Q & A: Jason Lee on Voicing Animated Character and His Advice to Actors

Actor Jason Lee

Jason Lee reunites with his My Name Is Earl creator Gregg Garcia, when he guest stars on tonight’s episode of Raising Hope.

He plays an obnoxious rock star who we first see in the 80’s and in present day. And his present day character looks ridiculous – in a good way.

I talked to Jason in a conference call where I asked him about his advice to actors; “Do what you want to do as opposed to what people tell you, you should do,” he said. He was also talks about his voice over career, working again with Gregg Garcia and a whole lot more.

For the full interview, click onto the audio link above or download from iTunes.

Was Memphis Beat a preparation for this role as Smokey Floyd?

Jason Lee: Maybe it was.  I was comfortable as Smokey on stage in the episode, so maybe all those episodes of performing in Memphis Beat prepared me.  That’s certainly two totally different characters, one likable and the other one just an idiot.

Do you see yourself wanting to get back into doing half hour comedies in the future?

Jason Lee: It certainly made me miss what I had on Earl, which was a very hectic schedule.  It was a lot of work.  Being away from it you miss things when you don’t have them anymore certainly.  I’m coming back and seeing all these people, Greg Garcia, and seeing all this Earl memorabilia in his office and this new world that he’s created but it feels very much like Earl its got the same kind of heart to it and it certainly made me miss it in a big, big way.  I said to Greg “If you do this again, I want back in.”  I would do it again yes.

What was it that drew you to Raising Hope for this role?

Jason Lee: Well certainly Memphis Beat has been a little bit more dramatic, and it was nice to kind of go from that and put a wig on and some make-up and just act kind of a mess.  It was sort of a reunion because a lot of the crew on Raising Hope came from Earl.  It was just amazing to kind of just be done with Memphis Beat for a bit and reunite with Greg Garcia and a lot of the writers and crew members and just go and have fun and improvise and just kind of goof off.  It was like kind of going back to camp and getting to play and have fun for a few days.  It was really, really, really fun.

You’re with one of the funniest casts or group of people including Cloris.  What do you make of your cast mates and Cloris in particular?

Jason Lee: They are all extremely talented.  The thing that I can say the most is just how strange it was to go to a set that felt like I was on the set of Earl because so many of the crew members were the same, Greg Garcia was there everything, but it wasn’t my show.  It was very strange.  I’m looking around and I’m looking at the actors and it was their own well-oiled machine.  It was sort of their own and to have a show that felt very much like Earl in that everybody got along.  It was just good solid people, really talented actors.  Everybody was very light hearted and genuinely just having a great time on set.  It made me miss Earl a lot, and just really talented people and Lucas Neff, the main kid, it’s his first gig and he was very humbled by it.  I just got a really good vibe.  Greg surrounds himself with really good people, and I think, no pun intended, but I think Raising Hope has a lot of good karma.

Tell us a little bit about Smokey.

Jason Lee: He’s just one of those guys … but thinks he’s really something special.  As a result you kind of feel for him more than you hate him, but he’s certainly very obnoxious and annoying and completely full of himself.  But I tend to like to play characters that have some likeability even if they are just jerks.  It allowed me to be really silly with him and just the way I carried myself and the wardrobe and the hair.  I mean it was sort of like doing an SNL skit, but with any kind of acting you try to ground it in some degree of humanity.  I like that the episode is very redeeming with this jerk who comes along and kind of screws things up.  I like that like with all of Greg Garcia’s work it’s very redeeming.

Did you go into this having some thoughts on what kind of character you would like to play on Raising Hope or was the character given to you at the time or—?

Jason Lee: No.  Greg Garcia just called me and said, “I’ve got this obnoxious rock star who we see in the ‘80s and we see in present day.  Are you into playing him?” and I said “absolutely.”  It was pretty simple.

Did you want this to be a different kind of character from My Name is Earl?

Jason Lee: You always want that.  I mean I have never played an older aging hair metal rock star before, or pseudo rock star I should say, or want-to-be rock star.  So you want to try different things.  We both knew that he would be a hair metal guy.  Would be the most colorful and fun and obnoxious if you were just an over-the-top hair metal guy, totally full of himself and what that would be like when this guy is older.

