Josh Meets Josh — An Interview with actor Joshua Mikel

At the Movies Blog
An interview with actor Joshua Mikel.

Actor Joshua Mikel, without a gun in sight.

When Brian Dennehy died, I wrote a story about it, because I’ve always loved character actors. That’s because I’ve always loved movies. And from the time I was a kid, I realized, it was the matinee idols that got all the love. I was around 10-years-old when I saw Foul Play, and Chevy Chase was the funny guy from Saturday Night Live. Goldie Hawn was the cute, ditzy blonde who was popular, but…I wanted to know about the police detective (Dennehy), and the dwarf salesman (Billy Barty, who seemed to be the only little person being cast in Hollywood in those days). And who was the funny, sleazy British guy trying to pick up Goldie in a scene? That was Dudley Moore, who would become a huge comedic presence a few years later with Arthur. 

Hell or High Water was my favorite movie of 2016 and I was obsessed with finding out who the angry waitress was. I tracked her down, interviewed her, and found the 90-year-old had a fascinating life. After the interview, she started emailing me, and we talked almost daily, for more than a year — until her death.  

My favorite comedy of 2018 was Game Night. The character actor in that who caught everyone’s attention — Jesse Plemons. He was the weird police officer living next door, who was no longer invited to “game nights,” much to his dismay (if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it tonight, and thank me later).

The bad guys in it looked menacing. My wife recognized one of them from The Walking Dead, which I’ve never seen (I’m burned out on zombie stuff). I wonder if the heavies in film will always get pigeonholed with those parts. 

As a teenager, I first saw Clancy Brown (the tough prison guard in Shawshank Redemption) in Bad Boys (not the Will Smith garbage, but the great Sean Penn movie). I figured with his height and face, he’d always play bad guys, yet his career has flourished nicely. 

Esai Morales was also one of the bad guys in Bad Boys. He also played the drunk brother in La Bamba. And it’s great to see he’s had a nice career not just relegated to playing bad boys (although I just read that he was cast as the bad guy in the latest Mission: Impossible). 

When I saw a tweet from Josh Mikel, one of the bad guys in Game Night, I had to reach out and ask if he would be open to an interview. Luckily, he was. And also lucky for me, he’s a lot nicer than the characters he sometimes plays.

JOSH BOARD: Game Night made my Top 10 list. Most critics don’t like putting comedies on their lists, which baffles me. When you were doing it, did you realize it would be that funny? I’ve heard actors say they couldn’t tell from merely reading the script, and I could imagine that reading this, might not be as funny as seeing all the craziness on screen.

JOSHUA MIKEL: Thanks so much, dude. I’m so proud to have been a part of that one. I really was floored watching it. Not because I didn’t expect it would be funny. When reading through the script, I LOL’d often, which is rare for me…but because so often things don’t translate from script to screen, or there’s performances or other variables that don’t exactly match that perfect version of the movie in your head. Game Night exceeded my expectations. I went and saw it twice in advance screenings, and it was such a blast to hear all the comedic beats hit with an audience. John F. Daley and Jonathan Goldstein had such a clear idea of what they were doing tonally, too. They’ve mentioned in interviews they were wanting to, and I paraphrase, hug the line between comedy and thriller. I think they nailed that. Not to mention Rachel McAdams is untapped comedy gold (I’m excited to see her in this new flick alongside Will Farrell).

JOSH BOARD: My wife recognized you from The Walking Dead. So, these two questions are from her — “Were you surprised that your character was around for so long? He was such an awful person and annoying, and you played that brilliantly. Often times, a character like that is killed sooner.”

JOSHUA MIKEL: Haha. Thanks to your wife for watching. I was very surprised Jared stuck around as long as he did. When I first got the audition, the breakdown said the character, listed as “Jason” on the dummy side, was “possibly recurring.” I don’t think in my wildest dreams I thought I’d be gifted 11 episodes out of it. That’s always the hope, of course, to impress them so much they don’t want to kill you off. Word to live by, really. I can’t say it was already in the cards or that I forced their hand (I hope so). I did love playing the character though, and really took it as a badge of honor that folks hated Jared so much. It was awesome watching Twitter live during my death scene. To know that folks wanted to see my character dead that badly felt pretty great and I’ve gone on to say, “I’d rather you passionately hate me than passionately forget me.”

JOSH BOARD [and wife]: How fun was it for you to go out the way you did, being eaten alive?

