Interview Date: 01/14/2011
Run Date: 02/14/2011
The alternate title of this interview could easily be “Tyler Labine: Repeat Offender.” Not because we’ve interviewed him on several previous occasions (although we have, even having a drink with him, but because he’s been on so many series that – for better or worse – haven’t managed to take off for the long haul, including two Bullz-Eye favorites: “Invasion” and “Reaper.” After surviving the short-lived Fox sitcom “Sons of Tucson,” however, Labine has hopped to CBS and found himself in a series that would seem to be the best bet for success that he’s had in a very long time.
“Mad Love,” which premieres tonight at 8:30 PM and teams Labine with Jason Biggs, Sarah Chalke, and Judy Greer, would be hard pressed to have a better timeslot, given that the network has positioned it post-“How I Met Your Mother” and pre-“Two and a Half Men.” When we met up with Labine at the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour, he talked about his enjoyment of the ensemble as well as the challenges of going multi-camera, then considered some of his previous endeavors, including the all-too-unseen “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.”
Tyler Labine: Hey, man, I’m sorry we’re stuck doing this without alcohol this time, but I’ve got to get back to the set after this. (Laughs)
Bullz-Eye: No worries, we’ll drink up next time. So… (With mock seriousness) …this is yet another role with a beard.
Tyler Labine: Yes. Always.
BE: Is this a contractual thing for you?
TL: No. I guess after “(Sons of) Tucson,” I just looked like such a bum, with the hair pushed back and the really scraggly beard that was sort of thinned out, that I was…well, you know. You’re a man who likes a carefully cultivated facial hair.
BE: I do, absolutely. Or at least I try, anyway.
TL: I wanted to do the same thing. I was, like, “I want to get nice clean lines, have my hair back to the way I’m comfortable with it, put a suit on…” I think it looks sharp, man.
BE: Absolutely. Now, like you said during the panel, this is not the first time you’ve played a lawyer, although people may think it is.
TL: I don’t know if people would recognize me in the other one (“Boston Legal”).
BE: So you actually get to play a responsible adult again.
TL: Yeah, ostensibly. (Laughs) There is room for some responsibility in there, but I don’t think Larry ever seizes that opportunity. This is more along the lines of…like I was saying, he’s one of those characters that I love to play, where I just literally say and do whatever I want.
BE: So there’s been no talk of you getting into the courtroom quite yet?
TL: No. But like I said, in this last episode (we just filmed), I get to flex a little bit of legalese, trying to get myself out of a speeding ticket…no, a seatbelt ticket…I got that I feel I don’t deserve. Because I keep telling Matt and Jamie, I’m, like, “You know, honestly, I have quite an extensive legal vocabulary under my belt!” “Boston Legal,” I had to learn a ton of stuff. “Kevin Hill,” I had to learn a ton of stuff. My agents got me Black’s Law Dictionary, so I just have it sitting in my apartment. I say throw it at me, man, let’s go.
BE: As I was watching the pilot, my first point of comparison was “About Last Night.”
TL: Is that the movie…? I think that’s what Matt was talking about. He sort of was inspired by that for this. He said he felt like the secondary characters…was it Jim Belushi?
BE: Yeah. And Elizabeth Perkins.
TL: …were more sort of engaging and more… (Hesitates) He felt like they were the couple that you wanted to see what was going to happen with more so than the two starry eyed lovers or whatever. So I think that’s sort of what he was going for, that at the base of this sort of fairy tale romance is this thing off to the side that your eyes are always drawn to. Like, “Wait a minute, what’s going on with those two? I think maybe they’ve got something!” And that was the trick. I mean, doing the pilot that way, we had to figure out…well, obviously we lucked out with Judy Greer. She’s so awesome, man. That girl has got something really magical. And she’s, like, six feet tall too.
BE: Even better.
TL: Yeah, I like them Amazonian. (Laughs) But I guess that’s been our job, to sort of create the tension between each other while still being banter-y. You know, insulting each other, but there has to be some underlying sexual tension or whatever. Some attraction. It’s been really easy with her. She’s such a good actress.
BE: Yeah, I got the impression that it’s kind of going to flip-flop, as far as the focus goes.
TL: Yeah. I mean, it has to, I think. We are talking about a half-hour multi-camera here, so we’ve got to keep all facets of the show up and keep people really interested. (Sarah) Chalke and (Jason) Biggs are just so goofy themselves. It’s funny, I’ve sort of watched Matt and the writing staff over there just completely readapt what they thought the couple was going to be. The pilot is just sort of them falling in love, and they’re both such weird, strong personalities that they’ve really sort of emerged as another weird couple. It’s almost like they’ve had to reevaluate how that true love is sort of happening. It’s really funny, because they’re both really quirky, strange people.
BE: So how has it progressed since the pilot? I mean, you’re at episode eight now…?
TL: Well, we just finished nine. We’re finishing nine today, after I leave here.
BE: Do you feel like you’re getting a hang of the show?
BE: Or the show is getting the hang of itself?
