We caught up with the former SNL actor on his recent trip to Dublin…

There are many, many reasons why people are funny.For some, it’s the simple trick of getting people to laugh with you before they laugh at you. For others, it’s a way of finding a date. For others still, their comedy is born out of frustration, of tragedy, oppression and casual cruelty. Will Forte – a Saturday Night Live veteran, 30 Rock cameo star and the man who is McGruber – the latter is clearly the case. For this particular funny man was christened Orville Willis Forte IV.

“Indeed I was,” smiles the California-born 43-year-old. “And if I have a son, he will be Oville Willis Forte V. And he’ll have an even greater sense of humour than me. Just like I had one up on my father, Orville Willis Forte III.” Yep, second only to calling your boy Sue, bestowing a name like Orville on your son, and making him pass it on, well, that’s one mighty piece of parental motivation right there. Verging on cruel and unusual. It certainly seems to have worked in the case of Will Forte though. Ten years making America laugh as part of the long-running TV sketch show Saturday Night Live helped make our boy a household name in the US, and now, much to his own surprise, he’s mixing it up with the Oscar crowd – thanks to last year’s awards favourite, NEBRASKA.

Which is pretty surprising when you look at the long, hard road Forte has taken to success on the big screen. Making his debut a decade ago in AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS led Forte to developing and writing THE BROTHERS SOLOMON in 2007, a masterwork that proved not to be quite the crowning glory he had hoped. Taking the bull by the horns once again in 2010 when he adapted his SNL creation McGruber for the multiplexes also met with a critical kicking and general public indifference. Add to that recent flops such as ROCK OF AGES, THAT’S MY BOY, THE WATCH and GROWN UPS 2, and, well, you’ve got a movie career that would seem to be going nowhere but down.

“You know what, when you list those movies like that, it does make for depressing read,” smiles Forte, “but I had a blast making each one of them, and I learned a little with each one of them too. I’m not signing up for movies simply to have great big hits; you’re always hoping you can bring a little something to the table that’s yours and only yours. And I had some real fun with those movies.
“No one can truly know how a movie is going to turn out, or how it’s going to do at the box-office, and I certainly don’t think about the movies that I make just in commercial terms. I just look for something that will give me a kick.”

Forte has been getting some major kicks over the last year, scoring with the critics (and various academy boards, thanks to a National Board of Reviews gong for Best Supporting Actor) with Alexander Payne’s black and white drama Nebraska; pleasing kids and those grumpy critics with both THE LEGO MOVIE and CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2; and garnering rave reviews and some very serious festival cred for his role as the visiting American neuroscientist in the small Irish movie RUN & JUMP.

In the debut feature from San Francisco-born, Irish-based filmmaker Steph Green – Oscar-nominated for her 2007 short NEW BOY – Forte plays the quietly-spoken ‘head doctor’ Ted, tagging along with recovering stroke victim Conor (Edward MacLiam) when he returns to his wife, Vanetta (Maxine Peake), and their extended family after several months in a coma. As the family struggles to adapt to the life with the now mentally-challenged man of the house, Ted and Vanetta strike up a close friendship. Much to the annoyance of that extended family and growing suspicions of the town folk.

“This is the kind of role that I would never have imagined that I could land,” says Forte. “So, naturally, I simply jumped at the chance when it came my way. It’s the same with NEBRASKA. You really can’t go chasing roles like this, especially when you’re background is predominantly comedy. You have to be incredibly lucky even just to be considered. And that’s how I got Nebraska; Alexander suggested me for the role, and my first thought was, okay, this is a set-up. And it’s pretty much how I got RUN & JUMP too. A little bit of talent, and a huge amount of luck and good fortune.”

In RUN & JUMP, as the man of the house – a carpenter by trade – begins making spherical objects that would appear to serve no purpose, his exasperated wife asks, “Have you made anything we can sell?”. Which is a line that must be uttered at many an Irish Film Board wrap parties too. Small Irish dramas are a damn hard sell. Then again, so are black and white road movies centred on an awkward father and middle-aged son reunion.

“Yeah, you never can tell what is going to connect with people,” nods Forte. “Or with a lot of people, I should say. I think you sign on to movies like Nebraska and RUN & JUMP because you feel a connection with the story. And you trust the people you’re going to tell the story with. Who could turn down the chance to work with Alexander Payne? And with Run & Jump, I not only got to work with a great cast, and an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, but I got to travel to Ireland too. Result.”

The fact that Forte’s mum, Patricia, travels with him to every single film set meant that this “very distant” Irish son got to check out the oul’ sod.
“I have some Irish blood, buried in a great big melting pot, and my dad just turned 96 on St. Patrick’s Day, so, I do feel the weight of history on my shoulders every time I lift up a Guinness,” laughs Forte. “And during the shoot, we did get to drive around, up the West Coast, to Connemara, and check this place out a little.

“Mainly because I can boast about it to all the other sad Americans I know who like to claim some Irish heritage.”

RUN & JUMP hits Irish cinemas May 2nd 

Words: Paul Byrne