JOSHUA MIKEL: Shooting that whole episode was a blast. Working with Lennie James, who is the consummate actor, and Andy [Lincoln], also a fantastic actor and just the loveliest dude in the world. That episode was directed by Michael Satrazemis who I’d worked with a couple times prior. It was also my first time working with Andy, and I got my face gnawed off. So, all things considered, that episode was a huge gift. It was actually pretty emotional for me to leave the show. I’d never had that much life on anything before. I’d really come to know and love the cast and crew, and to be sent off like that was a huge honor. I hope everyone that gets their face eaten off feels that way. 

JOSH BOARD: (wife, from the other room yells, “You put ‘spoiler alert’ in the interview, for people that haven’t seen the show yet!” I yell back “Oh, hush up! With the quarantine, everyone that watches the show is already caught up on it, or anybody that wanted to see it, already has!”)

JOSHUA MIKEL: Bwahahahahahah. Yeah, it’s been two seasons since Jared bit the dust. I don’t think folks that wanted to catch up haven’t yet, but that’s kind of your wife.

JOSH BOARD: When I interview actors or musicians, I sometimes ask if their parents tried talking them out of pursuing that for a career. When you were in high school or college, were there other professions you considered or that they tried talking you into getting into?

JOSHUA MIKEL: Hahaha, aw man, all my potential careers were going to be wellsprings of anxiety for my parents, but my folks were always super supportive. That’s not to say mom didn’t have her reservations. It wasn’t uncommon for them to call me in college and ask if I had taken an

Economics class yet because they were paying my out-of-state tuition. For most of my early life I wanted to be a cell animator with Disney, but as that artform more or less went the way of the dodo, I pivoted to writing. Around my junior year of high school, my AP English teacher, who was also the theatre director, encouraged me to hop in some plays. I loved it, and that same instructor encouraged me to pursue it further. I went down to Florida State to study theatre and to my parents’ dismay, I doubled up in creative writing with a religion minor. I’ve been pulled in many directions since though — all in the arts. I’ve never held a 9 to 5. That is, of course, mostly a testament to my privilege. My folks put me through school and helped me pay towards my loans a couple years after. I also had a couple very patient girlfriends who gave me very forgiving cuts of the rent. For a few years after graduation (2007), I really pursued playing music with my band Look Mexico while I aged up…in years not maturity, obviously. We toured the states nine or so months out of the year around then, and I was able to do graphic design and write on the road to pay my bills. In 2010, when my dad was having some health issues, I moved back to Atlanta and started pursuing acting more seriously, landing an agent that October. I’d continued doing some illustration/animation/music video work to supplement my income while landing the occasional acting job those first few years. Around 2015 I was able to switch to it full time as the business in Atlanta really took off. Phew — long winded. I apologize.

JOSH BOARD: No need to apologize. That stuff is all so interesting. Now, back to the movies and not your drumming…I thought Dirty Grandpa was funnier than the critics gave it credit for. Now, I’m not saying it’s even in the same ballpark as Game Night, but…it got 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I laughed at least 20 times in it. That’s solid. So, this is a two-parter. Do you agree with me, that it’s funnier than those stuffy critics gave it credit for? And also, do you now love that you can tell your friends you were in a De Niro movie? That’s always impressive.

JOSHUA MIKEL: Aw man, I have to say, embarrassingly, I haven’t watched it. I have a hard time watching my stuff, particularly when I think back on the performance and realize I hadn’t fleshed it out, or I wasn’t listening, or one thing or the other that puts a bad taste in my mouth about it. In that case, I know I wasn’t listening. I had kind of worked the whole scene out in my head and was just regurgitating how I had auditioned it. I wonder if the critics panning that flick was more about the timing than the film itself. Those broad crude comedies aren’t everyone’s bag, I guess. That being said, I’m proud to say I’ve been in two flicks with De Niro. He and Morris Chestnut kill me off in a film called Heist, written by my buddy Max Adams, who threw me a huge bone on that one and snuck my audition to the director, Scott Mann. I am very proud of appearing in the scene with him, again though…not proud of the work. I don’t think there’s a job out there I wouldn’t want to do again.

JOSH BOARD: I saw in your reel, you did a scene with Adam Devine, who I rank up there with John Belushi and Jack Black as…comedic actors that can make you laugh just with a facial expression. How fun was it filming that, and…what can you tell me about the show The Righteous Gemstones? I had never heard of it, and saw it had Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, and John Goodman. That is some talent right there.

