Jason Lee discusses his guest-starring role on Up All Night

Actor Jason Lee discusses his guest-starring role in Up All Night on NBC

Up All Night continues its first season on NBC with Episode 1.08: First Night Away, which airs Wednesday, November 9 at 8 PM ET. This episode features guest star Jason Lee, who recently held a conference call to discuss the show. Here's what he had to say below.

How did your cameo on Up All Night come about?

Jason Lee: Well, you know, they just reached out to me, and of course, I was very excited -- great cast and great show. I had seen it, and it was good to be back on TV. Memphis Beat got canceled, and, you know, it had been a while since I had done any kind of comedy on television, so it was really, really cool to come back and work on a great show. And so, they keep having me back, which is great.

Can you just tell us a little bit about working with the cast on Up All Night?

Jason Lee: Fortunately, they're all very cool people, and so, as a guest star, you hope for that, because you want to be able to just blend right in and have fun and have it feel comfortable. And certainly, great show regulars help that immensely. All of these people are very cool. And with Maya (Rudolph), I think there's great chemistry there. She is very playful. And everybody's just been totally inviting. There's a lot of improv and goofing off. And, you know, I feel right at home, and so I thank them immensely for making it comfortable for me.

Now, you have a young daughter yourself, so do you see any of yourself in Reagan and Chris?

Jason Lee: Oh, my gosh, totally. I'm a father twice over. So, yes, absolutely. And, you know, it also helps playing a dad on the show, because I can totally relate and, you know, identify with that energy of being a father. And, you know, so, hopefully, that translates well. The - my character's daughter on the show is - I think she's, like, maybe 11 or something. So, it seems to be a good fit anyway.

This show is hilarious, and it's been getting so much acclaim. When you walked onto set, did you really get a sense of why it's working so well? Was it the chemistry between the actors? Did you really feel why it's working?

Jason Lee: I mean, it's definitely the chemistry, but it's also the talent of the actors and that there's certainly a lot of talent between the three of them, and the writing is really sharp. And as I like to see personally, it's got heart. It's accessible. It's not better than thou. You know, it doesn't have that comedy undertone to it. It's accessible. It's identifying. And, you know, at the end of the day, you ultimately kind of relate to the people. There's a sweetness to it too, which I think is very cool. Like with my character coming in and sort of grounding Maya's character a little bit. You know, it's a well-rounded show. It's believable and very cool in that way.

You talked a little bit about the improv. Was it hard to get through some of the lines? Because I mean, we're watching it and laughing our heads off. Like, was it difficult as actors to kind of, you know, get through a scene?

Jason Lee: Yes, I mean, there was definitely some laughing with me and Maya messing up lines and goofing off and, you know, adding things that make the other person kind of chuckle and, you know, but that's the fun of working on a comedy, is that you get to play like that. And it's been nice to play I hadn't really done that in a while, because it's been a few years now since Earl. So, it was good to get back into that comedy world and play. And what helps is when you have great, you know, cast members to work with that are actually really cool, and they aren't jaded and all of this stuff that you sometimes hear about. They're just good people that like to have fun. And it's also cool that every single cast member is a parent. Like, we all have kids. So, that's really cool.

I want to know, how does Kevin compare to Earl?

Jason Lee: Oh, man. He's way more straight-laced, a little bit more clean-cut, doesn't have an awesome mustache, unfortunately. It's definitely funny and - but it's nice that it's just sort of, like, this sweet kind of guy from next door who sort of grounds Maya's character. And I like that, you know, I get to be funny, but it's also a little bit sweet. And, you know, he's just a good guy. Like, it's nice to kind of just rely on, you know, just the relationship with Maya and try to make it real and fun and believable. And, you know, going from Earl which was kind of outlandish at time, and certainly a blast to do, it's kind of nice just to see, just as an actor, like, what does it feel like to play it straighter, you know?

Is this a one-shot deal, or is there talk of you becoming a returning character?

Jason Lee: I've already filmed three episodes, so apparently, it's like a returning kind of deal, which is kind of cool, because I'm having a great time.

The way you described Kevin is, you know, sort of "down to earth" guy, single dad, and stuff. It doesn't seem like the kind of guy that Eva would normally even encounter. So, can you talk a little bit about how they meet and how they get together?

Jason Lee: Well, I think it's a reflection of, ultimately, who she is. I think Eva is very likable, sweet, innocent, you know, and he brings that out in her. And I like that she's not afraid to be that way around this guy. She's still very kind of smart-assy and jokey when they're around other people and whatnot, and it's all fun and endearing. But, yes, I think it brings out a cool side of her, and it certainly allows me to kind of do something a little different which is very cool, kind of play it a little straighter and be a little bit more, I guess you could say, leading man - whatever the term is - or just kind of "the guy," you know, which I've never - I never really do, coming from Earl and things like that.

Are your scenes mostly with Maya? Or do you work some with Will Arnett and Christina Applegate as well?

Jason Lee: Yes, so far. I've done three episodes so far which is really cool and gotten to play with everybody, you know, which is great -- mainly with Maya, but some with Will and some with Christina so far. And everybody's amazing.

When you're coming in as guest on a show early on in the first season, do you feel more of a sense of freedom to create something brand-new with there's - with less history on the show?

Jason Lee: Yes, there's definitely that. And it also helps that everybody is very cool. And there is - but that's a good question. There is certainly that thing of everybody's kind of getting into it all at the same time. But even still, had it - you know, if it were the fourth season, good people are good people, and it makes it that much easier. You know, you certainly don't want to come onto a show where everybody's already over it already. Everybody from Will to Maya to Christina are very happy to be there. You can tell. There's a great energy on set. The writers are always there -- very happy and laughing. And it feels like everybody's eager to make a good show, and that's always a good sign.

Do you feel that there's a formula for good comedic TV?

Jason Lee: I mean, I say it every time. It's certainly good jokes, but even more so, I think, it's does the thing have some kind of heart, some semblance of believability or humanity. I really think comedy has to be sincere and grounded. If it's forced or if it's too much winking at the camera, I think it dies early, and it becomes old. I think a show like this is super funny, but it's also identifiable, and you kind of root for this couple with the new kid. And, you know, it's ultimately endearing at the end of the day, and I think that has more legs.

I think on this show the writing seems really tight, but you talked about improvisation. And I was wondering how much improv gets into the actual show.

Jason Lee: I mean, it's mainly what's scripted, but maybe little things that they change or maybe a writer or one of the actors might, you know, suggest an alternate line. There's a little trailing off kind of goofy improving at the end of the scene or adding to a line or something sort of just in good fun just sort of being silly. But, structurally, the main stuff is what's being shot, and that's a testament to the good writing that already exists on the page.

Do you have any other shows lined up that you're going to be doing guest shows or any other show of your own you're talking about?

Jason Lee: Well, I'm working on developing some stuff for myself, and that's been exciting, and fleshing things out and trying to find a new home somewhere to star in something. So, we're underway on that. No, nothing concrete yet. But, in the meantime, I'm having a great time guest starring on Up All Night.

You can watch Jason Lee in Up All Night, which airs Episode 1.08: First Night Away Wednesday, November 9 at 8 PM ET on NBC.