Rob Huebel is one of comedy’s Most Valuable Players. From his cult favorite sketch series, “Human Giant” with Paul Scheer and Aziz Ansari, to his Netflix limited series, “Medical Police,” a “Children’s Hospital” spin-off in the smart dumb-comedy spirit of “Police Squad” and “Airplane,” he has made an indelible impression. But in recent years, he has left his comfort zone to take on more dramatic roles. His most recent is Spontaneous, a Paramount Home Entertainment release now available to rent or buy on demand from Redbox.
Directed by Brian Duffield and based on Aaron Starmer’s YA novel, this critically-acclaimed darkly comic love story stars Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer as Mara and Dylan, two high school students who make a connection in the midst of an inexplicable outbreak of their classmates horrifically blowing up. High school is tough enough without being terrified that every moment might be your last.
Huebel spoke with Redbox about his first film playing the “cool dad,” his own high school cosmic bs, the prospects for a “Human Giant” reunion and the time he weighed whether or not to ask George Clooney for his phone number.
Redbox: I’m feeling guilty about doing this interview. I jumped at the chance to talk to you, but I don’t want to be taking you from shooting season two of “Medical Police.” What’s the status?
Rob Huebel: I don’t know. I think that one might be designed for one season. But the ‘Children’s Hospital’ crew will do more stuff.
RB: Speaking of segues, how did you get involved with Spontaneous?
RH: I got the script and I literally jumped at it because I was so curious as to how the hell they would pull this off. It seemed so crazy to do a teen romance but with this backdrop of crazy amounts of blood, explosions and gore. This isn’t really horror, but I was hoping I was going to get bloody, and it turned out I didn’t get bloody at all. But it was such a cool script, and I’m a big fan of Katherine Langford. I loved her in ‘13 Reasons Why’ and Knives Out, and so to be her dad seemed like it would be a lot of fun.
RB: The movie is that rarity: an original high school movie.
RH: It reminded me of Heathers. It starts off as this crazy dark comedy and then becomes this life-affirming thing. It sneaks up on you. I got strangely emotional watching the movie a couple of days ago because it ends on this upbeat, really hopeful, message. It sneaks up on you, this great message on how to deal with this chaos we’re living through.
RB: Was it a leap of faith for you to work with a first-time director on a risky project that defies easy categorization?
RH: Yeah, you never know how stuff is going to turn out. It’s such a roll of the dice. The overwhelming thing to me was the script. It was so cool. We had no idea it would become this cult sensation and that people would respond the way they are. We shot it two years ago. I don’t know whether Brian time-traveled into the future, but he just nailed what we’re living through right now.
RB: What was high school like for you? What “cosmic bullshit,” as they call it in the movie, did you have to endure?
RH: Oh man, high school. I was like a lot of people. I was not comfortable in my own skin. I tried to compensate for that by trying too hard to be funny. I was always goofing around. In hindsight, I would have relaxed a bit and not been such a dork. It ended up working out for me as a career. Now I just get to play a dork in the movies.
RB: Are you looking for more dramatic roles like this so critics will ignore your great comedy work and call your acting a revelation?
RH: I wish. I do it just because it doesn’t come my way that often. I got a chance to do some little things, like The Descendants, “Transparent,” and “I Know This Much is True,” with Mark Ruffalo. Whenever I get the chance, I’ll do it because it’s scary to me. I hope I’m not distracting people, like ‘Why is this comedian in this movie?’
RB: Is this the point in your career when you’re transitioning to dad roles?
RH: I’ve been dragging my feet on that because it does put you into a category. But this was a fresh take on the ‘parent of the troubled teen,’ because Brian let us improvise a lot. It felt very natural. I’m proud that I’m easing into the ‘cool, pot-smoking dad’-part of my career.
RB: You belong to that special class of character actors who audiences are always happy to see, and who makes something good even better. Are there character actors you’ve looked to as something of a career model?
RH: I don’t know that he was a character actor but I’ve always been in awe of Leslie Nielsen. That is the sweet spot. I love to play the dumb guy, but play him super deadpan. That kind of guy is really great. I’m psyched when I can pop up in a movie or TV show and try to be like a three-point shooter. Usually when I am hired, I assume they want me to come in and improvise a bit and Brian let me do that. I’m always glad to do that.
RB: Here’s a question from my son: Any chances of a Human Giant reunion?
RH: Me and (Paul) Scheer do a lot of stuff together on Zoom and Instagram. Scheer just put up ‘Human Giant’ sketches with commentary on Twitch. I think we’re going to start doing more of that. As far as a full-fledged reunion, I’m not sure that will happen, but we’re all buddies and we all keep in touch.
RB: I’ve got time for one more: Do you have a good George Clooney story from making The Descendants?
RH: My best friend George Clooney? We shot that movie in Hawaii. I was so nervous; he’s one of my favorite actors and Alexander Payne is such a great director. I just didn’t want to f*** it up. There was a point in-between shots where we were sitting around in the front yard of this house. Everyone was looking at their phone and he and I were chit-chatting. We both had our phones out and I was trying to work up the nerve to ask him for his phone number. I played his best friend in the movie so it seemed natural we would want to extend that relationship into real life. I was just about to ask him, but he got called back to the set and once I had time to think about it, I was like, ‘No way; he’s going to think you’re a stalker,’ so I never did it.’