PLAYBOY: You star in Horrible Bosses 2. What have your real-life experiences with bosses been like?
DAY: I worked as a busboy and bar-back at this divey place in Manhattan. On Saint Patrick’s Day I opened up the place at sunrise—four A.M., I’m there. By seven A.M. we were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with firemen and cops. I worked 24 hours straight, but the frat-boy bartenders didn’t tip me out. They tipped me maybe 20 bucks. They’re supposed to at least give me five or 10 percent—something. But they gave me nothing, and these guys made thousands of dollars. I was so furious, I was like, I have to fuck this restaurant over. So I’m thinking, I’m going to throw a brick through the big glass window. No, that’s not me. Instead, I’ll erase the blackboard with the menus and write “No blacks or Jews”—get them in some sort of heat. And then I thought, You know what I’m gonna do? I’m just never going to come back to work. And that’s what I did. I just never went back there again.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever been fired?
DAY: Sort of, from a Via Via Pizza in Newport, Rhode Island, where I grew up, because I was a really dumb employee. I showed up and I didn’t bring a pen. I was supposed to have a pen for some reason. They were very upset that I didn’t bring my own pen. I had long hair at the time, which they weren’t into. I looked like a hippie who put a tie on. Everything they wanted me to do or learn, I didn’t get right. They were like, “We got your number, right?” And I knew then they weren’t going to call me. I felt humiliated. But in the long run it was good that I didn’t find a career as a pizza waiter.
PLAYBOY: You eventually got a job as the voice of the IFC network, which helped you break into bigger things.
DAY: I did that from maybe 2000 to 2003. Anytime you heard “Coming up on IFC” or “Tonight at eight, Dario Argento”—this was way back when it was actually a channel about independent films—I would announce them all. When my voice-over agent called me, he said, “I got this thing for you, for the Independent Film Channel.” But I had a callback that same day with Curtis Hanson for the movie 8 Mile.
PLAYBOY: Was it the starring role?
DAY: No, but it was a good part. It was a good medium-size part for a guy who has a conflict with Eminem’s character. So I called my agent and said, “I don’t want to do this IFC thing.” And he said, “Look, if you take this gig, you won’t have to worry about rent.” I said, “Oh, what are we talking about?” And suddenly I realized I was going to be financially secure just from doing those IFC promos. But I almost blew the whole thing off.
PLAYBOY: Was getting the IFC job when you realized you had a unique voice? You’ve described your voice as “a squeaky dog toy mixed with a bag full of rusty nails” and as that of “a 10-year-old who smokes.”
DAY: I think it was when I started to read comments from people complaining about it. When I’m agitated in scenes it gets higher and scratchier and squeakier. I was slightly aware of it when I was starting out in the theater and certain people would say, “You need to work on that.” I became more aware of it after we started making It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and I was on TV a lot, and one out of three people would have some comment about it. Of course you don’t hear yourself the way other people do. But I certainly don’t have a complex about it.
PLAYBOY: You once said that if you don’t establish yourself as a McDreamy type in Hollywood, then you don’t have to live up to it. If you’re not McDreamy, how have you established yourself?
DAY:I try not to know. When you start to know, that’s when you’re in trouble, because you have to live up to some idea of yourself. I also talked about how many weights I’d have to lift to be that type. And I talked about tanning. It’s a relief for me not to do any tanning.
PLAYBOY: Yet you must be curious about the world of beefcake roles.
DAY: There are two sides to every coin. It would be great to be Brad Pitt for a day.
PLAYBOY: What would you do if you woke up as Brad Pitt tomorrow?
DAY: I would fuck my wife. What would you do?
PLAYBOY: That’s a reasonable choice.
DAY: I probably know the reality of what he would do. He would wake up and then he would go deal with the kids. How many kids do they have? Thirty? He would deal with the 30 kids, and he wouldn’t go anywhere near his wife, because they’ve been together for years.
PLAYBOY: Your parents are music teachers. Was there a lot of music in your home when you were growing up?
DAY: I remember a pile of records, and I know I’m dating myself. I remember I was really into the Al Jolson records—you know, the most racist records of all; not the lyrics but the blackface makeup he wore. Somehow I’d also gotten the Star Wars music, and I would put that on and run around the house and pretend I was fighting people. Right now I’m into James Booker, a New Orleans jazz musician. I’ve been on a New Orleans jazz music kick. And I like mariachi music. I don’t speak a word of Spanish, but for some reason I love the music.
PLAYBOY: On It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, your wife, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, plays the object of your unrequited desire, identified only as “the Waitress.” How does your character’s relationship with the Waitress reflect your relationship with your wife?
DAY: It doesn’t reflect it at all. I got my wife the day I met her.
PLAYBOY: Sunny has been on for nearly 10 years. It’s been called Seinfeld on crack, with episodes that address cannibalism, transgender people, crack addiction, lots of cancer. Is there anything that could come up in the writers’ room that would make you say, “Whoa, too far”?
