Interview date: 03/16/2008
Run date: 03/25/2008
Either Tyler Labine is such a great actor that you can't tell when he's acting, or he's not actually acting at all. It's probably a little bit of both, but after speaking with him in conjunction with the return of "Reaper" to The CW's airwaves, it's pretty clear that, at the very least, there's a whole lot of Labine in the character of Sock. (It probably doesn't hurt that he has a certain amount of wiggle room when it comes to the script.) Bullz-Eye talked to Labine about his work on the series and how psyched he was to get back to business post-strike, how he and Kevin Smith have bonded since Smith directed the show's pilot, and how much optimism he has about there being a second season of "Reaper." First, however, we had to tackle a very important matter: the friend request I'd sent to him on Facebook.
Tyler Labine: Hello?
Bullz-Eye: Hey, may I speak with Tyler?
TL: This is Tyler!
BE: This is Will from Bullz-Eye.
TL: Hey, how's it going, man?
BE: Pretty good.
TL: Are you the one that I made friends with on Facebook?
BE: That is me.
TL: (laughs) Right on, man! I got that little invitation where you said, "I'm doing an interview with you on Tuesday," and I'm, like, "Shit, I'm doing an interview on Tuesday?"
BE: Well, I'm glad I could give you some fair warning, anyway.
TL: Thank you, I appreciate it!
BE: So I've been a big "Reaper" fan from day one, and I'm really glad it's back on the air.
TL: Aw, thank you. Me, too! I've been a big fan myself!
BE: I got that impression this summer. I met you for a few seconds at the TCA press tour.
TL: Yeah, actually, I thought you looked familiar and thought I might've met you.
BE: You guys were definitely the hit of the tour, I think.
TL: Yeah, at that moment, we were all sort of seeing the pilot for the first time…like, in the same clips you were seeing (at the panel). So we were, like, "Whoa! I think we've got something kind of cool here!" We were getting as caught up in how it looked as you guys were, so it was hard not to be sort of, y'know, "We rock, man!" (laughs)
BE: So how much were you chomping at the bit to get back to work after the writer's strike was settled? Because you've had a pretty steady workload for the past few years.
TL: Oh, yeah, man, definitely. A friend of mine was just saying to me the other day, "Oh, you must've had a nice three-and-a-half months off," and I was, like, "No!" I was scared that I was not going to be able to work for a year, trying to grab jobs that I would never normally want, panicking all the time, trying to figure out how I'm going to save my money. It was just not a good three months. Ask my wife, she'll tell you. It was like a rollercoaster with me. I'd be all, like, "Whatever, man, one door closes, another one opens," then the next week it'd be, like, "The sky is falling! I'm never going to work again!" Bullshit actor neuroses or whatever. But, yeah, it was lame. And it interrupted our flow, y'know? We were really getting into the flow of things on the show, and then it's just, like, BOOM! "Okay, you're down." I sort of said goodbye, because it was, like, "Okay, I guess we're done."
BE: Yeah, I talked to (Labine's "Reaper" co-star) Ray Wise on, I think, the day the strike started, and he said, "This is throwing us into a little bit of a tizzy," and he was already hoping that the strike would be short-lived.
TL: Yeah, really, it was just…when the axe dropped, we had a couple more episodes left to shoot, and we were kind of living in this bubble for awhile here in Vancouver, and we weren't really dealing with a lot of the hoopla or whatever in L.A., or the actual picketing, so we were, like, "Is this thing real?" And on the last day of shooting, we realized, "Yeah, this is pretty fucking real, man. That's it! Goodbye, cast! Goodbye, crew!" Bret and Rick took off back to L.A., and it just…it was, like, "Wow, I guess that's probably the end of 'Reaper,'" as far as I was concerned. So I'm ecstatic that they picked us up for five more episodes, just to flesh out the season even a little bit. I mean, if this is it, I'm just so glad that we actually get 18 episodes to flesh out the show rather than 13.
