Interview Date: 02/02/2011
Run Date: 02/07/2011
With the demise of “Running Wilde,” Fox found itself with a hole on its schedule and a need for a sitcom to fill it. Enter “Traffic Light,” based on the Israeli series “Ramzor” and adapted for American audiences by Bob Fisher, co-writer of “Wedding Crashers.” For reasons known only to the gods of television, “Traffic Light” is hitting the airwaves at almost exactly the same time as a trio of other romantic-comedy sitcoms, including ABC’s “Happy Endings,” CBS’s “Mad Love,” and NBC’s “Perfect Couples.” Fox has felt strong enough about their entry, though, that they sent out not only the pilot for “Traffic Light” but also two additional episodes beyond that, and although your mileage may obviously vary (and with the caveat that it’s obviously a little easier to love the show you’ve seen the most of), I thought the show handily bested its single-camera competitors. As such, between the winter TCA tour and a series of hard-to-schedule phone calls, I made a point of chatting with all five cast members of “Traffic Light” – Aya Cash, David Denman, Nelson Franklin, Liza Lapira, and Kris Marshall – and getting their thoughts on their new series, along with some clarification on their characters, and, indeed, how they got this sweet gig in the first place.
Bullz-Eye: I know you’re trying to eat, but if I could grab you for just a few minutes…
Nelson Franklin: Oh, sure, sure. This is actually my second plate.
BE: You’re not just saying that to be polite, are you?
NF: (Laughs) No, there’s actually another buffet line inside.
BE: Well, okay. So I’ve watched the three episodes they’ve sent us, and it’s really funny.
NF: Awesome. I appreciate it. I like the show. I think it’s good.
BE: And I watched you on “The Office,” too, so it’s nice to see you get a full-time gig.
NF: Yeah! It was a tricky situation between “The Office” and this. It was sort of, like, “You’ve got to choose.” But I think this is better for me.
BE: How did you end up on the show?
NF: I’ll tell you, two years ago I was on “The Office,” and I was just a nameless guy who worked on a job fair. It was an episode in Season 4, and at the end of it I told Pam she should go to New York and go to graphic design school. Cut to two years later, and they were looking for someone for the part of the I.T. guy. They read a lot of people and they couldn’t sort of get it, but I had recently done hours of auditioning for “Parks and Recreation,” for the Chris Pratt role…and it was between me and him, and I am so happy he got it, because we played it completely differently. But after that, Greg Daniels said to me, “We’re going to find something for you.” And I was, like, “Okay, I’ve heard that before.” I try not to get my hopes up for anything in this industry, because no matter how good you are, it doesn’t always mean that you’re going to get anything. But he’s a great guy, and he totally came through and got me this part as the I.T. guy. It was just a gift that I got that role. It was just a surprise. The weird thing is that they said, “He’s already been on the show, we can’t have him back.” And eventually they were just, like, “Ah, it’s all right, nobody’s going to remember.” Which is crazy, but… (Laughs)
BE: You weren’t even on “The Office” that many times as the I.T. guy, but you carved your niche really quickly. And your farewell scene was fantastic.
NF: Oh, thanks! I’m so grateful to them for giving me that. It was kind of, like, “Oh, you’ve got to go? Well, why don’t you have a little fun?” It’s been my favorite show for a long time. I never thought I’d be flipping them all off at the end of my time with them. (Laughs) It was amazing.
BE: So how did you end up in “Traffic Light”? Was it just a standard audition?
NF: Yeah. I just went in, and, actually, I was the first person who auditioned for the entire show. First day. I got there before the creator, actually. He was, like, five minutes late. (Laughs) So I’ve literally been onboard since the beginning.
BE: I’m guessing he checked the “timely” box on your application.
NF: (Laughs) Exactly.
BE: So there are obviously more than a few relationship comedies out there right now. What would you say makes this one stand out?
NF: You know, the thing is, we don’t try to go for a gag. The things that happen on this show are all…I mean, honestly, I’ll be truthful: they’re all things that have happened to the writers or to the actors. And we take it from the perspective that it’s…we kind of shoot it like it’s “Modern Family” or “The Office.” Not as shaky as “The Office,” but…there’s a fourth wall. And that’s sort of the only difference that’s defined. We’re still sort of trying to capture moments as if a cameraman has snuck into our house or something. So it is sort of like…it’s in that mockumentary style, except that it’s, uh, not. (Laughs) What I’m trying to get at here is that the realism is the most important thing. And we improv a lot. Which, as an actor, is my favorite thing to do…and I think it is for most actors. It makes the scene better because you’re actually in the moment. You literally are doing it right there. So between that and the writing, I just think it’s funny and real.
BE: A testament to the writing is that, almost immediately watching the episodes that Fox sent out, my wife announced to me that she needed her “drive time.”
NF: (Laughs) I’m sorry that happened. But, you know, again, I have to tell you, that’s something that happened to us. Well, not to me, per se, but most of the writers are married and have kids, and it’s the same gig. I know personally that some of the moves that I’ve pulled to sneak into the house, that’s stuff I do. And I can’t do it anymore, ‘cause now my cover’s blown, for sure.
BE: So tell me a little bit about Adam.
NF: Adam is…he’s a lot like me in many ways, in that he’s sort of eager to please everybody. I’m not a guy who likes conflict, and I’m very earnest. Adam is way more neurotic than I am, though. (Laughs) He stresses out about everything. I think his big goal is to get everything he wants and keep everybody happy…which is not possible, but he’s going to try really hard, anyway, and it’s going to come to blows at some point. It always does.
BE: Did I hear you mention earlier that your father…not on the show, but, like, your real father…was a screenwriter?
NF: Yes, my father Howard Franklin wrote and directed a couple of movies in the early ‘90s, like “Quick Change” and “The Public Eye.” He’s been a writer for longer than that, though. He wrote “The Name of the Rose,” with Sean Connery…?
BE: Absolutely. So, now, what did he say about you going into show business?
NF: You know, I had no interest. I saw how hurt he would get sometimes when things would fall apart, and I said, “I’ll never be a part of this. I need a paycheck. I need a steady job.” And when I was in 9th grade, I tried to take a sculpting elective in my high school, and it was full, so they dropped me into drama class. I said, “This is ridiculous, I don’t want to do this.” And my father said, “Why don’t you try it for a semester and see if you like it?” So he really gave me a little nudge, and that was it. And that was years ago, you know. So I owe him one.
