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“It’s been an incredible year,” John Stamos tells me as we sit down in his Beverly Hills home (to which he and his girlfriend had just returned from Nancy Reagan‘s funeral) for a chat about his life and career, including and especially his current work as an executive producer and star of Fox’s Grandfathered and Netflix’s Fuller House. “I came out of a dark place — I lost my mother and had some health issues — so I’m not taking it for granted,” he says. “And I do feel that I have some respect from my peers, and that’s all I ever wanted, you know?”
(Click below to listen to this episode now or click here to access all of our episodes via iTunes. Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Amy Schumer, Harvey Weinstein, Lady Gaga, Will Smith, Kristen Stewart, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, J.J. Abrams, Kate Winslet, Ridley Scott, Sarah Silverman, Michael Moore and Lily Tomlin.)
The amiable and remarkably youthful 52-year-old, who was born in L.A. and raised in the OC, has been in the business since he landed a part on General Hospital at the age of 18. Ever since, he’s been a familiar and popular face on the small screen, most famously as “Uncle Jesse” Katsopolis on the ABC family sitcom Full House from 1987 to 1995, but also on numerous other TV series including NBC’s You Again? from 1986 to 1987, opposite his “greatest teacher” Jack Klugman, and ER from 2005 to 2009.
However, he’s long yearned for more. During the Full House days, he recalls, “We just didn’t have one ounce of respect from anybody in the business.” Throughout the show’s eight-year run, he says, “I always wanted to do something else … I just wanted to do deeper stuff and be respected.” He continues, “I thought, ‘I gotta make movies, I gotta get into the movies and do serious stuff … But I’d always end up doing some goofy TV movie on hiatus.”
After Full House ended in 1995, Stamos wasn’t sure what to do next. “I called Jack [Klugman],” he recalls, “and said, ‘What do I do?’ He said, ‘Go to the theater. You’re an actor.'” Despite bristling at the notion that he hadn’t been acting on Full House, Stamos decided to listen to his mentor and see what sort of opportunities might be open to him on the stage. While he knew and knows that his singing and dancing aren’t top-of-the-line, he also believes that hard work and showmanship could make up the difference.
Casting directors apparently agreed. Over the next 17 years, he landed the leads in five Broadway revivals — in 1995 as J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (replacing Matthew Broderick, who had won a Tony for his performance, with just three weeks notice); in 2002 as the Emcee in Cabaret (following a long line of replacements for Alan Cumming); in 2003 as Guido Contini in Nine (replacing Antonio Banderas); in 2009 as Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie; and in 2012 as Sen. Joseph Cantwell in The Best Man (replacing Eric McCormack).
While Stamos was a popular Broadway attraction, his reviews tended to be mixed, and he still yearned to return to TV and play a part that would allow him to show the full extent of what he could do in that medium. Around the turn of the century, he decided to take matters into his own hands by becoming a producer and building up his production company during whatever time he could spare between the various Broadway productions and other ventures that he undertook.
He started out, in 2002, producing projects for others — the TV movie Martin and Lewis and the MTV show Virgin Chronicles — and then “really got the bug” and turned to finding the perfect project for himself. He thought it might be the ABC comedy series Jake in Progress, which felt to him more like an indie film than something for the tube — but it lasted only from 2005 to 2006. Over the ensuing years, he hungered to be on a cable or streaming drama — “to do what the Malcolm in the Middle guy did,” he says in reference to Bryan Cranston‘s reinvention of himself on Breaking Bad — and a couple of years ago he thought he found one in Cocked, an Amazon pilot about a “complete derelict dope-addict fucked-up” guy, but things didn’t pan out.
Stamos’ agents saw how dejected he was and had a come-to-Jesus conversation with him, telling him: “Use what you have. Go to your sweet-spot. Do what you do well.” The next day, he met with comedy writer Dan Chun (The Office, The Simpsons), who had an idea for a TV series about a youthful bachelor who learns that he has not only a kid, but also a grandkid. The two “sat and talked the show out,” recruited Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love, The Guilt Trip) to partner with them and pitched it around town as a trio of executive producers. (“Grandfathered is the most producing that I’ve done, day to day,” Stamos says.)
He initially envisioned it on ABC, but Fox “really wanted it” and he feels it wound up on the right network — although he wishes they’d chosen a title for it other than Grandfathered. “I hate it,” he says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘No. Fuck no.’ I remember telling everybody, ‘Forget it.'” He hastens to add that his objections are not just the result of him having a hard time thinking of himself as a grandfather. “It’s not what the show is — it’s not about me just being a grandfather. There’s a lot there.”
