<EM>My Name Is Earl</EM> My Name Is Earl

Is silver-screen wiseacre Jason Lee done Chasing Amy, living the life of an Almost Famous rocker and hanging with the Mallrats beneath that bizarre Vanilla Sky? Yes... and no. Yes, the affable actor is braving the frontier of episodic TV, but no, his starring role in NBC's My Name Is Earl (premiering Sept. 20 at 9 pm/ET) does not signal the end of his film career.

So why the switch? Are Kevin Smith and Cameron Crowe simply not churning out enough movies for him to appear in? "It's all due to Mr. Greg Garcia," he tells TVGuide.com, referring to Earl's creator. "He and the script [attracted me to the show]."

Lee, who is also a producer on Earl, admits to having a few apprehensions about taking on his new gig as a hapless lunk who, after winning (and then incredibly, losing) the lottery, is spurred on by the wisdom of Carson Daly and sets out to correct every bad thing he's ever done. "It took me a while to decide," he explains. "I didn't want to become locked into being known for a character as opposed to as an actor; the schedule is kind of brutal; and being on one thing for so long as opposed to moving around, which I was used to doing, [is tough]. But I couldn't deny the quality of the material. Good material is good material so, ultimately, it made sense to do it. "

Besides, Earl's half-hour length makes for "nice, long hiatuses," he says. "There will be breaks for me to do other things, like films. It all weighed out."

While chatting with Lee, we simply had to ask which of his numerous, varied and always-colorful big-screen endeavors is his personal favorite. Interestingly, his was ours. "Vanilla Sky was a movie where I was like, 'OK, what Chasing Amy did for me, this will do for me, but on an even bigger level,'" he relates. "It was an opportunity for me to show people that I'm not just the goofy or smartass sidekick, that I've got some meat here, so I was genuinely excited and thought for sure we were going to be at the Oscars." Instead, he sighs, "All I could hear were crickets. People either loved it with a passion or hated it."

Perhaps, we suggest, the haters just didn't "get" it. "You do tend to criticize what you don't understand," Lee concurs. "A lot of people would come up to me and say, 'I didn't like that movie,' and I would have to say, 'Did you understand it?' Once I realized it was just ignorance [fueling much of the dissent], I just let it go.

"I thought that movie would put me on the map," he says in conclusion. "But I never saw any map!"

Check out video previews, photos, premiere dates and more from fall's new and returning shows right here.