Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: He may have started his film career in a coma—no, seriously, he played a kid in a coma in Hero—but Martin Starr made his mark on the small screen right out of the gate, thanks to his unforgettable work as Bill Haverchuck on Freaks And Geeks, his first full-time series gig. Since then, Starr has made several appearances on the big screen, often in projects by former Freaks folks, including the 2007 Judd Apatow trifecta of Knocked Up, Superbad, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. He also turns up on TV regularly: In addition to having been part of the ensemble of Party Down, he’s presently part of the cast of HBO’s Silicon Valley, which is now filming its second season. Until then, however, Starr can be seen taking more of a dramatic turn in the film Amira & Sam, which hits theaters and VOD on January 30.
Martin Starr: I sat down with [writer-director] Sean Mullin initially and didn’t really—I wasn’t really sure that this was for me. But Sean was very adamant about me playing this part, and we went over the script, and he allowed me to be really involved in defining the character and his voice. And the more I talked to Sean, I understood his story that he wanted to tell and the purpose for this, and it made me want to be a part of it. So it was like a month-long process for me of figuring it out how to make it my own, and I fell in love with the story and the character.
The A.V. Club: So who is Sam?
MS: He’s a guy who doesn’t fit in anywhere. He’s kind of an outsider and not really sure what to make of the world after going away to fight for America overseas in Iraq. He’s not sure what to make of it—not because of PTSD but because his perspective has changed in a major way, and coming back to see how he doesn’t really fit in to the culture of America, he’s trying to find his footing, what he has to offer here and where he fits.
AVC: Not that you haven’t taken dramatic turns before, but this would seem to be more dramatic than usual for you.
MS: Yeah, I guess so. And I feel like I really got to play with tools that I don’t always get to play with, as far as—what I found most interesting was that, well, hopefully there’s something charming about the character and believable in the way that he reels Amira in, the way he woos her, and the kind of flirtation that develops and how their chemistry grows through the movie. Because she’s a tremendously beautiful woman, and hopefully it really does play well that that character, Sam, found a way into her heart.
AVC: Which leads right into my next question: How was it working with Dina Shihabi? Did the two of you find your chemistry as actors relatively easily?
MS: Well, we only met four days before. [Laughs.] But we started going over the scenes with Sean. I hadn’t really shot anything in New York before, aside from an episode of a TV show a long time ago. So I was getting to know a city that I knew something about but not really personally, and I was also getting to know Dina and Sean. But it all clicked immediately. There was no period of time where it felt difficult or strange to find my love for anything in the story or Dina or New York City. All of the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
I’ve got to say, I feel really lucky to be able to support a movie that I care about as much as I do Amira & Sam. I mean, I’m proud of all of my work… Okay, well, not all of it. [Laughs.] But I think everything has been a good growing experience, at the very least. And it’s good to be able to support an independent film like this, that really has a voice and a purpose, and hopefully it’s something that’ll makes people think. It’s very pertinent to the world at large, even if it’s by showing Muslim people in a different light, even as subtle as this is in doing that.
I was talking to somebody last night about it, about how the most prevalent side of Muslim culture that we see is the extremists. But there are progressive Muslims and forward-thinking Muslims who are helping to evolve the religion and that way of life, and those people aren’t being represented in any way. Amira is one of those people who doesn’t abide by all of the natural customs of Islam, but she considers herself Muslim—and also American. So there’s this conflict of these two cultures colliding, but she has found what she is to both of them in her own way. And as a human being, she’s allowed to define herself however she wants to, which I think is a forgotten trait. From the outside, people assume that all Muslims are one thing, which is aggressive. [Laughs.] In this case, though, they run the gamut, and it’s fun to be in a story where we explore showing a more human side of that culture.
AVC: So did doing this film give you a hankering to do more drama, or at least to keep more of an eye out for it when those opportunities come up?
