The star of The Hangover and The Office loves being tattooed and toothless (well, temporarily), tells how to achieve physical nonfitness (he recommends doughnuts and hot chocolate) and hates when you mention his childhood nickname (try to guess what it is)
PLAYBOY: In your last few films you’ve been paired with actresses like Heather Graham, Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche and, in this month’s The Hangover Part II , Jamie Chung. That’s a lot of on-screen sex with a lot of hot ladies. We never thought of you as such a stud.
HELMS: Wait, let’s rewind for a second. There was no sex on-screen—or off, for that matter—with Heather Graham. There was implied sex, and we did have a nice kiss, which I’m still dizzy from. But we didn’t actually have sex during the movie. Actually, I think Sigourney Weaver in *Cedar Rapids *was my first official sex scene. And if you don’t mind my saying so, I think it will go down as one of the great sex scenes in the history of cinema.
PLAYBOY: When Sigourney was taking your movie-sex virginity, was she gentle with you?
HELMS: Oh, she was the greatest. She’s so cool and such a seasoned pro. I was the anxious one. In any situation like that, there is a fear that—how can I put this delicately?—body parts might act on their own accord. But she just completely put me at ease. In the movie, my character is looking for a mother figure, and that’s kind of how I felt about Sigourney. I really felt nurtured and taken care of by her.
PLAYBOY: In Cedar Rapids you were half naked for a good portion of the movie. What’s the Ed Helms pre-nude-scene fitness regime?
*HELMS: * I think it’s pretty clear there wasn’t much of a fitness regime at all. We shot it during November and December in Michigan, which is not a climate conducive to outdoor fitness activities. It’s conducive to holing up with hot chocolate and doughnuts in your hotel room. But I don’t have a lot of hang-ups about that stuff. I feel pride and dignity usually get in the way when you’re trying to do comedy.
PLAYBOY: The Hangover Part II was shot almost entirely in Bangkok, a city with a reputation for red-light districts and anything-goes debauchery. Did you partake?
HELMS: Not really. We exploited its dark underbelly with great enthusiasm in the movie. We shot in some interesting neighborhoods, what you might call “sketchy,” that most tourists probably wouldn’t visit. You take a vacation to a place like Thailand and you’re ready for the excitement of something new and foreign. But when you’re working 14-hour days, all you want is something familiar to ground you. And there’s just nothing there. Even the American things, such as Starbucks or a hamburger joint, felt different in Bangkok.
PLAYBOY: After being in two alcohol-fueled *Hangover *movies, do you find your fans are constantly trying to buy you booze and get you drunk?
HELMS: If I’m in a bar, frat boys will usually try to buy me shots. But I’m not much of a boozer anymore. I certainly had my share of ragers during my 20s, but I think it had more to do with geography than age. I lived in New York City for most of my 20s, and then I moved to Los Angeles when I was 32 or 33. L.A. is all about automobiles, and New York is about public transportation or taxis. So alcohol consumption isn’t as automatic as it was when I was in New York.
PLAYBOY: Do you remember your last painful hangover?
HELMS: For me it’s less about the physical effects than the remorse. I think I’m a fairly obnoxious drunk, so I’ll wake up the next morning just racked with guilt, replaying every conversation I had the night before and every terrible thing that came out of my mouth. I read that’s part of the chemical process of alcohol going through your body. It engenders feelings of guilt and depression.
PLAYBOY: Your character gets a face tattoo inThe Hangover Part II. Have you ever been tempted to get some real body ink?
HELMS: I don’t have any real tattoos, and I’m not interested in getting any. But it’s so much fun having a tattoo when it’s not permanent. Especially when it’s on your face. Walking around the streets of Bangkok with a face tattoo, I felt like the biggest badass. I felt like no one would mess with me, and if they did, I could crush them. Of course, if somebody did start fucking with me, I would probably start weeping and run away.
PLAYBOY: You had a tooth removed for the first *Hangover *movie. How did you convince a dentist this was a good idea?
HELMS: It was actually just a dental implant. I’d thought about replacing it for a while. My teeth had shifted, and it just didn’t feel like the best fit anymore. I said to my dentist, “Can I get a new cap on this implant? And in the interim, can we leave it out for two months while I shoot a movie?” He was like, “Sure, that’s fine.” The funny thing is, I had to wear a retainer for the scenes in which the tooth isn’t gone yet. It was like a flipper with a fake tooth. And my speech was slightly affected. We were still shooting The Office during the movie, and I didn’t tell them about it because I didn’t want to get into trouble. Somehow I got away with it.
PLAYBOY: Andy Bernard, the character you play on The Office, has way too much self-confidence even though it’s not always deserved. Do you envy his shamelessness or cringe at it?
HELMS: I love it. This may come as a surprise, given the nature of my job, but I am very guarded and contemplative. I’m not a naturally boisterous person. Andy Bernard is a bit of a wish fulfillment for me, because I absolutely envy how passionate he is. If Andy’s in love with somebody, everybody knows it. He just puts it out there. It’s his saving grace, in the midst of all his other social handicaps.
PLAYBOY: Andy likes coming up with nicknames for his co-workers, like Big Tuna and Big Turkey. We heard that your nickname in high school was Chuck E. Cheese. Care to explain?
HELMS: Oh God. Yes, that’s true. It came from an upperclassman who claimed I looked like Chuck E. Cheese, the mascot from that chintzy pizza restaurant chain. Any good nickname recipient shouldn’t actually like his nickname, and that was certainly the case with me. I hated being called Chuck E. Cheese. And of course that just encouraged them. Thank you for bringing it up. I’m sure it’ll catch on once again and ruin my life.
