A Chat with TJ Miller, TJ Miller interview, "Carpoolers", "Cloverfield"

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TJ Miller had a very good 2007. Not only did get he get a role within the ensemble cast of an ABC sitcom (“Carpoolers”), but he also found himself playing a key role within a film which would become one of the biggest cinematic events of the early months of 2008: “Cloverfield.” We spoke to Mr. Miller about his experiences both in front of and behind the camera as Hud in “Cloverfield,” chatted about the chances of “Carpoolers” making it back to ABC’s schedule in the fall, and – oddly enough – veered the conversation into a discussion about porn.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, is this T.J.?

T.J. Miller: Yo!

BE: Yo! How’s it going?

TM: Great. How are you doing?

BE: Not bad. Are you still in Pittsburgh or are you done filming?

TM: Yes I am. I’m in Pittsburgh. I’m out here, and we’re crossing bridges; there’s a lot of tunnels out here. But it’s going great.

BE: Awesome. And you’re working on…“She’s Out of My League”? Is that the film?

TM: Yeah, that’s the film. I play a character named Stainer. I’m used to having strange names like Marmaduke and Hud.

BE: How big is your role in the film? Is it just a small part?

TM: It’s big. It’s the biggest role in the film. I mean, there’s other people that star in it, but I’m certainly the largest person.

BE: In girth or part size?

TM: Girth. I come in at around 220. No, I play the best friend of Jay Baruchel, who’s the main character. And this is a strange role for me, because I went from three-and-a-half minutes on screen to well over five minutes on screen, and that’s going to be really a strange transition.

BE: So how did you score “Cloverfield”? Because if we can trust IMDb.com, you didn’t really have any motion picture experience prior to that. Was it nepotism or dumb luck?

TM: No. (Laughing) Yes, my uncle is the king of all action films. He said to me, “I want my nephew in ‘Cloverfield.’” No, it was my first major motion picture. While I was out filming the pilot for ‘Carpoolers,’ which is a show on ABC, I auditioned for the film. And I sort of went in and didn’t know what it was…because they wouldn’t tell us what it was…and I just kind of went and did my thing. But, like I said, you didn’t really know that much about it. You knew it was J. J. (Abrams), and it seemed to me like this kind of bad teen drama, because of the sides that they gave us, but we didn’t really know what it was about. So I just sort of blew off the audition and did it in a very, very funny, ridiculous way…and it worked. They loved it. I was the first person they saw for Hud, and I was also the first person cast in the film. So I like to think that the film was cast around me…including the monster. I did a lot of chemistry testing with the monster, and that one ended up being the one that they chose.

"The writers strike…had it gone longer, it would have helped ('Carpoolers') to maybe get a second season. But because it happened when it did, we only did thirteen episodes. So it happened and then lasted just long enough to wipe out our back order."

BE: Was there a lot of pressure to have your character designed as the comic relief of the film, since it’s predominately an action drama?

TM: Well, I don’t think it was even that much pressure. That was just sort of assumed. That’s why they brought me in; that’s what I do. I’m a comedian, and that’s what I wanted to bring to it. It wasn’t that they were saying, “Come on, come on, we need it.” It’s just…I told them from the beginning, “This is what’s important to me: that a real comic perspective is represented in this film, and that people can see what somebody who’s a little funnier and true to the reaction that’s in the catastrophe, how they are going to react.”

BE: Based on the DVD, I guess you had a fair amount of liberty to ad-lib during the party scenes?

TM: Oh, you better believe it. Matt Reeves really allowed me to improvise a lot, and there was a lot of stuff that I improvised that we couldn’t keep. It was really, really nice that they let me improvise, because that was one of the really important things for me. You know, coming up in Second City, that’s what my background and my training is, so when they allowed me to do that, I think we got some really great stuff. A lot of the best lines – of course, in my opinion – were the ones that came sort of naturally.

BE: How difficult was it to get the hang of doing the green scene scenes?

TM: Oh, it’s a tough one. You know, you just do the best you can with it. But, you know, at this level…it’s, like, before there, was green scene, you were still acting to mechanical sharks and all kinds of stuff like that so we played pretend as best we could. As my girlfriend would say, “You’re just pretending, that’s all you’re doing. You’re just playing pretend for your job.”

BE: There are two alternate endings on the DVD, but, sadly, I couldn’t find one where Hud gets out alive.

TM: I wish. I pushed for an alternate ending where Hud sort of fist-fights the monster UFC-style, but they just wouldn’t do it. I was, like, “Guys, come on!” I was yelling, “Guys!” But they ended up not using that ending.

BE: So did you dig the idea of getting a death scene, or were you, like, “Oh, well”?