Bullz-Eye: So you’re in Australia at present, is that right?
Kris Marshall: Yeah, I’m Sydney.
BE: Excellent. Well, I had the good fortune of meeting your fellow cast members at the Fox TCA party a couple of nights back.
KM: Yeah, I know. It’s a shame I couldn’t make the TCAs, but I’ve been out here since about the 3rd (of January), so unfortunately I couldn’t make it. But, yeah, so you met the guys. Awful, aren’t they?
BE: Terrible. (Laughs) So I’ve been able to watch the first three episodes of “Traffic Light,” and I’ve really enjoyed them.
KM: Oh, thanks!
BE: In fact, my wife has already taken to referring to how she needs some drive time to herself.
KM: (Laughs) Oh, really? Yes, there is a lot of drive time in this show. We used to, literally, every Monday morning…we’d do an episode a week, and every Monday would be Drive Day, where we’d shoot everything on the rigs and do all the drive stuff first before getting to the meat of the episode.
BE: At the risk of admitting to stupidity, I have to admit that, at first, it didn’t even occur to me just how apropos the title of the show is. But given how much time you guys spend in the car…
KM: Yeah! I think it’s…you know, it’s that kind of thing, I guess, where, y’know, you’re in your 30s, you’re in a relationship, you have kids, and you’ve got really old friends that you went to college with, for example, or school or whatever, you just don’t have the time to meet up anymore, or the time to sneak off and do the kind of things you got away with when you were 20. Although, you know, these guys…well, the first thing you’ve got to do is make the time, and the only time, really, when you’re completely untouchable by your spouse or significant other is when you’re in traffic.
BE: So how did you come into the role of Ethan? Was it a standard audition process?
KM: It was during pilot season last year, and I originally went in and read for Ethan in an American accent. In fact, my manager said to me, “Don’t even go in English and then read the part as an American. Just go in as an American, so they don’t even know you’re English.” So I was, like, “Uh, okay…” So I went into the audition…and during pilot season, auditions are swift, to say the least…and there are these two other guys waiting to read for the part of Ethan. And I look around, and it’s, like, I’m the only white guy. And usually when you go to an audition, you look around and there’s a few guys who look not dissimilar from you. But I get in there, and there’s, like, four or five black guys, a couple of Hispanic guys…and I’m, like, “Am I in the right room?” (Laughs) So, anyway, I went in and read it in an American accent, and it went fine, and, you know, because it’s pilot season, you usually only get one go, one read of the part, so I was, like, “Okay, that was great, thanks very much.” And then Bob Fisher, who was just scrutinizing my resume, goes, “Hang on a second. You were in ‘Love, Actually.’” And I went, “Yeah.” “You’re a Brit.” And I went, “Uh, yeah, I’m sorry. I’m busted.” And they were, like, “Oh, okay, wow, you’re a Brit. Can you read it in English?” (Laughs) And I was, like, “Sure, no problem.” So I did. And they were, like, “Yeah, that’s great!” And then they called me back to test the next day. I tested with Nelson and David the next day, ‘cause Ethan was the last to be cast. The reason I went and there were black guys and Hispanic guys and Indian guys and stuff, tall guys and big guys, was because they wanted something different for Ethan. They didn’t know how they wanted him different, but they wanted him different from the other two in some kind of way, so they were constantly sort of searching for different guys, different ethnic backgrounds, what have you. And so, you know, they were, like, “Well, he could be British. He could totally be British!” And so, actually, what I’ve made him is…because they went to school together…well, college together, rather…is that I’ve made him half-American and half-English, with an English father and an American mother, and he grew up in England and his parents split when he was about 15, and then he moved to Chicago. That’s my back story…and I’m sticking with it. (Laughs)
BE: With the pilot, I was surprised with the way it took kind of a downbeat turn at the end. Is there going to be kind of a…well, it’s not really sentimental, per se, but will there be a feeling of sentimentality toward some of these episodes?
KM: Um, I think that actually… (Hesitates) That’s an interesting question, actually. That sentimentality is, I think, an anathema, because it is probably more sentimental than any of the other episodes, and I think, honestly, it’s because it comes from the Israeli show, “Ramzor.” But only the pilot is based the Israeli show. Everything else, all the other 12 episodes, are a figment of Dave Hemingson’s and Bob Fisher’s imaginations. So I would say the pilot is more sentimental than any other episodes, but on that note, because it’s a relationship comedy…and I know there’s a bit of a proliferation of relationship comedies, especially at the moment, what with “Perfect Couples” and all. We read for all these relationship comedies. (Laughs) “Friends with Benefits” as well. You know, with pilot season, you read for everything! But I would say that it’s not sentimental as such, but because you’re dealing with relationships…toward the end, you do get more emotionally involved with the characters, because it does take on a sort of slightly more comedic dramatic vein, if you know what I mean. For longevity with any show, you need to have that. Unless it’s an audience-based sitcom with a multi-cam, you can’t just…you have to be something tenable and tangible for the characters to… (Hesitates again) All I’ll say is that, toward the end of the season, stuff is on the line, shall we say.
BE: When I talked to Nelson, he mentioned that he had gone back and watched a couple of episodes of “Ramzor.” Did you do the same yourself?
(Writer’s note: As there is clearly nowhere in the above interview with Nelson where he says this, it’s quite possible that I pulled this out of thin air, but that’s really not like me, so let’s just presume that I heard him say it at some other point during the TCA tour…and if I didn’t, then I hereby apologize for perpetuating a falsehood on this rather negligible matter.)
KM: I didn’t, because the character of Ethan…or my character’s equivalent in “Ramzor,” anyway…is a lot more outrageous and a lot more broad. And, obviously, he’s not English. (Laughs) So I didn’t myself. I just watched, like, one episode just to see what their take on it was. Obviously, it’s the original, so you want to be aware of the genesis, the kernel of the idea, comes from, so I did watch the pilot, but I noticed very quickly that it’s an entirely different show, really. We share just the premise and the name.
