Charlie Day plays, appropriately enough, “Charlie” on the hit FX comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” where he has become the breakout character among the five principle lunatics. No small feat in a program where characters smoke crack to get on Welfare, pretend to be Arab terrorists, and become male prostitutes to pay off a cocaine debt to the mafia.
As if that weren’t enough, Day is a writer/producer/co-creator of the show, which has won a massive following among fans of outrageous, boundary-blasting humor. Now he’s parlayed that fame into a budding film career with his role as Dale in Horrible Bosses. A pitch-black comedy aimed at anyone who’s ever harbored the fantasy of murdering their boss, Dale is one of three friends (the other two played by Jason Bateman & Jason Sudeikis) who set out to do just that. Dale’s boss is a maneating sex kitten, played with zest by Jennifer Aniston, who doesn’t know the meaning of “NO MEANS NO!”
Day sat down with us in New York for a lively, exclusive chat where he candidly discussed the difference between the TV world and the movie world, his possible role in Guillermo del Toro’s blockbuster Pacific Rim, and what he would like to play if he headlined his own solo movie!
ComingSoon.net: In trying to think of all the questions you’ve been getting asked, the biggest one must be, “Who’s the worst boss you’ve ever had?”
Charlie Day: You got it. You nailed it, that’s #1!
CS: I wanna ask you who’s the BEST boss you’ve ever had?
Day: Okay, first of all I want to personally thank you for putting that kind of thought into things. The best boss I ever had… now I have to think about my answers. Well, it’s tough to say who’s your boss when it comes to show business, but definitely the people at FX putting our show on the air for the last seven years. If they’re my boss I’m happy to call them my boss ’cause that did the most for me professionally and life-wise.
CS: FX gave you guys so much creative freedom to do your show…
Day: Oh yeah, absolutely.
CS: Now they’re doing the same for “Louie.” You’ve embarked on a movie career, so what are some frustrations or walls you’ve run into in terms of dealing with the machinery of Hollywood that you never had to deal with?
Day: It’s a different animal than our TV show. I’ve had good experiences on these last two movies in terms of a really creative set where they’ve been open to any input I’ve wanted or was willing to give. Knock on wood… there’s no wood… but I haven’t had that nightmare movie set experience yet. It’s a different animal, some of it’s better, some of it’s worse. I’ve just been really lucky these last two movies working with people that really sorta let me do whatever I wanted to do and cared what I had to say about the way things should go, which is sorta how we run the set on “Sunny.” We’re open to everyone’s input, so that’s been good.
CS: It’s interesting how the dynamic of you three guys in “Horrible Bosses” and the three guys in “Sunny” is very similar. You practically play the same character. What do you think separates this film from the show?
Day: Well you’re right. Anytime you have three guys getting into a caper they have no business being in with terrible motivations that does sorta seem like our TV show. We came first so I can’t be blamed, although the script’s been around forever. Yeah, there were a lot of similarities… it’s different because, um… uh… I guess it’s pretty similar. (laughs) Y’know, the three guy’s getting into a similar…
CS: (laughs) “Basically it’s the same thing!”
Day: Yeah, the movie’s ripping us off.
CS: So on the flipside of that, what is the unifying characteristic of Charlie and Dale? What’s the common denominator?
Day: There’s a naïveté to both those guys. Dale can read and write and hold down a job.
CS: No “Charlie Work” for him.
Day: Yeah, Charlie probably could actually figure out how to get someone killed, I think. They’re both hopeless romantics, capable of getting over their heads, and quick to rage when the time strikes. I didn’t try to change it up too much, ’cause when I read the script I thought it played into that same idea.
CS: They definitely are both romantics, like Dale is a very devoted fiancé. You’ve been married to Mary Elizabeth Ellis from “It’s Always Sunny” for several years now.
CS: What was an instance where your devotion in real life went to a comical extreme?
Day: (laughs) I don’t know if my real life ever goes to any comical extremes. Anytime my character has a woman acting sexually aggressive to him and has to squirm around ’cause he’s engaged – I suppose myself as a person has to squirm around because I’m married. That was a good thing, I was able to kinda play it close to the sleeve. Comical extremes in real life, though, I dunno that I’ve ever gone to any.
