Though perhaps not as immediately recognizable as his Freaks and Geeks co-stars Seth Rogen or James Franco, Martin Starr has made a career out of playing understated supporting characters who linger in the background, only to jump in and steal a scene with his deadpan delivery. Since that breakout role on the beloved Paul Feig-Judd Apatow sitcom, Starr has been a comedy staple on film and television, with major roles in Starz’s Party Down and HBO’s Silicon Valley, supporting turns in Knocked Up and Adventureland, and guest spots on Community, New Girl, and Drunk History.
Starr is capable of more than just dry comedy, though, and this week, he takes the lead in Amira & Sam, a romantic drama about an army vet adjusting to life back home who develops a friendship — and more — with a young Iraqi woman. We got the opportunity to chat with Starr, and he gave us his Five Favorite Films, which helped shed some light on what draws him to the types of characters he likes to play. Read on for his list.
The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1998; 80% Tomatometer)
Easily The Big Lebowski is one of them — it’s a little cliche, but it’s a great movie. Sam Elliot’s voice: warm and inviting. From square one, you’ve got an inviting narrator, which is hard to find these days. If nothing else, [Jeff] Bridges is one of the most incredible performers, and I never would have assumed that he had similarities to that character. I hadn’t seen anything like that that he had done up until that point, and it feels like the more I get to know him — not personally, but through his work and since Lebowski until now — he has a very Buddhist, easygoing, “everybody needs to chill out” vibe to him that’s awesome, and it totally reinforces my love of the movie. John Goodman is always great, but I feel like he really got to show his aggressive side — he’s so good. And Buscemi. And the nihilists. I’m not good at explaining movies.
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993; 97% Tomatometer)
I was talking about this the other day. We were talking about best romantic comedies, and what falls into that category. The love story that develops between Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray is incredible. How they really do fall in love makes it a rom-com at its heart. Even though it’s this really high concept movie, it’s such a beautiful little love story at the same time. So good.
Now for a more contemporary movie. What a phenomenal third act. What a triumphant moment at the end. There’s so much build up — some movies just don’t pay off the way they should. The performances were beyond incredible, but to have that triumphant moment be as strong as it really was, you just don’t find it. And so simple too. The story didn’t have to be about explosions and car crashes to really hit as hard as it did. It didn’t need the Hollywood spin on it — not that that story could have ever been told with a Hollywood spin on it — but that this simple story about this relationship could have as big an impact as anything I’ve seen is incredible. JK Simmons is so good; he doesn’t have any tells, so you only get clues to where it’s going. But he’s so good at playing that asshole.
Goodfellas, because Kevin Corrigan is in it. He’s phenomenal. I met him before I had seen Goodfellas, and so afterward I think we were at a bar at some point and it was just playing. It was funny to see him 15 years earlier onscreen, and then right there standing next to me. Also, gangsters are cool. I am honestly picking this one because of Kevin Corrigan. It’s simple but the complexity in the others make up for it, right?
This is not just because the movie has an ampersand in it like Amira & Sam. Even still, an off-color romantic comedy — it’s a comedy, but off-color because of the older woman and a younger man. It’s still something that movie artists don’t touch on and it’s not an impossible scenario. It’s one of those things that is difficult to get right, and Hal Ashby told such an amazing story of friendship and caring and love and fun and life.
Between this choice and Groundhog Day, I can see a parallel to your work. Your characters are comedically dark, but there’s a sweetness to them somewhere, and they always go down a path that I wasn’t expecting.
That’s what life is. That’s why I really connect with them. It doesn’t err on one side or the other; it’s not all the dramatic “woe is me” side, nor does it err on a broad “this doesn’t belong in reality” side of things. There’s always a humanity to the decisions that are made and the characters to connect to.
There’s humanity in them.
Hopefully if I’ve succeeded in my job I allow an audience to connect to my characters in the same way I connected to these.
Amira & Sam opens Jan. 30, 2015, in limited release and Vimeo On Demand.