Splitsider

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Talking to Nate Corddry About ‘Mom’, ‘The Heat’, And Why Boston Stereotypes Will Always Be Funny

Nate Corddry is no stranger to the fickle whims of television. He’s starred on three tragically cancelled series, including the much-hyped Aaron Sorkin joint Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the David E. Kelley legal dramedy Harry’s Law, and the recent animated adaptation of an ‘80s sci-fi classic, Tron: Uprising. But despite the short-lived nature of the shows that have featured him, Corddry himself has left a lasting impression as a sharp, versatile actor. He’s ably balanced both the dramatic – roles as a creepy, clingy restaurant manager on United States of Tara and a soldier in the HBO war epic The Pacific – and the hilarious – a year spent as a Daily Show correspondent, and a part as one of Melissa McCarthy’s brash, Bostonian family members in this past summer’s buddy cop comedy The Heat.

Thankfully his latest project, CBS’s Mom, sounds as close to a surefire hit as a TV show can get. Hailing from sitcom guru Chuck Lorre, featuring the talents of veterans like Allison Janney and French Stewart, and giving the frequently underserved Anna Faris her first major television role, Mom is poised to be the next breakout multi-camera comedy from the network that’s managed to make even 2 Broke Girls a hit. And as Faris’s love interest, Corddry is a terrific addition to an already stacked cast.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Nate about his work on Mom, the lessons he’s learned during his career, and why fraternal duos like him and his brother Rob are so prevalent in comedy.

You’re playing Gabriel, Anna Faris’ love interest/manager on Mom. What interested you about the character?

Well, the first thing that was interesting about it was that I was able to do this work with Anna. She’s such an exceptional actor and comedienne and we’ve worked previously together and we got along really well and had a similar take on the work and how to approach it. We read together in the callback and had a chemistry together and it was so much fun. It seems like the characters are really flawed and imperfect. Like, everyone on the show is sort of broken in some way, has some sort of mountain to climb, and not just in a half-hour sitcom-y, you know, “Wah-wah!” kind of way. They’re all based in reality; they’re all real people. And some half-hour sitcoms that I’ve read, that isn’t the case. As an actor, for me, I need to have the character be real, be rooted in some sort of reality or it’s real difficult to play honestly. The way that Chuck [Lorre] and Gemma [Baker] and Eddie Gorodetsky wrote the pilot, it’s very real, and that sort of appealed to me. It had this kind of combination of big, fun silliness of a half-hour, but also you relate to the people. The people were real, they’re based in the real world and that combination seemed like a fun trend, to be able to do both. So I think it was those two things that appealed to me the most.

I was watching a promo where you talk about the show having a warmth and heart to the characters, which is something that’s becoming rare in sitcoms. Do you think it’s important for sitcoms to have a bit of a softer side to them?

No, I don’t think so. I think every show is different. I think every audience is different. Some people just want to sit down and just fall into that comfort of the 22-24 minute show that they grew up on. You know, I grew up on this format. I grew up watching Cheers and The Cosby Show and Family Ties, and this is the medium that I grew up on and it’s very comforting to watch a good one. So not every show I think needs to, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting to play for an actor and for me it’s personally more fun to watch because I’m more interested when there are stakes.

That’s sort of the great thing about Mom. It’s this half-hour sitcom in front of a live audience, but the things that these characters are talking about are real and scary. Like issues of sobriety and drug addiction, teen pregnancy, infidelity. It’s not all laughed off. There’s a moment in every episode where you can truly relate to these people. And people have been throwing this – this is kind of a big word to throw around when we haven’t even aired an episode yet – but after the pilot, the main vibe was like, “Okay, this is Roseanne.” Sort of a new Roseanne. Like, this working class family that is really struggling to sort of stay above water. Our hero is struggling with her own sobriety, and every character on the show, all of the regulars, all have problems that are not silly. So those are some enormous shoes to fill, but that’s one of the shows Chuck worked on back in the day and he understands that tempo and that tone, to try to carry both. The family and all of these characters are so relatable. It’s not another show about 20-somethings fucking playing grab ass, y’know? [Laughs] That feels fake. Like, 'I get it, I get it, I get it. Let’s do something else.' And that’s what Mom is trying to do. We’ll see if people get on board.