MS: I’ve always been open to it. It’s just how things have fallen into place so far. I mean, I feel like without—[Hesitates.] I don’t know, I never really try to play comedy. I love it, but I always feel like the beautiful thing about what I’ve been fortunate enough to do so far—in the beginning of my career, on Freaks And Geeks, it wasn’t about playing the comedy. It was about playing the character. And the comedy comes from that. When that’s the foundation, there can be comedy or drama. It’s usually both, just by human nature. It’s fun to play with everything.
AVC: We usually try to go as far back in an actor’s filmography as we possibly can.
MS: Oh, wow. How far back did you go?
AVC: Well, it’s hard to say for sure if this is even accurate, since all we’ve got to go on is IMDB’s word, but it looks like your on-camera debut was as a coma victim named Allen in Hero.
MS: Oh, yeah! [Laughs.] I did! I had two casts. And I got to meet Andy Garcia and Geena Davis very briefly. Actually, maybe I didn’t meet Geena Davis then. That might’ve been much later in my life. But she was in that movie. And Andy Garcia signed my casts. And I held onto them for the longest time, until they were, like, disgusting. Very disgusting. Like, just frail, withering pieces of whatever they are. Cloth with glue on them, I guess. And then my parents finally made me throw them away.
But what I remember most about that were these weird saws. Because I’d never been in a hospital before—well, I’d been in a hospital, but not for fracturing bones or anything, so I’d never had a cast on before. And the way that they took the casts off was with this saw. This old saw. And as soon as I heard the whirring, they said, “Don’t worry, it won’t cut your skin, it’s just gonna cut through the cast.” And I’m, like, “What?” They started the saw up, and I was scared shitless. Like, as much as I trusted the fact that no one was going to saw my arm in half or anything, I was also, like, “This doesn’t make sense to me.” The logical part of my brain is going [Sarcastically.] “Oh, yes, the saw is about to not go through my skin when it touches it!” But they did it anyway. They sawed the cast off. And it was really cool. Because it didn’t cut my skin.
AVC: That made it extra cool, I’d expect.
MS: Uh, yeah. [Laughs.] I was, like, “Wow! This stuff doesn’t make any sense to me! It’s amazing!” But I guess the way the blades are shaped, it can go deep enough to rip through the fabric but not deep enough to cut your skin. An interesting lesson.
AVC: So how did you find your way into the film in the first place, and—again, providing IMDB isn’t lying—why was it such a lengthy period between that film and your next credit? Because by that filmography, the next thing you did was Freaks And Geeks, which wasn’t for another seven years.
MS: Well, I did commercials and things, which don’t end up on IMDB. But how I got that role? I don’t remember how I got that. But I grew up in L.A., and because that was a non-speaking part and because I’d met so many casting directors, it was something that occurred through those connections, as I recall. I don’t remember auditioning to wake up from a coma. [Laughs.] So I think the process I went through was a pretty easy one: we made a phone call.
As far as other things I did when I was a kid, I think this is on YouTube, but I did a McDonald’s commercial—I think the original ending is still up there—and one of the things I remember most about it is… [Starts to laugh.] I think if you look up “McDonald’s commercial diary,” you’ll find it, because I narrate the thing. I’m reading my sister’s diary, a story that leads into her saying she wants to date a jock, the quarterback of the high school football team or whatever, and at the very end of it, she walks in on me, and she’s supposed to throw a pillow at me because she’s upset that I’m reading her diary. But I jumped up on the bed and turned around to, like, get away or something, like a normal pillow fight or something. I reacted like I normally would. And she hit me with a pillow, and I flew off the back of the bed, and I hit a light—one of those giant light stands was on the other side of the bed—and hit the wall. And at the end of the commercial, it cuts to black and you hear me going, “Ughhhhhhh!” [Laughs.] That was the original ending. I think they might’ve changed it, but that was the original commercial ending. And I was, like, “That really happened! That’s really me doing that! That’s really me hurt! They used it!” I remembering thinking it was funny that they did that.