JOSHUA MIKEL: I consider The Righteous Gemstones another gift of my career. It’s about a family, the Gemstones, who operate a megachurch in South Carolina. It deals with their contentious family dynamic and a bunch of outside elements that make the whole world of the show wild. It’s part satire, but in this day and age, it’s maybe a little hard to tell when it comes to that sort of Wal-Mart religion.

I’d long wanted to be on Danny McBride’s radar, having loved Eastbound and Vice Principals. I think the tone they’ve hit on TRG makes it the superior of the three, and the role I was able to play — the goth raver Daedalus — is so fu**ing fun. All of those scenes were hilarious, and that’s one I can walk away from feeling pretty good about how my work turned out. Also the set pieces we got to operate in were some of the coolest of the show.

JOSH BOARD: A few questions about Stuber. In one scene, it’s a Mexican standoff with Dave Bautista. Well, we always hear about how short actors are in real life. Is he as big as he looks on screen? And…you had a gun to the head of Kumail Nanjiani. Every time he says something, whether it’s in that movie, The Big Sick or recently in The Lovebirds, I crack up. Is it hard to play a tough guy when someone is that funny? Or is he playing it straight and acting scared, so it’s easy to stay in character?

JOSHUA MIKEL: Bautista is absolutely as jacked as he looks on screen. You should see him dwarf a director’s chair, and another one of the sweetest dudes I’ve ever met. And yes, it is very hard to hold a gun to Kumail’s head. I’m not method, but I like to focus and stay in character during takes. We’d be chatting it up and then he can jump right in the scene when the director calls action. I’d still be laughing from something he said in the interim. There’s times in the cut where my expression is just flat out blank. That was me recovering from one of his ad libs. 

JOSH BOARD: Tell me a few times you’ve been recognized and how weird that was. Even the biggest actors have people say “I know you from somewhere, but I can’t place it.”

JOSHUA MIKEL: Yeah, it’s becoming more and more common that folks have that vague ‘do I know you?’ look on their face, or flat out ask; 9 out of 10 times they’re Walking Dead fans. The other times it’s pretty embarrassing when I rattle off my credits, and it turns out they just see me often at the Publix deli counter or the gym. 

JOSH BOARD: You heckled Tony Harding. Well, Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. Did you realize that movie would be filmed in the style it was, breaking the 4th wall, and all that craziness?

JOSHUA MIKEL: I didn’t! I didn’t get to read the script. That’s not uncommon for day players to not be offered the full script. That’s another one I’m proud of, though. I knew there’d be some time to kill while her coach was pepping her up and I wrote out a few additional insults so I could keep up the ribbing while she was getting her pep talk. I’m really proud of those. “U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you suck!” I made her laugh a couple takes and by the end, Allison Janney was floating me some shi* to holler. The extras were cracking up, too. That was a blast.

JOSH BOARD: Name a few character actors you like watching on screen.

JOSHUA MIKEL: Fred Willard, Ben Schwartz, Steve Buscemi, Ernie Hudson, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Danny McBride, Judy Greer, Kathryn Hahn, Michael K. Williams, John Hawkes, William Hurt, Octavia Spencer.

JOSH BOARD: That’s a great list. We were all so sad hearing about Willard passing. I was thrilled to have met Simmons and Hahn at film events in San Diego. Their work is great, and Octavia keeps impressing me each year with the diverse films she tackles. And John Hawkes…I’m so glad he’s finally getting the praise from everyone I always felt he deserved. Now, I have no clue who Ben Schwartz is, but I’ll look out for him. 

I don’t mean to keep going back to Game Night, but…there’s a scene that involves blanks being shot into Plemons’ character. It reminded me of the bizarre death of Brandon Lee on a movie set. And since you’ve been in a few shootouts on screen, just how safe is all of that?

JOSHUA MIKEL: I’m not sure how much of this was in place before that tragedy, but if there’s any weapons on set, there’s a lot of union protocol in place to keep us all safe and that’s carried out by an arms specialist. When it’s not required to see rounds going off, we’ll use plastic weapons and when it is, we’re shown the blanks and there’s generally no one in our direct line of fire. Funny bit about Stuber, though. I was originally given a real unloaded Desert Eagle, which are heavy. My arm was getting tired during takes, and I’d lean the thing more and more into Kumail’s head. I felt terrible. He was cool about it, but thankfully we switched it out before he had some serious bruising.

JOSH BOARD: And lastly, name your Top 5 movies of all time, in any genre. 

JOSHUA MIKEL: This is always so hard. These are movies I love:
Fargo, There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, Coco, Sleepy Hollow 

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