TL: Well they usually happen around the same time. You sort of start to feel like the show writers start… (Hesitates) Right around the same time you get open to how you think you’re going to play the character, they start realizing, “Oh, that’s how he wants to play the character.” The writing sort of meets up with you somewhere in the middle. But, yeah, I’ve never done a multi-camera before, and I had some trepidations. I was, like, “Oh, God, I don’t know, man...” It just always feels like it’s so big, and not that I’m necessarily a super-subtle actor… (Laughs) …but I like to think there are some nuances to what I do. But when we got there and did it, I was, like, “Oh, okay, just because you’re on a multi-camera doesn’t mean you have to throw all that out the window.” I mean, obviously, you watch “How I Met Your Mother” or “Big Bang,” there’s a lot of subtle stuff. I keep talking to Biggs about this pocket that you have to hit in sitcoms when you’re filming. It’s, like, you can feel when you’re just outside of it, and then when you hit the pocket when you’re acting with someone, it just feels like…
BE: “Oh, yeah.”
TL: (Laughs) Right. There you go. But there’s a very specific pocket that I’m not used to in multi-camera. But I’m starting to really get it. I’m starting to really enjoy it. I think I was too scared of it at the beginning to really enjoy it. Luckily, I’m awesome, so it didn’t matter. (Laughs)
BE: Well, sure, that helps.
TL: But once you really get it, I think you’re more free to have fun with it, you know what I mean?
BE: Yeah. Like Rob (Salem) said, you guys have an awesome time slot.
TL: Yeah, we’re Monday nights at 8:30 between “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men”.
BE: That is pretty awesome.
TL: Yeah. That’s, like, fucking way better than I was expecting… (Laughs) …so that’s good.
BE: So are you going to feel obligated to have your own Charlie Sheen period?
TL: (Laughs) I think I had my Charlie Sheen period before. You know, I’ve been drunk at these a few too many times. No, now it’s, like, I’m into the responsible, enjoying my lax schedule and new-baby phase of my life.
BE: Congratulations, by the way.
TL: Yeah, thank you very much. You have a daughter too right?
BE: Yeah, I do. She’s five.
TL: Yeah, I can’t wait. Six weeks old, my little girl.
BE: Your first?
TL: Yeah, first one.
TL: Yeah, it’s pretty rad.
BE: So your movie, “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” I’ve yet to see it, but I know it was a huge hit on the festival circuit.
TL: Yeah, it went over big.
BE: But, alas, it still has not made it to Norfolk, Virginia.
TL: No. It’s such an elusive, weird process with American distribution. Like, there were many, many offers on the table from the biggest…I mean, after Sundance, and we won South by Southwest, the audience award, and we’re winning festivals all over the country. Every other region all over the world has pretty much bought it. We’re huge in Germany and Russia. We’ve got Maple in Canada, which is our hugest distributor. But for whatever reason, the deal just won’t come together here. There’s one that’s in the works right now that potentially will sub it, so if that works, I think that will be good.
BE: So what do you think went wrong with “Sons of Tucson”? I mean, I liked what I saw, but…
TL: Yeah, me, too. I really liked the show. I don’t think it ever fully gelled. I don’t think the cast ever fully gelled on the show. But I feel like what ultimately killed us was the time slot. I mean, in the end, when we were put on at 9:30 after “Family Guy,” people were not wanting to watch a half-hour single-camera live-action right after an hour and a half of cartoons. It’s like turning the lights on at the end of the night or at the night club. People are, like, “Oh, God! People! Real people!”
BE: (Laughs) In my fall preview this year, because of all the bad buzz that “Running Wilde” was getting, I was, like, “What they really should do is resurrect ‘Sons of Tucson’ and put that on behind ‘Raising Hope,’ and that would be your two-fer right there.”
TL: Yeah. I think if we were on another block, on any other night, with other live action shows that were akin to our sort of vibe, then, you know, it would have been good. But then they took us off the air for, like, six weeks, and then put us back on at 7:30, because by that point I think they were just, like, “No, it’s done. We’re not going to use it.”
BE: “But we don’t waste our money, so we need to put it on the air, at least.”
TL: Exactly. “We’ll just burn them off.” It was just disappointing, because it was a really fun show. But like I said, it was really difficult working with three children. You know, there’s a lot of child politics on set. That’s sort of what I mean about cast gelling. It’s not that we didn’t on-camera gel, it’s just there’s a lot of strikes against that show ever since Fox aired it. It was tricky to shoot, we were over budget…yeah, it was a tricky show, man. I worked triple time on that show.
BE: Speaking of Fox, I saw Bret (Harrison) the other night at the Fox party.
TL: Oh, yeah?
BE: He shows up holding a glass of scotch, and I’m, like, “Be honest: did you drink that before you started hanging out with Tyler?” He’s, like, “You don’t even know how much scotch that me and Tyler and Ray (Wise) drank on that set.”
TL: (Laughs) We drank a lot of scotch there. Sometimes actually on set. Well, I mean, Ray, you look at him and you just want to drink scotch. You’re, like, “Hey, buddy, how’s about another glass?” He’s the best, man. Is Bret on a fox show?
BE: Yeah, “Breaking In,” with Christian Slater.
