Wet Hot American Summer: Joe Lo Truglio

On Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The State, and Returning to Wet Hot

Jul 30, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


As a member of the comedy group The State, Joe Lo Truglio’s collaborative relationship with Wet Hot American Summer co-creators David Wain and Michael Showalter stretches back more than two decades. In the cult classic comedy—as well as the new Netflix prequel series, First Day of Camp—Lo Truglio played Neil, a geeky counselor forced to take heroic action when his friend abandons campers on a dangerous river rafting expedition.

Lo Truglio currently plays Detective Charles Boyle on Fox’s cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which will premiere its third season on September 27th. He spoke with us about returning to the Wet Hot universe, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and his favorite summer camp-set slasher films. (All this week we are posting interviews with diifferent members of the Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp cast. All the interviews will be linked to here. Also pick up our next print issue for a separate in-depth article on the show.)

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): Any time you hear someone talking about making the original movie, you get a sense that everyone was having fun making it. You can see that in the film itself. But back then, did it ever cross your mind that there would be more of it? More story to tell about these characters, and this camp?

Joe Lo Truglio: No. Amy Rice, who is a great documentarian and a friend of ours, took a lot of behind-the-scenes footage then. I believe it’s going to be coming out, and you’ll get a bit better sense of what it was like at the time. We were enjoying how fun it was just to make a movie.

It’s almost like we were getting away with something somehow, because it was all of our friends and we were given money to make this really silly, stupid movie. We believed it was funny, and we hoped it would find an audience, and it eventually did, although not immediately after it released back then. I can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t know anything beyond that. I was hoping it was going to be a really funny movie that got the attention of many people, and led to other projects for all of us.

The movie kind of sputtered in theaters before it became this cult favorite for many, many people. Why do you think it took a little while to find its audience?

The release in the beginning wasn’t very big, and that’s always a challenge for small movies. I think there was a physical, logistical problem there. But in addition to that, I think that type of humor was only beginning to catch on. You know, that absurd realism. I’m not saying that David and Michael were pioneers or that no one had done it before, but to take it on, and on such a scale as it was in that movie, was new for a lot of people.

And then, of course, I think marijuana in colleges helped. [Laughs] Ultimately, I think the college crowd came to it through the DVD. And once the DVD came out, it was starting to get passed around among a lot of people that had heard of the movie and seen other projects that its stars were in. They were like, “Wait, there’s this movie, and all of these people are in it?” I think that helped build its audience. 

Most of you guys have known each other for decades, going back to The State, and you still work together all the time on various projects. I know David’s been talking about a prequel for years. When did you find out it was actually happening?

I had heard that David and Michael were thinking about the idea a few years ago, but didn’t know—because of their schedules and the other projects they were working on—how much time they had to commit to that. I remember hearing a version of a Wet Hot prequel that took place in winter from Showalter maybe three, four years ago. I think it was supposed to take place the winter break before the original movie. So, I’d heard whispers of this from Michael a while ago. But in terms of when it was actually happening, I don’t know—maybe six or eight months before we actually did it.

Was more Wet Hot something you just wanted to just right away, or did it take some persuasion to get you back on board?

No, none at all. [Wet Hot American Summer] was such a great experience, and I’m sure you’ve heard this from so many people already. It was such a special movie, because it was my first movie, and I was making it with my friends. I wanted to celebrate that great time again. I knew that this particular group of people would have a blast, along with many amazing new cast members.

Did you have any doubts that they’d be able to pull it off? Everyone’s so busy.

The biggest doubt that I had, it had to do with scheduling, and not with the desire of anyone in the cast wanting to do it. I was pretty sure that everyone would be in if they could make it happen.

Were there any unanswered questions you had about your character, Neil, which you were hoping the prequel would shed light on?

You know, not really. Once a character is done I tend to move on, but when you start in sketch comedy you’re always thinking about other ways to explore characters like these. So, the short answer is no, but I am glad that they developed him more.

How did it feel to go back to that location 15 years later? Any weird sense of déjà vu or anything, finding yourself back at the camp?

Well, we shot the prequel in Los Angeles, on a ranch in Malibu. But I have to bring attention to the incredible production designer of this one, who recreated the cabins so well that it really created the sense of, “Wow, we’re here again!” They recreated the mess hall identically. The lawn where a lot of the games were played, they recreated that so well. It was quite a special feeling. They nailed it.

There are a lot of new faces in the series. Was there any sort of hazing or initiation rites between the original cast members and the new ones?

No, but that’s only because we’re middle-aged now and not as rambunctious as we were at 22. [Laughs]

Does that mean there was less drinking and partying on set this time around?

There definitely was less of that this time, yes, for sure. [Laughs] But that didn’t take away from any of the absurd abandon that we approached this one with.

In other interviews, you talked about hanging around a lot during scenes you weren’t in, just to watch what other people were doing. Was that the same case on this one?

