Few actors have had as acrobatic of a career as Jamie Kennedy. Leveraging his standup comedy background to burst onto the scene, Kennedy became a household name, starring in several pop culture pillars throughout his career. Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Wes Craven’s Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 3, Ben Younger’s Boiler Room, Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, John Whitesell’s Malibu’s Most Wanted, and Gor Kirakosian’s Lost and Found in Armenia represent mere examples from a prestigious career, collectively reflecting a resume that leaps genres and works seamlessly with auteurs. With a curiosity to constantly reinvent himself, Kennedy remains at the top of his game heading into his upcoming film, Last Call.
Co-written and directed by fellow Philadelphia natives Greg Lingo, on which the film is partially based, and Paolo Pilladi, respectively, Last Call serves as a tribute to the city that helped shaped them, as well as Kennedy. The collective love poured into the making of Last Call shows in its writing, direction, setting, distinct characters, and working class sensibilities.
On the cusp of Last Call‘s release, I had the chance to speak with Kennedy about the making of the film, working with its impressive cast, his eclectic career, the Armenian indie darling Lost and Found in Armenia, the upcoming Scream sequel, cancel culture, his standup career, and more.
Congratulations on your latest film, Last Call. It was an awesome film and a great performance.
Thank you, dude. I hope you got all the references. It’s a real Philly-type thing.
Some. Probably not all. But I know the director, Paolo, is a local guy, which enriched the setting. What initially drew you to the project?
Well, it’s based on my boy’s life. Greg (Lingo) is an executive producer. He was a guy from the area, grew up poor, went away, and became a real college superstar athlete and started making a lot of money. And then he always, always, always was a guy from Philly who has never left and always loved it. He wanted to write a love letter to it. So he did. He wrote all the different scenarios and came up with a script he liked. And he called me, and I was like, “Oh, man, that sounds good.” So once I got involved in it, we started getting more and more people. But he got it all local – local director, these local groups here, and I’m from Philly. So that’s how it started.
Your character, Whitey, wears a Bluetooth earpiece, sports a man bun, and uses a little hand weight with a leather belt holster, instantly adding comedic depth to him. Were these your own additions, or were these traits written into the script?
The holster was in the script. The earpiece was in the script, and that’s based off a dude that we know, Whitey. And then the man bun and the different wardrobe was me. We were mixing it up, how the dude was. And he was always on the Bluetooth before the Bluetooth was popular. He was the first guy we ever saw that would talk on the air, like, “Who are you talking to?” He was like, “I’m on a call. I’m on a call. I’m on a call.” Always with his hand up. You know what I mean? That guy? And I think he still rocks the Bluetooth, even though the AirPods are where it’s at right now.
That’s hilarious. What was it like working with living screen legends Bruce Dern and Cathy Moriarty?
Legends, dude! Bruce is a legend. Kathy’s a legend. There’s all types of new legends. (Jeremy) Piven’s a legend. Obviously, Dern’s been around the longest. That was one of the highlights of the movie – he was there for a few days – just improvising with him. He’s from The Actors Studio in New York. He’s studied with James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Brando. So when he starts, you just listen and you jump in where you can. There’s never a false acting moment with him. It’s just incredible. It’s like you’re at the foot of a Jedi. And Kathy, I didn’t get to work with her, but I would see her in the elevator all the time. She was so sweet. So sweet. Bruce and Kathy just showed up early, stayed late, and always rehearse so generously, and it really sets a beautiful tone when the legends are like that.
Which came first, your standup comic career or your acting profession?
Kind of simultaneously. It was easier for me to do stand-up comedy because I could just sign up, do it, and audition for clubs and get in. But a lot of acting came out of the comedy world. People would see me at clubs, and then I would have an audition for stuff. So my success came in acting first, but my early stuff was from my comedy that I was doing.
Do you see acting as an extension of your stand-up comedy, or vice versa?
Vice versa actually. I’m probably an actor who became more of a standup comic. I always act out stuff in my standup comedy, and there’s always a scenario in my stand-up comedy; it’s easier for me to see a scene and act it out. I’ve become much more of a stand-up comic. But it’s a different skill, obviously. Much different. But the acting is helping a lot with it.
How does it feel to be in one of Armenia’s favorite American films about the country?
Is that true?
There’s a large population of us who absolutely adore Lost and Found in Armenia for a plethora of reasons. You and Angela Sarafyan are incredible in it.
That’s so cool. I’m so honored that they feel that way. When I go to Glendale, I do get a little extra love. People recognize me, and I’m very fortunate that they enjoy this movie and that they recognize me. And I know the culture is very tight-knit, and so to be able to get some respect in it is very, very cool.
“This film is not only a funny, quirky, and romantic gem but it’s also very underrated and unheard of to most and it teaches us of a small country and it’s people that are quite unique, and lovable – Armenia and the Armenians.”
