Mike Mitchell in The Tomorrow War.
Photo: Amazon Prime Video
The Tomorrow War was supposed to be a massive 2020 Christmas Day release, the kind of movie you go to with the whole family when no one can agree on anything, because of its blanket appeal to everyone. Instead, this jacked Chris Pratt action movie about a global catastrophe that could only be solved with ~science~ was pulled from the release calendar in April 2020 because … of a global catastrophe that could only be solved with ~science.~ This was a huge blow for a very specific demographic of passionate freaks: Doughboys fans. The Doughboys podcast, hosted by comedians Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell, is ostensibly about chain restaurants, but really (in my mind), it’s about the male condition in America, and late capitalism, and living with anxiety. So when Mitchell got cast in the movie, then called Ghost Draft in 2019, it felt like a victory for the underdog known to fans as Spoonman.
The podcast followed Mitchell’s journey with the film, from being cast in a major project he couldn’t talk about to living in a hotel room in Atlanta while filming to the rollout getting delayed when the world shut down last year. This impersonal megablockbuster became central to the lore of a podcast about reviewing new Taco Bell menu items. But what happens when a cult-beloved comedian’s big break gets shunted to Amazon streaming to little fanfare? What happens when the reviews come in kinda mixed? What happens when, after all that buildup, his character dies at the end of the first act? Vulture spoke with Mitchell after the film’s release about Mr. Slice’s rising star.
Hi Mitch! Congrats on The Tomorrow War. How does it feel for this huge Fourth of July weekend action blockbuster to have this weird rollout, through Amazon instead of theaters? I saw the Chris Pratt Instagram post where he threw out some crazy stat about it breaking some streaming record.
It feels great, because it feels like people are seeing stuff and doing stuff again. People around the world just having access to it and seeing the movie is great; I think that is the only plus side of it being on streaming and not in theaters. I was really excited to have it be in theaters and have that experience and go with friends and stuff, and then that was kind of sabotaged by COVID. There are so many upsides to a film being released in the theaters. But the thing that was important was for people to see it, and for it to feel real, which it has. My mom and sister were here [for the premiere], and we would drive by a poster for the movie, and a plane flew by with a banner for the movie. I was like, Oh, this feels crazy and real! This is so cool.
You co-host a podcast with a huge cult following that’s basically centered on the premise that you and Nick are kind of these adult failsons. In reality, landing a role in a huge action movie would contradict that underdog thing, but the whole world shutting down just as you were getting your big break feels extremely Doughboys-y.
Trust me, I have thought about that many times. Like, Here it goes! And then the world is shutting down forever … Okay.
I was questioning everything. I never thought I would be in something like this, and there are so many hurdles that you have to go over. Your stuff gets cut down, and then with COVID it was like, Now it’s going to streaming. I was just like, Oh God, is this cursed? But having a movie not come out is low stakes compared to what was happening to everybody. I’ve been a lot luckier than a lot of people. I’ve worked pretty consistently. But it shows how hard it is to ever really break out in this business. It’s relentless.
It’s really tough to just think that you’ve made it. I don’t know if you ever make it to that point, or if I ever will. There are reviews of the movie that are like, “It’s not like Edge of Tomorrow,” and I’m like, Well yeah, that’s one of the best movies of the past ten years! Almost every movie isn’t like that! But I think it’s a really fun movie, and a lot of the listeners have agreed.
Excitement among Doughboys fans for your role in this movie reminded me of when Lauren Lapkus had that role in Jurassic World. It’s a huge movie that’s supposed to appeal to the widest possible audience, but there’s this weird comedy niche of freaks that seem to be getting excited for the weirdest possible reason.
I think Amazon marketing was like, “What’s going on?” I don’t think they understood the podcast, or the support we get from listeners. So it was funny, and I was like, “Guys, don’t do this” when [people] were like, “I’m only watching the movie for Mitch!” To see people saying, “Mitch, we want more Cowan!” and confusing the hell out of all those executives is very funny to me.
Seeing the support from the listeners, reading all these comments, it’s emotionally overwhelming. It gets me choked up. The thing that I came [to L.A.] to do is act, and sometimes I take the podcast for granted, but it is a way to perform and connect with people. Especially in the past year. It’s been great to have Doughboys.
It is a big Hollywood spectacle, but it happens to be airing on people’s personal TVs. Overall, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is positive for The Tomorrow War, but critical reviews have been extremely mixed.