Other than The Daily Show, not a lot of your TV work has been in front of a live studio audience. As someone who came up doing theater, are you excited to be able return to performing in front of an audience?

Yes, I am! It was one of the highlights of just doing the job — the idea that every Friday I’m in a play. And I’ve never done this before. I did guest star on a failed pilot 10 years ago that was terrible. It was a great cast, but it just didn’t work. So to have, hopefully, the next several months and years of my life, to come work on Monday and be able to perform live on a Friday night just seems like so much fun. And there’s that whole other element to that performance when there’s an audience feeding you. Your performance really changes. And so I’m struggling with what that is and what the size is of my performance and I like that struggle. I like being uncomfortable. I don’t know how quite to play this medium. So I’m sort of finding it myself. Kind of like in a dark room trying to find the light switch. It’s not that the people there and the words that they’re giving to me aren’t very helpful – and basically I have been told to sort of trust the material and it’ll all be fine – but it’s real fun to go back to that excitement, that sort of live thrill of, “This may not work. This joke you’re about to tell, it may fall completely flat and we may have to fix it on the fly.” To me that seems real fun, really challenging. It’s a muscle I haven’t used in a while.

You’ve been a part of a few shows that unfortunately have been taken before their time, like Studio 60 and Harry’s Law. I’m wondering, is it all stressful making a pilot when you’re coming from those experiences, or have they taught you how to roll with the punches a little bit?

Yeah, the latter. It’s something that has taught me to roll with the punches. I don’t count my chickens anymore, and you really only have to make that mistake once. I made that mistake with Studio 60. I was young. I had very little experience, and I believed what these experienced people were telling me. And they were all wrong. And you ride that rollercoaster that I’m just too old to ride, and I don’t want to ride it anymore. It’s no fun. The highs aren’t worth it because the lows are just hard to negotiate. So I think I have a much more even-keeled approach to, really, any job. If once you get burned, it’s like… [Laughs] I’m just gonna sort of let the industry deal me the cards that it’s going to because that shit is so out of your control. I have nothing to do with whether or not people show up to this thing and watch. The only thing I can control is my performance and my behavior on set and my professionalism, so all that stuff I can manage, but beyond that it’s a waste of time.

Of course, this job, all that stuff percolates up again because it’s Chuck Lorre. So I’ve been trying to negotiate that with my brain. But it’s been pretty easy, actually. I’m like, “All right, well, we got picked up for 13 so we’ll do 13 and if there’s no more after that, that will be okay. Just march onto the next one.” This is a career; it’s a long thing. As long as this won’t be my last job. Every job ends. That’s also something I’ve learned. Every job will come to an end, so get prepared to negotiate that next step. But it’s sort of out of your hands and it takes a kind of confidence to get to that place where you let it kind of be okay, either way. But as a younger actor, I think I struggled with that more.

But you’re a little bit more grown now and you kind of know better?

Yeah, you know, the only way you can learn is through experience. It’s not something that they can teach you at an MFA program at Yale. This is real life stuff. When you realize you’re really just breaks between advertisements. [Laughs] This is a business. They are making money. And they’ll compromise just about anything to continue to make that money. So, you do your best and go to work, and leave the rest to those other people, but it’s none of my business. You know what I mean? So that’s what I’ve learned through experience, to let it go. You have to deal with that as a younger actor, and negotiate until you can get to a place where you’re a little bit more carefree with it.

Studio 60, Harry’s Law and, obviously, The Daily Show were all shows that had a political and topical slant to them. Are you passionate about projects that have a political message, or that deal with real current events?