MS: Uh-huh. Superpowers. [Laughs.] They used a crane to lift a car, and I had to pretend that I had super strength because of being in the moment and filled with adrenaline. Actually, I think I was technically an angel in that episode. But I had to lift this car up and save someone, and it was the coolest experience to put my hands on a car and feel it move, like I was physically lifting a car up. That was pretty cool.
I still have a breakaway bottle from that. They use these tiny squibs that they use to mimic gunshots. You know, like they put on your chest in a pack of blood? Well, I was holding a glass bottle in this episode, and the glass bottle is supposed to shatter, so they put a squib in the middle of this glass bottle, and it shatters when the gun shot goes off. Well, they used these breakaway bottles, and I still have one. It’s made out of whatever kind of sugar stuff it’s made out of. But it’s this breakaway glass stuff, and I still have the bottle. I kept thinking—like, at that point in my life, I was 14 or 15, and I was, like, “Whoa, this is amazing!” I wanted it. I was, like, “I’m gonna take this bottle home, I’m gonna fill it with orange liquid, and then I’m gonna smash it over my own head and freak people out!” And I still haven’t pulled the prank. I still have the bottle. [Laughs.] It’s in my closet. I never came up an idea that felt satisfactory enough for me to use the only breakaway bottle I have. Perhaps I’ll become less precious with it one day and just break it over my head at a party.
AVC: Maybe you could do a Funny Or Die video where you’re figuring out the best way to use it.
MS: Yeah, the only problem is that I’ve only got one take. [Laughs.]
MS: Oh, Community was fun, but, I don’t know what to say. I had a really interesting time on that. Very… interesting. The interesting part was Chevy Chase. [Hesitates.] Yeah, he was an odd bird. I don’t need to go into detail. He’s an odd bird.
AVC: Can you at least narrow it down to whether it was action or statement that made him so odd?
MS: Yeah, well, now that I’ve said that much, I feel like I have to go into at least a little bit of a story. [Laughs.] When I first got there, I knew most of the people there. I think I ended up on the show because of Alison Brie, because we had just worked together on Save The Date. I guess that part came up and she threw my name in, so they reached out to me. So I felt comfortable, and I knew pretty much everybody but Chevy.
So we were going through the first rehearsal, which was with everyone, and the first scene we did was this massive scene. And he and I are sitting, like, 30 feet away or something, and I think he could tell that I seemed comfortable there and I knew everybody—I mean, I felt in my element—and I think somehow that was off-putting to him. It was like he felt like he needed to show his dominance. That’s what it seemed like to me, that it was an ego thing. So he kind of stopped rehearsal to introduce himself to me—but from 30 feet away!—and then he kind of small-talked for a second. It was like he wanted to have the floor, introduce himself to me, have me introduce myself to him in a way he could understand, ask me a few questions, and then we were allowed to continue rehearsal. It was a very odd situation. There were looks going around. It was a funny moment to have been the center of. It made for an interesting experience.
AVC: You were on The Aquabats! Super Show, but IMDB only credits you as “Actor.” Who or what did you play?
MS: Oh, that was really fun. That came through… I had done Yo Gabba Gabba! so the same producer reached out to see if I was available. I wasn’t too familiar with them till I went up there, but they were the nicest guys, and that show was such a fun experience. It was a battle of the bands, and there was one weird band, and a whole lot of different things, and I got to riff around and have fun. I remember they gave me free range to just play, and I knew it was a kids’ show, so I played in their really silly world.
AVC: So were you in one of the bands?
MS: Oh, sorry, no, I was, like, the emcee hosting the whole thing, so I was introducing all the bands, which made it even more fun.
AVC: And, actually, IMDB doesn’t even list you as having been on Yo Gabba Gabba!
MS: Oh, yeah! John [Francis Daley], Samm [Levine], and I were in an episode. We found out they loved Freaks And Geeks, so we did an episode, the three of us, doing a rap. [Laughs.] It was really fun. Very easy, simple fun. After that, we went and did a live show in L.A. as well. That was the second time I met “Weird Al” Yankovic, and he remembered the first time, which was 10 years prior. And it blew my mind. We had met in a bowling alley right around the time we were shooting Freaks And Geeks. I was a bowling fanatic, so I used to take my bowling ball to the lanes three times a week. I had my own ball, I had my own shoes. I was just—well, I know you can’t use the word “fucking,” but…
AVC: Sure you can. This is the Internet.
