You may know Ed Helms from that teeny tiny TV show The Office or the blockbuster Hangover trilogy. Now he’s playing a minuscule human in the Yahoo web series Tiny Commando and has three movies on the horizon. The comedian and banjo extraordinaire talked to BuzzFeed about the Mumford and Sons music video he did which turned into a viral sensation, his new web show and the biggest question of all — when’s the last time he fell off a bike?
How did you come up with the idea for Tiny Commando?
Ed Helms: Well, the genesis for the show is very simple. I always loved playing with radio-controlled toys, cars, helicopters, boats, you name it. And really part of the fun in that is the fantasy that maybe there’s somebody in there, actually operating these things. And that maybe there’s a tiny person. I also have always been into action figures and building little models and whatnot, and there’s something about miniaturization that’s so captivating. It’s why we love dollhouses and little Tonka trucks. There’s something about miniaturizations that just captures the imagination. I also love action movies and big Jerry Bruckheimer–type things, so the idea of combining those two things and just doing these giant set pieces on a tiny scale seems so intrinsically silly to me that it had to be done.
How did you choose Zachary Levi for the part?
EH: We needed that commando character, and Zach is the perfect combination of a dashing, superhero, physical type, along with being an amazing comedian. I loved his work on Chuck and we’ve met a bunch of times over the years, and he’s just an awesome guy. And I thought he’d be really fun to work with and just the perfect type for the role, so I just called him up and twisted his arm and he relented. No — he got it right away and saw the fun in it, and was on board.
In the first episode, the twist ending was that your character is tiny also, and he’s got this evil accent. Who did you base him off of?
EH: It’s probably two parts Scarface — Al Pacino Scarface — and one part Don Johnson from Miami Vice.
The Office wrapped — how do you feel about Andy’s storyline?
EH: I thought it wrapped up very nicely. It was kind of a poignant conclusion, because really what Andy lacked for so long and which was the source of both his comedy and pathos, was self-love. He just wasn’t at peace with himself. It was a little bit tidy the way he wrapped up, but fitting in a wonderful way. It was nice to put Andy to bed happy. Because he spent so much of his time full of anxiety and awkwardness and self-doubt.
And The Hangover also came to a close. Were you happy with that ending?
EH: I mean, we went out with a bang, and I’m damn proud of it!
If you had to choose music or acting, what would you choose?
EH: Well, thankfully I don’t have to. I can always do both. I’ve been able to do both, and music for me has always been very personal. I perform fairly regularly but not on a big scale. It’s not something that I push out there too much. I just love it and it’s a part of me and who I am, and it’s a community I’m proud to be a part of… But acting is — or, I shouldn’t say acting, just comedy — is my true creative love. That is where I put the most energy and effort, and it’s just been a really rewarding and fun ride.
The Mumford & Sons music video was a huge sensation and pretty brilliant. How did it come about for you?
EH: Well, the director, Sam Jones, he’s one of the great photographers of our day — he has worked with everybody. He shot all The Hangover movie posters and photos. He’s shot stuff for Bateman and Sudeikis and Forte, so he knew all of us really well, I’ve known him for years. He’s also a music video director and has won MTV Video [Music] Awards for various videos — he’s just a great artist, photographer, filmmaker. So he was doing a photo shoot with Mumford & Sons and asked them if he could do their next video. They said, “Sure, but we’re on the road all the time, so there’s no way to really do it,” and he said, “That’s OK, my idea didn’t even include any of you.” And I guess he pitched it to them and they liked it. And then he called all of us personally and said, “You guys wanna do this thing?!” And it was a no-brainer because Sam’s awesome, Mumford & Sons is awesome, and these were some of my favorite comedians that I’ve known for years and that I like to work with. So we all showed up…and we spent a day shooting and goofing around.
Was it just nonstop laughter the whole day?
EH: Totally, it was just nonstop joy. And paddling out in the little rowboat and into a pond and pantomiming really melodramatic music is just fun.
Did anyone fall in?
EH: Nope, nope. Perfectly safe! And you know what, here’s something: We actually filmed the video on the same farm where we shot all of the Schrute Farms episode of The Office. And there’s a close-up shot of a banjo, where you only see a hand playing the banjo, and that’s a close-up shot of Winston’s hand from Mumford & Sons. He was in town for some reason and came by the set.
So did you hear from them after? And what did they say?
EH: Yeah, they were so thrilled with it, and I think it’s credit to them because they get so much flack for being intense and melodramatic, but they have such a great sense of humor about themselves and about the genre they are a part of — which is awesome, and I love them. I think they are an amazing band.
You started at the Upright Citizens Brigade. What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you on stage and what was your experience like there?
EH: It was crazy. I saw some really insane stuff. I don’t know if it’s still as crazy as it was then, but probably the most shocking thing I saw was somebody pee in a cup, and then drink it on stage. Is that comedy? I can’t tell.
So this was a performer?
EH: Yes, but I won’t name names. Is it comedy? I don’t know. But it’s just this kind of brilliant but fucked up performance art mixed with comedy and that’s what’s so special about UCB.
When’s the last time you fell off a bike?
EH: I drove my Vespa onto a gravel road a few months ago, which you should never do, I learned. I fell down, does that count?
Have you ever accidentally called someone else besides your mom “mom”?
Really, never?! Not even a teacher?
EH: No, you know, actually I think everyone has done this: You are at the grocery store with your mom and you are only 3 feet tall so you accidentally grab onto the wrong leg, and you are on some freaky stranger. But I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone “mom” who wasn’t my mom.
What fall TV are you excited for and who are you excited to see?
EH: I love Andy Samberg and I can’t wait to see his show. And I worked closely with James Spader on The Office and I just think he’s the greatest. I missed the premiere of his show, but I’m very excited to see that. And what else? Oh, Saturday Night Live! They have a whole new lineup, so that’s going to be very exciting to watch.