For seven seasons Paul Scheer starred on the comedy series “The League,” which filmed in LA despite being set in Chicago. For his current project though, Scheer came to Illinois for the Joliet-shot indie horror comedy “Slice” with Chance the Rapper and “Atlanta’s” Zazie Beetz.
So what’s the film about?
Here’s Scheer: “When I first got this movie I was working with Mel Brooksand he said, ‘What’s the movie?’ and I tried to explain it and he was like, ‘What? What is this?’ (laughs) It’s one of the hardest films to describe!
“Basically it’s a murder mystery about a serial killer who is targeting pizza boys. I own a pizzeria and all my employees are getting killed, so my pizza place plays a crucial role because it’s built on a hell mouth. There’s a lot of stuff going on! The town wants to blame it on a local werewolf, played by Chance, but there’s bigger foul play afoot. The town is part living and part dead — ghosts hang out among the living — and there has been a pact for a long time that the ghosts and the humans don’t interfere with one another. And then these murders start taking place.
Paul Scheer, from left, Lakin Valdez and Rae Gray in a scene from "Slice." (A24)
“So it’s a supernatural murder mystery comedy that involves pizza, werewolves and ghosts.”
A cinephile, Scheer also hosts two podcasts about movies: “Unspooled” deconstructs films on the American Film Institute’s top 100 list, and “How Did This Get Made?” does the same with terrible movies.
“For ‘Unspooled,’ it’s pretty simple to make our selections; we just go through the AFI list and roll the die to pick a title. But for ‘How Did This Get Made?’ we try to select movies that will be interesting to talk about. There are a million bad movies out there, so we try to find movies that you’ve never heard of before, like the John Stamos movie ‘Never Too Young to Die.’ But we also revel in these insane films like ‘The Meg’ — like, oh my gosh, Jason Statham and a giant shark: We need to talk about it!”
When asked to share a worst moment from his career for this column, Scheer had one ready off the top of his head. His head, in fact, plays a very important role in the story.
My worst moment …
“So I was in New York, just starting out in my early 20s, and the only auditions I was getting were commercial auditions and every one of them was the chance to hit the jackpot and get rich. Well, ‘rich’ — where you’re like: ‘Oh my God, if I get one commercial I can quit my job and just act!’ So every commercial has this thing hanging on it; the stakes are super high.
“At this point in my life, I was relatively new to the audition scene and I was trying to make a dent. I was trying to be memorable. And I was watching this documentary about ‘Happy Days,’ and (the show’s creator) Garry Marshall was talking about finding Robin Williams, who appeared as Mork on ‘Happy Days’ before he got his own show with ‘Mork & Mindy.’ So Garry’s like: ‘When Robin Williams came in, he did something no one else did — Robin Williams did the entire audition on his head. … And everyone was like, oh my God, this is the guy, this is the guy!’ So, what did I take from that? I figured I should do an audition on my head.
“So I go in — I’m embarrassed even remembering this! — I go in for a Twix commercial. And I’m like, I know what I’m going to do: I’m going to do this audition on my head. The lines were really simple and easy, something like: “Twix! They’re great! It’s chocolate and cookie, yum yum!’ So the casting director asks if I’m ready to go and I say yes.
“Now, the only thing to sit on in the room is a rolling office chair. So I try to mount this chair. This rolling chair — I mean, I think even someone in Cirque du Soleil couldn’t do this! I’m trying to get my head on the chair and I’m leaning over, and the casting director was like, ‘What’s going on?’ And I’m not super athletic, so I’m not even doing this well!
“I’m maneuvering this chair and trying to say my lines and trying to be original and cool — and the casting director, she stops me and says, ‘You know what, why don’t you not mess with the chair and just do it straight?’ And I felt like: But that’s my only thing! My thing is being on my head! And I was just so embarrassed and deflated and she was looking at me like I was out of my mind. I clearly did not get the part.
“And I feel like that casting director probably tells this story as an example of one of the worst, weirdest people that she’s ever auditioned. Because I clearly was! I wrestled with a chair for about four minutes trying to get on my head, trying to do this Twix spot — and it didn’t even make sense, why would I be on my head? For Mork it made sense because he’s an alien and didn’t understand that humans sit on their butt, not their head! But not for a Twix spot. So this was the worst.”
Director Austin Vesely, center, is flanked by the cast of "Slice": Zazie Beetz, from left, Rae Gray, Chancelor Bennett (aka Chance the Rapper) and Paul Scheer. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune)
Had Scheer ever done a headstand previous to this?
“No! I still haven’t done a headstand! I don’t know why I even thought that was something I could do! I should have practiced at my house ahead of time! I could have! Why didn’t I?
“Let me tell you, I’m sure it was the saddest thing you ever saw. I’m not coordinated, so it’s an impossible task. In my mind I was like, ‘All I need to do is to get my head down and then my body will pivot.’ So I’m jamming my head into this seat, as if my legs are going to just fly up. It was ridiculous. I mean, I’ve done planks and Pilates — and I understand now that what I was doing is next to impossible, to just fly into a headstand on a rolling chair!
“But I just kept thinking, ‘Give me one more second, I’m going to get it.’ And every time I thought I almost got it, the chair would roll. My feet never got off the ground. There’s no way to do it! I don’t think it’s possible!”
The takeaway ...
“It was such a funny instinct and I would never do that now. It was so bold and brash. But also, you’re desperate in those times and you’re so cocksure and you’re still trying to get known. I mean, Robin Williams was such a unique person — like, yes, he did it and it was amazing. But for most actors it’s like: Just do the work and if they like you, they like you. You realize very quickly that these gimmicks are useless.
“And again, know your place. Commercial auditions are not the same as auditioning for a role on a major network TV show. So if I was able to do a headstand and it was an organic thing, then do it. But don’t do it because Garry Marshall said he cast Robin Williams because he was doing a headstand.
“I went about it the wrong way: That somehow I will be unique by copying what someone else did to be unique. Instead of: I will be unique by being unique! I can’t harness Robin Williams’ thing to get cast — I have to harness my own thing.”