Actor/Writer/Co-Creator Jim Piddock talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his HBO series Family Tree
TV STORE ONLINE: Hey Jim! Thanks for your time today. I love the show....I was curious to see what was the inspiration behind the creating of Family Tree was for you and Christopher Guest?
Thanks! Christopher originally came to me because he'd been delving into his own genealogy and he asked me if I thought there was something in it for a film or a television show
. During that first lunch together, we quickly knew it was a television series because of the infinite nature of a family tree. There's no traditional structure -- A Beginning, Middle, and End -- Just a lot of branches and roots to explore in different directions.
TV STORE ONLINE: When it came time to cast the role of "Tom Chadwick" was Chris O'Dowd someone who you were thinking of in the conceptual stages of the show or was he someone that you saw was a good fit as you were casting?
PIDDOCK: He was very much one of the first names on our list. When we made the decision to start the show in The United Kingdom, he went immediately to the top of our list.
TV STORE ONLINE: With the writing of Family Tree...What was that process for you and Christopher Guest? How do you two work together? Was it the classic "One types while the other talks..." type of relationship?
PIDDOCK: The first couple of months, we sat at each other's dining room tables, ate lots of snacks, and made each other laugh a lot. While we did this, we also scribbled down things on legal pads. After that, we got an office, put our feet up on our desks, and did pretty much the same thing for another four months, but also starting to pin scene cards up on a cork board. Finally, I went off and wrote up all that we'd worked on for six months and transposed them into very detailed episode outlines, which we then refined. We also wrote extended and very detailed character biographies for all the main characters. The only time we sat down and traditionally "wrote" together was with the scripted "Fake TV Shows". That was by far the easiest and quickest part of it all. We wrote all eight clips of the bad 1970's and current television shows in a couple of hours.
TV STORE ONLINE: I love your character "Mr. Pfister"...Why does Tom feel so comfortable telling him things that he doesn't share with members of his own family?
PIDDOCK: I think Pfister is intellectually and emotionally on the same wavelength as Tom Chadwick. Tom's Father "Keith" is not on the same wavelength as him. So Mr. Pfister becomes a kind of favorite uncle/mentor figure to Tom. Plus I think that Tom goes to him because he knows a bit about history and antiques, so he's able to help Tom in a practical way.
|Jim Piddock as "Mr. Pfister" on HBO's Family Tree|
TV STORE ONLINE: There's a unique curio in the background of many of the scenes with Tom and Mr. Pfister in his shoppe "Bits & Bobs".... There are two photos framed next to each other of Willie Nelson and Nelson Mandela...Is that a personal touch of yours?
PIDDOCK: Yes. I was originally intended to do a verbal reference to it in one of the episodes but we decided that it wasn't needed, and as with a lot of Christopher Guest's work, some of his best jokes are thrown away or moved to the background and done with props.
TV STORE ONLINE: One of the funnier moments in the series I think comes in Episode 2 in the scene with Tom and his friend and they're sitting around with all of those lager bottles and they're going through the names of the beers and they're all named very sexually....Did yourself and Christopher Guest come up with some of those beer names and what are some if any that didn't make the episode?
|Chris O'Dowd, Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock|
from HBO's Family Treee
PIDDOCK: We came up with some of them and Tom Bennett, the actor who play's Tom's friend "Pete" came up with a whole load more of those names. We actually had real labels made up to pay off the joke in the following episode when they guys meet "Mildred' and she offers them one of those "inappropriate" beers. I think there was one take, which may have not ended up in in the episode, where Pete says at the end of the very long list of double-entendre rude names, "...And then there's one that's just called "Bum Sex"", which he, of course, thought was the best name for a a beer ever.
TV STORE ONLINE: How much of a challenge was it to develop outward the Chadwick family tree/story line for this first season coming to DVD? There are certainly some funny twists, turns, and various humorous aspects to the Chadwick family mythology that we as an audience couldn't possibly see coming....
PIDDOCK: We honestly loved doing that. We actually made up a proper, massive family tree, that went back about four or five generations in the Chadwick family with the names of people we never even got to see in the first season of the show. We always wanted it to have an unpredictable feel also. So many television comedies are so predictable and boxed in by their situation or premise. They are geographically boxed in as well as in terms of their story lines so we wanted to get away from that.
|Jim Piddock and Chris O'Dowd on|
HBO's Family Tree
TV STORE ONLINE: Right, and as a comedy there is also a wonderful mixture of humor and melancholy in all of the show's characters. As a writer can you write sadness, or is that purely up to the actors to deliver on?
PIDDOCK: We definitely wanted the show to have a darker, more reflective and poignant side to it and we wrote that in. Fortunately, from day one, the actors delivered that in spades as well as the comedy.
TV STORE ONLINE: Will we ever find out if Mr. Pfister truly in fact does have Mad Cow Disease as was indicated in one of the episodes of this first season that's just finished?
PIDDOCK: You will for sure if there's a Second Season!
TV STORE ONLINE: How much of your own comic sensibilities do you think are in the character Tom Chadwick and how much of Christopher Guest is in him as well?
|(L) Chris O'Dowd with Creators of HBO's Family Tree|
Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock
PIDDOCK: Well, we deliberately wrote an every-man character to be front and center in the show. But Chris O'Dowd has brought so much texture and specificity to the Tom Chadwick character.
TV STORE ONLINE: There's a universal awkwardness in the comedic Mise-en-scène of Family Tree that we see also in the films of Christopher Guest and that delivers most of the humor of the show....Why do you think that awkwardness between people can be so funny?
PIDDOCK: Because we've all been there. Life is awkward. I think you can overdo the "comedy of embarrassment" thing at times, but I think we manage to weave in about the right amount so most people don't get too uncomfortable watching it.
TV STORE ONLINE: You mentioned how easy it was to write the "Bad 1970's" television bits that we see on the television of Tom Chadwick's dad in the show earlier....Those are really fun. Will we see more of those in the next season?
|Chris O'Dowd and Michael McKean|
HBO's Family Tree
PIDDOCK: If there is another season. There will be more of the existing shows you've seen already and then probably a couple of new ones also.
TV STORE ONLINE: With Tom going off to America to trace his family tree and spend time with his American family you unveiled his hatred of cats! Do you expect any protesting from feline support groups? After all, this is 2013! How will you handle such?
PIDDOCK: I certainly hope so! As a cat owner myself, I will scratch their eyes out and hiss on their graves!
TV STORE ONLINE: My favorite episode of the first season was Episode 6 which sees Tom going to a Civil War reenactment. It's so funny, when I was watching it I thought that an entire movie could probably be made about the hi-jinks of Civil War reenactors. When will you write that?
PIDDOCK: Yes! The Civil War episode was the one arena Tom Chadwick enters which both Christopher Guest and myself felt could have been spun out into a full-length film.
TV STORE ONLINE: Where can we see you next?
PIDDOCK: I've just finished shooting a new film THINK LIKE A MAN TOO, and a web series pilot called Money And Fame. I'm in the middle of adapting a book I've optioned into a mini-series and I'm about to shoot some episodes of a new show for The Travel Channel which I'm hosting called, Human Safari. After that I'm taking a two week vacation, where I shall do a big, fat nothing!
Season One of HBO's Family Tree comes to DVD on October 29th, 2013