That gripe aside, Stamos is thrilled with how the show itself — which hit the air on Sept. 29 and also stars Josh Peck, Christina Milian, Paget Brewster and Ravi Patel — has turned out. “It’s a little romantic comedy every week,” he says, “as I wanted to do with Jake and Progress.” He continues, “I love this character [restaurateur Jimmy]. On the surface you think, ‘Oh, he’s bachelor, and he’s got girls and John Stamos will do [his usual] bullshit with it,’ but the guy seems much deeper to me — much more quirky. He’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-back guy… a very fresh, interesting character that’s not just some lothario.”
Critics largely seem to be on Stamos’ side, but audiences have been a little slower to get on board — something he’s still trying to get used to, having historically been on critically-reviled but popular shows. “It scared me because I was like, ‘Oh, God, if this is getting good reviews, nobody’s gonna watch it,” he says with a laugh. Turning more serious, he acknowledges, “It’s not a slam-dunk that we’re coming back next year” [Fox has to make some tough decisions over the coming weeks], but he hopes that it will because he feel that “it’s gotten better and better” as it’s gone along, up to and including its most recent episodes in which an intriguing character played by Regina Hall emerged as Jimmy’s most serious love interest. (The show’s first season is on a brief hiatus, perhaps to avoid going head-to-head with CBS’s March Madness coverage, but its remaining episodes will resume airing on Tuesday nights beginning April 26.)
Ironically, as Stamos is the first to admit, he’s simultaneously revisiting Full House, the show that made him a star, but that he’s spent decades trying to move beyond — “I haven’t watched many episodes in the last 20 years,” he confesses — in a Netflix spin-off called Fuller House. Stamos is an executive producer of this series, as well, which reunites him with the original’s creator, Jeff Franklin, with all of its principal cast members “sprinkled through” (meaning occasional appearances for him) except for Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen. Why? Because like many who grew up watching the show, either when it aired or after it went into syndication, even he was beginning to feel a little nostalgia for it. “It doesn’t seem real, just how important the show was to everybody or how much they liked it,” he says, adding, “I can capitalize on knowing a little more now.”
(Why aren’t the Olsens back? “We got ahold of their agent and asked them to do it — ‘No.’ In retrospect, I should have called them and talked to them, I guess … We love each other, but we’re not in contact — I mean, I didn’t have a phone number on them. I’d see them in New York once in a while and it was always very sweet. But that didn’t happen, so I think they sort of said, ‘Nobody asked us.’ I thought we did, through their people, but I don’t know if that happened. They said, ‘We don’t even have agents. We don’t know who you’re talking about.’ … I sort of had a knee-jerk reaction to that. And then I talked to Mary-Kate at length and she was sort of interested in talking about it, and she wanted me to call Ashley, and I don’t think I did, and then we kept trying, and then they just said ‘No’ — they just said it wasn’t really in the cards for them at that moment, they hadn’t acted in a long time. And you know, you’d have to talk to them, but I hear rumblings that it wasn’t their choice, I guess, to be in that show when they were kids, so I think — again, I can’t speak for them — but I have heard that they don’t have the best of memories of it, and they kind of just want to move on.”)
Stamos and Franklin pitched Fuller House for a year and a half, during which “everybody in town turned it down … mainly because we wanted the 10-90 deal.” (A 10-90 deal is a rare sort, usually reserved for star vehicles, in which a network agrees to make 10 episodes of a show and then to pick up 90 more if those initial 10 achieve a pre-specified rating.) The show ended up at Netflix, which released a 13-episode season back in February. While some of his collaborators have been dispirited by its poor critical reception, Stamos has been quicker to laugh it off — the original series was also panned, he points out — and celebrate the fact that it’s clicking with viewers. Netflix doesn’t publicize its shows’ ratings, and Stamos says they haven’t told him Fuller House‘s, but he “can feel” that it’s found a following, he says.
At this unique moment in his life and career, Stamos won’t call himself content, but he’s definitely happy. Between producing and acting on Grandfathered, of which he’s incredibly proud, and Fuller House, which he describes as “this fluffy, great, iconic thing that I can be part of as well,” he says, “This is what I want to do on television,” adding, “It’s really the best of all worlds.” He’ll soon be seen in a movie, too — My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 hits theaters on March 25 — but no longer possesses any sort of inferiority-complex about working primarily on TV. “Television is so much better than movies right now,” he gushes — a dynamic very different from the way things were when he was making his bones in the business. “If you were on TV [back then] you were sitting in the back of the bus, or certainly in the back of the room at the Golden Globes. It’s really fascinating to see how it’s turned around. Finally, I’m in the right place at the right time!”
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