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To say Marshawn Lynch has stayed “pretty” busy since retiring from the NFL is like saying his “Beast Quake” run — where the reaction from Seattle Seahawks fans famously registered on a seismograph — was “pretty” good.
The Super Bowl-winning running back, who also happens to be one of the most charismatic people to ever live, has been everywhere.
In addition to his charitable endeavors and business ventures (his Beast Mode lifestyle brand (est. 2014), a production company, a marketing agency, restaurants, Oakland’s premier craft blunt, etc., etc.), post-retirement he’s become an even more sought-after pitchman for everything from Subway to Frito-Lay to Uber Eats to razors and phone cases. (During a recent appearance on “Manning Cast” he was even asked by Eli if his goal was to “catch Peyton in the number of commercials ever been on TV.”) In October, he was announced as the first-ever chief brand ambassador for the NFLPA. There’s a rumor he could get into announcing. And he hasn’t lost the acting bug he picked up while still in the league on, uh, The League, which dovetails nicely with his professed desire — most notably demonstrated on a very entertaining 2016 episode of Running Wild With Bear Grylls — to keep trying new shit.
After showing off his dramatic chops in season three of HBO’s Westworld as a thief named Giggles, Lynch’s most recent acting challenge is improv-ing his way through a murder mystery on new Netflix comedy Murderville, which premiered on the streaming service yesterday.
Here’s the conceit: Will Arnett plays homicide detective Terry Seattle. Arnett — along with the cast of other regulars including Haneefah Wood as Seattle’s boss slash ex-wife, Chief Rhonda Jenkins-Seattle, and Lilan Bowden as coroner Amber Kang — gets a script. Each episode, a guest star “trainee” is paired with Seattle and tasked with helping him solve a grisly murder. They do not get a script, and must react to Seattle’s prompts as they interrogate three suspects and examine the crime scene for clues, culminating in a lineup where they guess whodunit. It’s like one of those murder mystery dinner party games where the host is Lego Batman.
Of the six guest stars, Lynch is the only one who is not a trained actor, comedian or actor-comedian (the others are Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Ken Jeong and Sharon Stone). However, displaying the same sense of natural comic timing that has made his “Clueless Gamer” segments on Conan the stuff of legend, he avails himself well. (At one point, Seattle points to an urn full of his aunt’s ashes and says, “That’s what we all become eventually,” to which Lynch responds, “A vase?”)
Ahead of the premiere of Murderville, Lynch sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk his acting ambitions, why he’s so comfortable stepping outside his comfort zone, and how his time on Running Wild convinced him that all reality TV is not “hella fake.”
I read that both you and Conan were among the celebrity guest stars on Murderville and figured, “Oh, Conan must have got Marshawn involved in this.” But how did you actually get hooked up with this project?
I mean, although I fuck with Conan, and I’m not one hundred percent sure that he didn’t put me on, I think it was my guys over at WME who actually put that together.
Had you ever done improv before?
Not on that level. But, shit, I did enjoy it like a motherfucker.
So from the time you found out like, “Hey, there’s this show, it’s like a murder mystery improv,” and you said yes, how long was it until you were actually on the set doing it?
I’d say it was probably like a month, month and a half out that they put it on my radar. And then, you know, by the time I seen what type of situation it was, it was already on my front doorstep, so, you know, it was just go time!
The intro to the show says the trainees don’t know what’s going on, but how did it work? From when you showed up to the studio until the camera was rolling, what type of instructions did you get?
If you look at the roster, there’s some pretty heavy hitters. And they know I’m probably the greenest out of everybody. This is what they’ll tell you: “This is the direction we’re going in,” and kind of, “Follow the lead”-type shit, and it’s like, “All right, but what lead is that?” And it’s like, “Oh, well, once we call action, you’ll get it” — like, what the fuck?! (Laughs.)
Were there second takes? Or was it just kind of like, “All right. That’s a wrap”?
There was a second take if something happened where they were supposed to get something in and it didn’t come up just based off of either my reaction or the reaction of other actors to something that I said or did would carry us into a different direction. But other than that, it was straight off the rip. What you get is what you get!
