Casey Wilson on the fast laugh track

Northern Va. native, now in "Killers," has become triple threat as comic, writer and actor

June 03, 2010|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

The Katherine Heigl- Ashton Kutcher action comedy "Killers" has raised eyebrows because the studio that produced and distributes it, Lionsgate, chose to open it without advance critics' screenings. A "cold opening" is a rarity for a big-star, big-budget, early-summer release. But Casey Wilson, who plays Heigl's "frenemy," saw the film on Tuesday and swears it's "a throwback" in a good way.

"It's part caper, part all-out wild comedy, part romance," says Wilson, "kind of like 'Romancing the Stone,' though of course the plot is very different."

In "Killers," Heigl and Kutcher are an ideal married couple whose bliss blows up when Kutcher's past as a government hit-man catches up to them. "There's so much great chemistry between them," says Wilson, "that even my friends were saying, 'hey, this is titillating."

A comic actor with the face of a naughty cherub, Wilson may be semi-familiar from two seasons on "Saturday Night Live." She plays Heigl's "friend who turns south" — but can't divulge any more without giving away the plot. She can say that for her, the high point of the movie was working with Catherine O'Hara, the "SCTV" legend and female anchor of the Christopher Guest stock company ("Best in Show," "A Mighty Wind") . "Catherine plays Heigl's mom, and she steals the movie," says Wilson. "She's such a huge talent."

Just four years ago, Wilson was making her movie debut in Guest's Hollywood satire, "For Your Consideration," as O'Hara's acting student in one droll climactic scene. (She delivers a speech from 'Jezebel' before O'Hara's "plastic-surgeried-out" fading actor takes it over.) In "Killers," Wilson got to work with O'Hara and "hang out with her" for two weeks. It was "a dream" but also an inspiration. Wilson's goal is to create as a writer, performer and sketch artist the textured, ticklish kind of humor O'Hara generates with every breath.

Wilson hails from Alexandria, Va., not exactly a hotbed of comedic talent. But "both my parents were working in politics when I was growing up, so going on stage was not that great a leap." She made her dad take her to the Kennedy Center so she could audition for a summer program "where kids came to sing and dance and act, for eight weeks. I look back on it as one of the coolest experiences from that time of my life – meaning the time I was old enough to take the Metro alone."

In 2007, Wilson auditioned for "Saturday Night Live" and made the cut. Among her memorable bits was a killer impression of Katie Perry and the character of a paralyzed, never-say-die stripper called Dusty Velvet. She lost the gig in 2009.

"It was definitely a mixed bag," she says. "In a way, getting on that show was the high point…and I had a ball doing it. It wasn't ultimately the best fit for me; I'm more of a comedic actress. But I think I'd do it all over again. There's nothing like performing at 11:30 on a Saturday night to a live audience in a skyscraper." She also made good friends. SNL star Kristen Wiig is one of the many comic luminaries who will appear in a movie that Wilson and her writing partner, June Raphael, scripted and will star in this summer, "Ass Backwards." (Their first produced script was the hit " Bride Wars.")

"Ass Backwards" is about "how the way we lie to friends to make them feel better can also make them sort of delusional. We play two friends who build themselves up in the wrong ways and become weird girls with over-inflated egos."

Wilson enjoys acting in deluxe productions like "Killers," but says "the down-size of these huge-budget movies is that so many people have a hand in them, sometimes they come out a little more vanilla.

"The more money you spend, the more you need to make back, and the more pressure there is to appeal to everyone – which to the studio means that the specificity and unqiueness must be watered down. But I think mass audiences like things that are more specific and tend to have a voice, like 'Napoleon Dynamite' or 'Superbad'." She aims to make "Ass Backwards" in New York for $3 million.

To Wilson, the difference between a studio picture and a low-budget independent parallels the gap between a "Saturday Night Live" skit and the three-minute comedy sketches she puts out on the Funny or Die website. The cost is far less – and so is the immediate impact – but a niche film could hit it big and cross the mainstream, just as a video can go viral.

Wilson calls her humor "self-deprecating, but also slightly edgier and darker. At the same time, I also think we're all kind of hopeful. I don't think comedy today reflects the hopefulness in people; I like when I see optimism in comedy."

"What I think is funny," she says, "is when people, despite tragic situations, are still hopeful, still trying. It's sweet and sad — and, to me, hilarious.".

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