It's difficult not to root for Will Forte, who may be one of the genuinely nicest actors working today.
In 2010, Forte was at a career crossroads: He had recently left "Saturday Night Live" after eight seasons, and his first starring vehicle, "MacGruber," had bombed at the box office. Three years later: "MacGruber" is a cult favorite, Forte is receiving positive reviews for his dramatic role in "Run and Jump" (which premiered at New York's Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night), and he's starring in an Alexander Payne movie, "Nebraska," that will premiere at Cannes next month.
Yes, it's a big year for Will Forte.
In "Run and Jump," Forte plays Ted, a doctor who is living with an Irish family and documenting the recovery of a family member who had suffered a stroke. Along the way, a strong bond forms between Ted and his patient's wife, Vanetia.
I met an at-times-jovial, at-times-emotional Forte at his Manhattan hotel to discuss, basically, how all of this happened. Forte explained how and why he made the jump to drama, why he almost skipped his audition with Payne, and what all of those "MacGruber 2" rumors amount to.
I would never have guessed that a movie called "Run and Jump," starring Will Forte, would be a nuanced drama.
Oh, yeah. It's so different than anything I've ever done. I don't think people would ever expect me to do this kind of role in this kind of movie. So it's very exciting to have been given a chance to do it.
You have a way of always making things funny. Is it hard for you not to be funny?
I am not funny all the time. I don't know if you've seen my work. [Laughs] The bummer is a lot of the times it's when I am trying to be funny that I'm not funny. So it's very easy to not be funny.
Were you ever worried that you couldn't pull a dramatic part off?
[Pauses] It was a very scary experience to go into it. Because it was just so different than anything I'd done. At the same time, there were several things that made me more comfortable. [Director Steph Green] is a great director and she had a lot of confidence in me, and that made me feel more comfortable. The fact that it was so far away -- we shot it in Ireland -- that made me feel more comfortable. What else? Oh, I had a beard. There was something about having a beard ...
It's your Robin Williams dramatic beard.
Yeah ... I had my Robin Williams dramatic beard on.
We've discussed your love of mustaches many times before. If it were just a mustache, I question if you could have done this because it would have been too funny.
True. The mustache, funny. The beard, super-intensely dramatic. A manicured beard, too.
Was this a planned-out decision? To take a dramatic part?
Not at all. I don't even know how Steph had me on her radar for this. But somehow she did and she sent me the script, and I just thought the story was this really wonderful story. Did I think, "Oh, I can nail this character"? No, I didn't know. But, no, I didn't have this lightning flash where I said, "I've got to try drama." More than anything, I just don't really plan anything out.
From the outside looking in, it looks like that, though. With this and Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" coming next, there's the perception: "Will Forte is making dramas now." Does that make sense?
[Laughs] It does make sense. That was another thing -- it was not part of some master plan. I had just found myself in the right place at the right time. I loved the "Nebraska" script and I'm obviously a huge Alexander Payne fan. So I'm so excited to be a part of that movie.
How did that happen? Who contacted whom first there?
All I know is that my agent said, "Would you like to put yourself on tape for this 'Nebraska' movie?" And I don't think Alexander Payne had gone to her and said, "I want Will Forte to put himself on tape." But through working with him, now I know that he will look at everybody's tapes. He looks at everything. As unlikely as the person might be for a certain role, he watches everyone.
So I put myself on tape and sent it in, and I didn't hear anything for maybe four months. And I just thought that they found somebody else. Then I had heard he liked the tape and wanted me to come in and audition in person. So I went in and met with him and read through the scenes, and I found out a month later. And it was just a dream come true. I never thought I'd get a chance to work with somebody like him.
When "The Descendants" [another Payne film] came out, I interviewed Matthew Lillard, who said he almost skipped his audition because he didn't think he had a chance.
It's so funny you say that. The morning that I was going to meet with him in person, I called up my agent to say like, "Should I even go in?" I just thought, "Oh, I'm going to really suck it up in front of Alexander and I'm sure I will do a horrible job" -- that kind of thing. And she said, "Go in." Auditioning is such a nerve-wracking process, and I'm glad she made me go in.
