Raising Hope cast interview, Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garrett Dillahunt
Raising Hope

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Of the new sitcoms premiering on the broadcast networks this fall, “Raising Hope” is the one that offers the most…well, hope. Indeed, the pilot for the series contains a moment which, hand on heart, made me laugh harder than I’ve laughed in probably two years. I had to keep backing up the DVD and watching it again and again. It was just that funny. As such, I did my best to make the rounds at Fox’s all-star party at the Santa Monica Pier and catch up with as many “Raising Hope” cast members as I possibly could.

Alas, I wasn’t able to secure a chat with Cloris Leachman, mostly because she was in the middle of being secured to a bungee cord when I finally spotted her. Yes, seriously: she was preparing to try a bit of rock climbing. Earlier, she’d apparently been bouncing on some equivalent of a trampoline. Yes, the woman gets around. Indeed, one of my highlights from earlier in the day was stumbling upon Leachman playing the piano in the lobby bar of the Beverly Hilton…and, let me tell you, that lady knows how to tinkle the ivories.

It wasn’t long after that performance when Leachman took the stage, along with the rest of her “Raising Hope” co-stars, to discuss their new series. Things were rather anarchic at first, with Leachman taking the reins and causing confusion with her requests, asking critics to stand up, sit down, and then stand up again, then demanding that she be permitted to change her seat. Eventually, though, calm settled over the group, and we were able to get answers to a few questions from the other members of the cast, which I’ll be sprinkling into the piece as well.

Raising HopeGiven the onstage shenanigans, it won’t surprise you that, when asked how it was to play off Cloris Leachman, Martha Plimpton replied, “I think you can see it’s pretty easy. I don’t have to do too much. It’s delightful. Sheer delight. It’s wonderful, absolutely thrilling, and actually somewhat of a dream come true for me.”

Plimpton revealed that it was series Greg Garcia who drew her to the show. “I had known about him for a long time,” she said. “We had a lot of mutual friends, and I’d admired his writing in other shows. He’s just a brilliantly funny guy who has a great sense of what makes the normal, everyday things in life funny, and I appreciate that, and I appreciate as an actor that he’s interested in character and behavior, you know, and I think those are sort of where the heart of the funny is in our show.”

Bullz-Eye: Well, obviously, you’ve been pretty active with your guest star roles over the past year or two, but had you been actively looking for a series role?

Martha Plimpton: I wasn’t actively looking for a series role. I’m always actively looking for really fun parts, for really good parts, and if it means that it’ll be a steady gig, that’s an even bigger blessing.

BE: So how did this one land in your lap? Did they approach you?

MP: No. In fact, I think I came to it pretty late in their casting process. But I did audition like everybody else, and…I don’t know exactly how it came about that I ended up auditioning, but I did. I was working at the time on another project, and I got a call that they wanted me to come in.

BE: Was it nice to return to comedy? Because most of your guest spots have been dramatic.

MP: It’s wonderful. I think the thing that I like most about this particular comedy is that it’s character-driven. It’s about the behavior rather than just crazy situations, so as an actor, it just feels more natural. That’s what I like about it?

BE: How is it working with Cloris?

MP: Oh, my God, I love her. She’s so… (Trails off, shaking her head) I mean, she’s definitely one of my heroes. Many people feel that way about her, but…it’s beyond words. That’s all I’m going to say. She’s incredible.

BE: She seemed a little out of control during the panel today. (Laughs)

"I think (Cloris Leachman) is one of the funniest people who’s ever lived, and sometimes…and I think she’s always been this way, or at least that’s what I’ve heard about her…she simply does not know how to not tell the truth. Her version of the truth, but the truth. She’s as blunt as can be, but God damn if she isn’t funny."

MP: I think she’s one of the funniest people who’s ever lived, and sometimes…and I think she’s always been this way, or at least that’s what I’ve heard about her…she simply does not know how to not tell the truth. Her version of the truth, but the truth. She’s as blunt as can be, but God damn if she isn’t funny. She’s just funny!