I just liked the idea of maintaining, you know those people who maintain the same style once their older, and they don’t think they look any worse than they did 30 years prior but they do.  He still has the teased-up hair but it’s thinning.  I mean we just had to go with it.  It was just too funny for us that this guy— He wears I think pretty much the same clothes that he was wearing back in the ‘80s because he still thinks he’s just as bad ass without really realizing that he looks like a lizard now.  We tried to pull as much comedy out of that as we could.

You’ve done quite a bit of voice work especially in like The Incredibles, Monster House, and in the upcoming Noah’s Ark.  Is there something about voice work that appeals to you in a different way than acting in front of a camera per say?

Jason Lee: I’m sure.  It’s very different because you don’t have your body to work with, at least on camera, to help convey whatever your trying to express, to say, to show you just have your voice.  That’s something that was very interesting to me when I first started doing it with The Incredibles because so much was dependent upon my voice and expressing everything just with the use of my voice.  It was kind of a challenge.  With acting you get to use your body and facial expressions and whatnot, but with voice, again, it’s like I had to be louder, I had to put more emotion to the voice and that alone and that was challenging.  I like that side of acting very much.

How did you meet Greg Garcia?

Jason Lee: From My Name is Earl.  I had a meeting with him apparently he had wanted me for the role of Earl and I meet with him and Marc Buckland who directed the pilot episode ….  We just made it work.  We got together and we made a pretty darn good show, I think.

If you had to pick your most memorable character you’ve played, would you choose Smokey Floyd?  Would you go the “Joe Cole” route from your Sonic Youth video, or my all-time personal fav, Brodie Bruce?

Jason Lee: I got to say….  I mean that was like my first glimpse of the acting world. Yes I mean I got to play dead and I thought I was just awesome.  Clearly it was fairly easy work apparently to just lay down and play dead, but I was certainly excited from that point on about the idea of pursuing acting and what would it be like to do more than just lie down and play dead.  What would it be like to say lines and things like that, so I think that sort of planted a seed for me?

Do you have a preference: sitcoms, films, or voiceover?

Jason Lee: No I don’t know that I do have a preference because just when I think—  Exploring Memphis Beat, which we still have more work to do, we have quite a bit more work to do on that show in terms of fine-tuning it and whatnot.  It’s been a lot of fun.  Just when I think that’s a nice approach to be that different from anything else I’ve done, playing this part on Raising Hope reminds me oh yeah comedy is absolutely the best thing.  I’m always back and forth.  I think that’s the fun of it.  I think if you keep it mixed-up you don’t get tired of doing one thing.

What’s your advice to actors?

Jason Lee: I always tell people to certainly do what you feel you want to do versus what people are saying you should do.  That helped me.  I mean I was absolutely a nobody.  I didn’t know anything about acting, but I really liked the idea of being in movies and that’s what I pursued.  I didn’t sort of go with the standard doing commercials and then working my way up to TV, and then eventually if I was lucky working my way into the movies.  I kind of just dove head first into it and took the risk.  As a result I was sort of rewarded with kind of a great opportunity to work with Kevin Smith and that sort of built from there.  I always say just do what you feel you want to do, and try not to listen to too many people.

I love Memphis Beat. It’s coming back right?

Jason Lee: Oh yes it’s coming back.  I think we’re starting up again in February, beginning of March.

I was disappointed though that you weren’t doing the actual singing.

Jason Lee: Well what can I say.  I wish.  I can only do so much at one time.  I wish I could sing but I can’t do it. It’s not easy man.  You think about what Elvis did so effortlessly.  You got it or you don’t and the singing I don’t got.

When you first read the script, what were your thoughts about Smokey Floyd?

Jason Lee: Yes I mean, it was just that I hadn’t read the script and Greg Garcia said, “He’s this hair metal guy that he comes back into his first life in present day.”  I said, “I read the script and I said, ‘Oh great this guy’s a huge jerk.’”  The minute I put the clothes on, I just started walking around really arrogantly and just kind of being a huge jerk.  It became kind of funny.  I gave the guy a little bit of a swagger.  I just made him just one of those completely full of himself, just ridiculously obnoxious people that you love to hate.  It was fun to play.

You’re doing Memphis Beat and of course this spot on Raising Hope, are there any other projects that you’re working on that we should be looking for in the future?

Jason Lee: I will be filming Alvin 3 as of January.  To the delight of my two children, they are just beside themselves with enthusiasm.

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