In the new goofball comedy ”Saving Silverman,” Steve Zahn plays a clueless rodent control specialist so desperate to stop his best friend (”American Pie”’s Jason Biggs) from marrying a controlling psychiatrist (Amanda Peet) he kidnaps the witchy wife to be and stuffs her in his basement. Such a dopily devoted friend might be unbelievable if not for Zahn, who’s built an impressive career out of playing dim criminals (1999’s ”Happy, Texas”), scene stealing sidekicks (1998’s ”Out of Sight”), and lovable doofuses (1996’s ”That Thing You Do!”).
EW.com talked with the actor about his new movie, and about playing dumb without seeming dumb.
“Saving Silverman” isn’t exactly highbrow wit. How tough is it to play someone who’s so darn dumb?
This is a check your brain at the door kind of movie, definitely. The story is dumb, and it doesn’t try to be anything other than that. So the problem becomes, How do you make these characters believable? Everybody thinks a movie like this is a wacky thing where they just turn on the camera and everyone f—s around, but it’s not that at all. Jack [Black] and I spent more time on this movie scratching our heads, trying to figure out what we were going to do. And we were so tired, because this movie was so hard physically. When I read the script, I didn’t really think about it, but then I’d show up on the set and have to deliver my lines while I’m falling down a flight of stairs.
Did anyone get hurt?
No one got seriously injured, but Jack and I were always bruised up. Our stuntmen got the major injuries. My stunt guy had to fall onto a car and got the wind totally knocked out of him. But I love doing movies like this, where you go to work and say, ”What are we doing today? Setting ourselves on fire? Cool!”
This movie is an equal opportunity offender. Were you taken aback by the scene in which an Asian man speaks pidgin English and takes a tumble down a flight of stairs for no good reason?
Oh, I hated that. But there are things in every movie I do that I have problems with. That’s the hard part about doing movies. Still, it’s amazing to me because sometimes it’s so clear in my head what’s funny and what’s good, and then other people think that there’s this other stuff that has to be there out of tradition or something. And all of a sudden, it’s not real. Then again, that’s my opinion. I think I’m a good audience, and I laugh at almost everything, but most of the stuff I like is kind of f—ed up.
In “Happy, Texas” and “Out of Sight” you sported cheesy mustaches, and your “Saving Silverman” ‘stache is pretty good, too. What’s with you and the wacky facial hair?
I love hair. It’s so important to me as an actor — getting the right look. The mustache in ”Saving Silverman” was like Custer’s last stand. Studios hate that facial hair shit. For some reason I don’t understand, the studio guys in some business meeting said, ”Is Steve gonna wear that mustache? I don’t like it.” And it doesn’t compute in my head when they do that because, Hey, I’m gonna have it. I said, ”I’ll walk if I don’t have my mustache!” Damn right! I’ll work late. I don’t need a huge trailer. But I want my ‘stache!
Neil Diamond has a cameo and actually saves the day at the end of the movie. What was it like working with ”Mr. Cherry Cherry” himself?
It was a weird, surreal experience to be hanging with Neil. It wouldn’t have been as odd if he was unapproachable, because you’d assume someone of that stature would be. But he was such a casual cool guy. He stayed on the set even after he had finished shooting and just hung out. He really got into it.
You live in rural New Jersey with your wife and 10 month old son, Henry. Is it difficult to be so far from the Hollywood loop?
Oh, sure. But I live in the country for one reason, and that’s because I’m comfortable there, I love it, and a lot of the stuff I do takes place there. I don’t have to drive two hours to fish. And that’s why I hire people to be in the business for me and keep my name out there in Hollywood. Because I grew up in a family of hard working people, part of me believes that if you show up on time and know your shit and be the best you can, you’ll progress in your career. And so far I still work, so I guess it’s okay.