BE: I know that your fellow cast members got roasted with this question on their panel, but I’ll ask you so you can share the experience: what is it that makes “Traffic Light” stand out from the other relationship comedies right now?
KM: (Takes a deep breath) Okay, um, yeah…
BE: Have fun.
KM: (Laughs) Yeah, I know. Well, I would say that “Traffic Light” stands out because…the first reason is Bob Fisher. Bob Fisher…I mean, I’m not saying that the others don’t have a great show runner and a great writer and producer and creator or whatever, but Bob’s had an amazing life, so he’s such a rich vein of sort of comedic information. And what Bob does is…his skill is that he knows his limitation as a writer in terms of…you know, he writes brilliantly for guys. And what I think another difference is between the other shows is all chemistry between the three guys. Because the most important thing about our show is chemistry, and I think that from watching the pilot, although the pilot is cool and fine, I think that you don’t really get a sense of the proper chemistry between the three. Of the five, either, but especially between the three guys. Because that is the title, right? I mean, I’m obviously in the show, so one tends not to be completely subjective and objective about this, but I absolutely know that the chemistry between the three of us is very strong, and I believe… (Laughs) I sound like I’m preaching! But I believe that will carry us through. Now, I’m not saying that the other shows don’t have brilliant chemistry, but I’ve worked on a lot of stuff for many years, and chemistry’s really one of the hardest things to find in film and TV in the actors making comedy and drama and what have you. Especially in comedy, chemistry’s so hard to find, and you kind of feel it. It’s almost in your hand when you have it, and it’s very strong. I’ve literally only had that once or twice before. I feel that our chemistry’s very strong. Now, obviously, the only way you’re going to find out if that chemistry’s strong is by investing time in the episodes, because…Season 1 is a learning curve for any show, and you hope that you get through that curve and come out the other end as something that the audience are willing to invest in emotionally, and to give you the chance to really find your footing and really hit the ground running in Season 2. Please, God. (Laughs) I think I’m rambling a little, but, yes, I would definitely say, “Chemistry.”
BE: For the Anglophiles out there, would you say that Ethan is more mature than Nick Harper from “My Family”?
KM: Absolutely more mature than Nick Harper. (Laughs) He’s about 10 to 12 years older, for one thing!
BE: Of course.
KM: Not to say that Ethan’s really mature. He’s not. But at least he has a job. (Laughs) Nick Harper had many jobs, but none of them lasted more than one episode! Ethan, at least, has an honorable job, an honorable profession. Although…I don’t know which episodes you’ve seen, but occasionally he’s guilty of using his ambulance for other things than transporting patients.
BE: Yes, I did get that impression.
KM: (Laughs) Ethan is…well, I mean, they’re all kind of emotionally retarded in a way, but they’re all honorable men, really. My experience as I get older, without being too one-dimensional about this, is that, you know, men never really grow up. In terms of growing up, it’s, like, their souls become more honorable. For me, anyway, I’ve found that things that I would have not considered for more than a couple of seconds ten years ago, I absolutely stand back now and go, “Wait, hang on, that’s not really the way I should’ve acted,” in terms of my fellow man. And women. So I think that men don’t necessarily grow up. They just become more honorable. Which, I suppose, is a form of growing up, but, you know, they’re still childlike in a way. It’s just that their responsibilities might be more honorable. I think that they’re pretty admirable blokes. I mean, obviously, Mike and Adam are in long-term relationships and not with anyone else. They’re not creeping around bushes and stuff in the dead of night. They’re pretty honorable guys. Even Ethan, there’s no sides to him. There’s no sort of, like, nastiness or even sort of…you know, he doesn’t even prey on women. He’s not someone who goes around preying on women. There are certain guys out there who are quite predatory. He’s not predatory. He’s affable, gentle, witty. He’s not stupid. I tried to definitely make him with no sides. It’s very easy when you’re playing a character like that to go quite dark, to slip into the darkness, even in a comedy. But they’re pretty honorable guys.
BE: Since I’ve touched on one of your previous projects, let me ask 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?
KM: Well, I had a show in England called “My Life in Film” which was written and directed by Toby McDonald and Mark Chappell. There was a group of us, a little group who had been working for years together, and we’d won the Berlin Film Festival and a film BAFTA for a short film that we did in 2000 which was called “Je t'aime John Wayne.” It was basically a parody of Jean Paul Belmondo films. So we’d worked together, we’d done a few short films, and we’d been pretty successful, but then when we came to do a whole show…well, I love it. It’s called “My Life in Film,” we did it 2004 or 2005, something like that, and I loved the way it came out. It’s basically a show about a writer, a frustrated writer with writer’s block, who lives in a fantasy world that becomes certain films. (Hesitates) It’s quite hard to explain, but…he’s such a Walter Mitty type character that he starts to live his life through films, and every episode…there’s a whole long storyline going through all six episodes, but each episode follows or mimics the plot line in a different film, down to costume, set, and staging. They’re very stylized and, I think absolutely, almost genius. And I’m not just saying that ‘cause I’m in them. I mean, the writing…! When they came out, I was just…I mean, some of the critics were very sniffy about it. It did okay, but there was a show called “Little Britain,” which was right next to it, but it’s a lot more broad. I think we were a bit more…I don’t want to say “more intelligent,” but…I’m going to say it, anyway. (Laughs) Sod it! And we didn’t…we kind of got moved around the schedule a lot, and that always happens, of course, but, you know, when you’ve invested a lot in something – and I had massive hopes for it – and it didn’t quite work out…I’d had quite a lot of success early on in my career, and that was the first time that I’d been properly, properly disappointed. It was like a relationship going bad, you know? It was. And I was quite young, and it was pretty hurtful. So, yeah, that would be my biggest disappointment. And now when I do interviews with critics and stuff… the show got buried, so it never came out on DVD, though you can actually now watch a couple of episodes on YouTube.
BE: Actually , I was just going to say that I’d typed the name of the show into YouTube, and the first thing that came up was the “Top Gun” episode.
KM: “Top Gun!” That’s very funny, that one. That’s the third. There were six altogether, and that’s the third one. But you can watch them independently of each other as well. But the show got buried and the BBC never brought it out on DVD, and, in fact, I’ve been trying to negotiate to buy the rights, because every time I do an interview, every time someone stops me on the street in England, they always go, “What the hell happened to ‘My Life in Film’? I loved that show!” And I’m, like, “Now you tell me!” (Laughs) “That was six years ago, love! Shouldn’t you have told me then?” So that was a real disappointment for me, that one. But, you know, that’s what the job is. So it’s fine.