It’s truly funny to me, because I think it’s just such a big, fun action movie. You have to turn off your brain sometimes with time travel [in movies].
The critical response is not terrible; it’s mixed. What can you do? What can you do besides be like, Well, some people don’t get it. In a world where so much stuff is IP, [The Tomorrow War] is an original idea. There’s people that say it “takes from” a lot of other sci-fi movies. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything. It’s just trying to be entertaining.
But the reviews could have been even worse. I shouldn’t even look at them. But people whose points of view I respect — I’m in a text chain with [Blank Check podcast hosts] David Sims and Griff Newman and Nick Wiger, and those guys enjoyed the movie. They get what it is.
Blankies get it.
What can you do? I can’t change opinions, so whatever. The first time I watched it, I didn’t know what I was getting into, and of course I’m biased, but I’ve been in stuff before where I’m like, That’s bad. But this was fun. I enjoyed it. As a sci-fi fan, I thought the monsters were good, and the moment in Miami is tense and scary, and after that, a lot of the action is great.
That reveal was the strongest segment for sure.
It was tough. Even with positive reviews that were politicized, I was just like, Goddamnit. Why does everything have to be about politics now? That’s a bigger conversation, obviously, but we were just trying to have an Independence Day–type movie for summer. That’s where it stings that it’s not in theaters, because it would be so fun. But the theaters don’t feel 100 percent back yet. It doesn’t feel like everything is back yet. So it doesn’t sting as much as it probably would if it was 2019 and it was on a streamer instead of in the theater.
The Tomorrow War features a fair amount of comedy people: You, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Sam Richardson. How did you get involved in the film?
Samantha Nisenboim, one of the producers, was a fan of Doughboys. She knew me through the podcast, [so] I got an audition for this role “Theo the Redneck.” This is a Chris Pratt sci-fi movie, so I was like, I’m never going to get this. A lot of the time, an audition comes in, and I’m like, There’s no way I’m going to get this. It’s like the lead on a CBS sitcom or whatever, and even from the description, you can tell this [role is for] a handsome, thinner man.
It’s the wrong attitude to have. This will show me not to do this anymore, but a lot of times, I’ll just be like, I can’t do it.
But [the audition] was one of those situations where it felt good. And Deb [Aquila, the casting director] was like, “I’m sure you’ll be hearing from us.” And I thought, That’s very nice. You never hear that in an audition, in the room. Even if you do well. This was a Tuesday. I went home, and we were recording a Doughboys episode that day, and I got a call from my manager that was like, “Hey, this is crazy, but they’re looking into flying you out this weekend to Atlanta for basic training for a week.” We had a Doughboys tour coming up, and Nick [Wiger] came over, because pre-COVID, we were still recording in person. This was one of the most exciting days of my life, and Nick was really excited for me. We mention it on the episode, saying, “This crazy thing happened.” You can hear it.
From that moment to your time filming to “Tomorrow War Month,” the movie had an important arc on Doughboys. You should have been Amazon’s marketing team.
It’s that thing where Hollywood didn’t know what to do with podcasts when they first happened, and now they’re slowly taking over podcasts in the bad way that they take over everything.
There are so many terrible celebrity podcasts right now.
Once they find out that there’s money in it, it’s just over. I think people still don’t understand the reach that podcasts have. It’s truly the reason that I’m cast in this movie. It wasn’t someone who had seen my work on TV so much as they had heard me on the podcast, and then they watched Love and stuff. It can really get your name out there. It can promote movies. There’s a lot of support for the movie, for which I owe our listeners forever. I can never repay the support that they gave me.
Real fans want to know: Have you shown the movie to your cats, Wolly and Irma?
I have played it with them. They’ve seen the movie. I tried to get them downstairs for the premiere night a couple of months ago back home [in Massachusetts] with my mom and sister. But they were going too crazy, so they weren’t there for the first night viewing. But since I’ve been in L.A., I’ve had it on with them there, and they blankly stare at the screen like they usually do. But it counts for me. They’ve officially seen the movie. And I’ll probably watch it 100 more times in my lifetime, so they’ll be able to see it a few more times.
On Doughboys, you review chain restaurants. If a chain restaurant did a Tomorrow War promotional tie-in, where would it be, and what would it be?
The dream would be a McDonald’s toy. How can you beat being a McDonald’s toy?
Sometimes, those toys have one action element, like they can roll or light up. What would the Cowan toy do?
Mine could fold into itself, into a ball, to hide. It would fold into a ball and then roll away.