Kyle Mooney Discusses His New Film ‘Brigsby Bear,’ ‘SNL’ and His Love for Leslie Jones

After 42 seasons, “Saturday Night Live” is as popular as ever, thanks not only to the show’s sharp political humor, but also to one of the strongest casts in the program’s history. That stellar cast includes Kyle Mooney, who has been a standout performer since he first arrived to Studio 8H in 2013. Mooney has also garnered lots of laughs with supporting roles in films like “Neighbors 2” and the series “Hello Ladies.” Now he takes the lead in his own film, “Brigsby Bear,” an unusual and touching comedy he made with two of his childhood friends, Kevin Costello (co-writer) and Dave McCary (director). The latter also works closely with Mooney as a writer on ‘SNL.’

Mooney recently sat down with Entertainment Voice to discuss his journey making “Brigsby Bear,” in which he stars as James, an eccentric young man who learns not only that his parents are not who he thought they were, but also that his favorite TV show was created just for him by the man who raised him (Mark Hamill). The actor/writer also opened up about his work on ‘SNL’ and his relationship with cast-mate Leslie Jones.

“Brigsby Bear” has such an original premise. How did you and your co-writer come up with the story?

The initial seed of the idea I had was it would be fascinating to me, a guy who’s the only person who has seen a TV show and it’s made just for him. And then, it kind of expanded over time into his life outside of that world. I’m generally really into eighties and nineties children television shows, and I have a pretty big VHS collection. I guess that informed the TV show within the movie. But I don’t know how ideas are born. It’s just something that kind of came to me and in time Kevin and I kind of figured out what it was.

What was that experience like, making a film with your friends that you have known since middle school? 

The best. Dave, the director, I’ve known since I was ten, and we just have this rapport. We share the same sensibility. We’ve been hanging out with each other for so long it’s as if we have twin speak or something like that. He can direct me in a word or two because I know exactly what he wants just by the way he’s interacting with me.

With Kevin, it was rad too, because we went to middle school together, but it was really kind of random how we hooked up after college. He moved out to L.A.; he was working as a screenwriter, and he was the only dude I knew who had feature writing experience.

You guys had lost touch and reconnected?

Pretty much. We were probably, like, Facebook friends throughout that whole time, but now we’re closer than we’ve ever been. It’s wonderful to have your friends on set and around. It just makes every experience surrounding the movie that much better.

Back to the original premise, whenever I’ve  tried to explain the plot of “Brigsby Bear” to others, that it’s about a guy who was kidnapped, the response I get is, ‘Oh, that sounds dark.’ But the film is actually relatively lighthearted. What was it like trying to explain your vision to others? Did you face any difficulties?

I think when you initially tell someone what the film is about, their reaction is kind of like, ‘Whoa, that is dark.’ Before we made the movie, we obviously had a script, and I think anyone who read the script was like, ‘Oh, this is actually a relatively sweet story.’ I think the James character has these endearing qualities that I like to think make for a fun ride, a heartwarming ride. But, yeah, there’s obviously that balance between the darkness and the lightness. That’s something we had to juggle throughout the narrative and the editing process.

In your creator’s statement you describe filmmaking as a process involving problem solving. What did you end up learning?

The whole thing was a learning experience, just because we had never produced a movie. There are a lot of people to make happy, you know? With a limited budget, you have limited takes, so you kind of just have to run and gun and get what you can. The truth is, everything went as planned, relatively. We didn’t have any major hiccups. The toughest thing was the turnaround from wrapping the movie to submitting the movie to Sundance.

We started making internet videos in college, and then we got hired by “Saturday Night Live,” and now we’re making this movie. There’s just been a constant, gradual, learning process. At every job you pick up something new. I don’t even know what the major takeaway of this was, because we had such a good time and it turned out pretty well. I’d have to think about that.

Was there anything that was easier than expected or harder?

Well, casting is difficult because if the project doesn’t have money behind it, it’s difficult to cast, and it’s difficult to get money behind it without any cast attached. So, it’s kind of this – catch-22 — is that what that is? But, we were fortunate in the sense that everyone who came on board to do this movie liked the script and thought it was weird and unique and different. We were also helped by the fact that Lonely Island produced, and Lord Miller produced, so when potential cast saw the script there were these cool people attached to it, and also the association with ‘SNL’ with Dave and I.

You mentioned watching a lot of shows from your childhood. What were the ones that really inspired you?

