The MTV comedy The Hard Times of RJ Berger follows the hellish life of the teenager the series is named after (played by Paul Iacono), as he navigates the roller coaster of high school, his unpredictable love life, his parents’ divorce, and a bully that just won’t leave him alone. That bully is Max Owens (Jayson Blair), the meanest jock around, who has a penchant for giving daily beatings and who sees himself as the king of the school. Max will always be the thorn in RJ’s side.
As Season 2 comes to a close, with the finale airing on May 30th, actor Jayson Blair spoke to Collider in this exclusive phone interview about being drawn to this ambitious and risky material, this season being more emotional for all of the characters, how much he loves working with his co-stars, that the finale will have a crazy cliff-hanger, and what he would like to see from Max, if there is a Season 3. He also talked about his next role, in the horror comedy Detention of the Dead, opposite Jacob Zachar (Greek), Justin Chon (Twilight) and Max Adler (Glee), which he described as Shaun of the Dead meets The Breakfast Club. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JAYSON BLAIR: It was originally the material that drew me to the show. I just think it’s really ambitious and it takes risks and does a lot of things that shows in the same or similar demographic are afraid to take, and I thought that was a really interesting and new approach to things, and I wanted to be a part of that. I think the character of Max is pretty hilarious, definitely ridiculous and a lot of fun to play, so I was really interested in giving that a shot and looking into myself and seeing if I could do that, and make it fun. I want to make him, and I think I have, someone that you love to hate. At the end of the day, you’ve got to like him and think he’s funny. You can play it so many different ways, but it’s nice to have a redeeming quality and make him funny, when he’s being a jerk.
After some of the crazy and outrageous stuff you guys did in Season 1, were you ever worried that you wouldn’t be able to top that for Season 2?
BLAIR: Yes, absolutely! I was terrified that we would not be able to top Season 1. We get the scripts in advance for the season, so in reading the scripts, I was like, “Oh my god, I cannot believe that we’re putting this on television! I’m going straight to hell! But, I think it’s amazing and I look forward to shooting everything.” We had a really great time doing it, and I think they did a great job with not only making the gags bigger and funnier, but making it smarter and establishing the characters and having a little bit better narrative to the story. Season 1 was a little spread out and not as focused ‘cause we changed up our episode order.
Did you find Season 2 to be more emotional?
BLAIR: Yes, and that’s one of the things that I love about the show. It’s super-funny, but at the end of the day, these hilarious moments are cut with some serious heart, with the parents getting divorced and heartbreak, and the trials and tribulations that we go through in life. I think it’s really special that we’ve been able to tie in a lot of heart to the show.
BLAIR: Yeah, my character was a really big part of the last three episodes. There’s a two-part finale, which is not unlike Season 1. There’s going to be something crazy and a cliff-hanger for the last episode. My character is a very big part of that. Max has a secret and you find out what makes him tick and why he is the way he is. It makes him a little more human. You get to see a real part of him and it’s going to be really interesting to see how people react. It’s cool. It’s a real moment for my character, for the first time, ever. It will be interesting to see how everybody takes it.
What has Max Owens been like to play? Is he just totally fun for you, as an actor, or do you actually feel bad for some of the things that he puts people through?
BLAIR: When I read it, I’m like, “This is ridiculous! I cannot do this!” And then, I get on set and I’m like, “Yes!” No, it’s hard. In playing some of these things that I do to people, it’s tough because, looking at it as Jayson, I’m like, “This is horrible. How can I do this to somebody? Kids are watching this.” But, this is an example. This kid is the coolest kid in school, but he’s just terrorizing people. The way that I wanted to layer it, over these past two years, is to show that Max is someone who’s just seriously insecure and maybe comes from a home where he’s just pressured and pushed way too hard. He’s clearly super-sensitive and he’s so insecure that he feels threatened by everyone. He always wants to be somebody else and he wants to get out of his own skin because he’s got all these eyes on him. He’s living up to the expectations that his peers have of him, so he does a lot of things that he wouldn’t normally do. As stupid as it sounds, in high school, everything is life-and-death. It’s crazy. But, when you get out of high school and you’re in college, you realize that none of that matters. It’s all about the person and what they stand for. Going back to the finale, you’re going to see a little bit more of what that’s all about.
Do you guys all feel like a family now, after having done two seasons of the show?
BLAIR: The five of us are all like family. Paul [Iacono] lived with me, when we shot the first season. So, when I go to set, I like to take everything out on them that they’ve pissed me off about, in real life. I don’t ever take anything too seriously. When somebody ticks me off, I save it, and then, on set, I take it out and use it. When you know people super-well, you really know how to get to them, so you layer subtext into your words ‘cause your words mean so much. I like to utilize my relationships when messing with people, so it gives me a free pass to really mess with people and have a lot of fun, all day long. I just say that I’m in character, and make fun of people. It’s pretty amazing.
