Tyler Labine is one of our favourite character actors around. He’s been a part of some great, disappointingly shortlived TV shows like Reaper and Invasion, he’s put in solid supporting work in blockbusters like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and, of course, he’s half of one of our favourite horror comedy duos: Tucker and Dale.
We got the chance to talk to Labine about his dark indie horror comedy Cottage Country, in which he and Malin Akerman star as Todd and Cammie, a couple whose weekend getaway is rudely interrupted by Todd’s brother Salinger (Daniel Petronijevic) and his girlfriend Masha (Lucy Punch). One thing leads to another, and before you know it, someone’s in the woodchipper, and Todd and Cammie are realising just how far they’re willing to go to ensure their perfect life goes smoothly.
We talked about the importance of breaking type, why working on cult shows is both rewarding and frustrating, and why Tucker And Dale Vs Evil 2 is going to be great (or else they won’t make it).
How did you get involved with Cottage Country?
I got sent the script, and loved it, and was asked to meet with Peter Wellington, the director. I assumed that they wanted to talk to me about playing the crazy brother role, because nobody asks me to be the straight man lead, and Peter was like “We want you to play Todd,” and I kind of lost my mind a little bit and immediately jumped on board. I thought it was a great opportunity to play a character I don’t get to do very often. They took a chance on me, I took a chance on them and we made a crazy movie.
It must have been fun playing characters that realise they don’t know each other at all…
Yeah, it was really fun, especially playing with Malin. My character is learning more about himself as he’s going through the movie, and she’s just revealing more about herself. I feel like she knows who she is, like a machinating, conniving, willing to do anything to do what she wants, and I think that my character is just figuring out that he doesn’t have to be a total fucking pussy all the time. So it was fun. Playing with levels where the stakes are literally life or death, and we’re still trying to keep up these facades of being in love and calling each other sweetie and all that, it was really a fun interesting line to walk.
Is it hard keeping a character likeable when you’re doing some pretty dark things…
Yeah, you’d be surprised how wiling people are to watch murderers! I don’t know what that says about the state of the world right now. That’s funny you mention that because I’ve played with that dynamic a lot in my career of seeing how far you can go and have people still like you. But not so much with murder. That to me is a big one, that’s a doozy. If you can murder people and still see if people will watch you, and hopefully root for you a little bit, that’s a fun character to play in my book.
I have to ask about Lucy Punch as well, she’s hysterical in the movie.
Lucy and I are good friends. We’ve done three movies together. We have an American indie called Someone Marry Barry where we play two of the most disgusting human beings ever and she’s great at that! I love Lucy, I can’t say enough about her, just an amazing actor, comedically gifted as they come. When I found out she was coming to do Cottage Country I was really ecstatic that we were going to get to see something a little bit more niche and dark. And she came and they wanted her to be Slavic or some kind of European and she came in with this really crazy Russian accent, she rewrote a lot of her lines and came up with all this crazy shit with Salinger. We couldn’t get enough of her on set, she’s just one of those actors you could watch for days. She’s so funny.
Is it important to you to find these roles where you’re playing something different?
Yeah, for sure. I do a lot of that stuff but it never gets seen because they’re little indie films that I really love. There’s always as an actor in my position, where my bread and butter is playing the loudmouth best friend or the extreme wacky sidekick character or whatever, when you get given the chance to, not that that character was normal by any means, he was very odd, but it was definitely against type for what I normally do. Playing a much more buttoned up, very repressed character was fun.
I always look for something that just feels different, but it’s not an active choice where you’re like “I wanna do something different.” It’s just that after a while those become the things that really appeal to you because you get stuck in a rut, you get entrenched in this groove, especially in Hollywood, and at a certain point you just want to really strain and break out of that thing. I’m always looking for new material.
You’ve been on several shows, like Reaper, that didn’t get the time on air they deserve, and then something like Tucker And Dale Vs Evil had this incredible cult life. Is it a surprise to see what sticks with people, what makes it?
Oh yeah, man. There’s no rhyme or reason. Reaper, Reaper is frustrating, I have no idea what happened with Reaper. We think we’re making a good show, we had good ratings, and then the network openly didn’t understand the show, didn’t really like the show. So they cancelled it, and it’s like OK, fair enough, I get that, but I still don’t understand how when you make something good, and I don’t mean this in any kind of disparaging way to people who make what I consider middle of the road TV, you make something good and you get rewarded with “It was a short-lived, critically acclaimed cult hit.” You make something down the middle that’s kind of vanilla, you get 12 years on your network and you never have to worry for the rest of your life.
