Interview Date: 02/04/2011
Run Date: 02/18/2011
You may recognize Fred Melamed from his role as Sy Ableman in the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man.” Similarly, if Lonny Ross looks familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen him on “30 Rock.” Put the two of them together, cast the former as an angry old man and the latter as a gay teenage runaway, and you’ve got one of the newest additions to Atom.com’s ever-increasing lineup of web series: “Angry Old Man & Gay Teenage Runaway.” (What, like they were going to call it “The Odd Couple 2011”?) Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Ross and Melamed about this new collaboration, as well as the aforementioned projects from their individual resumes and a few upcoming endeavors in the pipeline
Bullz-Eye: Well, I got to check out a couple of episodes of “Angry Old Man and Gay Teenage Runaway.” Good fun.
Lonny Ross: (Laughs) “Good fun.” That’s what we’re going for. Good, wholesome American fun.
BE: I know the series was written and directed by Brennan Shroff, but how did you guys end up on his radar, or vice versa?
LR: Brennan’s an old friend of mine, and…this was an idea that was basically based on a true story, on a conversation I overheard in Bryant Park one day, where this older gentleman behind me was screaming about the Mexican Day parade and how much he hated the parade. He was yelling that Mexicans didn’t pay taxes and didn’t fight in our wars, and…it was kind of troubling to hear, actually. But then this very effeminate voice started kind of doing a point-counterpoint with him, trying to talk him down, and…it was just this conversation of two people talking about their opinion on a topic, but with neither listening to the other nor absorbing the information. (Laughs) Basically, I was so fascinated with the idea of how those two people met and started talking to each other that I just envisioned this thing where they sat down and did this every day. So I took it to Brennan, who’s a friend of mine, and we just kind of developed the idea of who they would be and what their daily lives would be. And we were lucky enough to get Fred onboard to play the angry character, and…it just kind of came from there. But, yeah, I’m an old friend of Brennan’s.
Fred Melamed: I came in through the back door. I knew Jennifer, who is Brennan’s wife and who is a very well-regarded casting director at NBC, and she had seen me in something and asked if I’d be interested in being a part of this. So Brennan sent me some of the scripts, and I thought they were great. And I knew Lonny from “30 Rock.” I mean, I didn’t know him personally, but I had seen him and thought he was very funny. So that’s how we proceeded.
BE: I was going to ask you about the chemistry when you’re working together, but I guess what you really need is an anti-chemistry, given the differences between the characters.
LR: Yeah, “anti-chemistry” is a good word for it, but you still obviously need to figure out the rhythm of the scene.
LR: Rehearsing with Fred was really fun and exciting, ‘cause he brings so much dimension to a character that it helped me get out of the idea of making Gay Teenage Runaway one-note, which is what I was afraid of. So it was fun. It was fun working with Fred and figuring that out.
FM: We had a really good time doing that, working with each other. I admire Lonny’s work a lot. I mean, I find him very funny, and he’s a good actor. It’s not…as he was saying, even though they’re exaggerated, I think we tried to extend the characters. We tried to ground them in some sort of reality, so it would be that instead of just jokes. And, you know, for us, they’re sort of interesting stretches. I mean, in my own life…this character is obviously old, grouchy, and irascible. Whereas in my own life I’m rather happy-go-lucky, attractive, forever tweeting about Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, the character is kind of an old, grouchy loser. And the same thing with Lonny. Lonny is, in real life, rather macho.
LR: Yeah. (Laughs) Very.
FM: Yeah, so this was kind of an acting stretch for both of us, but we tried to do it as an acting project.
LR: Yeah, I cannot relate to being effeminate and wearing makeup and women’s clothes.
FM: It’s more my thing in real life.
LR: Yeah, we’re kind of opposites. I’m really the grouchy curmudgeon, and Fred’s more of the girl in our scenario. So that’s why it was a lot of fun to just step outside ourselves.
FM: Change it up.
BE: (Laughs) I had no idea that you guys had stepped quite so far outside your respective comfort zones with this project. That’s very impressive.
