Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Actor/Writer Kevin Sussman talks about playing Stuart on THE BIG BANG THEORY

Actor and writer Kevin Sussman co-star of CBS's THE BIG BANG THEORY talks with TV STORE ONLINE about working on the show as well as his new project, DARK MINIONS.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Hey Kevin!  Thanks for allowing us some of your time today.

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  Not a problem.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Starting off.....Where did your initial interest in acting come from?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  Well, I grew up with three older brothers who were all in plays in high school and they used to come home and talk about all of the crazy antics that they'd get into.   So that really sparked my interest because I really admired them and I wanted to emulate them.   By the time I became their age I went full throttle into drama and started doing high school plays.   Also, I started watching a lot of movies while I was in high school too.  I was watching the movies of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino...laughing...Which is funny because my career is as far on the opposite side of the spectrum from those guys as you can get...laughing    I was also totally obsessed with Woody Allen.  I can't even tell you how many times I've seen SLEEPER (1973).    You can see how much influence Woody Allen has had over both myself and my writing partner John Ross Bowie in our new show DARK MINIONS.

The cast of DARK MINIONS:  John Ross Bowie, Clancy Brown,
Richard Kind and Kevin Sussman

TV STORE ONLINE:   I wanted to ask you about DARK MINIONS (2013). How did that project come to fruition?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   John Ross Bowie and I both have reoccurring characters on THE BIG BANG THEORY.  But, we've known each other for years.  I'm from New York, and so is he.   We both used to work on Wall Street for our day jobs.  So we became friends because we both had this common background.   DARK MINIONS really started one day when I sent John this sketch that I had written.  He liked it, and he sent it back to me but he had added the next scene to it.  
John Ross Bowie (L) and  Kevin Sussman (R)
creators of DARK MINIONS (2013)

We immediately realized that we both had this common interest in comic books, and Sci-Fi and we both had this previous experience in the corporate world.   Writing this was like the easiest thing that either of us has ever done.  It really just dropped out of us.   Sony optioned it, and they took it around to all the networks, but everyone passed.   They all said that it was too high concept, and maybe they were right.   There really isn't anything like the show on television.  We actually intended DARK MINIONS to be a live action show in the vein of RED DWARF (1988-93), but after it was turned down, John's agent suggested that we re-pitch it as an animated series.  So he took it to Amazon and they really connected with it.  In fact, it was Amazon's idea to do it as a stop motion animation project, and I was head over heels for that because one of my favorite films of all time is CORALINE (2009), and I have always loved Gumby too.

TV STORE:  Eddie Murphy or Gumby himself?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  laughing...The stop motion Gumby...and Eddie Murphy too...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:   There is a wonderful sense of humor to DARK MINIONS and then also just some of the stuff you write on Twitter is really funny as well.  Where do you think your sense of humor comes from?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  Woody Allen is definitely a big influence on me, and on John Ross Bowie.   Also, all of the funny American sitcoms that I grew up watching had an influence on me.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you have a Top Five favorite Woody Allen movies list?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   That's a tough one....ANNIE HALL (1977).  ANNIE HALL...ANNIE HALL ...ANNIE HALL....That takes up spots one through three...laughing    Then SLEEPER of course, also TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969).  Those two would be my favorites of the earlier and sillier Woody Allen.     Then the ones that I think are just crown jewels and American treasures would be ANNIE HALL again, then BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) and MANHATTAN (1979) are tied for second.   Then for third and fourth would be BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994) and STARDUST MEMORIES (1980).    I'd have to include HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) in there somewhere too.

TV STORE ONLINE:  People always overlook ALICE (1990).

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  Oh yeah, ALICE is great.   I'm glad you brought that up. No one ever talks about ALICE.  It has one of my very favorite Mia Farrow moments in it.  She goes to the Opium den, and she's clearly not a drug user, and she's really nervous and she's rambling on.  The guy packs her pipe and she's just rambling on nervously.   There's a certain point, where the Opium doesn't seem to be kicking in, and she says, "It doesn't seem to be working."    Then it hits her and  she orders him to move the pipe and she goes from a being a novice to a old pro in an instant...laughing   It's all Mia Farrow.  Her and Woody are the one of the greatest comedy teams to get into a vicious lawsuit...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE: Your Twitter account says that you're a "Actor, Musician and Criminal Overlord".   What crimes have you committed recently and what crimes will you commit in the future?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   Oh, crimes of the mind.   I don't really have the balls to actually go through with the execution of a crime, but in my mind I'm a devious bastard...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  Could we talk about A.I.  ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)?  I know you worked on that but wasn't your scene cut or something like that?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:    Yeah, I was in one scene and it was cut out.   I didn't get much time with Spielberg but just being there for the time that I was,  you could see exactly what a masterful technician Steven Spielberg is.   Some of the best directors I've ever worked with were the ones that didn't give a lot of direction to their actors.  If a director trusts his actors, then they'll be better, and that's the way that Spielberg is.  He really knows everything.  He knows lighting, he knows lenses and I think that if he wanted to be a Director of Photography himself he'd be an award winner.  He's just a master, the man can set up a shot.  I'm a huge Spielberg fan.  MUNICH (2005) is an incredible film. 