Daniel M., Five Stars on Rotten Tomatoes
Speaking of Glendale, when they finally tell your character, Bill, that you’re in Armenia, you say, “Where the hell is Armenia? You mean, like, Glendale?” That’s a fantastic line.
You got the joke! Either that or Fresno.
Exactly. My family settled in Fresno. But we could’ve just as easily settled in Glendale.
Yeah! I got to know [the culture] very well.
How did this unique project find you?
Well, Gor (Kirakosian) wrote the script, and then my agents approached me and they were like, “This is a really cool script. It’s really independent. And we really like it for you.” And Gor possibly wrote it (with me) in mind. And then I just read it and I really liked it. I liked the lead, I liked the love interest, I loved the story. And my agent’s like, “Look, what if it’s like a Greek Wedding?” And I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right. It could be.” And he was like, “I could go over there for the summer and film a movie and see what happens.” And that’s why I thought I could do it. Gor is a great director, and I really, really thought there were some funny actors in it. Even though I didn’t understand what they were saying, I totally got what they were saying. And I just loved being in Armenia for seven or eight weeks.
Speaking of the love interest storyline, did you pick up on the fact that this might be your first lead role in a true romantic comedy?
Yeah. Even though Malibu is more of a comedy, I still had romantic moments in that. Son of the Mask had some romantic moments, but again, it’s more like a special effects comedy. I was able to get some more love moments (for) this, which was nice. I did like that. That’s another reason to do it – to show people that you have other sides.
“For the people who aren’t Armenian just FUCK OFF!”
Raffi M., Five Stars on Rotten Tomatoes
When you read the script, did they translate the Armenian parts in English for you?
Yeah. I had the script that was translated, so I knew what they were saying. But sometimes, I just didn’t want a translation because I wanted to be confused. And it’s nice to be on a set where you’re out of the loop. And I didn’t really understand everything that was going on, but that was okay, because that’s how my character felt. So I said, “Why not just stay that way? I don’t need to know everything.”
“So hilarious! Wow I hadn’t laughed so much in a while. But honestly you have to be Armenian or speak Armenian to realllllyyy enjoy it. It was great!!”
Christina P., Five Stars on Rotten Tomatoes
And that adds to the culture shock of your character too.
Yeah. Definitely. It helps with the culture shock, for sure.
Lost and Found in Armenia addresses both the effects of the Armenian Genocide and the Artsakh War in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Angela’s character, Ani’s, background quite closely parallels her family’s real-life background. However, her character’s family was affected by the most latter war, rather than her family’s real life tragedy during the Genocide. Were you familiar with our people’s history before working on the film?
I knew a little, but not enough, about the Armenian Genocide because I lived in a part of LA that is not far from Glendale. And every April, I saw all the cars with flags. And then I saw what it was. And then there’s always a big gathering. And then I learned what Armenian Genocide Day was. So I was definitely aware of that when I went over. And then I was aware of the early ’90s. I learned that when I was over there. I didn’t know about that.
It’s incredibly rare for a film to address these historical events because both the US and Turkey haven’t acknowledged the Armenian Genocide. And I read a review on Rotten Tomatoes that accused the film of containing offensive stereotypes. Obviously, that couldn’t be further from the truth. And of course, I wasn’t surprised that it the person was neither Armenian, nor Turkish, nor Azeri. They were simply assuming that Armenians would be offended by this film. It’s fake, projected outrage. Creating an issue where there is none. It seems like a lot of cancel culture is fake outrage that doesn’t even have to do with the person expressing the outrage.
Definitely. Cancel culture is running rampant, and it’s huge, and there’s a lot of people being offended for other people. The people that are supposed to be offended aren’t even being asked if they’re offended. It’s the other people that get offended. That’s a problem. And it’s making everybody walk on eggshells, if you will. And we got to figure out what’s okay and what’s not okay.
It’s definitely a tricky time. After nearly three decades in this industry, do you have secret to longevity in this industry?
You’ve got to go with the change, and sometimes that can be hard. I hate to say the word relevant, but you’ve got to keep relevant. You’ve got to kind of keep relevant. You’ve got to keep up with what’s happening. And there’s always going to be new people on the scene, and you’re going to have to work with them and keep your ear to the street. And you have to forget your last project and move on to the next one, and keep reinventing yourself and being part of whatever is popping. And I always try to stay out there. Obviously, you want to be in a Marvel movie and different things like that, but sometimes those are harder to get. But just constantly working will help. And not being scared to go in for things that you normally wouldn’t be thought of. It helps me when I do a spot on Lucifer, or I do a guest spot on Kingdom, or different series. It really helps keep my credibility up.
Looking back, Scream has immensely shaped our pop culture zeitgeist. With Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett stepping into the late Wes Craven’s shoes, are you excited to see where they take the franchise with Scream 5?
