Just weeks before the national political conventions get underway, a crucial figure has yet to commit to the presidential race.
Jason Sudeikis, who plays Saturday Night Live’s Mitt Romney as a cheerfully button-down, out-of-touch figure, said he has not yet decided whether to return to the sketch show when it resumes this fall.
After nine years at SNL — the last few as the show’s most valuable straight man — Sudeikis has been spending recent months focusing on his movie career. He plays the long-suffering aide to Will Ferrell’s blundering congressman in the political spoof The Campaign, which opened Friday, and is filming the road comedy We’re the Millers opposite Jennifer Aniston.
Sudeikis, 36, said he wants to take on more responsibility at SNL but maintain the flexibility to pursue other projects, a tricky balance to strike on a notoriously demanding live weekly show.
“I’d like the opportunity to use creative muscles that … haven’t been asked of me for the first nine years that I’ve worked there,” he said in an interview.
“It could be some sort of title change. The least of the concerns is anything financial. … It’s more having a desire to give more to a place I really believe in. To stay just for the juice of being in the public eye — of being Mitt Romney — is not enough.”
Unlike SNL’s gifted President Clinton impressionist, Darrell Hammond, Sudeikis doesn’t devote hours of study to creating an uncanny resemblance, but relies more on instinct.
“We’re probably just watching a guy who’s scared to screw up. So my Mitt is a little square, a little boring, a little disconnected from the human experience.”
In The Campaign, Sudeikis’ character is the most high-functioning clown in a political circus. The movie stars Ferrell as an airhead Democratic congressman from North Carolina who is running for reelection against a Republican big-money pawn (Zach Galifianakis).
“I think The Campaign is right on time,” Sudeikis said. “People are getting cynical about the news. It doesn’t seem like there’s one place to watch where you get the straight dope. You watch the channel that proves your point. I would argue that comedy has taken on the role that folk singers had in the ’60s and ’70s in the sense that people come to us for the truth.”
In The Campaign, his Mitch manages his candidate’s gaffes (punching a baby, tweeting profanity), in one improvised scene pantomiming the words to the Lord’s Prayer to him during a debate.
Sudeikis has been honing the role of a straight man with an inner goofball since high school in Overland Park, Kan. He attended community college in Kansas on a basketball scholarship before dropping out, and bounced around to various improv comedy venues, eventually joining Second City, the storied Chicago troupe that launched Bill Murray, John Candy, Tina Fey and Sudeikis’ uncle, George Wendt.
In 2003, SNL hired Sudeikis as a sketch writer and he began appearing on air in 2005, his boyish looks and sharp timing equipping him to play characters like cops and newscasters who drolly react to the over-the-top antics of castmates like Kristen Wiig and Will Forte.
In We’re the Millers, which is due next year, he’s the lead — a pot dealer who hires a phony family to help him move a 200-pound stash of marijuana across the border.
The movie roles have meant that he’s at SNL for only half the week, Sudeikis said, and have minimized his input on the show.
“You start at SNL when you’re young and hungry, but I don’t want my pro years to be my SNL years,” he said, borrowing a sports analogy. “This is me getting to play for K.U. or Duke or North Carolina, with pro-caliber people, but I don’t want this to be it.”