'It's Always Sunny': Glenn Howerton Talks Fatherhood, Diddy and Dennis (Q&A)

The actor reveals which remaining episode he’s most excited for and what it's like making the show with kids in tow.
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Glenn Howerton plays the endlessly vain and often despicable Dennis Reynolds on FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While he and the other characters don’t exactly project family values, in real life Howerton and fellow castmembers Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson have gotten married and had children since the show’s 2005 launch.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Howerton revealed how the Paddy’s Pub gang balances playing terrible characters on TV while raising a family, the story behind Sean Combs’ recent guest spot and why the characters will never win.

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The Hollywood Reporter: You had Sean Combs appear in a great guest spot. How did you get him on the show?

Glenn Howerton: Sean is a fan of the show. He had met with Charlie [Day] at one point, and Charlie asked if he wanted to be on the show. We think he’s really funny and wanted to do something totally different with him, which is why we gave him the whitest character we could possibly give him [a church gardener with an affinity for natural healing].

THR: How much say did Diddy have with his character?

Howerton: He’s a pretty good improv-er. We like to play on set and improvise, and he was totally game for that. He stuck to the script for the most part, but there were a couple of moments where he stepped out and threw some interesting stuff in there.

THR: You recently tackled online gaming on Sunny. Are any of you gamers? 

Howerton: None of us really play video games at all, but we’re always looking to tell stories about the kinds of things people are getting into. The game in the episode is called Techpocalypse, which is a real game. You can actually go on the game and run into our characters.

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THR: Earlier in the season, Dennis ruined a man’s business by revealing his son had given Mac an insider trading tip. That seemed pretty savvy, even for Dennis. Are there limits to what Dennis can do intellectually?

Howerton: The only thing holding him back from being the smartest guy in the group -- besides Frank, who is clearly the better businessman -- is his ego. His own vanity. He might be setting out on a course that is smart or intelligent or good for him, but the second something damages his ego, he gets derailed.

THR: There have been a few episodes this season that look back at previous storylines. How does bringing back old threads work with characters who don’t seem to learn any lessons from their pasts?

Howerton: This year, we never intentionally set out to bring back a lot of things from the past. That just kind of happened naturally. We’ve always played a little bit in the world of recurring themes and consequences that carry through. The waitress would be the biggest example of that. The relationship between her and Charlie has an actual progression. To some degree, to ground the show in reality, there have to be consequences to actions.

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THR: Are there aspects of making the show that has gotten easier with time?

Howerton: Breaking a story is always hard. But it’s a little bit easier in some respects because we know the show so well. In the beginning, we were trying to establish the tone and what the show feels like. We’re not doing that anymore, so then the challenge becomes keeping it fresh. The challenge becomes, “How do we break from the format?"

I like that one week you can turn on the show and see an episode that feels very much like an episode of our show, like “The Gang Recycles Their Trash,” and the next week you turn it on and you get “The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre,” and it’s like a horror movie. That’s how you keep it interesting. We try not to feel beholden to anyone, not even to the fans. We just try to keep it fresh for ourselves and do whatever we want to do.

THR: Do you feel more pressure as the show has become better known?

Howerton: It’d have been scarier if at the very beginning we’d had this pressure of spending millions of dollars on the show and having been on a big network trying to please a big audience. From the very beginning, we were like, “This is a tiny show made for no money.” We established: “Let’s do whatever we want, and if we fail, that’s OK. At least we tried.” It’s never been this giant, megalithic show. It’s always been this little, weird thing. Now it’s become a really big little thing where we do what we want.

THR: You all have families in real life. Did that have any effect on the show’s production or subject matter you tackle? Or do you compartmentalize family time and the show?

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Howerton: We’ve always been a tight-knit group before we had wives and children. It’s just that the family’s grown. On a personal note, having a kid has probably softened me in some ways toward anything kid-related. I don’t think it’d affect how our characters act or how we break stories.

Even before we had kids, we never set out to offend anyone or do anything that’s truly offensive or morally reprehensible as a show. Now, our characters are definitely ethically and morally challenged. But the moral of the show is always, “If you act this way, you will fail.” We’re never sending the message, "if you act this way, it works out."

On Entourage, those guys would act like f--king assholes, and at the end of that show they’d be standing on a balcony counting money being like, “Guys, our lives are the best.” But it’s like, “Those guys are pieces of shit and it's working out for them.” On our show, our characters act like pieces of shit, and they always pay the consequences.

THR: What is your favorite episode of the season we haven't seen yet?

Howerton: I am really excited about all of them, honestly. But I will say this second-to-last episode, “The Gang Dines Out,” might be one of my favorite episodes we’ve ever done. The entire episode takes place in a restaurant with all of our characters. It gets very petty. It’s a little bit more like a play than an episode of television -- it’s very dialogue-driven and very relationship-driven. I always tend to really enjoy those smaller episodes.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on FX.

Email: aaron.couch@thr.com

Twitter: @AaronCouch