BE: Well, if this is it, there'll be a lot of pissed people out there.
TL: Yeah, including me! Jesus, man, if you look at my resume, this is a recurring joke in my life. "Here you go, man, have a critically-acclaimed first season of a show…aaaaand that's it."
BE: Oh, believe me, I've got questions about a couple of those shows, too. But for right now, how did you first get involved with "Reaper?" Was it just a standard audition, or had someone seen you somewhere else and remembered you to call you in?
TL: No, actually, "Reaper," sort of in a roundabout way, came from "Invasion." I had…after "Invasion," Touchstone had signed me for a development deal and started to work on shows for me to do. They were, like, "We want you to try this show and this show," and they started pitching me shows, but nothing was really clicking with me. I wasn't finding anything I really wanted to do…except for "Pushing Daises," and, obviously, I didn't get that one.
BE: What role were you up for?
TL: For Lee Pace's role. (Writer's note: if you're only a casual fan, that would be Ned, a.k.a. The Piemaker.) They were talking to me about that one, but that was obviously not in the cards. I was driving to meet with them, and I get the call, "Turn around, they offered it to Lee Pace." And I was, like, "Oh, okay. All right. I didn't even make it through the gates, but that's okay." But then I got a call from my agents, and they're, like, "There's a CW show called 'Reaper,'" and I'm, like, "Oh, I don't really want to be in a CW show, and I can't, anyway, can I? I'm on Touchstone/ABC." They're, like, "No, actually, Touchstone is doing this CW show. It's a Touchstone project, and it's with Mark Gordon." And I was, like, "Okay, that's good news." And he was, like, "Oh, and Kevin Smith is directing the pilot." And I was, like, "Why hasn't anyone told me about this one yet? What's going on here?" So they sent me the script, I read it, and it's freaking hilarious and I'd love to do it…and at that point, I find out that my agency, because they had sort of said "no" on my behalf, had sort of pissed off Kevin Smith to the degree where he was, like, "I don't know if I want to meet with the guy. He didn't want to meet with me." And I'm, like, "No! NO! That's all wrong! I didn't know the project was out there! I can't have Kevin Smith thinking I'm blowing him off! That's not a good idea. Ever." So I was, like, "Look, if he is anywhere that I can meet him right now, just tell him I will run to wherever he is right now, and we'll have the meeting. I like the pilot, it's shooting in Vancouver, I love Kevin Smith…just let me meet with him." So I went there, we sat down, and we chain-smoked his bad menthol cigarettes, and he was, like, "I love you for it, man, as long as you don't want to do a Jack Black impression." And I was, like, "Dude, if I hear one more person say that to me in this town…" I said, "Look, me and you, we're both fat and have beards. Does that mean we're both Jack Black?" And he said, "I like you. Okay, let's go."
BE: Well, hey, you've seen my Facebook picture, so I clearly sympathize.
TL: (laughs) Yeah, come on! Give us guys a little credit here! Just because we're overweight, jovial and have beards doesn't mean we're trying to do Jack Black impressions! But, anyway, we agreed on that, and we agreed on a few other ideas about the show very wholeheartedly, like as far as how I wanted to approach the character, and he was, like, "Good, I'll see you there." And that was that.
BE: How much input do you and the other actors get with your dialogue? I mean, is there room for ad libbing?