MS: All right! Well, I was fucking bowling up a storm. [Laughs.] I was dominating those pins. And there was this one day that I happened to be in there that I saw “Weird Al” Yankovic. And I was a huge fan—and still am, but at that point it was, like, I knew it all. So I think I may have said “hi” to him, and he said “hi” to me. I think he said that he liked the show, Freaks And Geeks, which was rare for someone to have seen it, because we weren’t watched a lot in the early days. Our numbers were—they seemed intentionally low. [Laughs.] It seemed like NBC was trying to get low numbers, by switching us around or showing episodes on Sundays, when that wasn’t our time. So he was very nice, and he clearly probably remembered because of that connection he had to our show, but I was still amazed that he remembered meeting me. He’s the nicest guy. I can’t say enough good things about him.
MS: I worked with Peña on that. Michael Peña and I were on that together and—who was the third guy? There were three of us who were all… security guys? I barely even remember, it’s been so long. Yeah, I think we were security guys in some Roswell place. And we died after three episodes. [Laughs.] But it was fun. I had a really good time there. It was really just us working together. We didn’t really work with many of the leads on that for very long.
You know, I die in a lot of things. I do. Early on in my career, I was wondering—well, first of all, I was wondering, “Will I even have a career?” [Laughs.] But then I was wondering, “Will I ever get to do a death scene?” And that question was answered pretty early on, and it was, “Yes, you will get to do multiple death scenes.”
AVC: Do you have a favorite death scene?
MS: You know, they all have a special place in my heart. [Laughs.] The many lives I’ve led, the many deaths I’ve been victim to. But my favorite death scene of my own personal career? You know, I don’t remember them well enough to really give a good answer as to which is my favorite.
AVC: Maybe This Is The End?
MS: Yes! Where I get hit in the head with a rock. [Laughs.] That was actually really fun. I get hit in the head with a rock, and then I fall to my death in the chasm that has grown underneath us. It was fun to go back in to do ADR, but it was fun falling, too, although I didn’t get to do it with the boxes. When the stunt guys jump from a certain height or more, they use pulley systems and ropes and all that stuff to slow them down or do different tricks and stuff. But they’ll also just free-form fall from 30 or 45 feet up, and they’ll put pads down, but on top of the pads they’ll put a layer or two or three of boxes—just cardboard boxes—that have been built up and having nothing in them. Big cardboard boxes. And then they’ll fall into the boxes, and that’s the best way for them to slow their momentum down safely. I’d never heard of that or seen that, so I was watching these stunt guys fall from 45 feet in the air onto these boxes, and I was, like, “This is so cool! I just want to do that!” But they wouldn’t let me. So I fell onto the pads from, like, 15 feet or something. [Sighs.] But it looked like a lot of fun.
MS: Oh, yeah, Stealing Harvard. With Bruce McCulloch, and an awkward meeting with Tom Green. Jason Lee was very nice. [Laughs.] And I got to shoot a shotgun at a sign. Yeah, that was a fun time.
AVC: Your use of the word “awkward” may have answered this question, but was Stealing Harvard before or after you were in the Undeclared episode with the running Freddy Got Fingered joke?
MS: That would’ve had to have been after. Because I think Judd [Apatow] jumped straight from Freaks And Geeks right into Undeclared the next year, so I think Stealing Harvard was after that. But it wasn’t because of Undeclared that it was weird, although it was about Freddy Got Fingered, in that his ego had ballooned since that movie. We happened to have mutual friends in common, and they spoke highly of him but said that perhaps he was a little out of hand at some point. And just kind of an odd bird.
Our introduction was… I don’t think he intended it to be this way—although maybe he did—but it was kind of demeaning and inhuman the way he treated me right off the bat. And then I met him again later, and he seemed nice, and he seemed to actually remember meeting me earlier, but I didn’t really care for a second run. The first had left me—I didn’t need to talk to him ever again. [Laughs.] So I’m sure I probably wasn’t too welcoming or warm at that point. But, you know, first impressions sometimes can be rough.
MS: That was fun! The coolest part about that for me was getting the call from Jake Kasdan and Judd, like, two days before they wanted me to come and do it, and basically saying that John C. Reilly had apparently just watched Freaks And Geeks—maybe Judd had given it to him, or Jake had—and I guess he very quickly became a fan of mine and wanted me to be in the movie. So they called me two days before with this extra role they’d found. [Laughs.] I think they kind of added another “Jew agent” to their grouping.
I got to work with Phil Rosenthal and the Harold Ramis, who unfortunately isn’t with us anymore, but it was very incredible for me to work with both of them. Especially Harold. He was just singing—I remember there were days when he would sit with his guitar, singing old Beatles songs in this, like, Yiddish accent. [Laughs.] I guess it was Yiddish. Anyway, he was singing them in the voice that he was using in the film. It was incredible.
AVC: 2007 was really the year of Apatow for you. In addition to Walk Hard, you also had Knocked Up and Superbad.
MS: Superbad happened to work out with my schedule, but that was fun. That was just getting our old gang back together and working. I got to briefly work with Jody Hill, and I think [Danny] McBride might’ve been in that same scene as well. But maybe not. Maybe it was Jody Hill and Ben Best. But, yeah, that was a really fun time on Superbad. And then Knocked Up was great, man. The gang! [Laughs.] All the buds! Jay [Baruchel] is coming out here today, actually. I’m looking forward to seeing him. [Hesitates.] I don’t know why I feel the need to share my own personal schedule with you. You want to know what I’m doing for the rest of the week?
AVC: That’d be great. You can email it over after the interview.
MS: [Laughs.] Well, it’ll be disappointing: I’m working mostly. At Sony. So I’m hoping I don’t get bombed by North Korea.
MS: It kind of felt like sketch comedy. You know, we were in a specific sketch the entire time, but it felt fun like that. And working with Paul [Scheer] and all the guys there, having their improv background from UCB, and the big group of UCB players who came in and out of the show and wrote for the show and created the show—that was a blast. And we kind of decided after the first season—maybe even before the first season even started—that I was just going to look different every year. We did three seasons of that, right?
AVC: Yep. From 2011 to 2013.
MS: Right, I thought so. It’s hard to remember sometimes, because it was so compact, those seasons. We’d do a whole season in a month or less. But it was like a nice little vacation every year, and it was fun to not be restricted to anything with my character. He changed every year, and it was completely intentional. [Laughs.] It was fun to have everything change.
MS: The producer of Knocked Up, Shauna Robertson, Ed Norton is her beau, so I’ve met him a couple of times through her, and I guess he thought of me to come and play. I don’t know if any of the other guys ended up coming out for it, but I know he reached out to Jason [Segel] and Jonah [Hill] and Seth [Rogen] to come up and have fun for a day up there. So I went up there and hung out for a bit. We went to see Shauna’s parents up north, and that was pure fun.
I went on a hang glider for the first time in my life. Her dad is a hang-gliding instructor, and I watched… [Starts to laugh.] They tried a couple of times with me, and they said, “What you do is…” They used this pulley system, so this huge rope pulls you into this machine and helps you build up speed, and it’ll help glide the hang-glider up, and then you kind of circle back and forth looking for these spirals of wind that take you up. They take you up a lot higher, and very fast. So we looked for them a couple of times and didn’t get anything, but then Ed goes on, and Ed shoots up so high. Like, you couldn’t even see him. So Ed and Shauna’s dad are up so high that they were like ants, just tiny specks in the sky. I don’t even know if I could’ve actually handled that. Because if I was as far away from the Earth as I was from them in that moment, it would’ve scared me maybe to death. I might’ve died right then. [Laughs.] Maybe now I could handle it, but I don’t know if I could’ve at that point.