BE: Well, I think that’s about it. Like I said, I’ve loved what I’ve seen of “Traffic Light,” so I’ve been going out of my way to talk to everyone in the cast.
KM: Oh, great!
BE: My fingers are crossed for its success.
KM: Well, thank you very much. My fingers, my toes, my legs…everything’s crossed.
BE: And good luck on the film. What’s it called? Not “A Few Good Men,” but…
KM: “A Few Best Men,” yeah. It’s directed by Stephan Elliot, who directed “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and it’s me and…I don’t know if you know of a young Australian actor called Xavier Samuel. He’s in the last “Twilight” film (“Eclipse”).
BE: My wife would know him, I’m sure.
KM: Yeah. He’s an up and coming Aussie actor, so he’s in it, and Olivia Newton-John as well.
BE: Well, you can’t go wrong with Olivia.
KM: (Laughs) Yeah. And it’s my second film with Stephan Elliot. I’m really enjoying it.
BE: Here’s hoping it proves to be a Stateside success.
KM: Oh, yeah, I hope so…and the same for “Traffic Light” as well! Thank you very much for speaking with me, Will. It’s been absolutely lovely. All the best, sir!
Bullz-Eye: I was at the TCA tour, but I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to you at the Fox party.
Aya Cash: I hung out by the dessert table. (Laughs)
BE: Well, I was constantly in motion, so I’m sure I walked past you at some point. I did get to talk to Nelson, at least.
AC: He’s taller. He’s easier to spot.
BE: (Laughs) True enough. He does stand out in a crowd. So how did you come onto “Traffic Lights”? Was it a standard audition?
AC: You know, it’s funny: I actually auditioned at the very beginning of pilot season last year, and I auditioned in New York, which is where I live. But I never heard a thing, and I got cast in a different Fox pilot called “Strange Brew.” I shot that, but that didn’t get picked up. But then I got a call saying, “We’re flying you out to have a chemistry read with Nelson for this new show.” At that time, it was called “Mixed Signals.” So my first audition…I don’t think they even saw it. (Laughs) But I ended up flying out and having the chemistry read with Nelson, and then testing and booking it. So it was sort of a normal process…but it started months in advance! (Laughs)
BE: Well, there are certainly a huge number of romantic comedies suddenly hitting the airwaves simultaneously, and I’m sure you got pestered with this question throughout the tour, but…what makes “Traffic Light” stand out?
AC: You know, I think it’s all in the execution. I can’t say anything about the other romantic comedy shows because I haven’t seen them…and, in fact, I have friends on them, and they’re lovely. (Laughs) So I think it’s not so much what makes ours stand out as it is simply the quality. I think that it’s all about execution, and maybe there’ll be a few romantic comedies this year that are hilarious and engaging and find an audience. It’s not an uncommon idea. I mean, how many movies are about friends and navigating relationships? But what I think makes the difference is, is it funny? Do you like it? Is it good? And I think what’s going to hopefully make us stand out…and maybe others…is that I think it’s funny. It’s based in reality, and it’s kooky and it’s crazy, but the stories are all from real life. These are things that are all from the writers’ lives, sometimes little bits are from our lives, and I think that’s going to help sort of ground the show in reality. And I think that’s what’s funny: things that are true.
BE: Well, I will tell you that I’ve got a screener of three of the episodes, and my wife immediately started talking about how she needs her own drive time. It’s catching on already!
AC: (Laughs) That’s funny! Well, there you go: that’s what makes us different!
BE: But, you know, that’s what makes the show stand out, at least for me: that the show spends as much time in vehicles as it does.
AC: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure you know that it’s based on the Israeli series, “Ramzor,” and that show has done extremely well and has won the international Emmy and is totally beloved. I know people are actually scared of our show because the Israeli series is so beloved, and it is different. We’re in America, and the sensibility of what’s funny is slightly different. But hopefully people will start watching in order to say, “Oh, well, I like the Israeli series better,” and then enjoy it for what it is.
BE: Did you get a chance to watch any episodes of “Ramzor,” or did you even have a desire to?
AC: You know, when I was going to audition, I started YouTubing clips of it, just to sort of get a sense of it, but I could not find it with English subtitles! So I watched some stuff in Hebrew, which I do not speak… (Laughs) Well, very little, anyway. But I watched a little, and my sense of it is that it’s just a little darker than our show. And the truth is that I didn’t want to watch too much because you can’t…I mean, I’m not a mimic, and I wasn’t hired to understudy the Israeli version and to copy that. And if you get someone else in your head too much, it can be dangerous, because then you start to try to behave like them rather than coming from your own true place.
BE: I was talking to Kris the other day about the fact that the first episode of your show surprised me by having kind of a darkly sentimental ending to it, but he said that it doesn’t necessarily maintain that kind of tone throughout the rest of the episodes you’ve done. But it does delve deeper into the relationships between the friends.
AC: Yeah, I think that episode basically sets up how deep their friendships are and how long they’ve had them. And there are moments that are not funny in this show. I mean, there are moments that get very serious. But I think as quickly as they get serious, they turn, in the way that serious moments in life turn. Just when you’re freaking out and crying or upset about something, often I’ll end up laughing or doing something stupid… (Laughs) …because that’s the way life works. Things reach a tension and then break apart. I can’t think of a moment specifically like the end of the first episode, but there are moments that are not make-you-laugh. They’re just moments that happen in life.
BE: So kind of summarize the character of Callie a little bit, if you would.
AC: Callie is just a photographer, and she’s sort of a free spirit, lives life to the fullest and doesn’t think about the future too much. You find out…I’m not sure if it’s in one of the episodes you’ve seen, but we find out that she’s in debt quite a bit from living her life. Traveling around the world, buying lots of shoes, those sorts of things. But she’s got a great heart, and she’s madly in love with Adam. They just moved in together, and Adam is sort of her opposite. They’re very yin and yang, those two. (Laughs) And he grounds her and makes her pay attention to things like parking tickets and paying the bills, and she’ll break him out of his shell and make him be more spontaneous. So they’re sort of a good match.
