Interview date: 06/16/2009
Run date: 07/02/2009
Although “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” may have suffered its share of slings and arrows for having a title character who resembled a TV-ized version of Ferris Bueller, it was a show that stood out from the other sitcoms of its era. It skipped the studio audience, it was single-camera when single-camera sitcoms weren’t cool, and it unabashedly existed in a universe of its own, full of surreal circumstances and wacky sound effects. The show has finally made it to DVD, thanks to the fine folks at Shout Factory, and Corin Nemec - who played the titular character - is more than happy to chat about his experiences on the series, which is how Bullz-Eye came to chat with him.
Corin Nemec: How’s it going, Will?
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Corin, how’re you doing?
CN: Doing well, doing well.
BE: Well, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, and it’s a pleasure to finally have “Parker Lewis” on DVD.
CN: I know! Good timing, right? (Laughs)
BE: I know it was a labor of love to finally see it released, but I’m not sure who was doing all of the labor. Did you yourself have a hand in getting it out there?
CN: Not directly, no. I mean, y’know, indirectly in terms of just being highly supportive of Shout Factory’s plight, which took them close to three years to get Sony to license the rights to them. I give them all the credit in the world for not stopping, and I think that it should go over very well for them, especially internationally.
BE: So how did you first come aboard “Parker Lewis”? Did they come to you and pitch the idea, or did you get an audition? How it did work?
CN: Actually, I had done a TV special about a year or two before “Parker Lewis” was casting. It was called “What’s Alan Watching?” It was Eddie Murphy Productions with CBS. Bob Tischler wrote that, Tommy Schlamme directed it, and I starred as this really weird, quirky kid who had an insane family life. We had an amazing cast. It was Peter Michael Goetz, Barbara Barrie, Fran Drescher, and obviously Eddie Murphy played some different characters throughout it. I just played this weird, quirky dude who couldn’t stand his family and would escape into the TV and would break the fourth wall and talk to the audience and all of that. The creators of “Parker Lewis,” Lon Diamond, Clyde Phillips, and Robert Lewis, those guys, they were huge fans of that show, and so when they got the green light for “Parker Lewis,” they came to me and offered it to me. And, strangely enough at the time, I didn’t want to do another television series, ‘cause I had had a really….uh, not a great experience when I was on “Webster.” And I thought that all half-hour comedy TV series were like that, and I was not really down for it until I finally sat down with them, and they told me what they were going to do with it. And with 15 minutes of talking to them, I was, like, “I’ve got to be on this show!” (Laughs) You know what I mean? I was, like, “Man, if I’d know that you guys were going to do this…” They told me that they wanted to shoot it very much in the style of “Three O’Clock High,” with Casey Siemaszko, which was very, very stylized, as far as the cinematography goes. And I was just, like, “Absolutely!” And it was certainly the best and smartest choice I could’ve made at the time.
BE: It really stood out, because it was single-camera when single-camera wasn’t cool.
CN: Exactly. That’s what sold me on it. They said, “We’re not doing a half-hour multi-camera comedy. That’s not what it is. It’s a single-camera. We’re gonna shoot it like a film.” And I was, like, “Really? For a half-hour?” “Yes!” “Wow. That’s cool.” So that was a major selling point for me.
BE: I always thought it was an interesting choice to have you as the lead, given that you had Billy Jayne playing opposite you. In a sense, he was closer to a matinee name that you were, given all of the teen movies that he’d done.
CN: Absolutely! It was really smart casting on their part to put him in it, and it was really brave of them to let me go on and star in it, because I was really more well known for my dramatic acting at the time, from having done “I Know My First Name Is Steven” and getting an Emmy nomination for that. And there was other dramatic work as well, so it was really cool that they saw that I had the comedic chops to come to the table and bring that character to life.
BE: Do you recall if there was ever any hesitation on the network’s part?
CN: I have no idea if there was anything like that or not. But, you know, as far as television goes, I certainly had a Q-factor that was okay at that time.
BE: Oh, sure. Like you said, “I Know My First Name Is Steven” was pretty huge. Speaking of dramatic acting, would you have believed at the time that Abraham Benrubi would’ve broken out in the field they way he did?
CN: Absolutely. I always saw him as the next John Goodman, you know? That’s the way that I pictured him. I thought, “He’s got the market cornered as far as big actors go.” (Laughs)
BE: So when the “Parker Lewis” retrospective was filmed for the DVD, did you get to see each other again, or did you record your interviews independently of each other?
CN: Yes, we did. And me and Abe, we had stayed in touch after the show wrapped up, and I’ve been staying in touch with Troy Slayton (Jerry Steiner) since I got to run in to him again. It was great to get to see each other again, and, you know, even me and (director / producer) Brian Spicer have stayed in touch and hung out on different occasions since then. So there’s definitely been some long-term relationships that came out of that.
BE: There’s something I was wondering about: I couldn’t help but notice that at no point during the course of the retrospective were the words “Ferris Bueller” uttered. Was that name absolutely verboten on the set?