BE: Is it weird for you that there’s a version of “Parenthood” on NBC now while you’re playing a parent on Fox?

MP: Oh! I haven’t actually watched it. But, you know, they did another version of “Parenthood” before that, almost right after the movie. This, though, is sort of different and retooled, I guess. I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know. But it’s kind of great, actually, that it’s out there.

BE: Last one: do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

MP: Oh, that’s a good question! I did a movie about… (Hesitates) I’m not going to give you the date, not because I’m vain but because I just can’t remember how many years ago it was. (Laughs) But it was a movie called “Eye of God,” and it was written and directed by a guy named Tim Blake Nelson. It was based on his play of the same name…actually, a play that Garret Dillahunt originated at the Seattle Reparatory Theater! I did it with Kevin Anderson, ultimately, and…I’m very, very proud of that movie. And nobody saw it. It came out in theaters for about two seconds, a very, very tiny independent movie, but I think it’s one of my favorite performances. Ever.

Raising HopeBullz-Eye: I’ve got to tell you, man, that the scene in the pilot with the car seat…? I can’t remember the last time I’ve laughed so hard.

Garret Dillahunt: Oh, yeah? There’s a few of those in there. For me, it’s the puking moments. Mmmm-mmm! (Laughs)

BE: I have to say, though, that it was kind of surprising to see you in this show, since my primary frame of reference for you is “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” Do you have a background in comedy?

GD: Well, you know, I actually started in comedy. Those was my first jobs: sitcoms. I couldn’t get an audition for a drama to save my life. They were always, like, “Oh, he’s a sitcom guy.” And now they’re, like, “Oh, he can’t do comedy. He’s always the killer!” (Laughs) It seems like you’re always having to re-prove yourself. It’s crazy.

BE: So how did you land this role? Did they come to you, or was it just a standard audition?

GD: Yeah, I just auditioned. I’ve been doing a lot of movies this year, and the kind of movies I get don’t pay very much… (Laughs) …but I really love them. But I needed something to sort of finance doing the movies, and I was looking for a good pilot, and this one came along. And I thought, “Well, not only will this finance the movies, but it’s fantastic!” So it’s great. I had to jump through all the hoops to get here, but I’m happy that the thing I’ve found is so cool.

BE: Martha was just saying that you guys have a connection to Tim Blake-Nelson.

GD: Yeah! There was a play I did a long time ago, and…did she tell you the story?

BE: She did. And, actually, I talked to Tim a few months ago.

GD: Oh, cool! Yeah, I love Tim. I really wanted to be in that movie, but at the time, I had no name. I think Kevin Anderson played my part. And it was a shame, because Martha and I had always kind of passed each other without actually working together. And, then, her dad…you know, I killed her dad (Keith Carradine) on “Deadwood.” (Laughs)

BE: I had forgotten that!

GD: Yeah, she’d come hang out, and she was going to be in the fourth season, I think, but they didn’t pick it up. It’s just been a constant series of missed opportunities to work together…but, now, here we are, and it’s great!

BE: So did you bond pretty well as husband and wife, then?

"I actually started in comedy. Those was my first jobs: sitcoms. I couldn’t get an audition for a drama to save my life. They were always, like, 'Oh, he’s a sitcom guy.' And now they’re, like, 'Oh, he can’t do comedy. He’s always the killer!' It seems like you’re always having to re-prove yourself."

GD: Yeah, it was really easy. I think it’s because we’re both secure at home, and we just like each other. She’s a pro, we’ve both worked for a lot of the same theater companies, so…it was easy. I wish everything was that easy!

BE: I understand that’s actually you playing guitar in the pilot.

GD: Yeah! And she’s really singing!

BE: Was that fun?

GD: It was. It was great. As I was doing it, I was thinking, “Maybe this will become a thing that we’ll do regularly!”