*PLAYBOY: *Andy Bernard loves to brag about being a Cornell University alumnus. Last March his likeness and boisterous claim—“I went to Cornell…ever heard of it?”—were used to promote Cornell’s law school on its website. If you were a potential Cornell student, would Andy’s endorsement help or hurt?
HELMS: I think it’s great, because it shows that Cornell has a sense of humor about itself. It’s perfectly harmless. At the same time, there’s something a little ridiculous about an institution of higher learning celebrating a fictional character who is known for not living up to the standards of that university. For any thinking person, Andy’s endorsement should be absolutely meaningless.
PLAYBOY: A few years ago you attended an *Office *convention in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where your fictional Dunder Mifflin paper company office is located. What are the hard-core fans really like?
HELMS: They’re pretty extreme, man. At that convention we were like the Beatles for a weekend. We had a police escort just to get around town, and everywhere we went there was a round of applause. At one point I was in a car with [*Office *co-star] Angela Kinsey in downtown Scranton, and we passed a model-train store. I asked the driver to stop so we could go in. And before we knew it, fans were starting to pour in. A cop eventually showed up and said, “Everyone out.” And they shut down this store so Angela and I could walk around and look at model trains. That was just crazy to me. I thought that shit only happened to Justin Bieber.
PLAYBOY: On The Daily Showyou played a correspondent named Ed Helms, who was kind of a douche bag. Did people always know the difference between the real Ed Helms and the satirical Ed Helms?
HELMS: I honestly don’t know. It’s such a weird medium, because you’re kind of defining yourself publicly as this person. But of course it’s a comedy and you hope the audience understands you’re being silly and ridiculous. I’m sure some people thought I was the incredibly smug prick I played on the show. Sometimes we rode the line, and there were some things I regret in hindsight.
*PLAYBOY: *Can we assume the thing you regret is the Nutcam, the hidden scrotum camera you wore during a segment?
HELMS: Not at all. I’m very proud of the Nutcam. In fact, I’ll spoil the mystery. A good magician never shares his secrets, but nobody ever accused me of being a good magician. I wasn’t actually wearing that Speedo with the camera in it. We put two golf balls in the front of the swimsuit and hung it on the hood of the camera so the balls dangled in front of the lens, just at the top of the frame. And then we walked around with it at waist level. Sorry if I ruined it for you.
PLAYBOY: What is Jon Stewart like as a boss?
HELMS: I think the best way to describe Jon is how I once described him in a segment on the show. He’s a mixture of Hitler and Willy Wonka. [laughs] I don’t even know what that means. In any environment in which everyone is putting out a lot of creativity, there will be tension at times, because not all of it works and you won’t always agree on what works. You have to throw a hundred darts at the board and maybe 10 of them will stick. Is that a good metaphor? I’m having second thoughts.
*PLAYBOY: *You’re working on a screenplay for a film about Civil War reenactors, in which you hope to star. Have you ever taken part in a reenactment?
HELMS: I’ve attended a few but just as a spectator. The people involved are so passionate about the Civil War. Whenever somebody is truly passionate about something, no matter how silly or absurd it seems to everybody else, that’s admirable. Unless it’s a fascist dictator or something. In that case, passion is not as cool.
*PLAYBOY: *You often invite your parents to visit you on the sets of your movies and TV shows. Have they ever seen something they shouldn’t?
*HELMS: *Oh sure. As I mentioned, pride and dignity are the enemies of comedy. And that’s not always something you want to share with your parents. Both my mom and dad have been phenomenally supportive over the years. Even when I think they’re embarrassed by something I’ve done, which is probably frequently, they’re respectful and gracious. They got upset with me only once. I did a segment on The Daily Show where I go to a brothel in Pahrump, Nevada . At one point I’m literally chasing a gaggle of prostitutes around a swimming pool while wearing a cowboy hat, a necktie and a Speedo. When my mom saw it she was like, “Maybe you went too far.” And she’s probably right, God bless her. I should listen to my mom more often.
*PLAYBOY: *You were in an a cappella group in college called the Oberlin Obertones. Were you contemplating a career in music?
*HELMS: *I never thought about singing professionally, but being in that group was very gratifying creatively. There’s a funny thing about a cappella: It’s so much fun to sing, but I don’t think it’s nearly as interesting to listen to. You do these shows and have a great time and think you’re killing it, but most of the people in the audience are probably there only because they know someone in the group. The entertainment value of a cappella is questionable.
PLAYBOY: You’ve played the banjo a few times on The Office, but you haven’t serenaded anybody in a while. You haven’t given up the banjo, have you?
HELMS: Not at all. I love the banjo and I love bluegrass music. When it’s used comedically, the banjo sounds so goofy and wacky. But I don’t think it always works. At least I haven’t seen many people pull it off. Steve Martin’s the exception, obviously.
PLAYBOY: Steve Carell, who plays Michael Scott, the goofball boss on The Office, is leaving this year. Does Andy Bernard have what it takes to get a promotion and become the new manager at Dunder Mifflin?
HELMS: I don’t know. Andy’s an intrinsically sweet guy, but he’s also kind of desperate for approval and very short-tempered. Too much responsibility and he might get more stressed out and susceptible to, as he likes to say, losing his freakin’ mind. So no, I don’t think management would be a good fit for him.
Watch the trailer for The Hangover II