Previously Unpublished: An Interview with Jim O'Heir (Part 1 of 2)
In June 2016, my buddy Matthew Aaron was gracious enough to invite me to Chicago to visit the set of his latest movie, LANDLINE, starring Mr. Aaron himself, along with Tom Arnold, Betsy Brandt, Nick Searcy, and Jim O’Heir. Alas, I wasn’t able to catch up with Betsy while I was there - her filming schedule was slightly different than the guys, so we weren’t in the city at the same time - but I did get to interview Arnold, Searcy, and O’Heir.
Oh, and there was another bonus: since Matthew had the relatively rare opportunity to film inside Wrigley Field, I actually did part of my interview with Jim O’Heir in one of the dugouts. Since I’m not a sports fan, this is one of those experiences that many of my friends felt was wasted on me, but that’s not true: just because I don’t worship at the altar of sports doesn’t mean I can’t recognize something incredibly cool as I’m experiencing it.
There was, however, one major tragedy involved in this trip, and that’s the fact that I was unable to place any of those three interviews with a paying outlet. Even just reflecting on it now still makes me grind my teeth in anger, because I knew for a fact that all three of these interviews were extremely entertaining and would’ve been a great read for whatever outlet opted to run them. That said, I’d done all three interviews with an eye toward one particular outlet, and it floored me when they didn’t want any of them, so it definitely inspired me to draw a line in the sand: since then, I haven’t done any interviews for that outlet without having confirmation of placement beforehand, and I never will again.
Anyway, I’ve apologized to Matthew on several occasions, and I’ve always said that someday I’d find a place to run these pieces, so it’s about damned time I came through on that front. Before doing that, though, I’ll also just point out - since there is often confusion on this front - that while there were actually two movies called Landline that came out in 2017, only one of them can claim to have been the first film starring LGBTQ actors to earn licensing support from a national sports league…and that’s this one, baby!
So here’s the first part of my chat with Jim O’Heir, and not that it matters, really, but this is actually the part that wasn’t recorded in the dugout.
But don’t worry: we’ll get there soon enough, I promise.
"Art" - Ed (1996)
"Duane Wilson" - Harvey (1996)
I try to go as far back in an actor's filmography as I possibly can, and it looks like your first on-camera work... Well, I can't tell, because they're both the same year, but it looks like it was either in the Matt LeBlanc movie Ed or in the TV movie Harvey.
I think I filmed Ed first. It might've gotten released after Harvey because, sadly, it was a big studio picture. Very sadly. [Laughs.] But Harvey was something I shot in Vancouver for... I think we were there for, like, five weeks. With Leslie Nielsen and Swoozie Kurtz and... Oh, and Harry Anderson!
And Harvey, of course, was a remake of the classic Jimmy Stewart film.
Yes, and the only reason it happened, actually, was that they wanted Harry to do another season of Dave's World. And because he'd always wanted to play that role. He said, "You give me this, I'll give you that." And that's how it came to be. Lucky for me!
So how did you find your way into acting in the first place?
You know, I'm a Second City guy. I trained there. But even before that, I was a DJ, and...it kinda didn't feel great. It was okay. I dunno. And then I started taking classes at Second City, and I knew that I'd found whatever it is I wanted to do. I loved it. I loved being on stage, I loved the laughter... I just loved it. Now, I didn't know if I'd always be able to do it! But I knew I'd always at least do it as a hobby, because I loved it so much. So that kind of started it, and then I got into a comedy group, and I started veering off, doing legit plays around Chicago and different theaters. And the bug... It was there. I knew exactly that that was what I had to do. So, yeah, that's how it started in... I'm gonna say '86. '85, maybe. A lot of years ago!
So who else was in your era of Second City?
Well, at the time... Not that I worked with them at the time, although I've worked with almost all of them since, but it was, like, Steve Carell, [Stephen] Colbert... Oh, gosh. It was before the Tina [Fey] and Amy [Poehler] phase. But, you know, it was just some great people! Joel Murray's another one. But my comedy group was just a bunch of no-names. [Laughs.] But there were six of us, and to this day we're still thick as thieves. I was at a film premiere in Seattle last night, and it was for a film that Ned [Crowley] and I shot together. So we're still together after all 30 years.
