Andy Samberg strides into L.A.'s Kings Road Cafe, the afternoon light frizzing his hair into a godlike meringue as he... ah, forget it. It's just silly to paint a meeting with the unassuming Saturday Night Live player as anything but a regular affair. He arrives 15 minutes early, enjoys the restaurant's hair-metal music as much as he savors his fancy omelet, and he looks and acts like any other 28- year-old because that's exactly what he is. ''I'm trying to take it really slow,'' Samberg says of his escalating career. ''Especially because it's been happening really, really fast. I went from collecting unemployment to starring in a movie in a little over two years. It's insane.''
No more ramen noodles ever. After only two seasons on SNL, the former Spin City writers' assistant has come up huge with a couple little ditties named ''Lazy Sunday'' and ''D--- in a Box,'' arguably the defining videos of these viral times. This summer, he's attempting to cement his place in the offline zeitgeist by starring in Hot Rod, a long-gestating stuntman comedy (think Evel Knievel) originally conceived for Will Ferrell, now tweaked to suit Samberg's bizarre-yet- earnest style. ''He has this kind of sweetness to him,'' says SNL creator Lorne Michaels. ''You kind of like him, you know?'' Michaels also produced Hot Rod, and dismisses the ghost of Ferrell. ''It's totally their movie, in every way.''
Who are ''they''? Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, without whom no discussion of Samberg is complete. The trio met as 12-year-olds growing up in Berkeley, Calif., then reunited in NYC after college to found The Lonely Island, a filmmaking troupe with a cult website and an unsellable pilot called Awesometown. They finally landed at SNL in 2005 and began churning out those digital shorts. Now it's almost impossible to separate any one's accomplishments from the group. ''Everyone who has gambled on keeping the three of us together so far, it's gone well,'' Samberg says. ''We figured it couldn't hurt to see how long we could ride it.''
NEXT PAGE: ''I like throwing my body around and acting like a moron. Rod was...not a stretch.''