Joel McHale on 'Becky', 'Tiger King' backlash and 'Community' movie

Joel McHale poses for a portrait in New York. Victoria Will/Invision/AP / AP

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Funnyman Joel McHale wants to make one thing clear: He isn’t abandoning comedy. Instead, a dramatic turn in the pulse-pounding action-thriller Becky, as well as a recent hosting stint on a Tiger King after-show, is giving him an opportunity to try something different.

“I enjoy everything, so I want to do it all,” McHale, best known for starring on NBC’s Community, says in an interview with the Sun. “People are so used to seeing certain things from some actors, so when it goes against type it shocks people. Hopefully, I get to do more of that in the future.”

In Becky, which is available now on VOD, McHale, 48, plays Jeff, whose family lake house is set upon by a nasty group of escaped prisoners, led by a Neo-Nazi (an unrecognizable Kevin James). With Jeff helpless to take on the thugs, it falls to his teenage daughter, Becky (Lulu Wilson), to protect her homestead — and she does so in the most ultra-violent ways possible.

“I’m not trying to hit a spoiler here — my character is not the main focus of the movie in any way, but seeing Lulu run around and wreak havoc is pretty wonderful.”

McHale rang up from Los Angeles to speak more about the film, the backlash he faced following his participation in Netflix’s Tiger King special and whether we’ll ever see a true Community reunion.

I thought maybe there would be some comedic elements to Becky, but there are none. What made you want to do such an unabashedly violent thriller?

It’s one of those things where people suspect I’m going to do comedy — or Kevin James is going to do comedy — and we don’t. I like everything. These directors — Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott — I knew were great because I had seen their previous movie Bushwick and that film is terrific. When I read Becky I thought to myself, if these guys are directing it, it’s going to be a powerhouse. I was not wrong. Lulu Wilson is pure gold.

Lulu Wilson stars as Becky in a new home-invasion thriller. Quiver Distribution

The casting of Kevin James is very different. What did you think when you heard filmmakers wanted him to play a murderous Nazi?

Immediately I was like, ‘Oh f—, yeah.’ At first, people seemed unsure when Tom Hanks stopped doing comedies and started getting serious, but look at where he is today. Another example is Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. He played that character (Les Grossman) and that was so funny and totally unexpected. I think that stuff is great.

Kevin James as Dominick and Lulu Wilson as Becky in the new thriller, Becky. Quiver Distribution / Quiver Distribution

In April, you hosted The Tiger King and I. Why do you think the original series took off and became such a phenomenon?

It’s hard to nail down that answer. Only once in a while do people actually get these pop-culture predictions correct. You can see how the people who were making the Michael Jordan documentary (The Last Dance) were thinking, ‘People are going to love this and it’s going to be huge.’ But with Tiger King, they took an unknown subject — who knew there are 5,000 to 10,000 tigers in America right now in private and public zoos? — and this crazy cast of characters. That cast is so incredible that when you start peeling the onion, I think it was just absolutely fascinating. Joe Exotic is just a truly engaging character. Yes, he’s crazy, but he’s captivating, and so is Doc Antle and the lady who (allegedly) murdered her husband, Carole Baskin. It’s like, what makes a great bowl of pasta carbonara? You’ve got ham, you got pasta, then eggs, and if you do it all right it turns out to be the most delicious thing on the planet.

How did people react to you hosting the after-show?

People were pissed that I asked questions like, ‘Do you think he should be in jail?’ (Laughs) I didn’t think that was controversial at all. I thought it seemed like a pretty obvious softball question … but people are pretty protective of their felons. Joe Exotic has 19 felonies and even (zoo employee) Saff (Saffery), who is still friendly with him, when I asked him if he should be in jail, Saff’s answer was, ‘Without question.’

You reunited recently with your co-stars from Community. Are we any closer to seeing a new season or a movie?

On the Zoom call we did, everybody said they’d be up for a movie, including Donald (Glover). Then (creator) Dan (Harmon) said he’d do it. I never thought there would ever be a movie, but I think now there’s a better chance than ever. Still, I think getting a movie made is difficult. Dan has 80 episodes of Rick and Morty he still has to do. We’re also in a pandemic and where’s the money coming from? How will that all work?

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It’s been off the air for five years. Why do you think Community endured?

I can’t say why, but, and I think Dan has said this in the past, they are broken people and it celebrates that brokenness in the best, most funny way. It didn’t put people down, it built them up. It’s broken people trying to help each other. Maybe that’s the answer.

mdaniell@postmedia.com

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