With “Vacation,” Ed Helms becomes the fifth actor to play Rusty Griswold, the son of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) from the National Lampoon film series. Luckily for Helms, having a different actor in the role for every movie meant he could do whatever he wanted.
I went into this wondering which version of Rusty you were supposed to be playing the grown-up version of, but…
It’s all of them! And I think the writers just made such a great joke to get that across. But all of them and none of them, in a weird way. I really looked at this as a blank slate. I loved all those Rusty performances and I’m proud to be next in a long line of Rustys, but I didn’t feel beholden to any previous performances — especially with the age gap. Adult Rusty just was kind of a blank slate, and I could bring my own mojo to it.
So how did you envision this guy?
I see Rusty as a kind of aspirational character for me. He is relentlessly hopeful and optimistic, incredibly kindhearted and he wants the best for his family. But what makes Rusty complex and hopefully more funny is that he also is repressed and in denial about some things, and that gives him some pretty significant blind spots. So he’s very prone to seeing situations the way he wants to see them.
He’s always trying to make the best of a terrible situation.
Exactly. When he rents the Tartan Prancer, that would bum out anybody. But Rusty spins it in his own mind and convinces himself that it’s awesome. So when he gets home to share it with the family, he genuinely believes that it’s awesome. He’s making the best of things to a psychotic degree.
Did they ever tell you what happens if you press the swastika button on the car remote?
No. And I won’t speculate. (laughs)
So, it turns out Chris Hemsworth has amazing comic chops as well. Does that just make you angry at the universe?
Absolutely. Not fair, right? I mean, I’ve been working my whole life to have some comedy chops, and here comes this guy who just effortlessly crushes it.
Did you just want to punch him, then?
(laughs) No, I’m smart enough not to punch Chris Hemsworth.