American actor and comedian Jason Lee first grabbed audience attention in Kevin Smith's films Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma but for many he will always be remembered as Earl Hickey, the petty thief and ne'er do well who won the lottery and decided to right all his wrongs in four seasons of the TV comedy My Name is Earl.
An army of youngsters know Lee as chipmunk saviour Dave in Alvin and the Chipmunks films but their parents may be getting reacquainted with Lee through the late-night comedy Up All Night, in which he plays Kevin, a single dad and neighbour to role reversal parents Regan and Chris (Christina Applegate and Will Arnett).
Kevin has also been dating Regan's boss, the highly strung talk-show host Ava Alexander (Maya Rudolph).
"They just reached out to me, and, of course, I was very excited - great cast and great show," Lee said of how he landed the recurring role.
"I had seen it and it was good to be back on TV. It had been a while since I had done any kind of comedy on television, so it was really, really cool to come back and work on a great show. And so, they keep having me back, which is great."
Lee has enjoyed working with the "cool" cast, particularly Rudolph, from Saturday Night Live who last year starred in the hit film Bridesmaids.
"Fortunately, all of these people are very cool. And with Maya, I think there's great chemistry there. She is very playful," he said. "And everybody's just been totally inviting. There's a lot of improv and goofing off. And, you know, I feel right at home, and so I thank them immensely for making it comfortable for me."
The father of two relates to Regan and Chris' experiences as new parents.
"Oh, my gosh, totally. I'm a father twice over," he said.
"So, yes, absolutely. And, you know, it also helps playing a dad on the show, because I can totally relate and, you know, identify with that energy of being a father.
"So, hopefully, that translates well. My character's daughter on the show is - I think she's, like, maybe 11 or something. So, it seems to be a good fit anyway.
"And it's also cool that every single cast member is a parent."
Up All Night has won over plenty of viewers and many put it down to the chemistry between Applegate and Arnett, who are both parents. But Lee thinks there's more to it.
"It's definitely the chemistry, but it's also the talent of the actors and that there's certainly a lot of talent between the three of them, and the writing is really sharp," he said.
"And as I like to see personally, it's got heart. It's accessible. It's not better than thou. You know, it doesn't have that sort of undertone, that comedy undertone, to it."
Lee has enjoyed playing a straighter character, one who helps keeps Ava and her diva-like tendencies more grounded.
"And, you know, going from Earl which was kind of outlandish at times, and certainly a blast to do, it's kind of nice just to see, just as an actor, what does it feel like to play it straighter," he said.
Although Earl seems far removed from Lee's movie roles and from Kevin, Lee says he always looks for characters who "contain and maintain some sort of humanity or believability or likability".
"I think, if you commit and you add some sense of sensitivity or some reality or humanity to it, and it's a little deeper than just what you might see on the surface, I think it comes across as being a little bit more human," he said.
"And so, yes, I guess I've just never really been afraid to just commit and be vulnerable.
"And I think that's important."
'It's kind of nice just to see, just as an actor, what does it feel like to play it straighter.' JASON LEE
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