Danny Pudi is already in the sitcom pantheon thanks to his work over six seasons (and an upcoming movie) as pop-culture savant Abed Nadir in Community. But the actor made a big heel-turn swerve for Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest—which fellow Community alum Megan Ganz co-created with It’s Always Sunny‘s Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney. Mythic Quest takes place at the titular video-game company, at which Pudi plays Brad Bakshi, the chillingly Macchiavellian head of monetization: While his two big sitcom characters do overlap in their difficulty embracing human connection, Brad is as snakily devoted to capitalism as Abed was guilelessly enraptured with TV. The wily Brad occasionally lets his guard slip: Season 2 ended with him heading to jail for insider trading after taking the blame to protect his protegé. But he also always has an angle.
In season 3 of Mythic Quest, which drops its first two episodes today and then rolls out weekly, Brad returns to Mythic Quest after good behavior gets him an early prison release. But now he’s starting at the bottom as—shades of Kenneth the Page!—a janitor. (Ganz rejected Pudi’s pitch that Brad return with jailhouse ink. “So don’t expect a big reveal this year,” he says. “It’s not going to be like Prison Break where you find out that I escaped through a giant prison tattoo on my chest.”) Pudi spoke with GQ about Brad’s strategies, and how he’ll slip back into Abed mode when it comes time to film the Community movie that was recently, finally announced.
What were the discussions with series creators about how Brad would figure into this season, given the fact that he went to jail?
I admire the writers for writing Brad into this ultimate low and being willing to start in season three from the bottom. We knew that Brad would find a way to get back into the system. And I also love how everyone knows and just accepts that this is going to happen. It’s inevitable. Much like it was inevitable that Brad would be going to prison at the end of season two. No one was surprised by that, and I think no one is surprised that Brad is back somehow holding a mop within the confines of Mythic Quest. From the beginning, we’ve established that this is a comedy. We know these characters. They’ve all seen each other at their worst, and so they just accept Brad. We don’t really know what he is up to. He’s probably up to something. Let’s just see what happens.
What was it like putting on the janitor’s outfit?
Brad’s a minimalist, right? He’s sleek. His clothing is nice. It’s Rag and Bone. He has no props, zero props. Now all of a sudden they’re like, “Here’s your cart. Here’s your duster, here’s your tool belt. Here’s your badge that allows you access to anywhere in the building.” And so for me as the character, I’m like, “Okay. These are fun little tools here. I’m going to have to figure out how to use these tools.” It kind of felt like being in theater again, where all of a sudden you’re walking into a set, you’re in a play, and they give you all your props. You’ve been rehearsing for weeks and then they give you your wardrobe and now it’s adding on to your character. And you’re like, “How do I use this badge? How do I use this duster? When do I push this cart?” It was very uncomfortable because Brad was very prop-less in the first two seasons. But then it was also exciting to be given this sort of costume. Brad’s never had that, really. I didn’t know how long it was going to last, but I knew I was going to enjoy being in this new look for as long as possible.
Do you like prop comedy?
I do if I’m used to it, but I’m not great at it because I get distracted by it. I had this gadget on my waist, this key chain with a cord, and it was like I could yank it here and there and it felt like I was clowning. My shoes were heavy. They were very thick construction boots where my toes would always be safe. Brad’s usually wearing very sleek sneakers.
When they first presented you with the character of Brad, was it exciting to do something that was so inherently opposite to Abed, who you’re best known for?
It was presented to me by Megan Ganz. She texted me saying, “Hey, I’m working on this show. I had this character that’s completely unlike anything that you’ve played before. I think you’d be great at it. Would you want to try it out?” And then they sent me the scripts and sides to read. And I was very excited because there was this sort of gesturing, manipulative, villainous schemer at play, which was unlike Abed.
As an actor, I had all these questions and I remember asking Megan and the writers, “I’m not sure I fully understand where Brad is going.” And she was like, “Good news. I don’t either.” And I’m like, “How exciting is that?” I think I would’ve been terrified earlier in my career to play a role that I fully didn’t know where they were going at all times. And the joy of this is that there’s parts where I don’t necessarily know what Brad’s thinking, what he’s scheming, what he’s up to, and it just makes me have more questions about his childhood and summer-camp experiences and previous relationships. I feel like he possibly proposed to a woman that he thought his whole life was going to make sense with, and she turned him down and then everything crumbled. I have all these theories about what made Brad “Brad,” and that’s kind of fun.
You directed an episode this season, your first time directing scripted TV. What led to that?
I texted Rob and he said, “Yep.” And I was like, “Okay, so here we go.” And that was kind of that. I was encouraged by Megan directing episodes last year. That was really cool. We have an environment where many people do many things, so it didn’t feel as overwhelming of an idea. It was a great way to learn about the show and see all the different parts that go into our show.
My very first task was when a person from the art department ran up to me with a stack of Wayne Knight images [for a Jurassic Park-related joke], maybe like 50 of them, and they said, “Okay, just let us know which one’s your favorite.” That was my first decision. I was like, immobilized. This is what a director does? They have to pick their favorite image on the spot? The image I picked, we ended up using, which was great, but you just have new appreciation for all the little things that go into a comedy show.
Both Community and Mythic Quest are so ensemble-based. What do you like about that environment?
Unlike Brad, I like to be around people. I really do. As a child, I was drawn to these shows: Monty Python, Cheers, M.A.S.H., Fresh Prince. I just loved the idea of a group of people around a common objective and knowing that there’d be a hundred different times you could try stuff together. I just like being in a room with different points of view, and I studied at Second City in Chicago and there’s something really cool about creating something together. I especially love two-person comedy. Anytime there’s two people together and there’s just two different points of view, it’s just really enjoyable for me to watch. It’s kind of like math in a way too. I like the puzzle of it, to see: How do we make these rhythms work?
Speaking of groups: What was the day when you and the returning Community cast members decided, “Okay, we’re going to post the announcement of the movie?” Were there discussions on how you were going to post, and who was going to post first?
Yes. Joel McHale started it, texted me. But it was truly so last minute. Everything is last minute. I get a text from my agents saying, “It’s going to be announced tomorrow morning.” Then I’m talking to Joel and we’re figuring it out, and he’s telling me what time he’s going to post. But it was so exciting because this is something we’ve been talking about and waiting for and hoping that this would actually take place. And turns out the prophecy has come true.
Did Joel get shit in the text for tagging Gillian Anderson instead of Gillian Jacobs?
Yeah. But I think [Anderson] was excited about it, too. All the different fandoms collided for a moment in time. I think a lot of people thought it was a mistake. Who knows? I don’t know even know what happened. But that’s classic Joel. So I thought it was awesome.
Is Abed something that you can just immediately slip into again when it comes time to film the movie? Or will that take some preparation on your behalf?
I think it will take some preparation. Someone asked me earlier if Abed would play Mythic Quest, and I had to think about it for a while, so I’ll have to get in that head space again. It’s been a while. But I will say, much like this show, it starts with the writing. So when I get a Mythic Quest script, I’ll think about it and I’ll sit with it, and then I’ll kind of just sit with that world for a little bit. And that’s what I would do with Community as well. We get a script and we sit with it and think about how’s Abed feeling about all these things, and how’s Abed navigating that? Is he a pillow or is he a blanket guy? I’ll think about those things for a little while. I do imagine it’s going to take a little bit of time to get back into that head space. But I’m excited to get that script and dive back into it. It’s fun to live in that world for a little bit.
This interview has been edited and condensed