Getting ‘Physical’ with Matt Jones
For many people, Breaking Bad and The Office would be their favorite drama and favorite comedy of the 2000s. Few can say they worked on both shows, but one actor can claim the title of having appeared in the series finale for each show in 2013. It was not entirely a coincidence though, as Matt Jones had been preparing for comedic opportunities like those ones since he was a teenager.
By doing improv in high school in the late ‘90s, Jones preceded the UCB’s presence in LA by quite a few years. He’d go on to train and perform at Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, a theater that has such alumni as Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele, and Jason Sudeikis, then returned to be on several teams at UCB before his life-changing role as “Badger” on Breaking Bad in 2008. He remained busy since the Breaking Bad finale as a regular in the CBS series Mom, but Jones takes the lead in his show Let’s Get Physical, a new comedy on Pop about rival gyms and aerobics. It’s his first time as a main character in a TV show, but he’s been preparing for this for nearly two decades.
What’s the origin story for Let’s Get Physical and its premise?
There are these weird videos on YouTube that got popular a couple years ago that are Crystal Light national aerobics competitions, hosted by Alan Thicke in the ‘80s. They’re absolutely ridiculous and amazing. Dan and Connor Pritchard, they sold the show on those videos, that idea, kinda like “We wanna make a show about this thing.” Our show is not set in the ‘80s, it’s set present day. It’s more of an homage to back then and kind of how the world used to be and that’s my gym; how the world is now, that’s Chris Diamantopoulos’s gym, and they’re rival gyms. The conception of it is that there literally had never been a show about aerobics. Fitness is such a big thing nowadays and nobody does a show about it.
How did you control your weight for this show?
I had gotten pretty big. I have a two year old, and when you have a kid, stuff just changes. I had gotten pretty chubby and then I read the script and I said, “Well it is a big, chubby part.” And I really liked the script. Then we shot for six weeks and I lost thirty pounds since those episodes were filmed. Me in that spandex outfit in that pilot, I’m 30 pounds lighter now from shooting that. I’ve worked 14-hour days and dance rehearsal on the weekends, sometimes all day long. It was hard not to just drop weight. Turns out aerobics is like a real fucking thing.
What’s the exercise that best works for you?
The best exercise I’ve found is not eating garbage constantly. Try not to drink too much and don’t eat garbage. Besides that, any exercise is pretty good. Just stay away from garbage.
How was it to have Jane Seymour playing your mom in this?
Jane and I did this weird TV movie for Hallmark Channel like eight or nine years ago, so I already knew her and she’s the kind of lady that likes to act like your mom. And she’s wonderful, but I already have a relationship with her, I know she’ll do it well, her and I are such polar opposites in so many ways. Very similar in others. I mean, she was a Bond girl, it’s insane. She has all these insane stories — like she used to own this abbey and castle thing in England for years and she’d rent it out to bands when she wasn’t using it, and OK Computer was recorded in her house. Radiohead’s OK Computer was recorded in Jane Seymour’s house. That’s the tip of the iceberg. She’s British, but when you’re British you don’t actually know the royals; she knows the royals.
And what is it like to have Chris Diamantopoulos, who is insanely fit and can actually do freakish physical things, in the show?
It’s funny — Chris has his own crazy regiment. His brother is a fitness guru kinda guy, he’s a really obsessive trainer, and Chris does whatever his brother says. He doesn’t even work out that much. He works out like once a week. He just has a really strict eating thing. He’s the guy that’s constantly on this thing where it’s about the food you eat. He works out really hard once a week for an hour, and then he just doesn’t eat anything bad. Or as I say, he doesn’t enjoy his life. Chris and I got along so well on the show and I feel like the show is really, really good at all the stuff between him and I, because we just improvised a lot and screwed with each other on set and had so much fun.
What’s the percentage of improv on the show?
It depends on a lot of factors — your relationship with the writers and the showrunner and the amount of time you have to shoot that day and all that stuff. In the end we would do the scene as written, and if it wasn’t working or it felt off, we would just adjust it on the spot. Some improv, some just writing it and changing the writing on the day. We shot for two months in Halifax, Nova Scotia and we felt alone at the tip of the world, so it was a bit like summer camp. Everybody was working on everything all the time. It was very fluid, things changed a lot. I mean, the very ending to the show, the twist to the whole series, was thought of the night before we shot it. So everything was changing very quickly. But in a good way.
You started doing improv when you were around 15. What is it like to be pursuing comedy at that age?
Boy, I did Comedy Sportz in high school, in a Los Angeles high school league is what it was called. It was short-form, just games and stuff. Then when I was 18, granted in high school I started performing kind of professionally in LA and doing all different kinds of things, Improv Olympics and Comedy Sportz, and there were a couple of different theaters at that time. UCB didn’t come until much, much later. But I moved to Amsterdam from 2004 to 2006, I was at a comedy theater out there called Boom Chicago, for people like Seth Meyers, Jordan Peele — I can’t believe he just got Oscar nominated, that guy slept on my couch, it’s so weird.
When you were studying at Boom, you ended up doing about 1,000 shows over three years. What does a person learn about improv and comedy when doing that many sets in such a short period of time?
The audience for the most part is there to see a good show. Nobody is rooting for you to fail — unless you’re in certain places in England. The thing you learn is that people want you to do good, so do good. You never buy tickets to go to a show and have it suck. And especially in improv and comedy, if you’re not having fun then the audience isn’t having fun either. You need to have fun. That’s kind of what my acting career is built around — that I’m having fun doing it.