CS: With the three of you guys I can’t imagine it was a sedate set. Were there any moments where Seth had to corral you guys, get you back from being too off-book?
Day: Oh yeah, that’s true, he would definitely do that, we would try different things and have some fun with stuff. It was his job to navigate those waters and get us back on course if he thought it was going in the wrong direction. At the end of the day he had to pick all the takes that make it into the film, he had to sort through a lot of stuff.
CS: A lot of what you do is based around irreverence, taking things over a line and playing with it. What do you think is the soul of that? How do you do that right?
Day: There’s a trick to that, which is that you really need to know and understand why a character thinks what they’re doing is okay. You don’t have to agree with it, you just have to be able to understand it. Then you can laugh at it. Certainly with our characters on “Sunny” if you didn’t understand their motivations for doing what they’re doing they’d just be doing despicable things, but because you know whatever the object of their desires is for that day or that moment, that they want it so badly that they’re justifying this behavior or that behavior you can really laugh at them for doing that. With this movie, because they’re so desperately in these pathetic situations and trying to get out of them… they don’t go right out and start slashing up their bosses, but as they start to dip their feet in the waters of “What if?” you sort of understand why they’re asking those questions. You would never do it, but that’s the comedy, “What would happen if I was dumb enough to do it?”
CS: It was triply ironic that you directly reference “Throw Momma From the Train” because you work with Danny DeVito and the fact that it IS kinda the plot, which THEY stole from Hitchcock.
Day: (laughs) I was surprised they were gonna leave that in the script because I think they underestimated how many “Sunny” fans were out there who would be taken out of the movie for a second.
CS: But “Throw Momma” is an amazing movie.
Day: It’s such a great movie, yeah.
CS: I know a lot of comedians break into movies with these wacky professions, like Jim Carrey was a Pet Detective, Kevin James was a Mall Cop. If you had a starring vehicle, “Charlie Day is…”, what would be your funny job title?
Day: (laughs) Kitten Mitten inventor… I dunno, I’ll take any of those. Submarine Captain. There you go.
CS: You just signed on for a tour of the “Pacific Rim”…
Day: I’m not officially signed on so I’ve been told to dodge around answering questions, but I’ve definitely been having conversations with them about it. I’d hate to say “I’d like to sign on” because I don’t want them to low-ball me [laughs], but hopefully that’ll all work out.
CS: What was it like meeting the master, Guillermo del Toro?
Day: I was very thrilled to find out he’d seen every single episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” That’s why we were meeting. Because “Pan’s Labyrinth” is up there as one of the greatest movies ever made.
CS: He’s such a personality. He’s read every book, he’s seen every movie. If you were to sign on would you have a “Monster Approval” clause in your contract?
Day: (laughs) I will not be given monster approval, but when it comes to Guillermo you let him do all the approving.
CS: Well I hope you can land it because it sounds like an awesome frickin’ project.
Day: I hope so too.
CS: Is it frustrating or a relief to do a movie where you’re just an actor as opposed to a writer/producer as well?
Day: It’s both. It’s a relief in terms of the workload compared to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but it’s frustrating because I care so much about everything that I do that I want to be able to control all the aspects of it and you have to give up control. It’s a relief again when you watch the cut of the movie and say, “Hey, some of the things that I wouldn’t have done turned out to be better than I thought they were gonna be, so maybe I don’t know it all!”
CS: Since you come from TV, which is low budget, fast schedule, lots of adrenaline, how does a big money movie change the equation in terms of the energy?
Day: It moves too slow. Too slow. Comedy should be as fast as can be, but you definitely get a little more time to read in your trailer.
CS: Do you juggle some of your writing duties?
Day: A little bit. I tried to look at as many cuts of “Sunny” as I could, but it’s hard to work on one thing when you’re working on the other.
CS: It’s refreshing to hear that, as opposed to, “Oh they’re both wonderful!”
Day: No, it moves too slow. It should move faster, you, know? Lighting is overrated. (laughs)
CS: “Lighting is overrated.” There’s one for Bartletts!
Day: There it is! The DPs will rise up against me!
Horrible Bosses opens in theaters on July 8.