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Riding Along with Steve Zahn

Riding Along with Steve Zahn (photo)

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Since his big break in 1994’s “Reality Bites,” Indiewood mainstay Steve Zahn’s been best known as a supporting player (thanks to scene-stealing performances in “Out of Sight,” “Rescue Dawn” and studio fare like “Riding in Cars With Boys”), so it’s refreshing to see his sunny, faux-dopey charm lead the pack. In “Management” — the directorial debut of “Tape” playwright/screenwriter Stephen Belber — Zahn stars as Mike, a socially stunted oddball who works the late shift for his parents’ Arizona desert motel. In walks Sue (Jennifer Aniston), a corporate art saleswoman staying for two nights, with whom Mike ineptly flirts by bringing champagne to her room after hours. A fateful butt groping and spontaneous bout of laundry room sex later, Mike begins a long-distance romantic journey to win her over forever, even after she reunites with her punk-rock yogurt mogul of an ex (Woody Harrelson). By phone, Zahn and I talked about his favorite forms of meditation, strange ways to pick up girls, and why he doesn’t feel like a creepy stalker.

Where’s the line drawn between creepy stalking and romantic passion?

Honesty. The guy’s so honest, pure, simple, vulnerable and unpretentious, and that’s what gives [the script] validity.. I was really blown away by the script in that sense, because all the characters are complex in a very real way, and you just don’t read that anymore. Once you have that believable core, you can really go anywhere with it, and that’s what I love about the movie. At times, it’s this very simple, heavy drama. Then five minutes later, it’s slapstick and absurd.

What’s the most peculiar pick-up line or stunt you’ve pulled to get a woman’s attention?

I once hitchhiked down to Rochester, Minnesota — my girlfriend’s town — in a chicken suit for no apparent reason. But it worked. That’s kind of similar to Mike. [laughs] I figured if I was hitchhiking, no one would pick me up, but who the fuck is going to kill you in a chicken suit? I didn’t have a car, [but] I just had to get there because I loved her. It was more about the ride than it was showing up. It served two purposes.

Have you ever obsessed over a girl after just a fleeting encounter?

Of course! Honestly, my wife, when I met her… we were doing a play, a Broadway tour of “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1991, with Tommy Tune and Ann Reinking. All these dancers were in this thing, and I was like, “Greeeeat.” They didn’t really float my boat, you know? Then she came in two weeks late, she was swearin’ and smokin’, and I was like, “That’s the girl right there.” I coordinated my moving around backstage according to when she was going to move around backstage, so I could brush by her, stick out my chest. It fuckin’ worked, man. [laughs]

Jennifer Aniston’s character Sue is very eco-minded. Fess up, how green do you live?

Hey, I live on a farm [in Kentucky]. I just planted the family vegetables yesterday. You name it, I grow it. I have gardens coming out of my butt. I have raised beds, perennial beds, cut flower beds. I have an island on a pond that’s just covered in peonies. I have an herb garden, tons of vegetables, raspberries. I have everything. I’m a green guy. My hands will prove it. If you were here, I’d show you my hands and you’d go, “Yeah, man.”

05142009_Management1.jpgWere you raised with these skills?

I lived in Minnesota in a small town. [All of] my family farms, so I was very familiar with that. I did a lot of farm work as a kid. When we were in New York, we actually moved out to a farm in a Delaware water gap and lived there for ten years. So we were always out in the country. We lived in the city for, like, two years, but that was it. I love New York, but I just about went crazy trying to get into the Lincoln Tunnel yesterday. I don’t experience that at all anymore, unless I’m getting behind a tractor.

Do you, like your character Mike, practice yoga or meditate?

I cut fields. You ever done that? Let me tell you something, that’s called “forced fuckin’ meditation.” You sit on a tractor, going one mile an hour for, like, ten hours? That’s about as good as it gets. You have to just think about shit. [I think about] everything, from the Tet Offensive [and] Vietnam to naked women, you name it. Is there a God? What’s that bird? Then ten minutes of absolutely nothing, no thoughts — which guys have the capability of, that’s an amazing thing. Then it’s like, food. But you can’t get too involved, otherwise you’ll cut your arm off. PlayStation 3 is another form of meditation. Come on, when you’re on set, all day? That’s what I do in my trailer, I just play PlayStation 3. If I have to wait for six hours, my assistant and I will just play “NHL Hockey.”

That’s your game of choice?

Yeah, “NHL Hockey 2001.” [laughs] The new ones, you have to be a pro to play the frickin’ game.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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