Ross Hull reflects on his role in “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” & his work as a Meteorologist

Ross Hull is known best for the role of Gary, aka the leader of the Midnight Society, from the TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”.

Ross is also currently a Meteorologist for Global News in Canada.

Media Mikes had a chance to chat “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” with Ross and also his work as a Meteorologist.

George McGrath talks about his work on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and writing the movie Big Top Pee-Wee

George McGrath is known for voicing the characters Cowntess / Fish / Globey / Flower / Pterri in “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”. He is also the writer of various episodes of the show including the theme song.

George also wrote the film “Big Top Pee-Wee” and was a writer on the HBO series “Tracy Takes On”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat about “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” and his work on the show.

Jodie Resther talks about “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” & PBS Kids series “Arthur”

Jodie Resther is known best for her role of Kiki in “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. She is also the voice of Francine Alice Frensky in the PBS Kids series “Arthur” for over 20 years.

Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Jodie about “Are You Afraid of the Dark” and her voice over work in “Arthur”.

Eric Bauza talks voicing Bugs Bunny on Looney Tunes Shorts & working on Ducktales & Muppet Babies

Eric Bauza is the current voice of Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes Shorts. He also voices Daffy Duck / Marvin the Martian / Tweety Pie for the show.

Eric also voices Fozzie in Muppet Babies, Master Frown in Unikitty!, Splinter in “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and various voices in Ducktales.

Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Eric to discuss taking on these iconic roles and talking about voicing his dream role.

Kevin Carlson talks about working on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Beetlejuice & working with The Muppets

Kevin Carlson is the voice/puppeteer of Clockey / Conky / Floory / Fish and Knucklehead from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”. He also worked on projects like “Beetlejuice, Child’s Play 2” and “Team America: World Police”.

Kevin has also worked with Jim Henson on projects like “Muppet*vision 3-D” and is the voice of Timmy the Tooth in “The Adventures of Timmy the Tooth”.

Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Kevin about his roles and what it was like to work with The Muppets.

Follow Kevin on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/KevinCarlson1962/

Bill Farmer talks about Disney+ series It’s A Dog’s Life, Voicing Goofy & the 25th anniversary of A Goofy Movie

Bill Farmer is a Disney Legend. He has voiced the role of Goofy since 1987 and the voice of Pluto since 1988. He currently has a new show on Disney+ called “It’s A Dog’s Life with Bill Farmer”. He also currently voices over 20 characters on Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Mixed-Up Adventures”.

Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Bill about his new show “It’s a Dogs Life”, voicing Goofy for all these years and reflecting on the 25th anniversary of “A Goofy Movie”.

Christian Jacobs of “The Aquabats! Super Show” Discusses The Show’s New Episodes and The Bands New Album

Christian Jacobs is a former child actor and the co-creator of the award winning kid’s television series “Yo Gabba Gabba!”. He also fronts the popular ska-punk band The Aquabats! under the pseudonym of The MC Bat Commander. Media Mikes had the chance to speak with Christian recently about the group’s current tour, the bands successful kickstarter campaign and when fans can expect new episodes of “The Aquabats! Super Show”.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about the bands current “Holy Guacamole Tour”?

Christian Jacobs: We did a previous tour in July however this tour sort of marks the first headlining tour we have done in some time that has gone east of the Mississippi. These shows are reuniting us with the “Legion of Righteous Comrades” who this last year helped us raise money to film new episodes of “The Aquabats! Super Show”. We have ten episodes shot and we are going to be shooting one more once we have the guest star lined up. These are fun sized episodes meaning they aren’t as long as the previous episodes from season one and two but, they are still a lot of fun. This tour is kind of recognizing the completion of those episodes and all the merchandise that we designed for that campaign. Getting out and playing is a way for us to meet up with the fans that helped keep the Aquabats! alive and a chance for us to say  thank you for the support. From that Kickstarter campaign we have been able to film the new episodes, record an album, prepare to start another album in December and to do this tour. This band has been around the block a few times and the fact that there is a new generation of fans coming out to the shows and helping us put out new content has been just great.

AL: What was it that appealed to the band about using Kickstarter?

CJ: Us doing a Kickstarter has been talked about for a long time. We hesitated a bit as we are old-school. I was worried that we might look bad asking for money in this type of way and we were very nervous. I think a lot of people have the perception that with our previous things being successful there should be no reason why we can’t put new stuff out on our own. Sadly that’s not always the reality and that’s what happened for the Aquabats! We did try other networks when The Hub folded however, sometimes when things fail a stigma can often get attached to those associated making it difficult to keep going. We knew that people liked the show and wanted to keep it going so after meeting up with a couple guys  who had experience with fan funding they gave us some great  insight that helped us change our minds and see fan funding in a different light. Everyone who donated is a big part of what we accomplished. It’s like they are all producers which I think is very cool.

Ian Lawton: How do you come up with the characters for the show?

CJ: A lot of the things you see on “The Super Show” I think are influenced by stuff we watched as kids growing up. Everything from “Godzilla” movies to really weird Japanese kids shows and some of the shows from Sid and Marty Krofft who put out “Land of the Lost” and “ H R Puff N Stuff”. A lot of the characters we write and come up with are in a way homage’s to those things. Characters like Cobraman! came from Japanese common writer shows, Space Monster M was this weird Gung Ham hybrid robot that we loved. We wanted to create characters that our kids could be introduced to in a fun way while at the same times we as parents could watch and reminisce about the shows we used to watch. We had the same idea when we were putting together episodes for “Yo Gabba Gabba”.

IL: Can you tell us about the cat that shows up throughout the Aquabats! series?

CJ: That is actually a fox and he is hidden in every episode that we have done. Our special effects guys name on the show is Joel Fox. He does all of the weird lead in screen effects like floating pizzas and fingers turning into bananas. That stuff never ends up in the actual episode but it’s there and the beginning of each segment. Joel is sort of an enigma as he never tells us what he is going to do. Being he is our good friend we got him this fox costume and hid him in all the shows. He is somewhere in all the new upcoming episodes as well. It’s going to be harder to find him but he is there.

IL: Do you have a favorite character that you have come up with?

