Exclusive: Joe Lo Truglio Talks Paul

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On Friday, we ran our interview with Bill Hader, aka Agent Haggard in the alien on-the-run comedy Paul, and now we get to talk to Hader’s onscreen partner Joe Lo Truglio, who plays Agent O’Reilly. While Haggard has a hidden evil-streak, O’Reilly is basically a nice geeky guy who happens to be a covert operative.

Lo Truglio first gained fame as part of MTV’s sketch comedy group “The State,” then made a splash in a variety of character roles, probably most famously as the sketchy guy who gives Seth and Evan a ride to a party in Greg Mottola’s Superbad.

We talked 1-on-1 with Joe Lo Truglio in New York about Paul, actually BEING Paul, and a twisted surprise about Simon Pegg and Nick Frost we GUARANTEE you didn’t know about!

CS: You play a government agent who is also an über-nerd.
Joe Lo Truglio: Yeah, I’m a fanboy with a badge, that’s what O’Reilly is. I think he probably saw a lot of action movies when he was a kid and was like, “I think that would be pretty cool to do,” without really thinking of the violent methods involved in such a job. I think he probably would have been writing or drawing comic books if he could. He’s one of those guys except he made a different choice.

CS: There are different levels of nerddom, as you may know, and he’s at “Level Infinity” where he’s read volumes 1-through-27 of every sci-fi book series…
Lo Truglio: That’s right, he knows all the titles, all the characters. This is actually his dream job. I think as soon as he goes into the RV and sees they know Adam Shadowchild then it’s on, this is maybe the greatest case he’s ever had.

CS: Are you at that level of nerdosity in real life?
Lo Truglio: I’m not that high, I’m probably a few notches lower than that, but I grew up obsessing with horror movies and science fiction and Mad magazine and horror comics, action figures and board games. I was there, I covered that territory so it’s very easy for me to slip into that. I was and am a big Stephen King fan, I had all of his books up until that point in my Atari 5200 box that I kept under my bed so in case there was a fire I would have all my Stephen King books in one place, just grab it and run out of the house. The books would be saved!

CS: You get bonus points. That’s like three different spectrums: video game geek, Stephen King geek, and OCD.
Lo Truglio: That’s right, that’s exactly right. That’s actually the perfect little picture of me at 12 or 13. I would read Stephen King books into a tape recorder and try to act them out. Now that I think about it I was close to O’Reilly, but probably a little more in my room kinda doing my own thing.

CS: You also used to be an animator for “The State,” right?
Lo Truglio: Yeah, I still draw. I do, I still illustrate. I’m actually working on a project now that’s short animated horror fairy tales that I’m working on with a guy named Jeff Short. Yeah, I love drawing, I drew some stuff for “The State,” there was a cereal commercial where we spouted nonsense and things jump off the box, I drew those. I want to draw more, I’ve been fortunate enough to be busy with acting and other aspects of filmmaking, but I was drawing Bruce Lee and Stephen King portraits as a kid. I made my own comic called Crud Magazine that was very much like Mad. This was in 6th grade, and it had its own mascot, Melvin Crud, and the editor was Spencer Drool.

CS: So working on “Paul” must have been like heaven.
Lo Truglio: It really was. For those reasons, but also I’m working with an incredible cast, some of which I’d worked with before or known, and then Simon and Nick I hadn’t but I was such a gigantic fan of theirs. When “Shaun of the Dead” came out I was truly glad that someone had done that movie, I feel like I know them.

CS: One of the hallmarks of that movie and “Hot Fuzz” and “Spaced” is they litter them with all these references to other films. What do you think is the most obscure in-joke in this movie?
Lo Truglio: Probably the most obscure one would be the “Capturing the Friedmans” reference.

CS: That Paul says.
Lo Truglio: Yeah, when they’re walking down the street. Another one that’s hard to catch is the sailor brawl in the bar is from “1941.” That’s another kind of obscure one, but that’s what’s great about the movie, if you are a total über-geek like we are then you’ll catch it and appreciate it but if you’re not you’re still gonna enjoy the movie. It’s a fun ride.

CS: I love that scene in “1941,” I didn’t even realize it until you said it, the zoot-suiters vs. the sailors. So you played the agent but you also played Paul?
Lo Truglio: I did, I did. I was playing Paul while we shot in Santa Fe. Seth Rogen was shooting “Green Hornet” at the time. He had mo-capped all the scenes and did his voice before we went to Santa Fe, and when we got there, so everyone didn’t have to talk at a tennis ball on a C-stand, or to the air, I jumped in on my knees and started doing the scenes. It was an absolute thrill to do it, one because I was able to be there the entire production period, two it was great to see how a movie like this with all the visual effects was done up-close, first-hand, and then I was hanging out with Simon and Nick the entire time. It was such a family atmosphere on set that it was very easy to be silly and stupid and not worry about being a fool.

CS: You were kind of like the other guy that played the Winklevoss twin in “Social Network” who got his face covered.
Lo Truglio: (Laughs) That’s right.

CS: But you did have an affect on Simon and Nick’s performance.
Lo Truglio: Yes, absolutely. There was improv-ing that happened and tone of the scene. I’d watch Seth do his thing and see if there were any physical gestures that were important. It all kind of came together. You had Double Negative that was such a fantastic special effects house adding their two cents after we were done, so Paul really was a starburst of talent working to make him real. If he doesn’t work then the movie doesn’t work, then that’s it, game over.

