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Center stage beckons for Jason Sudeikis of 'SNL'

Associated Press Modified: May 23, 2011 at 3:45 pm •  Published: May 23, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — As several cameras and a large film crew hover around him, Jason Sudeikis is enjoying the attention.

"Think about how long this lighting would take if I didn't have perfect bone structure," he says, smiling. "Show off God's work."

Sudeikis is shooting promotions for the MTV Movie Awards, which he'll host June 5. As he lists the attendees, he riffs effortlessly ("Blake Lively ... nice guy?") and ponders the Scrabble points in "Shia LaBeouf."

The awards will introduce Sudeikis to millions of viewers just as he's making his largest splash on the big screen. He stars in the upcoming summer comedy "A Good Old Fashioned Orgy," out in September, and plays a supporting role in the star-filled "Horrible Bosses," out in July.

For the veteran "Saturday Night Live" cast member, center stage is a relatively new vantage point. Hosting the MTV Movie Awards (the last two hosts were Andy Samberg and Aziz Ansari) has been a kind of platform for rising comedians on the cusp.

"A platform either to dive beautifully off of or to fall completely off of, but a platform nevertheless," says the 35-year-old Sudeikis.

Though born in Virginia, Sudeikis was raised in suburban Kansas City, Mo., and has a Midwestern aw-shucks candor. But he often uses a cheery façade for arrogant or oblivious characters. Whether playing Vice President Joe Biden or the devil, Sudeikis is usually grinning broadly.

"I always liked smart asses," he says. "I probably wanted to be Axel Foley from age 9 until 38. In three years, I'll probably stop wanting to be Axel Foley. I like people that laugh, smart asses that also laugh, that don't take any of it too seriously. Love Ace Ventura. Love Groucho Marx. Love Bugs Bunny."

Sudeikis didn't sincerely pursue comedy until he came to the famed Chicago improv troupe Second City in 1997. His family had some familiarity with showbiz: Sudeikis' uncle is George Wendt ("Cheers"). Wendt's success, Sudeikis says, pacified his parents in accepting entertainment as a career.

At Second City, he "dove in completely" to improv and helped develop a Las Vegas offshoot. There, he became enamored of the Blue Man Group and even auditioned once (unsuccessfully).

He was hired first as a writer on "SNL," which he did for two years, getting a handful of sketches on the air. Though Sudeikis yearned to be a performer, he learned the "SNL" system and relished the writing process.

"I really enjoyed the re-write table. That was my favorite thing to do," says Sudeikis. "When Tina Fey likes one of your jokes and puts it into the script, you can't help but feel like, 'Maybe I am somehow doing the right thing, the right job.'"

Horatio Sanz overlapped with Sudeikis at Second City and again at "SNL," where he co-wrote Sudeikis' first sketch to air (Jack Black singing "Cats in the Cradle" to his estranged father).

"We all knew there was a performer in him," says Sanz. "Because it's so effortless for him, I think you kind of forget that he's such a good comedic actor. He doesn't go too big too often. A lot of what he plays is a lot like him."

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