You also recently did Westworld, which is kind of a similar jump in the deep end, right? Your first time as a dramatic actor, and, “I’m just going to go ahead and be on Westworld, on HBO, in a recurring role.” So, similar question: How did that opportunity come about?
What happened was, I started a production company. And I came down and met with WME. And they were actually like, “Would you like acting roles?” and blahzay blahzay, and I was like, “Yeah, man” — and I was just fucking around — I told ’em, “Yeah, I want to act some.” And they were like, “OK! What kind of role are you looking into?” I told ’em, “Well, I don’t want to talk too much. I want to blow shit up. I want to shoot shit. Basically, I just want to fuck shit up.”
Yeah. Of course.
And I ain’t gonna lie. Probably within, like, three days, [WME agents] Adam [Harris] and Braden [Currier] had called me back like, “Hey, we got a role for you,” and I’m like, “You serious?” “Yeah. Oh, it’s on Westworld.” I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” “Nah, I’m serious. We got a role for you on Westworld,” and I’m like, “Well shit. All right.” So Lisa [Joy, Westworld co-showrunner] called me and gave me the rundown on the character that I was playing. And I’m just like, “Aw nah, this shit is really happening. I better be careful with what I go in there talking to these dudes [at the agency] about because they’re making shit happen right now.”
So, after I talked to Lisa, it was basically like, “Oh, yeah, you got to come to set tomorrow,” right? “Oh, like that?!” (Laughs.) “OK, cool. All good. We’ll make it happen.” But, on that set? You talk about heavy hitters, you feel me? All of them know me from my previous career and where I was coming from. Everybody on set was, I mean, they was raw as fuck. They were all professionals, they all knew what they were doing. So, you know, them just catching me up to speed and giving me the lay of the land on what was going on, certain things I should and shouldn’t do. But at the end of the day, they all took care of me.
Did you enjoy that experience, too? I assume it’s a shock for a first-timer. I imagine there’s a lot of waiting around …
That was the part that fucked with me the most. Because considering where I just came from, everything is “Action! Right Now!” Once we start we don’t stop until we’re done. So there would be times where I’d come to set, and maybe I’d spend about five, six hours in my trailer, and then go shoot something for about 10 minutes. And then it’s like, “Well, hold on. We’re gonna bring you back to set in about an hour,” and then it would turn out to be two, three hours later like, “Oh, no, we aren’t going to shoot that scene today, so it’s cool, you can go home.” Like, what the fuck?! It was something I had to get used to, but all the actors were telling me, like, “Welcome to Hollywood,” basically.
So you’ve done the improv comedy. You got the scripted comedy with Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Got prestige drama out of the way. You got survival reality, right? You’ve done motion capture and voice work in video games. What have you not done that you want to do?
When I got into it, it was more so just to have fun. I’d really say it was like experiencing some shit that I never experience before, which was acting on the screen, you know, and really just playing out childhood dreams. Like I think about when I was a youth, I’m like, “Oh, that shit would look fun to do. Oh man, if I was in that, I would do something like this or something like that.” So now I’m in a position where If I just think it or speak it into existence, that shit will kinda happen. I like to have fun, but at the same time I’m not looking at the acting like, “Oh, it’s challenging. I want a challenge,” this, that and the third. Nah. Fuck that. If it’s something that it looks like I’ll enjoy doing it, then yeah I’ll rock like that.
You retired for the first time in February 2016, and your episode of Running Wild aired in September 2016. Presumably, you filmed it before that. How long was it between when you retired until you were on a plane to Corsica? Or train. I don’t even know how you get to Corsica. Is it an island?
Well I’ll tell you, it was beautiful as fuck. But I mean — [Lynch’s phone dies. While I wait for him to come back on the line I confirm that Corsica is, in fact, an island.] OK, sorry I’m back now.
I think that episode stood out because, just knowing you as a football player, not many people would have expected you to be scared of anything. But that was another instance of you stepping outside your comfort zone. Why was that the thing you decided that you wanted to do — or needed to do — after you retired?
