Interview date: 10/31/2008
Run date: 11/12/2008
“Reaper” might not have reaped ratings glory in its initial season, but it built a steady following through the year, particular in the post-writers’-strike arc of the series that featured Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino as a pair of gay demons. If you didn’t discover the show until it was too late, you’ll be thrilled to know that Season One of “Reaper” is now available on DVD. Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to speak to the man who plays Satan’s top bounty hunter: Bret Harrison. We chatted with Harrison about what we can expect from the show’s second season, how he felt about the whole soul-of-the-week aspect of the early episodes of the series, what he thought about working on sitcoms like “Grounded for Life” and “The Loop,” and how inordinately excited he is about the impending DVD release of MTV’s “Undressed.”
Bret Harrison: Hello?
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Bret, how’s it going?
BH: It’s going good. How are you?
BE: Not bad. So if you’re back up in Vancouver, then I presume you’re back in production?
BH: Yes. Yep, we’re going until Dec. 22.
BE: When did y’all first get back?
BH: We got back mid June. It was nice.
BE: Good to get back in the swing of things?
BH: Yeah, it’s been great. I mean, it’s pretty cool that we started as early as we did because, as you know, it gets pretty cold out here. So we were able to swing a couple of months where there was sun, and we got to shoot outside and it wasn’t completely miserable. But, yeah, it’s been going really well. I think everybody over at the studio is really happy, and the CW seems to be really happy this year. I think we finally were able to kind of branch out and explore other character storylines so it’s a lot of fun this year.
BE: When you guys found out the good news you were renewed but the bad news that you weren’t coming back until mid season, did you just kind of take it in stride? Like, “Hey, at least we’re still on the air?”
BH: You know, yeah, really, that’s it exactly. I don’t want to say I was surprised, I just kind of…maybe because I’ve been through it a few times, maybe I’m used to it. If you get too stuck on that, you could drive yourself crazy, so I feel that I learned a long time ago that you’ve got to let things go and put your mind on the next thing, and if it gets to come back, then great, but if not, you can’t beat yourself up over it.
BE: Were you at least a little disheartened by the fact that it wasn’t a full season pickup?
BH: Yeah, I mean, we obviously wanted a full season; yeah, totally. But I think we were able to get a lot in even with this 13, and hopefully it will leave people wanting more. Especially if people get a hold of the DVD and check out all of last season and they realize it’s a good show, then hopefully it will (Hesitates) Sorry, there was just a huge gun shot; seriously, there’s real shooting. Sorry about that. But, yeah, hopefully, if people get hold of the DVD and check it out and kind of find out what’s going on, then that’ll be perfect timing in a way. Hopefully, we’ll come out in January with the new season and people will have just gotten the DVD and be caught up. All of a sudden, everybody will be “Reaper” fans!
BE: With the DVD, how much did you guys get to or want to contribute to the set? I mean, did you do commentaries or help out with special features?
BH: Yeah, you know, the thing is, the cast didn’t get to…we wanted to, but I guess there was a huge scheduling conflict, but some of the crew and the executive producers all did commentary, which is the writers. So there is definitely commentary on there; there’s a gag reel; there’s deleted scenes. There’s tons of deleted stuff, because we always…I think with most one-hour shows, you know, you get 42 minutes to tell a story, but we’re always at least nine minutes over, so they have to cut a lot out. A lot of times I would ask the DP to hand me the DVD, you know, the director’s cut, before they aired it, and you would see things when I saw it on air that weren’t there. It’s frustrating when you put in that work, but it’s interesting, and I think the diehard fans will find that’s pretty cool.
BE: When I talked to Tyler, he said there’s room for adlibbing, so I would guess there’s quite a bit of that in the gag reel or the deleted scenes.
BH: Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely room for adlibbing, and it’s pretty cool. When stuff gets in there, you feel proud of yourself. “Yes, my funny line that I came up with made it in and didn’t make it to the cutting room floor.”
BE: How are you with adlibbing? Is that something that you’re pretty good with, or do you just roll with it as best you can?
BH: No, I mean, I think I’m pretty decent at it. It always helps being around people that are good at it as well. It depends on who you’re in a scene with; especially with Tyler, we’re constantly adlibbing back and forth. But at the same time, you don’t want to go…you can’t get too crazy. I mean, we’re not “Arrested Development” or anything; we’re still trying to tell a story. And it’s a TV schedule. We’re not shooting, like, a Judd Apatow movie, where we have hours and hours of film to just burn.
BE: I would think that, like, the scenes at the Work Bench lend themselves to the adlibbing.
