From the excitable, taser-loving cop of The Hangover to a corporate stooge in Step Brothers, Rob Riggle is a master scene-stealer of the highest order. As a longtime Daily Show correspondent, he was even able to frequently upstage his boss, Jon Stewart. Expect to see more of the same Monday night, as Riggle guest-stars on a new episode of Chuck along with Summer Glau and Richard Chamberlain. When last we saw Chuck (Zachary Levi), he was seemingly betrayed by his long-lost mother (Linda Hamilton) when she used a device to take the ever-useful Intersect out of his brain. Now, a bearded guy named Jim Rye (played by Riggle) is brought in to help Chuck regain control of the Intersect and get back to being a proper super-spy. “I’m a psychiatrist for spies and I’m also a spy myself. I’m like a field operative/psychiatrist,” says Riggle, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve who served in places such as Liberia, Kosovo and Afghanistan before embarking on a career of comedy and acting. Riggle checked in the other day from chilly Anchorage, Alaska, where he’s filming the ensemble comedy Everybody Loves Whales with Kristen Bell, Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski as well as battling a case of the flu, to talk about Chuck, his newly grown facial hair and hanging out in Alaska. “It’s beautiful, beautiful country up here. We’re starting to work our way into winter now, so it doesn’t get light outside until about 10 a.m. That’s a little disturbing,” he says, laughing. “But other than that, it’s wonderful.” Read below for our conversation.
Photos courtesy of Rob Riggle, Lionsgate
Did the Chuck people reach out to you or did you have an in there?
I was very lucky — they reached out to me. I was flattered. It’s such a fun and great show. When I got a call saying, “Hey, the folks over at Chuck said they’d be interested in you coming on,” I was like, “You’re kidding!” They said, “No,” and I was like, “Done.” They go, “Don’t you want to know what it is?” And I said, “Well, tell me what it is but pretty much, done.” I was so exciting. And it worked out beautifully. I came up here to Alaska and I shot for a couple of weeks, and I had a two-week break. In there, I went and did some standup gigs around the country, came back to LA and shot Chuck, and then came right back up here.
Do you have any spy-type action scenes in this episode or is it mostly you being a psychiatrist?
There’s some action in there. I do some hooking and jabbing, so to speak.
We haven’t seen Rob Riggle in too many fight scenes.
Not on TV. I did get to do some fighting in Killers – I fought Ashton Kutcher and we destroyed a house together. This’ll be the second time you’ll actually get to see me doing some punching and kicking.
Do you go back to your military training when it comes to that kind of physicality?
The Marine Corps has a martial arts program and I am qualified in that. There are some moves that do come back to you. And then just the athleticism of it, just being able to kick and punch and take punches. Obviously, we weren’t kicking and punching each other in real life. [Laughs] Nobody got hurt. I didn’t throw any wild punches or wild kicks and knock anybody out by accident, which I’ve seen actually happen a couple of times.
I see you sporting a beard on the show as well as on your Twitter feed. What’s the deal?
Well, I’m in Alaska right now, and I have to have a beard in this movie. When I went down to shoot Chuck, I couldn’t shave my beard – I had to keep it. I said, “I hope that’s not a problem.” They’re like, “No, we love it. It’s perfect!”
It fits in with the psychiatrist angle. You have this whole “intelligent university professor” thing going on.
Yes! The wardrobe people over there are great. They said, “OK, so you’ve got a beard.” They instantly put me in a turtleneck and a tweed jacket. I was like, “Perfect! We’re golden!”
Have you had a beard much in your life? Can you grow one pretty well?
This is the first time I’ve ever had a beard – and the first time I’ve even attempted to grow a beard! A couple of summers ago, I grew a goatee or a fu manchu, but it was just for like an extended weekend. It wasn’t any real growth. And I didn’t know I could! I thought it would come out patchy, and it didn’t. It came out all right.
Do you find it itchy or scratchy?
In the beginning, I found it incredibly annoying. And now I actually love the fact that I don’t have to shave every day.
That is a plus. But does the wife approve, though?
Not really. [Laughs] I’ll be getting rid of it as soon as this movie’s over.
Are you a regular fan of Chuck?
I wouldn’t say regularly, but I definitely watched it whenever I have the chance. I DVR’d it on occasion. If I have time, I definitely try to watch.
With all the stuff that you do, your DVR must fill up quickly.
[Laughs] Well, actually I don’t get that much say. My wife controls the DVR. I wish I could say yeah, but no. She drives the train on that one.
So you watch whatever she watches.
What do you watch together when you’re home?
We definitely love Chuck. My wife’s a big Grey’s Anatomy fan. A lot of what HBO does is fantastic ‚ don’t miss much of that. How I Met Your Mother’s kinda fun. We love Community. The Daily Show, we always DVR that. That’s about where we are.
In addition to your TV and movie work, you do a lot of Funny or Die web videos (such as the NSFW “Profanity Ninja”) and a lot of stuff on the Internet. You never seem to be at a loss for work.
I definitely try. I think any actor or comedian has about 10 irons in the fire at once. You’re always writing something, developing something, shooting something – you’re always trying to keep yourself busy. You never know which one’s gonna work. I want to stay busy. Otherwise I go a little stir crazy.
Your comedy pilot Team Spitz wasn’t picked up by a network. Is there another one in the works?
We’re developing one for this year. It’s so tricky and difficult. I don’t know how any show gets on air, to be honest. But they do! So I’m going to be optimistic, put my head down and give it another shot. I’ve talked to a lot of other actors and comedians in the business, and they’ve gone through five or six pilots before they catch something that feels good and actually works. We’ll keep plugging away till we do it right!
Was standup one of your first forays into comedy?
I actually started at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York [in 1997] — I was doing improv and sketch comedy. I didn’t even try standup until about three years ago. John Oliver, who was my officemate at the Daily Show, is a wonderful standup comedian. He encouraged me – “You’ve got to get out there and try this standup thing!” and I was like, I don’t know…” We started going around doing some little gigs in New York City and it was great. So I started building a set then. Now I love it because I don’t have to take notes from anybody. [Laughs] I get on stage, I do my thing, the audience lets me know if they like it or if they don’t like it. Those are the only notes I have to take is from the audience. It allows me to be creative, and as a comedian, you want to be well-rounded. You want to have the improv skills, the sketch skills, the acting skills, the standup skills. It’s all part of the performance. I love being about to work with the crowd and meeting people and going around the country. There are a lot of good things about it.
Were you scared to death the first time you did it?
The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre definitely prepared me – at least it prepared me for being in front of an audience. Before I started at the UCB, I did try to do standup once, and I remember walking onstage and I remember walking offstage. I don’t work anything in between. Literally, it was like blackout fear. It was awful. I didn’t bomb, which was good, but it’s like a car wreck – you just have all that adrenaline, and then afterward you have to sit around and try to piece together what happened. [Laughs] When I went back and tried it again after the Upright Citizens Brigade, I felt much more confident.