I don’t think it was like, “Oh, this is something I got to do.” It was more so like, “Well shit, I ain’t got nothing else planned for this time, so I’mma go ahead and fuck with it.” And like I said, it gave me the opportunity to do some shit I ain’t never done before. Something my uncle always told me was, “Let’s drink some Hennessy and do some shit we ain’t never done before.” And it kind of worked out like that. It just so happened that when I got to Corsica, France and before I went on the excursion, I went to my room and there was some Hennessy in there, so, it made for a better trip.
Did you sneak it in the backpack like you used to do before games?
It came stocked in my backpack. It was almost like they did their homework.
How much negotiation do you get to do when you go on that? Do you to get to be like, “I’ll spear a pig, but I’m not gonna eat a bug”?
Hell nah. You get out there, and what I learned from Bear was he’s gonna do shit as if he was out there by himself. And then once he starts going, he’s like, “Oh yeah. Fuck. I got somebody else with me.” Like, “Hey, I need you to come and do this.” And it’s like, “Man, what the fuck is you talking about. I never did no shit like that before.” He’s like, “Yeah I know, but I need you to do this and come this way and we need to do that, jump over here and grab this, kill that.” And if you’re with the shit, then you’re going to do it. And if not, then I think he kind of finds another way to get shit done.
So did you really just chase that wild pig and you just kind of came out on that cliff and the pig had run itself off? That seems …
I thought that shit was all bullshit and hella fake, like all the other reality TV. And I had to stop and think to myself like, realistically bro, if it’s hella fake and shit like, he really just took off running, and I had that sharp-ass knife that he made a spear out of? And he took off and it was like, well shit, if you don’t come, you will be left here by yourself up on this big ass mountain. So I started running after that motherfucker and I’m like, hold on, if this shit is fake, why would they be letting me run full-speed with this fucking knife through the jungle where I don’t know where the fuck I’m going — cause that knife was sharp as fuck! Like, if I would have tripped or anything, slipped and fell with it? I’m like, “Oh no, this shit really [real].” At least tell me like, “Hey, you’re about to be running with a big-ass knife so be careful.” It was just like, “Marshawn, come on! We got to get this fucking pig! That’s dinner! Let’s go!” And next thing I know he was fucking gone, you feel me? Slow feet, don’t eat! So all I knew was ten toes, assholes and elbows, go on and get that thing!
At the end of Running Wild you were like, “Well I had fun, but I don’t know if I’d ever do this again.” But I watched a panel that you did with Ryan Coogler and J. Cole where you talked about how the first time that you ever left Oakland was to go on a recruiting trip to Oregon and how that sparked your love of travel. Since you’ve retired, have you had the opportunity to travel a lot?
Yeah. Most definitely. I think the only continent that I haven’t been on is Asia.
So you’ve been to Antarctica?
(Laughs.) Nah. I ain’t gonna go no place just to be cold. So I don’t believe I’m counting that one. But other than that, yeah. (Incredulously) Antarctica!
Cause I would watch a Marshawn Lynch travel show. So I don’t know if you want to add that …
To the list of shit that I have done, or am going to do?
Maybe. We’ll see.
So you played against Ryan Coogler in high school and college [Lynch and Coogler were both born in Oakland in 1986. Coogler attended high school at St. Mary’s in Berkeley and Lynch went to Oakland Tech. In 2005, Lynch’s Cal Golden Bears played Coogler’s Sac State Hornets. The entire game is on YouTube.] That’s not a terrible connection to have in Hollywood — a person who directs Marvel movies — if your desire is to blow more shit up. I’m not trying to break any news, but is that something you’d be interested in? Joining the MCU?
I mean, if shit happen, then shit happen. I just ain’t out there forcing shit, feel me? But when the right opportunities come across, we usually capitalized on ’em. And I know if bro had a situation for me, something he had going on, if it fit? Then hell yeah I’m gonna fuck with it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Murderville is streaming now on Netflix.
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