Talking to Ken Marino About ‘Bad Milo!’, ‘Eastbound & Down’, and Playing Both Nice Guys and Jerks
If there’s one actor who possesses the sheer gravitas to play a man plagued by a murderous ass demon, that actor is Ken Marino. As one of the many talents to spring from the MTV sketch group The State, Marino has starred in a number of classics that have become required viewing for any modern comedy fan: Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten, Party Down, Childrens Hospital, and, most recently, the horror-comedy destined for cult status, Bad Milo! Executive produced by the Duplass brothers and featuring Marino as a downtrodden nice guy whose stress at work and at home physically manifests itself as a bloodthirsty butt monster, Bad Milo! harkens back to the slapstick creature features of the ’80s and ’90s, and mixes equal parts laughs, gore, and heartwarming ruminations on family and fatherhood.
I recently chatted with Ken on the phone about the surprisingly grounded themes of Bad Milo!, his work on the Emmy-nominated Childrens Hospital and Burning Love, his recent roles on Eastbound & Down and Axe Cop and, inevitably, the oft-rumored Party Down revival.
Hey Ken, how are you?
This is Jeremy.
Jeremy from what?!
I’m sorry, you’re the last interview. I’m really, really drunk at this point.
You are? Okay, so this is gonna be a good one then?
[Laughs] No, it’ll be a train wreck.
[Laughs] Well okay, that’s fantastic then. So –
[Writer’s note: At this point, whether due to bad reception or Ken Marino’s awesome powers of premonition, the call dropped. I then had to wait for Ken to call me back.]
I wasn’t kidding when I said it was gonna be a train wreck!
Yeah, apparently you were very serious about that!
It really turned out to be a train wreck.
[Laughs] All right, well let’s try to bounce back. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.
Thank you for giving a shit!
No problem! My first question is about your new movie, Bad Milo. There’s a lot of your character having a demon crawl in and out of his ass in this movie. Did you feel like that was breaking new territory for you as an actor?
It’s breaking a specific part of territory, yeah. My ass.
Yeah. It was a fun part, because it was only the sixth ass demon movie I got to do this year.
[Laughs] Those are a big seller for you guys?
[Laughs] There’s a huge market for ass demon movies.
Despite being about a murderous ass demon, the movie actually explores themes of fatherhood and the fears associated with having a child. Did you expect the movie to have any sort of thematic resonance when it was pitched to you?
Well, I was hoping it would. Because otherwise I — In reading it, I recognized that those themes were there, and I was hoping that [director] Jacob [Vaughan] and Mark [Duplass] and those guys would, you know, kind of explore those themes in a real way. And you know, when you’re doing something with the Duplass guys, you know that they’re gonna kind of try to find the emotional thread of characters or through lines of characters in a much more real way than possibly other people working on ass demon movies. And so, the trick is, I wouldn’t have done the movie if it was just a monster coming out of my ass.
As somebody with children, would you say that the film depicts the anxiety of being a first time father accurately, as manifested by a killer butt monster?
You know, I think Duncan, the character I play, was dealing with a lot more than just the anxiety of having a first child. I certainly didn’t relate to the anxiety of having a kid like Duncan did, but I can relate to a lot of the other stresses in his life, you know, in a much more direct way. But I know that there are a lot of people who—a lot of fathers, first time, are not sure or are questioning if it’s the right time, can they do it, is it something they can handle? For me, I don’t know why, but when we were having our first child, it was only an exciting moment. Until, of course, my wife gave birth to my child out her butt.
[Laughs] So it kind of runs in the family for you as well?
Well, that’s what Jacob based it on. My first child’s birth. [Laughs] It’s the script of my first child’s birth.
The horror comedy genre is one that produces a lot of really indelible of cult films. Were you a fan of horror comedy movies before doing Bad Milo?
Very much so. Joe Lo Truglio – a buddy of mine from The State – and I, in our twenties, would make a habit of going to the video store – yes, there was a video store back in our twenties – and renting horror movies and watching them ’til all hours of the night. And so we would watch really kind of weird, obscure, you know, odd horror movies. You know, Luther the Geek and Pumpkinhead and Basket Case and Dead Alive and just the kind of shit that we would watch because we just enjoyed that genre. And you know, the practical use of puppets or the practical use of monsters as opposed to CGI monsters was something that was very appealing to me when I read the script and when I talked to Jacob and Mark about doing the project.
Yeah, that’s unfortunately something people are moving away from, but it was nice to see Bad Milo! use traditional puppetry, which feels like a lot more real than digital effects.
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s funny, you know, I’ve been talking to a lot of people today about this. What’s nice about it is that you actually get to react and see the puppeteers — the guys who are controlling the character Milo — react in real ways in a scene. So if I raised my voice or yell or if I say, “Come here,” you know, he’s really reacting, like a real acting partner. Like somebody who is really in a scene. And I think that’s important for a movie like this.
Well, one of the things the movie does really well with the monster is strike that perfect balance of adorable and grotesque. Did you start to feel any affection for the Milo puppet as you were filming?
I felt affection for it the whole way through. I mean, I don’t know if it was because the actor in me or whatever was connecting to this thing because it was supposed to be a part of me, or just a fan of the puppet, and a testament to the guys who made the creature, you know, being so cute that every day I’d be like, “Oh, Milo!” You know, like seeing a cute dog or something. It was easy to feel affection towards that creature. ‘Cause he didn’t really smell like shit and when you saw him, you forgot that he was like from your intestines. He just was like a cute little weird wrinkly puppet.
