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What’s in a place?
Many times it’s just a perfunctory element tossed in just for s and giggles but in MY BOYS, the television series on TBS, being a part of Chicago’s environment seems integral to making the story of a female sports columnist and the men in her life who define her life as a working woman. While I wouldn’t suppose that Chicago is one of the only defining elements of this series MY BOYS is a step above many of the weaker sitcoms in that the cast is exceptionally adept at, ironically enough, not being sitcom punchlines. There are real elements such as the lead, PJ (Jordana Spiro). She’s not window dressing, she’s not just a pretty face in a crowd of other actresses but rather, if I could make a comparison, she’s like Maura Tierney’s character in NEWSRADIO. PJ’s smart and has enough wherewithal that you would hope many other women would posses.
And then there’s Kyle Howard. The guy does not know the meaning of the words “sit on your hands.” As an actor in the Hollywood system for more than a decade, and only being 30, the man has made the transition from young actor to mature actor without the series of burnouts, bouts in rehab or paparazzi run-ins that seems to define what it means to be young in a town that wants to chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out. He’s incredibly grounded in his approach to his job as an actor and, as you read what he has to say about working as one, he’s got an outlook that, frankly, I don’t know if I would be able to posses; I would be given to feelings of constant paranoia and despair, moving from acting job to the next, but that’s why I keep my paranoia and despair locked in me as a writer.
Apart from also being funny, he’s got a great technical eye for what has made this series a winner for TBS and why he feels so safe in the hands of Betsy Thomas. He also deserves credit for being a Cubs fan, that instantly gets him a free pass for anything he does ever again from me, but deserves the most credit for being honest about the series and where he sees himself going.
MY BOYS airs on TBS, Thursdays, 9:30/8:30 Central
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: One of the first things I wanted to start off with is this – I didn’t realize until I looked into it is that this is actually TBS’s really first foray into original programming.
KYLE HOWARD: Yes, it was. The year that we did our pilot it was us and Ten Items or Less which is their sort of improv sketch show that they have. But the two of those were, as far as I know, their first run at that and are both still going at this point. That’s pretty exciting.
CS: But it must have been interesting from a taking-a-job sort of standpoint that here comes this opportunity where the water has been untested for TBS – But from a practical standpoint do you share studio space with anybody or did they build a whole new studio just to accommodate what your production?
HOWARD: No. We just, Sony, the studio behind the show, rents space from Paramount mainly because they have a back lot there that we try to sell the whole Chicago thing so it wasn’t anything to build a studio for us or anything like that. But it was sort of new territory for them.
CS: And for the show itself, it’s ostensibly set in Chicago and do you do exteriors here in Chicago?
HOWARD: Yes, we have in the past. We didn’t this season actually but the previous two episodes we came out there and did our finale of our first run – the Wrigley Field episode that was just so fun. We spent the whole day there and running around the field and playing catch in the outfield and it was amazing.
HOWARD: Then we came in there again at the end of our second chunk of episodes and we did pieces from maybe three or four different episodes – we shot at the Sears Tower and the Art Institute, Oak Street Beach and just sort of sprinkled in there throughout and it really helps to just authenticate things a little bit. The majority of stuff is at her [PJ's] apartment or at the bar or at our regular weekly sets but just to have that stuff in there here and there really legitimizes that whole Chicago thing that we are tying to sell and I think people in Chicago appreciate that too. They appreciate all the references that we make to restaurants and cross streets and whatever. I think they appreciates seeing the city from time to time too.
CS: Was it the writers – or the guys who came up with it or women who came up with it, was it their idea or were they from Chicago or any reason why, ultimately, they wanted to focus on Chicago?
HOWARD: Yes, Betsy Thomas who created it, went to school there. She went to Northwestern and a bunch of the other writers on our staff went there as well. It’s really cool – our whole writing staff – a whole bunch of them are Betsy’s old friends from back in the day – part of this sort of group we are portraying – in fact the Brendan character in the show is directly based on one of our writers Brendan Smith who has been a friend of Betsy’s forever. I think they even shared an apartment for a short time. PJ’s character is based on Betsy’s life so all of that stuff is really cool too. Just knowing that a lot of the stuff we do is coming out of real experiences they’ve had or that they had way back in the day or whatever so we end us just sitting around and hearing a lot of those stories which is kind of cool but Betsy’s – the short answer is yes, she’s from Detroit but then went to college to Chicago for school and met a bunch of those guys there and that’s where that came from.
