Exit Interview: Rob McElhenney

Exit Interview: Is there any truth to the theory that you are, in fact, a post-­pubescent Haley Joel Osment? And that this “Rob McElhenney” backstory is something you came up with on the set of The Sixth Sense?
Rob McElhenney: [laughs] This is not the first time I’ve heard this question. I know I look like the kid. People are always asking me about it. One time we were flying into the Philadelphia airport, and this woman comes up and asks me for an autograph because she thought I was Haley Joel Osment. Is there truth to the rumors? I’m not going to comment on that.

EI: How did a kid from Moyamensing and Dickinson get into acting?
RM: I went to the Prep and then straight to New York City. I enrolled in acting classes and really took to it. I’d been involved in a couple of school plays. I did one at Notre Dame Academy, but that was just to meet girls.

EI: Any luck?
RM: The problem was, in high school, it was very difficult for me to attract women. So yeah, I met a lot of them. Doesn’t mean anything happened after that.

EI: Were there any early roles that you can chuckle about now?
RM: Yeah, big-time. I was cut out of a lot of movies. My first job was The Devil’s Own. I had a scene with Harrison Ford and a scene with Brad Pitt, and I was like, this is amazing! Then I got cut out of the entire movie. It happened again in Wonder Boys. I played opposite Katie Holmes, and I was her boyfriend. I got cut out of that, too.

EI: Did you actually go to see it in the theater, only to realize you’d been axed?
RM: Yep. And by that point, you’ve told all of your family and friends. My father was not too pleased with my decision to not go to college, so each time I’d do this, it would blow up in my face. I’d be like, “Well, did you see The Sixth Sense? Now, that was a movie. I was nominated for a goddamn Oscar.”

EI: Still keep in touch with any of the A-listers you worked with? Did you send Katie Holmes a gift basket that said, “Congrats on the baby — from ‘Student #1’ in Wonder Boys”?
RM: [laughs] No, they didn’t talk to me at all. Except when they were getting paid to.

EI: How did you rope Danny DeVito into this?
RM: We heard that he was a fan of the show, so I literally went over to his house and said, “I really think this is something you need to do. My younger brother and his friends love the show, and let me tell you something, man — they’ve never heard of Danny DeVito.” That piqued his interest. And then I just begged him for two hours.

EI: Pretty ballsy. Did you set up this meeting, or were you hanging from a tree in his driveway until the gates to his compound opened?
RM: The meeting was official. But he lived next to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston while they were getting divorced. There were people everywhere taking pictures. Danny didn’t have any stalkers, so I was the one guy stalking Danny.

EI: I particularly enjoyed the episode where your character is upset because he was the only kid in junior high who wasn’t molested by the gym teacher. Did you hear from any of your old teachers after that aired?
RM: [laughs] I haven’t, but I named that character after one of my best friends. I heard a lot from him. [laughs] His dad taught us in high school. He’s the athletic director at the Prep, Jim Murray. Throughout the whole episode, we’re calling the guy “Coach Murray.” I started to think, “Jesus Christ, I hope people don’t think I’m talking about Chris’s dad!”

EI: What did his dad think about the episode?
RM: I never asked.

EI: Probably a good idea. Did you have to work on getting rid of your South Philly accent?
RM: [voice drops] Oh yeah, yeah, I got ridda it a long time ago. People’d ohways ask me, when I ask them for wudder, they’d be like, whadderya talkinabout? [back to Hollywood voice] I started doing commercials, and they said, “Look, we want to hire you, but you sound like a hood. People in Iowa are not going to want to buy butter from a guy like you. You gotta drop the tough-guy routine.” I was like, “I’m not a tough guy!”

EI: Have you asked any local celebs to appear, like a little inside joke? Dann Cuellar getting drunk at your bar, then doing a news report? City Council prez Anna Verna playing a hooker?
RM: [laughs] Well, no, not yet. But that’s a pretty interesting … thing. Last year, Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell was the gym teacher [the one definitely not modeled after his friend’s dad, the athletic director of St. Joe’s Prep]. We like to have guest stars like that.

EI: So your wish list is more like Emmanuel Lewis and Soleil Moon Frye.
RM: [laughs] Those are a couple we could probably get for our price.

EI: What’s coming up in this season?
RM: Well, at one point we find a stain in the bar that looks like the Virgin Mary and start selling tickets to see it.

EI: That will make everybody at the Prep happy.
RM: Oh yeah. We’re making lots of people proud.

EI: One last question: Do you see dead people?
RM: [laughs] I’m not making a comment either way as to whether I’m Haley Joel Osment. But I may be. And people need to respect that.