BE: I saw in the synopsis of the series on the Fox website where they say that the storyline between Adam and Callie “reveals how vastly different ‘she comes over a lot’ and ‘she lives with me’ really are.” Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
AC: Yeah! And I think “he comes over a lot” and “he lives with me” is a fair assessment. (Laughs) I think what’s so interesting and what I appreciate about this show is that as this season goes on, you see the female perspective as much as you do the male perspective. So while it’s about these three guys and their friendship and navigating their relationships, it’s also about these two women who are with these guys and navigating them having their relationships…and the women are wanting their own time and their own life. And I think that’s pretty balanced and pretty true to life. There’s this sort of idea that, like, “Oh, guys need space,” or, “Guys are going to freak out when you move in,” but in my experience, it’s just as much the opposite as well. It just depends on who you are. And I think that all these people are learning how to deal with themselves in relationships.
BE: Is there anything that’s happened to your character on the show that you’re willing to admit that you’ve dealt with in real life?
AC: Well, I have moved in with someone. And, um, I haven’t moved out. So it’s going well. (Laughs) And, you know, moving in is a really scary thing! When I first moved in with my boyfriend, I remember him sort of walking around and being, like, “What’s this? What’s this?” And I finally yelled, “It’s my stuff! It lives here now!” You know, there’s all those moments that you don’t expect to have when you’re just dating, little things that might drive you crazy about someone. I think that Callie and Adam, while very different people, run up against a lot of the same things that happen if you live with someone, including, “Okay, whose stuff is this?” And, for example, Adam doesn’t like to go to the bathroom in the same room as other people… (Laughs) …and that sparked a discussion on set about, like, “Oh, who feels comfortable with the door open and who doesn’t?” You know, we talk about all these things, and there’s truth in them all. I feel like I have a better example of something that’s happened in the show that’s happened in my life. I’ll come back to that.
BE: Lastly, how has the chemistry been with you guys? I’m guessing most of you, if not all of you, had never worked together before.
AC: No, I don’t think that any of us had ever worked together before. I know that Nelson and David had both been on “The Office,” but I don’t think they actually worked together. Nelson and I, it turns out, have friends in common. He went to NYU and I lived in New York, and the theater community out here is very small, so once I got cast, we actually found out that we have a lot of friends in common, which made things easier. And we all really get along. I mean, I feel like everyone says that on every show, and you always think, “Yeah, right. Who do you hate?” (Laughs) But I really don’t…yet! I mean, talk to me during Season 2. Someone may be driving me crazy by then! It’s like moving in: I’ve just started dating these people, so I’m still getting to know them. But I think everybody’s really happy to have a job, too. I think it helps that…oh, man, now I’m going to piss somebody off by calling them “not famous”… (Laughs) …but I don’t think anybody is super well-known, and I think we’re all really happy to have this job and happy to have a job that we enjoy, and everybody’s willing to work hard. So far, no divas!
Bullz-Eye: I’m sure I walked past you at Fox’s TCA party. I was bouncing back and forth throughout the night.
Liza Lapira: Yeah, it was a madhouse!
BE: Had you ever had the fortune of going to a TCA tour before?
LL: Yeah, actually, I went to the one on the pier last summer. Oh, it was great: free food, free rides, free games. Not a bad gig. (Laughs)
BE: So how did you find your way into “Traffic Light”? Was it just a standard audition, or did they come after you? How did it work?
LL: It was a standard audition. I was the last audition to the pilot, so it was pretty late in the season, and, yeah, I just went in for it, and that’s what happened.
BE: I know that some of the others had gone out for some of the other romantic sitcoms, too. Did you make your way through the same trenches?
LL: I did. I cast a wide net, though. I went for the romantic and workplace sitcoms, but I also did…I remember a lot of one-hours, too. One-hour dramedies, and there seemed to be a lot of cop shows and procedurals. So I went out, we basically cast a wide net, and “Traffic Light” was…well, like I said, it was toward the end of the season, and it was one of the last ones that I went on. But I had a couple that day. It was, like, my third that day. (Laughs)
BE: So you’ve been part of the Fox family for awhile now. You were in “Dollhouse.”
LL: Yes, I was there for a couple of years, so I’ve been lucky to have been working for them, for sure.
BE: Well, this is definitely a little bit lighter.
LL: (Momentarily horrified) “Dollhouse”?
BE: No, “Traffic Light” is a little bit lighter.
LL: (Laughs) Oh, I thought you were being facetious. “Oh, yeah, ‘Dollhouse’ was much lighter. What with the apocalypse, it’s totally lighter!” (Laughs) No, this is way lighter. Absolutely!
BE: So tell me a little bit about the character of Lisa on “Traffic Light.”
LL: Okay, well, she’s smart, she’s funny, she gives as good as she gets. I liken her relationship to Mike, her husband, her college sweetheart turned father of her child, it reminds me of Paul and Jamie from “Mad About You,” where they were just kind of equals in the trenches together and, you know, they’d bust each other, for sure, but they were a good match. And there’s a lot of repartee and a lot of…the phrase “worthy adversary” was thrown out a lot when we were filming the series. That’s what we were. But, yeah, she’s…what I liked about her, or what I liked about the marriage in general, is that it just came from a healthy place, or a healthy-ish place, in that she’s not trying to change him, she’s not nagging on him, it’s not like the harpy wife / foolish husband thing. It kind of seems like a marriage of peers. She’s confident, she doesn’t come from an insecure place, so when he’s out with the guys, we don’t fall into the trap of her being, like, “Come home now!” If anything, she’s, like, “I want to go out, too, so when you come home, it’s your ship and I’m going out with the girls.”
BE: So I know you said you were kind of late in game in joining the series, but how quickly did you and David find your rhythm?
