David Koechner Interview: ‘Piranha 3DD’ and Returning For ‘Anchorman 2′
David Koechner has made a name for himself as film and television’s unremitting comedic SOB with appearances as Todd Packer on ‘The Office,’ nightmare boss Dennis in ‘Final Destination 5’ and Champ Kind in ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ and the upcoming ‘Anchorman 2.’
Adding to his master of hilarious jerkdom repertoire, Koechner dips into the killer fish infested waters of ‘Piranha 3DD’ this weekend as Chet, a man who is cutting all available safety corners in order to open his “adult-themed” Big Wet Water Park on time and well under budget.
We had the opportunity to sit down with the funny man recently (who in reality is just about as lovely and good-natured as you can imagine) about working in the murky realms of horror, reprising his role in ‘Anchorman 2,’ and taking a surprising turn as a lovable family man – on screen.
Hello! Good to see you again.
You as well. This time we’re going to go 3D-deeper. Let’s talk about the subtext.
The subtext? We could create that. We could say thematically what’s happening.
Oh let’s, actually. I’d love to hear your take on that. What is happening thematically in ‘Piranha 3DD’ in your mind?
Well I guess we just think out loud now, and kind of come up with it. This is not a canned response. But why, you know, the horror genre exists at all?
Sure, that’s a great place to start.
I think, we as humans need to get in touch with our own mortality. It’s a way of de-fanging it, if you will, or facing it, right? So, the way to face your fears is through the story. And now we’ve got a visual story as a way to face it. And at the same time, it’s an adrenaline rush, so it’s a way of getting a communal expression of that feeling, right? So you’re sharing this horror together, you’re going through all of it together. That’s pretty intense. Plus I’m sure there’s a chemical reaction.
Oh, there is. Your body can’t tell the difference (internally) between perceived fear and actual danger.
Yes, so it’s all those things built into one. So what does ‘Piranha 3DD’ have in there? You’ve got three things: you’ve got sex and violence and fear. So, quite a cocktail, and intoxicating.
In this case you also have the humor.
Yeah, and humor. So that’s certainly got to be the appeal.
Do you like horror movies?
I’m not a horror movie fan. I don’t enjoy being scared. I pretty much stay away from them. Even the ones that people say ‘you’ve got to go see this.’ And that’s not a great selling point, I know, for your audience, but they’re the people that dig it. Although this particular film is not really a horror film, it’s a bit of a thriller. ‘I Am Legend’ is really a horror film and that scared me. The things that scare me the most are the psychological horror films. The supernatural horror films have always scared me the most since I was a kid. Because I’ve always felt like there is some reality that could happen.
Does being in a film kind of diffuse the fear?
Of course, of course. Certainly, I already know what’s coming up. I wasn’t there shooting every scene, but I know what’s coming up, so the surprise element’s gone. It’s like, ‘how are they going to do it?’ But then you can’t help but be affected. The jump out, got-yous, that I wasn’t prepared for.
There is an inherently campy element in ‘Piranha 3DD’ that comes through in the very first scene with Gary Busey that always settles the fear a bit for me.
Exactly. Right. So the level of intensity is different but it can still pull you in.
So as someone who is not a horror fan what drew you to ‘Piranha 3DD’ and ‘Final Destination 5’?
I like the producers. I like the company. It’s interesting to work with this company. I love that. There’s a challenge, which is always good. Plus it’s something different than I’ve done most of the time, so it opens you up to more and more avenues, which is always a good thing.
Speaking of new, I love what you do and I often wonder what you would be like as say, the dad next door that’s hopelessly sweet and lovable.
Sure. I know, I know. Because that’s actually who I am in life and I don’t ever get a chance to play that. And I know that’s coming.
Oh is it? Where pray tell.
Of course! It’s not eminent, it’s not right in front of me, but I know that I’ll be playing that.
Is that something that you’re seeking out?
There’s a couple different things. Sometimes you create your own projects, sometimes you just take what’s available, and a lot of times that’s just an economic reality.
But I’m certainly not turning anything down in that regard. It just so happens that because of my past roles, I don’t get considered for those things. Because there does get to be an audience prejudice. ‘What, that guy?’ But I know that role will come. You can divine anything, so maybe we just did. I’m going to play a sweet, lovable…as long as it’s the lead, how about that?
He’s a lead.
I love it.
Circling back to horror, let me ask you this: In terms of death scenes, you’ve had some great ones and you’ve witnessed some great death scenes as well. What’s your favorite?
I would say one of my favorites has been in ‘Extract’ believe it or not. I hate to blow it for people who haven’t seen it. But there’s a fun death scene in that. It’s a really fun feature. My character’s so annoying in that film. He’s like a neighbor who’s boring and he won’t let you go and he’s insistent. What’s worse than an insistent bore? An incessant bore. And basically Kristen Wiig’s character calls me to the carpet and I have a heart attack, or a stroke or an aneurism, and die. It’s very funny.
So that’s your favorite because it’s the funniest?
Yeah. And it was just from such a different place. And you didn’t expect it at all.
And you were you with Kristen Wiig, so that didn’t hurt.
Yes, she’s wonderful.
Let’s talk about ‘Anchorman 2’ there’s the trailer playing in front of ‘The Dictator’ now, when did you guys shoot that?
We shot it mid-April. About a week and a half or two, maybe two weeks after they announced it.
What can we expect from this iteration? The first one was about gender in the work force and this one is going to take a different take on changes in the way news is reported, yes?
