Wet Hot American Summer: Ken Marino

Victor the Virgin on Wet Hot, The State, and Other Cult Roles

Jul 30, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Ken Marino has had roles in more cult television shows than probably any actor this side of Ray Wise. In recent years, Marino his appeared on Party Down, Veronica Mars, Eastbound and Down, Reaper, Marry Me, Burning Love, and Childrens Hospital—just to name a few. The actor and comedian got his start as part of the sketch comedy troupe The State, whose self-titled TV series aired on MTV for four seasons in the early ‘90s. (Marino, of course, played a wide variety of roles, but this particular writer will always remember him most fondly as Louie, the “I wanna dip my balls in it” guy.)

It was as part of The State that Marino first worked with Wet Hot American Summer creators David Wain and Michael Showalter (as well as co-stars Joe Lo Truglio and Michael Ian Black.) In the film and its all-new prequel series, Marino plays camp counselor Victor Pulak, a closeted virgin.

We chatted with Ken Marino about Wet Hot; the secrets behind The State’s long, happy marriage; his fitness routines, and other projects.

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): You’ve collaborated with David Wain on many of his films that have come out since Wet Hot, and of course you’ve done many seasons of Childrens Hospital together and have known each other forever, so I imagine you’re in pretty regular contact. Do you recall how long ago it was when you first heard chatter that more Wet Hot American Summer was in the works?

Ken Marino: I feel like once Wet Hot started to become a cult go-to movie, David and Show—there were different versions of what they wanted to do. They were always talking about it: was it a movie, was it a prequel, was it a show? Was it flashing forward ten years into the future, like the one part in the movie? Is it a series? Is it a TV show? I don’t think it ever really became fully realized until this wave of Netflix and Yahoo! and these internet companies that are maybe a little more open to letting people’s creative ideas come to fruition as opposed to trying to rework it. The combination of Wet Hot and Netflix was a perfect match, and so it finally happened. But they’d talked about it throughout the years, about trying to do a follow-up or add another chapter to this movie.

David and Michael had said they weren’t going to do the show if everyone wasn’t going to come back for it. Were you in from the very beginning?

Absolutely! Oh, of course. I mean, Michael Showalter and David Wain are my brothers, and so I’ll do anything with them.

This is going to sound like one of those “What’s your secret to a long, happy marriage” questions, but one of the things I love about The State is that you guys still do work together so much, even after all these years. Do you guys just genuinely like each other that much, or do you feel you bring out the best from each other creatively?

I think it’s a combination of both of those things. I respect everybody in The State creatively, and I look up to them, I’m inspired by them. I also enjoy working with them, professionally. I think that together we create something special, even in small groups. It’s certainly something memorable, for me—I can’t speak for what other people feel about it, but for me it’s exciting and it’s something that I look forward to doing when I get the chance.

Also, separately from that, these are my brothers and sister, and I care about them. They’re my family and I love them. Any opportunity to get to hang out with them and be silly is something I look forward to. 

Fifteen years have passed since you shot the first Wet Hot. How did you manage to stay among the fitter portion of the cast? Did you go into a training regimen once you knew you’d have to put on the cutoff shorts and sleeveless tee once again?

Well, the way I try to look fitter now in my 40s was to drink a lot and eat a lot of crappy food in my 20s. That way you’re a little puffier. Then scale back on that a little bit in your 30s to maintain that puffiness. Not as much—you don’t get bigger, but you maintain the out-of-shape look. And then in your 40s, you stop eating shitty food and drinking as much, have a family and have kids, and stress out about that. And then you become thinner.

How did it feel – was it weird or surreal at all to be wearing that old costume again, and standing in a pretty faithful recreation of the camp you shot in 15 years ago?

It was surreal, but as soon as we stepped into it, it was like not a day had passed. It was surreal, yet incredibly comfortable. It was like, “Oh, great! We’re back on the set of this ridiculous story, playing these ridiculous characters.”

David mentioned how Childrens Hospital had been good preparation for him, in that both that and this are shot with huge casts and are working around nutty scheduling issues. Can you describe what your experience was on set while making this series? What was the vibe like?

I think David was right. David and I and everybody—Showalter, and every actor who worked on this production—we have 15 more years of experience. We’ve all been working on some level pretty consistently, and so we all have a lot more experience and we know how to work better and faster. But also, I think we truly appreciate what was so special about what we worked on 15 years ago, because we all have experience working on things that are maybe fun but not as rewarding, creatively; or, are rewarding creatively but not very fun, and all the different combinations of that. Once you’ve experienced all of those things, I think you appreciate those magic moments.

I think doing Wet Hot was a magical moment—a sort of perfect storm of a perfectly silly script, with the perfect director and writers and all of these people doing their first or second film, and they’re all excited and gung ho about it. Everyone was trying to make it as fun and ridiculous as possible, and we all clicked and enjoyed each other’s company. We all became friends. Because of doing that I have a lifelong friend in A.D. Miles, and Chris Meloni, and Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and Bradley Cooper and Zak Orth. All these people—we became friends because of that movie, and I have them forever now. 

