Part teen sex comedy, part anarchic road trip, Sex Drive has a punchy energy that makes it one of the funniest high-school movies since the original American Pie. A big part of its success is thanks to up-and-comer Clark Duke, who plays the wryest corner of a love triangle opposite Josh Zuckerman and Amanda Crew. Duke may still be best known for the hilarious Web series Clark and Michael (Cera, that is), but he seems poised to drink Jonah Hill’s milkshake, with upcoming roles opposite Eddie Murphy and Nicolas Cage. As part of a weekend built around his very first press junket, Duke sat down with Vulture to talk about pal Michael Cera, the state of comedy and film, and his new-found respect for Hyundai Sonatas.
Have you prepared for this by incrementally talking more and more about yourself over the last several days?
I’ve been trying to get more vain over the last couple weeks to get ready!
What was it like shooting Sex Drive on location in Hollywood, Florida? Were you surrounded by slow-driving retirees?
Oh, I just destroyed my rental car. I drove this thing so hard that, by the time I turned it in, it kind of smelled like transmission fluid, all the tires were bald, and the hand-break wouldn’t work. I’d never owned a car with a hand break — one that you can physically, Steve McQueen–style pull. Dude, I would be on four-lane roads, and since there’s not that much traffic there, for the most part, I would see a place where you’re supposed to make a left-hand turn, like a “lazy S,” and I got so good at it, I could just cut it, pull the hand break, and slide around through it. This shoot was like a driving academy for me. It was a Hyundai Sonata with a hand break, and I cannot recommend that car more highly for young race-car drivers.
It sounds like you’re all set for the next installment of The Fast and the Furious.
I hope so. If they would let me do my own driving, I might do one of those pieces of shit. [Laughs]
When did you first meet Michael Cera, and what was the genesis of Clark and Michael?
When I was in college, I moved out of the dorms and into this apartment complex, and Mike lived next door to me. We met randomly in the hallway and hit it off, probably because we were the only two people there under 50. We bonded over playing guitar and listening to Weezer. And the genesis of Clark and Michael, I guess, was like that episode of Seinfeld where George is like, “This is the show!” We’d been talking about writing something, so I said, “Well, we have no other frame of reference or life experience to write about, but we can write about two guys trying to write a script and eating at diners and stuff.”
What do you make of Judd Apatow’s cottage industry? There’s been a lot of critical ink spilled over his films representing a big-screen return of the schlubby guy, the beta male.
Judd’s most awesome contribution is relying a bit more on the actor with the writing and the improv, because a lot of the guys that act in Judd’s movies are writers. That whole spirit is not about big, broad set pieces. It’s all character stuff and awesome dialogue in settings and scenarios that people can relate to. Judd’s changed the whole game, for the better.
I assume, perhaps unfairly, just because you’ve made an impression in comedy thus far, that that’s where your main interests lie. Is that true?
The movies that I most enjoy going to watch are comedies. I don’t really have that thing where as a comedic actor I feel like I still have something to prove, like, “I’m still an actor!” That kind of seems to be a trap that people fall into that I never understood.
You won’t be going “full retard,” then.
Oh, I’ll go double retard! [Laughs] I’m not hung up finding up some part to prove my mettle to people. I don’t care that much if anybody thinks I’m a great dramatic actor. Because comedy’s harder. It’s much harder. If you have good timing, it’s worth a lot more than being able to cry.
What do you have lined up next?
I shot this movie with Eddie Murphy called A Thousand Words that will be out in April or May, and then I’m leaving Tuesday to start this other movie called Kick-Ass, a superhero thing by the guy who wrote the comic for Wanted.
And are you imbued with superpowers?
No, only my good looks and easy charm. [Pause] That’s going to read so well! It’s going to read as dead serious.