Matt Lucas has appeared in a significant state of undress throughout his career, from playing Kristen Wiig’s odd roommate in Bridesmaids to several characters on his hit BBC America sketch comedy show Little Britain. But for his first feature film leading role, in Jonas Åkerlund’s dark ensemble comedy Small Apartments — which premiered Saturday night at the SXSW film festival — Lucas was still quite not prepared for how much skin he’d be showing in the role. As the not-quite-all-there shut-in Franklin Franklin, Lucas is predominantly in just a large pair of tighty whities, a bad wig, and some clogs. After the premiere, Lucas told the audience, “I saw a rough cut of the film about six month ago and thought, oh f—, what have I done?”
When asked about it later, he winces, then smiles. “I don’t think vanity is going to help me,” Lucas tells EW. “I don’t have Ashton Kutcher’s looks to lose. So, you know, what the hell? I used to do stand up comedy when I started out and I used to heckle myself before the audience could heckle me. It’s that kind of thing.”
Lucas’ go-for-broke attitude also translates to an open-minded philosophy about his career. “I think a lot of the big film stars in America, their agents and their people around them will have an idea of what they need to do — play a sympathetic character, or a character close to their own age,” he says. “But I’m not a movie star by any stretch of the imagination, so I don’t have to worry about those things. I already look like Uncle Fester on a good day, so it doesn’t really matter to me.” Lucas’ next role will be in one scene as drag queen legend Divine in director Michael Winterbottom’s The King of Soho, about famed London strip-club entrepreneur Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan). Then he’s planning to move to Los Angeles and live with actress Rebel Wilson. They only met two days before playing siblings in Bridesmaids, but Lucas says they hit it off so well, they’re hoping to collaborate on a possible project together.
As for Small Apartments, the 38-year-old actor says he signed on thanks to the script and his eagerness to work with Åkerlund, known best for his visually cutting-edge — and highly weird — music videos for Lady Gaga and Madonna. “It’s a strange film, and although it is quite heightened, it’s a much more naturalistic performance than I often give in things like Little Britain,” he says.
In a jarringly unexpected way, that was no more the case than his first scene with actor Peter Stormare (The Big Lebowski), who plays Franklin Franklin’s nasty landlord. (SPOILER ALERT: An R-rated plot point lies ahead.) “In the scene, his character is trying to get my character to engage in a sexual act with him,” says Lucas. “And he actually took out his member. Which I wasn’t expecting. Although you don’t see it on screen, that’s what he actually did. So the look of shock and fear on my face is genuine.”
So what did Lucas say to Stormare afterwards? “I f—ing ran a mile,” he says with a nervous laugh. “I didn’t say anything. I mean, to say an actor’s got balls — quite literally! That was a different experience for me. He was a great guy, I really liked him. But, no, I didn’t want to talk to him about his penis particularly afterwards.”