What you know about David Koechner, or should know whether you recall his actual name or not, is that he’s ubiquitous in comedy, having done everything from Reno 911 to Beavis and Butt-head and of course Anchorman…not to mention Hannah Montana. What you maybe don’t know is that he is a big guy. And when he sits opposite you, leaning in to the interview, gaze never wavering from yours, you wonder why the hell nobody cast him as a truly dangerous character before Cheap Thrills. Because as nice a guy as he is, the laid-back goofiness he so often brings to the screen belies an intensity underneath. It’s one the new movie takes thorough advantage of, as he plays a social predator with money to burn, and two poor saps to put through the wringer in order to get that reward from him.
Greeting me across the room as “Robot!”, Koechner guided me to a couch, where I briefly struggled to figure out my brand new voice recorder. The following is almost our entire conversation.
Luke Y. Thompson: There we go. New recorder
David Koechner: New recorder? Got it figured out?
LYT: I broke the last one.
DK: Out of anger?
LYT: [chuckles]No, out of neglect.
LYT: I kept it in my pants too long.
DK: What’s that say?
LYT: The tattoo? Reuben. That’s my brother.
DK: Oh, is it?
LYT: That’s my brother.
DK: What’s it say?
DK: Reuben! Oh, I see, OK. It’s their actual signature.
DK: Are they still alive?
DK: Oh, good!
DK: Not a tribute.
DK: I will say this, then, to Reuben: That’s a poor B.
DK:Is it not?
LYT: Well, he was eight years old when he signed it.
DK: OH! That’s awesome!
LYT: I think, for an eight year old…
DK: That’s pretty good.
LYT: …it’s actually good.
DK: That’s really good.
LYT: So you’ve done like 125 acting roles.
DK: Is that right? How many of them have been any good?
LYT: Per IMDB. But I don’t think any of them have been like this. You’ve never done a villain who is a serious threat, as opposed to a comedic threat.
DK: That’s true.
LYT: How was that to do?
DK: Awesome. I relished the opportunity. They sent me the script – it’s a fascinating read. There’s no stopping in it. There’s no apology in it. You know, sometimes you read a script, you have to forgive a scene or two. You’re like, “OK, I see why they did that.” But this thing was just a straight sprint.
So then I met with Evan (director E.L. Katz) – I was impressed and delighted to get the opportunity to do that. And it does go counter to what people are used to seeing me in. And I think it had the right balance of, “OK, it’s that guy,” “All right, he’s kind of being that guy,” “Oh, now he’s changing it,” as opposed to just me doing a straight-up serious role. This one has some elements of things I’ve done before, and then you can go, “Oh, I see why that guy got cast.” But then there’s a nice opportunity to turn the screw, which I think might open up their eyes, like, “Oh! He can do it. Good for him!” Do you know what I mean?
LYT: Yeah, because you’re the funny guy…
DK: Right. But we like the guys that we know to keep doing the thing that they do.
DK: But I think that it’s an acceptable surprise for the audience.
LYT: My impression of him is sort of if George W. Bush hadn’t become a politician, but he remained a coke-snorting frat boy all his life, this is kind of what he’d be like.
DK: Well said. That’s my favorite analysis so far.
LYT: The cool thing about him, unlike, say, Jigsaw in the Saw movies, which he’s almost comparable to, is he’s only as powerful as you enable him, because he’s always willing to let them go at any point. So he’s like the devil.
DK: And, plus, the audience gets to make the choice with the players. So that gives them the freedom to play along, in a safe way. And then they keep making the decision with the characters in the picture, I think.
LYT: If it were you in that situation, how long do you think you’d have gone along with it?
DK: Uh…am I married or unmarried in life?
LYT: Let’s assume you’re in the same situation as the character. You’re married with your first kid.
DK: Then I would go up to that point, I guess.
LYT: Up to the same point as the character?
DK: Yeah, well – up to the point where he’s invited to imbibe in another female. I’d have to stop there.
LYT: Yeah, that’s an interesting dilemma.
DK: Yeah, right? Because you’re a guy, number one. There’s money on the table. You need the money, so…but I’ve never been that desperate for money.
DK: I’d like to think of myself as resourceful enough to find it a different way. But if you’re drinking and doing drugs, your thought process is cloudy, so you might be further enticed.