Kevin Sussman and America Ferrera on UGLY BETTY

TV STORE ONLINE:  As a huge fan of UGLY BETTY (2006-2010) why did you get written off the show when you did?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  Well at the time I left, my character was a series regular, but I was no longer her boyfriend, so I think there just wasn't anything for my character to do.  So it just made sense to leave.  There were a lot of fans that appreciated my work on that show, but the most vocal section of that shows fan base just loathed 'Walter' because he had cheated on Betty.   To have cheated on 'Ugly Betty' was unforgivable in their eyes, so I think it was probably a very easy decision for ABC to give me the ax on that.  But I expected it.  It was a fun experience while it lasted.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   We're huge fans of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001) and in particular our favorite scene in the movie is the one that features your character at the big talent show.  Could you talk about that scene?

Sussman in Wet Hot American Summer
KEVIN SUSSMAN:   Actually David Krumholtz was originally supposed to play my part, but at the last minute couldn't for whatever reason.  I was just a last minute replacement.  I wasn't even familiar with MTV'S THE STATE (1993-1995) or any of those amazing people who went on to become huge later.   The whole wind thing at the end....Actually here's an interesting thing about that.   There's another scene in the movie where I'm holding a chicken and pretending it is a laser gun.  Amy Poehler walks up to my character....I didn't know at the time, and nor did I think to ask about it, and it wasn't until after the movie was in the can, that I found out why I was holding a chicken in the scene.  I mean, I just used it as a laser gun because I didn't know why I was holding it.  Later on,  I found out that the reason why I was holding a chicken in the scene was because that the writer, Michael Showalter, had put it into the script to foreshadow the fact that the wind thing at the talent show was coming up later.  He did that because chickens are what you see on weather-vanes...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  So how did THE BIG BANG THEORY come to you?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  I had originally auditioned for that show a couple of times.  The first time I auditioned for it I ended up not being available.   I was still under contract for UGLY BETTY even though I wasn't on the show any more, so I couldn't do it.   Then, I auditioned again for Chuck Lorre and he had wanted me to play 'Kripke' but I was doing a movie at the time or something.  Then of course, John Ross Bowie my friend and writing partner on DARK MINIONS was cast on the show as 'Kripke'.   I really lucked out, because the next role that came up on the show was for 'Stuart' and Chuck asked me if I wanted to do that. It's a lucky role because the comic store is the perfect place for the guys to go on the show.  My character is on the show even when he has nothing to do because he owns the store.   

TV STORE ONLINE:   So are you a comic book fan like Stuart on the show?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   I actually used to work at a comic book store.    I worked for a long time in NYC at Jim Hanley's Universe while I was in acting school.   I wasn't a fan of comics when I started working there, but I became a fan afterward.  I became a really big fan of Frank Miller and Alan Moore.  When I worked there too, the guys who were always in the know pointed me to the good stuff like Love & Rockets.  Emerging as my favorite comic artists were people like Joe Matt who had this awesome graphic novel called Peepshow, and Daniel Clowes who had an awesome comic book called Eightball, that was probably my favorite book.   Then also, Chester Brown, his stuff I really liked.  I liked those semi-autobiographical books like that.

Kevin Sussman, Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki on CBS series

TV STORE ONLINE:   So the fact that you've worked at a comic book store must really help you with Stuart right?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  Yeah.  I can go through the motions.  I know how to work in a comic book store, in regards to the tasks that need to be done.  That serves me really well on the show, because I can just stand in the background and look busy and I know everything that needs to be done to operate a comic book store and I use it.