LL: Pretty much on the spot. I went in for the initial audition, and it was just for the creators, Bob, Dave, and Chris Koch. And then I met David at the test and, honestly, didn’t know he was attached. I had a healthy ignorance of the particulars. I just wanted to go in! And then I realized who he was, and I had two thoughts. I said, “Oh, okay, that’s him: Roy from ‘The Office.’ That’s that actor. He’s good.” And, also, “He’s cute.” (Laughs) So I’m, like, “I can do this!” So I just jumped, and in our first scene, we just hit it off. I think I might’ve kissed him the first take. (Laughs) But we found our chemistry right away. He’s just such a great scene partner to have, and he was so giving during the audition process that I didn’t realize he was 6’4” until we started shooting. Because he had done such a great job of making himself smaller… (Laughs) …so that we looked like a couple on some sort of even ground that, yeah, it wasn’t until I was cast until I realized. And he had to tell me, “Yeah, I’m 6’4”.” I’m, like, “Really?” “Yeah, I haven’t been standing up straight this whole time!”
BE: I know you got tortured with this question during the tour, but I’m obliged to ask, anyway: what makes “Traffic Light” stand out from the other romantic comedies hitting the airwaves right now?
LL: Oh, okay. No skin off my nose. (Laughs) You know, I’m going to fall back on the fact that when I read it…I mean, it’s evolved…but when I read it, it was about these three guys and it was about their friendship, and I think that’s a little bit different, in that, yes, it is about relationships, and, yes, there are definitely strong women on this show, and it’s about the male / female dynamic, but there’s this whole other facet of the same-sex friendship. I got to see a couple of the episodes, and a couple of my favorite scenes are of just the guys conference-calling each other and talking to each other. It reminds me of my same-sex friendships, like me talking on the phone to my best friends from New York. We’d all get on the phone, I’d be in L.A., they’d be in two different places in New York, and we’d sit and talk just like the guys on the show.
BE: My wife and I watched the three episodes they sent us on the screener, and she immediately started using the phrase “drive time,” as in, “I need my own drive time.”
LL: Oh, that’s great! I’m glad you saw it! Which ones were they?
BE: (Long pause) You know, I watched them before I went out to the TCA tour, and I’ve taken in a lot of information since then, but…I saw the pilot, and, of course, I saw the “drive time” episode. If you can fill me in a bit on the plots…
LL: Let’s see…
(At this point, Lapira begins to run through plot developments which could be easily construed as spoilers, so I’ve edited them out.)
LL: I feel like the “drive-time” episode was the pilot.
BE: I know I’ve acknowledged my faulty memory, but, still, I’m almost positive that’s a separate episode. I’m talking specifically about when Adam’s driving to work and Callie’s calling him constantly.
LL: Oh, yes! Okay, yeah, that’s the second one. It’s the one where Callie’s not at the top of her game, where she’s calling him and is, like, “I’m under the bridge! I’m by a dumptruck!” Yeah, that’s great.
BE: Yeah, she saw that, and she’s, like, “Yeah, I need some of that. I need time to myself.”
LL: Oh, good! I’m interested to know what she thought of the women in the show, because we’re trying to work on making it more even.
BE: Well, we certainly both enjoyed it. For us…well, certainly for me, anyway…what really stood out was the fact that there is so much phone time on the show. It’s realistic, and it’s also somewhat of a different series model.
LL: Yeah, to have them on the phone for that whole time.
BE: But it’s very reminiscent of real friendships, as you said.
LL: Yeah, and how technology is becoming a way to kind of cultivate those relationships. Like, Skype and texting and drive-time has become an integral part of how we communicate.
BE: So is there anything in the episodes that you’ve filmed thus far that you’re willing to concede that you’ve experienced yourself in your own relationships?
LL: Oh, yeah. (Laughs) During all the press stuff, I was trying to think, like, “Who do I identify with the most?” And it’s Adam. I’m a worrier. Adam’s a bit of a worrier. And he re-uses moves from the past. Like, he has this thing where, you know, winning a stuffed dog at a fair, that’s his go-to move. And then he gets busted on it. She finds out that it’s his go-to move…and she puts the stuffed dog in the blender. (Laughs) Yeah, I think I have a bit of trepidation about commitment, but, really, I identify with his storyline the most…which is ironic, since he’s a guy and I’m a girl, but it’s definitely him. I actually had a guy call me out on re-using a move. (Laughs) I won’t tell you what it is, because then I can’t use the move again, but, basically, he ran into an ex-boyfriend of mine, and he said, “Oh, she said that to you, too. How interesting.” And then he busted me on it later. “Really? You’re re-using lines? Really?”
BE: I wanted to ask you about a few of the other projects you’ve worked on…and, by odd coincidence, I talked to one of your former co-stars today: Mark Harmon.
LL: Oh, yay! That’s great!
BE: Such a nice guy. I really lucked into the interview: I did it for The Virginian-Pilot here in Norfolk, Virginia.
LL: That’s so funny! I just went to Norfolk! I visited some family out there, and we went to the yard and got to see…gosh, what did we see? We saw the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush, and then… (Hesitates) Not the Intrepid, because that’s out here. Well, anyway. We were there on a holiday, and we were only able to get into the yard because someone had a military pass. But, yes, “NCIS” and Virginia! And isn’t Mark great?
BE: He’s fantastic. And his passion for the show just comes shining through.
LL: Yeah! And his passion for other people, too. I don’t know if you got that when you were talking to him, but he’s just very kind and generous and…it’s not status-oriented, that show. He’s very personable, and no one asks like a diva. Everyone’s on the same playing field, which is such a great working environment. It’s, like, we’re all one team making a show…and it’s because he sets the tone that way.
BE: Yes, he very much underlined the fact that it’s a team dynamic. So I take it you enjoyed your experience on the show, then…?
LL: It was great. That was kind of my first…I don’t know, it was my first of my genre, to be committed to that kind of genre, and I loved it. And to get shot by him at the end…? That just made my life. Totally. It’s funny, I was saying to my mom the other day…when we were in Virginia, ironically enough…at the hotel they were playing “21,” and it was the scene where Jim Sturges’s character gets beaten up by Laurence Fishburne. He’s bloody and he’s crying, his nose is running, and my mom is making this face like, “Yeesh!” And I said, “You know, that was one of Jim’s favorite days.” (Laughs) And she said, “Why?” And I said, “Because Laurence Fishburne’s a legend! He was, like, ‘I can’t believe I get to be beaten up by such a great guy!” And that’s the same way I felt when Mark shot me. When I got the script, I was, like, “Yes!” Who else can say that Mark Harmon busted a cap in them four times and killed them?
