Image Credit: Getty Images

In Greg Berlanti‘s new big-screen rom-com Fly Me To The Moon, Channing Tatum plays a NASA director and Scarlett Johansson a marketing specialist, who fall for one another against the backdrop of the 1960s Space Race.

But, all due respect to Tatum and ScarJo, we’re most excited about the supporting character Lance Vespertine, the talented, sharply dressed, lightly egomaniacal, and openly gay director hired to help NASA fake the moon landing (if you didn’t already know, Fly Me To The Moon is having some fun with history here).

That Lance Vespertine is played by the great Jim Rash makes him all the more appealing. Rash is, after all, one of our greatest comedic character actors, with a mind-boggling array of film and television credits that include *deep breath* Will & Grace, Bros, Friends, That ’70s Show, Reno 911!, CSI, Family Guy, Glee, Lucifer, and many, many more.

And then of course, there’s his best remembered screen role: The unforgettable Dean Craig Pelton on Community, whose frequent harebrained schemes, penchant for high-camp outfits, and love of Dalmatians made him a standout of the sitcom’s ensemble. The Dean’s sexuality may have been intentionally unclear for more of the show’s run, but that just made him more of an icon of queer fluidity.

On top of all of that, Rash is also an accomplished filmmaker in his own right, having co-written and directed 2013’s The Way Way Back and 2020’s Downhill alongside collaborator Nax Faxon, as well as penning the script for 2011’s The Descendants, which won the pair an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. That’s right, we’re talking to an Academy Award-winner here!

Which, yes, makes it even funnier that he’s playing a preening diva director in Fly Me To The Moon. Before the film hits theaters on July 12, we invited Rash to be the latest guest in our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our conversation, the actor and filmmaker reflects on his favorite under-looked roles, reveals what (and who!) inspired his character Lance Vespertine, and shares why the Dean’s Lady Gaga look was his favorite otufit her ever got to wear on Community.

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, theater, video game, etc…—that has played an important role in your understanding of queerness and the queer community? Why does it stand out to you?

I think it’s just been an embracing of the movies I’ve been consuming of late, like All Of Us Strangers and Moonlight, so I guess it’s just movies that represent different factions of the LGBTQ+ community. And having been a part of Bros, being able to be part of a movie that was—both in front of the camera and behind the camera—[featuring] so much representation on both sides of it, it really felt like the community was making this movie. So I would say less a specific [example,] than it is just how we’re navigating those type of stories [today.]

So, Fly Me To The Moon is having some fun with history, tapping into the zeitgeist of a very real time and place, but of course inventing this story and many of these characters, your Lance Vespertine included. So I’m curious then, in terms of bringing this man to life, were you looking to real-world inspirations, possibly of the era, or other directors you’ve maybe worked with yourself?

I thankfully—nor would I name if I did—have had not experienced [anyone like Lance.] I’d love to just tell you that I’m doing the mirror image of Greg Berlanti. [Laughs.] I want that to be the answer, but that’s not totally the case. Lance was a little bit on the page, in that creative process. The audition was his sort of going off on Kelly about production design and things she hasn’t thought of, so I kind of got a vibe for him.

But, you know, it’s 1969 ,and I’m playing this man who’s unapologetic and out and has a boyfriend! And then once you put those clothes on, I said, “Oh, I know who this person is!” And this is someone who is going to come into a room and there’s pretty much nothing that’s going to come at him that he can’t handle—for the most part. So, I think all that stuff was very attractive to me: to be able to play an out and successful man and let that just be a truth.

Image Credit: ‘Fly Me To the Moon,’ Sony Pictures Entertainment

But speaking of directors, you got to work with the wonderful Greg Berlanti on this, and you’re a talented filmmaker yourself—did you give him any pointers? But, seriously, did you have any valuable takeaways from working with Greg on set?

I mean, a lot of it was just me passing notes to him that said things like, “you’re doing it wrong,” or “I should be in this shot,” or “that angle makes no sense,” or “do you know what you’re doing?” So I had these four notes at the ready to slip to them at any time!

In all seriousness, I always use these opportunities to, like, steal from my own self. And I mean that as a writer, too. You’ll speak to a writer, and they’ll say something that will change your game, you know? Like, I never thought of that! And so I approached this the same way. I don’t envy the task he was taking on, in the sense that it’s a big movie, and it balances a lot of tones, and has characters that need to live in each other’s worlds. So, to that, I’d say I just sort of took it all in!

