Jason Sudeikis has been killing it for a decade on Saturday Night Live, has starred in a multiplex’s worth of features (including the hilarious Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers, opening in August) and currently has three projects in preproduction. While rumors swirl about whether he’ll return for another season, the writer and comedian (who’s engaged to actress Olivia Wilde) is taking it all in stride.
Some comedians don’t do funny on their days off. Jason Sudeikis is not one of them.
Sudeikis has been cracking up late-night viewers for the past 10 years, as both a writer and on-air talent for Saturday Night Live, in fan-favorite sketches like “Two A-Holes,” with Kristen Wiig, and spot-on Mitt Romney impersonations. In person, the 37-year-old Kansas-bred comic is every bit as entertaining, his humor registering in smart, unexpected observations and quietly hilarious asides.
Heading out for an afternoon stroll along the Highline, a newly slimmed-down Sudeikis slips my digital recorder into the left front pocket of his slate blue fitted button-down shirt, then eases any fears that the sound might be muffled with the consolation: “You’ll be able to hear my heart beat, so you’ll know when I’m lying or telling the truth.”
He’s joking, of course, but there is that nagging question a reporter would love the answer to, about whether he’s leaving SNL—an issue that, at press time, still hasn’t been resolved. When the subject’s brought up, the recorder elicits no discernable heart acceleration; but still, his responses are telling. Although he won’t confirm that he’s made a definitive decision, he speaks as though he’s already moved on to the next phase of his career.
“You never really leave that place, and it never leaves you,” he begins, finally letting slip: “It’s an emotional journey getting through a season, much less the final one.”
Just a day after the season finale, fellow cast member Jay Pharoah took to Twitter to say: “Hader, Armisen & Sudekis [sic]—the talent of those three, and just them as people in general, will be missed, but we will be strong and carry on.” As for that tweet heard ’round the gossip sphere—and its swift removal—Sudeikis responds with his trademark humor. “I don’t know if it was something he decided to take down or if someone asked him to. When I was shown the tweet, I did notice that he spelled my name wrong, so maybe it was that. It’s a tough name to spell, S-u-d-e-i... It’s that first ‘i’ that people usually miss.”
It’s not the first time there’s been speculation about his SNL departure. A similar dialogue played out during the press he did for the film The Campaign last summer. “Last year felt like just the right amount of thought went into it [the decision to stay on for another season], and there were things that I was hoping to accomplish. I don’t know if I have the same checklist of things I need to cross off now.”
For starters, he wanted to see the courtroom sketch “Maine Justice” come to life on the show—and it did, first with Jamie Foxx, then Justin Timberlake playing the over-the-top Southern-fried Officer Jessup. And he wanted to mentor the incoming writers, many of whom came from a similar sketch comedy background. (Sudeikis cut his teeth at Second City in Las Vegas and Boom Chicago in Amsterdam—“a tour of the Sin Cities,” he calls it—before landing a writing gig on SNL.)
While he ponders what it would be like missing September’s first SNL writing session—“That first Tuesday night, I’d feel phantom anxiety, my fingers just moving, typing like this, whether I was in front of a computer or not,” he says, air-typing away—he’s already got his eye on bigger productions.
His work in ensemble movies like Horrible Bosses and Hall Pass already proves that his comedic magic translates perfectly well to the big screen. And if his latest billing, in this August’s road-trip comedy We’re the Millers, is any indication, he can certainly carry a film on his own. In it, Sudeikis plays a local pot dealer conned into smuggling an RV full of marijuana across the Mexican border into the U.S. As a cover, he casts a make-believe family, composed of his stripper neighbor (expertly played by Jennifer Aniston) and two local wayward youths (Emma Roberts as a jaded toughie and Will Poulter as a wide-eyed virgin), to fool the authorities.
“There aren’t a lot of actors out there today who have the kind of rakish charm Jason has,” says We’re the Millers director Rawson Marshall Thurber. “He can be an incredibly funny jerk in a scene and you still like him. His work is up there with the best of Bill Murray and Chevy Chase.” Thurber sees a rich movie career ahead for Sudeikis—well beyond the comedic genre. “Someone said to me recently that he’s the next comedy star, like the next Will Ferrell,” he says. “And he certainly could be if he wanted to. But he could also be the next Tom Hanks—he’s that talented.”
