“I want to play the bad guy in Ant-Man. The bad guy in Ant-Man. Tell the world!”
Rob Corddry is perhaps not the first person you think of when conjuring a shortlist for comic book villains, but this particular fiend is his dream role. Upon discovering he was speaking to Comic Book Resources and Spinoff Online, he eagerly confessed his aspiration to face off against the Marvel Universe’s tiniest hero, which suffice to say has not happened yet. However, after distinguishing himself in a series of genre-friendly projects, that all may change.
Corddry sat down with Spinoff at the recent Los Angeles press day for Hell Baby, a horror-comedy from writers/directors Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!) about a new dad whose ready-to-burst wife begins behaving very strangely. In addition to talking about the challenges of both fulfilling and deconstructing horror conventions, he offered some insights into the process of putting the film together, and reflected on his ever-evolving career.
Spinoff Online: Particularly after being in both this and Warm Bodies, do you have to think about the deconstructive aspect of these movies, or do you just concentrate straightforwardly on your character?
Rob Corddry: Certainly not with Warm Bodies. I was definitely just thinking straightforwardly, rather than deconstructing. I just think it adds a new element to the genre, and zombie movies live or die by that because there’s so many of them out there. But this one, deconstructing in that I think my character is being the voice of reason – the one that you yell at basically in the theater, “Get out!” I felt a responsibility to make it believable for the audience and myself, why he would stay, and so that was a little bit of a dance. The deconstruction comes in, but you’re not doing it in a real horror movie, per se, so I was relieved by, I felt like, a few more tools that absurdity allows you. I’m able to say, “I’m so sick of being startled,” whereas that probably wouldn’t fly in a more straightforward horror movie.
This to me feels like a real horror movie where the characters are just reacting more authentically. How do you balance acknowledging a scare and undercutting that tension?
Yeah, you have to be aware of where the scare is, just like you have to be aware where the joke is. I think comedy and horror are a lot alike anyway – there’s a lot of timing involved. And there were certain things where I had to ask, now, where are the boxes, and how close are they going to look to me, so when they appear, I had an idea from an audience [perspective]. I did definitely have to, because this movie sort of stands outside horror movies, so I had to stand outside of character every once in a while and be the audience. But mostly, I could just play the reality of it. It’s a very tight movie, and I feel like I have just enough time before believability for me would run out.
The best horror movies are metaphors for our real fears, and this film seems to be about the fear surrounding impending fatherhood. [Corddry looks surprised]. I suppose you thought a lot about that?
I thought about that for not one second (laughs). As a father of two girls and having just got over the scariest part of raising kids, which is the early years, no, didn’t occur to me for a second. But you’re probably right, because one of the writers’ wives was ready to drop while we were filming – so that’s a pretty interesting observation.
How did you create the foundation for a relationship between you and Leslie Bibb that allows you to digress into these set pieces and payoffs?
You’ve got to sort of have that first scene where you’re so in love – you have to have that scene. And luckily it’s shorter than it was on the page, because I think you can’t go on too long – it gets cheesy or whatever – but we still were able to keep it funny. And then, Leslie and those characters she’s playing throughout, Doris Day at one point, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula at one point, she’s so many different kind of characters – some that inspired me to say, “Are you OK?,” and some that just kind of excite me or some that make me feel stupid. So I think the character’s own insecurities have to do with that moment – and then you find yourself in a worse moment. So I give Leslie a lot of that credit, because a lot of that character stuff that she was doing was all her; she was so prepared for this movie, and had some great ideas that inspired me – to still love her, you know what I mean, and not murder her and run away from the house after three days.
How tough is it in a movie this sort of schizophrenic to get a sense that everything is fitting together? You could wrap an incredible set piece, but that may or may not fit into the next moment in the actual story.
I have just enough OCD that that is very important to me, unfortunately, so I’m very conscious of that, especially in a movie like this. There was a whole kind of timeline where, when you got to the priests, it was actually back in time, like two weeks earlier, and we’d jump back and forth. And it was really neat, but ultimately it wasn’t necessary and it was hard to follow a little bit. So I was so relieved when they cut that and just let the story play in a linear way. But as a result, a couple of scenes I believe got switched around a bit in the editing, and that’s one of those things where I trust those guys to put together a movie that makes sense and not make me look like an idiot. And everything makes sense; I was actually very relieved, and impressed.
Meanwhile, what’s the deal with the Po’ Boys joke – two long montages — in this film? It’s hilarious, and I don’t understand it. Or I completely understand it.
I can already tell you’re a guy that may think about it too hard, and that’s not a thinker. Just sit back and enjoy the music. It’s of a type of joke in this movie that I love and it is the thing that you didn’t expect, that has nothing to do with anything, that goes on a little bit too long – and maybe is even called back. They really earn that shit, Tom and Ben, by nailing the on-story stuff, and that’s what we love the most – our family of comedians – earning those flights of fancy.
You mention the similarity between horror and comedy, but one thing they definitely share is the subjectivity of their impact. Is there one kind of horror movie that really freaks you out or scares you?
I like the sort of scary head-scratchers, like The Shining and Jacob’s Ladder, that kind of thing. You don’t necessarily come out with any answers, no matter how many people come up with. You’re mostly left with a feeling of having fun, but an uncomfortable feeling, and you want to go see it over and over. And also, I think I’m always scared by visual things that aren’t necessarily startles, like in Halloween, when you just rack focus and you see Michael Myers is 100 feet away standing in the middle of the street staring at the window and he’s been there the whole time. That is terrifying to me – windows scare the shit out of me. And also, things like creepy David Lynch stuff that plays like a horror movie to me; Twin Peaks, the Black Lodge, always messes with your senses in a way that does not make you feel comfortable and then you feel fear. And the scariest thing in The Shining to me is not him chasing them or getting crazy, but it’s when they walk past the room and see the guy in the bear costume. It’s almost their look at him, which gives me chills. You have a couple of seconds to register it, but it is so disarming. And I like the way people use cameras to somehow shoot something in a way that distorts something already scary that makes it scarier. I can’t really explain it beyond that, but it’s like sometimes, just a little tilt will like change everything, I guess because it just sets you off your balance a little bit.
Do you feel like you’ve had a role in a past several years that you consider a breakthrough? Particularly since you’ve been increasingly able to go from big, broad comedies to more serious or understated fare and back again.
I’m lucky in that I have great agents who sort of get me, and my motto in life basically is, “Do cool shit with people who aren’t dicks.” That’s my basis for choosing something. Now some would say my career is “unfocused,” but it’s fun and I’m not going to make the kind of money a more focused person would. If I’d just been playing the best friend in rom coms, I would own this hotel (laughs). But I think Lou in Hot Tub Time Machine definitely sort of cemented my comedy status, in that after that I noticed a marked change in how many calls or offers I would get – which is nice, because that was right in my strike zone. And then I would have to say both Warm Bodies and this movie that just came out Friday, In a World, which is directed by Lake Bell, not a ton of people have seen it yet, but if I’m mentioned in a review, it’s always like, “Hey, he’s never done this – and he does it good!” Which is fun. I just like mixing it up. That all said, I would be very happy just playing the best friend in a rom com; I would love to keep finding different ways to play that character. That’s all it was in Warm Bodies, really, it’s the best friend – I’m a plot device.
Hell Baby arrives Friday in theaters and on VOD.
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