The Lost Roles Interview with T.J. Miller

“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 T.J. Miller, star of She’s Out of My League, Cloverfield, Yogi Bear, and the upcoming Fox sitcom The Goodwin Games. Miller’s inventive new show, the Comedy Central standup/video hybrid Mash Up, premiered earlier this week and airs Tuesday nights at 12:30am. Miller was nice enough to chat about some of the parts he’s missed out on, including the epic tale of his SNL audition and all of the wild rumors attached to it, and to share some great audition stories from parts he did book, like Cloverfield and Get Him to the Greek:

Saturday Night Live (2008)

Splitsider: Did you audition for SNL?

T.J. Miller: I did. I did audition. Yeah, this is going to be a good place to set the record straight. So, I auditioned for SNL… and I thought, “Oh, this will be so fun.” A lot of people audition all at once. It’s very nerve-wracking. You know, it’s everybody’s dream to have that moment. So, it’s 30 Rock, and I brought a backpack full of nice things to give other people that were auditioning, like cookies. I brought a six-pack of beer. I brought chips and little poppers - you know those really fake fireworks that you do on New Year’s Eve? I brought all those to give them to people, like, “This is great. We’re all auditioning.” I got there, and everybody was very competitive. I knew a couple people like Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, who now works for the show, but everybody else was really competitive.I got in there, and it was really awkward. I’m like “Hey does anybody want a beer? I brought these poppers for after we’re done.” And, “If anybody wants a cookie… anybody want a cookie?” And everyone was like, “No.” So I was just a weird guy with a backpack full of goodies that nobody really wants.

So I went in and did my audition. It’s great, and I said thank you. I went outside, and as I was leaving, my backpack was kind of open and some of the stuff spilled out and a beer fell on the ground outside of 30 Rock and, you know, all these poppers and stuff. The security guard looked over like I was like, you know, a crazy person. Some weird homeless guy. And he said, “What are you doing out here?” And I said, “I just auditioned for SNL,” which sounded fake obviously… I don’t know what happened, but the day after they cast Bobby Moynihan, it came out - and I don’t know how this happened - but they said that I had gone in and bombed the audition on purpose, maybe? And all of these rumors surfaced. I think it was probably somebody that was in the audition that was just trying to… you know, I don’t know. But the rumors were that I bombed the audition on purpose, that I threw a beer bottle at Lorne Michaels’s head…

[Laughs] What?

Somebody said this about me - that I had entered the audition, saying, “I’m T.J. Miller from Cloverfield, motherfuckers!” Which, by the way, I have never said that. I’ve said, “I’m T.J. Miller from Yogi Bear, motherfuckers,” but I’ve never said, “I’m T.J. Miller from Cloverfield, motherfuckers.” When they announced that Bobby Moynihan had been cast, it was also announced that I had sort of blown this audition and all these crazy things. I mean, can you imagine if I had thrown a beer bottle at Lorne Michaels? He would sue me. I would be in jail right now. So, that was really awkward because, not only did people know I didn’t get it, they know who got it, and they all thought the reason I didn’t get it was that I had either blown it or bombed it on purpose as a joke.

How do these rumors start to surface though? Like, where does this thing with you throwing a beer bottle at Lorne Michaels come from?

I don’t know. I think maybe that I brought beer… You know, one of the many things that dropped out of the backpack was a beer, but I don’t know. I didn’t bring beer into the audition. I didn’t throw anything at Lorne Michaels. You know, all I threw at him were some pretty killer impressions of Spencer Pratt, if you know what I’m saying. [Laughs] You can print that. I mean, it really was a killer impersonation of Spencer Pratt.

I felt a little bit conflicted about [the audition] because, at that time, I’d been in a few movies and I was doing TV shows, and the contract with SNL is seven years. They’re allowed to decide what movies you can do. It’s a very aggressive contract in the industry. So I was already conflicted about it, and then, to have all those rumors arrive afterward, I couldn’t have imagined a worst post-audition experience for Saturday Night Live.

