My Days On “The Politician”

Now that Season 2 of The Politician has dropped on Netflix, I guess I can relay my experiences without breaking any NDA.

When I first went in to audition, I actually hadn’t seen Season 1 yet. There are just so many shows out there, and although I try to keep abreast of them, every once in a while one slips by. Since there was no time to see any episodes before my audition time, it would just have to wait until afterward.

Well, when I finally sat down to watch it the next day, I was blown away. It was so smartly written and brilliantly acted that I entered that place that actors shouldn’t really go post-audition – I hoped I would get the part. Fortunately, the Fates weren’t paying attention or something that day, because I got the call that I booked it!

I was so excited, yet things were so busy that I only got through like half of the episodes before I had to go in for my wardrobe fitting. I had a wonderful time joking with the costume designer. When I was in one option, I said, “I’m just a guy going to vote!” And he offhandedly replied, “And to get pushed aside by Bette Midler.”

Say what? I wasn’t sure I even heard him right, since that was totally unexpected. Of course, I couldn’t ask him to repeat himself without looking like an idiot, so I waited until I was out of there to look up the show on IMDB (which I usually wait until after seeing a show to do). Sure enough, there is Bette Midler playing “Hadassah,” which is the name of the character mine interacts with. She and Judith Light don’t appear until the last episode of Season 1, which is why I hadn’t any clue they were in it.

At that point I entered another room which is off-limits to actors – I got really nervous about being in a scene with legends like that. Fortunately, by shoot day I had worked through it and was ready to work.

Actually, that was “shoot days.” Since most days cover about five to six pages of screenplay at most, the fact that our scene was eight and a half pages meant that it had to be split into two consecutive days.

We started the first day with a run-through of the whole scene. Mostly the director (actually the show creator, Ian Brennan, who directs about one episode a season) would talk to the regulars and whoever had the upcoming dialogue, so I waited quietly off to the side to wait my turn. When it got up to the point of our exchange Bette said, “now who is my gentleman?” Without delay I spoke up, “I’m your gentleman.” Then we went through our lines a couple times while Ian and Tim (Norman, the DP) figured out the blocking.

Those two ladies were two of the nicest people I’ve worked with yet. I was a little afraid to approach them between shots, and when I finally did I found out I needn’t have been. They even were willing to have a picture with me, but as we were all in costume, they didn’t want to take the risk of getting me in trouble.

On the second day, they were mostly doing the second part of the scene after Ben Platt and Julia Schlaepfer enter and they have their dueling news conferences. So most of that day was essentially being background for continuity, except near the end.

Ian said he wanted to get a shot of me reacting to the craziness going on as I left the voting booth. He did this after he confided in me that Tim told him he thought I was the funniest man he’d ever seen. (Holy crap!) So, they set up the shot, and place the four stand-ins over where the regulars had been doing there thing so I would have an eye-line. I looked away for a second, and when I looked back, there were Bette and Judith standing where the stand-ins were! They are such professionals that they wanted to give me something to react to in order to make that second of show a little better. So they stuck around to do this even though they were done for the day. That is class and professionalism right there.

These were easily the best two days of my career so far!

Keeping Shows Alive

When a show you like runs it’s course it is bittersweet at best for any viewer. But for us actors, it has an extra layer of sadness attached to it – the reality that we will never, ever, be able to work on a show we really liked. And since it is part of our job to watch a fair amount of television, the odds favor it happening once or twice a year. This year for me it was “Castle” and “Royal Pains.” It saddened me to know that I will never be a part of those two shows.

“Parks and Recreation” was another one of those shows for me. Really sad to say goodbye to it there. But, the nature of this business is that, though the show is over, the actors working on it nearly always go on to other things. And that means I can at least work with the people who made those shows so special to me.

For instance, this season I worked on “Difficult People” with Billy Eichner. I also recently got done shooting a scene with Jon Glaser in his new show. And if you count Amy Poehler being an Executive Producer on “Broad City” then I am really making the rounds of “Parks and Rec” alum. It’s almost like being on the show! Almost.

I hope I can continue my tour of working with cast members of one of my all-time favorite shows.

Or even better, be a regular on a successful, well-loved show of my own. Yeah, I think I’ll do that!

On the Set of Broad City!

About six weeks ago I went in for an audition for a co-star role on Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” I was super-excited, as it is easily in my top three of favorite shows shooting in the NY area right now, if not my top favorite! But I managed to hold it together and deliver my best audition like it was just any other gig. After a couple weeks I figured they must have had the callbacks already, so I thought, “Oh well, there are more where that came from, especially since I’ve now been in that casting director’s office.” But little did I know that they weren’t having callbacks. About a month ago I get a call from the agent I was working on this with to find out that they “liked” me for this role, and wanted to check availability on or about September 18. For those who don’t know, this is the way it usually works – they want you for the role, but they don’t want to use the B-word (“booked”) until they get about a million other duck in a row. Finally they did use the B-word, and I was ready to go!

The shoot on the night was on location in the Bronx County Court Building, a work of art that was built in the 30’s. It’s one of those classical ones with marble columns. In the huge central room that they used for holding, craft services and catering there were huge murals and quotes from Woodrow Wilson on the walls – very impressive. The murals reminded me a bit of the ones they’d occasionally show on “Parks and Recreation,” which made me smile because of Amy Poehler’s connection with “Broad City.” After I was out of wardrobe I spent a lot of time in that room doing what I mostly do on these things – waiting and eating.

