I know it may sometimes seem like it, but the interviews I do for the Onion AV Club aren’t always Random Roles…although I have been accused of performing stealth Random Roles interviews even on the occasions when I’m not using the format…and, come to think of it, there’s also the Set List format that’s set up for musicians which is pretty cool, too, although that’s a subject for another post. For now, please just enjoy this collection of links to the straight-ahead interviews that I did for the AV Club throughout 2012. It’s a pretty diverse bunch of folks, as you’ll see, but you’ll find some instances within the bunch which drift away from feeling like interviews and into just a back-and-forth between a couple of guys. (Those, as you might guess, are among my favorites.)
The TV veteran talks about The Jeffersons, 227, and her guest spot on Southland
AV Club: You spent time as a receptionist and as a switchboard operator; what led you to make the jump to a career in acting?
Marla Gibbs: Well, I moved out to Los Angeles. My sister moved out here first, actually. She was in business. And I moved out here because I was in an unhappy marriage. So my children and I moved out, along with our dog, and I got involved in acting classes. I was working for United Airlines as a reservations agent on the telephone, but I went to workshops in the evening at the Mafundi Institute, and I got involved in plays and I got some good reviews. We also did the Watts Writers Workshop. Then I went to the Zodiac Theater, where Margaret Avery—the actress from The Color Purple—also had a workshop, which was very good. So I got an opportunity to do two or three plays there. And while I was doing that, my agent at the time got me an audition with The Jeffersons. It wasn’t the pilot, but the first show of the season. But, anyway, I got the job and the rest is, of course, history. Everybody knows the rest. But I stayed with United for the first couple of years while I was doing the show. [Laughs.] The show finally asked me, wasn’t I getting tired and did I still have that job, and I said yes. They said they thought I had to quit it, and I told them, “I need something to make me quit. Do you have anything to tell me?” [Laughs.] So they asked me if I’d take leave if they paid me, and I said, “Sure, if you pay me.” So I took 90 days leave, and by that point, I decided I wanted to just stay with the show.
The put-upon star of An Idiot Abroad carries on knowing Ricky Gervais is trying to make him miserable
AVC: What do you think of your likeness (on HBO’s The Ricky Gervais Show)?
Karl Pilkington: [Long exhale.] Well, I mean, I’ve got no features, have I? It’s just a round head. Yeah, I mean, it’s not bad. I think I come off better than Steve does. Steve looks pretty bad on it. But, yeah, it’s weird. I suppose that was the beginning of it all, in a way. I didn’t know it at the time, so I think that’s what’s quite nice about it as well. But we chat about things on there that, if I’d have known that it was gonna go out on the telly, I would’ve said, “I’m not gonna talk about that.” I’m talking about my auntie and stuff, thinking, “She’s never gonna hear it, ’cause she doesn’t go on the Internet.” And I’m sort of talking about her having a wind problem and all this, and all of a sudden it’s on the telly and animated. So that was a bit of a shock. I had a bit of explaining to do.
The prolific character actor talks about his accidental introduction to acting, keeping a deliberate balance between comedy and drama, and some of his signature roles
AV Club: Have you ever been called in for an audition because someone was specifically looking for “a Stephen Root type”?
Stephen Root: That’s never actually happened to me, although it’s happened to almost all of my friends, and they go into them and they don’t get the role. Wayne Knight, for one, has gone in for “a Wayne Knight type,” and they said, “Nah. No, thanks.” [Laughs.] He’s, like, “Really? Oh. Well, okay…” But, no, I don’t think that’s ever happened to me. I specifically try to mix it up between comedy and drama. I’ve tried really hard to do that, to not stay on something too long, because casting directors don’t have long memories. Even though they know you, they go, “Oh, he’s done three comedies in a row, he just wants to do comedy.” That’s not the case. I’ve desperately tried to maintain a comedy/drama mix. [Laughs.]
The actor talks about his narration for the Science Channel series Through The Wormhole, and which branch of science he considers “a mind-fuck”
AV Club: You’ve obviously been fascinated with science for some time, but do you have any specific scientific background?
Morgan Freeman: Oh, no. No, no, no. I don’t have the science mind. I don’t have the kind of mind that can deal with science. Physics, however, is not what I would call one of your life sciences, like chemistry or biology are. Or archaeology. But physics? Physics is more of a… [Hesitates.] Can I say “fuck”?
AVC: Sure, why not?
MF: Physics is more of a mind-fuck. And, you know, I get off on that. [Laughs.] Everybody’s giggling about that. But that’s the best way I can put it! It’s a fascinating subject, and I think you could interest a lot of young minds in it.