BE: So, uh, Cloris was pretty entertaining during the panel today.

GD: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s Cloris, man. Everyone seems freaked out about it, but that’s how it is every day.

BE: I saw her playing piano in the lobby earlier today.

GD: I believe it. There’s a piano on the set that she’s always playing, too.

BE: So what can we expect to see from the show beyond the pilot?

GD: Well, it’s going to be a process, I think, of everyone in the family maturing and beginning to become better parents. I like the fact that Burt has kind of a warm, fuzzy center, even though he likes to sort of fuck around with the kids. That’s what I think you’ll see, though: them maturing.

BE: Were you sorry that “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” ended when it did?

GD: Yeah, man, I would’ve been happy if it’d come back. I like sci-fi stuff. I’m kind of a geek about that. I have a lot of comic books at home. It was a good job.

BE: Lastly, what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

GD: Oh, geez. Uh…I don’t know. It sort of would’ve been nice if “Deadwood” had had a final year…but I was done on it, anyway! (Laughs) I guess it’d be “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” I think that’s a great movie, and it didn’t get nearly the studio support that I thought it should’ve.

Raising HopeBullz-Eye: Well, I’ve talked to both of your parents on the show, so I wanted to make sure that I talked to you, too.

Lucas Neff: (Laughs) Absolutely!

BE: So how did you come aboard “Raising Hope”?

LN: I was an actor in Chicago, I went on tape, and Greg (Garcia) liked me and flew me out to L.A. I was just a theater actor. It was pretty fantastic.

BE: So you hadn’t done any TV work?

LN: I had a three-line part in “The Beast.” Maybe a 30-second part. That’s it. (Laughs)

BE: So this is a pretty nice step up, then.

LN: Yeah, this is quite a next rung. (Laughs) It’s great!

BE: So how are Garret and Martha to work with?

LN: Unbelievable. I mean, they’re two of the most talented actors I’ve ever met in person, and working with them on the show is just… (Shakes his head) I think I learn something new every time I set foot on stage with them.

BE: I presume you were aware of their work beforehand.

LN: Oh, yeah, I’m a huge Dillahunt fan. I mean, “No Country of Old Men”…? I loved “Assassination of Jesse James,” “The Road,” “Winter’s Bone.” And Martha Plimpton…? Who doesn’t love “The Goonies”? Among other things, of course. And, then, she’s just this huge actress. She’s been on Broadway. I love Tom Stoppard, and she’s been in “The Coast of Utopia,” which is just an amazing cycle of plays. So, I mean, they’re both heroes of mine.

BE: And then there’s Cloris Leachman. Crazy, perhaps, but awesome. I saw her playing piano in the lobby today.

LN: You know, she won Miss Chicago in 1946.

BE: I did not know that.

LN: Mark that one down! (Laughs) Yeah, she’s a multi-threat talent. She can do it all: dance, sing, play music, act, take over a panel… (Laughs) She’s got it down. She’s great.

"I have the highest hope (for 'Raising Hope'), but I don’t know if that means anything. But everything’s crossed that can be crossed!"

BE: So how is it to work with the baby? Or is it babies?

LN: I think it’s all been twins, but, yeah, they’re wonderful. But, you know, they’re babies. I don’t think I’ve ever met, like, a bad baby. Some babies cry more than other babies, but…they’re babies, so they’re all great.

BE: So what can we expect from this first season of the show?

LN: Well, I think we’re going to get to know some of Jimmy’s friends. We’ll explore more of the other characters in their world. And we’ll start to see where Jimmy’s parents have failed him. Like, as he learns to deal with the baby, he’ll learn about things that maybe his parents do with him. And, so, it’ll be sort of a multi-generational parenting cycle that’ll happen. But it’ll be a lot of fun.

BE: Do you have high hopes for the series’ success?

LN: Well, I mean, I have the highest hope… (Laughs) …but I don’t know if that means anything. But everything’s crossed that can be crossed!

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