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Being There is Half the Fun
Ray Roger | Photo: David Schulze | Styling by Erin Walsh | Shot on location at Dudley’s, NYC | November 18, 2013
Jason Sudeikis has been killing it for a decade on Saturday Night Live, has starred in megahits such as We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses, and has several more high-profile films in the works. As he launches into the next stage of his charmed career, the writer and comedian is taking it all in stride.
Some comedians don’t do funny on their days off. Jason Sudeikis isn’t one of them. He’s been cracking up late-night viewers for the past 10 years, both as a writer and on-air talent for Saturday Night Live, in fan favorite skits from “Ladies’ Bowling” with Will Forte to spot-on Rod Blagojevich impersonations. In person, the 37-year-old Kansas-bred comic is every bit as entertaining, his humor registering in smart, unexpected observations and quietly hilarious asides.
Heading out for an afternoon stroll along the High Line park on the West Side of Manhattan, a newly slimmed-down Sudeikis slips my digital recorder into the left shirtfront pocket of his slate blue fitted button-down, easing any fears that the sound might be muffled with the consolation: “You’ll be able to hear my heart beat, so you’ll know when I’m lying or telling the truth.”
One thing he can’t cover up is his affection for SNL, which he departed last season. “You never really leave that place and it never leaves you,” he says. “It’s an emotional journey getting through a season, much less the final one.”
The decision to finally cut the cord was not an easy one—there had been speculation he was leaving the show for two years running. “Last year felt like just the right amount of thought went into [signing on for another season], and there were things that I was hoping to accomplish,” he says.
For starters, he wanted to see the skit “Maine Justice” come to life on-screen—and it did, with Jamie Foxx and Justin Timberlake playing the same over-the-top Southern-fried court officer Jessup in separate episodes. And he wanted to mentor the incoming writers, many of whom come from a sketch comedy background similar to his own—he cut his teeth at the Annoyance Theatre and Improv Olympic in Chicago before joining The Second City outposts in Las Vegas and Amsterdam—“a tour of the Sin Cities,” he cracks—prior to landing a writing gig on SNL.
With the goals he set checked off, he now has his eye on bigger productions. His work in ensemble movies like Horrible Bosses and Hall Pass already attests to his comedic magic translating just as well on the big screen. And if his latest billing in the summer hit We’re the Millers, which had earned more than $250 million worldwide as of press time, is any indication, he can certainly carry a film as a co-star.
“There aren’t a lot of actors out there today who have the kind of rakish charm he has; he can be incredibly funny and a jerk in a scene and you still like him,” says We’re the Millers director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who sees a rich movie career ahead for Sudeikis, well beyond comedic films. “His work is up there with the best of Bill Murray’s and Chevy Chase’s. Someone said to me recently that he’s the next comedy star, like the next Will Ferrell. And certainly he could be if he wanted to, but he could also be the next Tom Hanks—he’s that talented.”
Sudeikis is a man at the crossroads. And right now, at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change. “That’s what we get for sauntering,” he says with a laugh as we wind our way into the park. He suggested today’s interview location, which is just a few blocks from the digs he shares with his fiancée, Olivia Wilde, the stunning beauty of House fame. The pair can often be seen walking their dog, Paco, a good-natured mutt that was a package deal when he linked up with Wilde in 2011. Paco’s been on set with Wilde throughout the past decade, says Sudeikis, “so he’s not starstruck at all. He meets Bill Hader, he’s just another human being to him.”
Sudeikis and Wilde have a pretty low-key attitude toward their celebrity status as well. He takes the subway, when not tooling around town on his Vespa. They’re not afraid to kiss on the street. The only things bothersome to him are gawkers attempting to take “stealthy photos,” i.e. fake texting with the phone upright pointed at him. Other than the occasional paparazzi swarm, they mostly go about their business unaffected by the spotlight.
At heart, he’s still very much a Midwestern guy—in values and the occasional “golly.” Today he’s dressed head to toe in Baldwin Denim, a brand from hometown boys back in Kansas City. The designers donated clothing to the charity event that Sudeikis and fellow Overland Park, Kan., natives Paul Rudd and SNL’s Rob Riggle hold to benefit the local hospital Children’s Mercy in Kansas City. “It’s almost like a uniform at this point; I love this stuff so much,” he says.
He outfitted himself in the brand after dropping some 20 pounds over the past year. “All of my 36-waist Levi’s 501s made me look like a ’90s B-boy,” he says. The drop was both intentional—a conscious choice to lose the extra pounds gradually packed on via late nights at SNL—and organic. “Being happy, and in love, for me, was the secret,” he says. “I feel like I returned home to myself as an individual through the process of falling in love with the sweetest woman I’ve ever known.”
In his spot-on role in We’re the Millers Sudeikis played a small-time weed dealer in nowheresville—a character that’s as far removed as possible from who he is in real life. But the story arc of finding a sense of stability, and family, and becoming more paternal and less self-centered, resonates with him. Does he long for kids of his own? “I’ve certainly found a partner that I’d be just as willing to make a movie with as make a child with, so for me that’s a win-win,” says Sudeikis.
When congratulated on their engagement earlier this year, he doesn’t miss a beat: “Thank you. I said yes.” The couple is still in the planning stages, but shooting for a date sometime in the next year, and seeking out a location that will be convenient for friends. “I know that one criteria is we want it to be not a plane, train, automobile situation—and not on Thanksgiving or Memorial Day weekend,” he says. The big day must also jibe with the pair’s work schedules. Do they have to worry about paparazzi helicopters circling if buddies like Jennifer Aniston show up? “Her and the Obamas… you don’t know who’s going to RSVP,” he says. “I don’t know if Obama even reads his e-vites. It probably goes through nine filters; any e-vite is probably going to go to spam.”
For now, the pair is settling in to life in L.A. for a spell, while Wilde films a movie and Sudeikis “writes and tries to help move the chains on a few creative ideas I’ve had over the past few years.” They will probably stay on when all the I’s are dotted on the Horrible Bosses sequel. And those L.A. digs better be comfy, as Variety reports that he’s signed on to co-star with Kirsten Dunst in an upcoming romantic comedy in which he plays “a good-natured womanizer who befriends a remorseful serial cheater.”
“Love your work, man,” a stranger calls out as he passes us on the street. It’s the second such casual shout-out within a block’s distance. “Now, that’s not bothersome at all,” says Sudeikis. “I also get a lot of chin nods, which I like.”