Courteney Cox, John Mulaney and 8 More Top Actors on How They Landed Guest-Starring Gigs

8:30 AM 6/11/2019

by Kirsten Chuba

Kristen Schaal, Brian Tyree Henry and Bradley Whitford are also among the stars who discuss their top takeaways and challenges from joining hit series for a short period of time: "It was like getting a guest spot on 'The Godfather: Part II.'"

Courtesy of CBS; Courtesy of FX; Courtesy of HBO

  • Ike Barinholtz

    'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' (NBC)

    Barinholtz (right, with Andy Samberg), appears on an episode of 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' as Gintars Irbe, the Latvian biological father of Charles' (Joe Lo Truglio) adopted son Nikolaj.
    Barinholtz (right, with Andy Samberg), appears on an episode of 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' as Gintars Irbe, the Latvian biological father of Charles' (Joe Lo Truglio) adopted son Nikolaj.
    Trae Patton/NBC

    MY TOP TAKEAWAY "There’s two things. One, in a greater sense, it made me miss The Mindy Project a lot and made me kind of remind myself, 'Oh yeah, if you’re doing a comedy television show, that’s kind of the best job in the world because you truly get to laugh and try to make people laugh for a living — they pay you for it.' And they paid me, the check cleared. So it really just kind of made me nostalgic and happy and made me think, 'Oh yeah, I have to do a TV comedy again because it’s just great work.' And then literally something I took away from it was [showrunner] Dan Goor sent me — my character Gintars is selling knockoff Gap clothing, he created his own label called Gape. And Dan sent me a Gape hoodie and no joke, I put it on every morning, because I always put on a hoodie when I wake up because I have to go downstairs and get tons of bottles because I have like a hundred kids. The pockets are the perfect size where they can fit three bottles, so every morning I look down and see 'Gape' and it’s just a constant reminder."

  • Julian Barratt

    'Killing Eve' (BBC AMERICA)

    The English actor goes up against cunning killer Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in season two of 'Killing Eve,' starring as a seemingly harmless man with dark intentions.
    The English actor goes up against cunning killer Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in season two of 'Killing Eve,' starring as a seemingly harmless man with dark intentions.
    Parisa Taghizadeh/BBCAmerica

    MY TOP TAKEAWAY

    "[I learned] that I look pretty odd without a mustache. I usually have a mustache about my person, often on my lip, and it started out with a look I was doing on a show The Mighty Boosh that I was doing a while ago. It gradually became a part of my general look and then [for Killing Eve] I thought, 'Well, I’ll take it off for that.' I felt very naked in a strange way to remove that, but as an actor I soldiered on and got through it. And the fight scene, the action was two days of pretty hot, sweltering takes in a small house in a bit of a heat wave, and that was pretty elaborate and very eyeopening. In the script it was about a page, and when we filmed it, it was two days with stuntmen showing us how to do stuff. We did most of it, but there were some bits where they were like, 'No, you’re not doing that.' Sometimes you think, ‘Oh, I can do that surely, it’s just a full roll,’ and then you try it and you go, 'Oh right, I haven’t done a full roll since I was 14, that’s going to go wrong, isn’t it? I’m going to hit a cabinet, I’m going to break something.' "

  • Courteney Cox

    'Shameless' (Showtime)

    For the show’s ninth season, Cox appears on an episode as Jen Wagner, a famous actress struggling with alcohol abuse who has enlisted Lip Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White) as her sober coach.
    For the show’s ninth season, Cox appears on an episode as Jen Wagner, a famous actress struggling with alcohol abuse who has enlisted Lip Gallagher (Jeremy Allen White) as her sober coach.
    Chuck Hodes/SHOWTIME

    MY TOP CHALLENGE

    "Trying to walk through the streets of Chicago. People go crazy for the cast of that show in that town; they expect them to be there. First of all, I had such a great time being in Chicago, it was so fun, but trying to get through the crowds and do it all in one take and not mess up your lines, that was probably the most challenging. It’s just not my show and you don’t want to mess up ever — you’re messing up their time. They’re a well-oiled machine, but being that they are so well-oiled and know what they’re doing, they still care so much and I really respected that. It made me so excited to get on my own show again and just be that dedicated and devoted."

