If reality television has taught us anything, it’s that people will do damn near anything if you dangle enough cash in front of them. Such is the central conceit of E.L. Katz’s pitch black comedy Cheap Thrills, which shows the depths of depravity to which people will sink for the promise of a few bucks in their pocket, and the hilarious results. The film, which premiered at SXSW last year and which is available now on VOD and is coming to theaters on March 21, 2014, follows Craig (Pat Healy), a family man struggling to keep his family afloat and facing eviction after losing his low-end job. Craig heads to a bar where he meets up with an old friend, Vince (Ethan Embry); After drowning their sorrows, the duo meets a mysterious, preposterously wealthy stranger (David Koechner) and his wife (Sarah Paxton), who challenge them to a series of seemingly innocent dares in exchange for a cash reward. Seems like easy money, right? With each challenge, the ante is upped, both in terms of reward and boundaries to be violated, and we see just how far Craig and Vince will go for money and cheap thrills. Recently, I caught up with stars David Koechner, Pat Healy, and Ethan Embry, and spoke with them about the nature of their characters, the psychology behind the film, and much more.
Nerdist: You really do seem to get to do just what you want now.
David Koechner: I’m blessed. I’m so fortunate.
N: When you get to do stuff like that, when you get to just pick and choose what you do, what does it mean to pick something like this, that’s so out of what you’ve done and not really what people expect from you? Also, I’ve got to wonder there’s got to be some financial hit. You really have to be invested in something like this.
DK: There were a couple good things that happened. It came at the right time for my schedule. It was only 14 days, and it was in town. It’s always a blessing to shoot in town.
N: Yeah, when you don’t have to travel.
DK: Yeah, so it was a kind of a perfect thing and it was something completely different than I’d ever done before. They approached me about it, and I was, like, “Yes, this is awesome.” I met with the producer and the director and they talked, thematically, about the film and, obviously, the role is so different. That was certainly a big upside for me. I got to do something that I hadn’t been able to do before.
N: One of my favorite things about your performance in the movie is in the first 20 minutes, or, I guess 25, 30 minutes, when you first come on screen, it’s very much your character, the David Koechner that people …
DK: The familiar …
N: Yeah. It feels like we get to ease into your character more than the others. When you have that kind of a thing and you’re measuring out those beats, how do you balance that, just switching like that?
DK: A lot of it’s the script. If you’ve done your homework, you should know what to do. Plus that I’d had several conversations with Evan about who this guy is and how to measure him out throughout the picture. First you’ve got to bring him in and then you slowly put your arms around them and seduce them.
We talked about that, and we would talk about it on set, the tone of the piece, like how far are we going to go here. Plus, the guy, overall, doesn’t seem to have an empathy gene, so you’ve got that in there too. It’s a very selfish guy, but at the same time, it’s selfless because he’s doing it for his wife. It’s ridiculous, he’s a bit of a sociopath.
N: There were a couple of moments when, just with your look, it was like, “What are you complaining to me for, I just paid you?” Well, we live in L.A., there are those guys. Did that help, working through the Hollywood system, bringing something of that to the table?
DK: I didn’t think about that as much as I did the overall culture we have, which is anything for a buck. That type of thing, where we’re all told to buy things and that we go out and do it. We’re all leveraged to the hilt. We all have 2 cars. Too much stuff, there’s too many toys in my house. I’ve got too many televisions, we all have phones. There’s always just too much, too much, too much. Thematically, I was conscious of that in the film.
N: One of the things I loved, you and Sarah just had this weird whacked-out chemistry that totally worked for what that couple was supposed to be.
DK: I know.
N: How was that working with her and creating that relationship?
DK: She’s obviously good and her performance is just… it’s hard because she doesn’t get to say much, so it’s all about her look. For me, personally, it’s about being manipulated by her by my own desire. The fact that she’s 25 years my junior, that adds that chemistry, like, “Wait a minute, I’m old enough to be your dad.” I think that informed it as well.
