‘Book of Mormon’ launched Josh Gad into new ‘jOBS’
Sundance Film Festival • Broadway actor undergoes a Sundance makeover.

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: January 22, 2013 01:31PM
Updated: May 5, 2013 11:33PM
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File photo | The Associated Press Andrew Rannells, center, performs with an ensemble cast in "The Book of Mormon." The smash musical sold out all 23 performances for its Aug. 14-Sept. 2 run at Denver Center, where its launching its first national tour. There's a chance it may play at the proposed Utah Performing Arts Center, scheduled for completion March 2016.

Josh Gad shot to fame as a wacky Mormon missionary in a Broadway musical. He’s currently starring as the goofy son of the president of the United States in the TV sitcom “1600 Penn.” And at the Sundance Film Festival, he’s co-starring opposite Ashton Kutcher in “jOBS,” the buzzworthy premiere that’s anchoring the festival’s closing weekend.

“From ‘The Book of Mormon’ to this. Weird, huh?” Gad said.

Gad plays Steve Wozniak to Kutcher’s Steve Jobs in the biopic about the founders of Apple that “almost is a love story between these two guys,” he said. “I think we all know the ending and how it’s a little brutal. The discovery for the audience is seeing the people before they became the icons.”

And he’s certain Kutcher’s performance is going to surprise a few people. “Ashton is truly remarkable in it, and I think it’s going to blow a lot of people away,” Gad said. “I’m extraordinarily proud of it.”

Like winning the jackpot • Gad’s journey also seems, well, remarkable. He and his “Book of Mormon” co-star/fellow Tony nominee, Andrew Rannells, who’s now starring in the NBC sitcom “The New Normal,” are amazed at how their Broadway turn launched bigger careers.

“We looked at each other and we said, ‘Can you believe what’s happened in our lives in the last two years?’ It’s like winning the jackpot,” Gad said. “And the extraordinary thing is to be known for something that only 1,100 people at a time got to see in a dark theater.”

Gad was involved in the musical from the beginning and recalled standing onstage seeing a group of brilliant African-American actors singing about God in a way that might be considered offensive to any Christian viewer. He thought it could go one of two ways. “Either I was going to have a fatwah put on my head, or it was going to be something extraordinary. I knew at that moment it was extraordinary, but I never imagined it was going to become what it became,” Gad said. “And every decision that I make is based on trying to do justice to the opportunity I’ve been given by that show.”

Including his role as executive producer and star of the NBC sitcom “1600 Penn,” in which he plays a character not unlike Elder Cunningham in “The Book of Mormon” — Skip is big, loud and over-the-top.

“Coming off of ‘Book of Mormon,’ I had a lot of opportunities,” Gad said. “I didn’t want to do TV, actually. I really wanted to get paid nothing and keep doing theater at all costs.”

To meet Josh Gad is to like him, as he’s still funny but also appears more thoughtful. And he can get away with telling a room full of TV critics, “Some of you are dicks. Others are very nice, but …” he jokes, even though not all of the reviews of “1600 Penn” were glowing.

When he began developing the show with executive producer/writer Jason Winer, Gad said he didn’t intend to play Skip, as the character was big and gregarious, perhaps too much like Cunningham.

But then former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett came on board “and the potential of where this series could go was so appealing to me that, honestly, it came down to the fact that if I saw anybody else play the character of Skip, I was going to be really pissed off. And also, a lot of the other offers fell through,” he joked.

Not true, of course. Gad is extraordinarily busy, with the sitcom and several movies in various states of production. “He’s incredibly talented,” said Jenna Elfman, who plays his stepmother on “1600 Penn.” “And he’s incredibly smart. I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.”

Playing the lovable idiot • Not a bad career trajectory for a guy who really just wanted to be on “Saturday Night Live.”

“When I left college, I was out of work for three years,” Gad said. “I had this dream of being on ‘SNL,’ and that was all I could imagine.”

He sent four audition tapes to “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels, who never responded. “Recently, I had a run-in with him where he was very kind and very generous,” Gad said. “My prayer is that one day I’ll get a chance to go on and play with those guys.”

You’ve got to imagine he’ll host the show some day, as Gad is that rare combination of stage actor and larger-than-life comedic presence.

“When you play a character like that, it’s inevitably polarizing,” he said. “At the same time, that’s what draws me to it. I love polarizing people. I love the idea that this character literally bounces off the walls and trying to ground that. The joy of playing Skip is finding a way to ground the chaos.”

Gad is philosophical about his image as a big goofball and rejects criticism that he’s somehow channeling the likes of Chris Farley or John Belushi.

“Josh is so good at playing the lovable idiot,” Winder said, “but giving it dimension so that, as the show goes on, you realize that Skip’s character has a really special wisdom to share.”

He considers Farley and Belushi comedic idols and says he’s not insulted by the comparison, although he assumes it mostly comes from being overweight. “It’s a means to an end for critics to just put you in that little bracket,” Gad said. “Whereas if somebody was doing the same thing I was doing and they looked like fill-in-the-blank, I don’t think that criticism would be there.”

But he’s not complaining. Not one bit. “It’s been a remarkable ride,” Gad said. “I’m having so much fun. I’ve had so many opportunities.”

And while he “desperately” wants to get back onstage, look for him to play something as far away from Elder Cunningham and Skip as he can.

“It’s tough,” he said. “How do you top ‘Mormon’? I get sent scripts all the time and I don’t know what I would do next. What do you do after that? So I think if you do see me onstage, you’ll see me in something dramatic, maybe, or you’ll see me try my hand at something else. Perhaps fail, terribly, but try.”

spierce@sltrib.com

jOBS

Friday, Jan. 25, 6:15 p.m. • Eccles Theatre, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City

Saturday, Jan. 26, 9 a.m. • Eccles Theatre, 1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City

Sunday, Jan. 27, 12:15 p.m. • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City