  • James Cromwell

    'Succession' (HBO)

    For two episodes, Cromwell plays Ewan Roy — the brother of media mogul Logan (Brian Cox) — who throws a wrench into the family's financial plans.
    For two episodes, Cromwell plays Ewan Roy — the brother of media mogul Logan (Brian Cox) — who throws a wrench into the family's financial plans.
    Courtesy of HBO

    MY TOP TAKEAWAY

    "I liked the people a lot, it's beautifully cast and wonderfully directed, [director] Adam Arkin is a friend and I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with him. Just how amazing it is now in this day that television — or this is no longer television, it's now people's computers — but how the platforms have changed and because they've changed, the ability to deal with certain subjects and a certain language with a certain flair and style that would not appeal to everyone is possible. So much is possible now to tell the truth. I wish they would tell more of the truth, because we desperately are in need of truth with all of the bullshit that's coming from Washington." 

  • John Mulaney

    'Saturday Night Live' (NBC)

    The former 'SNL' writer (center) returned to his Studio 8H stomping ground March 2 to host for the second time, a year after his first stint.
    The former 'SNL' writer (center) returned to his Studio 8H stomping ground March 2 to host for the second time, a year after his first stint.
    Will Heath/NBC

    MY TOP CHALLENGE

    "I was very pleased to do the Cha Cha Slide on national television, especially because the learning curve — well, I wouldn’t say I truly curved the learning curve. But where I was Tuesday to where I ended up Saturday night was a heroic improvement. For someone with no dancing capabilities and a torn hip, dancing on concrete, it was pretty good. I have to say that week in March was the most fun I’ve ever had there, it was incredibly fun. It was rather terrifying last year than exhilarating, and this year I decided to try to forgo the terrifying as much as possible. It was really nice to work again with people who I’d never gotten to spend much time with, from Cecily [Strong] to Kate [McKinnon] to Beck [Bennett] and even Pete [Davidson] and Chris Redd, who I know well but never worked with on the show. The writing staff is phenomenal, so it was great to do a second show with some of the writers I knew there the season before and the new ones."

  • Phylicia Rashad

    'This Is Us' (NBC)

    The one-time 'Cosby Show' mom plays Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) mother, Carol Clarke, as their relationship is explored when Beth returns to her D.C. home after her mother gets hurt.
    The one-time 'Cosby Show' mom plays Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) mother, Carol Clarke, as their relationship is explored when Beth returns to her D.C. home after her mother gets hurt.
    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    MY TOP TAKEAWAY 

    "I’ve been in good company before. I have to say I’m very fortunate, I find myself in good company all the time. And what I took away was 'OK, it’s still happening, there is still that happening, that quality production, quality work.' It still goes on, it continues, and I like that. And I like it on network television. And I have to say, I enjoyed my scenes with Carl Lumbly, who plays Abe, [Carol’s] husband. Our exchanges were short but there was this connection to him, and truthfully I felt that with all the characters. I don’t even have to talk about working with Susan Kelechi Watson, I don’t think I have to talk about that, right? I think that’s pretty obvious. When you receive a script and you’re interacting with another character who has a close relationship to the one that you’re playing but your exchanges are short, but you feel a real connection with that person, that is just divine."

  • Kristen Schaal

    'What We Do in the Shadows' (FX)

    The actress takes a darkly funny turn as The Guide, a floating vampire and envoy of the Vampiric Council — alongside Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood and Dave Bautista — in the star-studded episode "The Trial."
    The actress takes a darkly funny turn as The Guide, a floating vampire and envoy of the Vampiric Council — alongside Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood and Dave Bautista — in the star-studded episode "The Trial."
    Russ Martin/FX

    MY TOP CHALLENGE

    "Any time I had to walk, because they wanted the character to be sort of hovering. So if I didn’t have the dolly, they told me I would have to just, like, glide in these big platform boots, which I wasn’t quite sure if I did it — but it didn’t look as clumsy as it felt so I’m pretty proud of myself. I was like, 'How do you even do it?' And I think [creator] Jemaine [Clement] kind of demonstrated where if you bend your knees a little bit and do a lunge-walk. I guess if you put your gravity down lower then it’ll take away the tilting of a normal gait. I feel like a choreographer, I was using some good words just then! And being a guest actor is scary because you’re kind of coming into someone else’s house and learning their rules and their manners. For example, improvising was something I didn’t do as much on Last Man on Earth, I got to do it a little bit, but on this show it was definitely appreciated, so I had to remember how to do that a little bit. I do it on Bob’s Burgers too but I don’t know, just being a new character and improvising as a vampire it’s just like, ‘Whoa!’ You have to think fast."