Right. The 24 hour news and Cable news. What happened was a game changer. So that’s what we’re dealing with.
I know that Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are still writing the script at this point. How soon do you get a first draft?
I won’t for months. We start shooting in February so it wouldn’t surprise me if in early fall, we do a table read. And that’ll just be to hear it on its feet, and there’ll be massive changes after that. And then we can probably anticipate another table read with more changes. And then probably the final script we’ll do another table read. That’s because this one was already green lit and it has an incredible lead time. Normally you’ll just do one table read. Sometimes two. So, I don’t know, that’s just a guess. There might be only the final table read.
Are you involved in the development of your character at this stage?
I’m not. I’m not writing it. Adam and Will are writing it and at that point, if we do a table read and they want input they’ll ask for it. But Adam McKay is one of the most magnanimous guys you’re ever going to want to meet. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to meet him.
He’s fantastic. He’s one of the brightest guys I’ve ever met and one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. He’s pretty incredible. I always say his mind has its own gravitational pull, that’s how white hot that thing is.
Yeah. So I have every faith that this is going to be a hysterical script.
I think everybody does.
You know, there’s a thing where you can invite trouble if you have too many opinions. Because you know what you know, and you don’t want self doubt. So in that case, they’ll probably have a close cadre of trusted partners that they’ll turn the script to and go ‘hey, give me some notes on this.’ And then possibly we might be asked as cast members, ‘hey, what do you think of this or that or I was thinking that.’ Or they might lend some idea and see if you have a take on that idea, that kind of thing.
As an actor, do you prefer for it to be really on the page, or do you like the improvisational aspect of the process?
Oh, I like both. I like both. But it’s a case by case situation. Because if you want a director that can handle it, and knows what he wants out of the improvisation, right? Some people are just grasping. And some people are like just ‘improvise!’ Well, what are we improvising? Because you can change the plot of the movie. What’s the responsibility of my person, of my character? What’s the responsibility of me as this actor? So they’ve got a lot of questions. Or it’s simply like well let’s just change this little line. Here and there. And you know, it’s up to the editor to get through it and find out what works and what doesn’t.
And then there are projects that are meant to feel improvisational. I sense that most people feel that ‘The Office’ is highly improvisational.
Right. You’d think so but it’s not, because you’ve got a long script anyway, so they’ve got to whittle that down to 22 minutes. 21 and a half now. So if you’re improvising, you’re doing a couple of things. A: you’re not respecting the hard work that the writers put in. Also, you might be stealing someone else’s line because now you’ve added one here so one’s got to be taken off somewhere else, and you can’t necessarily beat the jokes that are already written. If you have an idea you might want to run it by somebody, sure, but typically on those shows you’re not improvising. There’s just no time for it, either. It’s nice and it’s a compliment that people feel like it’s improvised, because it’s got to have a nice, real feel.
Do you think you’ll return to ‘The Office?’
You definitely know that you will?
I’m near, I’m very sure. I don’t want to say positive, but I’m very sure.
Are you going to return in a big way?
That I don’t know, but yes, we’ll see Packer this fall.
Nice. Would you like to create something? You’ve talked initially about creating something yourself. Is that something you would pursue again?
Yes. We had our own show on Comedy Central called ‘The Naked Trucker and T-Bones Show.’ It wasn’t necessarily the best situation. It was a big compromise, but as my wife said, ‘you were an executive producer, you went along with it, so deal with it.’ There are several projects I’ve had written that didn’t work out. I always have other ideas in mind. So yeah, you know, as a person out in Hollywood, you’re always looking for new ways to bring a project to life, and I certainly had my share of television projects that haven’t worked or you know, have been written but not gone any further. And there’s a couple of projects I’m trying to get off the ground. But you know, there’s a lot of competition out there, so.
There certainly is. Would you rather continue on in television or move to features?
I have a wife and five children so my preference would be to do a sitcom, because that way I get to stay home with my wife and kids all the time. Sadly these days, most features are shot out of town which is tough. And, where there’s nothing better than the consistency of a television show. Because you know where you’re going to be, how long you’re going to be, you’re going to know where your breaks are, you know, usually, how many hours you’ll be working during the day. And in television you get a two-week break. I mean come on, it’s one of the greatest jobs in the world.
Absolutely, for anyone really. Why don’t you just do your own show?
I know. I wish it was that easy.
I know. I’m obviously being a bit facetious.
No, but you’re right, you’re right. But you know what the other weird thing is? It is that easy.
You write your passion, and if it’s true and it’s funny, that’s all you need.
Can you mine from your family?
Oh my god, yes. I do stand up, so I do pull some of that stuff and make it part of my act. I try to temper that and not do too much because I could easily go overboard. If I decided to turn what I have, into a show, I’d have to step back from my life every day and start looking at it from the outside. Because there’s something every day, there really is. It’s like doing stand up, the ideas come to you in a different way when you’re working a thing. If I was writing a film, they’d come to you in a different way, like you know, you’ll visualize. Same thing if I decided to write a show about my family, it would manifest itself in a different way. Like I’d start thinking like, ‘oh that’s good.’ Like the experience of fixing breakfast in the morning or getting them out of bed, you’d start thinking about how that works and how that would work in a scene.
So do you not want to do that? Put yourself on the outside of your own life?
I just haven’t done it. I haven’t thought about it that way.
Okay. I think you should do it. I’m going to suggest it right now. I really do. I honestly think it would be great.
I appreciate that. We’re divining it now.
‘Piranha 3DD’ opens in theaters on Friday, June 1st.