Surprisingly, Bad Milo, which is a movie about an ass demon, also has a lot of heart. As the pressures of Duncan’s (Ken Marino) life start mounting, his stress triggers an insufferable gastrointestinal reaction that results in a pint-sized demon living in his intestine, that forces its way out and slaughters the people who have angered him. Trying to keep its insatiable appetite at bay, Duncan attempts to befriend it, naming it Milo.
At the film’s press day, actress Gillian Jacobs (who plays Duncan’s sweet, yet pressuring wife) talked about her first reaction to the script, making sure the story always stayed grounded in reality, how adorable she thought the Milo puppet was, and her strangest moment on set. She also talked about her experience on Hot Tub Time Machine 2, what she’s looking forward to with the upcoming season of her NBC comedy series Community, and shooting a supporting role in the Kevin Costner movie, Black and White. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
GILLIAN JACOBS: I got to read a script. I read it and it was one of those rare experiences when you read something that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever read. That’s all really attractive to me. And then, I was told that Ken Marino was gonna play the lead, and I’d always wanted to work with him. So, it was a no-brainer for me. And then, meeting Jacob [Vaughan] and seeing that he had such a clear, strong idea about what he wanted to do, and hearing about the puppet and everything, I really started to get a sense of the world of the movie and it didn’t feel goofy. You wouldn’t want it to be goofy, and I think Jacob made a lot of really smart choices, in terms of keeping it on the good side of Bad Milo.
Were you given any warning before reading this? Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into when you sat down to read it?
JACOBS: I’m trying to remember what was said to me in the email and how it was pitched to me. It was one of those things where you read it and you’re like, “I actually really liked that!” You’re kind of surprised and like, “Hey, wait, that’s a lot better than I thought it was gonna be! It’s emotional, and there’s an actual storyline there, and a character arc, character development and themes that people can relate to, beyond a goofy, crazy puppet.” I think everything about it was surprising, in a really positive way. I think there’s something really intriguing about a director who’s going for something. It’s not just another indie movie about people having a quarter-life crisis, you know what I mean? You read the same movie, over and over again. And then, you read a movie about an anal demon that has heart and you go, “Let’s go do that for a couple of weeks.”
When you’re doing something like this that’s so crazy, is it important to you that it stays grounded in reality?
JACOBS: Yes! Jacob smartly knew that, and Ken Marino definitely knew that, and you just follow their lead. We had to play it like a drama. And then, there were these amazing supporting actors who got to have a little bit more fun. But, we had to play it like it was a serious relationship drama, and then the puppet will do its job for you. I think that was one of the smartest choices they made.
JACOBS: Yes! 100%, you want it to be a relationship that you care about, and you believe them as a couple. Then, otherwise, you don’t really care about what happens to him or her. And that part I felt was easy because Ken is such a great actor that he makes that part of it effortless. He’s just so lovable, as a person, that I didn’t have to pretend to like him. And it was fun to get to have tender, loving moments with him, in the midst of this kooky movie.
Did you ever have any moments on set where you were like, “What the hell am I doing”?
JACOBS: Definitely getting punched by the puppet was a strange moment. You’re used to working out stuff like that with another actor, but to be working it out with a puppeteer through a puppet was strange. And throwing dildos at an anal demon in a sex dungeon basement, and being covered in blood and having an ass demon try to eat a baby out of my stomach, I was like, “Okay, here I am!” I think we actually shot that scene in the basement of a church, if I’m not mistaken, so that added to the strangeness of it all. That was definitely the sequence where I was like, “This is out there!” But on the other hand, the thing was so cute. They did such a great job building the puppet that you really get excited, as an actor, when you see what an amazing job they did with it. If it had looked cheap or dumb, you would have been like, “Well, now this movie is gonna suck!” But, I really feel like they did an amazing job. His cute face is really cute. His scary face is kinda scary. He pops out in a little ball. The details of Milo were all really great and dead-on. It had an animatronic face, so they had this whole remote control system for its eyes and mouth and eyebrows. You really do learn that those silent films were on to something. You can convey a lot of emotion with just some eyebrows and mouth movement. You really do get an emotional storyline. And then, Ken treated it like it was a character. You believe it because he’s not winking, doing his scenes with Milo.
What was your first reaction when you saw the puppet?
JACOBS: I thought it was adorable. I like weird things, so to me, it’s right up my alley. Other people might be more freaked out by an E.T. made out of intestines, but for me, it’s a natural thing. I like weird stuff. It’s always a different experience when you’re doing something very technical, as an actor. When you’re working with puppeteers and trying to do an action sequence, it becomes very technical and that can sometimes be challenging, but it terms of my response to the puppet itself, it was love. It was love, at first sight.
JACOBS: You try to respect it because you understand that it’s a very important and valuable piece of the film, but you really do want to go over there. It was a little squishy. It was cool. In between takes, the puppeteer would be manipulating it and you would not talk to them, but talk to Milo. And then, you’d be like, “That’s so rude of me!” But, they really are acting as they’re manipulating it, so you do start to just look at it. And they’re dressed all in black. So, you find yourself directing a conversation at the puppet. I don’t know what that says about me.
