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Starman Joel McHale Discusses Taking on Paul Blart, Mall Cop in ‘Becky’

Joel McHale is known to play sarcastic, comedic characters who are either in the know, or set the trends. This is his palette. But, in his latest film, Becky, he’s the traumatic catalyst that sets up a classic comic-story hero origin.

If you haven’t seen this film and you love a story of a hero coming into her own power, then it’s an oversight that has to be addressed.

Becky is a true-to-form origin story of an anger-filled teen who, forced to defend her family from a brutal home invasion of escaped convicts. Resting on her blatant defiance of the situation, Becky channels her internal rage into a torrent of inspired retribution in a way that allows the audience a sense of visceral permission – and the creation of a hero any comic reader would identify with and support.

Starring Lulu Wilson (Star Trek: Picard) as Becky, the film has an assorted cast of film delights. Kevin James (The King of Queens, Paul Blart, Mall Cop) plays the role of Dominic, an escaped Aryan Brotherhood convict looking for a hidden secret in Becky’s family cottage. Joel McHale (Community, Stargirl, The Soup), plays Becky’s father, Jeff, and Amanda Brugel (Kim’s Convenience) plays Jeff’s new fiancée and one of the sources of Becky’s anger.

Of course, with Joel’s role in DC’s Stargirl, we began by talking about his knowledge of comics.

“I was never a comic guy. I was never that kid who waited for the next Archie comic to come out. I also suck at reading! But I remember when The Dark Knight Returns came out and changed everything. And I definitely bought that … and Sandman. I really like this series called Y: The Last Man, which I think should be turned into a series and I don’t know why it hasn’t yet – and uh, there’s Fables, I got into. When I go into comic book stores, I ask the proprietor to please find me the funniest thing AND the sickest thing. And they’ll go ‘alright’. I think The Killer of Demons is pretty amazing.”

For someone who says he was never a comic guy, Joel brings up pretty impressive liturgy of titles which actually shows he has a more defined appreciation than he admitted. Coincidentally, each one of those titles was behind me when we talked. Given the limited nature of time, it was hard to resist asking him to talk more about what he liked about them.

Joel’s knowledge about comics clearly gives him insight into being that catalyst for turning Becky, his 13-year old film daughter into a full-on hero. If you think Uncle Ben, Bruce and Martha, and of course, every other traumatic event that created the comic heroes we love to read about and know so well, then you have an idea of what spurs Becky on into the rage-filled force of vengeance that propels this story.

But I think that’s one of the prolific reasons for why this film will resonate with a comic-reading audience. It has all the hallmarks of what fans will be on the look-out for the story to succeed.

Jeff and Becky have an antagonistic relationship early on in the story, as Becky is unable to accommodate the appearance of Kayla (Amanda Brugel) and her son, Ty (Isaiah Rockcliffe) at her cottage weekend. While Kayla and Jeff try to explain to Becky that they have decided to join families, Becky is still trying to process the grief of the loss of her mother and directs her anger at school, at her father and his newly-announced fiancée.

Then, when the cottage that belonged to her mother is invaded by escaped convicts, Becky’s anger becomes a weapon that proves to be more of a match for them.

I asked Joel what he used to set himself up as Becky’s dad.

“Well, you have Lulu, a big movie star who can carry five movies all at the same time. She is truly gifted. I got to be with Amanda in most scenes and she’s an amazing actress and nice person. She is definitely a light. So, that helps. But, really, if you have a lot of time with the script and with a good amount of preparation – I just love what I do! I had to my research, discover who this guy was and I relied on good directing.

But, then there’s the human connection with Lulu, who most of my stuff is with – and Amanda. When you get in the room with these people and you just connect with them. Then you find out that chemistry with them and when you figure out what I call ‘what’s the game of the scene’, then it’s accomplished. It’s a lot of different stuff – but it’s when you make that connection when you find out how it works.”

It really is the connection to that other character that drives the creation of the hero. While Joel described the acting side of it, readers of comic fiction have a similar process as they also have a shared sense of value in the hero’s character growth. Becky has that same sort of dynamic.

The efforts of the other characters can’t go unnoticed in this film. Every hero needs a villain and Kevin James as the white supremist convict is not only brutal in his performance but a character that can be universally reviled. Of course, the idea of Kevin James in such a divergent role from his previous work not only shows his talent but his acting range. He’s also a necessary component in Becky’s development.

“It was always one of my fantasies to be stabbed by Paul Blart, Mall Cop!” Joel jokes with me when we talked about this idea.

The scene Joel refers to is a particularly brutal scene where Dominic takes a red-hot marshmallow prong from the fire and impales Jeff with it in order to lure a hidden Becky out of her hiding spot.

A classic comic villain’s move.

Becky’s a hero, in the truest comic appreciation of the word, but they can be complex in their motivation.

Becky is no exception to this.

Galvanized by grief, conflicted by her love for her father and his unwilling acceptance to be true her mother’s memory, she still has a need to protect her father and his fiancée.

She is conflicted but her sense of what is the right thing to do in this story is not what just makes her a hero, but also makes her a compelling one to watch.

Her sense of retribution is a powerful one

“I think, as father and daughter, we were kind of opposites; the love we had for each other finally came out in this scene. The revenge she shows is for me – which is love for my character. She loves Jeff, even though it’s complicated. Things got real in this film. Lulu is a force of nature. You mess with a 13 year-old’s dad? You don’t want to poke that bear, and they did – and they paid the price.”

Trauma, love and complicated emotions; all essential ingredients for making a memorable hero. Joel McHale sets up those factors in this film that gives us a hero who is visceral, violent but a thoroughly understandable one.

Becky is out on video on demand and digital platforms.
DC’s Stargirl airs on the DC Universe App and The CW.

 

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