If Wreck-It Ralph star Jack McBrayer could play only one video game for the rest of his life, the man best known as the charmingly innocent Kenneth on 30 Rock would opt for Dig Dug, the Atari classic from 1982.
“It’s a little more advanced than a Frogger. It’s a little more edgy than a BurgerTime,” he says during a recent stop in Toronto to promote the movie, in which he plays Fix It Felix Jr., a beloved video-game character who can fix anything with his magic hammer.
If he was a character in Street Fighter, what would his fighting style be? “I’d be some OCD guy – all I’d do is straighten up the world we were in until [opponents said], ‘I can’t do this any more.’”
And if he could use Fix It Felix Jr.’s hammer to fix any part of his life, past or present, what would it be? “We grew up poor. Could I fix my impoverished childhood?”
Um, awkward. If we were in a video game right now, the “wa wa waaaaa” sound effect you hear when a character dies would be ringing loud and clear.
Growing up with two siblings in Georgia, the son of two teachers, “we had some lean times,” McBrayer says. After studying theatre administration at a small university in Indiana, he found himself on a path to comedy driven by a desire to move from the South. “I had moved to Chicago because I knew I wanted the big city that wasn’t Atlanta,” he says.
“I knew that I was drawn to comedy, but it wasn’t until I went to Chicago after college and saw [Second City’s] Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Scott Adsit, Adam McKay – I saw all these people up there and that was their job,” McBrayer says. “That was kind of my epiphany.”
He signed up for the Second City training centre and then auditioned for the touring company, eventually travelling with it for about a year and a half before landing on one of the resident stages. It was there that McBrayer honed the persona for which he has become famous – the gosh-darn-golly country boy as lovable as he is clueless.
In real life, McBrayer, 39, is hardly clueless, but he clearly shares much of the genetic makeup of his best-known characters: He is exceedingly polite and decorous to a tee, and that big toothy smile is genuine.
They are the qualities he brings to his character in Wreck-It Ralph. Fix It Felix Jr., star of the eponymous game, is loved by all for his unwavering commitment to do right and always be the nice guy, cleaning up someone else’s mess with that smile on his face.
It’s possible that McBrayer secretly wishes to play some deep, dark dramatic role, but he seems pretty happy with his career so far. And really, how unhappy could you be when part of your last gig involved conversing with Q*bert? Which, by the way, wasn’t the easiest thing to do, from a technical standpoint.
“We were trying to figure out the best way to do it. Was it just, like, I record random syllables and play them really fast? We tried a version where I said actual words in English and played them in reverse,” McBrayer says. “The way we went with it is just the nonsense. It sounds like you’re choking on your own tongue. But it was fun.”