Is being on a big network sitcom something you always aspired to?
When I was really young, I dreamed of being on Saturday Night Live. I would sit around the dinner table with the family and I would impersonate people, and that would give me more confidence. I wanted to do sketch comedy. But things adjust and change and worked out differently, for whatever reason. There is something fun and secure in being the one character for a really long time. But I like film, too, just because it’s the opposite. It’s a shorter stint that’s very concentrated, and then you let go of it and be something else.
There seem to be obvious similarities between Ben and Kate and New Girl in terms of the aesthetic and the fact your character is based on an actual person.
There are a lot of connections between the shows. Jake Kasdan, who directed and executive produced that show, did this, and our show creator, Dana Fox, was also a consultant on New Girl. Their office is one floor above us. My character is based on Dana Fox’s brother, Ben. It has been fun and interesting to play a real-life character. Ben is around the set often and I have pulled some things from just hanging out with him.
How much of you is in the character as well?
A lot of stuff. We are both social and extroverted. We like to meet people and socialise with people. We also care what people think about us, which can be detrimental to our characters. I don’t have as much entrepreneurial drive as he does, but I am more organised. We share a degree of energy and well-meaningness. It doesn’t always work out the way Ben intends, but he has good intentions.
The fortunes of a new television series are mostly set in its first few weeks on air. How have you dealt with the demands of this highly competitive landscape?
It’s hard. I love the show. I believe in it. So it’s difficult because you put so much into it. It’s got a great mix of comedy and heart. It balances that incredibly well. It is difficult being involved in talks of numbers and what we are up against and how the other shows are doing. You want the job to continue as long as possible. It’s hard to turn off the outside world and just concentrate on the work. We have had good reviews, they are going to give us a chance and a fair shot to find an audience. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
The success of playing a brother-sister combination relies on the level of chemistry you share. How did you guys bond?
It happened really fast. Dakota [Johnson, who plays Kate] joined the cast at the last minute. There was no grace time for us. We got along, we were able to joke with each other and jab at each other without too much vulnerability. Things were playful and easy.
I heard you were involved in directing a film over the summer?
I co-directed a movie with my writing partner. It was a script we had been trying to get made for seven years. It was the first feature we wrote together.
Did winning an Oscar this year for co-writing The Descendants help get the film made?
It definitely did. The momentum provided us with some more exposure and it was easier to get some people to read than maybe it had been before then. It was helpful in securing talent and finance. It’s amazing how difficult it is to get a film off the ground. Sometimes I’m amazed anything gets made at all.
Ben and Kate
Ten, Monday, 8pm
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