CJ: I really like all the Aquabats! character because they are just really funny. Each character is sort of an extension of the guy who plays it. The Bat Commander and I our definitely not the same guy but maybe some of our personality traits cross over. I can be a little like the commander but not totally as he is kind of a jerk sometimes. It’s all satire for each of us. I do like how we have evolved over time and how we can poke fun at each other through the production. Pilgrim Boy is a favorite as he is one of the original characters we came up with back in 1996. We had written out a bunch of the episodes at that time and the shape shifting pilgrim boy was a part of that. Cobraman! is another great one both on stage and on the show. The guy has snakes for hands which he shoots live snakes out of. (Laughs) Plus he has a very funny voice. Silver Skull is a good character as well. We sort of gave him this Bane type voice as that was a big joke at the time.

AL: Is there a time table for when we will see the new episodes and album?

CJ: We finished recording the album in July however due to everyone having family stuff going on and our producer being away it took awhile to get all the mixing done. We have it all completed know and would like to have it out around Halloween given a lot of the songs have a spooky vibe to them. We aren’t sure if that will give us enough time to promote it so aside from as soon as possible there is not a solid time table for that. We want to make sure we have good promotion in place and a couple videos as well. The new episodes of the show will start airing around September 20th on our YouTube channel.

AL: One of the things you do outside of the band is summer drawing classes for kids. Can you tell us about that program?

CJ: My brother Parker does these drawing classes and he always recruits me to come and help. It’s always a lot of fun. When we were kids we didn’t have distracters like phones and tablets so we had to find ways to entertain ourselves. Technology is wonderful but I think when you have a lack of resources you have more of an opportunity to use your brain and be creative. By having these classes my brother is able to teach kids how to doodle and how to use their imaginations. The classes are designed to be free flowing and not necessarily about how to draw something right but more to challenge your creativity. You won’t be drawing a bowl of fruit to look like a bowl of fruit. Instead you might draw whatever you want and have it fighting something inside comic panels or creating new characters no one has ever seen before. It’s a way for kids to bring their imagination from their heads directly to their hands. In this day and age it’s great to encourage kids that they too can create things “Fortnite” or “The Aquabats!”. Growing up we had punk rock to inspire us but we want to get kids going even younger and that’s a lot of what “Yo Gabba Gabba” was about. It’s extension of doing things yourself with the ideas being geared or aimed at young people. You don’t have to sit and wait for the next thing. You can be the next thing. With YouTube and all these things there is no reason anyone can’t if they really want to.

AL: Are there other projects outside of what you have already mentioned that we can be watching for?

CJ: We have been talking about and pitching new shows ever since the network we were on went out of business. There are just so many places to pitch new ideas that we have been going practically non-stop. We haven’t quite struck gold yet but given our track record with “Yo Gabba Gabba” and “The Aquabats! Super Show” we have a solid formula. The ideas are there we just have to get them out there while juggling families and all that. We do plan to tour again once the new record is out and we are on the hook for one more record after that as well so we have a lot that will be going on. If you had told me twenty five years ago that we would still be doing this in 2019 I would have laughed at you but it’s really great that we still are able to do this and we really enjoy it.

 

 

 

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Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson on HBO’s “CHERNOBYL”

Chernobyl filmmakers on the red carpet

In April 1986 the most catastrophic man-made incident the planet had ever seen occurred when reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded during what should have been a safety test. The effects of the accident still wreak havoc over the landscape and containing the fallout has become an industry unto itself. It’s a job which will require centuries of human support. Tonight on HBO, Craig Mazin’s five-part miniseries, CHERNOBYL, dives deep into the the accident as it happened and the human cost and bravery it required to ensure that this tragedy did not engulf still millions more.

This past week at the Tribeca Film Festival, Mazin and his talented cast debuted the first two episodes of the series on the accident’s 33rd anniversary. The premiere episode was nothing short of a nightmare as the series delves into, in brutal detail, the accident and the shocking mishandling of both the initial fire and the surrounding population in those crucial first hours and days of fallout. It was a tense first hour and a brilliant setup into the second which saw the introduction of the scientists and politicians who then had to set about handling what was to come. The second episode in particular sees a stellar performance from Stellan Skarsgard as he plays a man coming to grips with his own mortality and entreating fellow countrymen to show selflessness so that millions can be saved. I spoke with Skarsgard, who also offered brief comments on his upcoming work in DUNE, as well as co-star Emily Watson on the red carpet about their own knowledge of the accident as it happened and the timely message this series has to offer in regards to listening to scientists.

“I think it’s a parable for our times. I think you ignore the truth and scientists at your peril. ” – Emily Watson

Emily Watson plays Ulana Khomyuk, a character created for the show as an entry-point into the role of a collection of European scientists in the fallout of Chernobyl.

Lauren Damon: Your character isn’t one specific person, but represents a collection of people involved with the accident, did you speak to people who experienced this?

Emily Watson: No. It’s sort of in tribute to many of the scientists who worked on the discovery of what happened. So I kind of had a bit of a blank sheet really to make up what I wanted to do. But Craig had written the character as coming from Belarus, which is a place that suffered terribly in the second world war. And she would have been a young child at that time, so that gave me a sense of just finding someone who was very very tough. It made her the perfect person really to go after the truth and find out what happened.

Do you remember when you were first aware of the Chernobyl accident in your life?

Watson: Yeah, I was a student at university and I remember there were students at my college who were on a year out, away in Kiev, and they all had to come home pretty quickly, it was very scary.

Did you have any misconceptions about the event going into this project that the script changed for you?

Watson: Oh my god, when I started reading the script, I had no idea that sort of within a few days–sort of 48 hours after the first explosion–there could have been one that was ten times worse. That would have taken out half of Europe.

In theory you could have been in range of those effects?

Watson: Definitely in range of radiation fallout…But yeah, it could have been much much worse. It was due to the heroism of the people on the ground who contained it and prevented it from being much worse.

What’s the biggest take away you’d like viewers to get from this series?

Watson: I think it’s a parable for our times. I think you ignore the truth and scientists at your peril.

Stellan Skarsgard plays Boris Shcherbina, the Deputy Head of the Soviet Government at the time.