BH: Yeah, any time the three guys are together, it’s perfect for…it’s just ending beats. It’s going on act breaks and stuff like that. You can always throw in something instead of just holding a dead stare to camera. It’s kind of fun to just see what comes out.
BE: When I interviewed Ray (Wise), he referred to you as a young Jimmy Stewart. Can you even wrap your head around the size of that compliment?
BH: I know, I know. He’s been saying that since the beginning, and, y’know, thank you so much; that is such a nice compliment. But I think what he’s mostly referring to is, I guess, the nasally, crackly voice that I have. I mean, I was just born with…my mom did that, I guess. I don’t know. I’m not doing a special voice technique or anything like that.
BE: The gift of genetics.
BH: Hey, if it sounds like Jimmy Stewart or that’s what he thinks I’m channeling, shit, I’m all for it.
BE: The reception of the pilot episode was so profoundly positive, was there a fear that you weren’t going to be able to live up to it with the series as a whole?
BH: I mean, you always kinda have that fear a little bit. And it was kind of weird coming back, because you shoot a pilot, and you have basically six months to a year where you sit around and kind of just go, “Oh, I wonder if this is going to get picked up.” And then you have another six months of hanging out before we start shooting the show. And by the time we finally got back into actually shooting and, y’know, starting the real season, it was kind of weird again, because we were working with a new director and having to find our groove. But I think…I certainly think that, after the first six episodes of the first season, we really started to take off and started to find our characters and find the tone of the show.
BE: Actually, I was going to say the tone actually seemed to change most dramatically when Steve and Tony entered the picture as characters.
BH: Yeah, well, that was episode 112, the paintball episode. That certainly…that’s when I feel the show took of the most for me. I just think maybe it was because there were more characters and we were able to come off a little bit of the plot-driven story. In the beginning, it was constantly story, story, story, and tracking of the soul. The writers really wanted to dive right into just character development and get into the soapy aspect of what these character’s lives were going through and less about finding the soul or whatever; the soul was more of a backdrop. But we had to kind of just keep laying down what the show was for the first time viewers who were going to watch it.
BE: Yeah, I was a fan from the get-go, but then friends of mine would be asking me, “Oh, are you still watching it? How is it now? Because it was getting too soul-of-the-week for me?” And I’m, like, “No, I swear to you, Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino are on the show now, it’s awesome, you’ve got to come back.”
BH: Yeah, absolutely, and it was becoming soul-a-week. And we felt it, I’m sure, more than anybody else, because we were living it eight days an episode. You get into these same kind of similar aspects and story lines, and you’re constantly…I was constantly talking to the writers and asking, “Okay, so when do I get to do something different?” And sure enough, I did. But there’s so many cooks in the kitchen with television, and you just kind of have to appease people. But finally, after we had proven ourselves or whatever we were able to do…and that’s what I’m talking about with this year. I mean, it’s a completely different show.
BE: Yeah, actually, there’s a site called Reaper DMV that has more spoilers than you can shake a stick at. Of course, probably only a third of them will end up being accurate, but…
BH: Oh, really? What is it called?
BE: Reaper DMV.
BH: No way. And it’s got all of these fake spoilers?
BE: Well, I mean, for all I know, they may be working with 100 percent accuracy, but I just can’t imagine statistically that they’re all on the money.
BH: Oh, I’ve got to check that out. That is so funny.
BE: I did find out from the site, and I confirmed it elsewhere, so as not to embarrass myself, that Sean Patrick Thomas is playing an escaped soul.
BH: Yeah, yeah, he is.
BE: Can you give me a little tease of what to expect from the new season? I get the impression it’s going in a bit of a different direction.
BH: It’s going in a bit of a different…now, when I say different direction, I just mean more kind of what you saw a little bit at the end of the series last year; delving into different character story lines. But with Sean’s character, Alan, he is an escaped soul that Sam meets, and Sam discovers that Alan has gotten out of his contract. So it’s Sam’s whole mission to find out secrets from Alan and find out how he got out, but Alan’s really scared, and Alan’s afraid of Sam and he won’t give him the secrets until Sam puts him on consecrated ground. There’s a whole story line with Sam trying to get him to Vatican City and whatnot.
BE: Wow. Are we going to see Cady again this season?
BH: I don’t think so. I think she’s pretty much working her butt off on “90210.” (Laughs)
BE: So is the Devil going to interact more with Sock, Ben and Andi this year? Because I remember when I asked Ray last year, he was, like, “Ah, I can’t really speak to that,” and Tyler’s, like, “It’s out of my hands.”
BH: Yeah, I don’t think so. Ray, the Devil, is still really only speaking with Sam.
BE: Does Andi become more of a full-fledged member of the team?