TM: No, that was kind of it. We had signed on for the project before I knew that I was going to be off camera and then also before…it was pretty interesting to read the script just days before we started filming and after I had already signed on and see what the fate of my character was, how much you were going to see me, and all that kind of stuff. Because I hadn’t been told at the beginning that it was going to be half me filming and half somebody else.

BE: When you first saw the completed film, were you so distracted by seeing these scenes fleshed out that you couldn’t even appreciate it without watching it a second time?

TM: Well, you know, I think it’s amazing each time you watch it. I’ve seen it about six or seven times, and I’m going to watch it tonight in the hotel. Alone, with just a single candle lit. No, I think it was just a crazy thing to be in, and a crazy film to…the fact that I was filming and acting at the same time, yeah, that’s really, really strange. I, like, watched playback all the time because I had to make sure…I had to know if it was shot in the right way and all that. So I just felt really, really involved in the process. I was obviously the most involved in all the cast, because I was also a camera operator.

BE: And speaking of that, the biggest question that the staff of our site wants to know is, where do we buy a video camera with batteries that last that long? Because we want one.

TM: I love that one. Leave it to guys involved in a website to ask technical question. Not, “How did this giant monster suddenly appear in New York?” No, nothing about that. It’s about the camera specs.

BE: No, I could totally buy into the monster. It’s the camera we have issues with.

TM: That’s the problem. He had an extended battery on it, and he turned off the…he turns the camera on and off, you know. The real issue is that it’s longer than an hour, but he wasn’t doing it on SP, it was on an LP setting.

BE: Oh, then that makes complete sense.

TM: Or rather…it was digital, hey, so it was several gigs. It wasn’t even tape.

BE: I can totally accept that.

TM: Good.

BE: I’ll appreciate the movie much more when I watch it again.

TM: Yeah, tell everybody to watch it again knowing that there is an extended battery on the camera, and I think you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

BE: Excellent. Oh, by the way, I was at the TCA press tour this summer, and that red and white jump suit you wore for the “Carpoolers” panel…that was the bomb.

TM: Oh, thank you so much. Oh, if people could attach themselves to that show. Somebody told me something about how that press tour was just very stuffy and not really kind of fun…or that’s at least how a lot of people acted. And there were all the dramas, and everybody’s so serious when they’re talking about their shows, and so I just wanted to do something as ridiculous as I possibly could. I think I pulled it off.

BE: Oh, I would say. As soon as I saw you I was, like, “Is L.L. Cool J in the cast?”

TM: L.L. does a lot of my styling; he’s my personal stylist.

BE: I went to the message board for Carpoolers on ABC.com and the first posting my eyes landed on was one called, “Carpoolers Canceled; You Suck, ABC.” I was wondering: did you post that?

TM: No, I didn’t. Although, if ABC does cancel it, they do suck, just for canceling it.

BE: So it’s not officially canceled yet?

TM: No, not yet, but we’ll find out sometime in April. It’s not on the schedule as of now, and it looks like it’s probably not going to happen, but there’s going to be a DVD. And it was a very fun show to do, obviously. But, you know, I guess we’ll see. It may be Marmaduke no more.

BE: Do you think it was collateral damage from the writers strike, or was it…

TM: It ended up being that very thing, because the writers strike…had it gone longer, it would have helped us to maybe get a second season. But because it happened when it did, we only did thirteen episodes. So it happened and then lasted just long enough to wipe out our back order and allow competing pilots to go through. I mean, it is certainly a long shot that they would bring it back. I wish they would, but… (Drifts off)

"They wouldn’t tell us what ('Cloverfield') was. You knew it was J. J. (Abrams), and it seemed to me like this kind of bad teen drama, because of the sides that they gave us, but we didn’t really know what it was about. So I just sort of blew off the audition and did it in a very, very funny, ridiculous way…and it worked. They loved it."

BE: Last question. I understand that you’re not on MySpace and that you do not have a website, but you do appear to be responsible for some of the best very bad porn I have ever seen.

TM: (Laughs) Fantastic.Yeah, that’s right, the very bad porn that somebody created while I was in Chicago. That’s a really fun project. Yeah, my website and my MySpace are the best way to see where I am performing, because I do a lot of live standup; it’s a pretty good time. I had a lot of “Cloverfield” fans come and see shows and they’re, like, “Wow, you’re actually pretty good at standup,” as if I was just a camera man that wasn’t in a movie and just happened to do standup. So, yeah, I’m glad that you’re enjoying the bad porn.

BE: Could you describe your standup for anyone who is not familiar with it?

TM: Ridiculous.

BE: In a word.

TM: Yeah, in a word.

BE: Awesome. Alright man, I’ll do my best to keep you on schedule but it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

TM: Oh that’s great. Thank you so much. Hey, and keep in touch!

BE: Okay, cool. I’ll do that, actually. Alright, man, good talking to you.

TM: Alright, thank so much. It was fun…and I’m glad you were also at the TCA thing!

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