CS: And for you being on the series represents steady work. Is this the longest string, so far, of one constant job? Looking over your resume I see a lot of one episode performances…
HOWARD: Yes, I think I just passed my record of how many episodes I’ve done on one show – in fact there was a kind of funny story – when we did this pilot I met everybody, met Jordana and I apologized to all of them in advance and just explained to them that I’ve done a lot of pilots and a lot of them have been picked up but not very many of them have run very long and I just said I think I’m kinda cursed and if this goes down I take full responsibility and they are all like “No, no, don’t worry about it…We’re going to break the streak” and so far we have. It’s not like we’ve been on the air for years and years but we’ve been doing it since we’ve done the pilot which has been two years now and I think we’ve done 30 – 31 episodes or something like that. So, that’s great for me given my track record. I’m definitely doing alright.
CS: Seriously, for just your mental health that must be nice.
HOWARD: Yes, totally. That’s every actors thing is a little bit of stability goes a long way and the fact is we never really have it – just like right now we finished work last week and the show is on now all summer but we don’t know if we’re picked up again and won’t know until September so once again we’re sitting around sort of wondering if we have a job or not. It’s just sort of one of those things you have to accept and I’ve been doing this since I was a kid and I’m pretty used to the routine of it all so I try not to get too worked up over it. If I had my choice of course I really like this particular job and really like the people and I would be happy to keep doing it for a while.
CS: Fourteen years by my adding you’ve been doing this – and I have to wonder as a working actor, people obviously probably would see you on screen and think that he’s making millions because I see him on television – what’s it like for you, knowing what I do about professional working actors who need jobs just to pay for the rent? I would imagine you have some kind of perspective based on the 14 years you’ve spent in this business.
HOWARD: Well, it’s weird, when I started out, I wasn’t a little kid, I was 16 years old, but I still lived at home and stuff was taken care of. My parents prepared me and I had a place to stay and I had food on the table. When I started doing it, it was just more or less a hobby for me. Know what I mean?
HOWARD: And then, at a certain point without me even realizing it because I just kept doing it steadily until I was an adult at a certain point I realized it had become my career and become my livelihood and I think that’s a nice way to transition into it because I never felt a lot of pressure to survive and to work and to get a job. Every actor has a little bit of that thing like “Oh wow, it would be nice to get this job” or that job or be nice to get some work by the end of the year or whatever it is but I guess I’ve just always sort of trained myself to have a more relaxed sort of feel about it, and like I said, transitioning into it from being a kid it was just already what I did – that made it easier.
I kind of believe that the more stress or desperation that you put on something the sort of opposite effect it can have so I just do my best to kind of think, it’s been fine up until now and it will continue to be fine. If this keeps going, great, and if it doesn’t then I have to find the next thing.
CS: That seems so realistic in a town that is filled with desperation – people scrambling to find the next thing to do. A project like this – it’s a great show – it must be nice to throttle that back a little and say “You know what, it’s been a good two years…” and being ravenous about it.
HOWARD: Absolutely. It’s been a treat for me to not have to do the whole pilot season thing the last two years. That’s always just sort of a game in and of itself. It’s nice to just see my friends, reading pilots and going to pilots – even if we’re not working on the show at the time I just know it’s coming back and it’s nice to sit back and skip that for a couple years.
CS: And on the subject of MY BOYS – it centers around PJ and it’s been described as SEX IN THE CITY with dudes – what initially attracted you to the series?
HOWARD: The thing that initially attracted me was Betsy because I had done a show with her a few years prior to this. Another comedy she created for the WB, RUN OF THE HOUSE, and it was also sort of loosely based on her family life and I had a blast doing that and I thought then that she was a great writer and a great boss. She’s such a nice personality to have around at work everyday. She always has a real clear idea of what she wants and she’s just goes about everything in such a nice and friendly and productive sort of way and that trickles down throughout the rest of the crew that works on the show and on the cast.
So anyway, I had a great experience with her on that and then I heard that she had a new pilot but I hadn’t read it yet. My manager sent it to me. They were going to bring me in for this Bobby role and I read it and I thought it was great – it was funny, it was real but wasn’t totally convinced that I was the Bobby character because I read him as the sort of leading man – love interest type of hunky guy that you read in almost every pilot that you read and I’m just wasn’t convinced that I was that guy. I’m usually – I tend to like more character-y kind of guy – the kooky best friend or quirky love interest – you know what I mean? And I had this conversation with Betsy and she said “Yeah, I had the same thought but we’re not making a soap opera here – we’re not making one of those shows with beautiful people playing those formulatic roles – we’re going to do something real here and something relatable and something sweet” so I came in and ended up reading with Jordan and we had great chemistry together and met with the studio and the network and ended up getting it and at the end of the day I was thrilled. I was convinced that I was right for it and could do it. Then I was very excited about it.