So I don’t know what’s better. Part of me likes that I’ve been on these short-lived, cult status things, because I don’t think the work that you do would have been considered as special if it just droned on and on and on.
But with a movie like Tucker and Dale, yeah man, who knew? When we were making that movie, we were like “I don’t even know if they’ll be able to cut this movie together!” Every night Alan Tudyk and I would be on the ride home, like “What did we shoot today, what movie are we making?” And that’s all credit due to Eli [Craig, director], he knew and Alan and I didn’t! So when we saw it together we were like “Oh!” So there’s no rhyme or reason. I think you have a good idea when you are putting in work that is hopefully going to be appreciated or enjoyed but you never know what the actual final product in its entirety is going to end up looking like or who it’s going to appeal to or totally repel. It’s weird. All you can do is concentrate on your work.
Tucker And Dale does seem to have found an audience outside the genre as well. Everyone loves it.
I think the great equaliser about that movie is that it really lets you laugh at really dark, disgusting shit. Shit that in your life, you would never laugh at somebody going into a woodchipper. I mean, hopefully. Maybe you would. I wouldn’t. But there are things that that movie just gives you permission. “Yeah yeah yeah, you can laugh at this!” And when people as they start to realise they can laugh about it, I think that the joke just builds on itself. And it’s also a play on genre. It’s a comedy movie, it’s not a horror, but it’s got that mix, and it’s like putting sweet and salty together so you can’t resist it.
Can you tell us what’s going on with the sequel?
It’s still being considered and written and tweaked. The main concern with that movie is that none of us, Eli, Alan, myself, anybody involved, other than some of the powers that be, we don’t want to make a same joke, shitty, money-grab sequel. Nobody wants to, because there isn’t going to be any money to grab! The only thing that movie has going for it is that it’s got some kind of integrity and has got a cult following, and it’s good. So to take advantage of that and serve up something that’s lukewarm, or even something that’s good but in the same vein with the same jokes, I think we just bite the hand that feeds us in that situation and say fuck you to the fans that made the movie what it is. The only reason the movie is anything is because the fans like it. I never want to treat that lightly. So we’re really making sure that if we do make something it will be good, and not just something convenient. I hope we make something good, man, if we can’t we won’t.
And your show Deadbeat‘s just got a third season…
Yeah, we’re going to go shoot season three in October, and I’m ecstatic because I’ve never had anything go more than one and a half seasons. Reaper was the closest I got to breaking my…some people call me a show-killer, some people call me a lucky charm, but I’ve had so many shows get canned. But yeah, Deadbeat is hopefully going to…I mean, three seasons is breaking that curve. Three is good; three is the hardest season to get so I’m really happy about that third season. Plus I love the show, I really can’t say enough good things about the show, I think it’s really funny and clever, I love playing that character.
Finally, can you tell us about Pedro Morelli’s Zoom? It sounds fantastic!
I just spoke to our producer about it yesterday, in his words he said it’s wonderfully accomplished and it’s very, very bizarre, and again very polarising, a lot of people will love it, a lot of people will hate it, but that’s the only way to make a movie, you gotta swing for the fences. You can’t make something that appeals to everybody. I mean, you can but it will end up being shitty.
Zoom is three individual storylines that are intersected because each protagonist in each story is the author of the other protagonist’s story. It’s this weird cyclical thing where they’re not really aware of each other but they’ve each created each other. In my story with Alison Pill, she’s an artist who’s creating this comic book character, who’s a director, and that is the other story with Gael Garcia Bernal, where it’s all animated and he’s playing the lead character in her book, but in his storyline he’s directing a film that is starring this woman who is actually in the other storyline who’s an actress who is trying to get away from this movie she’s making, and she in turn is writing this novel about Alison Pill’s character who is the comic book cartoonist.
It’s really really complex and cool. Each individual story is shot like a very different movie. Mine and Alison’s movie is shot like a Wes Anderson movie and then the one with Gael Garcia Bernal is all like Waking Life, Linklater animated over the live action, and then the other one is a very arthouse, fluid brilliant colours, like soft focus romance movie. I haven’t actually seen it yet but I know that the concept itself and the people attached, I think it’s going to be pretty fucking cool! And it just got into TIFF so I’m very happy about that.
Cottage Country is out now on DVD and all good digital platforms. Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.