Joel McHale’s been making the abyss of modern culture that little bit more bearable over the past decade as the host of E!’s satirical The Soup, while he recently added a residency as the star of TV’s acclaimed series Community to his resume. It follows that his next step toward media ubiquity should be a big screen career (he’s already had supporting roles in Spider-Man 2 and The Informant), and this week McHale takes a somewhat unlikely starring role opposite Jessica Alba in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D — the latest in Robert Rodriguez’s hugely successful series of adventure films (this time presented in the fourth “dimension” of smell, with Odorama-style theater cards borrowed liberally from John Waters’ Polyester.)
“You know, being in a kids movie — I’d never really thought about it in my life until it was presented to me,” says McHale. “My first inclination to do it was getting to work with Robert, and that’s how it came together.” In the film, McHale plays Wilbur Wilson, a sham TV host — irony noted — who pretends to hunt for real-life spies, unaware that his wife (Alba) is actually a secret operative herself (and that his dog is a robotic canine who sounds a lot like Ricky Gervais.)
McHale admits he isn’t entirely sure why Rodriguez cast him. “I don’t know,” he laughs. “Because he wanted to grant a wish where, in some weird universe, Jessica Alba would agree to be with someone like me? My character is made the fool for a lot of it, and I think I do a lot of that in my real life.”
One thing the director insisted upon was McHale master the art of the arched eyebrow, which, the actor says, took some craft. “I really wasn’t very good at that, but my eyebrow actually began to work after a while. And then I kept forgetting which one I was supposed to be using. I would practice in the mirror a couple of times — and I would look deranged. I kind of looked like I had a neurological disorder.”
Asked for his Five Favorite Films, McHale requests we make a “special mention” of Submarine by Richard Ayoade — the filmmaker who directed one of the Emmy-nominated episodes of Community. “He’s the greatest guy,” McHale enthuses. “I wasn’t just saying it because I know him. I have thought about that movie so much since I saw it. I keep thinking about it and how remarkable it is.”
Here then are Joel McHale’s all-time favorites.
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982; 92% Tomatometer)
Blade Runner, of course. A sci-fi film noir executed so well; I mean, it’s a flawlessly executed movie and it’s a beautiful story. And it’s Harrison Ford at his very finest — he should have won two Oscars for that.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, 1975; 95% Tomatometer)
Then I’m gonna go with the Holy Grail. I think these movies always get pushed aside as being silly and yes, they are silly, which is one of the intents of the movies. It was just, as a child, and as I grew up and watched them as an adult, they were one of the reasons why I was like, “Oh, you don’t have to think the way that everybody thinks” — these guys just did whatever they wanted to do, and their imaginations ran wild. They were always a huge inspiration, and so that movie was such a great capsule of that. And so funny. So good.
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006; 93% Tomatometer)
Let’s go with Children of Men. That movie is just a perfect movie. Clive Owen just destroys that movie. And the message of that movie is just so beautiful. I think it’s some amazing filmmaking.
Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952; 100% Tomatometer)
Then I’ll go with Ikiru by Kurosawa. The scene about a man who died. The opening scene is like, “Oh, this guy died — let’s talk about his life.” And then it goes back. It is, you know, it was made in the ’50s and it was hard to get good prints of it, but now the Criterion Blu-ray is out and it looks a lot better. It’s just a beautiful movie, astonishingly; the movie and the message.
Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D opens this week.