It was originally supposed to be a lunch with Ed Helms at a hotel restaurant in Greenwich Village but — on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year — I was relieved to find out we were just going to hang out in what appeared to be the diner-type section of the hotel. (Eating food in front of a famous person on a day like this did not seem appealing.) Instead, Helms and I both ordered Cokes.
We were seated at a two-person booth that was strangely intimate, with our faces being maybe two feet from each other. This was an occasion I didn’t even try to read a question from any kind of notebook. If I had, we were sitting so close, Helms would have just been able to read the questions himself anyway. So, we just spoke about anything that came to mind, really. Eventually, we started talking about The Cable Guy.
Helms stars in Vacation as the now-grown Rusty Griswold, who has been played by four separate actors in the four prior Vacation films. This time, Rusty wants to drive his family across the country to visit Walley World, where his father (Chevy Chase) had taken him and his sister many years before. As you might expect, hijinks ensue.
Helms is a hard guy not to root for. He’s incredibly polite, even when the subject turns to the reviews that had been published a couple days prior to our drinking Cokes together. Helms (who I’m more and more thinking is a very brave soul) also discusses where he is with another beloved franchise reboot, The Naked Gun. But, first, we tried to get cozy in our too-close-for-comfort seats.
This is intimate.
Yeah, it’s cozy here.
I’ll get to know the real Ed Helms.
It’s kind of romantic, actually.
So, if there’s another Vacation movie, do you get replaced?
[Laughs] Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out! Obviously, I’m the fifth Rusty, and it’s never been the same in any movie. I will be thrilled to break that trend, but I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.
Jason Lively from European Vacation doesn’t get enough credit for his Rusty. And he’s related to Blake Lively, which I don’t think people know.
And his father was an acting coach. You don’t think he gets enough credit?
It feels like the lost Vacation movie. It’s sandwiched in-between the two beloved Vacation movies. Then it’s got the weird action movie ending.
Interesting. I think it’s a great one. I sort of love them in order — because that’s how I experienced them in real time. After loving the first one, then European was the next one to pick up at the video store and sort of watch on endless repeat on HBO.
I get in debates more often than I should about the first one and Christmas Vacation. The first is John Hughes plus Harold Ramis, case closed.
Yeah, there may be something a little more universal about Christmas Vacation, do you know what I mean? Like, the great American road trip, as iconic as it is, there are a lot of families that don’t do that. But everybody knows about Christmas. And a lot of families experience in a way similar to the Griswolds. But, I don’t find myself getting in debates!
I’m very adamant.
I would never try to convince someone that one is better than the other.
Oh, I do.
It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
I’ll quote jokes and give specific examples.
So, how did we do? Where do we stack up? “We’re between European and Vegas.”
If I’m being honest, the stuff that made me laugh in your movie were the subtle jokes as opposed to the broad jokes. For example, your line to Rusty’s son about protecting himself, “Give ‘em a good scratch,” and the guy with the rat I found really funny.
Oh my God, I loved that.
So, like the first movie, subtle jokes exist in this movie. But the more broad humor from the later Vacation movies is there, too, which I know that people like.
Sure, sure. And I agree with you, it’s those little character moments with the looks and the one-off lines that are kind of asides – the line that I think, as it was written on the page, feels the most like Clark Griswold is, “Come on, honey. We don’t know that it’s human,” after she says, “We are covered in human waste.” That said with total earnestness, it’s just these little moments of heightened earnestness that Rusty and Clark share.
The car the family is driving across the country has a mysterious swastika button on the keypad. A complaint I’ve heard is there’s no payoff to the swastika button option.
Well, I don’t think there’s a payoff you can do on that that would be funny. It’s the mystery that’s funny.
There are a lot of not-great ideas that could come out of that.
Yeah, “that’s probably not funny.”
The movie came out today, and you’re still out here doing press.
Have you read any reviews?
I avoid reviews, for a little while. But I’ve gotten a sense of it, though. And it confirms what we all knew making the movie, which is that a lot of the jokes are pretty polarizing in terms of what your tastes and sense of decorum are. There are certain jokes, like vomit and poop jokes that will just shut down certain people. I’m not one of those people. I think those are absolutely delightful and insanely hilarious moments.
I’ve seen a few online debates from film critics on that exact topic.
Chevy was at the premiere, and he hadn’t seen it before the premiere. And he was just so effusive afterwards. And somebody said, “There are some reviews rolling in that aren’t on board.”
The New York Times gave it a positive review.
Yeah, of course, there are some that are great. And Chevy said, “That’s how you know you are doing it right.” He was so ecstatic about the movie, which, to me, his is the only review I care about. What was the original Vacation on Rotten Tomatoes?
I don’t know the answer to that.
I’m going to pull it up right now. It’s at 95 percent.
Some of those reviews are more recent and not from 1983.
I think there’s also a reverence and nostalgia for the original that’s an insurmountable hurdle for a lot of people.