I’m going to be blunt. Everybody asks me that. I say, “Never has a corpse gotten so many questions.” I feel like Scream is always going to be in my heart. And it’s always done so much for me. And it’s, obviously, one of the top one or two cornerstones of my career. I think those directors are incredible. Their first movie had such a tone that had, very much, Scream vibes to it. So they’re perfect to do it. I don’t know anything about the script or the project. I just know who’s in it, and I think it’ll be awesome. Scream will probably live on as long as I’m living. It’s just going to be, now, its own universe, which is a great thing. The new cast is awesome along with the older cast. It’s just perfect.
And if there’s one universe that can bring a character back with some form of screenwriting or cinematic sorcery, it’s Scream. And it has to be Randy.
People say it. I feel like everybody wants it, but I don’t feel like they’ve done that yet. I don’t know if they want to do it. It seems like the audience wants it for sure.
With Randy’s film knowledge, he could connect all the films in the franchise in this brilliant, meta way.
Why not? They’re doing it with Spider-Man. They’re going to have three Spider-Mans.
I agree. Do you ever watch the show Devs? Devs is a new way of storytelling, and it’s so good, and it’s totally what’s actually happening. That’s happening in Silicon Valley right now. The multiverse is real, man. So you’re definitely going to see that more and more in filmmaking.
The Last Blockbuster reveals that one of your first major roles was a recurring role in a series of Blockbuster ad commercials with Jim Gaffigan.
Yes. Definitely, it was one of my first roles. It’s not the first role, but my first big, big, big commercial, and it was great. It did a lot for my career.
Did that role lead Wes to cast you as Randy in Scream?
It definitely got me out there, and my agent saw that I was working, so I got submitted for more stuff. And then I went for TV auditions, and I got some of that. And then the movies. So that allowed me to get more auditions, which led to more jobs. And then the fact that I worked at Blockbuster in the commercial, and I really studied the movies, it helped.
Scream and Romeo + Juliet not only display your wide range as an actor, but also serve as examples of two polar opposite, but equally talented directors. Baz Luhrmann and Wes Craven are both brilliant, but Baz has these grand movies with large set pieces, while Wes has more slowly-paced, contained thrillers.
They’re both amazing. They’re both great, both auteurs, both know what they want. It was both wonderful experiences. I went from Romeo + Juliet right to Scream, and it was just one amazing experience right after the other. I learned so much on both, and I was lucky to have it (be) such good quality on both.
You’re a fun person to follow on Twitter. You dish up constant entertainment during these dark times. What’s the story behind your bio, “Not a Chef👨🍳 ?”
It takes a long time to do all that stuff, and sometimes I just put funny things at the last minute. There’s a big chef named James Kennedy. He’s really known on Twitter. It’s stupid, but the people that know him know.
You currently have a spring collection of Malibu’s Most Wanted sweatshirts that you’re offering to fans. That film is definitely a memorable movie from my childhood.
Thank you, man. It’s a good one. I don’t know…I might have corrupted you.
Your podcast, “HATE TO BREAK IT TO YA with Jamie Kennedy,” is described as an assault on your ears, with a spin you may not want to hear. What are the key elements you want to get through to the audience with the launching of this podcast?
There’s so much, like, “You have to follow the stream of what’s being said,” and I’m not like that. My whole thing is pro conversation. You have to talk about everything. The problem with the world, is right now, at least in America, is people are scared to talk about stuff because they don’t want to get in trouble. And everything should be able to be talked about. So it’s, “I hate to break it to you, but this might be an uncomfortable subject, but let’s talk about it.” And then you take the stigma out of it and you talk about it to avoid the pitfalls. And that’s how you get through stuff is communicate. I just don’t think enough people are allowed to talk, now. It’s bizarre to me. So that’s what it is. “I hate to break it to you, but this might be an uncomfortable convo.”
It’s almost as if silence is a new form of expression.
It’s just bullshit. Because if you’re trying to silence somebody, what are you scared they’re going to say? It’s clearly a problem. You shouldn’t be scared. If you’re scared somebody’s saying something to you, that says more about you.
Do you have a particular guest you want to have in the near future? Obviously, Bruce Dern has to be on there.
Man, if I could get Bruce, that would be incredible. Right now, I’m having comics, and I’m slowly branching out. I’m going to have my [Last Call] co-stars, Taryn Manning and Zach McGowan come on. They’re coming on later this week. I’m having a mix of people. At first, it was more of me talking, but now I’m slowly getting more and more guests. I’ve had some great guests so far.
Looking forward, are there any films that you’re excited about coming out soon?
I got this film coming out. Then I got another movie coming out in April called Roe v. Wade, and I’m excited about that, too. But right now, I’m really focused on this one, and then seeing what my next projects are going to be.
What’s the climate right now in terms of performing live again in front of people?
It’s happening now, slowly, with drive-ins. We’re doing drive-ins. We’re doing parking lots. We’re doing deals right now. But right now, inside is not happening. But slowly but surely, California is definitely opening up. So that’s exciting.
IFC Films will release the comedy LAST CALL in theaters, on Digital, and On Demand on March 19, 2021.