LYT: How elaborate do you think his screening process was? Do you think he just picked these guys out of the bar, or that he had them scouted a little bit further before that?
DK: Well, he seeded, I think. You put out seeds, and then you see. They’re there for a reason. I don’t know if they had been to that bar…well, no, you can’t say he’d been to that bar many times, because Pat’s character didn’t come there often. He’s not a regular. I think they see the clientele that generally shows up there, and then they would know within a reasonable amount of time if these people are willing to go deeper.
LYT: It’s an interesting relationship he has with his wife. How do you think they hooked up?
DK: Yeah. I think it’s his trophy wife, and he’s going to do whatever it takes to keep her. And neither one of them seems to have a moral compass.
LYT: How Method did you get about the fact that he was a martial artist? Did you just practice the one move, or did you practice…?
DK: [laughs]I’m relying on the qualities of the stunt coordinator at that point. But, look – I’ve done enough movies to know how we can pull one thing off or another, and we all did our blocking and figured out what was the best way to make this believable. And that, with some good, deft camera work, can make it all look great.
LYT: How long was the shoot?
DK: Fourteen days.
DK: Impressive. Honest to god, it’s an impressive thing when you see this movie and know that it was shot in 14 days.
LYT: But you sort of think, watching the movie, that it’s right for the movie. You want to have that frenetic…
DK: I do too. I do too. There has to be a pressure cooker. Yes, we need to get this thing done now. We need to wrap. We have to make all of these pages today. We don’t have any extra time.
LYT: Have they shown you the new cut of Anchorman 2?
DK: No, not this soon. I’m aware of what’s in it, obviously – I was there. I know there’s a big musical number I’m looking forward to seeing. I haven’t seen it. I know when we did it, but now it’s finally going to be on a big screen, which is even better. I don’t know when I’m going to get a chance to look at it.
LYT: I assume there’s tons of out-takes. They made a whole other movie out of the first one. Do you know specifically which ones are going in?
DK: I don’t. I don’t. They say 763 additional jokes. I was there for most of them. I know about the musical number. I don’t know what other things are being inserted, so it’s going to be fun to see.
LYT: We actually recently suffered the loss in my family, and seeing Anchorman 2 was one of the few bright spots of the holidays.
DK: Aww, I’m happy to hear that. I’m sorry for your loss.
LYT: We really enjoyed it.
DK: Well, good!
LYT: Have they talked about a third one?
DK: Not yet. We’ve still got a long way to go, right? See if it blows up on DVD, and all that stuff. Nobody spends their money casually in this town. Ha ha ha!!
LYT: It did well enough right out of the gate, right?
DK: In my mind, yeah. Let’s not wait another nine years.
DK: Let’s do it at 19! [laughs]
[Adam McKay stated yesterday, subsequent to this conversation, that there would be no Anchorman 3]
LYT: Have you seen the new promo video for Sarah Palin’s new show? It looks like a Ron Burgundy thing.
DK: I wasn’t aware that she had a new show.
LYT: In fact, it looks like the Anchorman – the first trailer – there’s like a big American flag up in lights and it’s just kind of feet walking up in front of it.
DK: My understanding – it’s going to be twice as ridiculous. Her show.
LYT: [chuckles]We’ll wait and see. I think she was an anchorman also [correction: sports reporter. Just like Koechner’s character in the Anchorman films].
DK: Oh, in Alaska?
DK: Amazing. That true life story – if you just took that framework and then wrote it, no one would believe you. You can’t make that movie.
LYT: That’s why I said in the third one, Ron Burgundy should run for Vice President.
DK: Run for office. Or then they should become astronauts.
LYT: You don’t want to be too much like Rocket Man, though.
DK: There you go.
LYT: What can you tell me about Hell & Back? That’s the Robot Chicken guys?
DK: Right. Tom Gianas is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s directing, and I think had some script responsibilities, too. It looks like a fun movie. I’ve been in several – a bunch of times, doing my animated voice stuff, and it looks like a dark, hilarious movie.
LYT: Have you seen any visuals? Are they doing it like toys, or is it a different animation?
DK: I don’t want to say the exact animation, because it looks more like Claymation to me – those elements – but I’m sure there’s a specific name for the type of animation they’re using. But no – it’s not like – it doesn’t look like Robot Chicken. Well, I think it’s probably the motion – the way things are manipulated – but they’re not taking pre-existing – what do you call it? – mannequins or parts. As far as I know.