[If you'd like to get an idea of what O'Heir and his peers were getting up to at the time, check out this Variety review of Stumpy's Gang, a Patrick Cannon theater production which both he and Crowley did in 1994. It sounds like one hell of a show.]
Before we move on, is there anything in particular that stands out for you about either Ed or Harvey?
Well, the thing that stands out about Ed is that it wasn't a real monkey. Ed was a monkey in the movie, but it was a husband and wife - little people - and it was a nightmare. The poor people were in these monkey outfits, and they were so hot. They're running bases! They built a baseball stadium in Santa Clarita, California, and they would open their mouths - I think their mouths might've been animatronic - and they'd put what looked like a blow dryer in there, but it was cold air. Because they were dying inside these suits from just running and running! But I also remember Matt LeBlanc at the premiere saying, "I think we got a winner on our hands!" And I remember thinking, "Did you just see the same thing I did?" But I've seen him since, and he agrees with me now! [Laughs.]
Yeah, I interviewed him a few years ago, and he said, "On paper, it was a great idea."
Yeah, on paper. [Laughs.] But he was hot from Friends, so they threw a movie together, and he did it. Hey, I had fun, I didn't care!
"Detective" - Curb Your Enthusiasm (2007)
JO: I'm sure you know this, but on Curb, there's no script. So even at the audition, there's no script. You're given a little piece of paper, and there's a description of what should happen, and then you do it. And in the room there's Larry David. Also, my Chicago pal, Jeff Garlin. So they're in there, and you just do it. And Larry's not a laugher, so I didn't know what had happened. [Laughs.] He was just, like, "Time to leave!" I leave, and then I got the call that I got it. So I was thrilled.
I just remember on the set, Larry would just do one crossword puzzle after the other. In pen. So the minute he was done, someone would bring him a new one. So there was very little interaction between takes. Though he improv'ed every take until you got it, and then they were, like, "Okay, we're liking what's happening here, we'll kind of stick to that." But it was fun. And Jeff Garlin was of course on set and made everybody laugh. He was great.
"Cop #2" - Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
JO: Oh, this'll be weird. God, this isn't even crazy, but Kiera Knightley... I don't know if she's with him to this day, so she could be married to him, or maybe they're not together at all, but she just was making out the whole time with whoever her boyfriend was at the time. [Laughs.] I thought, "Oh, okay, that's...okay. I think we're all older and maybe that shouldn't be what we're doing now, but...okay!" Other than that, it was great to work with Carell again, because I'd seen him here and there, but I hadn't worked with him in years. So that was great. And I just played a good ol' boy cop who was, like, "The world's ending? Eh, what are you gonna do?" But it was fun. A lot of fun.
[Given that they started dating in February 2011, one presumes that Knightley was in the early days of her relationship with her now- husband James Righton, the former Klaxons frontman who released his debut solo album, The Performer, earlier this year...and if that wasn't who she was sucking face with at the time, then O'Heir is himself responsible for a "Dammit, Jerry!" moment.]
"Harv Crudup" - Strip Mall (2000-2001)
JO: My first series! Comedy Central, the year 2000. Yeah, it was written by Julie Brown...and not the downtown Julie Brown, but the red-headed Julie Brown.
Of "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" fame.
Yes, exactly. Which is still on my rotation of songs! But it was a silly, silly show. And I can tell you, we laughed every day, all day, because it was so silly. There was one episode where a train got stuck in my head. You know, like, a train was going around a track in a bedroom, and it hit my head and went in, and...it was the craziest thing in the whole world. [Laughs.] But we had so much fun together. I loved it. We did two seasons - 20 episodes total, I believe - but unfortunately, at the time Comedy Central was only putting money into one show at a time, so they kind of bumped Strangers with Candy, which I loved, and then they also bumped Amy Poehler's show, Upright Citizens Brigade, for Strip Mall. Because at the end of Strangers with Candy, the high school blows up to make room for a strip mall, and they literally did it as a dig.
Welcome to Hollywood! [Laughs.]
"Mr. Stone" - Swingtown (2008)
JO: Oh, Swingtown! Set in the '70s. You know, I actually loved that show. I don't know what happened. I don't know why that show didn't continue.
Maybe because it was a cable concept on broadcast television?
