Nick Swardson’s Buck-Wild Ride
NICK SWARDSON (LEFT) WITH CHRISTINA RICCI IN BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR. PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA TRISTAR
A writer, comedian, and quintessential scene-stealer, Nick Swardson has gradually become one of Hollywood’s favorite familiar faces. An actor with the innate ability to make even the most anomalous characters endearing (cue the roller-skating prostitute Terry Bernardino, Swardson’s role on the impressively all-improv Reno 911), Nick started doing stand-up at the ripe age of 18, quickly finding himself a regular at New York comic hotspots like Caroline’s and Luna Lounge. The Minnesota native landed some late-night TV gigs, and after four more years of grunt work, became the youngest person ever to have a Comedy Central special. Nick went on to co-write a number of comedy cult favorites, including the Jamie Kennedy-starring Malibu’s Most Wanted and the underrated Grandma’s Boy. Swardson now has his own TV show on Comedy Central, Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time, in which the talent’s array of outlandish creations (including the infamous “Gay Robot,” a character first premiered on Adam Sandler’s Shh…Don’t Tell comedy EP) co-exist.
But after years as the comedy industry’s best supporting player, Swardson began the transition to full-fledged leading man. This year, he earned a well-deserved role in 30 Minutes or Less, where he plays a dim-witted explosives “expert” who imperils the lives of good guys Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg. At the end of the week, Swardson will hit the big screen as the star of Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star, where he plays an unlikely adult-film luminary opposite Christina Ricci. We spoke with Nick about his career’s evolution, working with Adam Sandler, and the actor’s required readiness to let it all hang out.
ALEX CHAPMAN: Hey Nick, glad to be talking to you. Congrats on Bucky Larson; I just watched the trailer, and it had me cracking up.
NICK SWARDSON: Thanks, man. Did you watch the red-band?
CHAPMAN: No, I just YouTubed the trailer and watched that.
SWARDSON: Yeah, just google “Bucky Larson Red Band.” The other one’s good, but we had to set up so much story that it doesn’t look like that much. But when you see the red-band, you’ll be like, “Oh, now I get it—this movie’s fucking nuts.” The movie’s fucking nuts, dude.
CHAPMAN: Ok, I’ll definitely watch that right after the interview. But funny enough, earlier this week I was watching Almost Famous, which I didn’t realize you are in, as a crazed David Bowie fan. It’s only a few seconds, but you get a close-up in a Cameron Crowe film, which is more than I can say. Can you tell me a little about that role and how it came to be?
SWARDSON: That was my first thing I’d ever really done. My scene actually made the trailer, which was kinda tough, because people were like “Oh my god, you’re in this movie,” when the only scene I was in was of me screaming for three seconds. But I really owe that movie a lot. I had moved to LA, I didn’t know anybody, and I was really trying to just make it. I kept getting rejected over and over again for so much stuff, and Cameron Crowe was like “You’re hilarious! What the fuck? I don’t care how you’re in this movie, but you just have to be in this movie.” That was so validating for me as an actor and a comedian—I idolized Cameron Crowe, he’s a genius. It kinda validated the next couple years for me. Like, any time I got rejected after that, I’d be like “Fuck you, Cameron Crowe thinks I’m funny. Sorry I’m not right for your shitty pilot!” It helped me mentally adapt.
CHAPMAN: I didn’t realize how directly involved he was in getting you in the movie.
SWARDSON: Oh yeah, I met with him like four times—it was nuts. And now we’re friends, which is so cool. He’s so happy for me.
CHAPMAN: I also wanted to ask you about working with Adam Sandler. When my friends and I were at summer camp, we would listen to Shhh… Don’t Tell every night after the counselors went to sleep, and just laugh ourselves to tears.
SWARDSON: I grew up on his albums, and I loved them so much. That was when we first started working together—he told me he was doing his fifth studio album, and that if I could think of anything or write anything [that I should tell him]. I used to do that voice around the office, and everybody would laugh. I wrote up a sketch and handed it to Adam—he got it right away. It’s funny, because I got a lot of shit for it from the gay community, but the whole point of Gay Robot is that he’s accepted by his friends. In that sketch, he’s being a little aggressive, but it’s not meant to offend in any way. I mean… it’s a fucking gay robot—it’s not that controversial.
CHAPMAN: There’s also Terry, who is the gay, roller-skating prostitute you play on Reno 911. You seriously commit to that role. How’d you get involved in that show?
