Ed Helms has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame thanks to The Daily Show, The Office and The Hangover, and while his newest starring vehicle, Cedar Rapids, bears only a superficial resemblance to the latter movie, it's just as hilarious. Helms plays an insurance salesman who's never left his small town, and is exposed to a world of debauchery and corruption in a trip to a convention in metropolitan Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We attended a press conference with Helms where he talked about his character, The Wire and getting naked with Kurtwood Smith.
Tim Lippe seems to see the best in everybody. What is it like to play such a consistently upbeat and positive character?
Ed Helms: It's really fun to get into a character like that because, for me, there's something ideal about playing someone so unjaded and uncynical, and pretending to be that guy, because I'm really not. At all. I'm a very jaded and cynical person. [Laughs.] I think the world we live in is pretty corrupt, so it just sparks something in my core that's still a little hopeful for mankind... While I'm more jaded than Tim is, I do share with him a sense of wonder about the world, in that I don't understand a lot of things. I don't understand why people behave the way they do, I don't understand how this building got here, I don't understand how they made that library -- that is something I would think of as "awesome."
Was it challenging to do a nude scene with as intimidating an actor as Kurtwood Smith?
Helms: Why would that be a challenge? What's the challenge part? Let's see... I believe, as a comedy actor, dignity and pride shouldn't get in the way. So you really have to start from a place like, "I'll do anything." That said, we wrestled with the studio for some time about the conditions of my nudity waiver in my contract, which actually stipulates how much of my scrotum, or whatever, can be shown, in detailed description. But here's the thing about Kurtwood Smith -- he's a veteran, he's seen it all, he's been through it all, and he's pretty confident as an actor, so it made it easier to be naked with him, because he had such a benevolent energy.
Isiah Whitlock was a Wire cast member, and his character in Cedar Rapids loves The Wire. Coincidence?
Helms: That was sort of a happy accident, because that joke predated Isiah's casting. I even fought against that joke, I thought it was too meta. Thank God I lost, because it's one of the biggest laughs in the movie.
Do you have any insurance stories that helped inform your take on the character?
Helms: I was in a fender-bender when I was 16 years old -- it wasn't even a fender bender; there was no damage, just a dink on the bumper. And I still got a letter from their insurance company, telling me that they were going to raise my rates and all that. So I'm freaked out by the whole auto insurance thing. My dad is also a lawyer who worked with insurance companies, and he would always say, "The insurance companies, they're the good guys!" But he would say it sarcastically. But in the movie Tim Lippe really believes that, and it's a really unusual point of view.
Cedar Rapids opens this Friday in 15 theaters nationwide, and expands to more eventually.
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