The Lost Roles Interview with Rob Huebel

Today’s Lost Roles is brought to you by Childrens Hospital, which has its season premiere on Adult Swim tonight at midnight. If you’re cool, you’ll watch it.

Lost Roles is a weekly column exploring “what might have been” in movie and TV comedy as we take a different actor, writer, or comedian each week and examine the parts they turned down, wanted but didn’t get, and the projects that fell apart altogether. This week, I interviewed Rob Huebel, star of beloved comedy shows like Human Giant and Childrens Hospital (currently kicking off its fourth season) and movies like The Descendants and I Love You, Man. Huebel was nice enough to chat about some of the parts he’s missed out on, including roles in Modern Family, Saturday Night Live, and shockingly, Mad Men:

Piranha 3D (2010)

I went in, and they were taking it very seriously. They had decided to reboot this thing. I was auditioning for the part that Jerry O’Connell got. He was the Girls Gone Wild guy, and [Paul] Scheer ended up playing the sidekick, the videographer or whatever. I went in there and was pretty talky about it, kind of shitting on it a little bit. Like, “Oh this is really hilarious that you guys are doing this. I think it’s gonna be really fuckin’ hilarious, guys. I can’t wait.” And they just all looked up super serious, like “What do you mean? Why would this be hilarious? This is a horror movie. It’s gonna be terrifying.” And I was like, “Oh oh oh oh yeah yeah yeah. I’m so sorry. Yeah, absolutely. It’s gonna be really scary.”

Then, I think I did an audition, which was pretty much just me behaving like Joe Francis, just yelling at girls to flash their tits and stuff. And they were not having it. I think I had already insulted them and shot myself down. That one didn’t work out.

That’s pretty strange. I feel like that movie is definitely intended to be comedic.

I think you’re right. Either they didn’t realize that it was gonna play that way and that people would respond to it like it’s kind of a kitschy movie, or maybe they were just in a bad mood that day and they were not gonna have any of my bullshit. I dunno. Jerry [O’Connell] looks better in a Speedo anyway, so it’s fair that he got that.

The Grey (2011)

I went in for that. I think I’ve talked a lot about that…It’s one of my favorite audition stories because it was such a dumb audition. It was literally me, on the ground, getting ripped apart by a pack of wolves, just screaming and screaming and screaming for like five minutes. But I didn’t get that one. I don’t know what could have gone wrong on that one. I feel like I did my best to portray the agony [of] getting devoured by wolves, but they didn’t go for that one either. More than anything, I would have just loved to have been in the movie with Liam Neeson because Taken is like my favorite movie ever, and I have a lot of questions about the movie. There’s a new Taken coming out, where I think his wife gets taken this time and my question is, “Why do all the women in his life keep getting taken?” But I have a lot of questions about the whole franchise. So, that’s why I wanted to do The Grey, but that didn’t work out.

I’m sorry.

Yeah, it was a bummer. That was a bigger bummer than Piranha 3D because The Grey, I think I would have been really great in that. I think that’s a cool way to die. A dude getting ripped apart by wolves is pretty cool.

It seems like such an absurd thing to do to just have to act like you’re being torn apart by wolves in this audition room.

Yeah, I don’t even think I had any lines. I’m sure I had a couple lines that lead up to it, so it was probably like, “That’s a nice fire. Really nice fire, thanks for building it, Steve. Ooh yeah. Nice to be around the fire, guys. Too bad our plane crashed. Wait, I think I hear something. Oh fuck! Oh, I definitely hear something. Awwwww! Oh God! Aahh Jesus!” Something like that.

I can’t believe you didn’t get it.

I can’t believe I didn’t get it. What I just did for you right now on the phone was way better than what I did on the audition.

Oh wow. Well, you should have auditioned by phone then.

I know. I should do all phone auditions.

U.S.S. Alabama (failed 2010 FX pilot)

I did a pilot with Tom Lennon and Ben Garant for FX, called U.S.S. Alabama, which was a funny Star Trek, basically… There’s a lot of cool funny people in that. Chris Tallman, Alex Fernie, Eddie Izzard… My bit in that was that I was this sniper. They were on a diplomatic mission, going around the galaxy to spread peace, but I think the gist of it was their ship looked like a warship so they just kept starting all these fights with all these other alien cultures. So, everywhere they went, they would just cause chaos and mayhem, but accidentally because they were diplomats.

