By JAKE COYLE
NEW YORK — As several cameras and a large film crew hover around him, Jason Sudeikis is enjoying the attention.
“Think about how long this lighting would take if I didn’t have perfect bone structure,” he says, smiling. “Show off God’s work.”
Sudeikis is shooting promotions for the MTV Movie Awards, which he’ll host June 5. As he lists the attendees, he riffs effortlessly (“Blake Lively … nice guy?”) and ponders the Scrabble points in “Shia LaBeouf.”
The awards will introduce Sudeikis to millions of viewers just as he’s making his largest splash on the big screen. He stars in the upcoming summer comedy “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy,” out in September, and plays a supporting role in the star-filled “Horrible Bosses,” out in July.
For the veteran “Saturday Night Live” cast member, center stage is a relatively new vantage point. Hosting the MTV Movie Awards (the last two hosts were Andy Samberg and Aziz Ansari) has been a kind of platform for rising comedians on the cusp.
Watch Sudeikis On This Weekend’s SNL Season Finale:
“A platform either to dive beautifully off of or to fall completely off of, but a platform nevertheless,” says the 35-year-old Sudeikis.
Though born in Virginia, Sudeikis was raised in Kansas City, Kan., and has a Midwestern aw-shucks candor. But he often uses a cheery façade for arrogant or oblivious characters. Whether playing Vice President Joe Biden or the devil, Sudeikis is usually grinning broadly.
“I always liked smart asses,” he says. “I probably wanted to be Axel Foley from age 9 until 38. In three years, I’ll probably stop wanting to be Axel Foley. I like people that laugh, smart asses that also laugh, that don’t take any of it too seriously. Love Ace Ventura. Love Groucho Marx. Love Bugs Bunny.”
Sudeikis didn’t sincerely pursue comedy until he came to the famed Chicago improv troupe Second City in 1997. His family had some familiarity with showbiz: Sudeikis’ uncle is George Wendt (“Cheers”). Wendt’s success, Sudeikis says, pacified his parents in accepting entertainment as a career.
At Second City, he “dove in completely” to improv and helped develop a Las Vegas offshoot. There, he became enamored of the Blue Man Group and even auditioned once (unsuccessfully).
He was hired first as a writer on “SNL,” which he did for two years, getting a handful of sketches on the air. Though Sudeikis yearned to be a performer, he learned the “SNL” system and relished the writing process.
“I really enjoyed the re-write table. That was my favorite thing to do,” says Sudeikis. “When Tina Fey likes one of your jokes and puts it into the script, you can’t help but feel like, `Maybe I am somehow doing the right thing, the right job.’”
Horatio Sanz overlapped with Sudeikis at Second City and again at “SNL,” where he co-wrote Sudeikis’ first sketch to air (Jack Black singing “Cats in the Cradle” to his estranged father).
“We all knew there was a performer in him,” says Sanz. “Because it’s so effortless for him, I think you kind of forget that he’s such a good comedic actor. He doesn’t go too big too often. A lot of what he plays is a lot like him.”
Sudeikis became a cast member in 2006 as part of one of the show’s best classes: Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader and Andy Samberg. Sudeikis and Wiig often wrote together and one of their late-night, gum-chewing sessions led to an early recurring hit: “Two A-Holes.” In it, the two played an absurdly self-absorbed couple.
Watch “Two A-Holes”:
“I probably dealt with a lot of people like that – inflated egos – through sports and also entertainment,” says Sudeikis. “And then again, there might be part of me that’s not too dissimilar from that, the worst parts of myself.”
Sudeikis says this “SNL” season, which concluded this past weekend, has been one of creeping nostalgia, as he, Wiig, Hader, Samberg realize their time together is waning.
“We all sort of realize that you’re not going to do this forever,” says Sudeikis, who expects to return next season.
But they all have other projects now, too. For Sudeikis, most notably, there’s “A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy,” an R-rated comedy in which a group of friends decide to have an orgy. It’s a generational kind of film with characters in their late `20s and early `30s – stuck between the free-love `60s and the sexting `00s – insisting on their own chance for sexual inhibition.
Writer-directors Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck first met Sudeikis at an “SNL” after-party, where he and Huyck sang a karaoke duet of “Living on a Prayer.”
“I have never seen a dude bring more charisma than that guy brought in that moment,” says Huyck. “He was one of those guys that you could just see instantly and go, `He’s got that thing.’”
Says Gregory: “We’ve had those conversations: Is he a young Bill Murray? Is he a young Chevy Chase? What is he? I always think more than anything, he’s a young Tom Hanks.”
The pair convinced Sudeikis to make “Orgy” – a risky proposition for a first leading role – partly by comparing it to Hanks doing 1984′s “Bachelor Party” early in his career.
Handsome and confident, Sudeikis has shown leading man appeal, including in a memorable guest arc on “30 Rock.” (He was previously married to “30 Rock” writer Kay Cannon, and last year dated “Mad Men” actress January Jones, which attracted tabloid coverage.)
One of Sudeikis’ most popular characters is speechless: A tireless – and surprisingly skilled – dancer, clad in an Adidas jumpsuit that adorns the background of the “What Up with That?” sketch. Since dancing is often the province of award show hosting, there’s a chance Sudeikis may trot the character out at the MTV Movie Awards.
“Very possibly,” he says. “You got to dance with the one that brung you. No pun intended.”
Watch “What Up with That?”
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