BE: It’s a badge of honor, really.
LL: Totally! To this day and until the day I die, that’ll be a highlight of my life. (Laughs)
BE: Well, I just wanted to wrap up by asking you this: what are your hopes for “Traffic Light”?
LL: I hope that it makes people laugh. I know that when I come home and I kind of want to decompress, I want to laugh…but not in a mean-spirited way. Hopefully, it’ll have some meaning to it, or that it’ll just be a highlight of people’s day. Most of all, though, I just hope that it’s as funny as we were intending it to be! (Laughs)
Bullz-Eye: As I’ve told your castmates, I’m sure we walked past each other at some point during the Fox party at the TCA tour. I was just bouncing back and forth constantly, much like yourself.
David Denman: Oh, yeah. (Laughs) It was pretty crazy. Lots of people to talk to, lots of stuff to talk about.
BE: So I’ve checked out the three episodes that Fox sent out, and I really dug them.
DD: Oh, great, thanks!
BE: So how did you first get involved in the show? Was it a standard audition?
DD: I actually had done a few pilots for Fox over the last two years, and they had sent me a few scripts, ‘cause they wanted me to do another one, and this was by far my favorite comedy. I honestly wasn’t really interested in doing another comedy right now. I was thinking I was going to end up doing a drama, ‘cause I’d done, you know, a few comedy pilots, and I just wanted to try and do something different. But this one was just…it just seemed so real, so like my friends and like my world, and telling stories that I kind of was interested in telling. And so I kind of gravitated towards that…and they offered me the part. It’s hard to say “no” when the material’s really great. (Laughs) Sometimes, what you think you might want to do and what you end up doing are two different things, and I’m really grateful that they asked me to do this. It turned out to be even better than I thought it would be. Just the whole process of how it works, ‘cause there was a lot of improv. It was really apparent that they wanted to make it as natural and as realistic as possible, the banter between the guys and in the relationships. They, like, didn’t want to do typical sitcom fare, you know? And that’s always refreshing, ‘cause you don’t really know that they’re actually going to do that when you sign on. You think they are and you have all these conversations, but then when you actually get there, things sometimes are…different. (Laughs) But this one was beyond expectations. It was truly fun.
BE: Yeah, actually, I talked to your wife on the show on Friday, and when I told her that my wife and I both liked the show, she said, “Oh, what did she think about the women on the show?” So I can tell that she’s got the same concerns also.
DD: (Laughs) Yeah, very much so. We’re trying to make it as authentic as possible, in as much as we can in a sitcom world. But it’s single camera, so you can get away with a lot more of leaning toward that than you can in a multi-camera. But that’s the goal and the hope. That, and to make it funny.
BE: So how quickly did you, Nelson, and Kris find a rapport?
DD: You know, it was honestly pretty instantaneous. You know, we had never met, and they had actually…they were interested in me for both the Mike and Adam characters, and so it was one of those situations where, y’know, by the time I came onto it, they had also cast Nelson as well. And we got together to read the scenes, because we were reading with different guys for the Ethan role, and…he’s so talented and so damned funny, and he, like, was completely so much better than I would’ve been in that role. It’s one of those great joys as an actor where you go, “Oh! Oh, wow! I didn’t think of it like that! That’s so great!” (Laughs) So I was immediately impressed with Nelson, and he’s just such a great guy. Like, it’s hard not to get along with him. And then we read with a bunch of different guys, and there were some really good, talented guys, but it just for whatever reason didn’t quite click. And they had never thought that this guy would be British or anything like that. And Kris Marshall came in, and he was perfect. He was really funny and…it’s a really hard thing to be the single guy and, like, have to say some of those lines like he does in the pilot. To somehow pull that off…there’s something kind of nerdy about him. (Laughs) Like, somehow he gets away with it. If you cast some really, like, you know, GQ model guy where you’re, like, “He’s a ladies’ man,” and he would say something like that, you’d just instantly hate him. You’d be, like, “What?” But because he has that confidence, he pulls it off somehow. And all three of us got on really well. As soon as he read, we were, like, “Oh, that’s the guy. That’s the guy! We’ve got a show now!”
I think it’s because we’ve all got that mutual respect for each other, because we had all the scenes together and did all the tests together, we’ve got that camaraderie. And we continued that off-camera. We genuinely became friends and hung out quite a bit. I still hang out Nelson. Kris is off in Australia right now, doing a movie. But, yeah, we became friends pretty quickly. It’s something that you cannot...like, people don’t necessarily get that the big part of a show about friendship is that people genuinely believe that they’re friends. Often you cast people and the chemistry’s not right and they don’t like each other or whatever, and it’s hard to really find people who genuinely can do that. Sometimes I feel like it’s manufactured, and when it feels manufactured, it’s more difficult for the audience. But that happens all the time: you hear about people who hate each other off camera but have great chemistry on the screen. For us, though, we were lucky. We genuinely like each other. And because the characters do have that history, having known each other since college, it was really important for us to try and spend as much time together, so that we could just feel comfortable and develop a shorthand. And we did. We’d play poker or play video games, or we’d go out to bars together or whatever. We did that as much as possible while we were filming. And I think some of that comes across on the screen. Hopefully.
BE: Did you do the same thing to build the Mike and Lisa relationship? (Laughs)
DD: Yeah! (Laughs) No, Liza…I had read a bunch of different women for Lisa, and, honestly, I was scared, because I was doing a TV show, “Drop Dead Diva,” in Atlanta, and I was flying back and forth from Atlanta to L.A. to read with different girls. And, you know, girls came in, and they just didn’t quite get it. It wasn’t quite there. The timing was a bit off or whatever. And Liza came in and, like, immediately, I’m, “Oh, my God, this girl’s amazing! She totally gets this whole pocket of where we’re living with these characters!” And we were immediately improv-ing. Like, we improv-ed, I think, most of the test audition, and everybody at the network really responded to that. So I was very grateful that she came walking in the room, because she was amazing. She’s amazing on the set, too. She’s just so talented and so professional, and she’s a lot of fun to work with. You know, when you have to play that and have a relationship like that, with a history, it’s hard to…well, you know, it’s the same issue, trying to find that and have it make sense. We talked a lot right after we got cast. I think we went out to dinner and just talked about relationships. What relationships I’d been in and what relationships she’d been in, and a little bit about what our history was and where we kind of thought we were. And we came up with a lot of similar things that we can pull from that we instantly connect with, and some things that were different. And then the best part is when, all of the sudden, the writers give us scripts, and we’re, like, “Wait a minute, no, that’s not our back story! We’ve already established that we’ve known each other since…” (Starts to laugh) And, of course, these are all of these conversations that we had on our own! I mean, we had some conversations with the executive producers, but it was nothing concrete. And then, you know, you can never…like, there’s an episode where we make jokes about that time when Lisa had a bad perm, and we cut to flashbacks of her with that perm, and we’re all just sitting there staring at her because we can’t tell her that it’s bad. Just stuff like that that pops up, we could never think of that. That’s the stuff the writers come up with.