  • Adam Scott

    'The Twilight Zone' (CBS All Access)

    In a remake of the iconic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," Scott plays journalist Justin Sanderson, who finds out via podcast that the flight he’s on will crash and scrambles to save his fellow passengers.
    In a remake of the iconic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," Scott plays journalist Justin Sanderson, who finds out via podcast that the flight he’s on will crash and scrambles to save his fellow passengers.
    Robert Falconer/CBS

    HOW I SCORED THE ROLE

    "The offer kind of just came out of the blue and I couldn’t have been more excited to do it. They gave us time to read the script but I was going to do it regardless, because it’s The Twilight Zone and the pedigree of [producers Jordan Peele and Simon Kinberg], I just knew it would be good. I discovered The Twilight Zone when I was around 10, 11 years old because they played it every night at 11 where I grew up in Santa Cruz, just on the local station, and once I discovered it, I was waiting all day for that night’s Twilight Zone. All I was interested in was watching television, so getting to discover this new show — there was nothing on TV like it at the time and it was already 30 years old, so discovering something that was 30 years old and better than anything on television anyway, it was like a gold mine. And my next-door neighbor had every single Twilight Zone on VHS, which at the time was a huge deal because they weren’t releasing them on DVD or whatever, you had to painstakingly wait for them to air and then record them. So I had this big library of Twilight Zone and I was a Zone-head there for a good portion of my youth."

  • Brian Tyree Henry

    'Room 104' (HBO)

    As an original castmember of Broadway’s 'The Book of Mormon,' Henry returns to his roots with a musical episode, starring as a man in his hotel room trying to remember the night before.
    As an original castmember of Broadway’s 'The Book of Mormon,' Henry returns to his roots with a musical episode, starring as a man in his hotel room trying to remember the night before.
    Courtesy of HBO

    MY TOP TAKEAWAY

    "The whole episode was very intense. My character, Arnold, wakes up in a bathtub in a room covered in water — or what he thinks is water — he’s wet the entire episode. He has no idea where he’s come from, he’s trying to piece together his night to figure out how he got there and it doesn’t seem to be coming together for him. I think the thing that was really cool was how they could literally transform this room into what my night was. So if I’m walking into a club, I’m coming out of the closet; if I’m talking to a girl at the bar, it’s a pillow and her boyfriend is a plunger, and I’m stage-diving off the bed and doing keg stands and things like that. It was tough; it was really crazy how complicated it was and how exciting it was at the same time, just to see how everyone could make this room, this one little space, into one person’s whole journey." 

  • Bradley Whitford

    'The Handmaid’s Tale' (Hulu)

    Whitford plays Commander Joseph Lawrence, a founding member of Gilead who is also secretly an ally of the handmaids, helping Elisabeth Moss’ June in her attempted escape to Canada.
    Whitford plays Commander Joseph Lawrence, a founding member of Gilead who is also secretly an ally of the handmaids, helping Elisabeth Moss’ June in her attempted escape to Canada.
    George Kraychyk/Hulu

    HOW I SCORED THE ROLE

    “I heard a rumor from my manager that there was a possibility of a guest spot — I am obsessed with that show, obsessed with it. I knew there was hope that this character might carry on, so I was very excited about it. The show means so much to me and I think it’s such an incredible cultural artistic achievement that for me — and I’ve got some mileage on me — it was like getting a guest spot on The Godfather: Part II. I couldn’t believe it, I was stunned by the possibility. There’s a very interesting quality to this guy that was elusive and the first scene, I remember being in my dressing room and you really didn’t know where this character was going to go from the writing that I had. I usually want to know more about what I’m going to do, especially on the first day, but I very consciously said to myself in the dressing room, 'Fuck it, we’ll find it.' But again, the imagery is so iconic and when you’re sitting and talking to a handmaid, the first take probably stunk because the subtext was, 'I can’t believe I’m on The Handmaid’s Tale.' "

    This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.