LR: Yeah, we lucked out. We were able to perfectly fit the bill in opposite ways, so it was a fun challenge for both of us. (Laughs)
BE: I’ve seen two episodes thus far, so I know that, at the very least, the topics of conversation range from pigeons to pastrami, though I’m not really sure what that gamut really consists of. What other stuff do you guys talk about during the course of the series?
LR: You know, the idea was…well, as with anyone who sits down, it depends on what you want to talk about that day, if you want to talk about what’s in the news or what’s bothering you. So the topics can range from gay marriage in America to, like you said, pastrami, to pigeons, to oil dependence. I mean, it’s the idea of starting with a topic and, how most conversations go, they can go in any direction. You say one thing and you may steer the direction a completely different way. That was kind of the idea: starting with a topic and just going with whatever popped into a person’s head. They just say it, and they can just take it to the weirdest places.
FM: I think a lot of times…I think what’s interesting about both of these characters is that one thing they share in common is that they don’t have what you’d call a normal social life. (Laughs) I think my character, like a lot of older people, kind of sits at home and watches CNN, watching television all day, and a lot of his socializing is just shouting at the TV. And Lonny’s character kind of spends all day in preparation of going out to the club that night and then hooking up with whoever he hooks up with, and he has conquests that way. But they don’t have what’d you call the normal social network that most people do, so they talk about things. Things bother them at a personal level that are kind of issues of the day, because they don’t have the normal social outlets that others do, so things like gay marriage or people living in this country who are undocumented aliens, they become subjects of either personal irritation or, in some instances, personal advocacy, as with Lonny’s character.
LR: Yeah, and Brennan and I really loved the idea of taking out a character who’s been in New York his whole life and doesn’t really go anywhere besides maybe the Tri-State area, and then, since New York City has the constant influx of new people coming in who are wide-eyed and have high expectations of a city that’s very unapologetically hard to survive in, we thought putting those two kinds of people together was funny, just the aspect of someone who’s coming in with unrealistic expectations and someone who’s been there their entire life.
BE: So is the first web series for both of you?
LR: I was actually part of a web series called “Concierge: The Series.” This guy named Timothy Michael Cooper wrote and directed that, and that, I believe, has its own website. It’s ConciergeTheSeries.com, I think. So I was part of that, but, yeah, it’s fairly new for me to dive into a web series or to create a web series. But it was a very nice outlet to have, for sure. That’s what I’m kind of learning.
FM: What’s great about it is, the whole process can be done for much less money, for much less Sturm und Drang, and with much fewer levels of approval. If you have a great idea for something, you can actually make it and get it produced with a lot less difficulty than if it were for network television or even cable television. But you have people, as you know, at Atom.com of the same stripe, people who are really great talents doing stuff for the web because they can produce things directly, without all of these levels of okaying and approval and financing that you need for doing television shows or features. So without a doubt, it’s the way of the future. (Laughs) No doubt about it.
LR: Yeah, Atom.com was very open about letting us figure out what our project was and who the characters were, and they worked alongside us in that process, and it was certainly more easygoing than trying to please a network and advertisers and all the things that come along with doing a network show. So, yeah, in that sense, it is freeing.
BE: I wanted to ask you guys about some of your respective individual projects. Lonny, I think most people tend to recognize you for “30 Rock” first and foremost. Is there an opening for Josh to return at some point in the future?
LR: Hey, you never know. I’m under the impression that the character is not dead, so I guess in that sense, yeah, sure, anything’s possible. But, you know, that’s a question for Tina (Fey) and the gang. But, sure, yeah, I mean, I loved being a part of it, and I would love to do something.
BE: How’s “Chosen Guns” going? I know that was in development, at least.
LR: Yeah, that’s exactly where it stands right now. It’s a project that IFC…they bought the idea from us, and we wrote a pilot script, Brennan and I, and it’s in their hands. It’s on their development slate, and it’s in their wheelhouse of potential projects to do, but…you know, we don’t know.
BE: And, Fred, you’re obviously best known for…being the narrator of “Silk Stalkings.”