Would you have still done this film, if it were a CGI Milo instead of a puppet to act opposite?
JACOBS: I think all of us would have been far less interested in it. There is something about the nostalgic throwback quality to the puppet. Also, there’s the fact that it’s easier, as an actor, to be interacting with something tangible and real. You’re seeing its performance in the moment. You’re not imagining its performance, and then watching it later and seeing that they did something totally different from what you imagined. I’m not so good at the green screen stuff, so for me, this was a huge benefit. I think it would have been a lot harder for me to be talking to a tennis ball. And Ken had a lot of scenes of just him and Milo, and he was able to have that sense of play and improv and bouncing off of each other with the puppeteer. I think it was hugely beneficial for us, as actors.
How was the experience of doing Hot Tub Time Machine 2? Was that a set with a lot of freedom?
JACOBS: Yeah, totally! You do things in a rehearsal, just goofing off, and then Steve Pink would be like, “Okay, great! We’ve gotta make sure that we cover that when we shoot.” It was a very collaborative atmosphere. I had worked with Rob Corddry before on Community. I had never worked with Adam Scott or Clark Duke or Craig Robinson before, but they’re all people that I knew, socially. I knew every one of those guys is a nice, good, funny person, so you’re going into a set of people you already like. I always get nervous meeting new people, so it’s comforting for me to work on a set with four guys that I already know, and then learn that I like them more. They all made me laugh. And Adam and I were the new ones, so I wasn’t the only new person there. The nice part about not being a huge film is that you get to goof around a bit more.
JACOBS: I know! He’s incredible! He’s so intimidating. He’s a real actor. They keep hiring all of these amazing actors from serious dramas, like The Wire and Breaking Bad. He’s our second actor from Breaking Bad on the show, and we’re all a bunch of hams. It’s like, “Oh, fart, he’s a real actor!” I’m just so happy to have Dan Harmon back. Chris McKenna has returned to the show, as well, which is one of the most important writers we’ve had. It’s like coming home. To me, that’s the people I’ve spent more time with, in the last five years, than anybody else. We all know each other so well. We basically speak in code to each other. It’s just a series of references to past jokes. We have to explain to Jonathan what we’re talking about because it sounds like gibberish to someone who wasn’t there in Season 2, Episode 4 when somebody said something that we’ve been repeating incessantly since then. It’s incredible to have a group of people that you have that shorthand with. It’s like your close high school friends or your family, and the inside jokes you’ve had going for 20 years. We have that with each other, as actors. You have such a level of comfort with them, and you feel free to take big risks and potentially make a fool out of yourself. We really do celebrate each other, as actors. We’re so excited when somebody is amazing in a scene. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.
Does the fact that the cast is so close make it even harder to lose a cast member?
JACOBS: Yeah. The thing I realized is that, if you’re on a TV show that’s lucky enough to run for a couple of seasons, changes happen. I think it happens to just about every TV show that goes for more than a couple of seasons. As much as I wouldn’t want anyone to leave, I understand that it’s the natural progression of life, and that’s what Community is about. We’ll deal with it. I’m sure there will be a lot of tears, but we’ll get through.
JACOBS: No! It was a fairly grounded comedy about a group of people at a community college. Now, when people who have never seen the show ask me what it’s about, I don’t even know where to begin. Sometimes I just show them pictures on my phone and go, “I was dressed like Michael Jackson. And then, I was dressed like a squirrel. And then, I was in a goth episode. And then, I was in an Ocean’s 11 episode.” I don’t even know how to describe it to people. I feel like I’m in a live-action cartoon, in the best possible way. I’ve never been bored. Dan just removed all the rules for himself, and that’s really exciting. And they don’t usually tell us a lot of what’s coming up in the season, so week to week, when we read the episode at the table read, it’s a surprise to us, a lot of times, and that’s so exciting. Sometimes it seems like we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. We’ve had times when we were shooting scenes from an episode, almost the week that it airs. For the timelines episode in Season 3, we were picking up scenes for that episode for months. I’m not even kidding you. It felt like days before it aired, we were still shooting scenes from that. It’s a crazy, frenetic race to the finish line, every season. We’re adrenaline junkies.
Did you find it a strange contrast to then go off and do the Kevin Costner movie, Black and White?
JACOBS: I know! But, I got to be the goofball in the Kevin Costner movie. It’s fun. It’s an important reset button, as an actor, to go be on a different set with different actors. There is a great degree of comfort with your family when you’re on a TV show. So, to go and be well-behaved and try not to be as loud of a goofball and be on somebody else’s set is fun. It’s fun to go from being a lead on a show to a supporting part in a movie. I think it’s important to have all those kinds of experiences. And that cast is great, with Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie, Bill Burr, Andre Holland, and on and on and on and on. It was amazing!
Bad Milo opens in theaters on October 4th.