My part, even in the pilot, I was this super-badass sniper guy that wore muscle T-shirts and a green beret-type beret but mine was black and pretty tight pants. That was the main reason I wanted that show to go is that I had a pretty cool outfit… My bit was that I get killed in the first five minutes of the show. Like the whole first five minutes is building me up, like how psyched they are to have me on the trip. I’m gonna protect them because I’m such a badass that I had multiple kills in so many wars. It’s all about how psyched they are about me, and I get fuckin’ obliterated in the first five minutes. That was my part in the pilot. The idea was that if the show went, they could travel back in time. I could still be in more episodes if they wanted me to ‘cause they could travel back in time before I was killed. They could find like a twin of me. You know, it’s sci-fi, so they could figure out a way to have me in it if they wanted me to. They loved the idea of building me up as this Rambo-type guy that just gets cut down in the first couple minutes of the show and then they didn’t know what to do.

Mad Men (2007)

I auditioned to be Don Draper in Mad Men. That was one that really broke my heart because, when I was growing up, I always wanted to work in advertising. Like I just thought that that would be the coolest, most fun job. Even when I first moved to New York, I kinda wanted to work in advertising still, and I never did. Anyway, when I found out about that show, I was like, “Oh man, I gotta get this show.” It’s not a comedy at all, but I was like, “All right. I can do a drama. I’ll drama it up. I’ll wear suits.” I remember I was super-prepared for the audition. Some comedy auditions, you go into it and think, if it’s a comedy, “Well, I’ll improvise and stuff. Maybe come up with a couple of my own jokes and throw those in.” But for a drama, you don’t really do that. You know, someone took a lot of time to write that, and they’re very serious about it.

So, I went in super prepared, and Don Draper gives this whole big monologue about what advertising really is, what it really is that they’re doing. And it was really great. It was a really cool speech, where you’re kind of like, “Fuck yeah, America! Yes! Let’s go buy some stuff.” And I got all dressed up and wore a suit and went in. And I did it, and I remember whoever it was auditioning me, I don’t think Matt Weiner was there, I don’t remember. Whoever was casting it was like “All right!” They were really into it, and they had me do it a couple times. And I left there, thinking that I really nailed it. I was really like, “Look out! Here comes Don Draper!” And then I never heard anything, never heard anything, never heard anything. And I thought, ‘Well, I’m sure that show got cancelled. Never even got off the ground. Bunch of dicks, they should have cast me. Serves them right.’ Then, of course, it came on with Jon Hamm, and I was like, “Oh! Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. He’s way better. Yeah, he should do that.” Because he’s so great in it. He really is that guy. I’m not sure that I could have — he’s so handsome. I think I would have been too intimidated to be married to January Jones. I don’t know that I could have pulled it off. I would have just been walking around with a boner the whole time when January Jones was onset. I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

Yeah, I don’t know if that show would have been as popular if Don Draper had a boner the entire time.

Yeah, it seems like it would have been less popular if every time they cut to Don Draper, he has a huge boner. He has a 1960s boner.

Saturday Night Live (circa 2004)

I auditioned for SNL a couple times. I didn’t get it but got called back. The way they do that is they put together a list of people that they want to audition, and they have them all do a show at some comedy club. It’s usually in New York when they do it. You go and do a few characters of your own and a few impressions, if you wanna do impressions, or you can do stand-up if you wanted to do that. But you do it at this comedy club somewhere in New York, and they all come and they sit in the back and they show up late and they watch it and they don’t laugh and you feel horrible. But if you do okay, you get called back and you go into 30 Rock and you do it on their stage at the real show. And they tape it, there’s a camera crew there. So you come out where the host does the monologue on SNL, and you do your audition right there. You’ve probably seen it, like on DVDs with Will Ferrell or whatever. I auditioned twice, one year I got to go in and do that at 30 Rock, but they really ice you out. They try to make it as scary as possible because it’s a live show, and in real life, I’m sure it is terrifying and things do go wrong, so they want you to be prepared.