Well, for this movie, a big reference point is “Teddy Ruxpin.” There was this live-action “Teddy Ruxpin” special we watched all the time to kind of use as reference and as a template for what we wanted the show to be. But for me, personally, and Dave, I feel like we both loved “Saved by the Bell” when we were kids. I was an obsessive, so I was into anything and everything. In the eighties, I loved “He-Man,” “Thundercats,” “Transformers,” “Popples,” “Rainbow Brite,” “Care Bears.” In the nineties, I loved “Gummi Bears,” “Ducktales,” “Doug.” As a kid, I just loved cartoons and all that stuff, so I couldn’t point to one specific thing, but for this movie, another source of inspiration was this show called “Welcome to Pooh Corner,” which was this Disney show that was a live-action Winnie the Pooh show. If you watch that stuff you can kind of see that we were borrowing elements.

The film has such a great cast. What was it like working with Mark Hamill?

Wonderful. I mean, like a dream. I was such a “Star Wars” fan growing up. But, it’s our first movie, so you want to keep your cool, you know? You don’t want to fan hard or anything, so I try to keep it as professional as possible. He was so wonderful and, as a fan, it was such a treat to see him do something different. I don’t know if I had ever seen him in a role like this. It’s kind of a far cry from Luke Skywalker, though at the same time one of the things I loved about his role and him being in the movie is that the movie is about nostalgia and fandom, and who’s better to represent that than Mark? It was awesome. It will be an experience I’ll never forget.

You and Greg Kinnear were also hilarious together.

Greg is another hero. What I love about Greg is he is both an outstanding comedic actor, as well as a dramatic one. Working with him, I feel like I got to learn so much. Just observing him and watching him was so special.

I’m a big fan of your work on “Saturday Night Live,” especially the digital shorts that you did with Leslie Jones this past season [“Leslie and Love” and “Kyle and Leslie”] How did the idea for those come about?

Dave and I wrote those. Actually, Leslie [co-wrote] the first one herself. I don’t know; I loved the idea of us playing on our off-stage personas. That’s not necessarily something that the show does a ton of, this kind of fake – It’s all very real; I don’t want to call it fake. The real behind the scenes of “Saturday Night Live.” I feel like Leslie and I have this fun dynamic, because maybe you wouldn’t think that the two of us would be together, but we are very much together and I do very much love her. She’s awesome and hilarious.

I also love the stand-up comedian character that you do on “Weekend Update” [Bruce Chandling]. What inspired him? 

That was [a character] I had done prior to even being on the show. It’s always a fun character to perform, especially for people who don’t know who he is, because then they’re just hearing corny jokes and they don’t know how to respond and they just think he’s a bad comedian. Before I got on the show I loved playing these alternative comedy venues and just having people be totally silent and just trying to figure out what was going on. But, yeah, it just kind of came from going to a lot of stand-up shows in my twenties and observing different comedians.

SNL has become even more political this past season. Are you a fan of that kind of style of humor, or are you more about the apolitical comedy?

The show has a responsibility to react to what’s happening around us, and I am so proud of what they’ve done. The show got a bunch of Emmy nominations, and I’m so excited for everybody to be getting that recognition, because you really have to work hard at that show. It’s a grind. I’m more probably drawn to doing weirder stuff. I’ve never been a topical comedian. I never have been a joke writer, personally, about politics or even pop culture, but that’s one of the cool things about being a part of the show, being a part of something different, being able to observe people who are really great at writing that sort of thing. I certainly like doing weird stuff, but I can appreciate everything else we do.

You’re from San Diego and you went to school in L.A., and now you do “Saturday Night Live” in New York. Do you have a preference for L.A. or New York? What’s it like going back and forth?

Well, I lived in L.A. for so long; I went to USC and I have a lot of friends here, so I love L.A., and I’m from San Diego, so I guess I’m a Californian by nature, but I love New York. I wish I could spend more time hanging out in New York, because the show keeps us so busy that I don’t get to really go out and hang out around town. There are boroughs I’ve probably never visited in New York. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone by saying one is better than the other, but I love them both for different reasons. They are very, very different.

What’s next for you, besides “Saturday Night Live”? Anymore films coming up?

Right now we’re in the thick of promoting this movie. We’ll see how the movie does. I think that will kind of dictate to a degree what the next moves are, but I have seeds of ideas of stuff that I want to do, and I definitely want to keep on working with Dave, as well as Kevin, the co-writer, so I would hope for more of the same. I would love to just do this forever, to just make movies with my friends.

Brigsby Bearopens July 28 in Los Angeles and New York and expands nationwide throughout Aug.