TL: Oh, yeah, quite a bit. I mean, I've been telling people that if there are moments that you feel like are ad-libbed, that just feel a little too loose to be scripted, they are. There's a lot of ad libbing on the show, especially from my character. I guess we sort of set it up during the pilot that…Kevin was such an open, collaborative guy that he would just sit behind the monitors and yell stuff for you to say, and you'd be, like, "Screw you, I'm gonna try this!" And then you could just say whatever, and it was almost like…as long as you could get a laugh and people were digging it, it could fly. And I love a set environment like that, where we can collaborate and the writers aren't getting their backs up about their words or whatever. I mean, obviously, every writer has the right to do that when it's appropriate, but some writers are just a little too fucking precious for my liking. But not these guys. The girls were, like, "Hey, man, if it's funny, it's funny. We're aware of that." But by the time the pilot came together, I got an official call from (executive producer) Deb Spera and those guys, saying, "Look, you tested higher than any character we've had on The CW…or The WB or whatever…and we think it has a lot to do with the fact that you brought your own sort of spin to everything. And your ad-libbing…we're telling you officially but unofficially – wink, wink – that we're gonna kind of leave you alone. You can kind of do whatever you want on the show." I was, like, "Whoa! Are you giving an actor carte blanche for dialogue?" (laughs) And she was, like, "Wink, wink, remember? Unofficially!" But I came back to the show knowing that I could at least have an open communication with the writers, and that ad libbing was allowed. So, uh, sorry, long answer to an easy question, but, yes, we're allowed to ad lib on the show. (laughs)
BE: In last week's episode, we finally got to meet Sock's mom.
TL: Sure did!
BE: Were you glad to finally have more of a chance to explore his history?
TL: Yeah, y'know, I was thinking that one of the more interesting things about a character like Sock is, how do you get there? You don't just go from zero to 60. That character had to start somewhere, and how does one become Sock? And it had a lot to do with his mom, or his upbringing, anyway. So when they brought the idea of my mom into the show, I was, like, "Okay, yeah!" It wasn't even so much that she had a ton of screen time; it was just the back story with my relationship with my mom, and my obvious weakness for mom love. Just needing my mom. And I thought it was a really neat, new layer to Sock that they hadn't really explored before. Like, when I explode all over the demon and I'm yelling at him, I liked that because it was, like, there's another level of me that we got to see happen: how passionate Sock can be. He's not always, like, "Whatever, let's go." If you think back on it, Sock is the one who's always ready to go for some demon adventure, and it's something that the mom storyline brought out, this very visceral passion in Sock. And it's cool.
BE: Sock's ex keeps popping in and out of the various plot lines. When are you guys gonna get it over with and get back together?
TL: Oh, Josie…? Oh, fuck. We just finished shooting an episode where we basically explore the idea that…well, it was just to quell all those naysayers out there who are going, "She would never date that guy!" We put it out there: she dates down. She dates down. She's a chubby chaser, y'know? What are you gonna do? It's in the cards, I think, that…yeah, she's, uh…without saying too much, it's in the works that Josie and Sock may yet have sort of a steamy rekindling.
BE: And this week, the guys all get an apartment together.
TL: We sure do…after my mom kicks me out! I forge the boys' signature on a lease, and before they know it, we have to live in this apartment that I've found. But it turns out that it's this really great, swanky apartment.
BE: Did you yourself ever do the bachelor pad thing?
TL: Oh, yeah. (laughs) Me and my wife actually live in kind of a bachelor pad right now, but we're about to move out of here! But, yeah, I had this little swinging bachelor pad with a pool table, a big, black leather couch, a neon sign, and all that shit. I did it. (laughs) But I was also 19, so I had every excuse. But, yeah, the boys move into this place, and it turns out that Sock has actually done pretty well. It's a nice place, the rent is pretty good, but…I can't remember if the preview explored any or this or not, but it comes equipped with some freaky-deaky neighbor luggage. We get some really crazy neighbors that…well, I won't get too into detail what they're about, but they're wriggling their way into the "Reaper" scene.
BE: When I interviewed Ray, I asked him if we'd get to see The Devil interacting with Sock and Ben, and in that great voice of his, he said (lowers and deepens voice accordingly) "Oh, yes."
