Pitch please!

Anjali Jhangiani
Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Ahead of the television premiere of Pitch Perfect 3 on Sony PIX, actor-comedian John Michael Higgins talks about being a part of the franchise which tells the story of an all-women a capella group, and perfecting his role of a misogynistic commentator who always ends up with his foot in his mouth

If you want to know how a group of women can blow your mind with their music, sans any musical instruments or electronic editing, you must watch the Pitch Perfect franchise. The latest film in this series, Pitch Perfect 3 follows the a capella group Bellas, who are now college graduates, reuniting for one final performance together during an overseas USO (United Service Organizations) tour. The film premieres on Sony PIX on March 3.

Going back to the first film in the series, we saw two commentators break the tension during the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella (ICCA) ­— John Michael Higgins as John Smith dishing out absurd remarks and Elizabeth Banks as Gail Abernathy-McKadden on damage control. 

Higgins, the misogynistic idiot who lives in his own ‘un-burstable’ bubble, has added to the humour in all the Pitch Perfect movies, but his debut in the series will always be special. “I must say this, the first film in the series is possibly my favourite. The reason is, when we made the first one, there was little expectation, there were no tricks that we had to repeat and get it right again. I guess it was more about working on it than how the actual finished product turned out. But frankly I’ve not seen any of the movies. As a rule, I don’t watch things that I’m in. If I can’t change it, I don’t want to look at it. The first Pitch Perfect was a new experience with new people. It was so fresh and exciting for me. I didn’t know if it was any good, if people would like it — and all these are exciting problems for an actor to have, and I appreciate the chance to have them,” says Higgins.

Talking about his character in the films, he reveals that there were some moments on the sets when he could not believe the words coming out of his mouth as he performed his lines. “We did three movies and the first one was interesting because we kind of improvised the whole thing. The characters of the commentators were added pretty late in the game and we just sort of improvised the whole thing. We didn’t know what we were going to say at first, then the writers got better at writing funny lines for  our characters because they became more established. My character is such an idiot, he’s so bad about women and politics, and I am frankly surprised about the stuff that pops out of my mouth when I am portraying that character. My wife would be like ‘What’s the matter with you? Why did you say that?’, and I’m like ‘I don’t know, it seemed like the right thing to say at that time.’ People now spot me at a grocery store and pop their eyebrow at me and I’m like ‘I’m sorry, I was just doing my job!’”
 
But playing the idot was, in a way, liberating for the actor. “This character is so awful in so many ways, it’s almost been freeing for me. He’s a total misogynist and he’s stuck in a different time, he doesn’t understand anything that’s going on now. I feel like I’ve done this role so successfully probably because I have more in common with him than I wish to acknowledge. I mean otherwise how would I do it so successfully. It’s probably not a good thing that the character worked out so well, it says a lot of bad things about me. I don’t share his views on politics, women or even music for that matter, but I do identify with the idea that I’ve somehow been left behind by the culture that is changing so rapidly ­— like I’m some sort of dinosaur stuck in the mud,” says Higgins, who loves a capella in real life too.
 
“I am a big a capella person. I loved the a capella group when I was in college. I don’t think the people who made the Pitch Perfect movies even knew that about me. I’ve actually arranged a lot of a capella music for a lot of films, and I still sing it myself. Not so much contemporary a capella, I’m more into jazz. Most of the stuff I listen to personally is classical music or jazz because I like my music to be complicated,”he laughs. 

Higgins is a part of an LA-based a capella group, and he absolutely enjoys it. “We don’t do a lot of contemporary a capella, it’s mostly arrangements of jazz. The members are all professional singers, studio singers, who never make mistakes. I’m much worse than they are and I’m so honoured to be singing with them. I’d say I’m already in my dream a capella group,” he says. 

Higgins is fascinated by Bollywood.“I can’t name any Bollywood titles, but I come across these films every now and then on television and I’m immediately glued.  They are somewhat like the Pitch Perfect series because they make full use of the possibilities of cinema, including song and dance, and I really appreciate that.” says he.
 
Does he want to try his hand in the Indian film industry though? “Well of course! I want to play the handsome lover. Bollywood has the most beautiful actresses in the world hands down. But I know I would never get to play the role of one of their boyfriends because now I’m old and crusty (laughs). I assume I could be playing somebody’s uncle or something like that which is no fun at all,” he signs off. 

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