For Martin Starr, the Best Roles Are as Exciting as They Are Terrifying

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

Whether it’s as a freak and/or geek, a caterer, or a senior security architect, Martin Starr is best known for one of his roles in three of the most well-received comedies of this century. But between those shows, which somewhat surprisingly includes a nine-year gap from Freaks and Geeks to Party Down and four years between Party Down and Silicon Valley, Starr has kept busy, working and acting in all types of different projects over his heterogeneous career.

His latest such project, the new Bob Byington film Infinity Baby, has Starr playing a salesman of babies who never age. It’s safe to say then that as he nears 100 film and TV credits, ranging from Drunk History to Ang Lee’s The Incredible Hulk and an appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba!, Infinity Baby was yet another new venture for the 35-year-old who loves to keep busy and find new things to work in that both excite and scare him.

Byington’s film, black-and-white with a quick runtime of 80 minutes, and co-starring Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Noël Wells, Kevin Corrigan, and Kieran Culkin, is pleasantly weird and challenging, which is seen often in the relationship between Starr and Corrigan. And it is yet another example of where you can see Starr exploring new characters outside of the tech world, event dining, and high school.

What got you into the project originally?

I had seen a movie called Somebody Up There Likes Me that (director) Bob Byington had made and just really liked that, and we also have a few mutual friends, so we’ve just been in talks to try and make something together and this worked out perfectly. Bob and I tried to get involved in a project together a few years ago called 7 Chinese Brothers. I think he had a few incarnations of casts involved, and when we were trying to make it happen it didn’t work out, and he made it with Jason Schwartzman.

Byington tends to work with a lot of the same actors for each of his projects, so do you plan to keep working in his films if given the opportunity?

Yeah, he’s working on a movie now that if I can break away from – we’re currently working on the fifth season of Silicon Valley, but if I can break away to go be a part of it I will. He’s very talented and he does work with a few people over and over again, Kevin Corrigan being one of them.

Yeah, you were working alongside Corrigan for most of this film. What was your relationship with him like prior to this and what was it like to make a movie together?

That was really fun. I’ve known him for around 20 years. I don’t know if we actually worked together or if he was just on an episode of Freaks and Geeks a long time ago, but we met in like 1999. So 18 years ago. And then we’ve kept in touch when he’s out here every now and again, I’ll see him and vice versa when I go to New York, so it was exciting to finally get to work with him on something where we got to play a little bit.

There’s a lot of on-screen tension between you and him in the movie.

Kevin and I talked about it a bit. More than anything, we’re trying to sink our teeth into what this relationship is, cause it definitely is not super straightforward. You get bits and pieces as the movie goes on, and it’s a fun relationship to play with because it is so confusing. Most of it was just playing within that relationship, and getting to play off of Kevin was a whole lot of fun.

How would you describe the “comedy style” of something like Infinity Baby? For a lot of people they might think of any comedy that is “alternative” as a “Tim and Eric” genre, but maybe this is a bit closer to a narrative structure?

I honestly don’t think I can compare it to anything. I don’t think it quite goes as far as Tim and Eric but it definitely has an odd compass. The narrative and the journey you go on is not by any means “normal.” For me that’s already a fun outlook – that’s where I would already be interested in what that means. There are parts of this that feel like it has a little too much potential for it to be a reality in the way that we’re playing with genetics. This doesn’t feel far off from a potential five-year future. We’re in a time now where people can decide what color their kids’ eyes have if they want to, or change certain genetic qualities, so somebody creating an impotent lifeform that is incapable of growth does not seem like a crazy future.

You’re a very active actor with a lot of diverse credits. Do you have a certain approach to projects, or do you just love the process so much that you want to try a bunch of things out?

I look for things that excite me, and I look for things that scare me a little bit, and this did both.

What scared you about this?

The relationship that Kevin and I have together is very unique and I was not totally sure how to go about bringing that to life, so that was a huge question mark. It’s just something I haven’t explored before, so being able to explore something like that – to find something new – it’s a lot of fun to be able to jump into that. Especially with people that you respect and admire and trust to be able to explore that with. That can be a little scary, but in all the right ways.

What did you see in the character comedically that you wanted to tap into?

“Half-wit” is probably being a little too harsh, but I think I was excited about him not being a totally aware, mentally capable human being. “Naive” is putting it a little too simply – I think he’s not fully aware about the world in which he lives, which to me was a lot of fun to play in.

Can you think of a specific project from your credits that you’ve been a part of that you wish could get more attention?

Most of the things. I did a movie a few years ago called Amira & Sam that feels especially poignant now, but there was something about that that felt a lot more like me and as we made the movie, the character felt a lot more like me. If I have any charming qualities at all, they came out of that character, so I feel like I had to explore that and let some of that out. Which I don’t really get to play in that romantic comedy at all, and while it is a romantic comedy, it has a pretty dramatic, at times, narrative. That’s something I’m very proud of.

You mentioned working on the fifth season of Silicon Valley. Are you surprised at all by any of the series-long story arcs that have taken us from season 1 to now?

The evolution of the company itself, and I’d say more so Richard in the story, his desire has always been the drive for the company and it’s always bumped or shifted by other characters along the way. But his momentum and drive is really what keeps the whole narrative moving in one fluid direction. That’s evolved over the seasons. To be honest, more than anything it’s just been interesting to see the way that Mike (Judge) and Alec (Berg) drive the narrative and find new things that excite them about this world and about these characters, because every season is driven by, as much as they can, a prediction of what this entire community is moving towards. I think in season 2 or season 3, there was one episode where he goes off and works at a company that puts digital mustaches on people’s faces, and this was before I’d seen it catch on on Snapchat or Instagram, and that has become the evolution of all of these photography apps and video apps. It’s just become such a huge phenomenon. So every year they’re finding the next things like that to really make the show feel as real and honest to this community and technology and to the world that we’re satirizing.

As an actor in some of the most iconic comedies that are maybe mostly aimed at for comedy fans, like Freaks and Geeks, Party Down, and Silicon Valley, how much are you yourself a “comedy nerd” fan of these shows?

I’m incredibly proud of Party Down. I would love to go back and do another season of that. Freaks and Geeks is obviously entirely the reason that I’m currently working. The fact that I got to be a part of that show, I’d probably be a veterinarian right now if it wasn’t for that show. So I am a fan for sure. I’ve watched each of those once probably. I probably haven’t watched them more than once. I just don’t have the need. It ends up being difficult to perhaps disconnect. Maybe just because I’m so much older I could probably watch Freaks and Geeks without feeling uncomfortable, but also I think of the way that I feel about watching myself in general. But it doesn’t feel like the same person anymore. It’s definitely fun to watch. More than anything, we play and create new moments and find new things on set on Silicon Valley, but we never really know how the edit is going to come together, so it is definitely fun week-to-week when we’re in season to watch the episodes as they come out. It’s fun to see how they were edited together and how the narrative is shaped as we go along.

For Martin Starr, the Best Roles Are as Exciting as […]