IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Actor/writer Christopher Moynihan talks ABC's new sitcom 'Man Up!'

Tuesday, 18 October 2011 10:29 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Actor/writer Christopher Moynihan talks ABC's new sitcom 'Man Up!'

ABC was struggling as a network up until the 2004-2005 season when it struck TV gold with several extremely successful one-hour television programs including Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy. But with Lost ending it’s mysterious run in 2010, Desperate Housewives currently shooting their final season now, and the future of Grey’s Anatomy in question after this season, ABC has wisely begun to shift its attention to comedy. The network currently has the most successful new show in years with its Emmy Award-winning series Modern Family, and has recently added to that success with several other popular comedies including Cougar Town, last year’s mid-season replacement Happy Endings, and Tim Allen’s recent return to television with Last Man Standing. Now the network will try to add to it’s comedy roster once again with the new series Man Up!, which premiers tonight, Tuesday October 18th at 8:30PM EST on ABC.

The series, which will run after Allen’s Last Man Standing, was written and created by Christopher Moynihan (Coupling) and stars himself, Dan Fogler (Take Me Home Tonight), Mather Zickel (I Love You, Man), Henry Simmons (NYPD Blue), Teri Polo (Meet the Fockers), and Amanda Detmer (Saving Silverman). The show revolves around three adult friends, Will (Zickel), Kenny (Fogler), and Craig (Moynihan) who spend their free time playing Call of Duty together and dreaming of being “real men,” when they’re not dealing with the various women in their lives. Polo plays Theresa, Will’s wife and the true “man of the house,” while Detmer is Brenda, Theresa’s sister and Kenny’s ex-wife who wants to make him jealous with her perfect new boyfriend Grant (Simmons). The pilot skillfully sets up all of these situations, while Moynihan’s Craig deals with his ex, a woman he is still madly in love with and who is set to marry someone else that day.

Last week, I had a chance to speak with the show’s creator and star Christopher Moynihan about his new series Man Up! I caught up with the actor/writer while he was on the set of the show filming it’s ninth episode and he spoke openly with me about creating the series, his character’s Graduate moment, playing video games, ABC, following Tim Allen, casting Dan Fogler, and working with the legendary Billy Dee Williams.

Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, can you talk about where the concept for the show came from? Did a lot of the inspiration for the series come from your own life experiences?

Christopher Moynihan: A lot of it did, only in the sense that I'm a 35 year-old guy and I lead a very different life than my father and my grandfather did. I had always wanted to do this thing, and it's something that we actually shot in the pilot, about the generations before us. My grandfather was wounded on the beach in Anzio, Italy, my father was a cop in the Bronx in the 1960's, and when I was in my mid-thirty's I spent most of my time sitting in El Pollo Loco with my friends talking about Batman. I was just a different kind of guy you know? So when you're pitching these things, and as I was writing it, you need a hook to be able to sell it in one sentence, so that was kind of what I landed on as a hook to it. That being said, a lot of people have been asking me if I'm doing some kind of social commentary on the modern man and I'm really not. It's essentially just a group of four guys and they're running around doing stupid shit together. But it’s kind of under the umbrella of the fact that the reason we have this opportunity to run and do stupid shit is because we don't have the responsibilities of our forefathers.

In the pilot the three male lead characters communicate with each other while playing video games, is that based on your own life experience? Are you a big Call of Duty fan yourself?

Moynihan: Yes, I've played a lot of Call of Duty and these days Red Dead Redemption. It also stems from the fact that every night I was on these headsets with my brother and four of my friends just downloading our days. It's like, “So what happened today?” My friend Scott was like, "We bought a dog at a pet store, we had to push through a picket line and people were spitting on us because we were going to a pet store." And as I was listening to the story I was thinking that in a show you would pop to that. You would just go boom, we'd see that happen, and then we'd come back to the guys playing the game. So for me it was a great way to get out of story without having to do all the piping in an unnecessary scene, you know what I mean? So we started the episode with all of us sitting around on these headsets and Will says, "I got to get my son." So we already know what the show's about, but it's essentially where we decompress at the end of the day. Our grandfathers had the VFW, our dad's went to local pubs, but we put on these headsets and we go around shooting people.

ABC seems like the perfect network for this series, and it looks like the show will be a good fit with their audience. Are you excited to be working with the network and what’s the experience been like for you so far?

Moynihan: I had a series with NBC two years ago, and whenever I’m in this situation doing publicity for a show, I get that question and I want to be political. I don't want to say, “Oh they're a freaking nightmare and I can't stand it.” But this has really been like a seamless, I can't quite say effortless, but painless process because ABC has really, really encouraged me to do what I want. I think a big piece of it is Paul Lee who is the new head of ABC. I've had a really great handful of executives who, when it comes up me saying, "I really want it the show to be X," they defer to me because I'm the voice of it. In my developing experience with other networks, it's kind of rare especially when you get into series and they have a lot of money riding on it. We had a promo that aired last week during Happy Endings, and it was the four male leads in our underwear wearing guns. Fogler had a shotgun and we all had these shoulder holsters, but we had no shirts on and we were doing a promo session. I just asked the network for guns, they brought me guns and we improvised this thing on the fly. This is on Friday morning, and now on Tuesday night it's airing on television. I think it's fantastic how the network let me make this thing up on the fly, then they cut it together, they put an announcer’s voice to it, and then they put it on the air four days later. To have that kind of encouragement, to have that kind of freedom, and the trust that they have in us, it's something that I really find refreshing. From the word "go," from the moment I pitched this to ABC, everybody over there has been nothing but supportive, so I have nothing but good things to say about them.

What was the initial episode order, and how many have you shot so far?