BH: She does, and she has. And with Sam and Andi’s relationship, it’s kind of like “West Side Story;” it’s the gangster’s love, if that makes any sense.
BE: I want to ask you a couple of questions about some of your other stuff as well. I was a big fan of “The Loop,” and, y’know, I’m not going to lie to you: I thought it was a travesty what FOX did with killing it before the second season even premiered.
BH: Oh, yeah, but that stuff happens.
BE: Yeah, but I did an interview with Philip Baker Hall a couple of months ago, and he just went on this lengthy rant about (Fox executive) Peter Ligouri.
BH: (Surprised) Really?
BE: Yeah. He was, like, “Oh, he didn’t fight for the series; he threw all his muster behind “‘Til Death,’ and that’s not even a funny show.”
BH: Oh, wow, I didn’t know Philip was so passionate. Wow, that’s…yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know why they didn’t really follow through with the show. I can never really wrap my head around why executives make certain decisions. If I tried to do, then I would make myself go crazy.
BE: I mean, I know it’s industry politics, but it practically seemed like a tax write-off at the end.
BH: Yeah, it was really weird. I’ve never been on a show that…I mean, I know it’s happened maybe a few other times in TV history, but to get picked up for a midseason show to begin with, and then to get picked up again for midseason? We got picked up for 10 episodes and then got picked up midseason again for seven episodes. I don’t even understand…I don’t get it. I have no idea. But that show was a lot of fun; it was a lot of fun.
BE: Have you heard that “Undressed” is coming to DVD?
BH: (Laughing) No, I have not heard that. Wow!
BH: Really? (Excitedly) That is going to be so cool. I can not wait for that, actually, because that show…that was actor’s unemployment, man.
BE: Oh, really?
BH: Oh, man, that was, like, everybody’s first job. I met half my friends on that show, or they at least worked on that show at one time or another. Because that…I mean, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the show…
BE: Yeah, I actually used to watch it.
BH: It was…every actor got to work. They got like a maximum of eight episodes, and then they rotated them out. So everybody kind of got a shot at working on that show. That’s hilarious. I can’t wait until I go through that and see everybody. I was 17 when I got that show.
BE: Oh wow. Yeah there’s a website called UndressedTV.com, and it says all six seasons of “Undressed” will be available on DVD in the not so distant future.
BH: I don’t even know what season I was on.
BE: Well, apparently, they’ll all be out there.
BH: That is…that’s freaky.
BE: And I wanted to ask you real quick about “Deal.”
BE: Are you aware of its rating on rottentomatoes.com?
BH: No I’m not.
BE: It has a 0 percent rating.
BH: That’s bad, I’m assuming.
BE: That is not good. But I figure just working on a film with Burt Reynolds would be enough reason to take the gig.
BH: Yeah, well, no, it was a couple of reasons. I mean, it was a lot of poker. It was an hour and a half montage of poker, so I thought I could…I thought I could do that for a month; why not?
BH: Get paid and play poker with Burt Reynolds? It didn’t seem like that bad of a gig at the time. Hopefully, I don’t think too many people in the industry caught it, so I’m not that worried.
BE: You might be safe.
BH: I might be safe, yeah. If I had Ryan Gosling’s career, then I might be a little worried, but until I’m in that seat, every now and then you can make a bad one.
BE: And, lastly, your work on “Grounded for Life.” That is such an underrated sitcom, but it’s one of my favorites.
BH: Yeah, I think “Grounded for Life” is an amazing…I mean, that was the start of my career, really, and I learned a lot from that show. working with Donal Logue and Kevin Corrigan. I was getting to work with some of the…I still feel they’re some of the coolest actors of our time. I learned so much on that show and it was a lot of fun. It was a sitcom, so nice hours, and working right there in Studio City…it was good times.
BE: Actually, I’ll close with a Halloween-related question, because I see on your IMDb page you’re listed as an associate producer on “Zombie Honeymoon.”
BH: (Laughs) Yes, it was a friend of mine’s movie. They needed a little bit of money to get the thing to go through, and I thought the script was kind of cool and helped them out.
BE: Are you a zombie fan?
BH: Yeah, I mean, I’m a comic book nerd, kind of, and I thought it had a different take on it. It was kind of “Reaper”-esque in tone, actually. It was more of a comedy; I mean, it was called “Zombie Honeymoon,” so…
BE: Well, alright, man, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’ve been trying to get up with you for awhile, so I’m glad we were able to make it happen.
BH: Yeah, thank you so much. It was good talking to you again.
BE: Definitely. And I’m very psyched about the impending return. Do you know if you guys are going to do a TCA panel come January?BH: I have no idea. But if we are, please come up and say hello. And thank you so much!