Jack McBrayers roles dont vary much, but thats the way he and his fans likes it.
PLENTY OF ACTORS have built their careers on playing one version of themselves after another. George Clooney is usually George Clooney, whether hes George Clooney in a suit or George Clooney in Army fatigues or George Clooney in a prisoners uniform.
But most of those actors dont have to worry about being themselves when theyre not on the clock. Then again, most of those actors dont have a version of themselves thats an adorably naive Southern boy who, by his own admission, loves only two things in this world: everybody and television. But thats the situation in which Jack McBrayer the Emmy-nominated actor and native of Macon, Georgia, who plays NBC page Kenneth Parcell on 30 Rock sometimes finds himself.
I get a little self-conscious because if Im at a bar, hanging out with friends, having beers and stuff, and then people come up and, I dont know, want to see Kenneth, Im like, Oh, darling. Ive had three Bud Lights. [Youre] going to see a sloppy version of Kenneth tonight, McBrayer says, laughing. But everyones always very nice. And it really doesnt even happen all that much. If I were walking around in a page outfit all the time, that might be different. But Im Jack McBrayer, wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans.
The funny way in which McBrayer says that last line a punch line that really isnt one doesnt quite translate on paper. But McBrayers offhanded delivery is unique, and it has helped him move from guest-starring in sketches on Late Night with Conan OBrien (always playing a naive Southerner) to starring in big-screen blockbusters (playing yet another clueless Southerner in Forgetting Sarah Marshall). And its probably the reason that some of comedys leading lights have created roles specifically for him. He has a voice literally and figuratively thats unlike that of any other comic actor.
Writer and director Adam McKay heard that voice when McBrayer was doing improv at New Yorks Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. It stuck with him, to the point that when he and Will Ferrell were writing Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, they created a role just for McBrayer (Glenn, the surprise! naive Southern pit crew member). Tina Fey, who knew McBrayer from his work in Chicago at the Second City, did the same on 30 Rock with the Kenneth character.
I know: Im, like, the laziest actor in the world, he says. I just wait for people to write parts for me.
Despite the fact that his 30 Rock part was crafted with him in mind, he still had to audition for the show. But McBrayer says that auditioning for the part of, well, basically himself didnt put any extra pressure on him.
Ive faced so many obstacles [with acting] in the past because I am Southern and, you know, I look the way I look. You cant do too much else with that, he says with a laugh. So when [a role] is kind of tailored toward that, it is a huge relief. I just went over there and do what I do? Did what I do? Do what I did?
Kenneth, for the record, isnt exactly like McBrayer. For one thing, he wears a navy blazer more often than the man who plays him. And while McBrayer enjoys the occasional Bud Light, Kenneth was unknowingly brought up on alcohol, which he calls hill-people milk. Beyond that, the lines blur. But the variations are enough to ensure that McBrayer stays safe in New York, where he now resides. (Kenneth, on the other hand, was mugged while he was street-performing in his neighborhood.)
I will admit that I am not the most worldly person, and sometimes I might be a little too trusting, he says. But Kenneth is dangerously so. He puts himself in the line of fire, where I would say, Oh, this looks like a bad situation that I will avoid.
One situation he chooses not to avoid: typecasting. McBrayer knows the score. He knows who he is, what he can do, and whats out there for someone like him, a somewhat naive Southern actor. It helps that whats out there has been choice roles in hit films and TV shows, but he would probably be fine with the situation regardless.
Im not fooling myself, McBrayer says. Im not like, But wait I could be a very good dramatic actor. Yes, Jack McBrayer, the grizzled cop from the streets of Boston. That is me to a T. No, Im the happiest one-trick pony youre going to find.