NEW YORK — When
Her advice in person was a little more portentous.
"Brace yourself for what the next year will feel like," the actress said to Sudeikis as she sipped coffee with him at a downtown hotel last week. Aniston had retired her own signature persona,
"It's an empty, gaping wound that creeps up and hits you out of nowhere," she continued. "You suddenly don't have the structure and the family."
Sudeikis nodded. "But at least when you stopped, you guys shut down the show. I'll be down the street Tuesday night, which is the hardest night at 'SNL' — writing night — phantom-typing on my desk," he said with a hint of moroseness.
New beginnings are on the minds of both actors as they prepare for the release on Wednesday of their comedy
The film thrusts Sudeikis into a new light. As he prepares to leave the
Aniston is experiencing her own shift. After going against type with a supporting part as a sexually aggressive dentist in 2011's
"I'm always fighting the 'Is this like Rachel?' hanging over my head," Aniston said, citing filmmakers' unwillingness to allow her to break from girl-next-door roles. "I'm doing something like this movie to make things a little more interesting to myself but also to surprise people with elements of what I can do." (She tries once more in September with a role in the harder-edged Elmore Leonard adaptation "Life of Crime," which closes the
Sudeikis and Aniston offer contrasting comedic styles — he the Second City veteran and improv master, she the star of a long-running multicamera sitcom. Though that might seem like a wobbly combination, the pair said it proved a good mix on "Millers."
Sudeikis would draw on his background to line up a series of quick-hit improvs. He helped come up with a raunchy joke in a scene involving a Pictionary game (let's just say a skateboard, male genitalia and famed overseas military mission are involved) and sneakily subbed in the "Friends" theme song during a TLC musical cue to get a rise from Aniston. (The scene winds up in the end-credits.)
He also had to roll with it while
"Jason comes at comedy like a boxer," Offerman said. "He's always dancing around, sometimes throwing jabs, sometimes throwing hooks."
Aniston's comedy, meanwhile, is far more low-key — to some critics, even generic. But those who worked on this movie said she brings her own skill to balance Sudeikis' comedic rat-a-tat.
"There's something incredibly difficult about taking a written line and making it seem like the most natural thing in the world," Thurber said. "I don't know if Jen gets enough credit for that."
On-set skills were especially necessary on this movie. The "We're the Millers" script was one of those Hollywood projects that sat on the shelf for nearly a decade, with a revolving door of actors and directors unable to get it off the ground at
Still, the iterations took their toll. Though the movie has a number of laugh-out-loud set pieces, Aniston acknowledges they were "plugging up holes" right through production — not least because it isn't easy to capture the right tone in a movie about a pot dealer pretending to be a suburban husband so he can smuggle drugs.
"There was a lot of up-to-the-last-minute stuff, and then the clock ran out and we had to start shooting," Aniston said.
"So we did it on the set," Sudeikis added. On the first day of production, a surprise sandstorm blew in and caused a shutdown. "It was like, 'There's a flag on the field,'" Sudeikis said. "It allowed us to huddle up and say, 'OK, how are we going to do this?'"
Sudeikis, deadpan and a little shy in person, says he's found the process of promoting the movie while his "SNL" news has broken tricky, calling the experience, with a mixture of appreciation and caution, "like attending my own funeral."
Still, despite the challenges — plenty of "SNL" veterans don't go on to flourishing film careers, after all — he hopes this role marks the beginning of a new chapter.
It's a hope endorsed by his collaborators. "Jason has this ability on-screen to be really charming but just a little bit of a jerk, like
That good-guy veneer allows him to play a corrupting influence — a man who, as he has in recent film roles, goads people to kill their boss ("Horrible Bosses"), cheat on their wife (
It's the kind of edgy part he says he likes. But Sudeikis--incidentally on a new personal phase as well with his engagement to
"It would be nice to play someone who's using his charm for a little more good in the world, maybe a pet detective, like Ace Ventura," he said. "Or maybe Fletch. Investigative journalist. Who can argue with that?"