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Ed at the Helm
By Emily L. Foley | Photo: by Amanda Friedman | Styled by Ashley Zohar | Grooming by Jhizet Panosian | Shot on Location at The Culver Hotel in Los Angeles | November 13, 2017
With three movies coming out in the next six months, there was no one better to crown Entertainment Icon for our Men of the Year Issue than consummate entertainer and Atlantan Ed Helms.
ED HELMS IS one of those people you want to sit next to at a dinner party. You might even say he is a true gentlemen—of course, that’s no surprise, considering his Atlanta upbringing and The Westminster Schools education—but in Hollywood, and among comedians at that, he’s a rare breed.
Helms—who first hit our collective radar on The Daily Show, or the American version of The Office, playing the obnoxious antagonist Andy Bernard—left Atlanta to go to college, but says a part of him has never left our city. He still loves spending time with his mom (his father passed away in 2013) when he comes home to visit. During these stays, he always makes time to visit Fernbank Museum of Natural History, where his mom has been a longtime active presence. He’s also kept the Atlanta arts in mind over the years. Back in 2009, Helms was spotted at the Rialto Center for the Arts, where he played the banjo at a fundraising event for Tom Key’s Theatrical Outfit. He’s also been known to pop into his alma mater Westminster through the years to speak to students.
As an Atlanta native, Helms has benefited from the city’s recent film production boom and come home to shoot several films, including 2015’s Vacation; his soon-to-hit-theaters buddy comedy Father Figures; and, most recently, the film Tag, coming out this June, which received quite a bit of press when his co-star Jeremy Renner broke both his arms while performing his own stunts. “The personality of the city has really blossomed since my fairly contained childhood there,” begins Helms. “I came back, and all the things that were familiar to me about Atlanta were blown out of the water... in a wonderful way. I’m being exposed to different parts of town and a different energy than [I was] as a kid.”
Over the summer, he stayed in Old Fourth Ward for the first time and, when he wasn’t working, spent time digging into our city’s culinary scene. “The restaurants are absolutely bonkers in Atlanta now,” he laughs. Marcel, Miller Union, BeetleCat and The Optimist are all favorites, but he also loves the old standbys: “I’ve been going to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack since I was a kid, and I try to hit that at least once a trip.” He’s also been able to see some of the quirkier sides of the city. One evening, Helms and a friend headed to The Bookhouse Pub for a drink, only to stumble upon a Game of Thrones viewing party. “It was a group of hardcore fans, a lot of whom were in costume,” begins Helms. “And the whole place was divided by the different families or clans, and it was so awesome because all these people were really passionate about the show… which I’m not!” That’s right, Helms’ dirty little secret? He’s never even seen an entire episode of GoT!
As soon as production wrapped on Tag, Helms headed back home to Los Angeles and his writer’s room to begin work on his new Comedy Central special that airs in December, The Fake News With Ted Nelms, in which he also plays the lead and executive produces.
“It’s like watching Anderson Cooper 360 or The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer, but it’s all made up, and it’s all incredibly silly,” explains Helms. “It would be like if you asked Monty Python to make a cable news show.” The special will air sometime this winter, which gives fans two opportunities to see new Helms material. Father Figures hits screens Dec. 22 and has Helms playing Owen Wilson’s twin brother, and they’re both searching for the biological father they never knew. It sees them each falling into now-comfortable comedic space: Wilson as the adventurous, easygoing type, with Helms playing the more straight-laced counterpart. “Making a movie is a really intense experience, and sometimes you forge a really special connection with people, and that definitely happened between Owen and me on Father Figures,” shares Helms. “Owen and I are pretty different people with pretty different life experiences, but we had a really natural, easy vibe together, and he’s become a very good friend, and we’re in each other’s lives [post-filming] more than I might have expected going into it.” That immediate comradery led to a playful filming experience: “Owen has a very confident posture when you’re acting with him, so he can roll with improvisation in a really fun and easy way, so we would just dive in and make up all kinds of stuff. We would go on these really long runs, and the director would just let us go.”
Despite his penchant for, and success in, comedy—let’s not forget his role in the Hangover trilogy (the first of which made its mark as the one of the highest grossing R-rated comedies of all time)—everything isn’t laughs for Helms. His movie Chappaquiddick, which comes out this spring, tells the chapter of Ted Kennedy’s life during which a car accident with him at the wheel takes the life of young woman. The incident is considered by most as the reason Kennedy didn’t go on to run for president as he planned. Helms plays Joe Gargan, Kennedy’s cousin, and isn’t surprised by the award talk surrounding the film.
“As we started making it, I got really excited about how good it was feeling and how great the performances were,” he shares. “I was really inspired by [leads] Jason Clarke and Kate Mara, and everyone was stepping up in amazing ways. [The idea of awards] is such an intangible and remote thing when you’re in the trenches doing the work, but I could not be more thrilled that it’s getting positive attention and people are responding well.” Helms also chalks up the film’s theme to why it is resonating: “Some of the themes and issues it explores about power and privilege and how those things get exploited, just with everything going on in the world, feel unbelievably relevant right now. It’s always felt like an important story that explores important themes, but it’s kind of hitting a nerve right now.” The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and will be widely released in April.
Despite his busy work schedule, Helms still makes time every day for his other passion... music. True fans may recall Helms is a member of the bluegrass band The Lonesome Trio, which released an album and went on a small tour in 2015. Although the college buddies don’t have any formal music plans in the near future, Helms always has a guitar nearby, and is a prolific song writer.
Could it be that soulful Southern influence driving his lyrics? We like to think so.