DAY: No, not really. If you have a unique point of view or approach, you’re able to get away with subjects that could, from an outside standpoint, be perceived as edgy. Some of the episodes are tragic or shocking, but the characters are so self-serving, they’re blind to what would be edgy, and that’s what’s funny about it. During season four, my character writes a musical called The Nightman Cometh. It’s this elaborate marriage proposal to the Waitress. The whole musical is a metaphor about a boy becoming a man, but the character doesn’t realize all the lyrics sound like they’re about a little boy being raped. There’s nothing funny about that—I’m a parent; there’s nothing funny at all about that. That a man is oblivious to it because he thinks his work is great is what’s funny.
PLAYBOY: Do the characters have any kind of moral code?
DAY: They have their weird moral codes when it serves them, and then they’re quick to drop them. So the answer really is no.
PLAYBOY: It’s one of the longest-running sitcoms on TV. Do you feel you’ve gotten the respect and attention you deserve?
DAY: We don’t get a lot of attention. Our fans have kept us on the air. The industry hasn’t necessarily kept us on the air, and the press hasn’t necessarily kept the show on the air. We’ve never been on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. We’ve never been nominated or even talked about on any of the awards shows. We’re almost completely ignored by the Huffington Post. For some reason we’ve never quite clicked into that mainstream. It’s so crazy to me that everywhere I go, I’m no longer a person who can just walk around and not be recognized, and 99 percent of the time it’s because of Sunny. It’s not Horrible Bosses, and it’s not Pacific Rim. Sometimes it’s all that, but more often than not it’s people who just know and love Sunny.
PLAYBOY: And what are your feelings about that?
DAY: It makes me disgruntled. A New Yorker critic wrote a wonderful piece on the show last year, and it was really nice, maybe just to validate it in my parents’ eyes. But constantly seeing the Emmys and the Golden Globes and another actor or another writer, and you’re not invited—it can’t help but feel a little bit like high school. I guess the cool kids are never going to invite me to the party. That was my high school experience, so it’s just history repeating itself.
PLAYBOY: What was your childhood bedroom like?
DAY: It was wall-to-wall baseball posters. I loved Rickey Henderson. Even though I grew up in New England and was a Red Sox fan, I was a gigantic fan of Rickey Henderson. I don’t know why I selected him. I think maybe when I was really young my grandmother gave me a baseball card or a sticker or something, and it was this guy Rickey Henderson. I would have dreams that I’d meet him at the park and he would be like, “Hey, dude, you want to have a catch?” I loved Wade Boggs too. We wrote a part for him on Sunny this year, and he came and did it. He was fantastic. Wade Boggs is a Hall of Fame third baseman for the Red Sox, and he would allegedly drink 50 to 100 beers on these cross-country trips—it’s been backed up by his teammates. He told me it was something like 107. So we decided we would do an episode where we’d see if we could break his beer-drinking record. He came in and played himself in a hallucination my character has. After we shot it I asked him if he wanted to have a catch, and so we had a catch. I had my catch with Wade Boggs, so it was pretty fun.
PLAYBOY: Many actors who do mostly or only comedy are also stand-ups. But you’re not. Did you always know you wanted to do comedy?
DAY: I did not always want to do comedy. I started out at a place called the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and it was great. You did whatever. You did a drama, you did a comedy, you did whatever you could get a role in. My career goal was to be like Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman, people I saw doing amazing work in all sorts of different roles. They were just great actors. My first gigs, aside from commercial work, were things like the junkie younger brother on Third Watch or Law & Order. I would always come close to getting cast in television comedies, but I couldn’t get over that hump. And then we made Sunny and it just changed everything. I just wanted to act, so whatever opportunity came up first I would have done. I have never considered myself a comedian. I’m just an actor who can be funny.
PLAYBOY: After almost 10 years doing a show you have complete creative control over, you started to act in other people’s movies. What is it like to have to do what you’re told?
DAY: It’s a mixed bag. On one hand, sometimes it’s like a paid vacation for me because I don’t have to stress about what the set looks like. It doesn’t fall on me. Guillermo del Toro is an amazingly creative, brilliant original director, so with Pacific Rim it was great because I could just plug into his vision and not have to worry. And then I could enjoy the movie as a spectator and only have to worry about whether between “action” and “cut” I did a good job.
PLAYBOY: Is there anything you wanted us to ask? Anything we haven’t covered?
DAY: It’s over? I wanted to have my Gary Oldman moment.
PLAYBOY: You want to get in the type of trouble he did when he said some controversial things in his Playboy Interview? Okay. You could get in something anti-Semitic or racist under the wire. Or you could make a strong case for a Mel Gibson resurgence. Or maybe just say something against unions.
DAY: Yeah, stupid unions ruining our country. [laughs] The truth is, I’m not smart enough to have an opinion on those things. It’s funny, talking about people you forgive for their talent. I was just back in Rhode Island, and Woody Allen was shooting a movie. I love his movies so much, I wanted to just go to the set and be like, “Hey, you know, I’m a guy who’s in the business.” Most likely Woody Allen would have said, “I have never seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and that would have killed me, so I avoided it.
Watch Charlie Day’s 20Q behind-the-scenes video here