CN: No, not at all! You know, the funny thing is that they developed “Parker Lewis” before “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” ever even came out as a movie. They were already on that, and I think that “Ferris Buller” coming out as a movie may have helped them push it through on a network level, but they were already on the ball in terms of creating that show. It was really kind of based on them: Lon Diamond, Clyde Phillips, and Robert Lewis. They were the three characters. Clyde was Parker, Lon was Mikey, and Robert was Jerry.
BE: So when you did “The Stand,” was that a conscious attempt to step away from the Parker Lewis persona, or was it a case of being a Stephen King who couldn’t resist the opportunity?
CN: No, fortunately, during the process of making “Parker Lewis,” each hiatus I did a dramatic movie of the week. I did “My Son Johnny” during the first hiatus, with Rick Schroeder and Michelle Lee, and that was really critically acclaimed and well-received. And then the next hiatus I did “For the Very First Time,” which, again, was a great movie of the week and dramatic piece. So my agent and manager at the time really did a good job in keeping me out there as a dramatic actor. When the show ended, there was certainly a little bit of a stigma there, but when I auditioned for “The Stand,” I didn’t think in a million years I was going to get it, anyway, because I didn’t match the character description (for Harold Lauder). But when I auditioned for Mick Garris and Stephen King, they saw something in me that they believed was right for the role and gave me the chance. I started working on that about six months after we wrapped “Parker Lewis,” so I pretty much rolled right into another really great project, and that certainly…once I worked on that, it definitely crushed any stigma that would’ve been left.
BE: I never really got the feeling that you were being referred to as Corin “Parker Lewis” Nemec. Like you said, you pretty much kept working. But with that said, I’m sure you were glad to get another regular series role - the one on “Stargate SG-1” - to establish yourself as another character.
CN: Yeah, you know, “Stargate” was a great experience. What a great show to work on. High-end, with the production values through the roof, and I got to go on some great adventures…in an imaginary way, of course, but as an actor, no matter what, you’re there, you’re on location, you’ve got the sets around you. You’re in an old Egyptian temple on a different planet. You know what I mean? You’re there, and it’s incredible. I really had an awesome time. And then I got to write an episode of it, which was a big deal for me, because I’d really worked hard to make a transition from being just an actor to being a writer / producer. That was really cool of them to pick that up. I mean, I pitched, like, six different episode to them. (Laughs) I was all over them, so that was nice of them to see that there was something in that particular storyline that I pitched and to pick it up. Very cool of them.
BE: Speaking of that transition, I’ve watched “Star-Ving,” with you and David Faustino, where you both acted and did behind-the-camera work.
CN: Oh, yeah. Me and David Faustino and my other partner, Todd Bringewatt, we have a production company, FNB Entertainment, and we did that with another writer/producer, Sam Kass, who’s an Emmy award-winning writer/producer who did “Seinfeld” and “Arli$$.” He’s a great talent. We did everything on that: we wrote, produced, directed, the whole nine yards. Sony was very, very supportive of the show, and they gave us a really great budget for it. And, y’know, we did 12 episodes of that, which I think are just classics. (Laughs) You know what I mean? They’re as far out as you can get. We’re shopping that to networks right now, so we’ll see how that goes. We have several other shows that we’re shopping to networks as well that are a lot of fun, but we’re definitely pushing to make a transition as a production company and to really be on the map.
BE: You and Faustino…look, I gotta ask this. You’ve played Ted Bundy (“Bundy: An American Icon”) and Richard Speck (“Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck“), he played Albert DeSalvo in “The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story.” What do you guys do when you hang out? Or do I not even want to know?
CN: Well, we stalk innocent women, and… (Laughs) No, no. You know, funnily enough, the same director did all three of those movies. Michael Feifer. I did “Chicago Massacre” with Mike and just had such a great time working with him as a director. There was a lot of co-creation involved in that whole process, and when “Boston Strangler” came up, I was talking to Mike about it, and I was, like, “Man, David Faustino would be a really cool DeSalvo.” You know what I mean? He’s Italian, he’s small like DeSalvo was, and they have a similar kind of look. And so he went for it, and that was…I know that David had a good time playing that role, and I did a little part in that movie as well. And when “Bundy” came around, it was a great opportunity for me and Mike to work together again. And, you know, those films are all only around $130K budget, shot in 11 days, so it’s pretty incredible that Mike, the director, is able to make something look that good in that amount of time.
BE: So your first movie - “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” - found you working for Francis Ford Coppola. Were you completely overwhelmed, or were even really aware of his status in the industry at that time?
CN: I was and I wasn’t. I was 12 years old. All I knew is that it was a big deal. (Laughs) I was just so thrilled, because that was the first real…before that, I’d done a Suzuki motorcycle commercial, I did a guest spot on the series “Sidekicks,” with Ernie Reyes, Jr., who’s still one of my longtime friends, and I did a McDonald’s commercial. And that’s it! That was the extent of my career at that point, because I’d only been professionally acting for maybe about six or eight months before that. I had been in a children’s theater company for about six months previously to getting representation, but…that was a pretty big leap! And it was just an amazing project to work on. The cast and the caliber of actors that I got to work with…I mean, it was just incredible. Three and a half months up in the San Francisco Bay area, working on an absolute classic film. An absolute classic.
