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.

Having an innmate sense of humor is a TV actor's best friend, especially if that actor is expected to work 14 hours a day, be cordial to unruly fans and kill it every single time the camera rolls. The Emmy front-runners who gathered inside the Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on April 16 to talk shop -- Ty Burrell (Modern Family), 44, Don Cheadle (House of Lies), 47, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), 36, Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory), 37, Max Greenfield (New Girl), 31, and Ed Helms (The Office), 38 -- share all of these qualities (and more, it turns out) as The Hollywood Reporter engaged the performers in a candid discussion about the “head game” of fame, why it’s never a good idea to Google yourself, when it’s OK to say no to lucrative endorsement deals and how learning to enjoy the moment is paramount.

The Hollywood Reporter: What’s the most disturbing trend in television right now?

Ed Helms: Let’s all bite the hand that feeds us.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson: You want to say reality TV, but we need to break it into segments. Maybe it’s the children with their mothers, like Dance Moms?

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Johnny Galecki: That’s horrifying.

Ferguson: But I don’t want it to be canceled. It’s horrifying, and that’s why I love it. (Laughter.) CNN’s pretty horrifying, too.

THR: Why do you think network comedies have had such a huge resurgence?

Ferguson: I think comedies on cable paved the way for us to be a little more ambitious with network television. We thought, “Well, why can’t we do this?” Maybe fewer “F” words and then, boom, it’s network comedy. (Laughter.)

Don Cheadle: [To Galecki] Your show is one of the raciest. I mean, you guys must get the censors every week.

Galecki: Do you think it is?

Cheadle: You guys tread a line. When I’m watching with my kids, there’s explaining that has to be done.

Helms: I had to take a stand on The Office about nudity. (Laughter.)

Ty Burrel: Did you say more? (Laughter.)

Helms: Yes. It has to be more! My naked body is funny.

TRH: Don, how did you decide to transition from movies to a cable comedy?

Cheadle: My background was in theater. I went to CalArts. I came out of school with the idea that, “Oh, I hope I have an opportunity to do everything!” And then you kind of quickly see the business says where it wants you to be. Then you find yourself elbowing and trying to push and pull and get into different things. I was really glad for the opportunity of this TV show. Comedy’s something I’ve loved for a long time.

Galecki: I also came from theater, and that’s what drew me to TV both as an audience member and as an actor. We approach our show as theater. It’s 300 people in the audience, and there just happens to be four cameras between us and them. The TV part pays better than the regional theater, but it’s very, very similar. (Laughter.) You just get to eat better.

THR: How difficult was it for you to transition from being seen as a “kid actor” on Roseanne to adult roles?

Galecki: I was ages 16 to 21 on Roseanne, and I was able to work through that transitional time and come out as a young adult on the other end of it. I started doing indie films after that.

Cheadle: And what a show to be on, too. Wow. You got to dizzying heights right away.

Galecki: It was No. 1 when I started. And No. 1 back then … we were disappointed if we were under 30 million viewers.

Ferguson: Oh, my God.

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Burrel: That’s insane.

Helms: That’s like Super Bowl numbers.

Galecki: I was really just in shock the whole time. I was a massive fan of the show. Roseanne and I had worked together before, and — as she did with many actors, writers and stand-ups — she’d bring us into the writers room and say, “I want him to do one more.” One episode turned into four, and that turned into five years. The writers had to kind of come up with reasons to keep me there because she’d asked for me to be there! I was this terrified little rabbit in the corner of the stage, watching all of these people; it was my college in many ways. And working with John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Rosie, and they’ve all worked so differently … it was fantastic.

Helms: And now you get to intimidate and terrorize children on your set.

Galecki: Yes, the guest stars. I do my best! They’ve had it too easy already.

THR: Max, you’re on one of the biggest new shows this year and shirtless most of the time. How has your life changed?

Max Greenfield: I have the opposite problem from Ed. I go, and I say: “Please, we should tone this [nudity] down. I can’t maintain this. I’d like to eat at some point!” (Laughter.) Our hours are crazy.

Burrel: What are they?

Greenfield: Just bad. (Laughter.) A good day is 12. And then we’re looking at 13s and 14s. We are trapped on the set the whole time and have been for the better part of a year. But now that we’ve wrapped, I’m starting to go out, and it’s nice to see that the show is really resonating with people.

THR: What’s the funniest thing someone has said to you when you’re out in the world as a regular guy?

Cheadle: “Hey, take your shirt off!” (Laughter.)

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Greenfield: Yeah. I get a lot of that.

Burrel: People don’t recognize him because he’s got his shirt on.

Greenfield: We were at this party yesterday, and there was a 15-year-old girl there. She turned the corner and ran into me. It was this insane, “You’re on that show!” kind of moment.

Helms: Were you in a towel?

Greenfield: She was like, “You know Zooey Deschanel!” It wasn’t because of me at all.

Cheadle: You’re the guy who knows Zooey.

Ferguson: We were cornered by Steven Spielberg at a party once. He’s an uber-fan of Modern Family.

Galecki: Wow.

Ferguson: He watches our show with a director’s eye, of course, so he was sort of dissecting it … (Ferguson’s iPhone goes off.)

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