Jason Mantzoukas is a man of many talents.
Actor, improviser, sitcom star, and podcaster, you’ve seen him in everything from The Dictator to Dirty Grandpa with regular stints on sitcoms like The League and Parks and Recreation thrown in for good measure.
Along the way he’s also found time to front the always-enjoyable podcast How Did This Get Made? Dissecting glorious movie disasters alongside fellow acting funny people Paul Scheer and June Diane Raphael.
Mantzoukas has joined forces with Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell for his latest film, The House, and ahead of the movie’s release, loaded spoke to Mantzoukas about living the crazy casino life.
loaded: Can you just start by telling up a little bit about the film and the role your character, Frank, plays in proceedings?
Mantzoukas: Will [Ferrell] and Amy [Poehler] are this married couple and the parents of Amy, who is about to go to college. They end up losing her college scholarship and the money they had saved to send her to college. They are living in this kind of idyllic bit of small town America and I am their, let’s say, degenerate friend, who is suffering his own traumas. His gambling addiction has caused him to lose his wife and the bank has foreclosed on his home. So, recognising that he, Will and Amy, are in dire financial straights convinces them to start an underground casino in his empty house. That’s the jumping off point. The rest of the movie is basically Martin Scorsese’s Casino set in the suburbs.
loaded: How did you get any work done with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler? Were you all constantly ruining takes trying to make each other laugh?
Mantzoukas: Yes, constantly, which was actually really great. What was nice about the movie which I will say is that Amy, myself, Will, Nick Kroll, all these people in the movie, is that we’ve all know each other for years. We’ve worked together before and performed together before so there was an easy rapport between each other which made making this movie quite delightful. When you do a movie with people you don’t know, it can be hard to get to that kind of place.
loaded: How often did you guys get to improvise during filming? A lot or did you stick pretty close to the script?
Mantzoukas: We improvised a lot. The director, Andrew J. Cohen, was very aware of the fact he had cast a group of people who were strong improvisers and who had worked together before. He come out of the same school of comedy filmmaking as people like Seth Rogen, and Judd Apatow where you start with a funny script but allow for the continued evolution of those ideas through improvisation while shooting. So we had a good mix. It was a really funny script but then there were opportunities all the time to see what else we could do.
loaded: What was your favourite scene to film in this movie? Was it the finger scene? Because that’s definitely ours.
Mantzoukas: I loved that scene. A lot of times, it’s great to be in all these scenes with all these people being funny but then you have something like that which is a visual gag it’s just a whole other thing.
I really didn’t know how the finger scene was going to look until we shot it. It was just there on the page ‘he gets his finger cut off’ so in the first take the volume of blood they pushed out through that finger was just crazy and hilarious. The other memorable scene for me was the Lennon Parnham fist fight with Andrea Savage. I didn’t know how brutal it was going to be and that they had prepared with the fight choreographers and stunt people. It was crazy.
loaded: If you were to ever open up your own illegal casino in your basement, what sort of rules would you implement?
Mantzoukas: I’m not a massive casino person, so I guess if I was to do that, it wouldn’t be casino games it would be more like fun, party games. I’m much more likely to go to a friend’s house to play charades or a board game than I am poker. I never grew up with gambling games. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve gone to Las Vegas. As fun as those things are, I’d rather just do games that are fun and a little competitive. I certainly wouldn’t put a strip club, nail salon or bar in there, that’s for sure.
loaded: Did working on this film make you want to gamble or put you off it for life?
Mantzoukas: Kind of neither. We went to Vegas for two days and we had fun while we were there. I had to learn how to play craps for the movie. It didn’t make me want to gamble though or necessarily swear off it. If someone suggested let’s go to the casino tonight, I would go, but three nights? That’s a bit much.
loaded: You’re a man who knows his movies. What’s your favourite casino-based film?
Mantzoukas: There’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight, I also love all the Vegas stuff in the Godfather movies, even if they aren’t strictly casino-based movies. All the stuff with Fredo and Moe Greene is just great. Obviously, Scorsese’s Casino is awesome and I really love the recent James Bond movie, Casino Royale. That card game scene is just fantastic. I love that whole section. Croupier is another one. There have been a lot of good Casino movies.
loaded: Can you tell us what else you have on the cards in 2017? You’re in The Disaster Artist based around the making of The Room –who will you be playing in that?
Mantzoukas: It’s a very small part but, as a huge fan of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, I was thrilled to be a part of it. Hannibal Buress and I play the characters who, when Tommy is going to start making the movie, are approached about renting cameras and equipment. Our characters really take advantage of Tommy and sell our cameras to him even though you usually rented that kind of stuff.
I’ve got a whole bunch of things going on. I’m doing a lot of television but I’m not supposed to say what it is and I’m also in an indie movie called the Long Dumb Road which is out later this year.
THE HOUSE IS RELEASED IN UK CINEMAS ON JUNE 30