TV STORE ONLINE:  One thing I love about Stuart on the show is his wonderful sense of irony.   It's like he knows that the guys interests along with his own are really outside the norm.  How much of that comes from you?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  Yeah.  So much of that is me.  But also, the writers on THE BIG BANG THEORY are amazing.  They really, even early on, delved into who I am as a person.   Everything they write gets closer and closer to me, and it's really in my wheel house.  That sort of stuff, that ironic dryness of Stuart and his objectivity about his low nerd status, and being broke, and trying to run a comic book store and how shitty of an existence it is, I can totally relate to that.   I mean, I didn't own the comic book store that I worked at, but I know the owners of it really felt the same way as Stuart does.  No one opens up a comic book store to make money.  Although it would be great, it's just really hard to do.  So the fact that I've had that experience in life gives me all the confidence in the world.   The sweet spot on the show is when I get to say something that I actually would've said when I was working in a comic book store.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you guys ever do any improvisation in front of the live audience?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  No, and we don't need to.  The writers are so good that if a joke doesn't land the writers will converge on the spot and in three minutes re-write it so it is funny.   It never fails.  Those guys are probably the best writers in the business in terms of on-the-spot writing.  

TV STORE ONLINE: What about during rehearsals?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  No.  There are no loose lips in that way, and part of that is the nature of the medium.  It's not a single camera show like on THE OFFICE.   Everything is very tightly scored.  Its four cameras all going at once, so everyone has to watch their marks closely.  So there's no room for improvisation really.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Has Stuart gotten over 'Penny' yet?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  No I don't think so.  Contextually if the question came up in an episode I would say No.  I think that underlining tension is what keeps Stuart who he is.     When Stuart first appeared on the show he had more self confidence, but when he got dumped by Penny it sort of rattled the fabric of his existence.   I don't think he's recovered from that yet.

Kunal Nayyar and Kevin Sussman

TV STORE ONLINE:   I was wondering if you yourself or any of the other cast members on the show have seen the adult film parody of THE BIG BANG THEORY that's out there?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   Laughing.....Really?  There really is one?   

TV STORE ONLINE:  Yeah, just look it up on YouTube.   Stuart isn't in it though.   But he should be.

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  That's good.  I'm glad Stuart isn't in it.  I don't think I'd watch it if he was.  I'd be too worried to watch it and see the porn version of me doing a better job, and I'm not even talking about the sex...That just goes without saying...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  From a sociological standpoint, why do you think that the show has resonated so much with its audience?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   You know I think that it makes people think their watching a sitcom that's smarter than other sitcoms.   The great thing about it is that you don't have to understand the jargon that Sheldon is rambling off to find it funny.   Really why the show is so successful is that the orchestration of the characters is just so damn good.  The show hits this sweet spot where the situations can be really absurd but yet the characters are so defined that you can really get into it.    The show can get a little surreal but you just go with it because the characters always stay true to themselves and they're all really likable.  Even Sheldon...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  If you yourself could write an episode of the show what types of situations would you put Stuart into?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  I would love to see him in a relationship.  I'd like to see how he handles a relationship with a girl.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Will you be coming back for Season 7 of THE BIG BANG THEORY?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:  I hope so.  I've heard that the comic book set is still there, so that's a really good sign.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Anything new in the works?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   Just DARK MINIONS.  I'm trying to get people to click on that at Amazon.

TV STORE ONLINE:   DARK MINIONS will be something that comes to DVD eventually right?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   Right, if it goes to series.  Right now its just a pilot on Amazon.  If it does well and it goes to series then I'm sure they'll put it out on DVD.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Last question....Could you leave us with your best joke?

KEVIN SUSSMAN:    Well I don't have good jokes.  I'm not a joke teller per say.  I guess I have one, it's not my best joke, and I'm sure that I have better jokes, but it's the one that just popped into my mind.  I didn't come up with this, but here it is:   So there are these two guys that are sitting on this porch.  The one guy says to the other, "Hey how's your Alzheimer's doing these days?"   The guy says, "Pretty good, I'm on this new medication."  So then the one guys says, "Oh Yeah? What's it called?"  So he responds, " Oh it's that one thing with the pedals, and the stem and its got thorns..."  The one guy asks, "A rose?"   Then the guy turns and yells out, "Hey Rose, what's the name of my new Alzheimer's medication?"    That's not my best.  That's not my gold, it's just the one I remember right now.

TV STORE ONLINE: Thanks for your time Kevin. It's been a real pleasure.

KEVIN SUSSMAN:   Thank you.

Follow Kevin Sussman on Twitter HERE:
Check out the Pilot episode of DARK MINIONS here.
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