You might first have heard of Adam Pally as a key anchor of the “Happy Endings” ensemble, but the actor moved to a number of projects after the series’ unjust cancellation. Pally made a run on “The Mindy Project,” started his own production deal with ABC Studios and is now starring in the indie feature “Night Owls,” which premiered this weekend at SXSW.
The film, which takes place over the course of one night, revolves around a man who’s looking to hook up, but instead finds himself falling for his unbalanced one night stand (Rosa Salazar). One of the allures for the young actor was the chance for Pally to take on a leading man role. Of course, what does it mean to be a “leading man” these days? Indiewire got the chance to ask Pally, as well as dig into Marvel’s unconventional casting choices and what drives him to pursue things that are different.
Congrats on “Night Owls.” It seems like it’s been getting a great reception so far.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, the reviews have been pretty good, knock on wood. Everything seems like it’s going well. It was really nice to screen it, get it out and get a nice response.
Definitely. I hate to ask the boring back story question—
There is no boring question.
Okay, well, the boring back story question: how did you get involved with the project?
I got sent the script and really responded to it. I’m still having trouble but, at the time, giving me the option of playing a romantic lead… I was known, for my TV stuff, as playing the goofy sidekick. And that was fun, but I really wanted to be the guy who got the girl and see if I could do it. This script was really tight and I had done a movie previously with Rosa Salazar and I just couldn’t think of anyone else. I was like “please consider” and she did and we were lucky because within a few months of shooting the movie she’s now the biggest action star. So it just worked out really well and we got really lucky.
So when you got sent the script was it something that was put into consideration for you, was it written for you?
It was not written for me. It came my way and I was looking for something. I didn’t want to do what I had already done. I wanted to spread my wings a little. This is a comedy, but it let me do some stuff I haven’t been able to do.
It’s a lot more grounded than the sitcom stuff you’ve been doing.
That was the goal.
Was part of the appeal also just how insular it all is?
Being that it’s all shot in one house? As you’re making indie films and starting out, that’s how you have to make your movies. Make something producible, and do your best to make it bigger than it actually was, and I think that’s what we achieved. Adrian Correia, who was the DP, and Charles Hood, who directed, they shot the fuck out of that house. It’s like a David Fincher comedy and I’m really proud of it.
How many days was that?
It was 17 days, 13 straight nights. We did two days to start, and then we moved into nights and then pretty much ended on a day and it felt like one long night. We kind of shot chronologically so everything felt really natural.
It seems like an interesting time to talk to you because you’re in between a lot of things.
I’m developing a bunch of stuff for ABC Studios; I think I’m filling a role for them that they don’t really have, which is their alternative programming space. I’m trying to do some stuff that pushes the envelope for things that are non-traditional for television. That’s a market that they don’t have their foot in yet, so they hired me to move in that direction for them.
Scripted or unscripted or both?
They’re doing a reality show, but that could mean a lot of things — from “Borat” type stuff… I’m just really going from project to project and doing things that excite me and not fill any quota for a studio.
So what excites you?
I like TV right now, especially TV that is pushing the envelope. I think “Last Man on Earth” is brilliant and hilarious, and besides Will Forte being a friend and idol of mine, he did something amazing. And “Broad City” is, in my opinion, the best sitcom on television right now.
So the key word for you seems to be “different.”
Yeah, anything different. That’s in the movies that I do and the TV I do. It feels like a trap to look for formulas that have worked before. I like projects that excite you and you don’t know how they’re gonna get made.
Hypothetically, if “Happy Endings” had gone on for a fourth and a fifth and a sixth season, would you have wanted to be a part of that ensemble?
Yeah, “Happy Endings” was a life-changing thing for me. Casey Wilson and [creator] David Caspe are two of mine and my wife’s best friends. I think it created kind of a frenetic, once in a lifetime, type of show that I was lucky enough to be a part of.
I have to ask about the “Happy Endings” April 1 countdown.
I do know [what it is]. I’m not allowed to say anything. I don’t want to be cryptic or vague, but let’s say I know a little bit.
I think what’s great about “Happy Endings” is that it’s a great example of what’s been building for a while: a great community of comedy people where everyone’s working together, everyone’s collaborating.
Yeah and that’s how I met Rosa [Salazar], from a similar thing. The only actress I could compare her to is Amy Adams. I don’t know anybody else who has that much range like Rosa, funny but at the same time super vulnerable and you don’t see that that much. So I was lucky to get to her through that comedy community.
You get to say you’re in early.
