On the brilliant-but-canceled “Happy Endings,” Damon Wayans Jr. proved he’s a master of the high-pitched squeal. So it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to him that for “Big Hero 6,” Disney wanted his character, Wasabi, to sound not all that manly. We caught up with Wayans to talk about the animated film, plus his current work on “New Girl.” And how if everyone followed their childhood dreams, we’d have a world full of ninjas, superheroes and disappointed gynecologists.
Did you feel at all slighted when you realized the voice they wanted from you was not exactly a big tough guy?
The first time I saw Wasabi’s character, I saw him in his superhero mode, with his green visor and his plasma blades poking out, so I was just like, “Oh, this guy is bad-ass.” And they were like, “Yeah, we want him to be … a little neurotic, more of a worrywart.” And I was like, “Is that how you see me?” (laughs) No, I didn’t really feel slighted. It was one of those things where it’s like, “Whatever you want.” Because growing up I wanted to be an animator and an illustrator, so I always looked up to Disney.
What stopped you from pursuing illustration?
I don’t know. I mean, I still draw constantly. I’m actually developing a graphic novel right now. But I don’t know. Nobody’s ever their first dream — I mean, rarely. There would be so many ninjas and superheroes now if everybody was their first dream. I remember growing up, being at sixth grade graduation and like half my class wanted to be gynecologists. I was like, “Why do you guys want to look at sick vaginas, dude?” They probably thought in their head it was so noble. No, it’s a hard job.
Or they had just learned what a gynecologist was.
Yeah, they were like, “You get to look at vaginas?” No, dude. You get to look at vaginas at their worst. (laughs) They’re just very said. “Oh, this isn’t right.”
How is “New Girl” going?
It’s going great, you know? They give you a lot of freedom. They don’t necessarily use all of it, but you definitely are allowed to express yourself and be funny. It’s always fun to make the crew laugh as well, or to make one of the characters break within the scene, I love that. I just love destroying a take. Like, we have to go from the top because I said something that was funny. I mean, I know towards the end of the day you just want to get through it because everyone’s tired, so I’ll hold back then. But early in the morning I’m like, “Why not?”
How does the “New Girl” experience compare to “Happy Endings”?
I feel like “Happy Endings,” we never had the luxury of comfort. We never felt like we were just going to be here for years, so we were always eager to give our best. When you’re on “New Girl” and you know it’s going to be here for a couple more years, you’re a little more relaxed. I also feel like the one thing that “New Girl” has that “Happy Endings” didn’t — which I feel like they needed more of — is heart. I feel like “New Girl,” no matter how crazy they get, they’ll have at least one or two scenes where they just ground the hell out of it and it’s like, this is why the show stays on the air, because people need to make that connection. I don’t necessarily because I’m a comedian and I can just appreciate comedy, but people who are watching need to feel like these characters are real people. I feel like “Happy Endings” was more of coastal show, appeal-wise.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick