In a downtown Toronto boardroom one wouldn’t suspect that actor Jonathan Keltz was about to join the well known pantheon of bro’d out d-bags known as “over the top villains in a high school or university set comedy.” He’s actually quite charming, relaxed, and self-effacing, and not at all like his chronically hyper and perpetually pissed off character in the comedy 21 and Over.
As ostensibly the biggest main villain outside of the band of heroes own personal shortcomings, Keltz (who was US born, but attended Toronto’s Northern Secondary after grade 8 and appeared on several episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation while he was here) plays Randy, a male cheerleader with a lot of university spirit who always finds himself running afoul of a pair of best friends (played by Miles Teller and Skylar Astin) as they attempt to get their blackout drunk friend home safely.
The actor – possibly best known as of late for playing Ari Gold’s assistant on Entourage – talked to Dork Shelf about playing a broad villain, why his character is secretly kind of a hero, keeping up his energy levels, and what makes 21 and Over different from a lot of teen comedies.
Dork Shelf: I’m going to start off by assuming that you aren’t as much of a raging dickhead in real life…
Jonathan Keltz: (laughs) No! Thankfully I am not that big of a douchebag.
DS: (laughs) Excellent! I am glad we got that out of the way first.
JK: (laughs) No! That’s good. I’m glad you asked because there are chairs in this room I could easily throw. It would be bad. Thankfully they locked away all the baseball bats. (laughs)
DS: Is it interesting to get the chance to play such a hot head?
JK: Oh yeah, it’s so interesting. You know, just sort of letting all that stuff out and being able to be lose with it all, especially like how I get towards the end of it as I get madder and madder and getting to walk around with a baseball bat like that… it’s just kind of like a dream come true. (laughs)
But it was great and especially since it was in such a welcoming, safe environment. The tone that Jon (Lucas) and Scott (Moore) set as the directors was just awesome. We all felt comepletely comfortable to play, to try, and to do all sorts of different things, and they were very encouraging of me coming on board and doing this kind of thing because this is a real character on the page who is very cartoony. He’s a prick and he’s big, and the hardest part was to find the way to ground that because even with this character it needs to be justifiable that Sarah Wright (who plays his on-screen girlfriend and Astin’s love interest) is with him in the first place. There has to be something there to him, and truthfully, in Randy’s defence, that was just a bad night!
DS: Well, the first time we see you is after getting a dart to the face from some guys who are shitfaced.
JK: Exactly! He gets a gun pulled on him and then there’s that bit with the buffalo. Things get dicey. (laughs) And the selling of the dart, that was tons of fun. It looks so ridiculously real to have this thing sticking through my face.
DS: He’s intense, but it’s justifiable because he isn’t exactly bringing on or always deserving of all these terrible things happening to him.
JK: Yeah. I really like to think that I’m the hero of the movie and they’re just the villains ruining my night.
DS: You have to play this guy who… you don’t call it a cheerleader in the movie…
JK: Yup, it’s a “yell leader.” (laughs)
DS: …but you have to keep up this energy the entire time, and it seems like it would be hard to keep that up every night that you guys were shooting.
JK: On some of those night shoots it does get a bit waning, but although I’m someone who can get tired pretty easily, I can always find a way to rally that energy. I’m great at revving that up. Caffeine also helps. (laughs) There were some pretty long nights of filming. The pep rally scene in the film was two whole nights of filming right there.
DS: There are a lot of big scenes like that in the film since it’s about two guys who find themselves bouncing around between parties all night.
JK: It was huge. There were approximately 700 extras that we had there, and a lot of it was even just for things as simple as a montage. And one of the things I think was great and that it was able to run so smoothly was a testament to the crew in Seattle that was just so on point. And on top of that we had two directors working as a partnership, so they always had the energy to manage and handle different things at different times. One person would be talking to us about alt lines and improving, while the other would be dealing with all the technical aspects of it. Jon and Scott were great in the way they handled everything. It was awesome.
DS: I think the biggest laughs in the film are often coming from you and your boys that follow you around all the time who just always say the most random shit to just back up everything you do.
JK: Oh man, those guys are the BEST. And that’s what’s really great and interesting, because I’m sitting there reading the script and worrying and thinking “Oh man, I’ve got these two cronies” and I couldn’t really picture what that would be like. Of course, then Danny Booko and Russ Mercado show up and they are the two nicest guys you could imagine. Russ is just the kindest, sweetest person and he has this baby that’s just absolutely adorable. And Danny Booko… my man, he is hysterical, and everything he was coming up with and adlibbing was great. I think for the entire shoot everyone just started shouting at me to “sweep the leg” because of him. (laughs)
I mean, our crew is the one who isn’t letting go of high school, and it’s in a different way that someone like Miller (Teller’s character) isn’t letting go of high school. There’s a lot of up and coming faces in the movie, but no one that’s really a “star power” kind of name, so it was awesome to see this really unique stance on these characters.
I mean, watching those three guys work was great. Miles kills me and trying to stay serious with him during takes nearly kills me. And the chemistry they have together is just incredible.
I also don’t know how Justin (Chon) was able to be so grounded and relaxed and natural with his drunkenness to be there playing a character who has to be completely unconscious and dragged around between here and there just to pop up and have something crazy happen to him. And that was six weeks that he had to do that for.
DS: That kind of thing is a lot more physical than a lot of people realize. His character could almost be favourably compared to something like Terry Kiser in Weekend at Bernie’s.
JK: Exactly! (laughs)
DS: I don’t know if this is something that you guys worked on as actors or if it was there in the screenplay, but the script as its written here is a lot more focused on banter between the character than it is about snappy one-liners.
JK: That was what everyone sort of wanted, you know? That sort of fast paced kind of humour, and the people who really started that were Jon and Scott. Their writing is just superb. It’s not often that you read a script and you laugh out loud reading it, so that was happening here, but then you even wonder what you could even bring to that. Miles and Skylar were also just so quick back and forth with each other. Their chemistry was terrific, and all of the script was fantastic already. Then a lot of the improvisation was fantastic, but then Jon and Scott would come in with about five or six alternate lines on top of that depending on how the tone of the scene we were shooting was. That altogether made things really come together. It was sort of a continual process, and it was great because they were always so open to it being that evolution. The foundation was really strong in the script, but then there was the improv that we tweaked and pushed from there. Of course, we also have to really thank the editors for being able to put it all together so we made sense. (laughs)
DS: I’m going to assume you weren’t really a method guy on this one, but did you do anything to really mess with your co-stars at all?
JK: No, but the camaraderie was great. We were out in Seattle for six weeks for the shoot, like I was saying, and I was there for four of them, and it was always fun. Me and Danny were shooting pool almost every night, and that was a lot of fun. It was great being there and on the University of Washington campus. We had some good old times and laughs, but no real pranking, but there was definitely some shenanigans and some tomfoolery and some mischief.