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If anyone can give the oft-maligned Transportation Security Administration a good name, it’s Lil Rel Howery. The stand-up turned actor steals the breakout horror-comedy “Get Out” as Rod Williams, a T.S.A. agent who uses the investigative skills he supposedly learned on the job to try to convince his best friend (Daniel Kaluuya) — an African-American man with a white girlfriend (Allison Williams) — that her seemingly liberal family is behind a racist conspiracy.
“This is the first time in the history of cinema that a T.S.A. agent is the hero,” Mr. Howery said in a phone interview the morning after “Get Out” opened at No. 1 at the box office. (It would go on to win the weekend with an impressive $30 million take and, along with the best picture win for “Moonlight,” make this a banner weekend for films by African-American writer-directors.) “They are usually shown doing too much or being mean. It makes you think about their job in a different light. They really are the ones catching terrorists.”
Beyond Rod’s heroic stature, audiences are responding to his real-talk humor, a voice that’s not too far from the Chicago-bred Mr. Howery’s stand-up persona. “Rod is basically everyone in the theater who’s screaming at the screen,” he said. “A character like that in a horror film is just genius.”
Mr. Howery spoke about working with the film’s writer-director, the sketch comedian Jordan Peele (“Key and Peele”), and what’s next for his career. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
How did you land the role in “Get Out”?
Jordan and I had a conversation about the script about a year ago at a party. He was telling me he wrote a horror film. I was like, “Oh, O.K.” But when I read the script, I said, “I’ve got to book this.” I was really focused, and that doesn’t happen often.
What made you so determined?
There are not too many roles where you represent the voice of the audience. I’ve seen so many horror films where I yell at the screen like, “Oh, come on, man!” Rod, from the beginning of the movie, is like, “Look, this is what it is.”
How much of your dialogue was improvised vs. scripted?
Jordan was very open to letting me have fun with the lines. When I watch the movie, I know stuff I said that wasn’t in the script. Honestly, I’m surprised some of it is in the movie, because it’s just me forgetting my lines and going on a tangent.
How different is acting from doing stand-up?
When I started comedy, I was a big Eddie Murphy fan. I thought if you did stand-up, you were supposed to know how to act, write and host. I thought it was all one thing. That’s why it doesn’t feel like I’m transitioning to acting because in my stand-up, I do characters all the time.
Do you think you’re reaching a new audience with “Get Out”?
One hundred percent. This movie is everywhere. It’s a really good movie. I was talking to my family earlier, because everybody has been calling me. I think I’m a part of a classic.
You shot this film when Barack Obama was president. Now it’s coming out, and Donald Trump is president. Does it feel any more or less relevant?
It feels like it’s a film that’s always going to be relevant. Jordan wrote this because when Obama was voted into office, everybody said: “Racism is over. We’re in a post-racist society.” And it was like, “Nah, we’re actually not.” This movie starts that conversation again. I’ve seen the movie seven times, and every time I find something new, and it starts another conversation. That’s what good art does. I’m so proud of being a part of something like this.
Are you a fan of the horror genre?
I’m iffy. Some of the scariest movies I’ve seen are not considered horror movies, like “Gone Girl.” That movie scared me. I can’t watch it again.
Is there any possibility of a sequel or a Rod-themed spinoff?
I was joking with Jordan that I’d like to do a Rod action film. It won’t be horror, it’ll be stunts — an over-budgeted, “Tropic Thunder”-looking movie.
Where do you want to go next in your career?
I want to do more films — not just comedies, because I really want to show my range. Even though I am the comic relief in this movie, what makes me stand out is you can just feel the realness of my character. Usually that’s a sign of good acting. My manager says scripts are starting to come in. I’m on cloud nine right now.
Are you expecting special treatment from T.S.A. agents now?
I cannot wait to fly. I don’t have anywhere to go, but I might just go somewhere for no reason next week, just to see what kind of reaction I get from the T.S.A. agents.