AVC: Well, sure. Especially if you use the F-word.
MF: [Bursts out laughing.] I suppose so.
The Arrested Development and Larry Sanders vet talks about how much he enjoys his new show, Bent and more
AV Club: Presumably there was a bit of a learning curve for you (on The Ropers), given that you were just getting your feet wet on television.
Jeffrey Tambor: A huge learning curve. Huge.
AVC: Were Norman Fell and Audra Lindley helpful in steering you in the right direction?
JT: Oh, well, I loved Norman. Norman was an intellectual, and he had this sad-sack dog face—and I mean that in a totally honorific way—and yet when he would come to my house, I would always find him in my library, reading a book. Audra was great. Patty and I clicked. And I loved [executive producers Don] Nicholl, [Michael] Ross, and [Bernard] West. They were so kind to me. They were paternal, in a way. I felt sorry for them, because here was this actor who’d come from Broadway, and I just… I didn’t know how you made a show. When they gave you a note, you had to stand up and do it, and I thought that was just ridiculous. [Laughs.] But I remember the first time I had to do that. Audra just kind of looked at me, winked, and was, like, “Come on, let’s go.” It was good for me. Taught me a lot.
The man behind Don Draper on the evolution of the character, his first time in the Mad Men director’s chair, and his skewed comedic sensibilities
AV Club: Since you can’t say much about the upcoming season of Mad Men, perhaps you can offer a bit of insight into your work as Buzz on The Hughleys.
Jon Hamm: [Laughs, then groans.] Wow. Did you, uh, actually see that episode?
AVC: Sadly, no.
JH: Okay, because I don’t think I have, either. [Laughs.] Yeah, that was a very, very brief moment in time. Although I certainly appreciated the paycheck at the time.
The Cheers and Pixar fixture talks about how agreeing to ride a bicycle down some stairs led to the career he has today.
AV Club: Not that they were big roles, but do you have any anecdotes from working on The Empire Strikes Back or the Superman films?
John Ratzenberger: No, but I always wish that I did. [Laughs.] It was really just showing up, going to work, doing what I was supposed to go, and going home. There was no real hijinks or anything. But I remember once I was doing a film, I think it was Outland, at Pinewood Studios, and a friend of mine was doing another film there at the soundstage next to the one I was in. Anyway, once I was in the parking lot, and here was my friend, this other American actor, talking to Sir Laurence Olivier.
JR: That’s what I thought: “Wow…” [Laughs.] And Sir Laurence was sitting up on the trunk of a car, as if on a throne, and my friend was talking to him as a supplicant. I mean, really, the whole body language of the moment was really interesting. And afterwards, I saw him and asked, “What were you talking to Sir Laurence about?” And he said that he had asked Sir Laurence Olivier what advice he could give to a young actor, and Sir Laurence thought for a moment, and then looked at him very sagely—I would imagine—and said, “Never leave your wallet in the dressing room.” [Laughs.] And that was it! But, you know, I still follow that advice, even though it wasn’t given to me directly. That’s really good advice!
The star of PBS’ Great Expectations talks about breaking with sci-fi and growing up without Dickens.
“(Johnny English Reborn) was something where they approached me, and, you know, I though the script was funny. But the cast was also interesting, and—well, really, it was about working with Rowan Atkinson. That, and getting the chance to do a bit more comedy. It’s not like I haven’t done comedy, but I’ve never really done it on that kind of scale. I recently did another film, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love, with Michael Caine and Justin Kirk. I knew there was a light comic element to the character, obviously, from having read the script, but I didn’t anticipate that it was going to be quite as much fun as it was. Justin and I played brother and sister, and we developed a very fun kind of repartee, with a lot of ad-libbing and stuff like that. It was very nice and refreshing to do something like that in the midst of all of this heavy-duty stuff.”
Schmidt from New Girl talks about his current role, his past stints on Veronica Mars and Greek, and his show’s dedication to the word “adorkable”
“I will only say that (Zooey Deschanel and New Girl creator Liz Meriwether) are both pretty adorkable. But yeah, I think it would be silly not to embrace that word. Like, really, the only reason you wouldn’t embrace something like that is if you were, like, “Oh, I’m too cool.” And I think that’s a lot of the reason why our show works: No one—and I can speak for myself wholeheartedly on this—is trying to look cool on this show. We’re trying to make the funniest show and the most real and honest show we can make. I can assure you that no one, especially me, is showing up on the set any day of the week saying, “So I want to look cool in this scene…” [Laughs.] I’d much rather look adorkable than cool.”
