In “Killers,” there is a good idea that is lost amidst a terrible movie. At a certain point in the movie, Spencer (Ashton Kutcher) realizes that all of the people in his life, the people he’s been surrounded by for three years, are fakes, sleeper assassins who were in place to possibly kill him, and they’ve all suddenly been activated. There’s one character in particular, Kristen, who is the stereotypical chubby best friend to Katherine Heigl’s Jen, and when she finally reveals herself to be a killer as well, finally able to drop the act, what was a stock genre character suddenly becomes someone completely different who was tired of playing that stock genre character. It’s a very funny idea, and in the role, Casey Wilson shines during her short onscreen time.
If you’re not someone who pays close attention to “Saturday Night Live,” you might not know who Casey Wilson is. She’s been a presence in the LA comedy scene for years now, and she’s a sharp, eccentric comic mind. She was on “SNL” for one season, and when she left, there was some controversy about why she was let go. I’m sure she’s going to have a long career as a character actor, and I think her work in “Killers,” as well as the work of fellow “SNL” alumni Rob Riggle and “SCTV” legend Catherine O’Hara in the film, offers a good opportunity for us to discuss the perennial supporting player in this week’s “Saturday Night At The Movies.”
When Chevy Chase left “SNL” at the end of the show’s explosively popular first season, he did that because he was already anointed as a future movie star. He was already (in his mind) too big for the show. And over the years, “SNL” has served as a platform to launch many movie stars, certainly, but I don’t think the show builds movie stars very well.
Instead, I think it is a great training ground for character actors, utility players you can drop into almost any part, counting on them to find something in even the smallest role that they can really play. What Casey Wilson does with her brief screentime in “Killers” is twofold, and worth noting. First, she proves that she could easily play the Less Attractive Best Friend in every studio romantic comedy, something that is important for longevity. After all, there’s far more of that being written and made than films that would give her something new to do, so might as well get some of that money while she’s working, right? And, no, I’m not calling Casey Wilson Less Attractive. After all, that’s the role they have Ginnifer Goodwin playing in films, so obviously “attractive” has nothing to do with who gets that role. But then, once the script gives her the chance and she reveals that she’s not the Less Attractive Best Friend, Wilson gets to cut loose. It’s only for a moment, but the relief the character feels at letting her guard down finally perfectly mirrors the relief Wilson must feel being allowed to slip free of such a cliche and add her own touches to it.
Rob Riggle is a hard working comic character actor these days. He was in the widely-loathed “Furry Vengeance” this spring, he’s a major player in “Killers,” and he’s also in both “The Other Guys” and “Going The Distance” this summer. Riggle is an outsized physical presence, and like Wilson, he’s a veteran of the LA comedy scene and a former “SNL” cast member. I met Riggle for the first time on the set of “Unaccompanied Minors,” which was shooting a convention center in Salt Lake City and using it as an airport. There was a lot of time that day for sitting around and talking, and I spoke at length to Riggle about moving from the military (he is a decorated hero) to live comedy to a national stage like “SNL,” and Riggle was well aware of just how special a spot on that show is. For him, it was a sort of graduation, and his career since then would bear out that idea. His size makes him unusual in the world of comedy, and he’s intimidating, which makes him perfect for the role he plays in “Killers.” He’s a drunken loudmouth boob for the first half of his screentime, and then he’s the first of Kutcher’s friends to reveal himself as a killer in a fairly savage fight. That’s what makes him perfect for the role. It’s a rare combination to be both hilarious in the goofball role and then menacing when he’s supposed to be.
The thing about both Riggle and Wilson is that they failed at SNL in a way because they were never able to crack what is, by all accounts, a difficult system. Getting sketches on the air is tough for any of the performers on the show, but if they don’t really create recurring characters, then it can be hard to get significant screen time each week. It was different on “SCTV,” where there were definitely characters who came back over and over, but it was a different system for getting things on the air, a different process by which the show was built each week. Catherine O’Hara was an amazing presence on that show, and I always got the feeling watching her that she was quite literally unhinged, a crazy person who always added an electric quality to any film that hired her. “After Hours” and “Beetlejuice” were two of her earliest roles post-“SCTV,” and they demonstrated just how good she can be given the right environment and the right material. She’s been in iconic monster hits like “Home Alone” (I can still hear her scream “KEVIN!” from the hundreds of times that film played at the video store where I worked) and great comedies like the Christopher Guest films “Best In Show” or “A Mighty Wind,” and one of the reasons she’s had such a long and varied career is because you know when you hire her that you’re going to get a fully-formed character, even if she’s just in one scene. O’Hara’s never really had a film built around her, and I get the feeling it doesn’t matter to her in the least. She seems comfortable with the art of what she does, and it seems to me that both Casey Wilson and Rob Riggle seem to be on the the road to the same sort of careers.
The real training that these actors get on a show like “SNL” or “SCTV” is the ability to etch in a wealth of details in just a few minutes. And if you can do that, you don’t need to be a movie star to leave your mark on the world of movies.
Have you missed earlier columns in this series?
“Saturday Night At The Movies” runs here every Saturday night. Appropriately enough.
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