Moynihan: It's twelve. It's a pilot plus twelve so it's going to be thirteen all together. Right now we are shooting episode nine of our twelve. And literally I just walked off the stage where Dan Fogler is talking to Billy D. Williams who's playing himself and it's pretty awesome.

Wait a second … you got THE Billy Dee Williams to play himself on the show?

Moynihan: Yeah, we even got him to say a dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back! It's awesome. It's really, really awesome!

Can you talk a little bit about how you introduce him into the series and what his role is in the episode?

Moynihan: Yeah, sure I can. Dan Fogler's character Kenny and Grant, so Dan Fogler and Henry Simmons, are having this debate about whether or not the universe is friendly and if you can trust the universe. So Dan inherently doesn't trust it, whereas Henry's character does. So they go on this adventure where they yell nonsense into their GPS and the GPS misinterprets what they say, but they'll go wherever it tells them to go and they test the boundaries of the universe. Basically through a lot of different events Dan winds up beaten in a hospital bed trying to prove to Grant that the universe is terrible. Then he kind of happens upon Billy Dee Williams and they have some great exchanges about The Empire Strikes Back. It's pretty great.

Were you totally psyched when ABC told you that your lead-in show is going be Tim Allen’s return to television with his new series Last Man Standing?

Moynihan: Yeah you know, he's an icon and he's an icon on ABC, and he's an icon for Disney and Toy Story so yeah, it was really exciting. We're really encouraged that he did really well last week. He built on his pilot audience and they aired two back to back so we're hoping that his numbers stay and our numbers stay. This is the piece of it that we can't control. It's just, how many people are going to happen to tune in and what's happening that night on TV on another channel? How long is the network willing to wait it out? We can only control the creative piece of it and let the business end control theirs as much as they can. But we're excited to have a good lead-in.

What can you tell me about assembling the cast? Did you write the role of Kenny for Dan Fogler or did he just happen to be available at the time?

Moynihan: I wrote the whole pilot with no one particularly in mind other than myself. We went through a casting process so we saw a bunch of people, and narrowed it down to two or three. We brought them to the network for a test and we wound up with Mather (Zickel), Teri (Polo), Amanda (Detmer) and Henry (Simmons) that way. Then with the role of Kenny, Paul Lee felt right from the beginning, because the role is really funny on the page, that this is something where we should go after a real comedic break out. And it was in the vain of a guy like Dan, somebody who's just inherently funny, great to watch, and we got very lucky like a week before the table read. Dan accepted the offer and he's the only person we didn't audition so when we showed up at that table read it was a bit of a role of the dice. Because you never know what you're going to get when you make an offer to somebody, but he was better than I could have ever imagined on the page. He really brought something to it that really wasn't there on the page. So it was a great experience.

Were you always planning to play the part of Craig? Did you write that role for yourself?

Moynihan: Craig and Kenny were the two roles that I was right for. I know my place in television. I've had four series get on the air and I'm always the guy off to the right of the lead guy. So Kenny and Craig were the two roles that I kind of wrote with myself in mind, but Craig just came more in line with what I do, so that was pretty much the one I had my eye on the whole time. And it was also an opportunity for me to sing Brown Eyed Girl in the church and have that great moment that I really like.

Yes, I loved The Graduate moment that you have in the pilot, where did the inspiration for that come from?

Moynihan: I thought of The Graduate and you know, I've seen The Graduate moment where a guy comes into a church and takes the girl away, but I've never seen a Graduate moment that plays out the way it really would. And when I originally wrote it I had him come in and sing the whole song. Then Lisa, the girl on the altar just says, “Craig what are you doing? Get out of here.” And then he just kind of walked out rejected. That was what it was like in the first draft because I always wanted to see The Graduate moment go wrong. But then I thought, if she's marrying a frat guy and all of his boys are on the altar with him, it would really just turn into a massacre. So that's where I got the idea for that and you know Beth McCarthy-Miller (30 Rock) is our director and I think she directed that sequence so well. It looks like such a real wedding and it's just an awkward moment. Those guys on the altar look like the guys who would just say, "Fuck it, I'm in, I'm going to beat the shit out of this guy." So we loved that.

Finally, can you tell me what its like starring on a weekly series where you are also the creator and one of the show’s writers? Is it difficult balancing your time between rehearsing and filming with the actors, and then breaking stories for future episodes in the writer’s room?

Moynihan: Well I did it a couple of years ago on NBC when I had a multi-camera show that I created and I was starring in, but a multi-camera show is a different thing. Because you're only working eight hours a day on a stage or maybe even six hours a day, and then I could spend another six hours in the writer's room. This is very different. We're a single camera show so we're shooting essentially a movie all the time with an entire crew. We're going on location and we're out one day a week so it was a different thing for me. The truth is, it’s about finding a good showrunner and a partner. My partner is Victor Fresco. He's a guy that created Better Off Ted a couple years ago on ABC, and he created Andy Richter Controls the Universe about ten years ago. So he's a guy who's been here a lot. Fortunately he had a deal at ABC and I'm very, very lucky that he's agreed to do this with me. He brings a level of expertise that I simply don't have because I haven't done this enough and he essentially runs the writer's room while I'm on the stage. So I'm always on the stage with the actors and the director, and he's always in the writer’s room breaking future stories, and at the end of the day we meet and we discuss my end of it and his end of it. The real secret is having a partner that I can really trust.

So it's almost like cloning yourself, and being able to be in two places at once, isn’t it?

Moynihan: Yes exactly, except the clone in this case is much smarter than me so it's really a win, win.

Man Up! premieres tonight, Tuesday October 18th on ABC at 8:30PM EST.

To watch an exclusive outtake of Dan Fogler improvising in a scene from Man Up!, please click on the video player below.

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