HERO COMPLEX

'Deadpool's' 'comic relief,' T.J. Miller, didn't really get the joke at first

Every superhero needs a wing man, and when the team behind "Deadpool" was looking to cast the best friend of the foul-mouthed, fourth-wall-breaking antihero known as the "Merc with a Mouth" (Ryan Reynolds), comedian and actor T.J. Miller had just the right blend of improv chops and R-rated snark. 

With "Deadpool" set to hit theaters, we talked with Miller – who plays the blowhard tech entrepreneur Erlich Bachman on HBO's "Silicon Valley" – about the raunchy, ultraviolent and self-aware superhero movie and what it says about the state of the comic-book films as a whole.

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What was your way into this movie?

It was the classic thing happens with me in Hollywood. They tell me, "Hey, they want you to audition for 'Deadpool.' It’s a super-secret Marvel thing." I’m like, "Well, I don’t do Marvel stuff. I’m not, like, an action-hero guy. Even me doing 'Transformers' is a joke. I can’t keep ironically doing movies."

Then I get the sides and I’m like, "There’s nothing funny here. Is this character supposed to be funny?" And they’re like, "Um, yeah, it’s supposed to be funny. Trust us, it’s supposed to be the comic relief."

So I go in there and I add my own stuff and riff and improvise, and they were fans of what I do on "Silicon Valley." So that all sort of confluenced to get this offer.

So you weren't really familiar with Deadpool before this?

It wasn’t until ["Silicon Valley" co-star] Kumail Nanjiani came up to me the day the news was announced that I began to realize what this thing was. He goes, “Oh my God, you’re in 'Deadpool'! That’s my favorite comic book!” He’s a big, big nerd. He sort of explained to me that Deadpool is this big fourth-wall-breaking, meta, pop-culture spewing, chimichanga-eating antihero.

Then I began to understand it, and it became clear that, not only is this the perfect vehicle for Ryan Reynolds, it’s also sort of more on brand for me – or however you can make that less [obnoxious-sounding]. [laughs] I’m more interested in sort of nihilistic, R-rated, antihero stuff. I wrote a script called "The Nihilist." That kind of thing is right up my alley.

You're literally billed in the opening credits as "The Comic Relief" but you're actually sort of the straight man in a lot of your scenes with Ryan.

That's part of the big joke of it in some ways. It's a comedy, first of all, so we don't need any comic relief, and Ryan is the thrust of the comedy because Deadpool is very funny. At one point, I think we had "The Other Funny Guy," which I thought was a little more appropriate.

But The Comic Relief points to the fact that that's what these movies are like – there's always "the comic relief." In a regular superhero movie, I would be the funny lab guy. But in this one, I'm a person who's totally out for himself, doesn't care if his friends live or die. I always play these people who are a little sociopathic. [laughs]

In your scenes with Ryan, you guys trade jokes back and forth in a way that feels very loose and improvised. Was there a lot of ad libbing on the set?

I think by now if people hire me, they know I'm going to improvise. I'm an improviser by trade. I'm here to collaborate and elevate the material. If you're wanting to Aaron Sorkin it or David Mamet it with me, it's not quite going to work because what I do is much better if there's a lot of riffing and improvising.

Ryan is funny guy and a very good writer and the screenwriters Rhett [Reese] and Paul [Wernick] are very good writers. They were really into the idea of collaborating. They'd been working together on this thing for like five years already when I came into it. It was fascinating to join the process.

There's been a lot of talk about how "Deadpool" is a different kind of superhero movie – which is obviously a big part of the reason it was so difficult to get it made in the first place. Where do you see it fitting in in the context of comic-book movies in general?

My favorite thing about it is that it’s defining hopefully where comic-book movies and superhero movies are headed. "Batman vs Superman" is an attempt to do that too – it’s an attempt to talk more about the philosophy and all that stuff.

This is an origin story that's just different than others. We’re sort of sick of it – we saw "Ant-Man" and "Fantastic Four" and everyone is like, "We get it, Hollywood. This isn’t a factory where you’re just churning out two-reelers that we’ll watch over and over."

It’s not like there’s not good superhero movies. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is tongue-in-cheek and has a sense of humor about itself. But it’s nothing like "Deadpool." "Deadpool" is this super-bizarre thing.

The best thing about it is that it’s R-rated. Finally people can talk how they want to and it’s more like life. It’s something "Silicon Valley" gets a lot too: That’s how people talk. I think that’s why it can be such an important movie.

For me, this movie is a palate cleanser. It's hopefully a re-invigoration. It’s the birth of a new type of antisuperhero. It ideally will sort of remind people that this genre is here to stay – at least for right now – so we should be pushing boundaries with it and not just saying that we’re pushing boundaries.

Twitter: @joshrottenberg 

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