When you get there, they tell you to get there at noon and they have you wait around in these dressing rooms for hours. You don’t even audition until 6 o’ clock that night or something. Lorne Michaels doesn’t even show up until like 7 o’clock. So, you’re sitting there and waiting and waiting and waiting and you just get all freaked out. And when you do your audition at that comedy club the night before, they let you do 10 minutes of characters and impressions, whatever you want. Then, when you go in to do your audition at SNL, they make you wait around, and then they tell you at the last minute, “Oh, you only have five minutes” So you have to cut half of your stuff. They do that to kind of freak you out. I can’t remember everything that I was doing. I remember a couple of my impressions. I did Anderson Cooper. I did Ted Nugent. I’d have to think. Certainly, I was not rewriting comedy history with my audition. I felt good about it, but I don’t think that I was on par with like Will Ferrell or someone like that.

So, I went in and did it. And they sit in the back. At that time, Tina Fey was still the head writer. I was friends with Tina. I think Tina’s great, but I think they have this thing that they do where they don’t laugh at anything. So, you go in and you do [a] few minutes. It’s just a wall of silence, just no laughs at all. Nothing. No matter what. No matter who you are because everyone says this. Then, as I was leaving, I was like, “Bye, Tina.” She was like, “Bye, Rob.”

It’s the most intimidating thing. I know Rob Riggle auditioned the same year, and he got it, and I was happy for him, but it didn’t work out for me.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

I auditioned to play Abe Lincoln in Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That was like a year ago. I hadn’t read the books or anything, so I didn’t really know what it was exactly. I mean, I knew that it was probably a cool vampire-y thing, but sometimes when I get auditions, I assume they’re looking for a funny version of it, and they’re really not. With a movie like that, they don’t want Abe Lincoln to be like Smartass Abe Lincoln. But I think I went in to that audition thinking they want Comedy Abe Lincoln, so I’m sure there’s a tape somewhere that exists of me doing a pretty shitty Abe Lincoln, trying to get laughs from the director of the movie, rather than like being some badass vampire murderer.

So, that didn’t work out, but I’m glad that didn’t work out because I just found out that it’s not historically accurate. None of that is true. We were never attacked by vampires. I thought that part of it was a documentary and they had actual footage and some of it was real, but as it turns out, vampires are not real. I didn’t know that. So, I’m glad I didn’t get it because I don’t want to lie to people about history.

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

I went in for that one, and I was auditioning, my character was called “Pasty-Faced Hacker.” I think in the script, it was just, “Hacker,” but when they described my character, it was like “a nerdy, pasty-faced guy.” I was kind of pissed at my agent for sending me on that in the first place. I went in to audition for it, and it was just classic computer hacker guy who’s in a van somewhere outside of a building. It was a really tense conversation between me and Bruce Willis’s character John McClane. So, John McClane is like, “Can you hack it?” And I’m like typing on my keyboard, “Hold on just a second. Oh, there’s a firewall.” He’s like, “Can you get past the firewall?” “Give me just a second. A few more keystrokes, John. A couple more keystrokes.” And then, in the middle of my audition, the chair I was sitting on – it was like an old wooden chair – it just shattered and broke, and I fell down on the floor backwards. You know, my chair just exploded. And the casting director started laughing so hard, and everyone in the room was laughing.

And I didn’t know what to do, so I just got up and I like kinda kept going. Kept hacking. Instead of like sitting down, I got up and I just kept hacking on my computer, and I improvised this line, “Damn it, they rigged my chair to blow. This whole building is gonna blow!” Something like that, and I didn’t get that part, I think because the chair fucked me over. But the cool thing was, they let me watch the footage of my audition. They never let you do that. The casting lady let me watch the audition footage, so you can see this part where I’m sitting there, hacking away, doing a great job, getting past all their firewalls, and then the chair explodes and I just fall down on the floor like a fat fuckin’ idiot. She was laughing so hard, there were just tears coming out of her face. It looked ridiculous.

Family Album (failed 2011 Fox pilot)

I did [a pilot] called Family Album with Mike O’Malley and Rachael Harris. Shawn Levy directed it. It was awesome. I got to play like the fucked-up uncle. It was a family comedy, but I got to be the weirdo pervert uncle, and it was right up my alley. It was super funny. The show was really funny. It was one of those where everyone was saying it was gonna happen. It was like every stupid website Hollywood gossipy thing was like, “This one’s gonna go!” And it was set up at Fox, and I was just about ready to buy a new speedboat with the potential money I was gonna make and spraypaint “Pussyhound” on the side of the boat, but then it didn’t go and it was a bummer.

