In Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, Joel McHale plays Wilbur, a famous spy-hunting television reporter who is married to retired secret agent Marissa Cortez Wilson (Jessica Alba). The thing is, neither him nor his twin step kids (Rowan Blanchard, Mason Cook) know about Marissa’s past. But, when the maniacal Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven) threatens to take over the planet, Marissa is called back into action and the kids learn that their boring stepmom was once a top agent. Thrust into action, the world’s most competitive 10-year-olds quickly learn to put their bickering aside and make use of some mind-blowing gadgets to help save the world.
At the film’s press day, Joel McHale talked about being one of the busiest guys in show business, juggling filming Spy Kids 4 with his NBC comedy Community and E!’s The Soup, how playing Jessica Alba’s husband felt like winning a prize in an auction, and how he’s not much of a practical joker. He also gave a little preview of what’s to come for fans of Community, and talked about being directed by Seth MacFarlane for Ted and acting with Steve Martin for The Big Year. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
JOEL McHALE: I was, yes. I wasn’t very good.
What position did you play?
McHALE: I was tight end, just trying to survive and stay alive. The two tight ends both went on to be captains of their NFL teams. One of them was on the Superbowl-winning Rams, and the other one played for 14 years. Practice was rough. It was downright dangerous. I would run a play and be like, “Those guys are trying to kill me. We’ve got to do something. Call the police or something.” Those are some of the best athletes I’ve ever run with. Those were the good years. Then, they got real bad.
What’s worse, bombing in a comedy club or playing college football in Washington?
McHALE: At one point, we had the two worst teams in the country. It was brutal. And, when I was there, we were two of the best teams in the country. I made them look very good in practice. I crumbled perfectly for them.
Were you doing stand-up then?
McHALE: No, I didn’t start doing stand-up until three years ago.
What made you get into that?
McHALE: The money was terrific. No. My booking agent said, “If you put a set together of Soup jokes and you start building an act, you will have an instant audience because people follow the show and you’ll make a lot of money.” And I was like, “Really?!” So, I started doing that. I began hosting shows with my friends. They were real comics who would do their sets. And then, after doing that 1,000 times – I even went to Ogden, Utah and did five shows in one night – I learned that, if you do it enough, you’ll be passable. Basically, for the last three years, and up until just a few weeks ago, I was doing stand-up every single weekend and every spare moment I had. It was really fun, and I loved performing. I got to perform in some great venues. But, I am so busy that I just don’t have the time, like I did.
What was it like to play Jessica Alba’s husband in this film?
McHALE: That was really tough. It was very hard for me. I can’t believe it. Yeah, it was more of a suspension of disbelief for the audience, that someone who looks like her would agree to be with me. It was great. She’s great! She’s a real lead actor. I could relate. My character is an overblown reality host, and he’s worked so hard that he doesn’t realize what’s going on with his own family. One of those things is that she turns out to be a spy, and his job is a spy hunter. He’s shown that he should probably pay attention to his family a little bit more. It was great, being in Austin and working on the movie there, and seeing Troublemaker Studios. I felt like I had bought some auction item and they were like, “You get to be directed by Robert Rodriguez, and Jessica Alba will be your wife. You just have to pay for the hotel and flight.” I couldn’t believe it. And, he’s so fun to work for. He’s so at ease and so good. I jumped at the chance to work with him, in a heartbeat.
Were there a lot of practical jokes on set?
McHALE: No, I am not a practical joker guy. I wish I had the foresight to go, “If I did this here, then something over there would happen.” I usually just react to what someone is doing and make fun of it, as evidenced by The Soup. I know that George Clooney is really good at practical jokes. I just don’t have those advanced planning skills. I’m the type of guy that forgets my pants. There was a lot of joking on set, but no practical jokes. It was a great set. Robert is so at ease and he knows exactly what he wants, and so that permeates everything. That permeates the crew, and they’re all happy to be there and working for him. I hope he puts me in Machete 9, whenever he gets around to that.