Freshman Roommates (canceled movie, in development circa 2008)

That was in development at Montecito [Pictures], but it never ended up going, which is such a shame because I think he is so fucking funny… He’s the funniest. That was going to be him and I and another kid, all in college, and I was sort of like a six year senior. You know that Nigerian bank scam, where they say, “Hey, send me your bank account information. I’ll give you a million dollars or ten million”? It was going to end up that that was real. I gave them the bank information and we got all that money. And then the Nigerian dictator’s son came and basically said, “Hey look. I need my money back.” And we had already spent it on jet skis and hot tubs.

So Tracy Morgan was playing a college student with you?

He was going to play the Nigerian dictator’s son, but he comes to get the money, and he decides that he loves college. It was very Coming to America. He decides that he loves college and that he wanted to stay, and so he enrolls and falls in love with one of the professors.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011)

I came in and I was supposed to be a castaway, so I grew a little bit of a beard, and I went in with sort of ripped-up shorts and a ripped t-shirt. I went in, and the casting director was a good friend of mine. She’s just lovely, but she said, “You know, you didn’t need to dress like that.” And I just said, “Yeah, I know, I know. I wanted to.” And she said, “Why?” [Laughs] I just stood there, embarrassed, and I think my answer was something akin to, “Because I’m going sailing later. In case I end up on an island, then I’ll already… be… dressed… for it.”…And then I just bombed the audition and didn’t get the part.

Animated TV show

I auditioned for an animated show that didn’t end up going. That was a real weird one because I went in, and I did a really, really good audition, I thought. And they said, “Great, can you do it in Scottish?” And I said, “Yeah.” So I did it all in a Scottish accent - the whole thing. The whole audition. All four pages of it. Then at the end of it, the guy goes, “That was Irish. Thank you very much.” And that was it. I should have said, “Couldn’t you have told me that like halfway through the first page? That you didn’t like my Scottish accent? So you had me do the whole thing like maybe it would turn Scottish halfway through?” That was too bad. I hit him in the face with a shillelagh, though.

Auditions for parts he did get:

Carpoolers (2007 TV series)

The first thing I ever got was a TV show on ABC called Carpoolers, and that was the first audition that I ever argued with my agent over whether or not I could do it in my underwear. The reason was because in the audition, the character stands up to reveal that he’s in tighty whitey briefs. And I really wanted to do that. And my agent said, “No you’re not supposed to do that. Just do an audition in your regular clothing.” And so then I showed up, and I had briefs on and said, “I’m going to do it without my pants on.” And I started to take my pants off, and he was like, “No. You gotta keep those pants on.” My pants are around my ankles at this point, and I was like, “I really want to do this in my underwear.” And he said, “No! I don’t… you can’t… it’s too much. I don’t want your pants off.” I said, “I’m doing it with my pants off.” I realized that I had really reversed the rules of Hollywood there.

Cloverfield (2008 movie)

I went in, and they didn’t tell you what it was for. You know, “This is an audition for a teen movie,” J.J. Abrams would say. I didn’t really know who he was, I was still living in Chicago. And I went in, and they gave me this monologue, and it was after I met with the casting director for like two hours and sort of told him, “Look, I’m a comedian. I also do some acting, but I’m a comedian first. I’m a stand-up, I’m a sketch comedian, I’m an improviser by trade, and that’s what I’m really excited about. If you have anything that fits in that wheelhouse, then let’s do it.” He said, “Yeah I do. I have this project. It’s called Cloverfield, tentatively, and we’d love to have you come in and read one of the monologues.”

So I went in. There’s a lot of people in there, and the casting assistant girl who I guess had only been there a week said, “Uh, uh, okay, yeah, yeah. You’re reading these parts. Here you go.” And she gave them to me as she’s trying to usher people in. And then when it came time for me to go in, and I looked at the monologue, and it wasn’t funny. At all. You know, it couldn’t have been less funny. It was like, “My father was in the war. He used to keep a journal. And when he died, I read that journal…” It was a very dramatic thing. I’m not very good at drama, so I just went in and went kind of went “Uhhh okay. Here it is.” And the casting director was really uncomfortable the whole time. Like, I am bombing this audition… And I was really embarrassed and I finished the monologue. And as soon as I finished he went, “Oh. Thank you so much. That was great! That being said, that was the complete wrong monologue. We were supposed to give you the funny one. Can you do another one?” And “Yeah. If you promise to erase that.” And she was like, “We can’t erase that, it was too good.” So, I don’t agree with that. I had an argument with her, then went outside, learned the other monologue, came in, and I got the part.

