If Matt Walsh seems like a strange casting choice for a disaster movie about tornadoes ravaging the fictional Midwest town of Silverton, that’s probably because he is.
Known for roles like the doctor in The Hangover and guesting on every TV comedy imaginable before he landed a plum part on Veep as haggard director of communications Mike McLintock, Walsh is in his element as a funny guy. So what’s he doing as one of the leads in Into the Storm (opening Friday [August 8])?
“I grew up in the Midwest, so I love tornadoes,” the Chicago native and ardent Bears fan (he adores what CFL alumnus Marc Trestman has done with the team) tells the Straight during a call from Los Angeles. “I grew up hiding from them a bit. And it was a chance to do an action movie, which I’d never really done and I think that’s a fun genre, so that was attractive to me.”
In the film, which also stars Sarah Wayne Callies (TV’s The Walking Dead) and The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage, Walsh plays Pete, a hardened storm chaser whose life’s work has been capturing video footage inside the eye of a storm. The film switches back and forth between Pete’s storm-chasing crew and Silverton High School’s vice-principal (Armitage) and his two sons until the wreckage brings them together.
So much of Walsh’s comedic work is based on a sardonic view of things, and while Pete gets a couple of sarcastic jabs in, the catastrophic damage that takes place isn’t a laughing matter, something the 49-year-old acknowledges was a little out of his wheelhouse. “Yeah, there aren’t a lot of potential laughs in the script, so I was definitely out of my comfort zone,” he concedes. “But by that same token, tornadoes are an absurd reality, obviously. And in comedy I’m often portraying an absurd reality as believable and comfortable, so I think there are similar skill sets between the two.”
The actor’s own life has become something of an absurd reality, meanwhile, since Walsh was given the opportunity to run with his role on Veep. The show has already aired for three seasons amid loads of critical acclaim and Emmy nominations. And with audiences finally starting to roll around as well, Veep shows no signs of going away, a boon to Walsh, who feels at home on the Maryland set of the HBO show.
“Veep’s great,” Walsh exclaims, the enthusiasm in his voice reaching a level that won’t be matched in this conversation until his Bears are brought up later. “We spend a lot of time every season doing rehearsals. We’ll come in and table-read, and Armando [Iannucci, the show’s creator] will direct scenes and we’ll improvise new endings or new scenes, and the writers will go off with what we’ve rehearsed and sort of formulate it into a new draft. So it’s sort of like theatre camp in a way because we’re away in Baltimore from everything else and just focused on the show. There’s no distractions.”
While it took Walsh some time to get a solid TV role on a steady series, the actor’s early troubles getting work ended up helping him on his first big dramatic role, as they made relating to Pete easier. “I think Pete has a singular focus: he’s obsessed with getting footage of the eye of a tornado,” Walsh states. “And he’s been striking out for the last eight months, and he’s been on the road for 20 years. So he’s sort of upset and I think that’s what a lot of actors, myself included, go through when you’re in your 20s. Your only goal is to get something, to catch a break. So I can relate to that sort of obsessive nature.”