At Ed Helms’s day job on The Office, his character, Andy Bernard, has moved up the corporate ladder and, sadly, lost his anger issues. Thankfully, Helms’s latest movie role gives him plenty of chances to tap back into anger. In Jeff Who Lives At Home, the latest slacker odyssey from the mind-bogglingly productive Mark Duplass and his brother Jay (they directed Cyrus, The Puffy Chair, and the upcoming The Do-Deca Pentathlon), Helms plays Pat, the douche-y brother to Jason Segel’s couch-potato-dreamer Jeff. Jeff is on a search for his destiny, while Pat can’t even understand why his wife (Judy Greer) is upset he bought a Porsche they can’t afford. As Mark Duplass explains, Helms is great in these roles because you can tell he’s playing against type: “Ed Helms, despite what you see in The Office, is one of the sweetest, most sensitive and caring individuals that you will ever meet. And I love the idea of taking a sweetheart and letting him play an asshole, because there’s something always behind the eyes that hints at the kindness, so even when Ed is douching it up all over the place as Pat, there’s a little something there that says, ‘There’s something good inside of this guy.’” Helms talked to Vulture about Andy, Pat, The Hangover 3, and slackers like Jeff.
So, would you describe your character, Pat, as a dick or a douche?
[Laughs.] A douche-y dick. No, I’m not quite that judgmental towards Pat. I think he’s a damaged guy and he wants to be a better guy, but he’s not there yet. I don’t know — I find Pat endearing somehow.
What did you find particularly endearing about him?
That, really, he just wants desperately to be the better version of Pat. He just doesn’t have the tools. To me, that’s kind of poignant. He’s a really unpleasant person, but he also doesn’t like that about himself. He just is struggling really hard to be honest and to engage with the world around him in an honest way. He’s not good at it, but he gets better. And that’s the part that I like. He does put the work in, in the back half of the movie.
I feel like with Andy and Stu in The Hangover, you play the person who gets trampled on rather than who does the trampling. Did the Duplass brothers have to do anything to make you act more unpleasant, like ban you for lunch or take away your trailer?
Uh, no. They are the sweetest guys in the universe. [Laughs.] I’ve worked with people who are manipulative like that. I think it’s a really flawed notion that you have to be in a bad place to play a bad character, or a damaged character. It’s called acting for a reason.
Did you ever live in your mom’s basement?
Nope. I went off to college at 17 and right after college I moved here, to New York City, so I never lived at home as an adult.
But you’ve played in a band, which is kind of like the starter course to living at home.
I guess so, but that to me was born out of an exciting time in my twenties, just being here in New York, surviving on pizza and having some friends who loved to play music as well. [Laughs.] I think we all know people like Jeff, whether they’re in our own families or they are acquaintances. It’s a very universal reference point. But I’ve always been very goal-oriented. I would not describe myself as a slacker. I get anxious when I’m not busy.
The movie takes place over the course of a day, which means you and Jason Segel wear the same clothes throughout the movie. Were they incredibly smelly by the end?
[Laughs.] You’re not familiar with the production process, are you? I think it was probably the same tie, but the shoot lasted six weeks or something. There were a few different shirts and pants. But I didn’t change my underwear the entire production.
Good. So you’re Method that way.
[Laughs.] No, even the clothes that we did wear and tumble around — we had a fight scene where we rolled around in the grass and stuff — they wash it at the end of the day and add the grass stains with a Magic Marker.
Let’s talk about Andy. He’s now the boss. Do you think that was a “be careful what you wish for” situation, because he seems to have lost his rage issues.
[Chuckles.] Yeah, I really liked Andy’s internal struggle. Not just with his rage issues, but with his pettiness and how he could be influenced at times. I think he has such a big heart and wants to be a good guy but just gets in his own way a lot. And I feel like this season we got lost a little bit from that, and made him this cheerful, big-hearted simpleton. But I don’t think that has anything to do with whether or not he was made manager. It’s just how the character is drawn. But I have to say, I’m really excited. The season wraps up in some fun, unexpected ways. It’s a journey. You always have to just roll with it and try new things and see what works and what doesn’t.
When you say “we got lost,” did you not like him becoming nicer and big-hearted?
We lost some of the complexity that I think makes Andy a flawed and interesting guy. But that’s not to say — like I said, I think it’s all forward momentum. I shouldn’t use words like “lost” or say “we lost our way.” It’s more like we just went down different avenues and I’m just excited about how it’s rolling forward.
It does seem that Andy and Erin are going to become a romance again.
It does seem that way.
Are you looking forward to that?
Are you just looking for flagrant spoilers, or what?
I wanted to know how you feel about the on-and-offness of it all. Is another Hangover in the mix after this?
It’s not official, but I’m hopeful that happens. It’s certainly been talked about a lot. It’s just not a greenlit project at this point.
I just don’t know how much more humiliation Stu can endure. Haven’t they tapped him out at this point?
There’s no amount of abuse that Stu cannot handle. He gets the brunt of everything.
Going back to Jeff, have you ever followed a sign like Jeff does in his search for purpose?
No. You know, I’m not a big believer in signs. I think we’re all responsible for our own destinies and our own decisions. But I do love the mystery of it. I love the question: Is there fate? Do signs mean anything? Part of what I love about this movie is that it just sort of raises questions and it’s there if you want it to be, but it doesn’t necessarily say that, "Oh, yes, signs are definitely at work here." You know, coincidences happen and they’re hard to explain sometimes. I love that mystery. But I don’t necessarily subscribe to it.