BE: Now, obviously, you’re a father on the show. Given that it’s predominantly about the relationships between the friends and significant others, will we see a lot of the child on the show, or will he mostly just spoken of?
DD: Well, you know, it’s tricky, because…we did debate quite a bit on the age of our son on the show, and we ended up casting these twin boys, Tristan and Sebastian, who are one. They’re so adorable on there, and they’re really great on camera when we can get them, but it’s hard, because you can’t tell a one-year-old to act. (Laughs) So you’re really at the mercy of how they’re feeling that day, and you’re hopeful that you can get one of them in a really good mood at the right time and be able to work. But they were really great. It was difficult, because sometimes…I didn’t anticipate that when I got cast. I just thought, “Oh, yeah, I have a son!” Like, “Yeah, whatever!” I didn’t think about being on set and trying to deal with a kid, where it’s, like, “Oh, it’s his nap time right now, and we have to shoot, and he doesn’t want to do this scene, he wants to go to sleep!” (Laughs) But it’s that level of difficulty. We’re not even talking about acting anymore. We’re just trying to get through without the kid blowing up on us! But we got lucky with these guys, and, you know, the nice thing is that, if we do get to come back for a second season, they’ll be another year older and, you know, maybe they’ll be able to communicate a little bit better, and we can play with that a little bit. That will determine, I think, how much the kids are in the show, and what comfort level they are and what we’re able to do with them. Because, you know, that’s a very fluid situation.
You never know when the kids grow up with you. But I will say that one of the big things that both Lisa and I did with the kids was spend a lot of time when we were shooting the scenes with the boys. Like, between takes, we would just hold onto the kids and try to get them comfortable with us. Sometimes you’ll end up, when you’re shooting a scene and all of sudden you’re, like, “Cut!” And you give the kid to the nanny or to their mom and you walk away. And we couldn’t do that at all, just because the kids would not…you know, the more they got with us, the more comfortable they got with us, and the more we realized, like, “You know what? They may need to reset the camera, they may need to change the lights, but this kid doesn’t know that.” So we spent most of our off-camera time when weren't doing a scene with the kids. We also learned, too, the peak hours when they’re in their best moods. (Laughs) If you’re getting too late into the afternoon, they’re not feeling it so much. So we would schedule around, you know, when we thought the kids might be in the best place to be doing this. We were at their leisure, you know. If it wasn’t working, it wasn’t working. We’d just work around it and figure out if there were other things we could do, or we’d change the script. Whatever.
BE: Well, I think I tortured all of your other castmates with this one, so I’ll do the same with you: with all of the other romantic comedies hitting the airwaves right now, what makes “Traffic Light” stand out?
DD: Well, I mean, I’m sure you may have gotten the same answers from my castmates… (Laughs) …but for me, I haven’t seen the other shows, so I can’t really comment on them directly. But I have read them, ‘cause, along with “Traffic Light,” there were many other pilots, and my agent sent me scripts for shows. For me, though, this felt the most realistic, the most grounded in the type of people I knew, and that’s why I gravitated toward it. I think it has…it’s very funny, but it has a lot of subtle moments. It also has some more broad moments, but every story that we tell literally comes from a story that’s one of the writers’ experiences, as broad as they do get. I mean, literally, there’s a girl jumping out of a tree at Ethan. That happened to one of our writers! (Laughs) And so there’s stuff like that, where it gets kind of extreme, but they are coming from real stories. You know, they obviously get heightened a little bit here and there, but I think people will relate to it. I think it has a lot of warmth, and it’s very funny. I think the other thing is…I don’t know if the other shows are single-camera or not.
BE: Most are, I think.
DD: Okay. Well, you know, I think…we’re not the first nor the last show to do a relationship comedy. I think any of these shows, what makes or breaks them is the relationship, the chemistry between the people. And I think we have really great chemistry amongst our cast. We have a really great ensemble, and I think…I hope…that will translate, and people will relate to that.
BE: Is there any instance from within the episodes that you’ve filmed that you’re willing to admit hits home for you?
DD: Oh, hits home for me…? Oh, a lot of it hits home. (Laughs) There’s one episode that’s…I mean, I love it, but I hate to bring it up, because it’s our season finale. But I just love that episode so much ‘cause it’s really about the changes that we’re going through at this point in our life and how we’re sort of dealing with them…and Mike is not doing too well when it comes to holding onto the ship. He’s desperately trying to be the best father, the best husband, the best friend, the best employee he can be, and his desire to do that…it’s really difficult for him to juggle all of those things. And at the same time, all his buddies are changing, and they’re all sort of going through different phases of their lives, trying to hold onto something that they had in college. He doesn’t want it to change. He wants it to be the same. That really hit home. It’s always hard to sort of go through that phase, when all of a sudden other things are more important than hanging out with your buddies.
BE: Lastly, what would say is your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
DD: There’s this movie called “Take” I did with Minnie Driver and Jeremy Renner, and…you know, I have a small role in it, but it’s a really, really understated film. The subject matter is really heavy, really tough, and I think that’s part of the difficulty of the marketing of it, but it basically follows the parallel lives of these two people and this thing that happens in their lives and how it affects both of them. It’s a beautiful, beautiful film…and it’s on DVD now. It only came to theaters for just a very short time.
BE: Well, I think that’s just about it. I just wanted to say that I’ve been following you since “The Office,” so I’m glad to see you getting a shot at a new sitcom.DD: Thank you so much!