Sometime after midnight (I know because we ate lunch at midnight) I got called back to the set for my scene. At that point I met show creators and stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, as well as the director Todd Biermann. Everyone was super-nice, and Ilana said she saw the audition video and thought I was really funny (squee!). After that they put me in place so we could shoot the scene. I don’t want to go into specifics before the air date, but needless to say the art department did a wonderful job dressing the set for our purposes. My scene was with Abbi (Ilana didn’t have any scenes that night, but was there anyway like a trouper), so we ran a rehearsal a few times while they set the cameras in place, and we shot her side first, then spent almost as much time shooting my side.

Here I am on set with the ridiculously funny Abbi Jacobson! Photo: Ilana Glazer (!)
Here I am on set with the ridiculously funny Abbi Jacobson! Photo: Ilana Glazer (!)

Between shots I asked Abbi if she’d mind taking a photo with me. My agent insisted I get one for her to use in selling me, and I’m glad she did because I always feel weird asking that. But I need not have worried, because Abbi was all like “Sure!” And then when I was about to take it selfie-style, Ilana offered to take it like a regular picture. How awesome is that – one of the stars of my favorite show volunteers to take a photo of me with the other star of that show! I was pretty much on cloud nine, which only made my upcoming scene more difficult, as that character is supposed to be a little depressed.

When I was wrapped both Ilana and Abbi thanked me and told me to drive safely. As I was going out the door, Abbi said, “You killed it!” I only hope that when it my turn to be a TV show regular I remember to be as gracious and awesome as these two!

Not only is this a nice milestone for my career (and hopefully will look good on my reel), but I had an absolutely wonderful time doing it. I can hardly wait to see how it turns out, which should be sometime mid-March. I will definitely keep you posted!

Public Service

Lately I’ve been working on a documentary reenactment for PBS on the Jamestown, Virginia settlement. Apparently archeologists recently found evidence of cannibalism there, so everyone is scrambling to get their documentary out on it, and I got swept up in PBS’. It looked like fun and would pay the bills, so I agreed to do it.

The exterior location for the first couple days was on a preserve out in central Maryland that actually had a hundreds-year-old log cabin that we got to use. We got dressed up in our early 17th Century attire, and walked up and down a hill for several takes. Then I got to haul some lumber for a while, and I started to feel I was in Colonial times, but mostly because the data reception was so bad there I gave up using my smartphone between takes.

We went through periods of Yellow Fever and food shortages. Maybe the hardest acting challenge for us was fighting over the dwindling corn reserves right after lunch on the second day. When it came time to carve the victim up, I ended up being replaced as one of the butchers at the last minute, so I didn’t get to have a really neat scene showing guilt, reluctance, and desperation. But I didn’t mind too much, since I was still getting paid.

It looks like they will have a decent doc on their hands once they dub in the expert narration and whatnot. I definitely would like to see it when it comes out on PBS, even though it probably won’t help my reel any.

VEEP War Stories

I’ve been wanting to tell you guys about stuff that happened on the set of my “VEEP” episode, but didn’t know what constituted NDA violation, and frankly, didn’t want to spoil anything for actual fans of the show. So, I dutifully waited until the show aired on April 13th (yeah, that’s right – shot on Friday September 13th, aired on April 13th!), and then waited two weeks in case anyone was behind on their “VEEP.” So here goes…

I’d been going in to read for day-player roles on this show since mid-season 1. Finally they thought I was the best fit for this one, and of course they refer to the role as “Weird Guy.” Talk about typecasting! I’ll take it!

For these two Coast Guard scenes they shot on-location at an airbase in Middle River, MD, which is east of Baltimore. This is a bit more of a drive than their set location, but as you know I like driving, so set the GPS and off I went. On the way there I got a message from one of the production assistants that the writers would like us to rehearse the scenes beforehand, so they were moving the call times up by an hour. Fortunately I still had about an hour of buffer left, so only had to hit the gas a little more to make it just in time.

When I got there one of the PA’s led my car through the gate and to the piece of airstrip we were using for home base. I parked and they took me to my trailer. Well, more accurately, my section of the trailer they were using for co-stars, but I had my own door that said “Weird Guy” on it, so I was happy. We went to rehearsal and all the cast introduced themselves, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who shook my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Julia.” And I thought, well, yeah, I knew that – you’re the famous one,” but fortunately I merely said, “Hi, I’m Greg.” So we then ran through the scene and went back to our trailers to wait for the sun to set.

The first scene they shot was the first one where they were still at the dock, so rather than sit in my trailer all alone, I hung out on the set watching the proceedings, and talking with cast and crew between takes. Here’s a photo Reid Scott took and posted on Twitter that night. He was ridiculously fun to talk to! I didn’t take any photos on set because I didn’t want to get in trouble, and besides, it was almost out of juice from the GPSing and such.

Then they set up my scene. They put my boat out and anchored it like 40 feet from the dock, Then I got in a smaller patrol boat (like the one parked next to my boat in the scene), they took me out, and I made the transition to my boat without incident, which is good, because I was the only cast that wasn’t wearing a life vest. But I figured I was pretty safe given my swimming ability, our proximity to shore and the number of actual Coast Guard personnel surrounding me. Yes, those are actual CG in the small boat and standing in my boat. Cool, huh?

We did several takes running the entire scene with the cameras behind me, and then the crew went over to the big patrol boat to shoot the entire scene from my side another several times. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t decided it was a funny idea to have my arms up for the entire scene. This of course meant that I had to have them up for every single shot, and as I said, they filmed the entire scene in one go, which meant I had my arms up and motionless for like ten minutes at a stretch. Between takes I had to rub my shoulders while the director of photography sent me encouragement.

The next day my shoulders were so sore I could barely move them. But I’d had so much fun the night before that it was well worth it!