The Hot Seat: Charlie Day
The actor figures out how to make manslaughter hilarious.
Tue Jul 5 2011
Illustration: Dan Park
RECOMMENDED: Full list of Hot Seat interviews
While watching Horrible Bosses, I kept cringing at the scenes between your character and Jennifer Aniston.
[Laughs] I mean, it's certainly awkward. My task was to take this uncomfortable situation and give the audience permission to laugh at it.
The guys also attempt to kill their bosses in the worst ways possible.
Yeah, a movie where somebody's just going around getting away with killing people is called Hannibal, and that's not funny. But a movie where three guys who have no business trying to go around killing people keep stepping in a mess every turn they make—then you have permission to laugh.
It is kind of a dark thing to be joking about.
I think the key is to understand what the character's motivations are; everyone knows that there's nothing funny about murdering someone, so, you'd have to think, Well, why does this person think that that's okay?, and then to see them pay the price of doing the wrong thing. Then you can laugh at them.
The cast is really funny—what was it like on set?
Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and I hit it off pretty immediately. Bateman plays such a great straight man to Sudeikis and I, and [director] Seth Gordon gave us permission to have some fun with the script and say things in our own words and see what other funny moments we could discover.
Have you ever worked for an awful boss?
I've certainly had my fair share of people that weren't so great to work for. I waited tables in New York, and when you're in that line of work, you often have a horrible boss.
Since you've lived in both, do you have an opinion on the L.A. versus New York rivalry?
I never thought I would leave New York. But [now] I no longer have one apartment window that faces a shaft and is filled with pigeons and people throwing diapers and trash into it. Once I got a taste for sunny weather every day and the ability to have more than one bedroom, New York's luster kind of waned a little bit. But every time I go back I say to myself, "I wish I still lived here."
What did you love the most?
I loved being able to walk everywhere I went. And I love the subways. I love the rhythm of the city. At the time, I was auditioning a lot, and I just loved going from one place to the next and walking down the street, losing myself in all the distractions of the city.
You must have moved away a while ago if you miss the subway.
You know what, try getting from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles at rush hour, and you'll learn to reappreciate your subways.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is gearing up for its seventh season—did you expect it would become so popular when it started?
You'd have to be a real arrogant jerk to expect that you're going to go seven seasons and be as popular as we've become. We believed in the show. In television, you're always taking it one season at a time until you get a big contract, and then maybe get these little bursts...so we're just very fortunate that it caught on. The slow growth of the show has really been a blessing in disguise where we were able to kind of keep doing what we were doing without too much scrutiny, and then, you know, we were able to grow in a way that said to the network, "let's keep making it."
What's in store this time around?
Our biggest story is that Rob McElhenney [who plays Mac] has pulled a Robert De Niro for the season. Most guys who own a dive bar in Philly don't live the healthiest lifestyle, [and] he reaches sort of a tipping point where he gains a lot of weight. We said, "Well, how do you want to do that?", and [McElhenney] said, "I'm gonna talk to a nutritionist and my doctor, and see if there's a way I can gain a lot of weight." He gained 50 pounds in about two months, and we wrote it as if that had happened to his character and he thinks he looks great, like a physical Adonis, and he doesn't. We have some great story lines, one involving a kid pageant, one involving a high-school reunion, and one involving a baby funeral. No baby actually dies, but we find a reason to have a baby funeral.
A lot of shows that go for darker humor started after Sunny began—do you think you guys were sort of trendsetters in that regard?
Maybe. I mean, if you go back through time you'll see lots of shows always sort of went to that well. But if you can do it right, it's a great way to tell a story.
And there's still nothing that's off-limits?
There's nothing we won't do, and every year there's something new to talk about. You know, whether it's people tweeting their penis or whatever else it is, there's always going to be fresh material.
You've had so many ridiculous moments while playing Charlie Kelly; do you have a favorite?
[Laughs] You know, I don't have any one particular favorite moment. I'm still pretty partial to The Nightman Cometh and then doing that live. That's probably the highlight for me.
Would you ever do that again, or come up with some crazy new live show?
Oh, we'd probably do another Nightman Cometh tour. [If] you go to see Pink Floyd, you want to see The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon. You never wanna see the band's new stuff, you know? Maybe you do, I guess it depends on the viewer, right?
True. Are there any actors you'd love to get as guests on Sunny?
Well, you know, honestly, Danny and Jack Nicholson are good friends, so when he's ready to start doing television, he should give us a call.
Horrible Bosses is out Fri 8.