that!”
So they put me up in a hotel, I was getting driven around, and I thought it was all pretty awesome. I went and met on a few other things and they pitched them to me, and a couple of them I was interested in and a couple of them I wasn’t, but then I met with Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis and Patrick O’Neill, who at the time were still pretty fresh off of doing High Fidelity, which they wrote and produced. That, and Grosse Pointe Blank. And the show Dead Last was, in my opinion, really clever and funny, and I really hit it off with them, so they got me to read, and then we went and ate tacos and talked some more about it. [Laughs.] And they took me down that afternoon and had me read for an unofficial studio test, and then the next day they had me test for the studio and the network.
So I booked it, and I shot the pilot in Vancouver, which for me was like, “Oh, fuck, this is all really serendipitous! This is amazing so far!” And then the show got picked up, and they moved it to L.A. to go to series, and I was, like, “Oh, my God, I guess I’m moving to L.A., at least for, like, six months!” And I talked to my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, and I was like, “Should we break up?” She said, “I don’t think so.” I said, “Yeah, me neither. Let’s just stay together and figure it out as we go.” [Laughs.] So we went into production, we shot 13 episodes of the show before it ever even came close to airing, and I formed a really great relationship with Steve and D.V. and Patrick, and I still talk to them quite frequently. Like, Steve and I are still waiting on a project to work on together, because Steve has obviously gone on to become a successful filmmaker in his own right. But then we premiered, and everything went down the rabbit hole. There was just no promotion. I think we did a 0.4 in the ratings. It was like a ghost town, which gave critics another reference revolving around our show.
So the show got axed right away, but it opened up a lot of doors for me. Steve and D.V. and Patrick signed me to a development deal at ABC and developed The Untitled Tyler Labine Project. That never went anywhere, but I got a deal with ABC, and I ended up on another ABC show. After that, I just kind of kept signing deals, and for about five years of my life I was on all of these development deals, just trying to find the right show—which I still haven’t done. [Laughs.] So hopefully Deadbeat will prove to be the right one. We’ll see how it goes. But getting picked up for a second season isn’t a bad start!