CS: Didn’t Seth also do a round of mo-cap after you guys shot?
Lo Truglio: That’s right, yeah.

CS: Did some stuff that you contributed carry over?
Lo Truglio: That’s what he told me and that’s what the guys were telling me too. There was some stuff that stayed, which I was thrilled to have happen, but I think that’s a natural thing. Once you have someone do motion capture and then another person do their version it’s gonna be an amalgam of those two personalities. I should say that Seth does a fantastic job making Paul a very three-dimensional guy. The voice is recognizable but what he does with his emotional range in that is really great.

CS: After I saw it the first time it struck me that obviously there had been great mo-cap performances before, like Andy Serkis, but this was the first fully formed comedic performance that really worked.
Lo Truglio: That really worked, yeah, and I think it was seamless in how Paul looks onscreen. Ultimately I was so happy to be part of that originality. “We have a comedy alien who’s not there.” Except for Alf, Alf was pretty successful, just slightly different.

CS: And Starman is hilarious in his own way.
Lo Truglio: That’s right. There’s “Starman” references in the movie too.

CS: Oh yeah. Now you’ve been known for playing the weirdo, the subtly odd guy who has a dark secret brewing under the surface…
Lo Truglio: Yeah, there’s something dark and in the closet.

CS: O’Reilly is more of a nice guy, but is there a kind of character you’ve always wanted to play but haven’t had the chance yet?
Lo Truglio: I’d like to play a real bad guy, whether he’s weird and quirky or straighter, but every actor would love to play a villain. Those are more fun to play than heroes, I think. I am happy just to be doing different types of characters. My heroes as actors were people like Warren Oates, Gene Wilder, Peter Sellers, a lot of guys that worked with Sam Peckinpah. These great character actors that most people forgot: R.G. Armstrong, Jack Elam, all these great guys that would just show up in movies and were part of this ensemble. That’s always something that was very appealing to me. Hopefully my career would be similar.

CS: You guys have formed a kind of ensemble in these pictures as well. I know that you and Bill worked together on the web series “The Line.” Did the idea to partner you guys up come from that?
Lo Truglio: “The Line,” yeah, that was a blast. I don’t know. I think my name had come up. I think when “Paul” was in the early stages and they were doing some tablereads and stuff. Bill had done a test shoot as Paul just to see if it would work. My name came up, and Greg and Bill knew me, and Simon and Nick had seen me in “Superbad” and enjoyed that performance. I think it was kind of a combination of these elements. They’re like, “Joe knows Bill and wouldn’t it be great to partner them up?” I was thrilled that they asked. (laughs)

CS: Well you and Bill had already been in a few movies together, just not in the same scene, so it seemed natural. Speaking of Simon and Nick, what was the most surprising thing about working with those two guys?
Lo Truglio: I don’t know if it was surprising, but I was pleased to see how normal they are. You always have these fears of meeting someone where they turn out to be total jerks or snobs. Another surprising thing is that Nick Frost is an absolutely stellar cook. He cooked Bill and I a traditional English supper, with lamb and golden potatoes and peas and Yorkshire pudding. It was divine. One more thing, about the surprise thing, I didn’t know this: each of them also have tails.

CS: (laughs) Vestigial tails?
Lo Truglio: Yeah, they hide it well, but you’ll see that they never really shoot anything near the back of the waist.

CS: (sarcastic) That makes sense that they’ve stayed together so long, they both know each other’s shameful secret.
Lo Truglio: Exactly.

CS: They were both the writers on the project. When they were on set did they switch gears and go into writing mode or were they always actors?
Lo Truglio: No, they did both, but it wasn’t so much of a switch gears where suddenly their personality changes or even their method of working changed. They would have some suggestions while we were doing the scene, like how about this line or that line be said. Then there’d be times where after we were done shooting they would go off to their trailer because they had a bigger scene to work on or something that took more time. Because their brains are so nonlinear they’re able to do a funny act and have a great comedy idea. There wasn’t any need to have an “actor hat” and a “writer hat.” It was a very flowing set creatively.

CS: The way you guys and Greg work it’s already a very improv-y environment.
Lo Truglio: That’s right, although it was very different from an Apatow movie because we did improv a little bit for “Paul” but not a lot. Simon and Nick are very collaborative. They want us to do what we do, but they also had a great script, so it was very easy to stick to that, whereas in the Apatow movies or David Wain movies they’re like, “Okay, let’s do a take where you do whatever.” Improv is more of a jumping-off point, but they’re also very good scripts in those movies as well.

CS: What is your favorite road movie?
Lo Truglio: “Smokey and the Bandit” is a big favorite of mine because I’m a Burt Reynolds fan and an even bigger Jackie Gleason fan. That’s a movie that, in retrospect you watch it and it’s very dated, but it held a special place in my heart because I loved the Trans-Am and I thought Burt Reynolds looked cool. Jackie Gleason had such a big, broad performance in comedy and yet it worked and was very grounded and real and I bought it, it wasn’t sketchy. That was something I was careful to watch.

Paul opens in theaters on March 18th.