Koechner Gets Serious

Best known for his role as sportscaster Champ Kind in the 2004 comedy “Anchorman” and as Steve Carrell’s irreverent friend Todd Packer in “The Office,” actor and comedian David Koechner is recognizable by almost all modern-day audiences, even if they do not know his name.

Koechner first rose to prominence doing sketch comedy on “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in the mid-1990s. He then earned praise for playing a more serious role in 2013’s “Cheap Thrills,” and looks to continue with his new film “Priceless,” a drama thriller about human trafficking set to be released on Oct. 14.

Aside from acting, Koechner continues a career in stand-up comedy, and is currently doing a string of shows, which includes performances at the Arlington Drafthouse in Arlington, Va. from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24.

The Hoya spoke with Koechner earlier this week to discuss his upcoming projects.

Some of your characters share a similarly irreverent manner.  Where did that inspiration come from? Is it a character that comes naturally?

The inspiration comes from the writers. How you play the script is where the characters come alive, it’s a combination of the writers and directors. I don’t have an instinctual desire to play horrible human beings. It’s not often in life you can say horrible things to and about other people with no consequence — that’s where the fun in playing that type of character comes from. For me, it’s completely ironic. I have five kids and a wife whom I adore; there’s not any misogyny living within me. Nor am I a racist or a xenophobe, but I see it in other people. These characters are satirical, and are meant to make people say “I know somebody like that.”

The millennial generation grew up with some of your iconic characters. What should audiences expect from you in your new film “Priceless”?

A surprise. “Priceless” is a drama about human trafficking. There’s no comedy in this film. There are a few places where there is a laugh because of an absurd situation, but the tone of the film isn’t comedic at all.

Was this a conscious career choice to move into a dramatic role, or was it a function of being in the right place at the right time when the role arose?

A little bit of both. My buddy Steve Barnett was the producer and asked me if I wanted to do it. It was a short commitment and not too far away from the family, so I did it.

How do the skills you have developed on screen translate into the standup format?

I started in sketch improv 30 years ago. That’s where I did my training, so that’s where those skills come from. I’ve done live theater and live comedy since I began. It’s much more translating those skills onto the screen.

In what format is your home base? Where are you most comfortable?

I would say it’s in all media. I enjoy each format equally. Film is a little more special because it is mounting such a big, one-time show and you have to get it right. There are so many elements, and it’s such a large undertaking that you end up having more pride and ownership if it turns out well. I certainly love every facet of show business.

Stand-up comedy is a one-man show, but film is a different dynamic. Is your approach different in that regard?

Certainly. The technical aspects change what you are going to do. Inside of what you are doing, there are so many essentials that are the same.

What was it like working with Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and Steve Carrel on “Anchorman”?

It was as wonderful as you can imagine. I’ve known these guys for a very long time, and we’ve worked together for years. Picture the greatest pickup game you’ve ever played, or whatever thing you love to do, with some of the best players in that game. You’re playing at the highest level, so it’s fantastic.

Did that role alongside Carrell build a chemistry that led to your role in “The Office”?

Directly, because there was trouble casting Todd Packer. I have known Steve for a very long time, and I was out of town shooting “Snakes on a Plane.” Steve suggested to writer Greg Daniels: “What about Koechner?”

You can tell by the relationship on screen that it must have been a natural chemistry. Was that the case?

We’re friends, and when you get to work with your friends, it’s just that extra joy. The only thing I can equate it to is, say in basketball, the other guy knows where you are going to be on the court, and he gets you the ball at the right moment. In football, it would be akin to a timing route.

You worked with Ferrell on “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” but also earlier on “Saturday Night Live.” Is there anything in progress for a future collaboration?

Not right now. I don’t know what Will is up to. I just shot a TV pilot, and I’m waiting to see how that turns out. Hopefully it works out in the short run and takes up a chunk of my time in the future.

You have worked with so many greats in the entertainment industry over the years. Is there someone in particular you have not worked with that you would like to?

There are probably too many people to mention. The first that comes to mind in the Coen Brothers, or Tarantino. At the same time, you don’t want to get a list, because what if someone out there sees your short list and goes “Wow, I didn’t make it?” Those sort of things I don’t put too much weight on.

Having been a college student, what is your advice for us?

Number one is to read “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, and number two is to keep reading. Always be reading, your professors will love that. Honestly, now is the time for great growth. That really is the opportunity here. You’re getting all of this independence and freedom, and how are you going to use it? This is important because it can impact the rest of your life. It’s about opening as many doors as you can within your mind, knowing they are there, and exploring all of them. I want to go back.

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