Jake Johnson is an American actor and comedian best known for playing Nick Miller on the television show New Girl. He’s also starred in the 21 Jump Street film, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Jurassic World. Now he plays Randy "Chilli" Cilliano in the film Tag which premiered on June 15, 2018.
Screen Rant had the opportunity to sit down with Jake, where we discussed his reaction when first reading the script, which character is closest to his real life, how on-set improvisations shaped the film, his own childhood friends, his unconfirmed participation in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Tag’s message of fun and friendship.
SR: I enjoyed this movie thoroughly. I was just telling Jon. It's exactly what I think kind of a movie should do is make you feel good and just lose yourself in it.
One thing that I found really interesting about this movie, which I didn't expect it. It's comedy with heart, but there's a horror scene in there, like in the forest, there's like a car chase scene kind of, and it plays with, and there's like this action genre when we get to Jeremy's character. So it plays with all these different genres. It's a really smart movie. Talk to me about when you first read the script and got the idea. How do you attach to this?
Jake: So just to give a compliment to our director, Jeff Thompson. Everything you just said you liked was really his vision. Because that really wasn't in the script. That really, I mean it kind of was, but not really. That wasn't what the big pitch was. You know, in a script when you read it, it's, “there in the woods. A person appears.” When Jeff first told me about this movie, when it was based on true story, I found that more interesting. When I heard about the ensemble, I thought it was more interesting. But when he pitched what you just said, my thought to him was, “If you could pull it all off, great.” I don't know if all that mix works. And they're like, “Yeah, if it's a horror movie,” but it's also, let's be honest, it's a ridiculous comedy. So, and if we don't go, everything you're talking about is fine and dandy. If you don't get laughs from beginning to end, it doesn't matter. It's like, just finding a perfect mate, but you're not attracted to him. So you're like, “You’re right. He or she is perfect for me. I’m not attracted.” In this movie, comedy is the attraction. So I'm like, “You're talking about a lot of cool stuff, man. That is a cool shot. It’s a cool doggy cam. That's cool slow mo.” If it’s not funny. And I was like, “I don't know if it's going to be funny.” And then the thIng that pulled me in was, when the, all the pieces got involved and you have Renner, Hamm, Isla, Leslie, Hannibal, ah, Ed. I'm missing people. The pieces. I was like, “Those aren't a lot of gunners. Those are a lot of really talented people of different schools of comedy.” And I was like, “I don't know how that soup tastes.”
SR: I mean, but it was great seeing it though.
Jake: Come together.
SR: Yeah, come together.
Jake: That was the fun.
SR: And also like, when I watched it last night, it's so interesting the wave of emotion that I could hear the crowd and myself kind of go on, right? Because obviously it's a comedy, but then you get to the deeper friendship stuff. And even in that wedding scene where you know, where what happens with that. When you see them touch, you hear the crowd cheering. It's like, “Oh man, this like touched people in different ways. It's fun movie.
Out of all the characters, if you were being yourself, which character do you think you would be?
Jake: In real life?
SR: In real life.
Jake: Um, well my public persona is definitely Chilli. But in real life would probably be Hoagie.
Jake: Yeah. I'm mean probably in my real life. I have a group of friends that I'm pretty sentimental about. I like to stay together. I'm a family man. I like being home. I don't really party. I'll occasionally have a drink. I don't smoke weed. I did when I was younger. I respect, I think it should be legal. It’s just, it's not great for my brain. If it was, I'd love to get high. And I get anxiety and I'm bad for a couple of days. But probably be closest to Hoagie.
SR: Jon was saying there was a lot of improv on set too. Do you have any stories about, just a scene that just came together out of the improv that you guys were doing?
Jake: Yeah. You know, John and I, our characters we're supposed to really have anger and disdain for each other. But when John and I met, we just didn't. And that was just not our natural dynamic. And so all those two shots where John and I, like the, “can you borrow a tie” and all that. So that whole dynamic “can I have the” ends with like our big hug in the hospital. That was all found on-set. That dynamic wasn't there. We had to reshoot some of it because the competition for Rashida, in executing it felt very nineties. It felt very dated. It was like, “What are we talking about?” First of all, we don't get to choose what Rashida Jones wants, Rashida Jones would pick. And then you're like, so she's playing Cheryl, and she was smart, and Rashida came in and was like, “Come on, this is whack. This is not how it would go.” So all of that started to change it and evolve and re-shot a lot of that. Like trying to make that feel like they might be competing. But they're not competing for who's going to win. They're competed and she has her own choice over here. And she's a third player in this game as opposed to John and Paul and Yoko s***.
SR: Right, right, right. Now you talked about your friends a little bit. Is there any running long term gags that you guys had, or any crazy pranks you guys pulled on each other?
Jake: My of my childhood friends? Not really pranks. But what's funny is, you know, my group of friends, we really bonded over comedy and films. We were all film nerds. We were all comedy nerds. We all liked all the same people. We wanted to be those guys. And so what keeps us together is we're still doing it. So now at this point of my career, I'm kind of, my wife said I'm shooting this really weird TV idea, a presentation. And we were all shooting in my backyard. And she said she had this really weird moment seeing me and my childhood friends. We were all in karate gis (LAUGHS) This dude, this is my buddy Josh Greenbaum the director, the documentarian was filming it. And she's like, “I saw you guys must’ve have been at fifteen.” And I'm like, “It was, it was literally this, but back then we didn't have cameras.” Like, literally this for each other. But it's the same stuff.