Yeah. Yeah, you're right. Maybe it was too tough to do. But I enjoyed it just as a person at home watching it. I really enjoyed that show. Boy, I had a scene with Josh Hopkins, who's on Cougar Town, but it was kind of unmemorable. It was one quick little nothing.
[I can’t embed the episode, because it’s on DailyMotion, but if you want to see O’Heir in all his Swingtown glory, his scene is at about 19:15.]
"Mr. Wooten" - The Norm Show (2000)
JO: That was interesting, only from a weird aspect. After I got the role, the first day we did some rehearsing and stuff, and then a table read. So the next day we show up, and the guest stars kind of hang together, because we don't know anybody or whatever, and there's a new guy there. And it was, like, "Ooooooooh..." Because people do get fired. It was, like, "Oh, So-and-So didn't make it after yesterday." Well, in this case, So-and-So comes walking over with his bagel and his drink. And we're all, like, "Uh, we know you've been let go. What's happening here?" They had never told him!
The agent thought the casting director told him, the casting director thought the agent told him, so this poor guy is sitting at a table, laughing, joking, probably seeing the new guy and wondering, "Oh, somebody must've lost their job!" And it was him. So that story's forever in my head about that experience: the P.A. came over, whispered in his ear, and he said, "Oh, I'll leave my stuff." She said, "No, grab your stuff." Oh, that was awful. It was just a terrible miscommunication, but an awful one. But I got to work with Laurie Metcalf on that show, and I think she's borderline genius as an actress, so that was awesome. Yeah, that was a thrill.
"Lou" - Mimic 2 (2001)
JO: My favorite story from Mimic 2... [Starts to laugh.] Well, first of all, I thought Mira Sorvino was coming back to do it. Turns out that wasn't the case. It was Alix Koromzay, who was very nice and who was in the original, but then she became the lead in the original. But what I remember mostly from it was that I had to do a scene where I'm at a restaurant, and there's a cockroach, and I smash it with my foot, and then the camera shoots in and there's a cockroach on the bottom of my foot, which is then why Mimic wants to kill me: because I've killed one of his. So they brought in a cockroach wrangler. I could not kill a cockroach. I was not allowed. So they put a live cockroach on the ground, I lift my foot, I go down... "Cut!" They take a dead one and slap it on the bottom of my foot. I'll never forget that. People are eating them on television, and I can't kill one with my foot?! [Laughs.] I was blown away by that.
Although I will say that in that movie - and no one ever saw it but me and the editors - I had an amazing death scene. You see where, as I'm trying to do a chin-up but can't, the Mimic thing pulls me down and drags me. But then there's this little opening in the wall, and he just keeps crunching me until I go into it. So I'm just being destroyed. And we shot it: I'm on a dolly, and there's a blood machine, and...it was awesome! But they didn't use it. There was another character who had kind of a similar death, and they went with his. Oh, I was very disappointed... But they did show it to me, and it looked awesome.
Seems like the sort of thing you'd want for your reel.
Well, yeah, but if it's not already out there, they don't like to do that. They won't release that stuff. But I love blood machines, I loved the whole process of being on the dolly and being splattered with the blood. Some people are, like, "Ugh!" I love it. I loved that whole thing. It's up my alley.
"Mr. Brookheimer" - Veep (2016)
JO: What do I remember about Veep? Well, I remember that I knew Anna Chlumsky when she was a little girl. Her mother and my sister and I worked together at Eastern Airlines. Of course, when she got My Girl, it just broke everything open for her. But I'll never forget, I was shooting in Vancouver, and my sister came to visit, and we're on the elevator...and Anna and her mother get on the elevator. And we were all just going, "Oh, my God!" [Laughs.] And then I hadn't seen her for many years, but I was at an Emmy party, and I was, like, "Look at you! Wow! You're all grown up!" And then I got to play her dad on Veep! So that was great.
Just as I’d asked Jim about the failed Comedy Central pilot called Knee High P.I., which elicited the somehow-unsurprising response of “oh, my God,” I fell victim to the risk one assumes when interviewing someone on a movie set: he was called away to do a scene. Thankfully, we were able to pick up our conversation later, and - lucky you! - you get to experience the same thing, because I haven’t transcribed part two yet.