“I think my destiny was to be someone who scribbles in dark rooms.”
“You know, when I stopped doing The Mystic Knights (of the Oingo Boingo)—because you’ve got to remember that I did The Mystic Knights for eight years before Oingo Boingo. So when I started the band, I never missed doing The Mystic Knights, and when I started doing composing, I did both for 10 years, and that was hard. But I wanted to move on. And I think I was, weirdly, always more comfortable as a writer than a performer. Although I admit that I did love getting up there, especially when we were in the clubs. I found it more stressful when we started moving into the bigger arenas. And I don’t know if I was ever as much of a natural. I don’t think I was cut out to be that. I don’t know how bands stay together for all those years and keep doing the same songs. It would drive me insane. And I couldn’t tour more than three months, because even six weeks would drive me insane. I’d reached a point where I was like, ‘“If I have to do this song one more time, I’m gonna blow my brains out.’
“I think there is kind of a wiring you have to have, both to be in a band or to be in theater, where you’re gonna do the same show every single night. And in a band, even though you’re going to do new material, you’ve still got to perform the old stuff that they want to hear, and I would just quickly reach this point where I was like, ‘I can’t bear it. I just can’t bear it any longer.’ I can’t do a concert without doing any older material, but I can’t stand going up there and doing songs that I know.
“I think people who do that love it. There’s a reason why U2 and The Rolling Stones and these bands can get up there and keep doing it. They must love doing those songs regardless of how many times they’ve done them, in the same way that someone goes up and does a stage play or Broadway every night. I don’t know how they do it. I could never do it. So I just think it’s kind of an internal wiring, and I think I just wasn’t meant to have my career in that. The fact that I lasted so many years was more than enough than I needed for a lifetime. Sometimes I miss just using my voice more, the singing, but I don’t miss the pressure of going onstage and having to learn a shitload of songs.”
“When we went to Scotland, we realized it was actually prettier than Paris and we should’ve gone there first.”
“I’ve got a lot of fucking history in Scotland, so there were plenty of places to go. During one of the initial scouts, I was walking around going, ‘Got my ass kicked there. Got my ass kicked there. Got my ass kicked there.’ We finally said, ‘Look, we’ve got to just pick one. We can’t just have a tour of places where you got your ass kicked.’ We were filming in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, which is where Voldemort fights Harry Potter, and while we were there, I was standing under this umbrella—it was raining, and we were waiting for it to clear—and heard some Scottish people walking by. And they didn’t know I was there, so they were talking about the film unit being in the graveyard, and I heard one of them say, ‘Who is it? What’s going on here?’ Someone said, ‘It’s Craig Ferguson.’ The first one said, “Is he famous?” And the other one said, ‘Yes, but only in America.’ [Laughs.] So sort of a compliment and an insult at exactly the same time.”
Why the actor couldn’t resist coming to television for The Newsroom.
AV Club: I mentioned that you’d never had a full-time series gig before, but you really haven’t done much television, period, not even when you were first starting out. Literally, you did one episode of Hawaii Five-0, and then the next year you were in Ragtime. Did you intend to do more series work, or were your sights set on the silver screen?
Jeff Daniels: I always wanted to do films. I’d gone to New York early in 1976 and did a lot of theater, but I really wanted to chase the paths of people like Pacino and Lemmon and those guys. Alan Arkin. Film was where I wanted to go. But I was also starting to have kids, and just the idea of going to California for seven years to do a series in the ’80s or ’90s… We weren’t going to do that. We wanted to live in Michigan and raise the kids there. So that meant I couldn’t make a seven-year commitment, which is what it was back then. So it was more to do with family concerns. And, you know, occasionally I’d do an HBO film. I did a thing with Brian Dennehy, Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story. And I did a movie called Cheaters. John Stockwell directed it for HBO. So, yeah, back when they were doing TV movies, I’d drop in and do those. But it wasn’t until the kids were well into their twenties that we said, “All right, let’s go do a series.” If that means California for seven months, okay.
AVC: Does it make you feel old when you realize that the show on which you made your TV debut is now in its second generation?
JD: God, I never thought about that. I had never thought about that. Wow. [Laughs.] I was around for the second coming of Hawaii Five-0. Oh, God. I guess it does make you feel old, yeah. But that was fun to do, I have to say. I’d done commercials, but that was my first TV series. I got the part, and two days later they flew us to Hawaii for nine days. My wife loved it. We’d been married about four months, and she loved it. And I got to work with Jack Lord. I’d watched him in high school! So, yeah, I thought it was really cool.