What did you find surprising from hearing about Chernobyl originally in 1986 and then from working on this project?

Stellan Skarsgard: What I knew from ’86 was what you got from news media, which gave you a sort of superficial idea of what actually happened. What we learned through working with this material is I know now what technically went wrong, how the reactor works and what the mistakes they made were.

You also learn about it [was] more grave, the sort of the political system–the impact that had on the accident. When you have a system that is supposed to be perfect, you cannot allow any dissent in terms of somebody criticizing anything you do or any flaws cannot be accepted. And that then means that the truth was suppressed. It was all over the Soviet Union at the time. I mean truth is suppressed also for other reasons in the west now. I mean when you talk about Fukushima that was money that suppressed truth and created disaster there. In Boeing, you sent planes that are not fit for flying because you want to make money. So another way of suppressing truth and science. I think it’s important, an important film because it–not only because it talks about what we’re doing to this planet, the environment, which is really scary, but it also talks about how important it is that we listen to people who know what they’re talking about.

Facts are facts. They are not just individual ideas. Some facts you have to deal with and you have to accept and we have to listen to scientists. I mean 98% of the scientists in the world say that we are heading for a catastrophe in terms of global warming. We cannot ignore that. Do not ignore that.

Tell us about your character

Skarsgard: My character I’m playing Boris Shcherbina who was a minister in the government and who got the responsibility for cleaning up the mess. And he’s a man who spent his entire life working within the system and defending the system and he ends up realizing that this accident is a result of the system. And he has to question the system and he also has to decide whether he should keep on defending the system that is flawed. Or if he should start defending the truth.

Skarsgard’s next film role is in the highly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, DUNE, where he’ll play the villainous Baron Harkonnen

Lauren Damon: Have you begun work on DUNE as Baron Harkonnen?

Skarsgard:I haven’t started shooting yet, we’re still doing prosthetics work

That’s what I was wondering! Because the Baron is such a grotesque character but when you were cast I remember looking at a shot of you as Bootstrap Bill [Skarsgard’s heavily barnacled Pirates of the Caribbean role] and thinking ‘This man can handle anything they put on him!’

Skarsgard: [Laughs] That’s very nice of you! Thank you. I will probably spend probably six to eight hours a day in makeup and it will look fantastic.

“I will probably spend probably six to eight hours a day in makeup and it will look fantastic.” -Stellan Skarsgard on his upcoming DUNE role

What are you most excited about in doing that project?

Skarsgard: It’s a great story. It’s a fantastic world and Denis Villeneuve is a director that I’ve always wanted to work with. So I’m really happy, he’s a wonderful man and a great director. So I think–except for the eight hours in makeup–I think I’ll have a fun time.

Chernobyl airs tonight at 9pm on HBO

“CGI just doesn’t cut it for me, man!” Blindspot’s Heidi Schnappauf Speaks About Stunt Work

Heidi Schnappauf at Sword Class NYC

When Blindspot enters its fourth season this Friday on NBC, it will of course be bringing the action that has garnered the series multiple Emmy nominations for Outstanding Stunt Coordination. While last year burst onto the scene with, amongst other things, Jane Doe and Co in a tank, this year’s premiere has taken Jane (Jaimie Alexander) to Tokyo where she engages in some impressive swordplay with a new adversary. Behind Jane’s hardest hits is Alexander’s stunt double, Heidi Schnappauf, who has been with the show from the first season. Speaking with me at New York Comic Con*, Jaimie Alexander said of Heidi: “Just the hits she takes, the body slams…I don’t know how she’s OK. Half the time I’m terrified for her because she does a lot of the heavy lifting in the fights…And she’s just incredible, she’s an incredible lady.”

Besides Blindspot Schnappauf has an impressive credits list that includes Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Broad City and Orange is the New Black. I was lucky enough to speak with Heidi about her action-packed job this past weekend when Warner Brothers sent us along with her and Jaimie to, fittingly, a beginner Kendo sword lesson!

Lauren Damon: How long have you been with the show?

Heidi Schnappauf: I’ve been with the show all the four seasons, however, I came in toward the end of the first season. I think episode twenty. So right at the end kind of filling in for her old double [Ky Furneaux].

LD: What are your favorite types of stunts?

HS: I love to fight. My main background was fighting. This, sword fighting, was not something I grew up with, but definitely something I picked up on the way and trained a little bit. But fighting, which includes all the falling that we do—getting thrown around—I started at such a young age that I got thrown around a lot when I was in karate as a kid, moving into college years. But I really do love all the hard hits and driving. I’ve been doing stunts driving now for about eight years. So yeah, anything where I’m maybe flying through some glass or getting thrown out of a car, I totally dig it! Any of that.

LD: Have you ever had any major injuries?

HS: I’ve had a few. Biggest injury was not on Blindspot, actually it was right before I got on Blindspot. I was recovering from my biggest injury which was I was doing a high fall and there was faulty landing equipment, it was nobody’s fault, just a one in a billion chance I ended up injuring my neck pretty badly. I was out for about ten months from work, which was a really big bummer actually. And the doctor—I was in the ER from that injury and with you know, on morphine and valium and a neck brace and tears coming out of my eyes—the doctor’s like ‘Oh I guess this is gonna put a damper on your career’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I really know what I’m going to do next time so I don’t hurt myself’ and he’s like ‘Next time?! Are you nuts?!’…I’m like ‘Well, yeah, I’m just bummed that it’s gonna be a while!’ So that was my most devastating injury. Everyone wanted to cut me open, everyone wanted to do surgery, they wanted to replace my disc, or fuse my spine and all this stuff…I kind of basically talked to doctors until I got the answer I wanted and then I found more doctors to support that.

LD: As a viewer, what are some of your favorite films or tv shows for stunts?

HS: Um…Blindspot? [laughs]…Oh, I really like Supergirl, is that WB? I do like Supergirl. I’m not gonna lie, I don’t watch a lot of TV because I work and I sleep and I try to watch Blindspot. But I do, actually, this new season of Iron Fist is probably my favorite bit of action on tv or Netflix…Blacklist, I love Blacklist. They just have such a variety of stunts on that show. And Game of Thrones. Come on, man, you can’t deny that setting like seventy five stunt people on fire is NOT cool. From a DRAGON. It’s insane.