TL: (bursts into laughter) Dude, you sounded just like him right there! "Oh, yes." But, y'know, they won't ever tell us exactly what that interaction will be, but, yeah, they've assured us that, in the future, there will definitely be some interaction between The Devil and Sock and Ben. 'Cause, I mean, at the very least, I cannot be on a show with Ray Wise and not ever do a scene with him! I mean, he's the best guy, we're buddies, and we chat every day we're there, but then I'm, like, "Oh, yeah, I've never even been on camera with you!" It hasn't happened! We worked together before, though, on a show called "Dead Last."
BE: Okay, I'll jump ahead to ask about that show. That concept was, straight up, a live-action version of "Scooby-Doo," except without the dog.
TL: Oh, totally. Totally.
BE: Was it as much fun to do as it looked like?
TL: Oh, yeah, it was a blast. It's what brought me to L.A., that show. I'd been living in Vancouver, and…oh, shit, hang on one second. (drops off line for several seconds) Hey, man, it was my next interview calling, but I told her I'd call her back in five, so we can finish up here.
BE: Cool, I appreciate it.
TL: But, yeah, the show was really fun to do, man, and it was what brought me to L.A.. I went down there with a friend of mine from Vancouver – Kett Turton, who was one of the other actors – and we just took that town by storm. It was just a really great learning experience, and from that, that's how I started to just bounce around from network to network, because the guys who wrote that put me in my first holding deal down there, and they wrote an Untitled Tyler Labine Project for me, and from there I ended up on "That Was Then," and then I ended up on "Invasion," so, y'know, it was the first domino.
BE: Have you heard any rumors about "Dead Last" coming out on DVD?
TL: (surprised) You've heard rumors about it?
BE: No, I was wondering if you had heard rumors.
TL: Oh, no. No, I don't think it'll ever come out on DVD. I just don't see it happening. It would be awesome if it did, but I don't think it will.
BE: Your Wikipedia entry mentions that you're in "Zack and Miri Make A Porno." I presume the "Reaper"/Kevin Smith connection is what got you into that.
TL: Yeah, he just e-mailed me and was, like, "Would you like to come out and play, sir?" And I was, like, "Could you be a little more specific, sir?" (laughs) He said, "Come out to Pittsburgh, shoot a couple days on my new movie." And I'm, like, "Yeah! I'll fucking be there, man!" So I went out there and shot a really great cameo scene that he put together for me, and he told me it was because I play the best drunk he'd ever seen.
BE: Well, I know you've been credited as "Stoner Guy" a few times on your resume.
TL: Yeah, most of my young career was basically going to auditions stoned and having them tell me, "Wow, you play stoned really well!" (laughs) But it was fun. I was on "The X-Files" as a recurring character named Stoner, so I guess I did it pretty well!
BE: When ABC pulled "Invasion" after a single season, what were your thoughts on that? Were you a big fan of the show itself?
TL: I was. I just really loved working with that cast, and with Shaun Cassidy…I just think he's such a…people just haven't figured him out yet, y'know what I mean? With shows like "American Gothic" and "The Agency," he's just this great writer, and…
(At this point, Labine suddenly vanishes off the line. He'd been in and out on a couple of occasions during the conversation, but this time he was completely gone. Just as I started to call him back, however, my other line beeped.)
BE: Hey, you were in mid-conversation, and suddenly I was, like, "Oh, man!"
TL: I know, I'm in my apartment, and I told you I lived in this bachelor pad, but it's like a dungeon, and the cell phone doesn't work very well. But, yeah, Shaun Cassidy, my biggest regret was that the world didn't get to see what he had…I mean, he had written this bible for the show, and he had written this amazing five-season arc, and we were just floored. Our jaws were literally on the floor after he explained it to us. We were, like, "Wow, we're on for a really great ride!" And when it got short, I was just bummed that the world was never going to see what…like, the first season was just the set-up, setting the table. But I guess that was what killed us. People don't have patience for that kind of stuff.
BE: Kids today…
TL: Yeah, kids today, doggone it! We did quite well, but we were really expensive, and the ratings just weren't quite what they wanted so…c'est la vie. Or c'est la TV.
