Emmys 2012: Drunk Fans, Axed Spinoffs and Awkward Auditions at the Comedy Actors Roundtable

 Joe Pugliese

Who got cornered by Spielberg at a party? Who starred in the failed "Golden Girls" followup? Who is harassed regularly by belligerent viewers? Six of TV's funniest men come clean.

Galecki: Is that Steven right now? (Laughter.)

Ferguson: That’s probably Steve.

Cheadle: Go ahead, you should take that.

Ferguson: It was sort of like we were being held hostage by him a little bit. We’re like, “OK, we got to go!” But it’s also, “This is the man who directed E.T.,” which was the movie that changed my life. Anytime anyone famous comes up to us, we’re just like, “You’re kidding us, right?”

Burrel: I did this zombie movie once, Dawn of the Dead, a while ago. And we were shooting Modern Family, and one of the security guards was like, “Hey, I really love Dawn of the Dead.” I was like, “Oh, thanks a lot.” And she said, “I really loved that one scene.” “Oh, what scene was that?” And she was like (makes sex motion), and I was like, “OK!” (Laughs.)
Johnny, you must have a lot of crazy fan interactions at Comic-Con.

Galecki: It’s insanity. I feel like Mick Jagger. I thought that going there was a really bad idea initially because we’re not a sci-fi show. I thought, “They’re going to run us out of town!” I explained this to Chuck Lorre on the train on the way to San Diego. I was like, “This is a horrible idea.” (Laughter.) We looked at the schedule, and Battlestar Galactica had a panel at the same time. I told Chuck: “Nobody’s going to show up for ours. We’re not a sci-fi show.” He’s like, “You’re right.” He gets on the phone and tries to get us into a smaller theater and can’t. So we’re in this 3,000-seat theater, and I think 1,700 people had been turned away. It was completely sold out! That was year two and one of the first times that we felt, this is really striking a chord, and we’ve gone back every year since.

THR: Ed, do you get Hangover or Office when people stop you?

Helms: It’s funny: I get a lot of both, but they’re very different. Usually, Hangover fans will be like “What’s up!” and they just start punching you and want to get me trashed. They want me to relive that whole movie with them.

Greenfield: That’s funny and terrifying.

Helms: But then Office fans are like: “Hello. How are you? I love your show.” It’s a very different vibe.

THR: How much pressure did you feel this past season essentially filling Steve Carell’s shoes?

Ferguson: “Don’t make me cry!”

Helms: That’s right. No, I was really excited because everybody was very supportive. But there also was a giant question
about what form it would take. There wasn’t a lot of discussion before it happened, and I only found out a month or so before we started shooting. Of course, we all missed Steve and his comic gift, but we were right back in the grind and having
fun at it again. I’ve had a hell of a good time this season, especially with James Spader there … I didn’t feel like it was
all on me.

Ferguson: Let’s be honest … Steve was weighing it down, though. (Laughter.)

Helms: I’m glad you said it.

Ferguson: We were all thinking it.

THR: Did he give you any advice?

Helms: Steve’s not an advice giver. He’s someone who you can learn a lot from because of the way he carries himself on set. He never complains, never, ever disrupts what’s happening, and we all took it for granted. When he left, all of a sudden I’m standing at the front of that conference room running a scene — I have to memorize three pages of dialogue! — whereas before I’d have only a few lines. Suddenly I realized, this takes 10 times more concentration, more preparation and more focus. I was like … I want to complain. (Laughter.) I have some problems here. That light’s too bright. This is uncomfortable!

THR: A lot of you have been on shows that didn’t last more than a season. For example, Don, the 1992 Golden Girls spinoff …

Cheadle: I can’t believe it didn’t last more than a season. That was a travesty … Golden Palace. (Laughter.)

Ferguson: Golden Palace?

Helms: Hold on. What is this show Golden Palace?

Cheadle: It paved the way for a lot of you guys. I slipped right into Bea Arthur’s spot, and that was it.

Greenfield: That’s incredible.

THR: Do you know when a show isn’t working?

Ferguson: I did two series before Modern Family that were canceled; one after about 19 episodes, the other after two. There’s nothing worse than coming in every day and really needing to see those ratings. When I was doing The Class, which aired on a Monday night, at our Tuesday table reads, there’d be printed out copies of the prelim numbers, and I’m like, “Why are you doing that to us?” The ratings were highlighted with an arrow and a sad face. (Laughter.) And now we’re going to try and create comedy for the week? And then, the show I did after that, actually Max’s wife [Fox senior vp casting Tess Sanchez] cast me in, Do Not Disturb, was one of those shows doomed from the beginning.

Greenfield: The Class was a good show.

Ferguson: It was great. But I’m kind of glad that it was canceled because I can’t imagine not being on Modern Family. But with Do Not Disturb, nothing’s worse than feeling like you need it to end, and it just keeps going. Take it out to pasture, please, God! But you feel bad for the crew because everyone just really needs that work. It’s a horrible feeling.

THR: How much pressure are you all feeling to maintain your shows’ levels of excellence?

Greenfield: I try not to think about it. I was on a show once where the creator would come to the set and expose everybody else to his stress. It was gross … not at all conducive to what we do. Between what the network puts in and the studio puts in, you realize your place as an actor very quickly, which is right down here. (Motions low.) There’s nothing that I can do about our ratings. It seems to be a really destructive process.

Cheadle: Well, we have them right here! (Laughter.)

Galecki: You never know where that bad news might be coming from. You can’t prepare for it, so you just keep on going. I know of a showrunner who learned that his own show was canceled because he was driving onto the studio lot, and he was at the guard gate, in the entrance, and in the exit, his living room set was on the back of a flatbed. (Laughter.)

Greenfield: Yeah. She’d just gotten hired and was like, “Please don’t do a Fox show!”

Helms: Did she cast you?

Greenfield: No. She was taken out of the process. The studio found out that I was the choice for the role, and then a call came to the network: “You’ve got to take Tess out of the room and out of the process,” because they know how brutal it can be.

Cheadle: Especially when you go in there and blow it. (Laughter.)

Greenfield: You never know who’s going to go, “I mean, he’s very Jewish.” (Laughter.) And then, all of a sudden, Tess is sweating: “He’s not as Jewish as you think.”

Ferguson: “We just need to feed our baby!”

Greenfield: Needless to say, it was not a stressless week in the Greenfield/Sanchez house. But it was one of those amazing experiences where it all worked out.

Burrel: Are you on the lot together?

Greenfield: Yeah. Sometimes we get to go to lunch. And our kid is in the day care there. So it’s like …

Ferguson: Oh, it’s a Fox family!

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