Many people know Thomas Lennon from a certain movie or TV series. Currently Lennon is one of the stars on the CBS comedy series The Odd Couple. For me I remember Thomas from his work on a great sketch comedy series, The State. Besides being an actor Thomas is a writer, comedian and a director.
After his work in The State, Lennon co-created Reno 911! in which he played Lieutenant Jim Dangle. In addition to writing he is currently an executive producer on Comedy Central’s late night show @midnight.
He also wrote the screen play with his writing partner for the Night of the Museum films. Lennon now stars in Monster Trucks, which is now in theaters. The film is set around Tripp played by actor, Lucas Till, as he looks for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into. Tripp is a high school senior that is building a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange and subterranean creature with a taste and a talent for speed, Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of town and a most unlikely friend. In Monster Trucks Thomas Lennon plays Jim Dowd, who works for a ruthless oil company called Terravex.
Melding cutting edge visual effects and state-of-the-art CGI, Monster Trucks is an action filled adventure for the whole family that will keep you on the edge of your seat and ultimately touch your heart.
Art Eddy: Let’s first talk about your role in the film Monster Trucks. You play Dr. Jim Dowd. What can audience know about your role and a little bit on the film?
Thomas Lennon: The movie has a lot strange hype around it. It has been in the works for a long time. I think it will be something that people will be pleasantly surprised by. When I first heard the pitch the premise was all in the title. It is about trucks with monsters inside of them. I wrote the Night at the Museum movies with my writing partner. Even though we did Reno 911 we kind of love family movies. We wrote The Pacifier too.
Family is kind of our genre. For me this movie is kind of a throwback to those old family movies. Plus the monsters look amazing. It is really a fun movie. I don’t think it will wow the critics. I have managed to get this far in my life where I really never wowed the critics. (Both laugh.) It is a fun movie. I think kids will really love this movie.
AE: The film uses CGI for the special effects. Have you done much work before with those scenes and do you prepare for those scenes differently than non CGI scenes?
TL: It is hard to explain. Every single time in that film when I am interacting with the monsters, which are pretty neat looking creatures. I was pleasantly surprised. They don’t look like anything else really. So if the monster was going to take the oil stick out of my hands there was an Irish acrobat guy in a green body suit. He is down in this tent. He is kind of acting like the monster. I would love it if they released some of the behind the scenes footage of me just having lengthy scenes with a very nimble Irish acrobat. (Both laugh.)
It is a little bit like you feel asleep and had a dream about Cirque de Solei. It is just little green people dancing around pretending like they are monsters.
AE: I don’t know why, but you talking about Irish acrobats is killing me right now. (Both laugh.)
TL: It just so happens that the main guy in the green suit pretending to be the monster happened to be an Irish guy, who was the same age as me too.
AE: After seeing this film I love the fact that as a parent I am to be able to take my kids to a live action movie that is very family friendly. It is all in clean fun. Is that something you look for in movies as a dad when selecting roles?
TL: I wish I could say I was that selective as an actor. (Both laugh.) The only award that I have ever been nominated for is a Best Kiss movie award for me and Paul Rudd in I Love You, Man. I am also in Harold and Kumar in 3D. I am pretty sure there is a scene in Bad Teacher where I am in Cameron Diaz’s underwear on a Xerox machine. So I guess I can’t technically say that I am always looking for roles where my son will be watching and will be proud of me one day.
I know what I am being cast as. I am happy for the opportunity to do grown up movies and kid movies. In my career there are people who don’t know me from certain things. To young girls I am Zac Efron’s uncle in 17 Again. To cops I am always Lieutenant Dangle from Reno 911. I kind of blend in to where people remember me from.
TL: There are a lot of different joys taken from different things. In acting the joys are sort of obvious. You act in front of everybody. It can fan the ego sometimes I am sure. There is a joy to writing that I truly love. My writing partner and I have had some big hits and have had some huge flops. For me when we finish a script whether it gets made or not and a vast majority of them don’t get made. We may get one out of every eight or ten films that we write. To me I consider them done when it I have written the end. To me it feels like a sense of accomplishment creating my own piece of art. Sometimes they are for no one.