BE: Lastly, you guys are, unfortunately, up against "Lost" now.
BE: Are you hopeful that you, uh, still have a chance for a second season?
TL: Yeah, I'm definitely hopeful, especially because of the fact that we've been told that the expectation for finishing the season is not in ratings, really, right now. We're not banking on huge ratings because this season has been…it's sort of been a turbulent year, obviously, and the network just wants to see how we finish up the season with the story, whether they like it a lot, whether the critics like it, which is really important. And we're routinely one of the top three or four most downloaded shows on iTunes the day after we air, and the DVD buzz is pretty huge for the show.
BE: I'm pretty psyched for that myself.
TL: Yeah, we've been shooting tons of behind-the-scenes footage, and there's gonna be a lot of great features on the DVDs. Those are the biggest factors because, right now, we're either looking at "American Idol" or "Lost" as our competition, and…they're both juggernauts, you know what I mean? There's no competing against those shows. So I figure that either they're trying to bury us in that timeslot, or they're putting us there for now until they can work out their schedule, because…that network, apparently, is just a shambles. Their entire comedy department has just been replaced or fired or whatever, and…after the strike, I think The CW just got really screwed up, so they've got so many problems right now that to create another problem by canceling one of their new shows that the critics are actually liking, I think it'd just cause more problems for them.
BE: See, that sucks, because they've got such good comedies, what with "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Aliens in America."
TL: I know, but…who knows? It's that kind of network that…it's so young that everybody was kind of surprised that they made it through as well as they did. They didn't have the kind of money to lose that the other studios and networks did, so it really bunged them up quite a lot to have the strike.
BE: Well, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for a second season, because, like I said, I've been there every week since the beginning.
TL: Thanks, man, I appreciate it. I hope we get one, too, because I'm having a blast. Well, look, I gotta boogie, 'cause I got this other interview, but hopefully I'll see you at the next TCA thing!
Right before Tyler got off the line, I mentioned that I had two more really quick questions for him, but that I could just send them to him by way of our new acquaintanceship on Facebook. No surprise here: he replied, "Sure, dude."
BE: Hey, man, thanks for going over my allotted time by a couple of minutes (although I guess it's the person after me who I should thank for hanging tight 'til I got finished), not to mention for calling me back after the Great Disconnection.
TL: Yeah good chat today brother. We bearded husky men need to stick together. Ha-ha.
BE: You played John Belushi in that TV movie where they took a not-at-all-sensationalized backstage look at "Mork and Mindy." How freaking surreal was that?
TL: The John Belushi thing was VERY surreal. I had some super bad nightmares about his family coming after me and just asking me to let sleeping dogs lie. I think whenever someone that beloved by the world gets portrayed in any light, it is going to get picked to shreds. I'm just glad they recognized that I wasn't there to do an impression, I just wanted to capture some of the same energy he had. But I definitely will not be agreeing to any bio pics in the near future.
BE: I saw on your IMDB page that you're in a flick called "Control Alt Delete," and the entry describes it as "a moody romantic comedy exploring fetishism, addiction and love in the information age." How would you describe it?
TL: Yeah, the movie "Control Alt Delete" is a movie my brother wrote and directed; it's our first feature collaboration, and I am ecstatic about it. I had been on board to play this character "Lewis Henderson" for almost five years. I can't go into too much detail about the film because our whole marketing angle is based on the secrecy of our hook, but the one thing I can tell you is that my addiction to love in the information age is very literal: I fuck computers. That's all I can tell you. Trust me when I say it is a great dark comedy. I love it, and, honestly, anything you can do to keep that name out there would be greatly appreciated, brother. Indie films! Anyhoo, again, good chatting with you, man. Stay in touch.
BE: Hey, if you guys get Season 2 and the TCA tour goes on as scheduled, you'll see me at the CW party.
TL: Hope to see you there, man. Fingers crossed.