Extract (2009 movie)

So I went in and auditioned for Extract, and so, Mike Judge had requested somebody who looks like a rocker. He had this very specific idea of what he wanted the character to look like because… he wanted a grind-core look. He wanted somebody who was tattooed and had long, dark hair. So, I went in because I loved the script, and I really wanted to do anything on the movie, and this was the only part that they thought I could possibly do. There’s no one my age in that movie, except for that role…

So I went in, and I was sitting next to this punk rocker guy, and he had just come from Amoeba Music and looked like he was a little uncomfortable, but he seemed really nice. So I waved at him, and he waved at me. And I was like, “You going in on the Rory part?” “Yeah, yeah yeah.” “You really look the part.” And he goes, “Well, I should.” And I thought that was so weird, so I was like, “Hey, we all should, right?” and he just looked at me really weird. And then, we walked in, and I found out he was Chris Cornell, the lead vocalist of Soundgarden…

So, for whatever reason, I thought for sure - he has long black hair, he has tattoos all over his neck - that’s when I thought, “this guy’s definitely going to get it.” And I went in and had a really, really great audition, and Mike Judge still didn’t feel like I looked the part, so I emailed him and I said “I’ll do anything. I’ll transform myself into anything. I’ll look like Chris Cornell, I’ll cut my hair, I’ll do all that stuff.” And then it came back that if I was willing to look like Chris Cornell, then I could do it. I shaved the side of my head and straightened my hair permanently and dyed it black. And then they put tattoos all over me, to try and get that same look. And that’s why I looked that way in Extract, because I said, “Well, I could look like that guy Chris Cornell from Soundgarden,” who I didn’t recognize in the room but I ended up looking like him for several months. And then, I couldn’t change my hair back, so I looked crazy for months and months and months. I was auditioning for family films, you know, because I’m down to do those, too. So, going up for, like, Alvin and the Chipmunks 3, I looked like I was just there to find children. “Are there any kids here?”

[Laughs] Did you get weird reactions from your friends, looking like that?

Oh, yeah. My girlfriend at the time loved it. She said it was like being in a relationship with a different guy, which probably should have signaled that that wasn’t going to last.

Get Him to the Greek (2010)

I had a great audition for Get Him to The Greek, where I was supposed to be this kind of gangster guy. I just really wanted to get into the mentality. So I dressed, I put on my best FUBU vest and some chains and a flat-brimmed cap. I went and bought Swishers and kept them in my pocket, and I brought a 40 oz. of liquor straight into the audition. I didn’t realize that Jonah Hill was gonna be there, but he was. I get in there with the casting director, and Jonah Hill and the director sit down. I open the beer, and I’m kind of in character as I went in. And just the worst thing that could have happened, happened.

As soon as I sat down, I said “Hi” to Jonah, and he said “Hi.” Then, he said, “Is that a real beer?” I was like, “Oh no, I shouldn’t have done this. They don’t think this is funny.” And I said, “Yeah. It’s a real beer.” And he goes, “Are you going to drink that?” Like, “Are you going to drink that during the audition?” And I just said to myself, “The only thing I can do is try and have the most gangster response I can.” And I said, “We’ll see. If I get thirsty.” Then I realized that’s not a gangster response at all. No gangster ever describes themself as thirsty. You know? Like, [as a gangster] “Yo, what’s up, man? I’m very, very thirsty. I need to get hydrated right now. We gotta find a place where I can get a Fiji water stat” I thought I’d blown that audition from the second that I said, “Maybe. We’ll see, if I get thirsty.” And think I said it with kind of an effeminate lisp. “Thirsty!” It was more sort of a ghetto female than it was like a gangster guy, but I ended up getting that part also.

Did he ever talk to you about that afterwards? Like when you were filming?

No. He’s very serious. Though I think maybe at one point I was like, “You were a little taken aback by the malt liquor thing?” And he said something polite, like, “No, no. That was cool. I just roll with anything.”

Be sure to check out T.J. Miller’s new show Mash Up on Comedy Central Tuesday nights at 12:30am.

Bradford Evans is Splitsider’s Associate Editor.

The Lost Roles Interview with T.J. Miller