FM: (Laughs uncertainly) Uh…
BE: I’m kidding. I mean, you were really were… (Laughs) …but what I was going to say that was that you’re kind of best known, at least at the moment, for your work in “A Serious Man.” How was it to work with the Coen brothers?
FM: Oh, what a pain in the ass. Really, just awful. No, I’m kidding. (Laughs) It was wonderful. They’re terrific. They’re wonderful people, they’re wonderful filmmakers, and much to my surprise, they tend to kind of give you a very fully realized world in what they write and then kind of leave you alone. So I had a great time doing that. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.
BE: You’ve certainly done plenty of onscreen acting, but harkening back to my “Silk Stalkings” comment, do you still enjoy the opportunity to do narration and announcing work?
FM: I do enjoy it, because it gives me a chance to sort of hide a little bit. I can sort of give different kinds of impressions with my voice about what I want the audience to perceive without thrusting… (Starts to laugh) …my visage on them. So I do like that. And, also, it’s an opportunity to make some fast cash, which always comes in handy.
BE: IMDb is obviously not 100% accurate, but it looks like you’re going to be in at least one episode of the new season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
FM: Yes, I have one episode, and I’m told that there may be some more episodes as well. I play Larry David’s sort of pompous psychiatrist on that show. For some reason, they decided to do some of that show in New York this year, so when he comes to New York, he’s in desperate need of a therapist… (Laughs) …so I’m the therapist that he finds. I enjoyed the episode a great deal. I had no idea that that show is utterly unscripted until I did it. Totally unscripted. He has sort of very fundamental ideas, basic ideas about scenes, but that’s it, and then you just wail away. So that’s what we did, and I had a great time doing that. And I’m told that there may be some more episodes of that, although I’m not sure. And then I have a movie coming out: “Harold and Kumar 3,” also called “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.” So that should be coming out sometime prior to Christmas. And I’ve got another film I’m starting in April.
BE: I’ll wrap with this one, and it’s for both of you: what would you say is your favorite project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
FM: Hmmm. That’s interesting.
LR: I would say “30 Rock” didn’t get the critical praise it deserved.
(Melamed starts to say something to this comment, then starts to laugh when he realizes that Ross is being facetious, which in turn causes Ross to start laughing as well.)
LR: You know, it’s hard to say. A lot of things that Fred and I do…we’re passionate people, and we do a lot of labor-of-love types of projects. I couldn’t say specifically, but, you know, everything you do, the idea is for people to see it and try to get a reaction from it. I don’t know. Fred, do you have a project?
FM: Um…well, I have a movie that I’m writing myself, and…I wouldn’t say that it’s gotten a hint of critical praise, but it’s hard to produce movies that you write yourself. I’ve gotten a lot of people’s interest, but it’s hard to get the money together to make a feature. So I would say that movie first of all. “A Serious Man,” which is the Coen brothers’ film that you alluded to before, was critically quite successful, and a number of people said complimentary, nice things about it…and me in particular, which, of course, I was very appreciative of. But I wish more people had seen it. I wish more people had seen it than saw it. I mean, I think some people were frightened by the fact that it was sort of portrayed as kind of a genre film and only of interest to people who were Jewish. (Laughs) In fact, I think the more specific something is, the broader its appeal is. So I would say that’s a film that I wish more people would see, although now it’s on Cinemax and HBO, and I think more people probably will see it.
