Not anymore. Jason Lee has the best mustache on television. And one of the funniest shows too. By Bryan Reesman
An ex-pro-skateboarder-turned-actor, Jason Lee has played the angel Azrael in the irreverent Dogma, the charismatic lead singer of the band Stillwater in Almost Famous, and the voice of the sinister Syndrome in The Incredibles. However, the talented thespian's true breakthrough role is as the title character on the NBC series My Name Is Earl, playing a hapless crook whose personal epiphany leads him to right all his past wrongs, which he catalogs on "the List." These infractions range from bullying a childhood classmate to stealing a policeman's badge to faking his own death. Not only is Lee the star of the show, he's also a producer. The first season hits DVD shelves on September 19 and includes the "lost pilot"; season two premieres on September 21. It's a genuinely charming, funny, original show that showcases Lee's comic skills. We caught up with him to talk about that and so much more.
How are you doing? Good. I'm about to go through a Wendy's drive-through because I'm very hungry, and I occasionally like that Wendy's goodness. I've got my photography assistant and my manager, who is a great photographer herself, and we're heading out on the road for the weekend to shoot a bunch of photos.
The sitcom seemed to be dying, with shows confined to studio sets and lame laugh tracks. But with unorthodox series like Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, and now My Name Is Earl, do you think that sitcoms are entering a new era? I hope we are. With shows like Monk, The Office, and what HBO is doing with shows like Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm, I think perhaps that comedy is trying to get a little bit smarter, a little bit different, and a little bit more unique. We are certainly trying to be more cinematic and write our own rules.
In portraying Earl, did you worry about playing into trailer-trash stereotypes? That's a really good question, and I'll answer that in one minute. [Speaks to Wendy's cashier] I will have a Number Two … a medium Sprite … and a medium Frosty.
Excellent choice. Yeah. So from the very beginning, we didn't want it to be too cartoony; we didn't want it to be too unrealistic; we didn't want it to be too much of a Raising Arizona rip-off - even though we wanted it to be smart like Raising Arizona and definitely drew from that vibe. It has really been a major task for [creator] Greg Garcia and the writers of the show to maintain that balance. So far, so good. Even though I am surrounded by characters like Jaime Pressly's, who are at times a little bit over the top, we try to ground the show with the heart of Earl and great, sweet moments.
Are there any real-life people who inspired your portrayal of Earl? Nobody in particular, but I've definitely been around the country a lot, and I've known people growing up that had some pretty mean handlebar mustaches.
You named your son Pilot Inspektor. Why? And do you realize how much teasing he may be in for? We live in a much different world. That's normal to me the way naming your son Bob would be normal to you. Bob is kind of a strange name, if you think about it. It's become normal to name a human being after something that you do for apples at a Halloween fest. Or the name Roger. You say that into a walkie-talkie when you've understood somebody. Who sets the standards, and why is Bob normal but Pilot isn't? He loves his name, and, quite frankly, if I were a kid and my name were Inspektor, I'd be like, "Yeah, my name is Inspektor, what's up? What's your name? Darren?"
Do you have a MySpace page? No, I don't. It seems like an ongoing discussion in a high school cafeteria or an ongoing yearbook signing. I go on eBay and buy cameras.
What kind of cameras do you buy? Older cameras. I shoot 35 mm all the way up to eight by ten. My cameras range from 70 to 100 years old. I mainly shoot eight-by-ten Polaroids. Nobody does that anymore. I'm trying to do everything I can to keep Polaroid in business, and eight-by-ten Polaroids produce amazing images. I can scan them and make digital prints of them, or I can just leave them as they are, and they become one-of-a-kind. It's a cool thing, but 15 sheets of eight-by-ten Polaroid cost around $220 now.
You have worked with Kevin Smith for years, including on Clerks II. Why does your chemistry work so well? We pretty much have the same sense of humor. Just like me, he's a kid from the suburbs, and he's always tried to think outside the box. He's always wanted to try different things and test the limits of filmmaking. The first result of that was Clerks. I tried to do the same thing as a pro skateboarder. I traveled the world, saw what else was out there, and challenged myself that way.
Can you reveal anything about Earl's second season? There might be some love on the horizon. We're going to serialize the show a little bit more. We want to play with giving the audience something that they have to follow for a few episodes, instead of just crossing something off "the List" every episode. There might be some traveling outside of the country. It should be an exciting season.