Jim Rash speaks on ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ going to space, and playing queer characters

Jim Rash and Scarlett Johansson stand next to a space suit in a scene from Fly Me to the Moon.
From left, Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash) and Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) in ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’

In the new romantic comedy, “Fly Me to the Moon,” directed by Greg Berlanti, out gay actor Jim Rash plays Lance Vespertine, a gay filmmaker hired by PR whiz Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) to help film a fake moon landing — just in case the NASA team, headed by launch director Cole Davis (Channing Tatum), does not deliver the real event.

Rash, who may be best known for playing the gay Dean on “Community,” is all ego and clothes as Lance. (He wears a series of stylish outfits). The actor, who won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for co-writing “The Descendants,’ and co-directed “The Way Way Back,” spoke with PGN about his career and making “Fly Me to the Moon.”

What observations do you have about Lance’s character?
Lance has this giant wound that no one appreciates — where he should be in his career — albeit coming through a vessel of someone who can be a lot. Maybe you don’t want to be around him for too long a period of time. I think that for some reason you laugh because there’s a foolish element to him.

Do you think, as a character in “Fly Me to the Moon” suggests, that Kubrick would have made a better moon-landing film?
I’ll answer for Lance that he definitely could have nailed “2001.” He probably thought it was a shitty Odyssey. Could Kubrick have done [the moon landing]. I like to think that because of the relationship Kelly and Lance have, it worked out only because of those two entities working together. I’m going to defend Lance. Kubrick would have gone over budget and been a disaster, and he and Kelly wouldn’t have gotten along.

The film considers the excitement of the race to the moon. Do you, or do you now, or have you ever had a desire to go to space.
No, I don’t. I said that so emphatically, but I probably should take that back in the sense that it would be great to look back at the earth. That would be quite an experience. I don’t have a fear of flying, but I don’t love it, so the idea to go further than we have to is where I start to draw the line. So maybe I’ll stick with my “no.” Now if someone said, go to Space Camp, and by accident we were launched into space…. I would prefer that, you know, by circumstances that are comedic. Then I would go to space, just because then at least, it wasn’t by choice.

They say the clothes make the man, and Lance is quite stylish. What did you think of his outfits? And did you have a favorite? Maybe there’s one that didn’t make it back to the costume room…
I should have, by accident, put that green jumpsuit into my bag. And I should have, by accident. worn those fantastic glasses home, and then failed to answer the phone when they called wondering where they are. I say the green outfit, mainly because they made it for me. Everything else was from a beautiful warehouse vault of vintage. I have never had someone make something for me to that detail. I loved all the clothes because it helped with the character. As soon as I got in there, there’s this long, long process of trying all these beautiful things on. And hats. I mean. I’m not a hat person, but I might. I might be now.

From left, Ruby Martin (Anna Garcia) and Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash) in ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’
From left, Ruby Martin (Anna Garcia) and Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash) in ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ Jim is wearing a green jumpsuit with a paisley necktie.

See, this movie is changing your life. Now you want to go to space and wear hats!
Space by accident, like, someone hit launch, and they’re like, “Oh, shit! They’re not prepared for space. Oh, well!” And then we successfully come back.

Of course! Lance is queer in a time, 1969, where being out was, well, dangerous. The moon landing — and for argument’s sake, we’re going to say it did happen — was only three weeks after the Stonewall riots. Do you think Lance was a queer pioneer? Did you think of how flamboyant to make him and say, he’s going to live large here as opposed to trying to pass.
No. That’s what I loved about him. He was defined by his career, and by who he was. He was the person who was highly dramatic. He comes into the room, is always right, and thinks everyone is against him. But what folded into that is, is just a reference of [Kelly] talking about Lance’s boyfriend. I appreciate that there were no apologies from Lance in regards to any part of his life.

And is that how you live?
[Laughs] Oh, I wish I had the bravado. Maybe a different version of “Please like me” than Lance’s. I’m probably closer to the Dean on “Community.” Out, and proud, for sure. But I’m talking about the likability thing. I don’t know if I have that kind of Lance-like bravado when it comes to taking over a room or going into a bar and really owning my space.

You have played queer characters on TV, on “Community” and in films like “Bros.” And now this film. Do you gravitate to those roles, I mean, is there pressure or desire for you as an out actor, to make gay projects or make gay work?
Well, I’ve certainly loved every opportunity I’ve had. For a host of reasons, and to explore my own realities of coming out, and how I was raised, and what it is like in the world, and how I am operating now. I feel like I’m always intrigued to bring a little bit of that. As a writer, I have often tackled coming of age in general, but also my own journey with that. I’m always interested in it, you know. Does it always have to be that? No. I write just what feeds my soul. And sometimes it’s something that’s very close to you. And sometimes, it’s just sort of an escapism of writing. You know something to live in someone else’s world for a little bit.

You are a character actor who has worked consistently in film and television. Do you have a favorite character? Is there a performance that you are really proud of from your body of work?
I am actually proud — but no one probably saw it — of my very first job, which was the sitcom “The Naked Truth.” I only joined in the last season. I think 11 episodes aired, but it was a blast for me. I didn’t even know [co-star] Holland Taylor other than I’d seen her on TV. But she was almost like a little mini-acting school for me. I played Harris Van Doren. He was very dry and very opposite of me. It was just fun. But I love everything else. The Dean was a gift.

Now you’re playing opposite Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson. What observations do you have about your career given that you’ve gone from “The Naked Truth” to “Fly Me to the Moon.”
I think each one of these incrementally changes you and evolves you. I learned new things, both as a writer and observing other directors. Holland would show me what a mark meant on the floor, which I didn’t even know, to me telling Channing what a mark is on the floor! I’m just kidding. [Laughs]

I love that answer!
See that, Holland Taylor? I paid it forward. I gave Channing Tatum everything Holland gave me. Final answer!

Well, my final question is, you co-wrote and co-directed “The Way Way Back,” which is the best summer movie ever. Do you plan to do more work behind the camera?
Yes. I just finished a little small movie that I wrote and directed. It stars Allison Janney and Andrew Rannells. It’s called “Miss You, Love You.”

From left, Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash), Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) and Ruby Martin (Anna Garcia) in ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ The trio stand in front of men in suits.
From left, Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash), Kelly Jones (Scarlett Johansson) and Ruby Martin (Anna Garcia) in ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’
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