LD: There’s a faction out there that is pushing for a Best Stunts category at the Academy Awards, how do you feel about that?

HS: I think that’s a good idea since like every other category is out there. I mean, I don’t know how you’d delegate that but I think that’s a good start to just recognizing it. I don’t do stunts, obviously, to be recognized. I love it because I get to kind of be the magician of the action world of film and tv. You don’t really want to give your tricks away, you want to make it an illusion…most, some people I know anyway, don’t do it for the glory. It’s not really about that. It’s about making good work. I would love to see it so it’s recognized as an art and as you know, that magical things that happens isn’t actually magic. It’s people that are putting their bodies and their lives on the line to bring everyone a cool product. CGI just doesn’t cut it for me, man!

Blindspot season 4 premieres Friday October 12th at 8pm on NBC.

*Check out our full chats with Blindspot stars Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton!

NBC’s “Blindspot” Goes Global at NYCC

NBC’s hit show Blindspot returned this week for its third season. The second season finale certainly raised the stakes for this year by launching the story a full two years ahead, scattering the show’s main characters across the globe, and increasing the mysteries of the missing timeline. Not to mention a whole new set of glowing tattoos for main character Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) to unlock. In case you missed it, the premiere certainly rose to the challenge set down by that cliffhanger. Friday night’s “Back to the Grind” featured no less than a wedding, a knife fight and a boat chase through Venice while reintroducing Jane’s nemesis brother, Roman (Luke Mitchell).

I spoke to the show’s cast and creator recently at New York Comic Con about what to expect for this new season. If you head on over to the Media Mikes Facebook page you can check out the full video interviews (don’t forget to give us a “Like” while you’re there!)

For Jaimie Alexander, Jane Doe’s new set of tattoos were a complete surprise. “I get to the end of the script,” said Alexander, who hadn’t read ahead, “and I was like ‘What!? More? I have more?!'” As seen on “Back to the Grind” one new tattoo already had Tasha Zapata (Audrey Esparza) on edge, which is right in line with Roman’s schemes. “These tattoos are not only about Roman’s end goal…” said creator and executive producer, Martin Gero “but also exposing truths within the team.” Luke Mitchell was excited to take on the role of The Big Bad saying “it’s nerve-wracking and feels like a lot of responsibility.”

It’s not all about the big bad though, as Gero and crew emphasized the James Bond-like nature this new year is bringing. “The world is kind of a scary place right now and we could all use a little escape,” Gero said, “And the show–the show can be scary and serious at times, but it was really important for us this year to have a lot more fun. To bend towards more of a kind of Bond model. The show is very international this year. We shot a big part of the premiere in Italy and we’re shooting in Australia, in Barcelona, all over Africa. So like the show’s going to have a scope the likes of which you’ve never seen, I think, on a network television show before. But then on top of that it’s also just more fun. the show is a lot of fun this year. And we hope it’ll be kind of addictive and great.”

Adding to the fun is the return of fan favorite character Rich Dotcom (Ennis Esmer), who is now working on the good side, though annoying the team all the while. Esmer, who’d appeared twice last season says his return was “a complete surprise.” He joked “It still feels like someone made a mistake at some point.”

Blindspot airs Friday nights at 8pm on NBC

Full interviews are viewable on our Facebook page:
Jaimie Alexander & Luke Mitchell
Audrey Esparza & Ashley Johnson
Sullivan Stapleton & Rob Brown
Ennis Esmer & Martin Gero

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide

Chris Gethard is a multi-talented comedian and actor (Don’t Think Twice, “Broad City”) who’s worked extensively in NYC’s improv scene at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater as well as having his own successful public access show, aptly titled “The Chris Gethard Show”. This weekend Gethard premiered a much more personal type of special on HBO with Chris Gethard: Career Suicide. In this touching, and darkly hilarious special, Chris uses comedy to detail his lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety including his brushes with suicide. The show held a special screening and talk-back at New York’s Tribeca Film Fest, featuring Chris, fellow comedian Pete Holmes (HBO’s “Crashing”), and moderator Ira Glass (NPR’s “This American Life”). I spoke with them on the red carpet about the development of the show and using comedy to cope with more difficult issues.

Besides hosting NPR’s “This American Life” podcast (which Gethard has appeared on), Ira Glass produced Don’t Think Twice.

Lauren Damon: Working with Chris on Don’t Think Twice, did you see the development of his show at all?

Ira Glass

Ira Glass: I mean, it’s funny, Don’t Think Twice…Chris is such an amazing actor. He’s so for-real in Don’t Think Twice, and that character does have a lot of overlap with who he is in real life. And who he is in this special. My main thing with the special is I’ve seen him develop it. I saw like a super early version in the basement in Union Hall, and then saw when it was up on stage. So I’m really curious how it translates to video.

LD: With the heavier themes, I feel like we have a need for that in comedy because things seem sort of dire in general…

Glass: It’s true…But I feel like the whole trend in comedy has been comedians getting super real about stuff that’s going on, you know. And I feel like when you look at the people…who are doing the most work right now, it’s like Louis CK and Tig Notaro and Mike Birbiglia, Aziz [Ansari]…You know that’s people talking about stuff that’s pretty real. Which I like because I like a real story. I think when somebody can tell a story that’s super funny but also is really a real thing, and emotional, it’s just like what could be more entertaining? That’s everything a person could want.

LD: That’s basically the best episodes of “This American Life”…

Glass: On a good day, yeah. On a good day. The formula on “This American Life” is we want it to be really funny, with a lot of plot at the beginning, then it will get kind of sad and sort of wistful at the end, then like throw a little music under it, you’re done!

In Don’t Think Twice, Gethard played Bill, a comedian coping with a hospitalized father on top of dealing with general anxieties of where he fits into his shifting improv group.

LD: In Don’t Think Twice, your character did a lot of the heavy emotional lifting, was your show already developing kind of around that time?

