Prolific both in front of and behind the scenes, Thomas Lennon has amassed impressive credits as an actor, screenwriter and comedian. You’ve seen him in movies like I Love You, Man, We’re The Millers and The Dark Knight Rises, hosting our own DeEvolution of Man videos and as short-shorts-wearing Lieutenant Jim Dangle on the Comedy Central series Reno 911! But did you know he also co-wrote the Reno 911!: Miami, as well as Balls of Fury and Night at the Museum?
This week marks Lennon’s return to TV in a remake of The Odd Couple (Thursdays, 10/9c), which casts him opposite Matthew Perry as mismatched roommates Felix Unger, the uptight neat freak, and Oscar Madison, the slob. Lennon had a few misgivings about stepping into the role played by Tony Randall in the ’70s TV series, Jack Lemmon in the 1968 movie and Art Carney in Neil Simon’s original Broadway play.
But he got over them with the help of few idiosyncrasies of his own, as he explains.
“I wrote a lot of checks with my mouth that I had to cash with the yoga and cello playing. The OCD wasn’t a problem. I had that already.”
What got you involved?
I got a call that Matthew Perry was going to do a new version of The Odd Couple, producing it and writing it. I thought, ‘I’m the perfect Felix.’
You’re like him?
More than you could possibly imagine. They asked me to come talk to Matthew about it. It was eerily sort of perfect.
How does yours compare to the Jack Klugman-Tony Randall series?
It’s very close to it in intention and concept. Otherwise it’s original in our relationship and our interpretations of the characters. Totally new scripts. But I will say if you liked the movie or the TV series, I think you’ll enjoy this incarnation, which has a lot of new things to offer.
Was there any hesitation about stepping into such an iconic role?
I thought long and hard whether it was even attemptable because Tony Randall is a major hero of mine. I was worried for a long time. I thought I’d be treading on the territory of Tony Randall. And the more I thought about it, Tony Randall was the third Felix Unger, but he was a genius of the highest order and brought something new to something other people had played. So I thought, ‘What if I could bring something really amazing to a character that some other people have played?’ And I feel like I did. I brought my cello and my yoga skills. I guess I wrote a lot of checks with my mouth that I had to cash with the yoga and cello playing. The OCD wasn’t a problem. I had that already.
Had you met Matthew before?
We’ve been friends for a long time, He’s amazing. He’s one of the driest wits I’ve ever come across. He is one of the most beautifully deadpan actors you could ever meet. He could give seminars on how to be hilarious.
Of everything you’ve done, do people recognize you most from Reno 911!?
Without a doubt. No two ways about it. It’s like a badge of honor. I’m so proud of it.
What else are you proud of?
I’ve written eight or 10 movies. Most busy screenwriters have written three or four that have been made. I really love the first Night at the Museum but I also love Hell Baby, which no one has seen. I’m writing about four studio movies right now. I never stop doing it
What films will we see you in next?
There’s Hot Tub Time Machine 2 [Feb. 20], and the animated Monster Trucks next Christmas.
Are you doing any standup?
I don’t really tour but I do shows here and there. It’s almost like doing crack or something. It’s a very immediate thrill that goes away really fast.
What goals do you set now?
I’ve done all of it. I’ve checked every box. On a personal satisfaction level, I’m married to a lovely woman and we have a really cool kid. It’s all good. I just hope I don’t get struck by lightning.