Nick Swardson has been something of a comedy character actor until now.
The 34-year-old began doing standup at 19, and landed a role on the all-improvised TV series “Reno 911!” in 2003.
Having impressed Adam Sandler, he was welcomed into Sandler’s circle of friends, co-writing scripts and making funny appearances in Sandler blockbusters.
With a long list of credits including two hit films this year alone — “Just Go with It” and “30 Minutes or Less” — he finally has his first starring role, as the title character in “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” which opens Friday.
In the movie, naive, Iowa-born hayseed Bucky discovers his parents were legendary 1970s-era porn stars. He decides to move to Los Angeles to follow in their footsteps.
“This dude is beyond G-rated,” says Swardson, recently in San Francisco to promote the movie. “We were trying to do a really accessible comedy that was based in the porn world that wasn’t crass or crude.”
Swardson co-wrote the new movie with Sandler and actor-writer Allen Covert, with whom Swardson has worked in some capacity on a half-dozen movies including “The Benchwarmers,” “Grandma’s Boy,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” and “Just Go with It.”
Although “Bucky” was Sandler’s original idea and he called Swardson with it, Swardson says he’s not getting handouts.
“I worked for everything I’ve ever had,” he says.
Covert agrees. In Sandler’s circle, he says, “There are no hangers-on. Everyone works. Everyone contributes. And everyone wants to. It’s not about being the star.”
“That’s the thing that’s really cool about Sandler,” Swardson adds. “He’s all about making everything the funniest it can be.”
The three writers spent endless hours in their offices, trying to find a certain balance of character and humor, as well as trying to get close to Sandler’s original concept.
“That was like comedy Vietnam. It’s the longest I’ve ever written anything,” Swardson says. “I wanted to blow my head off. We wrote so many drafts. One draft was 150 pages.”
On the set, the production had to move fast, due to a limited budget, though the filmmakers still found time for improv and clowning around. But the speed and intensity took its toll.
“I quit smoking for seven years,” he says. “I drove to work one day at 6 in the morning. I was so stressed out I was going to throw up. I pulled over and I bought a pack of American Spirits, and I smoked 10 in a row — and they’re not easy to chain-smoke. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
During his off hours, Swardson finds he needs time to be serious.
“People are always asking me about comedies, but I’m so knee-deep in it … I watch ‘Mad Men.’”
IF YOU GO
Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
Starring Nick Swardson, Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Stephen Dorff
Written by Allen Covert, Adam Sandler, Nick Swardson
Directed by Tom Brady
Running time 1 hour 36 minutes