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Adam Pally on Iron Man 3 and the Future of Happy Endings

Adam Pally. Photo: Amanda Edwards/2013 Amanda Edwards

Iron Man 3 is packed with some truly excellent twists, but for fans of the ABC sitcom Happy Endings, the most welcome surprise is when its star Adam Pally turns up for a one-scene cameo as a cameraman who idolizes Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. As it turns out, Pally has known Downey Jr. for years, and the two improvisers were a perfect match together. Last week, Pally called up Vulture from the Baton Rouge set of Search Party — an action comedy directed by Old School co-writer Scot Armstrong — to discuss how he ended up in the Marvel movie and what’s next for the beloved but beleaguered Happy Endings.

So you’re in Iron Man 3! Was it being kept secret for a reason?
Maybe it’s because Marvel likes to keep things super secret, or maybe it’s because they did not know who I was. I don’t think they understand that I’m on a TV show … well, kind of on a TV show. I hope it plays well, though. I heard that when I come onscreen, a couple people were shouting, “Hey look! It’s one of the Jews from New Girl!”

Did they even tell you what role you were auditioning for?
No, it was completely secret. I actually got the role in a roundabout way: I got called in about three years ago to meet Robert Downey Jr. and write web series stuff for him. He’s basically my idol, and he was trying to find an online presence for himself, and through that we just started working together. Eventually I got the call for Iron Man, and I read sides that had nothing to do with what I did in the movie, and I performed it once while no one was in the room — it was videotaped, and I’m sure Shane Black was watching it from his helicopter or something. And then I got a call the next day that I was going down to shoot it.

At that point, did they tell you what you’d be shooting?
They didn’t give me any sides, no. I knew that I would be doing a scene with Robert and that it would be a local news thing, but I didn’t know what was going on. I still don’t know! I still haven’t seen it.

How much of the scene was improvised?
A lot of it. Although a lot of it was written, too, because Drew Pearce, the writer, is amazing. His dialogue was really good, and Shane Black [co-wrote it], and there’s not much you need to do to improve on Shane Black’s dialogue. It was awesome, it was like reading Lethal Weapon scenes. Shane was really cool about my improv background, and he gave me some amazing notes, and we’d do one regular take and one take where Robert would start improvising. All I had to do was keep up with him to come out looking good.

Do you still have no idea where the scene fits into the movie?
I don’t know if you can catch my vibe, but I’m a pretty laid-back guy. [Laughs.] I was psyched to go film it, and then I just let the chips fall. But I did read a review that said there was a really funny part in the movie around the 75-minute mark, and I’m just gonna assume that it’s me.

How long was the shoot? Was it just a day?
It was actually about six days. Oddly enough, there was a lot of blue screen and green screen that we had to be around for. I would have done the whole movie just waiting around, though, because it was so cool.

Wait, six days? It’s just a scene in a van!
Yeah, but any time that they shot a window, they’d have to shoot a crowd scene for the other side of that window. Also, they’re Marvel, and they can shoot a billion dollars’ worth of footage. [Laughs.]

Are you already lobbying Joss Whedon for a return in The Avengers 2? Or did you hit up Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who’ve directed some Happy Endings episodes?
Well, the Russo brothers are the best people ever, and they cast me in Happy Endings. I did text Joe Russo to say, “I don’t think my character dies, so if you need a local news cameraman to show up in Captain America 2 … I know it doesn’t make sense, but just hear me out on this!” He was really cool about it and turned me down right away.

Give me some insight into why Marvel might have chosen the Russo brothers for that movie. They’ve had a hand in great sitcoms like Happy Endings and Community, but what makes them right for a movie like the Captain America sequel?
I think that if you look at something like Community, they’re really good at that sort of controlled chaos and they can exactly nail that genre. They’ve been able to do that sort of thing all along, and it totally lends itself to a movie like Captain America. Also, I think Chris Evans is kinda funny! But Joe and Anthony are gonna make that movie really fuckin’ unique. The one thing that Marvel always does — and I know I sound like a company man saying this — but they always pick amazing directors. Look at fucking Thor, it was directed by Kenneth Branagh! And getting to do Iron Man 3 last summer with Shane Black, and now getting to be the lead in my own action comedy … I learned so much. It was like going to action movie boot camp. I don’t know if I’m gonna be good at it, but I think I’m going in well-equipped.

Let’s talk about Happy Endings. Obviously, people are freaking out about the ratings, although there’s been a glimmer of hope that USA would come to your rescue. What’s your attitude been like through all of this?
I feel like you never know what’s gonna happen. It’s unfortunate the way things have panned out this year for us, but that being said, we were allowed to finish out the year on television, and I think there’s a pretty strong chance that we’ll be back next year. I know I’m speaking for the six of us, but I think we’d all agree that this is a cast who wants to work together. When that happens, and you get that kind of fun vibe onscreen, I think there’s a place for it.

So even if Netflix has to pick you up five years from now for a new season, there’s a glimmer of hope?
That’s the dream, that they would do that!

Adam Pally on Iron Man 3 and Happy Endings