Sudeikis is a man at the crossroads—literally. We’re stopped at the crosswalk, waiting for the light to change. “That’s what we get for sauntering,” he says with a laugh as we wind our way over to the Highline on the first humid, sweaty day of the year. (He’s tempted by the People’s Pops stand when we pass by, but resists.) He suggested today’s interview location, which is just a few blocks from the West Village digs he shares with actress and fiancée Olivia Wilde, the stunning House beauty. The pair can often be seen walking their dog, Paco, the good-natured mutt that came as part of a package deal when Sudeikis linked up with Wilde in 2011, after splitting with January Jones. (He was also married for six years to actress-writer Kay Cannon; they divorced in 2010). Paco’s gone on set with Wilde for a decade, reports Sudeikis, “so he’s not starstruck at all. He meets Bill Hader, he’s just another human being to him.”
Sudeikis and Wilde have a low-key attitude toward their own celebrity as well. When he’s not tooling around town on his Vespa, he takes the subway. And they’re not afraid to kiss on the street. The only thing he finds truly bothersome are gawkers attempting to take “stealthy photos”—that is, fake texting while holding a phone upright and pointed straight at them. But other than the occasional paparazzi swarm, the couple mostly go about their business unaffected by the spotlight.
At heart, Sudeikis is still very much a Midwestern guy—right down to the occasional “golly.” Today he’s dressed head-to-toe in Baldwin Denim, a brand made by hometown boys back in Kansas City. The designers donated clothing to the charity event that Sudeikis and fellow Overland Park, Kan., natives Paul Rudd and SNL alum Rob Riggle hold to benefit Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. “It’s almost like a uniform at this point, I love this stuff so much.”
He outfitted himself in the line’s clothing after dropping some 20 pounds in the past year. “All my 36-inch-waist Levi’s 501s made me look like a ’90s B-boy,” he says. The loss was both intentional—a conscious effort to drop the extra pounds gradually packed on during late nights at SNL—and organic: “Being happy, and in love, for me, was the secret. I feel like I returned home to myself as an individual through the process of falling in love with the sweetest woman I’ve ever known.”
And while Sudeikis now pays closer attention to his diet, he and Wilde still like to dine out around town—she recently turned him on to the Italian food at Carbone on Thompson Street. They also love Fatty Crab and Williamsburg’s Fatty ’Cue. (Send over a spicy “pickle back” next time you see him there.) And on Sunday and Monday nights during SNL seasons past, Sudeikis was a fixture at Dell’anima in the West Village. “I’d go and get wine-drunk—which always feels a little more artistic—and fill my notebook with ideas to try to put forth on the show,” he says. “And slowly but surely, that notebook stopped being show ideas and started being bigger ideas that maybe I can’t get across in three-to-six-minute sketches.”
In his We’re the Millers role, Sudeikis gets more of an opportunity to show his range than he’s ever had before on the big screen. And though he’s as far removed from a small-time weed dealer in Nowheresville as he could possibly be in real life, he still finds the story—about finding a sense of stability, and family, and becoming more fatherly and less self-centered—one that resonates with him. Does he long for kids of his own? “I’ve certainly found a partner I’d be just as willing to make a child with as make a movie with,” he says, “so for me that’s a win-win.”
When congratulated on the engagement, which came about earlier this year, Sudeikis doesn’t miss a beat: “Thank you. I said yes.” They’re shooting for a date sometime in the next year and are deep in the planning stages, seeking out a location that will be convenient for guests (“We want it to be not a plane-train-automobile situation—and not on Thanksgiving or Memorial Day weekend.”) and won’t interfere with work schedules. Do they worry about paparazzi helicopters circling if buddies like Jennifer Aniston show up? “Her and the Obamas, you don’t know who’s going to RSVP,” Sudeikis says. “I don’t know if Obama even reads his e-vites—they probably go through nine filters. Any e-vite is probably going to go to spam.”
The pair was set to head to Maui the day after we spoke for some much-needed R&R (“This is just us wanting to get the F out of D”) before settling into life in LA for a spell while Wilde films a movie and Sudeikis “writes and tries to help move the chains on a few creative ideas I’ve had over the past few years.” They may even stay on there—after all, Horrible Bosses 2 is in the pipeline…
“Love your work, man,” a stranger calls out as he passes us on the street. It’s the second such casual shoutout within a block. “Now, that’s not bothersome at all,” notes Sudeikis. “I also get a lot of chin nods, which I like. In the Midwest, you say ‘hi’ to people you don’t know... so I get a Midwestern experience in New York.”