BE: By the way, I have to mention that I’ve actually got a copy of “Gangsta Rap: The Glockumentary” sitting within spitting distance of me.
CN: Oh, cool! Right on, man!
BE: How did you get involved as the co-producer on that project?
CN: Well, I have a producing partner in Toronto, Larry Bain, and we’ve sold a couple of films. There’s a film out right now called “High Hopes,” with me and David Faustino and Jay Mewes and Andy Dick and Michael DeLorenzo.
BE: Actually, I’ve got a copy of that, too, but I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.
CN: Oh, okay. Well, that movie, when I did that, I’d gotten in touch with Larry up in Toronto, ‘cause he’s very well connected with distribution companies, and I put him in touch with the director of “High Hopes,” and he took it into a couple of different companies up there, and Liongsate really, really saw it. They got it. And so they went for it. The writer / director of “Gangsta Rap” is a friend of mine since high school, Damon “Coke” Daniels, and when that film came out, I talked to him about it, and I said, “Dude, this has got some feet.” Do you know what I mean? In fact, I just did a little part in his next film, which is called “Hollywont.” He just finished filming it recently, and David’s in that as well. So, y’know, I think he already had distribution lined up for that one, but for “Gangsta Rap,” he didn’t have any distribution, so I sent it up to Larry Bain, he took it to his contacts, THINKFilm saw it, and they said, “This is great for our urban division!” And they picked it up. I didn’t get credit on “High Hopes” - only Larry did - but on “Gangsta Rap,” I got the co-producer credit for arranging the distribution.
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
CN: Oh, wow. Actually, there’s probably two. One is a film called “Free,” which was a romantic comedy that I did with Ione Skye and Randall Batinkoff and a bunch of other really, really talented actors. It was a romantic comedy that I thought just turned out so good. Unfortunately, it was first-time producers and, y’know, I’m not sure exactly what happened in them selling it or whatnot, but they really didn’t do the best job, and it kind of disappeared with a distribution entity that didn’t really know how to market it. And then the other one was a really small budget film called “Foreign Correspondents” that I did with Wil Wheaton and Melanie Lynskey, where I got to play this guy from London who was over in the US visiting a pen pal. It was a really cool little slice-of-life drama that I just…I just loved the movie. I really had a great time doing it, and it didn’t get the type of attention that I felt it deserved, especially in the film festivals and whatnot. But I really dug that one, for sure.
BE: Last question. Of these three films, which is your favorite, and why: “The Sea Beast,” “S.S. Doomtrooper,” or “Mansquito”?
CN: Oh, God. (Laughs) Let’s see, which one paid me the most? Oh, boy, that’s a tough one. Um…
BE: I’m torn between “Mansquito” and “S.S. Doomtrooper” myself.
CN: (Laughs) I might have to say “S.S. Doomtrooper,” only because the era was World War II, and it was so much fun to play in that world. We were over in Bulgaria, and it was the tail end of winter, and the feel and the look was great. They just didn’t have the money for the CGI, you know? If the CGI had been better…or, rather, had at least been good… (Laughs) …then I really think that that particular project would’ve had more legs under it. But the budget just wasn’t there to come through on the CGI.
BE: Okay, actually, I do have just one more question, but it can be off the record if it needs to be. I was just wondering about the comment you made earlier about working on “Webster,” and why it wasn’t a great experience.
CN: No, it doesn’t matter. Ma’am and George (the nicknames of the characters played by Susan Clark and Alex Karras) had just gone through a divorce in real life a year or so before, and they absolutely loathed and despised one another, and they hated to be on set with each other. In fact, their dressing rooms were on opposite ends of the stage, so the only time they would ever come into contact with each other was on set. And they would get into some nasty…in fact, we couldn’t shoot in front of a studio audience anymore, because they would get into such nasty arguments and fights, and they had really foul mouths and would curse the living daylights out of each other. And apparently…when I started on the show, there was no more live audience. They had already given up on that because they would just have these blow-ups in front of the audience.
CN: I know! So it was a very, very tense set.
(Writer’s note: This is a great story, and it might be the way Nemec remembers it, but most of what I can find online seems to indicate that Clark and Karras remain married, and that most of the tensions on the set came from the two of them having been led to believe that the show would be a vehicle for them rather than Emmanuel Lewis.)
CN: And the other thing about it, too, was the style of half-hour writing, that kind of style of comedy writing was, for me as an actor, really forced. It was really tough for me to marry myself to the line-line-joke, line-line-joke thing. My style of comedy comes more out of the scene, you know what I mean? It’s not so much out of the writing as it is the situation.
BE: All right, man, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Like I said, I’m psyched that the series is finally out on DVD, and I’m hoping it’s a success for Shout Factory!CN: I think it really will be. Good talking to you, too, brother. Take care!