N: In a movie like this it’s really interesting because everybody had this great arc, everybody had this great change. It’s very rare to see such a small ensemble where nobody is the focus. What I find most interesting is your characters could have just been a catalyst. You guys have just as much of an arc in stripping away layers. The last scene, you guys, it’s just like Machiavellian. It was very much like Mortimer and what’s-his-name from Trading Places.
DK: Oh, right, you’re right.
N: All I could think was, “Man, I can’t wait to see who they find next.”
DK: We were joking, I think the next one’s called More Cheap Thrills.
N: Cheaper Thrills.
DK: Cheaper Thrills, yeah.
N: Which do you prefer to do more, the drama, now that you’re getting shots at that, or do you like to just…
DK: I like to do everything. I’ve looked at the shit I’ve done and it’s… I’ve done everything from Hannah Montana to Cheap Thrills to Piranha 3DD. That’s a pretty broad range, I’m pretty happy about that. Or Haunted House last year with Marlon Wayans. That was crazy.
It’s fun that I get this opportunity to play in all these different genres. I don’t mind it. I don’t have a map of going, “Here’s what I’m doing next, then I’ll do one of these, then I’ll do one of those.” I’m not that, it’s whatever opportunities come up. I really need to stay home, I want a 4 camera sit-com that shoots in the Valley and I’m the lead. That’s what I want. I will thank you for giving me that. I’m thankful that that’s coming.
N: Oh, you are doing that?
DK: We just decided.
N: Oh, okay. Am I involved?
DK: Sure, why not?
N: Here, let’s just make you the editor of a nerd website, who has misadventures across the country.
DK: That’s great. It can’t be a travel show because it has to be at home. Yeah, that’s my job. I run the building and I’m in charge of all the Nerdist stuff and I don’t understand it.
N: Let’s take this back to Chris right now. Somebody get Hardwick on the phone.
DK: I keep insisting that I know what’s going on and what are they doing, but I don’t know anything about the culture.
N: Yeah, and that’d be really funny. I don’t know how broad of an audience we’d have.
DK: Yeah, I know.
N: We’d get 2 seasons and a cult following and a petition.
DK: We might be surprised how well that would be received. Look at Big Bang Theory. I believe the success of Big Bang is predicated on the idea that they are outsiders. At some point in your life, everyone has felt like an outsider, where it’s actually, let’s say, a nerd or the prom queen. Everyone, at some point in their life, has felt like, “Oh, I don’t belong. I don’t fit in somewhere.”
N: There’s kind of an interesting question there that I’m curious about, you don’t have casual fans. People that know you, they follow David Koechner. Everybody else thinks you’re Rob Corddry.
DK: Yes, I know, it’s crazy, right?
N: I thought that was pretty funny that they put your picture up at the event he missed at the Vista. They were doing a screening of Children’s Hospital and Rob had to miss it and they put your picture up and said, “Rob couldn’t be here tonight, but he sent this picture,” and it was your picture.
DK: Was it an accident that they put that …
N: No, it was intentional, it was intentional.
DK: Who did it, the Children’s people?
N: Yeah, the Children’s Hospital guys.
DK: That’s awesome.
N: I think Rob Huebel might have done it.
DK: Okay, that’s perfect because he and I often will get tweets where people will go, “I thought that was this guy. I’m just now finding out that Rob Corddry was not in Anchorman,” and stuff like that. I will do an hour stand-up and people will come up after me and say, “I loved you in Anchorman and I love you on Children’s Hospital.” I’m like, “Dude, you just watched me for an hour.”
N: Have you guys ever talked about trying to capitalize on that with a project?
DK: I don’t know how we’d capitalize on it, it’d just be so confusing. I’m sure it’s going to happen because it kind of has to.
N: Remake Desperately Seeking Susan.
DK: Oh my god, but it does have to happen.
N: You guys have known each other for a while.
DK: Yeah, we enjoy each other. We haven’t had an opportunity to hang out really, just because I don’t get to hang out with anybody. Not that way, I love and enjoy my family, but there’s plenty of my close friends I haven’t been able to see in months.