You play a nice guy in Bad Milo, but a lot of your roles, you’re usually a little smug, a little arrogant. Like most recently, in In A World…, you play the big shot voiceover artist, Gustav. What interests you about those kind of big, brash roles?
You know, I don’t know. I mean, I enjoy those types of parts. In the last four or five years, those have been the ones that I just have been playing and have seen some success or at least people have seen, and when you do a part, and maybe it’s seen by some people, you sometimes get that same type of part offered to you somewhere else, and that’s kind of what happened. I love playing those types of characters. Certainly, in a weird way, those characters come easy to me. Like, it’s not that I can relate to them, but I have a take on those characters, and I like playing them. But you know it’s nice to, like in Bad Milo, to not have to be the asshole. Here’s the thing about playing the asshole or the arrogant guy is you can be unapologetic and so it’s easy to kind of say something outlandish or provocative or just straight out rude and get a laugh because the show or whatever the project you’re doing is not hanging on you being the relatable guy. You’re just there to kind of be rude. And so it’s nice to have the opportunity to play the part I played in Milo, which is more of a put-upon everyman.
You’ve been involved with a lot of projects that are very non-traditional in terms of format. You’ve been on web series like Childrens Hospital and Burning Love, and your film, The Ten, was structured as an anthology. Is it your background in sketch comedy that draws you to those kinds of shows and movies?
Well, I think what draws me to that is that The State was my kind of comedy college and my comedy college friends have all gone on to make other things since college, and so those projects that you’re talking about either involved other State members or just involved the mentality that I had coming out of The State. You know what I mean?
So, Childrens Hospital is a David Wain project. And The Ten, David and I wrote that together as kind of an experiment, to see if we could just kind of write a sketch movie together in a real short amount of time. And Burning Love was an idea that my wife had, and originally it was just kind of to see if we can do a short for a web series, or not even a web series, just a short for like a comedy web channel. And then, upon further investigation of the script, I was like why don’t we do a – investigation of the script, what the fuck does that mean? [Laughs] We were like, “Oh, let’s do a series!” It’s just the people who I’m surrounded with a lot of the time defines or helps make the decision of what parts I’m taking on on what projects. Does that make sense?
Yeah, obviously you’re influenced by your comedy college, so that kind of reflects in your recent projects.
You’re set to play Kenny Powers’s foil in the upcoming season of Eastbound & Down. Are you allowed to tell us anything about your character or how you got involved with that show?
I got involved, they gave me a call and I read for a part and they offered it to me and I was thrilled because I think that show’s amazing and I think Danny McBride is one of the best out there right now. So I got on that show as a fan. And then I got to play a part that was a real fun part. We just wrapped and we just finished the season. It’s a fun character, and I think the season’s gonna be awesome. And I don’t think I should tell you much about it. I will say this, because I think this is out there: This takes place a couple years after last season, and I am a sports radio talk show host.
With the recent success of revivals like the Veronica Mars Kickstarter and the fourth season of Arrested Development, do you feel like you’ll be answering questions about a Party Down movie for many more years to come?
Yeah, I think so. What’s very flattering is that there’s a lot of fans of Party Down who really would like to see that, it seems. And that’s super flattering. My answer – because I’ve gotten this question a number of times throughout the years – is everybody behind the camera and everybody in front of the camera, all the actors, would love to work together because it was a magical experience. Whether or not it happens is outside of my control. I don’t know. I hope it happens.
I’ve read an interview where you described Axe Cop as one of your dream projects, so I was wondering if your role as Flute Cop is everything you dreamed it would be?
You know, I love it. I really do. Axe Cop was a graphic novel that I just felt was the best thing out there. I just thought it was inspired and pure and real and the fact that a five-year-old was telling the story and I love the story that his older brother was illustrating it. I just love everything about Axe Cop. And then, Axe Cop himself, the characters were phenomenal and inspired and so when I heard that [Fox ADHD head] Nick Weidenfeld was doing a series, I actually begged him to be part of it. So, I’m thrilled to be Flute Cop.
Do you have any other projects currently in the works?
Well, Eastbound & Down is coming out. Axe Cop. There’s Childrens Hospital, Burning Love seasons 2 and 3 are going to E! this fall. Burning Love is nominated for an Emmy this year, which is kind of cool. It’s up against Childrens Hospital, which is kind of weird.
So you have twice the chance to win?
Well, or we’ll just cancel each other out, which would suck. And then my wife and I just sold a show to Fox, so we’re creating that right now. That’s based on a husband and wife starting a brewery together, and we’re a husband and wife team working together and living together and having a family together. It’s inspired by my old friend Sam Calagione, who created the brewery Dogfish Head. He’s one of my dear friends, one of my oldest friends, so we’re using his early years of starting a brewery as inspiration.
Okay, that sounds great. And those were all the questions I had today.
All right, very good! I’m gonna go to the bathroom.
Okay, great. I’ve already seen a lot of that in Bad Milo, so I’m looking forward to that one too.
I’m gonna drop a Milo.
Bad Milo! is currently available on demand. It hits theaters October 4th.
Jeremy Popkin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia. His work has been featured on Ology, Nerve, and Destructoid.