You have a scene in the series with Chris Meloni—and I won’t spoil any details—but it’s one of my favorite from the new Netflix episodes. Were those sequences with Chris, Joe Lo Truglio, and A.D. Miles as fun to shoot as they looked?

Yeah. I mean, those three guys are incredibly talented and funny, but also friends. You get to be together on set and laugh, and say “Oh, what if I do something stupid like this?” Then the captain of the ship, David Wain, he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” and he can balance the stuff out. It’s a fun group of people to shoot those scenes with and add funny stuff, and kind of create things in the moment. David is wonderful with that stuff, because he knows that if you have a bunch of people who are having a good time on set, you’ll get even more ideas to shoot.

Of course you’re awar of what all of your State colleagues bring to the table, and of course what people like Lake Bell, Michael Cera, and Jon Hamm are capable of from working with them on Childrens Hospital. Out of any of the other newcomers, though, was there anyone whose work in the series really surprised you?

Well, I haven’t seen the series yet, but I think that the cast that they got was incredible. In particular, I’m a huge fan of Jason Schwartzman. I think he’s special. But there are so many exciting, funny people in this movie. I didn’t get to work with a lot of them because everyone’s schedule was tricky, but I did get to see Jason a little bit. Also, I don’t know what Michael Cera’s part is, but Michael Cera—when I got to do Burning Love with him—my wife and I would drive home at night talking about how brilliant he was.

I mean, there are so many people in this series that I think are incredible. Michaela Watkins. Lake Bell. Super, super funny people. I loved that I got to do some stuff with Michaela, because I got to work with her on Wanderlust, the movie that David and I wrote. She was unbelievable in that, and that was the first time I’d worked with her. Since then, I’ve worked on different things with her—I directed an episode of Trophy Wife that she was on, and we’ve done some Childrens Hospital and other things together. I think she’s an incredible, incredible actress and comedian. And I didn’t get to do stuff with Lake [in this], but I think she’s special. It’s crazy how many people I admire are in this movie.

You’ve written and co-written screenplays, and you’ve directed a ton of television over the last several years. Should we anticipate you directing a film of your own someday soon?

It’s something I’m gearing towards doing. I’m trying—there are things I’m attached to direct—but it’s hard to make a movie. It’s going to happen, I just don’t know which project exactly it’s going to be. But yeah, that is something I’ll be doing soon, hopefully.

Wet Hot American Summer was inspired by a lot of David and Michael’s experiences attending summer camps growing up. Did you ever go to one?

I did. I didn’t have the experiences that they had because I didn’t go to camp for more than like a week. I went to two camps when I was a kid: one camp for one week, and then one camp for another week. That was about it. So, I don’t have that going-away-for-the-summer and the growing up over the summer with these people that David and Showalter had, and so many people respond to.

I think that’s one of the reasons that this movie hits home with people: as absurd as it is, it comes from a place of real love. I think that people respond to that. As ridiculous, and crazy, and stupid (in a good way) as it is…. Sure, it makes fun of that world in a little bit, but it embraces that world in a real way and it’s not cynical. I think that’s what people respond to. That movie, and really any movie David does, because that’s that’s who David is. He’s not a cynical guy. He’s a guy who really has a huge heart.

Between The State, and Party Down, Veronica Mars, and Wet Hot, you’ve been involved in so many projects with rabid cult followings. Where does Wet Hot American Summer rank as far as the thing fans approach you about on the street?

It’s funny. Wet Hot has been around, so people approach me about it on the street. It depends on what day it is and where I’m at. Nobody will say anything for a long time, then suddenly I’ll get a barrage. It can be anything: sometimes it’s Wet Hot, sometimes it’s the show Reaper, or Party Down. And then, all of a sudden I’ll get Dawson’s Creek, or like a Hallmark movie of the week I did. It just really depends on who I walk past. It’s so random, but Wet Hot is definitely a big one.

It took the original Wet Hot movie a little while to find its audience. Do you think its comedy was just a little too ahead of its time?

I don’t know. I know that when we did The State—and I think that Wet Hot is a sort of extension of The State’s humor on some level—we were just doing stuff that we thought was funny. And we were so young that we didn’t know any better. We would do stuff that copied other sketch shows before ours, but we were trying—and I think we succeeded at times—to do new things comedically, and when we were able to nail that I think it was something unique and special. I think the humor and tone of [Wet Hot], part of that comes from The State and what we were trying to do, and I do think it was sort of fresh at the time. Maybe it was ahead of its time? I don’t know. All I know was that it was funny to me.

David and Michael sound like they’re totally up for trying to do even more Wet Hot if this Netflix series is a big hit. If that were to happen, do you have any ideas for where you might like to see them take it, or your character?   

No, I haven’t really thought of that. I’d like to see Victor get laid at some point, I guess. But for dramatic and comedic purposes, I don’t know that he should ever get laid. I just feel bad for the guy!

***
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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