The Station (failed 2010 Fox pilot)

The [pilot] I did the year before that was one that David Wain directed. David, you know, does Childrens Hospital and directs a lot of those. David directed, Ben Stiller produced it. It was me, Justin Bartha, John Goodman. Whitney Cummings was in it also, so before her show obviously. It was thing thing called The Station, and we were these FBI agents down in South America in this remote outpost that no one gives a fuck about. It’s like, “Why are there FBI agents in this tiny little South American country?” And we’re just hanging out down there, kind of doing nothing. In the pilot, we find out that we’re gonna assassinate this guy running for president so that we can overthrow the government. So we can finally get to do something really cool, and I played another badass assassin guy. Anytime I get to be an assassin, I’m always excited, but for some reason, the shows don’t ever go. If it’s a space assassin or an Earth assassin, neither of those ideas have gone. That was a really funny script, and David did a really funny job directing it. I don’t know why that didn’t go.

Zip (failed 2006 NBC pilot)

I did one before that that was horrible, for NBC called Zip, which was sort of like Slums of Beverly Hills, and I was the dad. And basically, the gist of it was that we were this family. We lived just outside of Beverly Hills in the shitty part of town, but we really wanted to be a part of Beverly Hills. We were all con artists sort of, we would show up at Beverly Hills parties and try to hobnob with society people and pretend that we were part of this society that we weren’t really a part of. There really weren’t any jokes in that, and it was just me and my kids. And I kinda hate playing dads a lot of times if they’re not funny. There are a lot of dad parts that are funny, but this particular one didn’t really have a lot of jokes. My daughter was — she’s now on that show Apartment 23. She’s like the naïve girl on Apartment 23. Her name is Dreama Walker. She was my daughter. I think in real life she’s way too old to be my daughter. I still see her around. She’s very nice and I see her at parties around L.A., and I’m always like ‘This can’t be my daughter, right? I’m not that old.’ Yeah, that one went away because there weren’t any jokes and it wasn’t funny, and I was so glad. They called me to tell me it wasn’t gonna go. It was bad because you’re supposed to act like you’re upset when you get those phone calls, but that one, I was like, “All right! Woo hoo!” So, they were pissed off about that.

Modern Family (2009)

I was supposed to go in for Ty Burrell’s part on Modern Family. I wonder if I should mention this one. I guess I’ll mention it because it shows what an idiot I am. I read the script for the pilot of Modern Family, and it’s hard to tell – you know how it is – it’s hard to imagine whether or not the show’s gonna be done in a way that it would be really funny or in a way that’d be really terrible. I read the script for Modern Family, and they used to do more of the documentary aspect of it. You know, like kinda The Office, where they would cut to those confessionals. They still do that a little bit I think, but not really that much.

When I read the script for it, I just hated it. That’s what an idiot I am. It’s the most popular show in the country, and I love that show now. I did a little guest spot on it. Everyone on the show was so cool, and Ty Burrell is great in that part. So, it’s really that I’m just a fuckin’ idiot because I read the script for it, and I didn’t even go into the audition because I just hated it so much. I told my agent I didn’t just wanna pass on it. I wanted him to call them and aggressively pass, which is not even a real thing, but I wanted him to call them and be like, “You know, Rob wanted me to call you specifically to tell you that he’s not coming in. That’s how much he doesn’t want to be a part of this project.” I hope he didn’t say that because that would ruin my whole career.

I’m so stupid because that show is so popular, but sometimes it’s hard, you read the script and you imagine the worst version if it. I just thought like, ‘They’re never gonna make this show. They will never make this show.’ So I didn’t even go in, and now it’s the biggest show in America, and I coulda had that speedboat that says “Pussyhound” on the side of it.

I think I’ve heard in the original version of it, they had some Dutch character who was making the documentary on the family. Was that in the one you read?

That might have been, yeah. That might’ve been the script that I read too. You know, they lost all that. Right away, they figured out they don’t need all that stuff.

Catch Rob Huebel in Childrens Hospital on Adult Swim Thursday nights at midnight.

Photo by Robyn Von Swank.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

The Lost Roles Interview with Rob Huebel