SR: I mean this movie will be one of those ones where, I also had a pretty tight group of friends growing up, but I'm still very close to one of them. We've all kind of moved. But it definitely made me want to get those guys in a room. Just like I want to play like a something, do something.
Jake: That's great.
SR: You talked about Into the, well you talked about, you can't confIrm nor deny that you're in Into the Spider-Verse. However, if you were in it, what would you most be looking forward to about that movie?
Jake: The look of the film.
SR: The trailer looks great.
Jake: The trailer. And there's a lot of very talented people involved in it. But the fact that Chris Miller and Phil Lord are part of the heart of that, I don't think you're going to find two more talented people. Those are guys, I am proud to be in their Chris and Phil repertoire. I'm sure you know, I ride and die with those guys. You know, when they left Han Solo and all that. So did I. (LAUGHS)
SR: So did a lot of people.
Jake: I mean, I was like, I liked that the way they're trying to make things. When I did 21 Jump Street with them, they run sets differently. It feels different. Their writings different. Their process is different. They're brIlliant, talented, nice, interesting people. These are the kinds of people we should be celebrating. And so the fact that they're behind it, for people who care about this world, the people who are at the center of it care about it just as much.
SR: The one thing that they do so well is bring heart to a project. And it's like you get that emotional groundedness in a project, which I think Spider-Man can have. And we've never seen an animated Spider-Man on film before, so it's gonna be pretty-
Jake: What are you excited about? And I say honestly because I, neither deny nor confirm it, am new to that whole world.
SR: I'm excited that they're going with Miles Morales. But Peter Parker is more of like the older mentoree, or mentor, I should say. And Miles seems more of a mentor. I like the diversity. I like the look a lot. I think that this cast that, well the rumored cast I guess we can say, is a pretty diverse one, which I really, really dig. I'm just excited to get this project. I never thought I would see like a representation of a Spider-Man like that before.
Jake: Yeah, for sure.
SR: So I'm super excited about that.
Jake: That’s something I feel very excited about as well. As a fan, it feels like, we're in a new world. And I like the new world we're going towards. Everyone talks about this time period being such a hard time period. But I'm like, “Everybody, its got to get dark before the morning.” So I'm like, “You do see, look, there are some really terrible s*** happening. We also see the positive stuff.” That's like, we're ripping the bandaid off, right? So when you tear up the rug and you see a bunch of crazy shit. But I'm like, “But I think there's a lot of us trying to clean it.” It's exciting. I feel like there's an exciting thing happening.
SR: Right and I think in this year alone, this year and last year, but when they had Wonder Woman, the Black Panther. And I think Spider-Man can do that for a whole group of kids that have never seen that before. Which is interesting, going back to Tag though, it's one of those films where it doesn't talk to talk about politics. It's just a lighthearted kind of fun, but also deep film about friendship and it's just a love letter to friendship.
Jake: This is a movie that doesn't feel like it had to be made in 2018. You could make this movie in 1998. But what I do like about this movie is, like for example the NFL, I personally think you should be able to protest anything. I personally think players should be making more money. I personally think the owners and the league are creating too many weird things that are alienating me from what I really liked to do on Sunday. And that is not think about s***. And watch a game I've been watching since I was 10. And when I found out that these men are damaging their brains, then I'm saying, “All right, now let's as a collective figure out how to protect people.” When they don't do those moves and they keep doing that, they're alienating me from something I love. What I like about Tag is it's not alienating anybody. This is back to, if you go see a movie, eat some popcorn. This isn't going to ask any big question. This will not, if you had a family and you're all together and half of you guys are really conservative, half of you are liberal, you're not going to be fighting at dinner about this one. (LAUGHS) And to be perfectly honest, there is a need for that. If you'll see on my social media, I'm never going to get political. I do think there's something about entertainers where it's nice where you just get entertainment. And this movie is just entertainment and I like that.
SR: Me too. And It's just so crazy listening to the crowd that I watched it with. The emotional range that we all went through-
Jake: That’s cool.
SR: And just like when they, when they finally tag Jerry, it's like, ah, everyone like rejoiced. But it's like, so cool.
Jake: You know, Hannibal was at that screening and we've become buddies and I respect his tastes a lot. So he wrote like, “I want to see it.” I'd be like, “Oh, let me know.” And he’d write like, “Crowds on fire.” And he’d be like, “People like.” And I'm like, “Is it funny?” And he's like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Ooh, okay. Hannibal likes it.” Because I saw it really early cut and I'm waiting for the premiere.
SR: Oh man, it's so good.
Jake: Oh good.
SR: I took my buddy and we were like, “Oh, this is amazing.” Thank you for your time.
Jake: Yeah, thank you man.
- Tag (2018) release date: Jun 15, 2018