LYT: You came on to Saturday Night Live back when it was kind of a clean slate, when they hired everybody, but then you only stayed on it a year. What happened? Were you like the one guy Lorne didn’t like?
DK: No, no. I decided to leave on my own…That’s not true. Politics. West coast politics. Lorne wanted to keep me, but the west coast had a little bit of power that year. The first time in years that they had had any ability to say anything, and the first time in years that they had also had competition in late night. First year of MadTV, and Howard Stern had a late night show, so ratings took a little bit of a dip, as they’re naturally going to. They’re going to check out what else is on television, and I was just a sacrificial lamb. There’s no real reason. I was told that there are a couple of guys on the west coast that I should be a big fan of. But, whatever. The good news is, six months later, I met my wife, so that’s the way it was supposed to go.
LYT: Yeah, well, obviously they’re probably regretting the choice now.
DK: I don’t know if those guys are all human enough to know what regret is.
LYT: If they did a Ben and Jerry flavor based on your character, what would it be?
DK: On Champ?
LYT: Yeah. To complement the Scotchy-scotch.
DK: What would it be? [chuckles]If you took the first movie and the second movie? Umm, there’d have to be seafood and bat parts in it. So Scotchy-scotch-scotch – that’s a good question. What would Champ’s ice cream flavor – do you have an answer?
LYT: I don’t.
DK: Eggs. Ha ha ha!! Hard-boiled eggs with the shell still on them.
LYT: I half expect some boutique in LA to actually come up with that and make it a trending gourmet thing.
DK: That’s funny.
LYT: Some of the ice cream flavors I hear about like brown bread…
DK: Brown bread? Wow.
LYT: …or avocado.
DK: Wow. That’d be an interesting flavor for an ice cream.
LYT: There’s a place around here that does garlic ice cream.
DK: Eww. That’s remarkable.
LYT: I think someone’s done bacon and eggs.
DK: That’s pretty good. Yeah.
LYT: So back to Cheap Thrills – how did you hook up with the project?
DK: Well, Evan sent me the script. Then I met up with Evan and Travis [Stevens, producer], and that was it.
LYT: So they had you in mind for this?
DK: I guess. You’d have to ask Evan if they had gone through a list of No’s first. I’m not aware of that, but I know that they approached me, and I loved it.
LYT: Do you want to do more sort of dramatic roles, even further from this now?
DK: I’d be open to anything. Yeah. Bleak is fine with me. My preference is to stay in Los Angeles and shoot, so anything that shoots here, would more than likely be a ‘yes.’
LYT: Is your background just in comedy, or is there a background in more serious acting as well?
DK: Well, ever since I first started acting back in Chicago back in the late 80’s, I always took – concurrently I took classes at Second City, Improv Olympic, and also acting classes in town. I’ve studied in New York as well, so to me, they go hand in glove.
LYT: Was approaching a role like this no different than any other role?
DK: Well, yeah – no, no, there certainly is a different approach. In comedy, you’ve got to know why you’re doing a joke and how you’re going to hit the joke, so there’s that. But the preparation, by and large, is the same. You’ve got to know what the scene is about, and what your responsibility in the scene is.
LYT: Any talk of sequels for this?
DK: For Cheap Thrills?
DK: No, it’s not even out yet. I liken that to asking a woman who’s in her first trimester, “So you gonna have more kids?” I’d love to work with all of these people again. I don’t know if there’s a Cheap Thrills sequel, but this cast was remarkable, and I’d love to work with all of them.
LYT: What do you have coming up after this?
DK: After this, there is No Clue, which opens in Canada with Brent Butt very soon. And then Hits, a David Cross movie. And then, like you said, Hell & Back. And I’m also doing a stand-up tour, so you can go to my website and check out dates on that. I’m writing a pilot for NBC, so hopefully you’ll see me on your television screen in the fall.
LYT: Nice! Is it tough doing stand-up after all of this?
DK: No, no. I just started doing it four years ago. I love it. The audience engagement is a lot of fun. Plus it forces you to always be creative and create new content. And in the business we’re in, new content is always king.
Cheap Thrills is currently available on VOD, opening theatrically March 21st. Anchorman 2‘s new R-rated cut opens in theaters today.