Movies

Bill Burr On ‘The King Of Staten Island’ And How In The World He Wound Up On ‘The Mandalorian’

Bill Burr has had a pretty interesting few months. It starts late last year when he guest stars on an episode of The Mandalorian as Mayfield, who became an overnight sensation in the Star Wars world. (At the very least, Star Wars fans weren’t used to a character with a Boston accent.) As Burr explains, it was an interesting gig for him, since part of his comedic persona is making fun of Star Wars. And now he plays a popular character in canon who is set to return in the upcoming second season.

And this week he co-stars opposite Pete Davidson in Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island. Burr says he’s been ignoring the reviews because he says he’ll always read something that will stick with him too long, but he is getting accolades. (I gave him one of those accolades.) Burr dismisses it all by saying people will just wonder who the loud asshole with the mustache is, but he’s doing quite a bit in this film. Yes, Burr’s Ray is gruff, but there’s a sweetness just under there of a guy just trying to connect with Pete Davidson’s Scott. (Ray is dating Scott’s mother, played by Marisa Tomei, and Scott is not pleased about this. Also, Burr loves working with Marisa Tomei.)

So Burr has his big movie coming to video on demand this Friday, the fourth season of F is For Family also premieres on Netflix this Friday. And, to top it all off, this interview was supposed to happen last week, but Burr and his wife had their second child on the day it had been scheduled. So, yes, he has a lot going on.

Congratulations. I know we were supposed to talk last week, but something great happened for you.

Oh, thank you very much. Yes, I am feeling like the luckiest guy in the world right now.

Also, between The King Of Staten Island and The Mandalorian, you’ve kind of exploded.

Well, I wouldn’t say exploded. I think I’ve definitely gotten more people to know who I am. But nobody bugs me when I walk down the street, which is great. I mean, I’m in the perfect place in this business. I get work, and I can still live a cool life.

Well, no one’s bugging anyone walking down the streets right now. And everyone is wearing masks.

Well, I’m not going to argue with you, but, I mean, I do walk around as me a lot. I go into grocery stores, nobody bugs me.

Have you read the accolades? You’re getting accolades for this movie.

Oh, that’s great. Well, yeah, I know the movie was doing all right, but I try to stay away from the reviews because, you read long enough, you’re eventually going to read something that’s just going to stay with you for a long time.

True.

Because there’s probably some truth to it. So I’m just like, ah, I heard it’s going good, so thank God. But this is Pete’s movie and Judd, they put it all together. And I got to work with Marissa Tomei! I’ve worked with a lot of people. She might be the best I’ve ever worked with. She was just incredible. Incredible, incredible to work with: such an amazing, amazing actor. And what’s funny is I didn’t watch her do Edith Bunker until after we shot just because I didn’t want to be any more intimidated by working with somebody so talented.

Obviously she’s an Oscar winner, but what makes her so special to share scenes with?

Because I feel like she hasn’t forgotten. It’s like there are things you learn when you first start acting that, after a while, you forget and you get into habits. She still remembers all of that stuff, plus 30 years of everything that she learned. So she, without even trying, was teaching me things that I had never seen before and then reminding me of stuff that I forgot like I don’t know. It was her and Buscemi, both of them. All of this stuff, I was trying to take them in as much as I could. I’ve got a long way to go, is what I’m saying.

Well, it’s funny because when Universal sends a list out that’s like, “Hey, here’s who’s available to talk for this movie,” and your name’s on there. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, he’s done so much stuff that I like.” But I never thought of your name and Pete’s name together before, but it really works.

Oh, that’s awesome. Alright, great, because I was worried people were going to be like, “Who’s this loud asshole with a mustache?” Because I never know! You never know how they’re going to come together, so this one seems like it came together, which is great.

Judd Apatow mentioned you came up with a lot of your own lines.

Yeah, everybody was improving. It’s a Judd movie, so Judd is open to you doing it a couple of times the way it’s written, and then you start playing around. And if there’s something there, Judd steers you in that direction. And if there’s nothing there, then you just go back to the script.

What’s your favorite thing you came up with that made it, or maybe didn’t make it?

Oh, God. Let’s see. It was over a year ago… I can tell you a buddy of mine, a comic, called me up and he asked me about that line when Pete’s character says that he loves me and I don’t say it back. And he goes, “Well, what if I die someday?” And I said, “Well, I guess I’ll just be that guy at the funeral being like, ‘Well, even though I never said I loved him …” So yeah, I don’t know. I don’t fucking know.

That’s a great line. I would have never guessed that was made up on the fly.

Well, you’re doing it all the time, it’s just nobody is filming it. Like, this whole conversation now is you’re talking, and then I’m listening, and then we’ll just sort of go from there. It’s like once you get between your ears and you start thinking like, “Oh my God, I have to improv,” then that’s usually when any sort of good idea goes away, so yeah.

Well, there’s also the scene where you and Pete go at it physically, in a fight.

That was a hot day. I remember that. And I also learned that umbrellas, just because they block the rain, doesn’t mean they block UV rays, so I cooked my head pretty good on that day.

Oh no.

