Hollywood stars Zach Galifianakis and Will Arnett discuss their roles in one of the best comedies of the year, the brilliantly satirical Lego Batman Movie.
The Joker is feeling neglected. Batman won’t admit that Joker is his greatest enemy, and keeps mentioning other men, like Bane and Superman. “I would say I don’t have a bad guy, I’m currently fighting a few different people,” explains Batman, shrugging and avoiding eye contact with Joker, whose eyes are welling up. “I like to fight around.”
The homoeroticism of Joker and Batman’s relationship is just one of many, many double entendres in The Lego Batman Movie, a hilarious caper that’s as funny for adults as it is for kids. Joker’s insecurity complex is in direct contrast to Batman’s posturing narcissism, and the two animated characters are voiced perfectly. Will Arnett reprises his role as fan favorite Batman from the original Lego Movie, while Zach Galifianakis takes on the role of the Joker.
Even in person the differences between Galifianakis and Arnett are apparent. Arnett swaggers into the hotel room, all deep tan and expensive jeans, already cracking jokes and impressions in that loud, gravelly voice that suits Batman so well.
Galifianakis, on the other hand, is dressed in khakis and a plain shirt – Dad clothes, essentially. He’s quieter, drier. While Arnett shoots off jokes and impressions left, right and centre, Galifianakis waits for the perfect moment to hit a home-run. The dynamic works – there’s a deep affection between the two men, who laugh uproariously at each other’s lines and delight in mocking each other.
“Do you remember that time you had an event and your computer crashed, so you lost all your jokes?” Arnett asks Galifianakis. “You asked me to do a prep interview with you, all James Lipton-style. My first question to you was, ‘What talent do you wish you had – talent?’”
Director Chris McKay knew the two actors were friends, but he was assured that he had picked the right actors when Galifianakis told him a story about working with Arnett. Their dynamic seemed to embody the Joker’s deep insecurity that Batman would always be top dog.
“We worked on this movie G-Force together,” says Galifianakis, already shaking his head in embarrassment. “I’d already been there for two weeks when Will showed up, and I told him ‘Don’t even try doing your best bits here. This crew are not cool, they don’t laugh at anything, they won’t like it.’ Within five minutes, Will had them eating out of his hands, I could hear roars of laughter from down the hallway. And I’ve been there for three weeks hearing crickets and pretending popsicle sticks were gerbils.”
Arnett laughs uproariously. “That goddamn movie, man. You know my son Archie has a G-Force backpack? He takes it to school every day.”
Galifianakis stares at him, appalled. “Has your son seen that movie?”
Chris McKay actually managed to write a version of this story into the film, as Joker desperately tries to make a pilot laugh during a hijacking and gets a death stare. Batman, on the other hand, gets parades.
“I think that’s what makes the Lego movies work,” says Arnett. “Because of the animation and this Lego universe, we have the luxury of being one step removed. We can observe and lampoon rules about this universe and get away with it. And Zach and I don’t take ourselves too seriously, so we can poke fun at ourselves as well as the previous iterations of Batman, while also having enough respect for it to do it justice.”
Having worked on the first Lego Movie, Arnett was confident that director Chris McKay could defy the stereotype, and make a spin-off film as good – arguably better – than the original.
“It’s very had to make a really good comedy,” says Arnett. I don’t want to sound preachy, but we do live in a time where the tail is wagging the dog. Everyone wants a money-making venture, instead of thinking, ‘What’s a really good story, and what’s the best way to tell it?’ That’s why so many films feel like pieces slapped together. But Chris McKay is such a nerd, he knows these characters inside out. He had a vision and knew what kind of story he wanted to tell. It was evident from day one.”
As was Galifianakis and Arnett’s bromance, which began decades ago when they met through mutual friends, including Arnett’s ex-wife, SNL veteran and Parks And Recreation star Amy Poehler.
“That’s the thing about New York,” says Arnett. “You meet people on the way when they’re just starting out and then see where they end up. Even Bradley – Bradley Cooper. He was just a friend, we shared an apartment in Venice and then suddenly he’s Bradley Cooper. You’re hearing that he’s getting lead roles and suddenly it’s ‘Bradley’s nominated for an Oscar’. And you’re just like, ‘Bradley?! Have you seen him act?!’”
The two men are bent over laughing.
“This is the thing that Chris allowed us to play with in the movie,” says Galifianakis. “To rib each other, artfully, is how you get respect in the comedy world. Literally all Will does is shit on me, and I love it and respect it. Particularly in this industry when you can become very successful, it’s really important not to get an ego and to not take yourself too seriously. We’ve never bought into that.”
The two men do take their craft seriously, however. They express a deep admiration for American comedy shows, particularly satirical programmes like SNL, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, The Daily Show and Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, all of which have been using their power and platforms to lambast Donald Trump and his outrageous actions.
“Leadership and power always needs its jester,” explains Galifianakis, becoming serious. “Every smart king and queen always have a jester around, because jesters reflect back the truth to power. But this guy we have now has no humility, and thus no humour. And I have no respect for people like that. So comedy right now is so important, to tell the truth. But it is also about escapism. I even saw it on the red carpet for this film – people are depressed.
“We live in really sad, depressing times. So when a movie like this comes out, it’s great to go and share a laugh with fellow citizens. There’s someone in the cinema four rows back who you may not agree with on politics, but you can share a laugh. We’ve lost that a bit. Everything’s in extremes now, there’s no middle ground.”
To wrap up, the men take over my job and ask each other what villain or hero they’d love to play onscreen.
“Hero?” muses Galifianakis. “Jesus Christ. What’s your villain, Will?”
The Lego Batman Movie is in cinemas now.