SWARDSON: I was friends with the guys who created the show—I knew them from doing stand-up in New York. They called me up and were like “Hey, we have this show, it’s probably going to get cancelled right away, but we ‘re playing cops and it’s going to be all improvised. Do you have any criminals you would wanna play?” I’d just gone to some party in Hollywood and gotten free roller skates. And I was like, “What if I’m a male prostitute, but I’m on roller skates?” And they were like “Okay, that’s funny.” Then I said “But what if I’m gay? Like… really gay, but when you question me about it, I’m not—like I always say I have a girlfriend, but I’m so fucking gay. Like, I’m obviously blowing guys in the bathroom.” They thought it was hilarious, and I had no problem getting into it. The key to comedy is commitment—if you’re afraid, you shouldn’t be a comedian. I have no problem doing gay stuff, I really don’t care. I did I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, and Ving Rhames and I got married in the movie! We had a wedding and I had to kiss him. My friends are like, “I can’t believe you had to fucking do that!” But I’m like, “Well, I can – I’m an actor, that’s my fucking job!” That’s what I was hired to do—I’m hired to marry this guy, and I’m going to marry the fucking shit out of him.
CHAPMAN: And do you think that full-out mentality, especially when playing Terry, helped lead into having your own show on Comedy Central?
SWARDSON: I’ve had such a relationship with Comedy Central for so long, and I think Reno definitely helped. I’ve done a bunch of viral clips on my own that I think contributed as well. Pretend Time is a passion project—I love sketch comedy so much, and I really wanted to do something weird. We just finished the second season—it’s fucking insane, definitely one of the craziest things I’ve done or been a part of.
CHAPMAN: Let’s talk about 30 Minutes Or Less. The billboards for it were all around New York, and it seems like this is the first film where you are a draw straight out of the gate. It’s very clear you have one of the leading roles.
SWARDSON: I could not be more proud of the movie. My role was really great—it’s a layered part, and it’s great to be a part of the marketing. I’ve been in the business 16 years, and at some point I wanted to make that jump, and I was ready to do it. At this point, there’s nothing you can throw at me that I don’t feel I could handle. You could put me in a movie with Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Betty White and I wouldn’t freak out. The director was a really good friend of mine, and I’ve known him forever—I was in the first thing he’d ever shot, which was a short film. So for us to have both come this far, and then be working together—it was a really cool moment.
CHAPMAN: That’s awesome. And right on the heels of that movie is Bucky Larson, where you are without a doubt playing the main role. Christina Ricci’s in it, Jimmy Fallon’s in it—this definitely looks like your first big, starring movie project.
SWARDSON: Bucky Larson is unlike anything that’s ever been made, in the best way. It was an idea that Adam Sandler had—a really naïve guy who finds out his parents used to be porn stars. And where everyone else would be horrified finding this out, he is totally psyched. He thinks it’s his destiny to follow in their footsteps. So this guy who’s never even kissed a girl or had an orgasm is going to Hollywood to be a porn star. There’s great actors—Christina Ricci, Stephen Dorff as the bad-guy porn star, Don Jonson, Kevin Nealon—it’s a great cast surrounding this character. We’re really proud of it. And going back to commitment, I committed to this dude hard. For the test audiences, it was a little weird to adjust to how I look and everything, but after a while you don’t even notice.
CHAPMAN: That seems like a good, human reaction to the character. You initially judge him by his looks and quirks, and then you warm up to him.
SWARDSON: It’s a really sweet story. The funny thing is, when we tested the movie, it really tested high with girls. The story is really sweet and cool. Even though it’s based in the porn world, Adam and I wrote the script making sure that it wasn’t just gross. It’s a character-based movie.
CHAPMAN: Well, obviously you have a lot going on as it is, but is there anything else in the pipeline?
SWARDSON: I just got the lead in this indie comedy. I have two scripts over at Sandler’s company. Talking to a lot of people about a lot of stuff, and just figuring out the next move.
CHAPMAN: Has Adam given you any advice about this step in your career?
SWARDSON: Adam’s like his own entity—he lives in a whole different universe. It’s hard to give someone advice when you’re an institution. I don’t really put a lot of pressure on it—I’m just open to doing stuff that’s challenging. I would eventually like to write and star in my own stuff. I think I have a good comedic sense, so I’d like to follow that road. I don’t know what the future holds, but whatever I do, I’ll commit.
BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR IS OUT IN THEATERS FRIDAY.