Chris Gethard: It’s funny because [Don’t Think Twice director] Mike Birbiglia was the one who kind of threw down the gauntlet and said ‘You should do a show about this side of yourself.’ I would talk about it to a degree in my work, but he was the one who was like ‘You got something here, go for it.’ So the experience of Don’t Think Twice and this show kind of went hand in hand. I was opening for Mike on the road, he developed the film on the road [and] during that process is when he really said ‘You should really go for it, I promise you, give it a shot.’ Really the first time I attempted the show was in an effort to sort of prove Birbiglia wrong and say like I don’t know if people are going to laugh at this. But I have learned never to doubt Mike. And those things really did dovetail nicely and springboard off of each other.

Chris Gethard

LD: How did Mike respond to it?

Gethard: Oh he’s been so supportive and I think he was–he also, as far as these off Broadway shows that are kind of comedy but that go serious, I think he really has helped pioneer that in the past few years. So I think he was very proud and flattered. I always give him a lot of credit as far as walking in his footsteps. So I think he was very psyched that I went for it. i think he also had a little bit of glee that his instincts were correct and mine were not. So thank god for that.

Pete Holmes had his own hilarious HBO comedy special (Faces and Sounds) as well as starring in their series, “Crashing”

LD: How do you know Chris?

Pete Holmes: It’s funny, I thought more people would ask, but here we are at the end of the line and you’re only the second person to ask, so it’s still fresh! It’s still a fresh answer. I was a fan of Chris, I would see him at UCB –actually not far from here, right around the corner. And then I took improv classes at UCB and Chris was actually my level 3 teacher because I had heard that he was so wonderful. And he was. I actually think Chris likes to downplay what a wonderful improv teacher he is because obviously he loves to perform more. But it’s almost a shame that we can’t clone him, because he’s such a great improv teacher.

LD: Your stand-up is a lot more silly and irreverent in contrast to the work Chris is doing in this special and I love that there’s space for both

Holmes: That’s nice, there is space for both! And I really love this show. It’s not the sort of stand-up I do but I also on my podcast [“You Made it Weird”] love to get very deep and weird and uncomfortable so I love seeing it in the live version with the laughs.

Pete Holmes

LD: On “You Made it Weird”, have you had any especially surprising guests?

Holmes: That happens all the time actually. For example The Lucas Brothers, the twin guys from 21 Jump Street movie…I [didn’t] know them that well either and they’re kind of low energy [in the film] and then they came on and were like the most high-energy, introspective, eloquent amazing guests. And you know, I didn’t really know them that well. So one of the things that I love about the podcast is that happens over and over. Your expectations just get completely blown out of the water.

The better answer would be Aaron Rogers, the quarterback for the Greenbay Packers…I didn’t know him either, but here comes a quarterback. And J.J. Redick who’s a basketball player just did it. And whenever these athletes come on and just kill it just as hard as the comedians, it makes me happy.

LD: With Chris being your teacher and then you had an HBO special and series first, is that kind of funny to you?

Pete Holmes: [laughs] I beat my teacher! It’s so funny, Chris and I had another thing where I did a talk show for Conan–he talked to me about this on his episode of my podcast. [Chris] was like when they gave you the talk show after Conan–which lasted about a year–he was like they were talking to me about [doing it] Like we’ve been competing in ways we didn’t even know! So I’m happy that now we’ve both landed at HBO, it’s not one or the other, but we can both be here. [laughs]

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide is now available on HBO, HBO Now & HBOGo

 

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TFF 2017: Executive Producers of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

“The Handmaid’s Tale”, Hulu’s stunning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel held its premiere screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival as part of their Tribeca TV series. The series follows Elisabeth Moss’s “Offred,” one of many handmaids forced to serve a man in a dystopic American society where a wave of infertility has caused women to be stripped of their rights and utilized strictly for reproduction. The series debuted its first three episodes on Hulu on April 26th, with new episodes available every Wednesday. I spoke with the executive producer and showrunner of this brutal and hopefully not too prescient series.

What kind of freedom did you find adapting this novel into a streaming series rather than a regular tv show or film?

Executive Producer, Warren Littlefield: Well look, it’s not network television. Margaret Atwood’s vision, that she created in her book 32 years ago, was a dark dystopian world. And Bruce Miller adapted that and it’s a powerful, dark and very disturbing world and our partners at Hulu did not limit us in what we were able to do. In language, in action and physicality, in sexuality, in brutality. We were able to deliver the message that we wanted to deliver. I think it’s a thriller, I think it’s entertaining but it’s pretty damn powerful, so fasten your seatbelt.

Showrunner and writer, Bruce Miller: I haven’t worked in film very much at all. Almost all my work has been in tv which is much more fun because you could have stories that go on forever. But working in a streaming service, you get the great benefit of not having to have a show that’s forty-two minutes and twenty-two seconds long, but it can be longer or shorter. Which, more than you know, throws the audience off. They don’t know what’s gonna happen when you don’t know how much is left! It could end five minutes from now or fifteen minutes from now and that makes all the difference.

Were you very familiar with the novel before you worked on it?

Miller: There’s a novel?! [Laughs] Yeah I read the book when I was in college, in a ‘New Fiction’ class–which shows you how long ago I was in college. I loved it and I read it a whole bunch of times, completely on my own just as–I was interested in it. So I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of turning it into a television show. And then when I started to get more into writing tv and my career took off, I probably looked at it more in that way. But when I heard they were making a tv show, I was excited because I would get to watch it! Not because I was going to be making it. And then over the years, the show didn’t come out and there were reasons and this and that and you know, I ended up, despite my gender, getting the job. And it was wonderful after having been so familiar with the book but also having been familiar with it in a lot of different time periods. Because it kind of was perennially relevant. Every time I read it seemed like ‘wow this is just the time!’ to read it.

Especially this election year, where it seemed like assailing women’s rights was just a common trend…

Miller: It’s a hobby!

At which point when you were filming, did you realize what a hot topic you were handling?

