Joel Murray is one of those great character actors that’s been in a lot of things, but you just can’t quite put your finger on his name. But just like his brother Bill, Joel has made a great career out of being “that guy”. But with God Bless America, Joel has been thrust into the spotlight. And you know what? He pulls it off incredibly well.
Join me after the break, where I talk with Joel about the changing climate in voice acting, his role in Monster’s University, and theoretical sequels to movies only a handful of people have heard of.
Flixist: In a role like this, is it more difficult to play it straight than in a dramatic turn?
Joel: Well, in God Bless America, my guy gets some laughs. It’s weird to have every scene. Besides the parodies, I’m there on the screen all the time. Yeah, it’s interesting to come up against having to do that. I’m used to showing up for two days, but this was 16 hour days every day. So, yeah, it took some getting used to. But because of the rate we shot at, there was so much to do. Every day, you had so much piled on you, you just had to be in the moment. I kind of found the character, according to Bob, and once you find it, you just have to be that character.
How much do you resonate with the character of Frank?
I’m a pretty happy guy, pretty low-key. When I got hired by Matt Weiner for Mad Men, he said “You’ve got this sadness to you”. And I said “Well, no. I’m a pretty happy guy. I’ve got a hot wife, nice kids, not that sad!” And the last few roles I’ve had…Well, Freddy Rumsen took a turn, and the guy on Shameless offed himself. But maybe I’ll be able to get through my sad phase. Right now, I seem to just be playing sad sacks, so I’m looking forward to being angry guy, or just happy guy. Happy guy would be alright.
I don’t really resonate with the depressed side of the character. I do get angry, I’m very anti-reality television, so hopefully it sees the end of its run soon. I do have the urge to kill people in traffic and in stores. I used to be kind of a shorter trigger than I am today, but I get ticked off at stuff
You worked with Bobcat on Shakes the Clown. Did you ever get a chance to mix with him?
Well, we were good friends from One Crazy Summer. So we’ve been friends for a long time.
Have you sensed a natural progression with his life, or how he’s changed over the years?
There’s nothing natural about his progression. When I met him, he was married to a teamster, then all of a sudden he was with Nikki Cox, and that was kind of a mind-blower. Now his present wife is a little different from Nikki Cox, but a very great person in her own way. And Bob has been a heavy guy, skinny guy, worried he was going to die he’s so thin. I’ve been through a lot of progressions with Bob. And he likes that I’m usually the same.
Now, I saw you were doing Monster’s University with Pixar. Is there anything you can talk about regarding your role?
I think what I can talk about is what I’ve read. It’s a prequel to Monster’s Inc., and it goes back to where they met in college. We’re all in a pretty lame frat, and I’m a business man who’s been fired…his company has downsized. So gosh darnit, I’m going to go back and learn computers! So, I play Don Carlson, a mature student in the fraternity. Kind of a goofy role.
What’s it like working with [Monster’s U director] Dan Scanlon?
He’s really cool. The weird thing about those is that you don’t audition, they just call you up and ask “Hey, do you want this part?” and you’re like “Well, hell yeah!” It’s really fun going up to Pixar, staying up in Emeryville. It’s pretty neat how they do things.
Would you ever see yourself doing more voice work in the future?
Well, I used to do a lot of voice work. It’s gotten to be a harder business than when I started out, though. I was the voice of Chester the Cheetah for about eleven years, but that dried up. No, I’m always auditioning for voice work, and always willing. But it comes and goes.
You mentioned that the voice acting business has changed over the years. How has it changed, do you think?
Well, I mean when I started they were literally cutting tape in auditions and taping it back together. Now everything is digital and auditions out of their house. You can be against 3,000 guys where it used to be ten in the same room.
Should One Crazy Summer, god forbid, ever get remade, would you pull for George Calamari?
Oh yeah! Bobcat’s been joking for weeks about doing One Nutty Autumn where we all come back and [John] Cusak’s an animator at a successful place like Pixar. So Egg and George come back to try and help him find his sense of humor he lost.
It was the best time ever. First thing I ever auditioned for, and I got two and a half months in Nantucket and got to spend it with a real fun bunch of people. And a director who was two years older than me. It was an absolute blast, and I thought “Boy, this is going to be the easiest life ever! Look at that, you go audition, you get a lot of money and you’re in a movie.” It turns out that’s not how it is. But I was one for one for a while.
What’s it like working with a fresh actress such as Tara?
I actually have kids older than she is, so I’m a little parental in that aspect. But she’s really great. She’s done her Nickelodeon and Disney stuff, but she’s done a lot on stage. And she’s really good at it. She was the perfect contrast to my mopey guy, bringing all the energy and a real fire plug to those scenes that could’ve laid there if we were both dull as I was at that point. But you know, she was great in that she wasn’t a yappy 17-year-old. She was listening, picking up information and trying to learn everything as we were going along in our movie camp environment that Bob set up for us. She was a real catch, and we could’ve done a whole lot worse than her. She’s a breath of fresh air, and she killed it.
Would your brother John ever do Moving Violations 2: Excessive Speed? That’s the working title my brother came up with.
He’s looking for work, and I think he’d go for a chance to kiss James Keach again. Yeah, I think it’s time. If there’s a double bill with One Nutty Autumn, it should be Moving Violations 2.
What can we see you next?
That’s the life of the actor. I’ve got than Monster’s University coming up, but other than that I’m auditioning and promoting movies. But there’s no money in that.
Well, free beverages.
Lots of free water, had some Diet Coke, and I got a lobster sandwich. So, that’s a good day for an actor. But hopefully some people will see this and see me in a different light and I’ll get some work out of it. I’ll just keep plugging away, and that’s what it is. I’ll be calling the agent tomorrow going “You know…Hey…Remember me?”
God Bless America is in select theatres, and video OnDemand today.