Anyway, that’s what I remember more than anything, but the experience of working on The Incredible Hulk was very fun, to be able to work with someone that I revered so highly as an actor. Ed was a joy. It was so cool to be able to work with him.
MS: I feel so fortunate to be a part of this show for so many reasons. Besides working with one of my heroes, Mike Judge, I also found a new appreciation for someone who is an equal for him: Alec Berg. I knew and loved Seinfeld, for sure, but I happen to really not like Curb Your Enthusiasm. The nature of that show is uncomfortable humor that really unsettles you as an audience member, and that wasn’t—I just didn’t fall for that character and that kind of gimmick. Maybe “gimmick” is a demeaning word to use for that, but that tactic of unsettling the audience member by creating the most uncomfortable situations in an attempt at a real-life scenario, I didn’t really enjoy. But meeting Alec—he is, I suppose, a bit socially awkward. [Laughs.] So, like, the first season was interesting, with all of us getting to know each other. By nature, actors are gregarious, outgoing people—or at least some part of them is—in order to adapt and create characters and stories and be malleable in new roles. So we tend to still be socially awkward, but we’re perhaps a bit better at dealing with social situations. But Alec certainly was awkward.
Between the first season and working on the second season now, though, I really had an opportunity to get to know everyone on the show, and I think we have such a strong group of comedic voices and talented people on every side. It’s really a lovely experience, and it feels like a family. We went to the Golden Globes and the HBO after-party, and it was so fun. We didn’t win, but that was never what it was about for us. It was about this celebration. It was just fun. And I feel so fortunate to be able to celebrate with these people the success of this show.
AVC: You guys were effectively winners when you delivered the most elaborate dick joke in TV history.
MS: [Laughs.] Yeah, I have no qualms about not walking away with a statue of the Earth on a wooden platform, or whatever their trophy is. I absolutely felt like a winner from day one, getting into our first season, after the pilot, and watching the show evolve from there. I really think it only gets better in the second season. So it’s very cool to take a little mid-season break in the middle of shooting and enjoy the way that it’s being received. I haven’t really gotten to experience this yet on a show, to be proud of something as it’s happening and have it be as welcomed by critics and audiences alike. And by the network! I feel like I’ve worked on a couple of very good shows—Party Down and Freaks And Geeks—and at the time, neither of them were—there was always a piece or two missing in the puzzle of acceptance and finding an audience. And this is interesting, to be on this side, with a show that’s actually successful. [Laughs.] It’s just not something I’ve experienced yet!
It’s funny that I’ve been doing it for, God, 15 years or so. Or longer, if you count all the commercials and things. Why, it’s got to be getting up on 45 or 50 years! [Laughs.] But to be able to experience this is really fun. And I feel like it makes it a lot easier to enjoy the ride, to understand what its value is and not overvalue it because of the experiences I’ve had before, but also to not take anything for granted, particularly not the luxury of going through this and experiencing success with it.
MS: That was the most fun. [Laughs.] It was the first time on set that I can recall—and, granted, certainly people stuck around during the days of Freaks And Geeks and had fun after work—that, when people were done, we’d hang out afterwards. It was such a fun, inviting group that we really—I mean, that was as fun as it could’ve been, and every job should be that enjoyable, and everybody should be that passionate about what they’re doing. That was so much fun for me to experience that. I’d gone through a lot of other experiences after Freaks And Geeks, but nothing really compared to it until Party Down.
There were all these talented people, and the whole set was so giving. I mean, the nature of comedy being a bit competitive? That was gone. The competitive nature for us was about making the show as good as it could be, so everybody was boosting each other and thinking of bits for each other. Everything was about the group. The “I” in team was not present. So that was an incredible experience, to have a second go at the joy that I’d experienced on Freaks And Geeks. And now, to be able to have it again on Silicon Valley? I feel so lucky.
AVC: So where do we stand on the oft-discussed Party Down movie?