I mean, certainly. But it doesn’t drive my choices. Good content drives every choice that I make. You know, if the content is good, then I’m interested, and then the next step is the people who are involved. But it starts with the content more than the genre of the content. I would be just as happy doing an enormous, big-budget, action, summer tentpole as I would in an ultra indie, low-budget movie that I’d lose money to make. If the content is good, then I can do some artistic wrestling with my brain. So it kind of depends on what the stuff is, but I’m not drawn to one specific genre.

I’ve been really lucky, really, is what it is. Because I wasn’t like, “Oh, I want to do The Daily Show, so I’m going to do it,” and “Oh, this will lead perfectly to an Aaron Sorkin series! So I’m gonna do that. Just call Aaron and I’ll do that. Great.” Like it was just luck. It was luck that Aaron wrote a script that had a character that I could potentially play. That was fuckin’ luck. And luck that I had a good relationship with the casting director. Beyond that, I think I had something to do with getting the job but I certainly didn’t reach out to that project like, “Okay, I’m gonna do this now.” Not that that’s what you’re asking me, but there isn’t one sort of genre of film or television that I’m drawn to. But it is fun. It’s fun to be topical; it’s fun to have a point of view. Real fun. David E. Kelley has a very strong point of view. Aaron Sorkin has a real strong point of view. Same with Jon Stewart — really strong point of view. It’s compelling as an audience. You get to say, “No, that’s wrong!” or “Yeah, that guy’s right!” And that’s the fun of watching that stuff.

This past summer you played one of Melissa McCarthy’s brothers in The Heat, whose family in the movie is all from Boston, and you were also the Bostonian Pete Campbell in Funny or Die’s "MA Men." Will there ever come a time when Boston stereotypes are not inherently hilarious?

God, I hope not. That’s a world I don’t want to live in. [Laughs] We’ll see. No, I can’t see that. It may get pushed towards the back burner when another really good bad stereotype takes first place, but it has so much color. People from Boston are so colorful in such a specific way. It’s so different from Philadelphia. It’s so different from New York, and it’s only 150-200 miles away from New York, but they could not be more different. It was so much fun, just doing The Heat was such a blast. We shot in Boston, in Dorchester. Everyone sitting at that table from that family was from Boston. The casting director was from Boston — she knew the vibe that she was going for, and God, it was just real fun. It was so much fun to play that character. Because those types of guys, y’know, I basically just played myself at 17. That’s basically who I played. I’ve done characters like that, like at the UCB where every so often, like once a year they’ll have this all-Boston improv show where the joke of the show is that it’s an improv troupe from Boston who’s come to LA so everyone is like [Boston accent] “My name’s fuckin’ Marty Sullivan. Go Sox!” And all that fucking shit. They’re like terrible improvisers. And every scene breaks into a fight. [Laughs] They’re always drunk and belligerent, but super heartfelt and honest, but just fucking dumb. I’ve had some experience playing those characters but not in as big of a way as The Heat was. But I’m lucky to be from there, I’ll say that.

You’ve worked with your brother Rob Corddry before, and while the two of you aren’t exactly partners in the same way the Duplass brothers or the Sklar brothers are, you’re still one of many fraternal duos in comedy. What do you think makes that particular dynamic such a good fit for comedy?

Well, I think it’s just experience. Anytime there’s a relationship that ingrained — going on for almost 36 years now — there’s just miles and miles and miles of shit to mine, comedy-wise. If we had met each other six months ago, there’s not a whole lot to mine there. We could do it forever because of our experience with each other. Because those relationships are fraught, those relationships are difficult and hard. And you need that tragedy to have good comedy. So, we just have a lot of history together, and that leads to good art. We just started talking about developing a production company and writing a feature together. So, hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have something and will be dipping our toes into the world of producing. But we have such full schedules just as performers, and Rob of course with his show Childrens Hospital — it’s hard for us to get on the same page, schedule-wise. But we’re gonna try to write the feature this fall and into the winter. So, we’ll see how that all goes, but I do want to work with him more creatively because it works when we do.

Jeremy Popkin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia. His work has been featured on Ology, Nerve, and Destructoid.