N: With good reason. You’ve got great stuff coming out.
DK: That, plus every weekend, or every night, there’s soccer, baseball, basketball, dance, or some other such thing.
N: And that’s just you, not even counting the kids.
Nerdist: When you guys got the script for this, I’m really curious, this can’t be material that you get everyday. What was your reaction to the material and when you got to see who they had in mind for… who you were in mind for? How did you react to that? What got you motivated?
Pat Healy: I took the first vacation that I had taken in two-and-a-half years. I got this cabin up in Big Bear, you know, outside of L.A., and I wasn’t doing any work, and I got a call, would I come in and read. I promised myself I wouldn’t, and then they were like… I think they took that as, oh, he won’t read for it, which I didn’t mean at all. I just wasn’t working that week and so they asked me to come meet them that Friday, and I said I would. I knew we had some mutual friends, but I wasn’t familiar with Travis and Evan’s work. The night before, I was coming back on a Friday and I was like, “Oh, wow that was great!” I was really looking forward to meeting with them and I started talking about the character, Craig. They said, “Oh, we have… Craig has been offered to such and such for financial reasons. Would you be interested in the role of Colin?” Which is a smaller role. I was disappointed, but I loved the script and I tried to start wrapping my head around what that would be.
It was not until two months later that Compliance came out that they offered me the role of Craig. I was like… I thought I was going to be doing the other part! I thought that I could… the exciting thing for me was that I played different shades… some things in this I had never played before but I played different parts of these kinds of characters, but I’ve never played a character that goes from A to Z like that and played every single facet and every single emotion from beginning to end, and that was the most exciting thing for me.
N: How about you, Ethan?
Ethan Embry: I remember… yeah, you’re right. I don’t get stuff like this everyday. It’s definitely one of those that, when it comes around, it’s a pleasure to not only be invited to do it but it’s just a pleasure to read, with the fucking quagmire of bullshit that you get, you know? But I remember reading it. The original meeting when I met the guys and they asked me, “Who did you respond to?” and I’m a father, you know? I’d be going through some very difficult financial times and so I really identified with Craig’s struggle and the question, “How far would you go to support yourself and your family?” And then I met with them and had a great meeting and they called me up later on my way home and they said, “Look, we want you to do Vince.” Evan called me and said, “I saw your work in Brotherhood and I don’t want to cast a big ego kind of guy for this. I want you to bring your everyman’s quality, humanity into this fucking knuckle-dragger.”
N: I think that one of the brilliant things about it are the risks that Evan took casting it, you know? Because without giving away anything, in my opinion, when I saw it last night, one of the things that I loved about it is… yeah we identify and root for you but when you watch it and really dissect your movement and… there’s a certain element of your compliance in that character where you don’t know whether or not you can trust this guy.
PH: Casting someone who is more popularly known as a sweetheart as the knuckle-dragger; It takes these stereotypes and just flips them upside down.
N: There was something… maybe I’m wrong about this, but Vince seems to be the one who is getting out his anger and speaking to it, more whereas you are quieter.
PH: I think that that’s the more… as someone who has been in psychoanalysis for… fourteen years now? My life really changed when I was able to get this stuff that was creeping around myself, outside and express it in a healthy way because if it stays in it will fester and you become twisted as a person; both emotionally and physically sometimes. I think a person that is truer to themselves is one that expresses themselves. You may disagree with that person’s behavior but they are true to themselves and the fact of the matter is that my character is not and his is… he is. Even the article that’s on the wall, which is the big thing that I wrote that got published in the magazine and you see for a second; I wrote that before we started the movie and it’s specifically about… if you freeze frame it when you get the DVD or Blu-ray, you’ll see that it’s about a guy who is not in touch with his own feelings.
Cheap Thrills comes to theaters on March 21st, 2014 and is available now on VOD. Are you going to see it? Let us know in the comments below.