LR: Yeah, see, that’s the thing. I was in this film called “The Rocker,” this Rainn Wilson film, and it’s a very sweet and very fun movie, and it just…the way with the time that it came out in the theater and what it was up against, it just kind of got swallowed up. So that was kind of…you know, the expectation was really high, and we were all very excited, and it just kind of didn’t get much attention when it came out in the theater. But like Fred said, movies like that, they do have a home once they get released on cable and they show it on HBO and things of that nature. Much after the fact, after you’ve shot something…I mean, even with “30 Rock,” where people just catch up late, and all of sudden they’re in Season 1 or Season 2, and it’s four years after the show came out, but you’re fresh in their mind, so they come up to you and talk about your character, and they’re excited. So, like, you always have to be on guard, and you always kind of forget that when you’re part of something like that, it exists for a long time, even though in your day to day life it may not affect you. It’s kind of fun, but you also have to be prepared for that kind of reaction. (Laughs)
FM: Yeah, it’s interesting. A lot of shows and movies that people regard as iconic…“30 Rock” is an example, “Seinfeld” is one, and I can think of several others…were not enormous critical successes when they first came on…
FM: …but they became that as the audiences developed, and they became enormous monoliths. But it took awhile before that happened in some instances, even though they were begun with very, very clear concepts and very good ideas. But sometimes it takes awhile for both audiences and critics to appreciate a show, and sometimes a show has to find its feet, too.
LR: Yeah, I’m excited about…like, as far as “Angry Old Man and Gay Teenage Runaway” goes, it’s new for me to try to promote something within the world of the web. If you have a TV show or a movie, it’s, like, huge advertising dollars and billboards and whatnot. So this is just kind of, like, a word-of-mouth thing, and you just kind of hope something takes off so people can check it out and get a kick out of it. But it’s an interesting thing for me to do this and kind of touch base with people through the web, you know?
FM: And because the financial rewards with web series in general are somewhat limited, we’re hoping that there may be a secondary, ancillary market…like lunchboxes or action figures…that may come out of this. You never know with something like this. It could catch on with the kids. With the young people.
LR: Oh, God, I just want to be a Halloween costume.
FM: (Laughs) I think you’ll be my Halloween costume.
LR: (Laughs) Yeah. And vice versa. There’s got to be a Sy Ableman Halloween costume. I mean, what a fun character to just…I mean, you got to play it, but just to, like, fake play it, I think, would be so fun.
FM: Yeah, probably if you go into any uncle’s closet from 30 or 40 years ago, you’ll find some cruisewear or something that’ll probably work.
LR: How about a tracksuit? Can I pull off a tracksuit?
FM: Yeah, a tracksuit! Although that might be a little “Sopranos.”
LR: Yeah, okay…
FM: Yeah, I don’t know, I think he was more into the resortwear thing, as I see it. The flattering baby blue suit..
LR: (Laughs) Was that polyester? I just picture that being polyester.
FM: It was! I think in those days they didn’t actually have polyester, but it was some kind of plastic, kind of like what dentist jackets are made from. It was very hot and uncomfortable to wear, but I guess that was what people actually wore back in those days. And as I say, I continue to wear it just to relax around the house, and to walk the streets in desperate hopes that I’ll be recognized.
LR: Or just to have your wife recognize you.
FM: (Laughs) Exactly!
LR: “Remember me?” (Laughs) I just love that scene. I always just think of that scene in “Soapdish,” where Whoopi Goldberg goes to Sally Field, and she’s, like, “We need to have a mall moment,” or whatever it was. “We need to go to the mall.” And they do that thing where, you know, Whoopi Goldberg pretends she’s a big fan of Sally Field’s character, and she screams her name in the mall, and then everybody comes up, rushing the actress. I just think that’s so surreal and so funny.
FM: Well, that’s not unheard of. I was making a movie once, and I won’t name names, but I was making a movie, and every day when we would shoot the movie, when we finished…this was on location, and we would usually eat in this Japanese restaurant, because everyone liked Japanese food. And it was about a seven or eight block walk back to the hotel where we were staying, but there was one particular actor who wouldn’t go the seven or eight block route. (Laughs) He had to go an extra half-mile out of the way and walk this circuitous route back to the hotel because he was sure that he would be recognized. And he was. But it was worth it for him, even in quite cold weather, to walk around just to be recognized.
LR: There you go. And you can’t put a price on that. That’s just…well, you know, you don’t do it for the money. You do it for the adulation. What’s a couple of extra blocks? So that’s what we’re hoping “Angry Old Man and Gay Teenage Runaway” gets us: some street cred.
BE: Way to bring it full circle. (Laughs)LR: (Laughs) That’s the idea!