BLAIR: If I had it my way in the third season, I would love to see what it’s like for Max Owens at home and what’s going through this kid’s head, when he’s not trying to put everything on. Does he stare in the mirror and hate himself? Does he scream? Is he a secret book geek? Does he have a dual life? I would like to see more layers than just the bully. I think that would be interesting. I try to color those layers in with my imagination, but a lot of people don’t always pick up on that, so it would be nice to see what makes him tick and make him more of a human. I think that would make it more interesting for viewers to get invested in him, so that when he is being a jerk, they just laugh that much more.
Do you feel like all the craziness you’ve had to go through and endure on this show has prepared you for just about anything you might have to do in future roles?
BLAIR: Yeah, absolutely! I think that this show has definitely made me comfortable with myself, in front of others. Doing ridiculous stuff is hard, but doing ridiculous stuff with a camera in your face and 50 people surrounding you, is a whole other story. It definitely made me comfortable with everything. At the end of the day, it’s not about you, as a person, but it’s about the story. I’m not afraid anymore to tell any story, as ridiculous or as heartfelt as it needs to be, which is great.
What is Detention of the Dead?
BLAIR: The way that I like to explain it is, if you put Shaun of the Dead and The Breakfast Club in a blender and turned it on, you would get a cup of Detention of the Dead. It’s a funny zombie movie that has a major tribute and dedication to the ‘80s films, like all the John Hughes films – The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles – and Monty Python. There is huge physical comedy, but there’s also really serious moments. I think people are going to laugh their heads off, and cry also.
Who do you play in the film?
BLAIR: I play a character named Brad. Like The Breakfast Club, you have six characters to start, from all different walks of life. It’s a really great cast with me, Jacob Zachar from Greek, Justin Chon from Twilight, Max Adler from Glee, Christa B. Allen whose pilot Revenge just got picked up for ABC, and Alexa Nikolas. Everyone is super-talented and really just all about the process. So, I’m the Emilio Estevez character from The Breakfast Club – the jock that everybody in school likes and who has the hot girlfriend. Christa plays my girlfriend in the film. You see these people – when put into a certain situation like the zombie apocalypse, in this case, and people start getting bit and it gets crazy – all come together and push what they’re doing in life aside, and try to stand up for the greater good, get through and survive. But, there is all kinds of craziness that happens, along the way. It’s a really fun ride that people are going to have on this film. Zombie is the new vampire. It’s a big deal right now. There are so many zombie movies coming up, and a lot of them are serious, but this has a lot of ridiculousness.
BLAIR: Our writer/director is Alex Craig Mann, and it’s his first film. He’s been brilliant. He’s actually an acting teacher at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, so he knows how to talk to actors, which is really rare. Most directors don’t have that background and it feels like they’re speaking code to you. He had great communication with the actors. Our Director of Photography, Noah Rosenthal, is brilliant, so it looks beautiful. The acting is really great and the story is just out of this world. It’s been a blast!
How has this ensemble of actors been to work with? Did you guys have a chance to really bond?
BLAIR: Everyone was great! They were all super-supportive. We came together really quickly. We had a week of rehearsal, so it was five weeks total, out in Michigan where I’m from. It was 30 minutes from where I grew up, so I was able to take people out and bond with them and introduce them to people I really care about. We really got together with each other on a human level. It was great. Everyone was so apt to help each other out. They were all really supportive and great, and fun to work with. Justin Chon is amazing. He’s a little madman.
Is this heavier on the comedy, or will it have gore as well?
BLAIR: I think it’s definitely saturated with comedy. One character is losing it, throughout the whole film, and it’s funny to see that person lose it. What they say is ridiculous. It comes from a serious place, but it’s seriously ridiculous, from an audience’s perspective. I would say it’s 70% funny and 30% serious. It’s in a similar tempo to Zombieland, which I love. It starts off with a bang and the first 35 pages are crazy, and then it mellows out for a little bit, and then it just goes nuts again. Shooting that in 20 days was great. It was a great learning experience, moving really fast and having a lot of physical comedy. There were a lot of gags.
What kind of zombies are they?
BLAIR: These zombies maintain the characteristics that people had before they’re undead. They can be fast and strong, or slow, or whatever. The make-up is more along the lines of Shaun of the Dead than The Walking Dead, with the way that they look.
Are there are types of dream roles that you’d love to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?
BLAIR: Yeah, I would love to be a part of a really strong story in an indie film. There Will Be Blood is not an indie film, but something like that, where the story is deep and multi-layered with tons of colors and just so much going on. Anything that Paul Thomas Anderson does, I just think is fantastic. True Romance is one of my favorite films ever. I would love to play a role like Christian Slater had in that. I would just like to show what I have to offer, as an actor, in a whole emotional range and create a really full-on character in a film, as opposed to these big blockbuster movies that are meant to either just make people laugh or just make money. I would love to be in a serious film that makes somebody go home, at the end of the day, and contemplate their life and actually think about the story for more than two days. Instead of saying, “Oh, that movie was really cool,” I’d love to have somebody say, “That movie actually changed my life and made me want to do this differently.” I’d like to affect people and hold that mirror up to reality and say, “This is what it’s like. Where are you going with your life?”