CS: One of the things about the program, the way I see it is that it’s different. First of all it’s a very fresh way to approach something like this where you see a lot of – for better or worse – on primetime network shows, sitcoms that are just that - pretty people. THE HILLS, LAGUNA BEACH, if you are not a 10 they are not interested. It’s interesting to hear that the writing here was all about creating something that was not necessarily about models and more about characters themselves so what’s it been like over the two years to see where you signed on the dotted line saying “Yes, I’m going to start doing this” and then to see how your character has progressed over the two years?
HOWARD: I really can’t complain about any of that. Like I said, in the past my sort of normal thing is a little more character-y…a little more goofy than Bobby is on this show and every once in a while I feel like I’m sort of the straight guy of the group because a bunch of the other guys on the show are very broad and very big and hilarious and I crack up at work all day watching them and I crack up seeing them on the show and occasionally I’m like, “Give me more jokes – I want the jokes.” But really, I can’t complain. I’ve had a lot of fun with the character. I’ve had so much fun getting to know everybody else. It kind of like the luck of the draw situations when you go to cast a show. None of us ever met one another except I met Jordana when we read together at one of our auditions but other than that I hadn’t met anyone until our first table read. So, who’s to say that these people you are throwing in a room together are going to click and have chemistry on screen – which we all do – and on top of that, who’s to say that we’re going to click as people and become friends and generally like to be around each other – which we do. So with all of that, I feel super lucky.
CS: In your years of doing pilots and being on television and being part of a series, do you ever find that the network tries to get too involved with the way – like you said, everyone has this natural chemistry with one another – has there ever been a time when there were too many fingers in the pot trying to force things just simply for ratings or what might look good on television?
HOWARD: Sure. I think that’s a danger on almost every television show out there. There are so many people involved – so many writers, so many producers, and so many people at the network who essentially have the final say on everything. That was one of the things that I had talked to Betsy about before we did the pilot because I have never done the cable thing before and I expressed a sort of concern to her “What’s with TBS? They’ve never done original programming before. What do I expect from that? What am I getting into?” – that whole thing. And she said “Kyle, look, I have the same questions” because she hadn’t done a cable show before either and she said, “All I can tell you is up to this point it’s been such a treat dealing with them as a network for that very reason.” From the beginning I think I felt so much less pressure from them and so much less of them trying to sort of distort this show she had brought them and she felt they were really giving her a chance to make the show that she wrote. That said, there is always notes from the network and there is always going to be and there’s always several people with several different opinions and that’s just sort of the politics with any show.
But I do think we are lucky at TBS to have a way-scaled down version of that – if you would compare it to situations at some of the bigger networks.
CS: Looking at it now, you’ve said the difference between basic cable and network and looking at your resume over the 14 years, is it really a big difference when you walk into work in the morning? Does it feel any different than network vs. cable? TBS vs. NBC or ABC, or anything like that?
HOWARD: To me it really doesn’t. As actors we don’t really deal with the network very much. There are always a couple people from the network at our table reads and we see them at parties and press things but for the most part, it’s really the writers that deal with that and have that sort of constant influence so, no, it’s not something I’m normally aware of that presence there as an actor just because we are not directly influenced by them as the producers and writers.
CS: If I had just one more question to ask it would be, I’m awfully impressed looking over and seeing how much work you have done in the past – it’s more than a lot of people could say for themselves when you see many other actors trying to make a go for it as a living. Where do you see where you’ve been the last 14 and where do you hope things go in the next few for your career?
HOWARD: I feel super lucky to have stayed this busy as I’ve had and, yes, my first goal would be to continue that. I just like to work and obviously on things that I’m proud of and that I like the people on and whatever and I’ve also been very lucky with that and have had very few bad experiences. I just like to be busy and I like to act so my main goal is to just to continue with that. For the last couple years I’ve started writing some and I’ve started directing a little bit and both of those things are things that I sort of want to explore more and pursue more in the future but I don’t have a real pressure on either of those things. As boring as it sounds, I just want to stay steady and keep going as it’s been.
CS: One more side note: I know what the answer will be but I’m going to ask it anyway – I saw that you are not a huge sports fan but being from Chicago and seeing how this interview is taking place in Chicago right now, is it true that you are a Cubs fan because everyone knows, White Sox fans are dirty and smelly and not very well educated.
HOWARD: I’m totally a Cubs fan. I grew up in a family full of Cubs fans. My mom is from Chicago. My dad went to school in Chicago. Ever since I was a little kid, me and my sister were both diehard Cubs fans. I think she still has the card to the club and everything. We still go back there occasionally, me my mom and my sister went back last fall and went to a game and I’m not your typical sports guy and watch football and that type of stuff but I do love the Cubs – that’s been really fun for me and my family to have that tie in with the show – they love all the references. It also would be really cool if the Cubs did something amazing this year and we got to write that into the show as well. I think that would be really exciting.
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