Two years ago I interviewed you and, career-wise, you seemed down on yourself. You mentioned it was hard not being on "SNL" any longer. Do you feel like you're in a better place today?
Well ... absolutely. When you first come off the show, you just never know when your last job is going to be. I felt like it was time to leave. It wasn't because I felt like, "Oh, I'm going to go make movies" -- I had no idea what I was going to do. I had been there for a long time, and I wanted to go out and be closer to my family. It's a tough business in that it's not up to you. I'm just very thankful. I would have never imagined that I'd be in this position and to get to do these things that I really love and am very proud of. I am very thankful and do not take it for granted because you never know when you're not going to get to be in things that you're proud of anymore.
And "MacGruber" had just failed at the box office and it was just starting to get some attention on cable, but it wasn't a cult favorite yet. Today, people love that movie.
Is that right?
I hear it quoted often.
We were so proud of that movie. It was a hard experience because we made a movie we were really excited about and proud of, and it's hard when it doesn't do well at the box office to not second guess yourself a little bit. But you get a little further away from it and the pain of the box office woes kind of disappear, and you're left with this pride in the movie. And we were so happy with how it turned out, and it's like, "You know what? Then they're crazy if they don't like it." It's hard not to tie your feelings to the box office results, but ultimately you can live with a box office failure if you're proud of the movie.
The main thing that bummed us out about it not doing well at the box office is just that it meant not a lot of people went to see it. So we were very happy when it started coming out on TV and people would get a chance to see it. I mean, it's definitely not a movie for everyone. But for the people that we made it for, hopefully they responded to it. And we felt like more people got to see it and we were happy. More people getting to see it meant a lot of people hated it also. [Laughs] Some people really like it; some people really hate it. But that's kind of how we made it: not to appeal to everyone, for sure.
Every year at Sundance [Film Festival], there's a "MacGruber" viewing party that a lot of movie writers attend.
What? Oh my God. I want to go to that party! I'd probably get a lot of attention at that party.
A couple of weeks ago the Internet got excited because you said there would be a "MacGruber 2."
I said like one comment in an interview that was all about other stuff. Do we want to make a second "MacGruber"? Yes. We do. And we talk about it a lot. We get together and we throw around ideas. We've got a structure for it. But it's out of our hands to an extent. So we're trying to put ourselves in a position to make it. If somebody lets us make it, we will be delighted.
So it's far from a done deal?
Oh, absolutely it's not a done deal. But we are hoping they let us make a second one.
People want to see this happen.
I don't know about that.
OK, I want to see it happen.
Well, OK. I mean, it was such a fun experience. We are going to find some way to make some form of "MacGruber 2." That's our hope. Is it definitely going to happen? No way.
Here's the headline I want to see in the next year: "Dramatic Actor Will Forte To Return To Comedy With 'MacGruber 2.'"
Oh my God. Well, we'll see.
So the reports from a couple of weeks ago were premature?
Absolutely. That was just some little joke I was saying. But there was a kernel of truth behind it, which is we really, in our heart of hearts, plan to make a second one. If we have to scrape it together and make it with a video camera and have all of our friends be extras, we'll do whatever it takes.
Any chance we'll see Twinkle and Stink on "SNL" before this season ends and Jason Sudeikis possibly leaves the show?
Oh, I don't know. I would love it.
Or Jon Bovi?
Oh, man. The funny thing is we have kind of the same dynamic -- Twinkle and Stink and the Jon Bovi guys -- so we always say that the Twinkle and Stink guys then later went on to start Jon Bovi. Like, that's just part of their characters. But, oh, anything he wants me to do -- or [producer] Lorne [Michaels]. I love "SNL" so much. It's just such an honor to be part of that "SNL" family. So anytime I can go back is a thrill.
My dream would be a sequel to the NASA sketch.
What? Oh! The potato chip guys! Oh my God, that was my favorite.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.