Miller: I wrote the first few episodes before the election season started and then we were writing all the way through the debates and the election. And then we were shooting you know, in the middle…when Trump was elected president, we were shooting then. It was interesting, we were in Canada, so we had a little bit of a different perspective…But that was all very interesting. I don’t know–I’m sure subconsciously or unconsciously it changes the way you shoot things. But we were just trying to be gutsy. You know when you’re working from a book that showed so much bravery to write in the first place, you don’t want to be the wimp that turns it into a safe tv show. You want to be as bold as Margaret Atwood was. And so it just reinforced that idea that we should continue to be bold because its an important story we’re telling. But really, in a lot of ways like I said, I’m a writer, I’m in the question business, not the answer business. I’m just trying to put interesting questions out there, that doesn’t really change. I mean I certainly saw the relevance and certainly we went from saying ‘oh my gosh’ to ‘we better not screw this up!’ But I don’t know that anybody changed their story tact. I think we just became a lot more comfortable with what we had decided to do.

Littlefield: I think like the character of Offred, who is a fighter, that was our intention. We always felt a lot of pressure to live up to Margaret’s vision because it’s such a strong vision. And I think when we woke up in November in the middle of production, we were like ‘we better not screw this up!’ like…oh my god. But I think we were kind of fueled by [saying] ‘Alright, this is what we need to do.’ And I think the audience will be as well.

Streaming shows often come with binge-viewing, how do you feel about that approach?

Littlefield: Well, I kind of love what we’re doing. Hulu is presenting on the 26th of April, the first three hours, so you engage in a big way. And then each week, they’ll roll out an additional one. And so, I think that that also is really good because you want time. You may want to watch it again and it’s best I think in smaller doses, because it’s complex. I mean the world of television allows you to do complex characters and a complex narrative and we embrace it.

Can you discuss casting Elisabeth Moss in the main role?

Miller: Elisabeth Moss is astonishing in this. I’ve been a fan of hers forever. She has just such a range of skills and I can’t imagine anybody else in this role. She was who I wanted to be in this role from the beginning. She has main circuit cable connecting her heart to her face that doesn’t have an off switch. So whatever she feels bubbles up. But it’s a really interesting role to play because she’s got all this stuff showing on her face that she doesn’t want anybody else in the room to see, but she wants you to see. The best thing about Liz is she likes to be challenged so I got to write stuff that I never would have written for anybody else because everything I wrote that was harder and harder and harder, she loved it! So we got to really push the boundaries of the skills of an actor.

Series star Elisabeth Moss was understandably pressed for time on the carpet, but offered this comment on acting out the defiance displayed by her character Offred:

Elisabeth Moss

“It was important to me, I mean that’s her whole story you know? That she’s so beaten down and torn apart, and has everything taken from her and just will not give up. And she’s so stubborn. And I think it goes up and down throughout the season, to me that defiance that I think we would all find in ourselves if we had to.”

The Handmaid’s Tale continues to add new episodes to Hulu every Wednesday and was already renewed for a second season in 2018.

 

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“Genius” Red Carpet at Tribeca Film Festival

Tonight marks the premiere of the National Geographic Channel’s first ever scripted series, Genius. From director Ron Howard, Genius follows the life of Albert Einstein as portrayed in his youth by English actor Johnny Flynn and later in life by Geoffrey Rush. The first episode screened this week at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of their Tribeca TV series. The pilot seamlessly time jumped between Flynn energetically fighting to become a physicist in his own right without the rigidity of his early school and the elder Einstein beginning to encounter the rise of Nazis later in life.

I got the chance to speak with some of the actors from the series at this red carpet New York screening about their characters and how working on the series changed how they see Albert Einstein.


English actress Samantha Colley portrays Mileva Maric, a physicist and Einstein’s first wife.

Lauren Damon: How much research did you put into playing Mileva?

Samantha Colley: Quite a lot. What I focused on was their personal letters–so the personal letters between Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein but also Mileva Maric and her best friend Helene Savic. When you google Mileva Maric you see these kind of black and white pictures of someone very [Colley stiffens her back] sitting erect on a chair. It’s kind of impenetrable and she seems very severe and harsh. But actually her letters reveal her to be very vulnerable, and loving and soft and riddled with self-doubt but deeply loyal. But it was the letters I focused on.

LD: How important do you think it is that you portray a female scientist, considering the general need for more women in STEM fields?

Colley: It’s enormously important! I mean Mileva Maric is an example of one of many many many women who have been snubbed by the scientific world and their works not being properly credited. There’s a school of thought that Mileva Maric was instrumental in some of Albert Einstein’s fundamental works and never cited. So using her as an example and shedding light on her is enormously important. And I hope it does inspire girls today to go ‘yeah that’s not going to happen to me, I’m not going to let that happen.’

LD: You share your scenes primarily with Johnny Flynn, how was he to work with?

Colley: Amazing. He was one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with and we had a real sense of play and trust early on and it was wonderful.

Richard Topol plays fellow scientist Fritz Haber, a man instrumental in the weaponization of poisonous gas in World War I.

LD: So you play Fritz Haber–dubbed the “Father of Chemical warfare”, a pretty daunting title, how much research did you do?

Richard Topol: I did as much as I could about what we know about him and I mean I had a lot of conversations with the writers and the directors and the producers about why would somebody do that? Right? …Like if you imagined living in a country that was at war with the countries all around it and you’re running out of ammunition. And if you ran out of ammunition, your country would be taken over, what would you do?

So to me, it was like he came up with an idea and his pitch was the same pitch that Einstein, you know that the Manhattan project and everybody who invented the atomic bomb came up with which is like ‘Look, we invent this thing, we show people how scary it is, use it once, it’ll never have to be used again.’ So that’s the way I thought about it that made it less daunting to me.

LD: Did you have any misconceptions about Einstein that working on this dispelled?

Topol: I didn’t really have any strong conceptions about him so they weren’t really dispelled. But I was like oh, I was excited to know that this guy was like a kid who never wanted to grow up. So I learned some fun things about him…Also I learned he had a really complicated personal life that I had no idea. And I think that’s one of the interesting things about the show: We know about his genius, we don’t know a lot about the personal and political problems that he had to face.


Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser appears in the premiere as an officious member of the US State Department 

LD: How much more did you learn about Einstein in working on this series?

