For a guy who grew up in Kansas, Jason Sudeikis could easily pass for a native New Yorker. Of course, a decade of working on Saturday Night Live has a lot to do with that, but Sudeikis is naturally confident and quick-witted, with the brand of street-smarts that people associate with the Big Apple. His most popular characters often have a comically complex relationship with sincerity, and Tumbledown, which premiered Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival, makes the most of those qualities and the audience’s perceptions. He plays a fast-talking New York author who travels to rural Maine to persuade a folk-singer’s widow (Rebecca Hall) to let him write a book about her husband and his music. She’s resistant, he’s persistent, and she begrudgingly agrees to collaborate on a biography that requires him to move north and crash at her off-the-grid cabin.
“Jason is the answer to the thinking woman’s sex symbol,” says Tumbledown producer Kristin Hahn (Cake). “The character is a tall order of sexy, smart, magnetic wit, written in a tone that straddles both comedy and drama, and we felt like Jason possessed all these qualities and more.”
Sudeikis—whose other Tribeca film is a sexy romantic-comedy with Alison Brie, Sleeping With Other People—plays such characters with apparent ease and nonchalance. It’s a gift, and occasionally a curse, since you never really see him sweat. But in Tumbledown, that armor of arrogance allows for twists and surprises that show the actor in a new light as well. Sudeikis spoke to EW about the movie, SNL, and that Fletch remake that is screaming his name.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You play a writer who’s obsessed with a musician who died too soon, a folk artist who reminded me of someone like Elliott Smith. Did you have anyone like that in your own life, just someone you were a huge fan of?
JASON SUDEIKIS: Nowhere near to the extent of the character that I play. But I definitely, in moments of chaos and strife, leaned on Nick Drake for several years. And I was certainly a fan of Kurt Cobain. But nothing to the point of obsess, of visiting graves, or leaving flowers outside of the Dakota or anything like that.
If you watch a lot of movies, you can pretty much guess where Tumbledown is pointed once your character visits Rebecca Hall’s cabin in Maine. But I thought the film did a great job of getting from Point A to Point B, so it earned that payoff. What did you like about the script?
Not to be convenient, but it did have a lot to do with what you’re referring to. They’re strange bedfellows who kind of have to get through their sh-t as individuals to sort of deal with it and be in the best place for one another. They’ve been through a lot, and they’re just both sort of healing from different wounds. I also liked how my character was unapologetic in his brashness and being abrasive and not being too much of a salesman. I mean, right off the bat, they’re sort of insulting each other, and that felt kind of old-school to me, you know, like His Girl Friday or something.
Tell me about working with Rebecca Hall.
We were real lucky to get her, and I was flattered that she would read the script and maybe look me up on YouTube or something and be like, “Ooooohhh… alright.” She’s just as smart and funny as anybody I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by. She’s crazy talented and has a great brain for writing and plays the hell out of the piano. She’s got a really cool soul, and it was neat to see that character going through all that stuff through her eyes.
There were at least three scenes in the film, which I won’t give away, where your character has those quick rat-tat-tat quips and retorts with Rebecca that I practically shouted, “Dear God, give us the Jason Sudeikis Fletch movie already!” Is that still a project you’re attached to?
Yeah, I think it’s something to look forward to and I’m right there with you. Forget about the societal pressures of getting back into a fan favorite on the film side of things. There’s a tremendous amount of material that [author] Gregory Mcdonald, the originator of the character in the books, had to pull from, and that’s more where we’re coming from, versus just redoing what Chevy Chase and [director] Michael Ritchie did—which was fantastic and certainly shaped the way I grew up and who I wanted to be when I grew up. And I mean, literally, like Fletch—like, not an actor. [Laughs] [I wanted to be a] smart-ass who has a basketball hoop in his apartment. We just want to make sure the script is worthwhile before even getting into attaching directors or anything like that, because everybody holds [the character] so near and dear to their heart. Again, I’m speaking as much about the source material as I am about the first film. The second film, some people don’t have the same affinity for, but that’s neither here nor there. Hopefully, with the third one, we’ll get them back.
So there is a script that you’ve seen and liked…?
Yeah, and again, it’s the concept of it. I just believe whole-heartedly in that character and how I view that character both as a kid and then how I’ve continued to view it in my mind’s eye, leading up even to this conversation. There is a script, but that’s just a launching point, because you’re talking about 10-plus books. It would be considered based on the movie Fletch, but it takes place prior to that in the timeline in the character.
This has been a big year for Saturday Night Live, what with the 40th anniversary show and the new documentary that premiered at Tribeca. You spent a good decade with SNL, right?
Yeah, I was there 10 years, yeah.
You left the show about two years ago. Has enough time passed to process and reflect on your years here? Now that it’s gone, is it liberating or do you miss it every Saturday night and Sunday morning?
I don’t necessarily miss it; I miss the people. I miss the pace of the show, and the creation-and-destruction element of it. Just the ephemeral nature of live television and also a weekly show that they have to create an hour and half every week. I mean, I watch it every week. I still like watching it, but that 40th was really very cool. It was like walking around a very well-made Madame Tussaud’s.
That room must’ve been wall-to-wall Founding Fathers of comedy, right?
It was like being inside the Hall of Presidents. You’re bumping into icons left and right, in all walks of life. I think we kind of blew it for the Oscars: “Ohhh, this is just this year’s celebrities, this year’s actors?” I got really lucky being a part of an amazing decade and surrounded by people that made me laugh. You can’t help but get better at whatever you want to get better at being surrounded by such talented smart people. The only one left from my generation is Kenan [Thompson], but it was remarkable.
Have you thought much about coming back to host? I sometimes feel like it’s a no-win situation for a returning cast member to come back, because it’s impossible to top what he or she did when they were originally on the show.
Not really. But part of the nature of working there is that you’re inside that bubble. I would imagine on the hosting side of things, my process would be very similar to anything I do—you just sort of deal with the elements as they happen in real time and you go with it. I don’t imagine that I would be too adamant about trying to replicate my 10 years there is an hour and a half. But I haven’t thought about it a great deal. Not until if and when the moment arrives.