In the world of the film, let’s say Lance went on to have great success in Hollywood after this—what type of movie do you think he’d direct that would win him his Oscar?

Oh, god. [Laughs.] He is going to take one of Kubrick’s films—let’s just say he takes 2001 and he’s going to remake it only a couple of years later. 2001 was like 1968, maybe? He’s gonna remake it and gonna blow it out of the water. You better believe there’s gonna be musical numbers! [Laughs.] And he’s definitely going to hire the guy who played Neil Armstrong in this movie.

Jim Rash with his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for ‘The Descendants’ | Image Credit: Getty Images

Of course, this movie riffs on a well-known conspiracy theory that the moon landing actually was faked. Inspired by that, what’s the wildest conspiracy theory you believe—or perhaps one you think would be funny if it actually was?

I don’t know if there’s anyone that I believe in, you know? I don’t want to be that person, and maybe I’ll be surprised down the road. But I marvel at flat-earthers! I marvel at it, I really do. I guess it’d be humorous to see if someone actually falls off the edge, you know? Look, if you’ve chosen only to go a certain amount of distance away on Earth because you “know” the “edge” is a little further than that—if that’s how you’re living your life—then so be it. Like, if I sent you an address for a big party, and you’re like, “I can’t go there because that’s just past where I would fall,” then… then definitely don’t come to my party! [Laughs.]

Image Credit: ‘Fly Me To the Moon,’ Sony Pictures Entertainment

We’re sure you’re told this daily, but Community’s Dean Craig Pelton is an icon—more specifically a queer icon. Looking back on all of his incredible outfits over the seasons, do you have a personal favorite, or one that you felt particularly fabulous in?

Yes, and I’ll tell you why I felt fabulous in it, because it is connected to Fly Me To The Moon in that sense. Look, apparently, the only characters I play are ones where people get to dress me up!

You know, the Dean’s outfits were disgusting. And I don’t mean the nice ones—I mean, I had two pairs of pants for the run of that show, and they were awful. I’ve never looked like I have no shape to my body like I did in those…

Anyway, it was the Lady Gaga outfit. And the reason I say that is because they stitched that on to me—it was impeccably made. I remember going to this very specific place in LA where they did the alterations. And that’s the same way they made my green jumpsuit in Fly Me To The Moon. Because everything else was vintage, so that came from vaults of fantastic clothes, so who knows what movies those had been in! But they couldn’t find a jumpsuit that hadn’t been altered—so many times it was already fraying and looked old—so she says, “we’re just gonna make one!”

And so that was one but then Lady Gaga—I didn’t realize how many measurements are on the human body when they’re doing that. You know, I love Project Runway—I don’t miss it and I’m fascinated by it. But the measurements are like “here to here,” “here to here,” and I loved every second of it, as invasive as it feels. And to know that how that outfit works, was super cool.

Jim Rash as Dean Craig Pelton as Lady Gaga | Image Credit: ‘Community,’ Sony Pictures Television

And we have to ask: Any updates on the Community movie? Would you be willing to suit back up in those same pants, no matter how disgusting they might be?

Oh, I will happily don them! Make no mistake: I will wear the color—they always bought me shirts that were too big on purpose, and there’s a mustard-colored yellow one that I that I both loved and loathed when it would be in the Dean’s wardrobe. You come into the room and you’re like, “there’s that mustard again!” Which, when you have pale skin like mine, it just makes you look dreadful. But it’s all said with love! [Laughs.]

But beyond Community, you’ve had roles on so many fantastic television shows and films over the years. What’s once you’d say you’re especially proud of that you might consider underrated or over-looked?

Well, one I would say is: I had such a blast on this show that only lasted six episodes. And it’s going to sound crazy when I tell you what the conceit of the show is, but you have to trust me that it was very Monty Python and very funny. It was called Thanks, and it was this set in the world of like pilgrims, like a multi-camera. It was very Monty Python, very much that humor, and I played the village idiot Cotton, and I had this great, long wig. But I just had a blast doing something that was so odd and lovely and over-the-top.

As far as guesting on a show: I did two episodes of Glee that I had such a blast at. It was fast talking—they were sort of skewering an executive at Fox. I love characters that talk a mile-a-minute, and they let me improv just a little bit. It was me and Lea Michele in this room, and it was towards their last two seasons, or whatever, so I was happy to make it in there!

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