Vincent Kartheiser: I mean I think you’ll hear from a lot of these people, he was a lot more of a scoundrel than anyone ever really–at least that I know–knew. And he was just kind of…he had this ability to lock out all things around him and just focus on the work. So you know, his kid could be slapping him on the leg and his wife could be hollering at him, and the dinner could be burning and he would just focus on the equation. And I think that’s really interesting in today’s world where there’s millions of distractions for all of us and we’re all constantly trying to figure out how to deal with it. He never had to battle with that. He was just always able to focus.

LD: How was working opposite Geoffrey Rush?

Kartheiser: It was wonderful. He’s such a giving actor, and he’s phenomenal. I mean, you’d be having a conversation and he’d be like [calmly] talking about the role, talking about the scene and then they’d go ACTION! And he’d just snap right into it. Just always exploring, always finding new things during the scene, and lots of fun.

LD: Were you also playing a scientist?

Kartheiser: No no, I was playing a person who works for the state department trying to clear his Visa so he could get into the United States…His visa wasn’t something that was just rushed through. I mean relative to today. These special visas…that have been in the news, you know that is these kind of people. Albert Einstein was someone who came in on a visa because of his talent, and his ability to teach, and his ability to give back to our community here in the states. So it’s a good example of how these kind of programs and the visa system works.

Genius begins tonight at 9 on the National Geographic Channel

A Conversation with “Life Interrupted” creator Steven Wishnoff

If you are a fan of 70s television, and the stars that made it so memorable, get ready for a new program, available on YouTube, called “Life Interrupted.” Created by Nick at Nite/TV Land veteran Steven Wishnoff, the show tells the story of former child actor Mason Bell, (Mason Reese) whose career peaked at the age of 10. Mason is turning 50 and nothing has turned out quite the way he expected. He lives in New York’s East Village in a rundown studio apartment over the equally run down bar he co-owns with his ex-wife, Ally (Alison Arngrim). Ally left Mason years ago to marry gallery owner Nina Woodworth (Erin Murphy). Adding to the fun is Mason’s former mother-in-law, and landlady, Annie Hughes (Dawn Wells), Nina’s mother Marnie (Michael Learned), Mason’s best friend Oliver the globe trotting rocker (Robbie Rist), a wise-cracking bar maid (Lindsay Heston), a studly dishwasher (Luis Lopez), Mason and Ally’s son, Junior (Robbie Allen) and a bar full of colorful friends. The show debuts February 14th, on YouTube.

Mike Smith: Give our readers a brief introduction to “Life Interrupted.”

Steven Wishnoff: Hmmm. ‘Life Interrupted” was created as a half hour comedy pilot that was shot in late 2015. We began with a Kickstarter campaign and shot it on a small budget. As frequently happens when you’re working with a limited budget, and (when you have) lots of friends doing lots of favors, it took us about a year to finish the show – and actually show it to the cast/crew privately. Soon after that, the decision was made to re-cut the show into a web series. The way the show was written and shot, that was a fairly easy (though time consuming) adjustment to make. And so, about two and a half years after I began writing it, the show that launches on Valentines Day 2017 came to be.

MS: What inspired you to create the show?

SW: I grew up an actor (in NY) doing musical theatre and, like most actors, I had a number of “survival jobs.’ So, while I was working on HBO’s first scripted drama’, “OZ,” I was also working for Nick at Nite and TV Land, writing and producing content in the early days of TV Networks embracing the internet. You see, as much as I loved musical theatre, I also loved television and was a bit of a walking encyclopedia of TV trivia. That kind of memory was really useful at Nick at Nite/TVLand. You have to remember, this was before Google. (laughs) Yes, I’m that old. Anyway, I was one of the online producers for the TV Land Awards. At that show we had former child-commercial actors Rodney Allen Rippey (Jack in the Box) and Mason Reese (Underwood Deviled Ham) making appearances. So I created a bit where we interviewed them together where they supposedly had an East-Coast/West Coast rivalry a la Biggie and Tupac. We had a lot of fun with it and as a result Mason and I became friends and stayed in touch over the years. It’s worth noting here that the TV Land Awards also featured Erin Murphy who played Tabitha Stephens on “Bewitched.” She and I had actually met a few years earlier in the 90’s along with her TV brother, David Mandel, who played Adam along with his twin Greg. Fast forward more than a decade … Mason and I were talking on the phone and he told me that he really wanted to “get back in front of the cameras”. He asked me, “what kind of show would I even do?” and my reply was, “I don’t know I haven’t written it yet.” At that point, a friend and I had recently finished a pilot called “The Legend & Me” which was intended for Marilu Henner and Charlene Tilton. So I got to work on a show with Mason in mind.

The goals for the show were:
-It needed to be something within Mason’s comfort zone. After all, it had been many years since he’d done anything scripted. In real life, Mason had either owned or invested in several bars over the years – and in fact he still was a partner in an East Village, NY bar when I started writing. So I made an East Village Bar a primary location. But then where to go? Well, Mason had been famous as a child actor. So his character was going to have been a formerly famous actor too. And then… Well
-It needed to be a story/plot that would ring true in the real world. Something contemporary, but still familiar enough to be comfortable for an audience. I didn’t want it be a series of one liners or just set-up/joke, set-up/joke. I wanted the humor and interest to come from who the characters are in the world they live in. And so I came up with something relatable – “What if you woke up at 50 and your life wasn’t anything like what you thought it would it be? How would you feel about it?”

And so I wrote the story of a man who had been a famous child actor, but whose life now leaves a little to be desired.

MS: I pretty much grew up with your cast. Just reading that Mason Reese, Robbie Rist, Erin Murphy, Dawn Wells and so many other people that I remember from my youth are involved in this project makes it pretty much, to paraphrase a common expression, “must watch TV” for me. How easy was it for you to get these actors to participate?