MS: I wish, man. Every time I jump into a tuxedo and I’ve got to wear a bow tie, I wear my pink bow tie. I did it for the Golden Globes! [Laughs.] I’m always in hopes of that. But it does seem rather unlikely. I mean, I think it would take a lot to get everyone’s schedules aligned. But it all starts with the writing, which I still think has yet to be figured out between those guys. So if ever a script gets finished, hopefully it’ll be easier. But I know they’ve also talked about other avenues, one being to kind of reboot the series and do five episodes or something, or find a home for it if it’s not on Starz. If it is, cool, but if it’s not, then finding another home for it and putting it out. But whether it’s five new episodes or two extra-long episodes or some way to reignite that flame, we’d all love to do it.
It’s cool to still hear stories about it. Jane Lynch wrote a book, and there’s a chapter in her book about where she had gone from Party Down to do Glee, because her contract—she had signed it for Glee first, so she had to go do that, and they didn’t want her to be competing with herself. And even though Starz—well, whatever, they would’ve worked out the schedule so that she’d never be on both channels at the same time. But they didn’t want her to do our show, so she went off and did Glee. But she fondly remembered Party Down, and you assume that, for a woman who works as much as she does and has so much good work in her history, we’d just be a forgotten snowflake. We would just be a memory that was lost. But she loved it. And when I see her, she’s still, like, “It’s my buddy!” And it’s so cool to know that this wasn’t in any one of our heads, this joy that we had on Party Down. Everybody felt the same thing and appreciated it. And we know she does, because she wrote about it. In a book! [Laughs.] We made the black and white pages!
AVC: Having Freaks And Geeks as your first full-time TV gig has to be a case of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows: you bonded quickly as a team, you got critical acclaim, and you were gone in a single season.
MS: It definitely was a high and a low all compacted into one. I was too young to be aware of any of the journey that we were going through. This was the first time for all of us experiencing these things in life, so to be able to be on TV, period, was, like, “Wow!” And to be able to work with people who cared as much as they did was a unique experience unto itself that I couldn’t appreciate until I experienced other things that conflicted with that knowledge. Because that’s the only way that it should be in this business. We’re lucky enough to be able to do this. If you don’t enjoy every day that you go to work, there is something wrong. And all I knew was the joy of going to work on Freaks And Geeks. And Judd and Paul [Feig] really cared and protected us in everything. In sitting down with the crew that they hired, they were very specific about making sure that everything was good. They were specific about all the details in making that show, and in providing an environment that allowed for the best results. And reflecting on it, I have lost my train of thought. [Laughs.]
AVC: Looking back, do you have a favorite attribute when it comes to Bill’s character?
MS: I’d say his walk. [Laughs.] That was my gateway into him: his walk and his posture. And I definitely enjoyed playing with that, because—I don’t want to say it was shtick, but it was physical comedy which I haven’t really explored since in my career. So for me it was fun to live in that really uncomfortable-with-yourself body and walk with insecurity. An insecure gait, if you will.
AVC: Did you ever feel obliged to watch Dallas?
MS: I did not. And certainly not the new Dallas. Wait, did they get canceled? I think they got canceled. And here I am kicking them when they’re down. What a dick. [Laughs.] I’m sure it was in reruns when I was a kid, but it wasn’t really my speed. I was much more into Star Trek. The old, original Star Trek.
AVC: Which plays right into your character. Does that mean that you truly were a geek?
MS: Well, yes and no. There are some ways in which we don’t match. Like, pretending to play basketball as poorly as I did—I’m sure I’m not as graceful as a gazelle when I play basketball, but I’m certainly not that terrible. I actually grew up playing a lot of sports. So when it comes to my body, I’m a lot more comfortable in my skin than Bill was. And I’m a lot more comfortable in environments that don’t relate to sitting around and talking nerdy… which I also love, by the way. But I feel more comfortable in my own skin in many scenarios than I think Bill ever did. I certainly am a geek at heart, but I can’t claim to be a thoroughbred. [Laughs.]