TL: Oh, that’s right.
BE: Yeah, Adam Goldberg’s producing.
TL: Good for him, man.
BE: Yeah, he seemed very excited to be there.
TL: “Reaper” was, like, a magical time in my life, you know. Shooting back in the ‘Couve (Vancouver) good cast, fun little show. It was great.
BE: That was my first TCA tour, actually.
TL: Was it, really?
TL: What was that 2006?
TL: Yeah, ’07 and ’08, that’s right.
BE: I walked out of there going, “Oh, my God, this is the best show I’ve ever seen!”
TL: You hadn’t been jaded yet. (Laughs) You hadn’t done your two weeks at the TCA.
BE: Yeah, now it’s, like, “Oh, this show’s never going to last…” I think I’ve asked you this before, and the answer’s probably “Reaper,” but…what’s your favorite project that didn’t get the love that you thought it deserved?
TL: Well/ I have to say right now in the movie world it’s “Tucker & Dale.” I just feel like that deserves such a big push. It would be a huge hit if they push it, or at least, like, a cult classic that will live on forever. Which it still could be, you know, when it comes out on DVD. But favorite project that I wish got more love was “Reaper,” absolutely, hands down. It just never got the viewers we wanted, and it was on the wrong network, I feel like. Dawn Ostroff (President of Entertainment of The CW Television Network) admittedly said she never understood the show. She didn’t get why people liked it.
BE: (Shocked) I did not know that.
TL: So it’s sort of, like, “Then I don’t think we’re going to get much support, if the president of the network does not get why people like the show.” Yeah, she said that publically in an interview that we all read. So it was, like, “Okay…”
BE: That builds morale on the set, I would think.
TL: Yeah. And “Reaper” is actually one of the only shows I had where when it got cancelled and later on I had executives from…well, I’m not going to say who, but from that network, coming to me and saying, “That was a mistake, we shouldn’t have cancelled your show.” I’m, like, “Oh, okay, well, thanks. So are we going to pick it back up again? No…? Oh, okay, that’s good.” (Laughs) And then a close second would have to be “Invasion.”
BE: Yeah, I loved it.
TL: But the funny thing is, “Invasion” did get lots of love. Critics loved it. There was quite a huge following by the time we got cancelled. It was just the network didn’t love it, that’s all.
BE: And I just hate knowing that Shaun Cassidy had, like, what, a five-year plan or something? You said he had, like, a huge bible for the show.
TL: Yeah, we all got to see the bible…a glimpse of the bible. (Laughs) I mean, he’s just a mad genius, that guy. I actually had said this year that if things hadn’t worked out the way they did with “Mad Love,” I was hoping to maybe call Shaun and see if we could team up and do another show together, because we really worked well together. And he’s great.
BE: Keep that in your back pocket, man.
TL: Oh, I keep everything in my back pocket, believe me. (Laughs) But, yeah, “Invasion” was just a bummer all around, because it had the potential to be another “Lost,” I think. A big show. You know, the type of shows that I really love, with a crazy plot and twists and turns. Yeah, I guess my biggest disappointment is I never got to find out what those twists and turns were going to be, either. It would have been exciting.
BE: So I’ll close by asking you this: what are your hopes for “Mad Love”?
TL: My hopes for “Mad Love” are just exactly what I have always wanted: to have a show that people enjoy watching, and that it’s a hit. (Laughs) I hope that enough people watch it that we can stay on. I couldn’t be happier working with Biggs and Chalke and Greer. And the Tarses, too. We call them The Tarsem. I think it’s ultimately sort of a show that is more in the pocket, on the right network, you know. It’s the rightest network out of any show that I’ve done.
BE: And the right slot, like you said.
TL: Yeah, right slot, right network, right type of show, right format, right cast. I think it’s got the right pitch. I hope that it does well and we get a few years out of it. Just enjoy it.
BE: Otherwise, this could be the one where you just go, “Fuck TV, man, I don’t know how the fuck this works.”
TL: I honestly feel like if this one doesn’t work, I’m going to be, like, “What haven’t I tried?” I’ve tried everything: hour-long single-camera, half-hour single-camera, multi-camera, hour-long drama, hour-long comedy…
BE: Time for the one-man show.
TL: Yeah, really. “Quitsville,” man, that’s what I’ll call it. (Laughs) Hopefully it won’t come to that, though. But, you know, seven TV series that have all…I mean, this is the seventh now. You sort of start to feel like the joke’s on you, eventually.
BE: Well, they keep calling you, though.
TL: They do.
BE: You’re almost never without work, from what I’ve seen.
TL: Early on, I would actually be happy if I got to do a new show every year. But I don’t think it works that way. I think eventually they’re just going to go, “That guy’s a curse, we’re not going to use him anymore.”
BE: “Maybe it’s Tyler’s fault.”
TL: Yeah, exactly. “Did anybody notice that we cast this relatively unattractive chubby guy on the show? Maybe that’s his fault.”
BE: Next time, shave the beard.TL: (Laughs) Yeah, I will…although, actually, I’m even more unattractive without the beard. So I think I probably ought to keep it going.