T. J. Miller on Christmas and comedy

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The new comedy “Office Christmas Party,” which was released on Dec. 9, proves you don’t have to leave your desk to participate in boisterous holiday cheer. Starring T. J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, the film follows an office’s attempts to keep their branch open by throwing an epic, expensive Christmas party to woo a client.

I got the chance to interview Miller about comedy, paprika and filming “Office Christmas Party.”

Are you excited for [the film] to come out?

Miller: “Yes, I really am. I mean, I think more now more than ever. Right now, we sort of need something to go laugh at that is positive and inclusive and…is just a party. It’s about a huge party. It’s about everybody coming together to party, and that’s the message. It’s not that hard to promote comedy during the apocalypse and especially with an ensemble cast…It’s just a good time. And also it wouldn’t hurt for us all to not have to talk to our families for an hour and a half.”

What was one of your favorite moments while filming “Office Christmas Party”?

Miller: “We’ve been asked this. I keep referring back to…when I was slipping and sliding with Courtney B. Vance because that was a real stunt. We really did it. We were moving like really fast, like 15 or 20 miles an hour with the harnesses on. But it was just so funny. He’s this award-winning dramatic actor, and he’s such a silly goose in this movie. And we just both had so much fun doing that, doing different poses and dabbing and just joking.”
You worked with Jennifer Aniston on this film. Could you take us through the wrestling scene where you fought with her?

Miller: “Well, we needed something that was reflective that [our characters] really are brother and sister and that they have that dynamic, even in professional situations. We thought, “Well, what do an older sister and younger brother do? They wrestle.” … Aniston, not surprisingly but of course in a way, was so down to go for it. And I said, “You know you can really go for it,” and she really did. So all the coughing that I do after she chokes me out and I tap out is real. She is both a strong woman, an independent woman, a leader, a very powerful and, you know, important woman. But she’s also a strong woman physically. And she very strongly made me choke very, very much in the major motion picture film. And that was good but she’s so approachable and she’s so, she’s not only sweet, she’s just really funny… [and] up for anything which was great.”

How do you think comedy is or can be universal?

Miller: “I think comedy, like kindness, can be universal. We have a lot of slapstick in this film. And I studied silent film comedy as an independent study when I went to school in Washington, D.C.. And this movie specifically has the kind of physical comedy that is universal. And then I think the biggest thing is not taking yourself seriously. Really going for it…Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston…are very grounded, subtle comedians. So we’ve got a little bit of all the different types of comedy. And the other universal theme in this film is [that] everybody in the world likes to party, right?”

How much creative license did you have to improvise while you were working on this movie?

Miller: “Absolute immunity. Completely safe and encouraged to improvise. I think by now actually in Hollywood, if you hire me, you know that I’m going to be improvising. So that’s either a good thing or it’s kept me from getting certain jobs… I studied in Chicago…where I cut my teeth as an improviser. So people know that, and they not only expect that but, in this case especially, they encourage it. And so a lot of these lines are my own. But it was a great script by great writers and we also have this guy, Robert Terbowski, who in Hollywood is known as Turbo or Robert the Alt man because he writes… [the movie] was just again super collaborative in the sense that if I riff a line and it’s better than what’s in the script or what Turbo could come up with then they’ll say, “OK that’s great. That’s perfect. Let’s get another one of those and then move on.””

What’s a crazy thing that’s happened to you at a Christmas party?

Miller: “I went to a Christmas party in Addison, Texas… I thought I was the only Hollywood guy there. I thought I was the lone star at this Christmas party. But it turned out that the star of the party was the host because he provided us with so much Lone Star beer, so much hard liquor and some soft liquors, some were medium liquors. One girl licked my face very hard…and [the] host of the party put mistletoe up all over the ceiling. Everywhere. So if you were at the party, you were kissing or you were missing out. And that was insane. I kissed 15 people…some of them women, some of them animals.

I had a dog lick my mouth for an hour and a half before I realized it wasn’t the person that I was talking to, and yes, I got mono. Three different strains of mono, which is strange, because mono means one.”

How would you say that you contributed personally [to the movie]?

Miller: “What ingredient was I? I’m paprika…paprika’s sort of the spice that is its own kind of flavor but helps to enhance and heighten the other flavors and that’s what I was. Hopefully I was the ingredient that both added something to the overall film but also helped enhance and elevate the flavors of comedy around us. But I think…you can’t have a great dish without great ingredients and this is an ensemble comedy so there are quite a few ingredients.”

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