Though most of Lil Rel Howery’s Get Out scenes take place when he’s alone (sometimes he’s with a dog), he is always in conversation. Rel’s TSA agent Rod is the voice of the audience, a vision of what it would be like if someone who talks back to a horror movies entered a horror movie himself. A week after Rel became the breakout star of the year’s biggest breakout hit, Vulture spoke with the comedian about seeing the movie in an audience, how his opinion of the TSA has changed, and the film’s alternate, very depressing, ending. (Warning: This post contains spoilers for Get Out.)
I read that you and Jordan first talked about the movie at a party a year before it shot. Do you remember what that conversation was like?
All he said is that it was a horror film. It was at a party, so it was a brief conversation, but I could tell that it was something that he might want me to go out for. Once my agent sent me the script, I was blown away by it. I’d never read anything like that before. I thought, This is crazy. This is gonna get made!?
What did you think about Rod when you first read the script?
Rod is the audience. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen that in a horror film before, where somebody actually right away is going “Damn!?” From the beginning, Rod was like, “I don’t think you should go.” That’s what actually attracted me to the character. He believes in what he was saying.
I saw the movie and there was a couple behind me who were talking through it, but it’s funny because they would say something, and then in the next scene you would show up and say almost the exact same thing. They loved it, and I loved it too. Have you seen the movie as a non-screening, with a regular audience? Have you noticed this yourself?
Yes, I’ve seen it nine times now, because I go with a different group of friends. I’ll probably go again today. I’ve never seen anything like it, where it felt like the audience was having a conversation with a character in a movie. They talk as if he can hear them. [Laughs.] He’s saying everything they’re saying.
I imagine you travel a lot as a stand-up. What was your opinion of TSA agents before making this movie?
My respect for TSA agents went up a notch. We look at ’em like, “You can’t bother me, I’m gettin’ on my flight. Stop wastin’ my time.” They’re doing it to protect us. Their job is to do everything they’re doing. We sometimes don’t respect other people’s jobs, because we’re caught up in our world. I feel honored to honor a TSA agent.
A lot of your scenes are you in the shot alone. What was Jordan’s directing like in those scenes?
This is the amazing thing about this cast. I wasn’t alone in those scenes. Daniel [Kaluuya] was off camera during those scenes and I’d be off camera when he’s talking to me. That scene with Allison [Williams] and me, she was there the whole time.
Jordan’s a great director because he lets the actors make their own choices. As long as you’re not too off script, he lets you do what you do. All the energy I brought to each scene was realistically how I think somebody would say things to their best friend if they were in trouble. Even in the last scene, because of the way my character is, I knew he couldn’t just say a nice thing. You know what I mean? He had to say the “I told you so” first.
What did you think of Rod?
Crazy enough, Rod is a lot like me. I’m that type of friend. I’m not gonna go steal an airport car and go save someone. That’s crazy. But I will do almost anything for any of my friends. It wasn’t too far off from who I am, which is why this was a dream role. I basically deliver everything in the voice I’d deliver it.
I feel like when people write comic relief in non-comedy, they’re just like, “Let’s make a stupid person that we can cut to.” Was it important it to make him seem smart while still being funny?
Yes. The biggest word Jordan used all the time was “real” — “We need Rod to be real.” There were other auditions. Some people were funny. There’s a difference between delivering real funny and just silly funny. You watched my special before, those are real people. I couldn’t even act it being silly. There are real people who talk like that. He needed somebody who could deliver real on the screen and then have it be funny. Because real people are funny.
If you’re real in a crazy situation, then that itself if going to be funny.
Yeah, common sense is funny, when you’re trying to tell somebody to get out of a house because they’re about to get murdered there. [Laughs.] It happens to me every day when my friends ask for advice. “If you’re not going to listen, why ask me!?” It turns out to be funny and they laugh, and I’m like, “No, I’m serious.”
You said Jordan gave you a lot of freedom, do you remember specific things you improvised?
Remember when I put [Williams] on hold and I’m like, “Oh shit!” I figure out that she’s lying, and then I say, “The TSA tingles.” That was just me riffin’. I’d go on a rant, then they yell cut. I just keep going because I might have forgotten the exact line. But one thing about my improv, I always know how to get right back to whatever I’m supposed to say. I go out and do crazy stuff and then go right back. Like with the Jeffrey Dahmer line. That’s not the exact thing that I’m supposed to say but it sounded good. Jordan loved that though. The energy felt right, so he kept it. I was surprised that that stayed in there. Now, when this DVD comes out, they get all types of outtakes. I cannot wait to see that.
That scene at the end when you show up in the cop car, the audience I was in nearly gave you a standing ovation. Did it feel special shooting it?
I can say this now because it’s actually going to be on the DVD: There are two endings.
Yes. The original was intended to be much sadder and realer. It’s almost too sad. Jordan’s genius was he was like, “Okay, this is a movie, we can’t end it like this.” It’s too real. The ending was very real. That’s all I can say. It’s going to be on the DVD as the alternate ending.
With the ending that is in the movie, I didn’t realize, Oh, the audience is going to go crazy until I went to do ADR. That moment, when all you see is the lights on their bodies and the sounds of the car, you know what’s about to happen. Every audience I’ve seen it in, was like, “Oh come on, man!” They don’t even notice I’m about to get out of the car because they’re all hurt already. They don’t even want to see the rest of the movie — like, “Where is the door, so I can get up out of here?” But then when I come out that car, the crowd just erupts. If anything, that’s a gratifying feeling, seeing them lose their minds, taking them on that ride in that last scene.
I read that your agent is getting a lot of scripts for you now, because people are seeing you differently. It’s famously hard for comedians to get out of a certain sort of box Hollywood might want to put them into.
Everybody makes a decision about where they want their career to go. If I really want something, I put a lot of effort into it. If I don’t want something, I won’t. And this script, as a comedic actor, this is what you dream of. It’s not a comedy, so the only person who’s going to be funny in this movie is me! I’m not sharing the funny with nobody. This is great. If you’re going to walk away thinking of anybody being hilarious it’s only going to be me! And to have Jordan Peele, who’s another performer so he’s not married to every little thing — he’s actually enjoying watching the performance. You’re actually doing it better than he thought. I hope that the next few roles that I get, and there’s a couple scripts I’m looking at now, even the stuff I’m going to develop on my own, I ain’t staying in line. I got a lot of range to me. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Do you have plans to fly anytime soon?
You know what’s funny? I’m going back and forth about flying this weekend, for no reason. Just to go to the airport. Shit, I’ll fly Friday and come back Saturday just to see what would happen at the airport. It would be funny if nothing happened — if nobody cares. It’s just, “Sir, could you please take off your shoes?”