[laughs] Yes, I was in early on Rosa. I was in on the ground floor of Rosa Salazar.
How key is her range in doing a project like “Night Owls”?
I don’t think I could have done it looking back with anyone but Rose. It’s very hard to find someone who can improvise with you and spar with you and be funnier than you and at the same time have dramatic chops that don’t feel like she’s acting. So for a movie like this, a lot of that rested on her little Peruvian shoulders and it just seemed to work out.
Being a leading man and being a romantic lead, what does getting that opportunity mean to you?
It meant the world to me. The way I started… I hope this doesn’t sound deflecting or pretentious, but I didn’t think I was gonna be an actor. When I first started, I was writing. I did characters and improv and I wrote this pilot and I shot the first five minutes and I played a character so it got me a reputation for acting, and I realized that I wanted to be a leading man and I wanted to do good things. That led me to “Happy Endings,” and that led me to “The Mindy Project,” which were both amazing experiences but were both specific to that type of character and I wanted to see if I could do something different.
Talking about the idea of the leading man construct; when you think of a leading man, how do you define it?
I don’t define it any type of way, because I think there are a lot of types of leading men. I think the unfortunate thing in studio movies nowadays is that the leading man needs to be somebody so nondescript that he will work in America, in Europe in Asia, and he needs to be this handsome, blue-eyed [man], who everybody can latch onto. But the leading men I grew up with were not like that. I wanted to be like a Gene Wilder or Steve Martin, men who were not necessarily like that. Peter Sellers, inherently funny, but they’re not joking and they’re playing the leads.
Elliot Gould was a huge star in the ’70s.
I wonder where that shift comes from. The international sales?
Yeah. You still have a couple leading men of my ilk, like your Sandlers and your Rogens, but they’re few and far between, because they’re almost taking up all the real estate that anyone’s willing to gamble on a non-Ryan Gosling. But I do think I have it in me to do that.
Do you think there’s a difference there in film and television in that respect?
I actually don’t. I think TV has caught up with film in every possible way. There is no wasted frame just because it’s 22 [episodes]. Especially with single cam. So no, I don’t. I think it’s the script. I think it’s the part and the idea that are the number one things that lead you to do it, and if you don’t have that, when you get on set you’re going to be miserable.
Every pilot I read this year was for me to play brother-in-law to a sister who had just gotten married, and I move back home to live in the garage and take care of the kids. And they were all called “Brother-In-Flaw.” [laughs] No, no, but that’s what it feels like. I get it. I get how that can work, and I’m not in any way demeaning that form. But for me in my life and my career, I’m not there right now.
Do you think writers are starting to write an “Adam Pally type?”
I haven’t gotten a script like that. I dream it. No, I think they probably write “ENTER SHAWN, THINK PAUL RUDD, OR ON OUR BUDGET, ADAM PALLY.”
Paul Rudd, though, not bad.
I’d take it. Depending on my weight I’m either Rogen or Rudd. I’m feeling like Rogen this week. When I go back to L.A. I’ll favor Rudd.
He’s gotten progressively better looking through the years.
Yeah, he’s amazing. He’s a total hero of mine. So unsung as an actor.
I can’t wait to see what he does with Ant-Man.
Yeah, me too, me too. I’ll be there to see it.
Going back to unconventional male leads, he’s not necessarily who you’d think of for that part.
Marvel is great like that. As a member of the Marvel Universe… [Pally had a small role in “Iron Man 3” as a Tony Stark fan.]
That’s right, when’s your action figure coming out?
I’m begging RDJ for it, but he won’t return my calls. No, but, you know, Robert in “Iron Man” and Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo — they really do a great job on casting, a great job picking directors. So they probably know what they’re doing here.
So to wrap up, we’re in this generation of people coming up in comedy, moving to more serious roles. Does wanting to go dramatic go beyond just wanting to be different?
Yes, I would say, for me. I don’t want to do my drama. I feel like sometimes, when you’re picking material, you have to be really really honest to the material. My instinct is to be big and funnier and less believable so I never think about strategically what I want to do, I just think about whether I could do it. That’s what [“Night Owls”] was. I think I can do it, if someone was reining me in a little.
Was that part of your conversation with the director?
To make sure he reined me in? I’m too narcissistic to give someone that power. No, I knew from talking with him that he knew what he was doing, and that’s the most important thing — especially with my style — because I don’t intend to be one of those actors in the director’s face, wanting to know how things are going. I’d much rather be told to go here so I can focus on whatever dumb thought I’m focusing on. I knew from my first conversation with Charles that he knew exactly what he wanted to do.