Best known as Freaks and Geeks’ nerdy Bill Haverchuck, and Seth Rogen’s bearded roommate in Knocked Up, Martin Starr has been quietly improving the quality of countless movies and TV shows this past decade, though mainly in small roles. But no more! He’s currently featured in two big projects: In Party Down, he plays Roman, a screenwriter moonlighting as a caterer, and in this weekend’s Adventureland — the new film from Superbad director Greg Motolla — he’s Joel, the disgruntled amusement-park employee. Starr spoke with Vulture recently about his own worst-ever job and the screenplay he’s writing.
In Adventureland and Party Down, you play characters with crappy service jobs. Have you ever worked one of those yourself?
No. I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I worked one day as a barista when I was 22 or 23. I kind of wanted to get a regular job, and I tried it for a day and the guy didn’t like me. Partly because I had a beard and partly because he wanted to hire illegals so he could pay them under the table. I was not familiar at all with the workings of coffee machines and espresso machines, but I was a decent learner, and by the end of the day, I could have made anything they asked me to. But, that wasn’t sufficient for him.
To make a generalization, many of the characters you play are hyper-intelligent, truth-telling pessimists. Is that something you personally identify with?
No, I consider myself ignorant and not very intelligent. [Laughs.] I feel like there are things I can relate to in every character. But I feel like when you read a script, you don’t get to see the definition behind someone, you just get to read what the person goes through and find a place to come from to make it real.
We hear you’re writing a screenplay — can you tell us about it?
I’d rather finish it first, I think. I’m about halfway through it …. Actually, I can tell a little bit. My friend Charlene Yi came to me, and she expressed that she had gone to some party, like some Hollywood-type party, and she and her boyfriend [Michael Cera] didn’t feel very comfortable there. And she wondered, “Why didn’t we hang out, just the two of us, and grab some food like we wanted to?” And I feel like that began the foundation for the moral of the story we’re writing — doing things with people that you want to spend your time with anyway, as opposed to wasting time with the random superficialities of life. I don’t know if that’s a word: superficialities. If it’s not, I really complicated it up. Feel free to publish non-words. You can quote me on that.
Will this be a starring vehicle for you?
Uh, yes, it would be. Who knows what happens. It’d be amazing to get to make it like that. I’ll keep an open mind.
Your character in Adventureland drops references to Plato, Virgil, and Herman Melville. Did you read any books to prepare for the role?
Uh, I read a little bit, I didn’t actually finish any of the books, if that answers your question. But I definitely got a field for these writers, I don’t think I’d naturally gravitate towards them, but I found an appreciation for them.
You shot the movie in a real-life amusement park. What was that like?
Yeah, it’s call Kennywood. It’s a cool place that hadn’t changed much since the eighties. We also had problems because — you feel horrible afterwards, but some of the background extras were on roller coasters, and there was one woman who puked, and we were just like, “Oh shit — here we are, walking around, talking, torturing people.” If the roller coasters were in a shot, then you’d have to keep that roller coaster going. And sometimes you’d have to have someone puke.