Which country had the strangest reaction to short-form improv?
The thing you learn about performing for people that speak different languages — for pretty much everybody I performed for, English was a second language — what you learn there is that subtlety doesn’t really play. They don’t really like subtlety. You just gotta say how you feel and cleverness is not always…certain countries like you to fall down a lot. It depends. Scandinavian countries really like subtle shit. It depends where you are, the age of the crowd, the reason for the event, the city you’re in. That’s the great thing about Europe is that you can drive three hours away and it’s a completely different, not only country, but language and lifestyle.
You wrote, directed, and starred in the movie The Night is Young in 2015 with friend Dave Hill. What did you learn during the process of making a movie?
I learned so much. I learned how to make a movie, first of all. I learned that you have to really be in love with what you’ve written before you start shooting it. Some people say “Just start shooting,” and I don’t agree with that because things cost money and you want to be prepared. I mean, we were very prepared, we shot the movie in 12 days and we covered that with a very rigorous shot list and shooting schedule with my DP to make sure we got everything. But if a scene wasn’t working, we didn’t really have time to do it over again a bunch of times. I’m proud of the movie, it’s just that I learned a lot about the kind of stuff that I want to make.
It seemed very autobiographical.
Yeah, a little bit. It was a little bit of what I was going through post-Breaking Bad or during Breaking Bad, where I couldn’t get cast in anything else because everyone wanted me to be a drug dealer. And everyone assumed I was rich because I was on a show, but I was a guest star on cable — I was broke. I was actually doing voiceover the whole time to pay the rent. That’s what kept me afloat, and commercials.
Eventually you must have also gotten more work because of Breaking Bad.
Yeah. It just took a little time. Everything worked out. That’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’m so happy I was a part of that. It was just that to be on this show that is a supernova and everywhere you go people recognize you, and scream “Give me some meth!” everywhere you go. But I’m very happy for it because now I have somewhat name recognition and I’ve built a whole career out of that. My first episode of Breaking Bad was 2007, and I’ve been in so much since then and because of that.
What was the favorite opportunity you got from being “Badger”?
Years ago I had written and sold a TV show that I was developing with Conan O’Brien’s company and it never went anywhere, but I was in the Coco offices and they had a monitor on. They were setting up for the show that day and Queens of the Stone Age was playing and I was like “Oh is that a recording?” They said, “No, they’re on stage right now.” I asked if I could go watch Queens of the Stone Age because they’re one of my favorite bands, and they were like “Sure.” I go and watch them play and Josh (Homme) and Troy (Van Leeuwen) walk over to me and they’re like “You’re from Breaking Bad! We love that show! We’re playing a concert at the Wiltern, you should come backstage.” I was like “Okay!” and “I gotta go!” and then I went to like five of their concerts and they kept inviting me backstage. I was always like “I am not cool enough to be here. Dave Grohl is back here. What the hell is my life right now?”
Part of that weird “What is my life?” feeling must have happened in 2013 when you appeared in the series finales for both Breaking Bad and The Office.
What had happened was, while Breaking Bad was wrapping up, I had done a bunch of pilots as a series regular because I was not a regular on Breaking Bad. They cast me in this spin-off of The Office. It was Rainn Wilson, me, Thomas Middleditch, Majandra Delfino. Then they decided that they weren’t gonna do the spin-off but would use the pilot that we shot as an episode, so it plays as an episode in the final season. I got along with The Office guys so much that they brought me back for a couple more episodes, and then all of a sudden I look and I’m in the cast. I was in two huge finales within months of each other. I got to go to a lot of great parties, I’ll tell you that.
What do you think didn’t work about The Farm? What would the world look like if Middleditch wasn’t in Silicon Valley and you weren’t doing what you did instead?
I think they didn’t pick it up because what we shot wasn’t that great. It was fine, it was okay. It didn’t feel like anything amazing. And with The Office ending, it felt like it should just end because it had been on for so long. I think it’s a good thing that it didn’t get picked up, because then the following year I got to be on a Chuck Lorre sitcom for four years. If it had gotten picked up I think it would have gotten better and probably been a pretty good show. NBC didn’t have a ton at the time and I think they would’ve given it a shot for awhile, and I think that’s probably why they didn’t do it — they knew that if they picked it up they were gonna have to commit to it for awhile.
You’ve been paid to do improv and you have done a lot of improv for no money, as is usually the case. What do you think about the posts that come along once in awhile that argue for paying improvisors at UCB?
I was paid in Amsterdam because I wasn’t just doing improv — I was doing sketch, for an audience of 300 that were drinking, and there were only five of us. All the time. We weren’t an improv theater, we were a theater-theater. We weren’t equity, but that’s kind of how it was. We were working. The tough thing about paying improvisers is that, I don’t know, I did it for so long and nobody ever paid me anything. It’s not like college football because you’re not getting hurt, but if people demand to get paid and then they don’t, then people will come along and do it. They’ll find more people that’ll do it for free. They’re not gonna run out of people that want to get on stage and perform, there’s open mics for a reason. They’re not gonna run out of people. For me it’s just “Fine, you just don’t get paid to do improv.”
What’s your favorite thing about Let’s Get Physical?
My favorite thing about the show is that it’s so stupid. It’s funny and there’s nothing political about it. We’re not trying to “say something.” It’s just a break from all the garbage — everybody’s so sensitive about everything right now and this is just a show. It’s just a comedy. Remember when comedy was just comedy? That’s what this is.