How did you juggle filming Spy Kids 4 with doing Community and The Soup?
McHALE: And, I actually was getting ready for this Carnegie Hall show in November, so I was going out as much as I could, to get ready for that because I didn’t want to screw that up. There was not much time.
How did you make it all work?
McHALE: I don’t even remember. It really is a blur. I can’t believe how busy it was. It was ironic because in Spy Kids, I played a character who doesn’t spend enough time with his family. I was like, “Oh Robert, I can relate to this. I don’t right now.” That was the thing that was poignant about the role. My kids and I and my wife spent the whole summer together, traveling to some stand-up gigs, and then we took a drive, and then Community started up again. It’s been busy. My goal is to see my kids as much as possible, but the hours on Community are brutal. It’s like a 75-hour week. It’s crazy. Believe me, I love Community. Now, we have John Goodman and Michael K. Williams, from The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. Those two guys coming in is really going to change things. It’s going to be great.
What’s coming up for the show?
McHALE: Well, Pierce (Chevy Chase) is out of the group, so that has to be dealt with. And then, you get the Vice Dean, who is played by John Goodman, and the biology teacher. They get introduced, and the fate of Chang (Ken Jeong) is covered. There’s a lot of stuff going on, but it is packed with jokes.
And you also have What’s Your Number?, The Big Year and Ted hitting the big screen?
How was Ted to shoot?
McHALE: We shot that in March and April. It was awesome! Seth MacFarlane is awesome! He wrote an amazingly funny script and he’s a great director. And then, it also had Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis. I can’t believe he wanted me to be in it. It was great. It was so much fun. Seth is so disciplined from animation, so the joke rate is insane. Plus, it’s got a great story and a great heart to it. I’m so excited about that.
Who are you playing in it?
McHALE: I play one of two villains. Me and Giovanni Ribisi play two separate villains. I play Mila Kunis’ boss, who is after her to sleep with her. I play as bad a guy as I’ve ever played.
Who do you play in The Big Year, with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black?
McHALE: All my scenes are with Steve Martin and Kevin Pollak. We play Steve Martin’s business partners. The movie is a really big movie with a lot of different stories going at once. This story is me and Kevin and Steve. Once again, I felt like I had won an auction item, where I got to hang out with Steve Martin for a few weeks. It was great. He’s terrific. They always say, “Don’t meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed,” but he is the opposite of that. You will be more than pleasantly surprised. He’s great. He is a pioneer. He’s a true renaissance man. His book, Born Standing Up, really is an incredible book. He was filling up 45,000-seat arenas, in the mid-‘70s. That’s like filling a couple of Rose Bowls. It was unprecedented. It had never happened in history. Modern comedy clubs didn’t exist before he modernized it, through what he was doing. He used to just drive around doing his act, at honky tonk bars and weird talent shows and variety shows. Because of his example, comic clubs happened. You had Lenny Bruce, and Woody Allen did a lot of stand-up, but Steve Martin became this rock star. Well, he’s a banjo star now. But, if you just think about what happened and how that all worked, it’s crazy. He was the first person to put out a comedy album, that was a live album with visual jokes in it that you couldn’t see, like walking out with an arrow through his head. You take all those things for granted now, but a record executive was like, “You can’t do that.” He was like, “Well, we’re gonna do it,” and he did it.
Do you realize that you are Steve Martin for kids today?
McHALE: That’s so sad! Kids have got to aim higher, like Carrot Top, at least. I wish they would write letters into NBC and make sure Community stays on the air. Now, with the way people view television, no young people ever go, “Hey, it’s eight o’clock, my show is on.” No one does that. So, I wish they would find a way to measure the 16-year-olds. I go to colleges and they all know the show, and I’m like, “Who watches it at eight o’clock?,” and it’s nobody. I’m like, “Who’s got a TV?” No one even has a TV.