There are very different kind of joys to be taken from each of them. If you are going to do one of them such as write, act, and direct you should diversify your work into some of those different categories. You should write a little, act a little and direct a little. You will probably enjoy it more because anyone of these professions could break your heart and ruin your mental health. Your eggs are not all in one basket. It is a nice way to lighten the load.
AE: Switching to fatherhood now, what were some of the first few thoughts that popped into your mind when you found out that you were going to be a dad?
TL: The first thing that I thought was she must be kidding. This can’t be possible. I have been wearing those Lieutenant Dangle shorts for six years at that point. I thought I must have done permanent damage to myself. This can’t be so. So we tried for a long time. Jenny is a little bit older than me. It didn’t seem like it was working out. We became accidental parents. It was a total surprise for us.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. The night before Jenny’s water burst I was up late at night communicating with someone on Facebook who watched a DVD bootleg of Night at the Museum 2. Then they sent me a bunch of notes on how it could be a better movie after watching an illegal DVD while it was still in movie theaters. I stayed up late for a Facebook fight and then Jenny’s water broke. I had about three hours’ worth of sleep. It was great practice for the next several years of my life.
Oliver was born and they handed them to me. I thought what happens now? I didn’t know what to do. I was standing there. Jenny had a C-section so she had to go into recovery for a little bit. I was completely alone with Oliver. It was a very strange feeling. I thought what should I do? Then I said I guess I will sing him Whiskey in a Jar. It is a song I love. I know all the words. So we were dancing around while I was singing Whiskey in a Jar. I sang to him for a while.
The thing that I found out about parenting is first off that fifty percent of what people tell you is not true. It is true for them. They are just sharing their experience. They are not really telling truths about parenting. It changes all the time. The one thing that I did find which was surprising is that almost everything that you need to know about being a dad will reveal itself to you when you need it. Again this could be not true. I am telling you my experience. My son will be eight this summer. Things tend to reveal themselves right at the time you need to learn about them. It is just one of those happy accidents of parenting. I got a stack of books on parenting that we never got through. It is that great quote that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Parenting is exactly that. You have so many plans and then bam!
AE: What are some of the core values you look to instill in your son as he grows up?
TL: I have a couple of big things. I am trying to keep them very, very simple. Based on my DNA he is probably not going to be a science or math genius. The only pressure that Jenny and I put on our son is really to have empathy and manners. I feel like if you grow up and have good manners and empathy for other people you will succeed in almost anything. Literally that is it.
I am not worried about the crazy academic stuff. I don’t care about the names of the schools that he gets into. I was a very, very average student. I have gone far further than I had ever expected. I think it has a lot to do with manners and empathy. If you check off those two boxes than everything else will fall into place.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads?
TL: One thing that I will say is to learn how to swaddle your baby. You got to swaddle them tight. It is tighter than you think. The mom will never want to do it as tight. They might say you are wrapping them up too tight. They are not a burrito. Really getting that down you will have the happiest baby on the block. So learning how to wrap and do the shushing saved me a couple of times.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: Besides Monster Trucks do you guys have a favorite family movie that you all love to watch together?
TL: How am I not going to say Night at the Museum? I am very proud of that movie.
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing to or dance to as a family?
TL: Oh God, it makes me crazy. I don’t know what happened. At one point the babysitter showed him Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. It is absolutely his favorite song right now. To be honest it kind of drives me crazy. (Both laugh.)
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
TL: This last summer we spend a week in London. Ollie had his seventh birthday in London. I actually had my seventh birthday in London. There is a ton of things to do in London with the kids. You can just have fun every day. The Harry Potter studio is amazing, obviously the Tower of London. There was fun stuff for the kids every single day in London. You will never get bored. You just wish you could stay there longer.
AE: You have voiced some great characters in animated films and shows. Which one of those characters is your son’s favorite?
TL: He hasn’t seen it yet, but I know he loves the old Batman series. There is a DVD out right now called The Return of the Caped Crusader. In it I was very fortunate enough to do the voice of Chief O’Hara. That is the one I am most excited to show him.
AE: Which character from The State do people ask you the most about when they see you?
TL: People will say monkey torture to me or the pudding guys, the aww yeah guys, but the biggest ones that I get all the time are from Reno 911.