What was strange about this production was that we weren’t all together at one time, like we were with the first. The way the production schedule was set up, we just had pockets of people we were working with. But I hung out. I was very excited to watch Jason Schwartzman and Michael Cera have their scenes. I wasn’t there when Jon Hamm and Chris Meloni had their scene together, but that’s spectacular. I won’t give anything away there. But yes, I found myself dropping in on some of the scenes.

Everyone’s done so much work in the time since the first movie. Did that change the vibe on set? Was the production more professional, now that everyone has all of that extra experience?

The first one was as professional as it could be when you were making a summer movie and it was raining 23 out of the 28 days. And then of course David and Michael have done so many great projects since then that there’s an element of savviness and shorthand that happened in this production. Although I’ll add that the work we’d done on The State together, at least between myself and Ken, and David, and Show—that helped the first production. This production had to move in a very professional and efficient way just because of the schedule we were working with. So in that respect, yes, there was a difference.

You know what all of the original cast members bring to the table. Out of the newcomers, though, was there anyone whose work in the series really surprised you?

Not really because we were so lucky to get seasoned vets coming on to this production. Everyone is so good at what they do. One of the great things about David is that he casts very well. He understands and relinquishes control to the talent that he hires.

I had known that Jason Schwartzman and Michael Cera—and I’m only speaking to people that I saw—had the chops. So, of the newcomers, I don’t know if I was surprised by any. I wasn’t there when he was shooting, but I know that Josh Charles really brought it. I heard great stories about the scenes that he was doing. I’ve known Josh for a while, from New York years back, so I wasn’t surprised. He’s a really funny guy.

Your motorcycle chase scene is one of many people’s favorites from the original movie. I know you weren’t a motorcyclist back then, but did that change after making Wet Hot? That movie didn’t turn you into a biker, did it?

[Laughs] No. I am terrified of motorcycles. I also have an aversion to them because they drive my dog crazy, so his annoyance has kind of rubbed off on me. I’m just not cool enough to ride a motorcycle. I don’t have that bravado.

I know I’m clearly taking myself out of any sort of conversation for Sons of Anarchy, even though I know the show is over. [Laughs]

Did you ever attend actual summer camp yourself, growing up?

I grew up in south Florida and went to some day camps. I went to a couple. One was just a general day camp with activities, like we’d go bowling and get to run around. In the Keys, I went down to Sea Camp, and that was an overnight camp. I promptly found myself in a lagoon with a bunch of jellyfish. It was fun, but that day wasn’t. The rest of camp went pretty well.

That wasn’t anything like Camp Firewood, was it?

No. It was a more educational and informative type of thing, rather than a camp where you were arranging to make out with people when the day’s activities are done. [Laughs]

I’m going to sidetrack for a moment, but I’ve been enjoying Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Oh, thanks!

You’ve got a third season coming up. I have to imagine you were confident in the show because you signed on to do it, but did you have any inkling from the get-go that it would be such a hit?

I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’ve learned—regardless of the amazing vibe that I would have on set—never to assume that a show will be a hit or even last. But I will say that from the get-go, the entire cast clicked in a way that was beyond professional, and we became fast friends. That doesn’t usually happen, so I was very hopeful that chemistry would transfer to the screen. If you’re lucky enough to get that, often the show or the movie will find its audience.

I’ll add to that, one of the things I’ve learned doing this is that the more collaborative the set and the cast is, the higher the odds that it will be funny and it will succeed. I’ve always tried to take jobs based on who I’m working with and the expectation for collaboration that those people have. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is very similar to that, in that we have very strong leaders but they’re always open to ideas and dialogue about things.

Where does Wet Hot rank as far as what people mention to you when they bump into you on the street?

Wet Hot is a big one. It’s funny: you can kind of learn before the fan comes up to what project they’re going to recognize you from. Wet Hot is very similar to The State and some of those lower-profile comedy projects that I’ve done. But, it’s always there. It’s always mentioned by people in the industry as well, who are comedians, so I’m truly honored to have been part of something like Wet Hot.

Superbad is probably the biggest one, and now recently Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I would say three out of ten people, when they come up, will mention Wet Hot.

I know you’re a big horror buff. What’s your favorite summer camp slasher movies? There are so many.

There’s a lot. You know, I like the slasher genre. I think Sleepaway Camp is a great movie with a crazy ending. I like Friday the 13th, but that’s such a big one and has a lot of its beginnings in Halloween. Summer camps are such a ripe environment for mayhem, bother comic and horror, so it doesn’t surprise me that that’s the setting for many horror movies.

Assuming that the series will make a big splash on Netflix and that they want to do more Wet Hot, would you be excited to do a Wet Hot American Sequel?

I’m always open to working with all of those guys. I would love to explore this world even further. I believe the reason this prequel is so special is that literally everyone is back. I enjoy sequels when they’re able to include everyone again, and I don’t know if logistically that would be even possible, but I never say no, and I’m always hoping to play in the Wet Hot universe. It’s such a fun, strange, talented team.

***
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp premieres on Netflix on July 31st, 2015.

To read our other Wet Hot American Summer cast Q&As, click here



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