Were you worried about that going into this? There’s a line in the movie that basically addresses it.
I was definitely trepidatious before I kind of understood what the movie was. But, once I realized it’s Rusty’s movie and Rusty is a grownup now – this sort of new generation element – and then, of course, Chevy and Beverly getting on board, it just felt like this opportunity to work with wonderful people and have a blast. You know, it will be what it is.
I saw this comparison somewhere, and I thought it was interesting: That, for 2015, you might be a better fit for a Griswold parent because, in 1983, Chevy Chase was still “cool” and we’d never seen him play that role before. We’ve seen you before play the…
Right. And Chevy, then, was still the cool guy that was on SNL, cracking wise.
Well, that’s a cultural difference where comedy is then and now.
And we’ve seen something like this with Andy Bernard and even your character from Cedar Rapids, an undertone of rage while trying to be a nice guy.
All these characters have a great deal of repression. And I think in the ‘80s comedy heroes had a lot more swagger and bravado, and that’s certainly what Chevy embodies.
I want to be clear, I’m not saying you aren’t cool…
[Laughs] It’s okay. You can draw whatever conclusion you like. But, certainly, today and today’s comedy climate, the kinds of characters that are the protagonist in big comedies are much more anti-hero now than they were in the ‘80s. Look at Axel Foley versus Melissa McCarthy in Spy. Do you know what I mean?
That’s an interesting comparison. Did you just make that up, or is that something you’ve thought about?
No, I just came up with it — or 40-Year-Old Virgin. And I’m not even talking about the people as much as the characters that they are playing. The arc seems to be finding strength, finding mojo, finding some growth as a person. That’s just kind of where we are right now in comedy movies. I’m sure the pendulum will swing back at some point.
This sounds like something you’ve been thinking about.
I have thought about it. I think, for me, I don’t know why, but I love those movies so much in the ‘80s and the ‘90s. And then I think when I saw There’s Something About Mary, which is another one of these movies where it really is a guy who needs to find his mojo – I watched that movie in a theater here in New York when I lived here, by myself, and I laughed like a freaking buffoon in the theater. And I remember thinking, Those are the roles I would just die for. And Ben Stiller embodied my aspirations in that moment.
The hardest I’ve ever laughed in a theater was There’s Something About Mary and the original The Naked Gun.
I remember There’s Something About Mary because I was a huge fan of the Ben Stiller TV show, and I couldn’t wait to see the movie. I think it was his first big comedy lead. He’d done Flirting with Disaster…
And had just directed The Cable Guy.
Oh, The Cable Guy, right! Which I loved.
It’s considered a classic now, but people hated it when it came out.
It’s so good. That movie is so good. Ben, in that movie, do you remember his cameo in the movie?
As the Menendez brother? It’s this hilarious thing where he’s sobbing on the stand and he’s like, “The murderer was Asian. I think he was speaking Asian.” I’m really enamored with Ben.
Do you know who’s going to like this interview a lot?
I’m trying to think of what big comedies sort of really embody that comedy schlub anti-hero before There’s Something About Mary. I’m sure there were some, but that one clicked it for me.
Are you doing the new The Naked Gun?
I don’t know what’s going on with that.
Are you being serious?
I’m totally serious.
I was under the impression this was going to happen. It’s not a done deal?
It is not a done deal. I’m “attached” to a project that’s churning in development whatever. There’s not a start date.
It sounds interesting.
I agree! It sounds awesome. But it’s not even a very frequent conversation. So, I don’t know what’s up with it.
But, if it happens, doing two beloved characters in a row…
You’re a brave man.
I just feel like, when I got this Vacation script, there definitely was that thing of like, “Well, this is a sacred cow. Who would dare do this?”
If there was just the one prior Vacation movie maybe, but we all lived through Vegas Vacation, which isn’t any sort of “classic.” It’s become re-watchable on cable.
But to take the mantle of Vacation without Chevy Chase as the lead – on the one hand, it’s a minefield; but on the other hand, I don’t get scripts that often that just make me die laughing.
If you were playing Clark Griswold, I could see maybe the minefield.
I wouldn’t have done that. And I think a lot of people, even with the Rusty version, would be like, “I still shouldn’t do it.”
As if all four actors who came before are sacred.
But, just because the whole world of it should be left alone. And it’s the same with The Naked Gun. If the script is awesome, it really will stand on it’s own. And there will be people for whom it’s nothing but sacrilege and you can’t do anything about that. But, I will chase down any material I believe in, regardless of context.
Chris Hemsworth’s character makes multiple analogies involving faucets and I laughed every single time.
That’s in the script! That’s something that John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein put in there that I was just like, “This is fucking hilarious.” Because that exact joke leapt off the page to me. The smaller this is delivered, the funnier it is.
We are out of time. I enjoyed my Coke.
Yeah! That will be $4.50.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.