Ed Helms trades The Office for a trip to Cedar Rapids
By Michael GallucciEd Helms spends a sizable chunk of his new movie Cedar Rapids in his underwear. The star of The Office says there's a good reason for this — besides, of course, that it's pretty damn funny to see Andy "The Nard-Dog" Bernard in his tighty-whities. "The character is so naked, both literally and metaphorically," he says. "When you see people in their underwear outside of a bedroom context, they look so vulnerable. It was a deliberate choice to make him feel alone and naked."
Helms plays Tim Lippe, an insurance salesman from a small town in Wisconsin who's traveling to the big city — Cedar Rapids, Iowa — for the first time for a convention. He ends up sharing a room with two other guys, including Dean Ziegler, a crass blowhard from a rival agency played by John C. Reilly. Their adventures over the next 90 minutes pretty much amount to a Midwest version of The Hangover (in which Helms also starred and reprises his role as henpecked dentist Stu Price in this summer's sequel).
But there's a little more to Cedar Rapids than that. There's also a little more heart. Tim — who's having an affair with his seventh-grade teacher (played by Sigourney Weaver) and is stymied by hotel keycards — learns a few things about the outside world during his trip. He gets drunk for the first time. He crashes a gay wedding. He has sex with a married woman (Anne Heche). And he smokes crack.
"Tim gets overwhelmed," admits Helms, an Oberlin College grad. "But just being who he is, he profoundly affects everyone around him in ways you don't see coming."
Even though Cedar Rapids is Helms' first lead role, many of the movie's best scenes include Reilly, who steamrolls through every moment he's a part of. ("You don't hire John C. Reilly to stick to a script," says Helms.) The blustery "Deanzie" talks shit about his ex-wife, interrupts meetings with bad jokes, and, most significantly, encourages Tim's increasingly bad behavior. "My favorite scene in the movie is when Deanzie connects with Tim in the hotel room with Bloody Marys," says Helms. "And they're both in their underwear."
Yes, we're back to one of the movie's underwear scenes. But Helms insists his stripping down onscreen is all part of Tim's growing process. "Tim has a heartbreaking story — he lost his parents at a young age," he says. "He's cocooned himself and used his small town as a shield from the rest of the world. It keeps him from being a cartoon character and a small-town stereotype."
Helms sees similarities among his three best-known characters, but he's most like The Hangover's Stu, he says. "Tim is a very extreme character," he says. "Andy shares a lot of my interests, and I relate to how passionate he can be. Stu is closest to who I really am, but he can be a little tightly wound. I like to think I'm more laidback."