Rapid Round: Jason Sudeikis Talks 'SNL' Regrets, Jazz Music Dreams and Emotionally Exploding Onscreen (Q&A)

THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA still 1-Jason Sudeikis and Maisie Williams  - H 2016
Courtesy of Cameron Duncan

The 'Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' star discusses his inspirations (Mike Nichols, a particular pair of Nikes) and who he'd want to see in a dunk tank (Donald Trump).

While on Saturday Night Live, Jason Sudeikis played Democratic vice president Joe Biden and then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Cajun judge and an A-hole criminal, and both Jesus and the devil. The husband of Olivia Wilde (and father to 2-year-old son Otis) has since been juggling roles in ensemble comedies, animated features and even SNL grad Will Forte's Fox series, Last Man on Earth.

Still, Sudeikis has made time for more dramatic demands. Kicking off the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival's Spotlight section is The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea in which he stars as a reserved architect who mourns the death of his wife (Jessica Biel) by building a raft with a homeless teen (Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams) using found materials from New Orleans. Also featuring Mary Steenburgen, Orlando Jones, and Paul Reiser, the long-gestating indie marks the debuts of Bill Purple as a feature director and Justin Timberlake as a film composer.

Describe Maisie Williams in 3 words.

Tiny, powerful, talented.

Your character's boldness is signified by a purple pair of sneakers from his wife. Do you have something that reminds you to stay focused?

Oddly enough, it's my first free pair of Nikes, sitting in my closet on the top shelf. They were something I didn't ask for that showed up based on being on SNL and the rep hearing what I did. They bridged the gap between the thing I loved growing up — playing basketball — and the things I love now. Stay the course and work hard, and next thing you know, you get free sneakers. Royal blue, Carolina blue, low-top. You can wear them with anything. You can wear them to a funeral. They're the first pair of sneakers that, walking down the street in Manhattan, a dude saw them and gave me a nod.

What was your best moment on this movie?

As corny as it may sound, starting the shoot. You could feel the energy. This took a long time — I first read it in June 2009. The first day was with Jessica Biel. She was full-on pregnant, and we had to shoot her out quick so she could get back to the homestead.

What was the toughest moment on this movie?

Jumping into the water. You don't know what's in there or how cold it is, and I take a half-hour to get into a pool. I'm a wuss that way.

This role is more dramatic than the ones you usually play.

Yeah. The emotional stuff was tough in a different way, because you have to conjure up these horrible images of the love of your life being removed from the earth.

Which were easier: the reserved emotional moments or the explosive ones?

Any New Yorker feels like we have those quiet moments, whether in the back of a cab or sitting next to someone on the train. Being in solitude among billions is fairly commonplace in this town. It felt oddly familiar.

What do you hope viewers take from this movie?

Sometimes, the best way to heal, even if you're not ready for it, is with other people. Let them help in moments when you think they're only there to hurt you.

What do you hate most about seeing yourself on the big screen?

That I don't come close to resembling Jimmy Stewart or Brad Pitt or anything in between. It's that age-old thing anybody has when they hear your own voice. But seeing your own face — that's what I look like when I feel that way?

What do you love most about Hollywood?

Its potential to make stories that move and guide people. In a lot of ways, being the oldest of three, it was there for me like an older sibling — people I looked up to and wanted to emulate, either the way they spoke to authority or kissed the girl.

What do you hate most about Hollywood?

Anytime we're motivated by our baggage versus our instincts, we have a tendency as a group to maybe not make the best work we're capable of and could be most proud of. I'm not pointing fingers by any means. I'm just as guilty. Things can still turn out well monetarily, but I don't know if, artistically, we're playing at the top of our intelligence.

You're an architect in this film. What profession would you have if not this?

Even beyond skill sets that I don't have? I'd want to be the leader of a jazz quartet that everybody loves. That'd be fun — play piano and sing in New Orleans for a living. I've tried taking piano lessons several times, and we have a piano, but I still can't do it. I'm in awe of those who can.

What's been the best moment of your career?

I don't think we've gotten there yet. That's the optimistic answer, right? My proudest moment was sitting in my parents' home watching a rerun of SNL and hearing Don Pardo say my name in the same room I used to watch the show as a kid. It was surreal.

Worst moment of your career?

Back when I was living in Kansas City, some business hired me and three buddies to bring in their CEO on a Cleopatra-type dolly for a hundred bucks. We were all shirtless and wearing Egyptian-type garb. That felt embarrassing, and I've tried to avoid many other things like that since. So far, so good. A good low to have right off the bat. But a hundred dollars bought a lot of CDs and originally PlayStation games. Jagged Little Pill, I probably bought that with that money.

If you could do something all over again, what would it be?

SNL is a wonderful place where you learn and almost get used to creating and destroying on a weekly basis that sometimes you don't get to love it and revel in it and play in it. At least I didn't. I would do that entire 10 years over again. I'd probably throw more crap up on the wall and see what stuck. I'd treat it like recess as opposed to schoolwork, which it can sometimes feel like. When you're in the grind, you don't even realize you're making a TV show sometimes. It literally takes walking around on a Sunday in the daylight and having people go, "Hey, great job last night" or "Bad job last night" to realize, "Oh right, people see this."

Who is your dream director?

Unfortunately, it probably would've been – and still is, in a way – Mike Nichols. I'm a big fan of him as a director, but probably first and foremost as a performer and writer, like the stuff he did with Elaine May. Of all the amazing people we got to meet through SNL, he's the one gentleman that I was always hoping to brush elbows with, sit at a dinner table and listen with the biggest ears I could muster.

Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

Depending on what the specific question is, it's most likely going to be Hillary Clinton. Unless it's "Dunk tank?" In that case, it'd be Donald Trump.