Yeah, you know, it’s part of being a redhead. I should have known better. Pete was going all out. Pete was so amazing to work with, but I had to tell him, “Listen, man, these fake fights are fake. But if you go all out, heads can bang together.” A couple of takes later, of course, we banged heads together. And I was like, “Yeah, that’s what I was talking about.” And then we kind of went from there. But I love that scene. And then I loved when Marissa’s character comes up in the end and both me and Pete, our characters think we’re so right, but she just comes in with that outside perspective that you guys are both way out of line here. And it’s such a great beat in the story. And then all of a sudden, me and Pete’s characters have to now figure this whole thing out together, both trying to get the approval of the same woman. There’s a lot of stuff going on there.

What did you make of the reaction to your episode of The Mandalorian? That episode just went gangbusters. That whole week everyone was talking about it.

Well, the thing was, Rick Famuyiwa wanted to do it in the style of Reservoir Dogs. So I think that that’s what ended up getting it, you know? And he did some shooting on that thing with the handheld, which I guess that style had not been done. I mean, I’m not a big Star Wars guy, so I don’t know. And then also, I don’t want to spoil anything, but something that happens to a good guy never happened, I guess, in the series. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Did they come to you? I’m just curious how that even happened.

Well, everything that you get ends up just because of something that happened like five, six years earlier. So a few years earlier, I did a movie called Black or White with Mike Binder.

Right.

And through becoming friends with Mike Binder, Mike Binder was friends with Jon Favreau. So me and Mike, we both smoke cigars, so we used to hang and we would smoke cigars together. And after we shot, we developed a friendship. So we’re still hanging out. And through Mike, I got to meet Jon Favreau. And then Mike had his birthday party, and I went there, and Jon was there. And I was there with my wife, and he said, “Hey man, I’m doing this Star Wars thing. There’s a part in it that we’re writing for you. Would you want to do it?”

And I said to him, I said, “Jon, I’ve got to admit, I’ve been making fun of Star Wars forever.” And he goes, “I know. I listen to your podcast.” He goes, “I think your fans will get a kick out of it if you were in it.” So I was like, “Really?” And my wife was standing there and she’s kicking my leg going, “Do it!” So I was like, alright, I’ll do it. I’m so glad I said yes. I’m so glad I said yes because, I mean, I didn’t know he was going to shoot the thing like a spaghetti western. Had I known he was doing what he was doing when I went to that party, I would have been mumbling to myself in the car ride over, trying to figure out how I could, without being obvious, bring up, “Hey man, if there’s anything I can do in that.” So that’s how it came together.

Is it great you’ve been making fun of Star Wars for this long, and now you are literally a very popular character in canon.

Well, the thing is, when I was making it, I wasn’t being serious. I was just doing that comedian thing.

Sure.

It’s something that they really liked, so I made fun of it. That’s why I made fun of Michelle Obama when she was doing the arena tour because I knew she was so precious to so many people. It’s just a funny thing to do. So that’s all it was. So I never really disliked it. I found that as I was growing up, there was sci-fi fans and sports fans. You know? Very little crossover.

Well, I’m the crossover. I might be the only person in the last year or so who went to both Star Wars Celebration and the Super Bowl.

Oh, wow. Well, I will tell you this, Star Wars fans are cool as shit. They’re very polite. They’re respectful. And yeah, I went to Comic-Con. I got to do a thing at Comic-Con for Breaking Bad one time. I got to sort of host this thing as they brought all the big guns on that show out: Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and all of those guys. And I was going to go down there and make fun of them for being nerds and stuff, and they just had a really cool vibe and they were really nice. And they were just nerding out about the show. And I was like, “Why would I be a jerk to these people? They’re great.” All this stuff that I wanted to say, “Hey, what’s up, you fucking nerds?” Obviously joking, but I was just like, I think they’ve heard enough of that in life.So, fortunately, I made that smart move.

They’ve seen the William Shatner, “Have You Ever Kissed a Girl?,” SNL sketch probably 30 times by now, so they know.

I’m surprised that didn’t hurt his 8X11 autograph signings later on in his career.

It really didn’t. They love him. I guess he could say anything he wants and get away with it. He’s probably the one person.

Alright, well, here’s the clip you have to watch. You’ve got to watch Alex Trebek When that girl is describing that she’s into hardcore nerd rap. She’s describing who it appeals to. And he just listens. He goes, “Oh, so losers.”

Oh, I’ve seen that.

Well, it’s funny until she says, “Well,” and then I felt bad for her. I said, “Oh man, you’ve got to swing harder than that.”

At Comic-Con, I was interviewing Peter Cullen, the guy who does the voice for Optimus Prime, and Larry King. I think I mentioned something to Cullen about voicing the evil car, KARR, on Knight Rider

I remember the show, I don’t remember the evil car.

And Larry King looks at me and says, “Oh, you’re one of those nerds, right?” And it was just one of the greatest moments I’ve ever experienced.

[Laughs] I listened to that story… I don’t remember who Optimus Prime is. I’ll know if you tell me. Who is that?

Oh, he’s the leader of the Transformers. He’s like the main good guy Transformer.

Oh, yeah. Now I remember watching that.

I should have explained that first. I went too far to the other side of the Venn diagram for that.

It’s alright.

‘The King of Staten Island’ will be available to stream this weekend. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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