AVC: Just for the record, the episode is on DVD, and your hair is fantastic.
JD: [Laughs.] There’s some kind of styling going on there, isn’t it? Something’s happening with it. I can’t quite remember what. But the story was so—oh my God. High school smart-asses flying a little model plane into an open window of a gallery, I think, where there are million-dollar diamonds, a smoke bomb goes off, and these high-school assholes run in and steal the diamonds, and they’re gonna fence them to some mobster. It’s just, like, what?!?
The actor discusses his role on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and his trustworthy voice.
AV Club: Are you aware there’s a small but loyal cult within the steampunk movement surrounding your series Q.E.D.?
Sam Waterston: [Laughs.] “Steampunk movement”? Tell me what that is…
AVC: It’s more or less science fiction or fantasy revolving around an era where steam power is predominant, but there are usually a fair number of technological anachronisms.
SW: Oh, well, then, Q.E.D. would be right up their alley. [Laughs.] We did television and all of that other stuff. Oh, we had a lot of fun on that show. A lot of fun. And some of that stuff was amazing. Like those race cars. They were all collectors’ items. There was a chain-driven Mercedes Benz that was capable of going 110 miles an hour that this guy brought to the shooting location by driving it himself up the motorway. And, you know, everything about the accelerator was terrific. The brakes were really scarily inadequate, though. [Laughs.] But it could go like blazes!
The actor talks about Walter White’s evolution, posture, and badassness: “Now with more Heisenberg!”
AV Club: How do you balance Heisenberg’s badass-ness with Walt’s tendency toward impotence within his own family?
Bryan Cranston: Well, it’s kind of like a drill sergeant who is in total command of his squad, and he gets home and starts barking at his wife, who says, “Shut up and take the trash out.” [Laughs.] And his teenage daughter rolls her eyes and says, “Yeah, right.” And he can’t figure out how to control that. He’s the man at work, but he can’t control his home. There are situations like that, we’ve all been there, where the man is going, “Wait a minute, why can’t I control this?” And it’s because you’re not in charge of every single thing. There are elements you don’t have authority in, try and control it as you may.
AVC: So what you’re saying is that there are a number of similarities between Breaking Bad and Major Dad.
BC: [Long pause.] That’s exactly where I was going. I didn’t want to say those words specifically, but I’m so happy that you picked up on it. [Laughs.]
“I was like Rocky, man. I just worked and worked and worked, then I got my shot at the title, and I won the fight.”
“I’d had a chance to do The Tonight Show earlier, actually. I auditioned and got the show. I was living in Cleveland at the time, but I was out in L.A., and while I was there I got a call to do the show, but I missed it. I was on that short list of fill-in people—somebody had fallen out and they wanted me to fill in—and I missed the call. I was working at the Comedy [&] Magic Club, and I’ll never forget, because I walked into the club, and the MC met me, and he goes [In a sad voice.], ‘Hey, man, how ya feelin’?’ And I go, ‘I’m okay. Why, what happened?’ I’d been gone all day, so I had my suit and my shaving kit. I’d been to see a taping of Full House. [Laughs.] I’d been to see my friend Kevin Pollak’s show; he had a show at the time. So I’d been to see both those shows, that’s what I was doing all day, and no one could get a hold of me, because there were no cell phones back then. So I go, “What happened?” And he goes, “Oh, man, I don’t want to tell you if you don’t know.” I go, “What, did my mother die? Just tell me what fucking happened!” And he goes, “Uh, The Tonight Show was trying to call you all day to do the show, and they got—” I forget the guy’s name, but they got someone else instead. And I’m, like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? Jesus Christ! And I’m at fucking Full House?'”
“The eyes are the window to the soul. In our show, it’s the handjob.”
“I would love to hang out with the hoodlums. I would love it. I told Aaron Paul, who I just thought was adorable when I first met him, “You know, if you weren’t so up-to-no-good all the time, I’d invite you to Skyler’s baby shower, because that’s my big party of the year!” [Laughs.] In season one, I was like, “Okay, I’ve been thinking of things we can do together. If Jesse got busted for his behavior and Marie got busted for stealing, we could do community service.” Which I thought would’ve been funny. And I was so excited to have had a scene with Giancarlo [Esposito]. I had a scene with him in the hospital after Hank was shot, and… I just didn’t think I would get that, so I was so, so happy. But I feel—and you can tell me what you think—that my chances of having a scene with Mark Margolis have probably… that train may have left the station.”