SW: Putting this cast together was actually easy… all I had to do was ask. You see, most of us know each other and are friends. Mason and I are friends. Alison Arngrim (who plays Mason’s ex-wife) and I are friends, Erin Murphy, who plays Alison’s wife, and I have known each other since the 90’s, and she, Alison, and others grew up in LA and have been acting their whole lives – and know each other/are friends. Mason and Robbie Rist are good friends and both are very into music (Robbie Rist and I wrote our theme song). I’d known Dawn Wells for a long time and actually produced her interview for The Archive of American Television. Her role (while loosely based and named for a real-life friend of mine) was written for Dawn – from the very beginning – and it is SO NOT Mary Ann! Michael Learned came to us through her publicist, B. Harlan Boll (who also represents Dawn, Alison and Erin – and is a dear friend of mine). I wrote Michael a letter asking her to read the script – and she called me within 48 hours to tell me she was in. Robbie Allen, who plays Mason and Alison’s son and I were in a short film together (as actors). He is a brilliant talent to watch – and if you look, he bears a striking resemblance to Alison. So for Mason (who is vertically challenged) to have a son who is 6’4″ is very funny. Brandon Cruz and Mason have been friends for years, and Brandon and I had worked together on TV Land Awards one year. The actors who play Julio (Luis Lopez) and Merri (Lindsay Heston) were people I knew and brought in. In fact if you look closely at the party scene, one of Alison and Erin’s friends in the bar is none other than Jeannie Russell (who was played Margaret in the original Dennis the Menace). And behind the scenes were even more friends.

MS: You’re a year older than I am so I’m pretty sure we watched a lot of the same television growing up. Do you have a particular favorite show from your youth?

SW: I had many favorite shows growing up. “Bewitched,” “The Donna Reed Show” (the inspiration for the opening sequence of “Life Interrupted”), “The Patty Duke Show,” “I Love Lucy,” and then later the entire block of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show (in fact, all muscial variety shows). I am fortunate to have grown up watching all of Garry Marshalls shows, and then the Norman Lear Shows (I LOVED “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and then “Fernwood 2Nite”). I love good TV.

MS: How long is “Life Interrupted” scheduled to run?

SW: We are rolling out with seven “webisodes” that make up the full pilot of the show.

Q: Are you working on anything else?

SW: I’m always working on several things at once. While I’m still acting, and singing (as often as I’m able) – I have another pilot finished, a one hour series that I’m in rewrites with and am almost done with a feature (a romantic comedy) that I’m particularly proud of. I’ve created a series of “Funny or Die” sketch style shorts for Jeremy Miller (another friend). And there is a stage play that I was originally writing for Patty Duke. Her passing hit pretty hard. I will come back to it at some point, just not right away.

For more information:

Grace Kaufman talks about her role on the CBS series “Man with a Plan”

Teen actress Grace Kaufman has appeared in a variety of television shows including “The Closer” “2 Broke Girls” and the “The Last Ship”. Graces newest role has her playing opposite Matt LeBlanc in the CBS hit comedy “Man with a Plan”. Media Mikes has the chance to speak with Grace recently about her role on the show and also about her new film “Brave New Jersey”.

Adam Lawton: Tell us about your role on “Man with a Plan” and how the role came about?

Grace Kaufman: I play Kate Burns on the show. She is a very fun role to play because not only does she have a little bit of sass along with some rebellious qualities but she also really loves her family. That’s where I feel I connect with the role. Kate can be disobedient but loving at the same time. I had heard about the role by going through the normal auditioning process. I got the script and immediately fell in the love with my character Kate. I knew she was definitely a role I wanted to play. After my first audition I received a call back and that’s when I met Matt LeBlanc for the first time. That was very exciting for me as I have always loved his work. I found out shortly after reading with him that I had gotten the role and I was just over the moon about it.

AL: Was the role fairly laid out when it was presented to you or were you allowed to develop certain traits
of the character on your own?

GK: There were definitely some parts of the character that were already set ahead of time but, I also brought in my own set of traits and personality to the character. I think that’s what makes things more natural. I was very grateful for the opportunity to do that I was able to explore the character of Kate and really get to know her as well.

AL: What has it been like working alongside Matt LeBlanc?

GK: When I first met Matt at the initial call back it was like meeting one of your idols. I loved him on “Friends” and I have enjoyed his other work as well. Matt is very talented and a brilliant actor. To be in the same room and read with him was such a cool experience. Just being there was very exciting. We did our read through and there was some notes they gave me for the next read and everything just went from there.

AL: The show recently got picked up for a full run. What do you feel makes “Man with a Plan” stand out from other family based comedies?

GK: I feel like the show is not only one that’s fun for the whole family to watch but one that every member can relate to. I feel like a lot of the situations that happen on the show are things that happen to real families. That’s what I think makes the show so special and enjoyable for families to sit down and watch together.

AL: Was this your first experience filming in-front of a live studio audience?

GK: I have done some guest starring roles on shows which film in front of live audiences so I had some experience with that going in to this show. This was my first show that I was a series regular on where there would be a live audience. Even though I had done guests spots before in similar settings it was still very exciting and a bit nerve racking. The more we work in-front of the audience the more I have been able to see that they are not there to judge us. They are there to support us and laugh with us. Knowing that has made me start to feel very comfortable in-front of them now.

AL: You also recently had a film premier at the Austin Film Festival. Can you tell us about that?

GK: The film is called “Brave New Jersey”. I filmed that about a year ago in Tennessee. It was a lot of fun as I had never been to that state before nor had I ever done a period piece. The film takes place in the late 1930’s on the night of Orson Wells “War of the Worlds” broadcast. It’s set in a small town in Lullaby, NJ which overhears the broadcast and assumes real aliens are in-fact invading. The premise is based around if you know you only have one night to live what would you do? Having never done something like this before it was a lot of fun and I got to work with some really great people that I learned a lot from.

AL: What are your plans for the coming year?

GK: We start filming “Man with a Plan” again in January so I have that to look forward to. I also have a role on the show “The Last Ship” which is on TNT that just got picked up for a fifth season. I start working on that in April. I have been working on that show for about four years now so I am very excited that we are coming back for another season. The cast and crew have become like a family to me there. It’s quite different than “Man with a Plan” but they are both special to me in different ways. Shooting this fifth season is going to be really great.

For more info on Grace and her projects you can check out her various social media accounts at @ImGraceKaufman

 

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