The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Megyn Price (“Rules of Engagement”)

After a season on “Lateline,” five seasons on “Grounded for Life,” and seven seasons – so far – of “Rules of Engagement,” Megyn Price ought to know the process of putting together a sitcom inside and out by now, so it’s not entirely surprising to find that she’s decided to step behind the camera and direct an episode of her CBS series. Price chatted with Bullz-Eye about what it took to transition into directing and how her castmates helped her efforts (there’s a bit of a spoiler in the mix, so be wary) while also reflecting on some of her favorite and not-so-favorite aspects of the show’s seven seasons to date. Before getting down to business, however, I’d promised to pass on a message…

Cats & Dogs

Bullz-Eye: First of all, I’m supposed to tell you that Donal Logue says, “Hello.”

Megyn Price: Awwwwwww… I love him! We’ve been going back and forth on Twitter. My former TV husband…

BE: Yeah, he and I just did an interview in conjunction with his debut on “Vikings” for the Onion AV Club.

MP: Oh, you did? Oh, great! That’s fun. He’s such a great guy, isn’t he? Did you have a 400-hour interview with him? ‘Cause he can not stop talking. [Laughs.]

BE: Well, actually, it started out a phoner, and then we ended up doing a bit more by email. It was for a feature called Random Roles, and I wanted to try to cover as many of his roles as possible. Lord knows he’s got enough of ‘em…

MP: Oh, God, I bet he loved that! He has the best stories. He used to tell a story about being on “The Patriot” anytime wardrobe would come up to us on “Grounded for Life,” about how there was this stampede, where everyone was getting run over by horses, and he said that wardrobe would come up to him and fix his collar. He’s, like, “Okay, you don’t need to fix my collar. I’m about to get run over by a horse!” [Laughs.]

BE: Okay, on to the topic at hand: your directorial debut. What took you so long to get behind the camera?

MP: It’s hard to get the shot, y’know? There are no small directing jobs. There are small acting jobs, but no small directing jobs. Somebody’s really got to be generous and kind, like our producers were on this show, and give you a shot. And, y’know, I think I had to earn it a little bit. A) I had to have the experience, but B) I had to do a lot of research and a lot of studying with other directors and prove that I was serious about it all.

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BE: Was it something that you’d been wanting to do for awhile?

MP: Yes. Like, my whole life. [Laughs.] It’s something where…I always look at shows, look at scenes, look at projects that I choose from the directing standpoint. I mean always. I always think of myself as sort of a reluctant actor, because I think I’m really good at acting, but it only engages one side of my brain, which is the really base monkey brain that just goes and does it. I don’t really think about it. I just can do it. But the directing is much more the analytical side. It’s a creative side as well, but it’s, like, you get both sides of your brain working, which to me is a dream come true.

BE: You mentioned that you had to study with other directors. I’d guess that Ted Wass must’ve been one of those directors, given how many episodes of “Rules of Engagement” he’s helmed over the years.

MP: Actually, no! I’ve worked with Ted a million times, but Ted has a style that is really interactive, so…you almost don’t have to study Ted, because it’s so apparent when he’s working, so I went and shadowed people who are a little quieter. Not that Ted’s a big loudmouth. [Laughs.] But I shadowed Mark Cendrowski, who loves to teach what he knows, and I shadowed Andy Ackerman a couple of times, ‘cause he’s probably my favorite director that I’ve ever worked with. He’s so quiet that I really wanted to just sit on his shoulder and watch was he was doing, which was so informative. It was amazing. And Andy works really well with actors who are having a hard time, which I didn’t know until I watched him. He’s so kind, and he becomes almost like a dad. He was just great. But I think that once I kind of realized that I might have a shot at directing our show, I started hyper-watching everybody who directed our show.

Missed Connections

BE: I’m sure you picked up more than a few things, but was there any particular lesson that you learned while shadowing these directors that really surprised you, something that you’d never really noticed before?

MP: [Laughs.] Well, I’ll tell you: the thing that was the most interesting to me was a conversation I had with Anthony Rich, who is one of my dear, dear friends, but he’s also been directing “The Big Bang Theory” for the last couple of years. I think he’s directed six or seven episodes at this point. But I called him the morning of the taping, and I said, “Anthony, I just can’t believe how vulnerable actors are!” He goes, “What are you talking about? You’re one of ‘em!” I said, “No, but I’m not a vulnerable actor! It’s amazing to me that your main job as a director is to make sure the actors are comfortable.” And he said the greatest thing I’ve ever heard: he started laughing, and he goes, “I love that you’re now realizing this. I’ve always called directing…it’s like wrangling unicorns. Because actors are magical people, and if you make them comfortable, their magic turns out…and if you make them uncomfortable, their magic turns off. So that’s your main job: to make sure that everyone’s comfortable enough that they can let their magic show.” And it’s great advice, because it’s so true! I know it from the other side: if I’m worrying about stuff, I’m not a good actor.

BE: Was it weird being on the other side of the camera for your own show?

MP: No, it was weird being an actor the week I was directing. Which sounds completely insane, but it was. It was weird. Because, like I told you, when I act, I don’t think about anything else at all. I’m just totally present, doing my thing. And when I’m acting and I’m directing, my head’s going, “I wonder what this looks like. I wonder if we need to tighten up that shot. Oh, he needs to say that differently…but I can’t say that ‘cause now I’m an actor in the scene!” [Laughs.] It was a bit of a schizophrenic kind of experience. But I think the night of taping I figured out a few tricks to really just turn off my directing head once the shots were set and just actually be an actor, so I didn’t ruin the show.

BE: How was it directing your cast members? Did they treat you with kid gloves, knowing that it was your first big shot behind the camera?

MP: They were beyond incredible. Talk about turning on their magic! They turned on their magic in rehearsal. They were unbelievable. They were so great. And I will tell you that, when you work with people for seven years on a show, there are many weeks when – I myself included – do not bring the A-game during rehearsal. [Laughs.] But they really did. Every single one of ‘em. And it was a rough week for David (Spade) and Adhir (Kalyan), because they had tricky stuff to do. I know you haven’t seen the episode, but…well, it’s called “Timmy Quits,” and they had to kind of play it real a little bit, because it was kind of an intense thing that Timmy was quitting, and then there was a joke five seconds later. So it was a tricky week for them, but they worked their little buns off.

100th

BE: You guys are coming up on the end of the season, and CBS’s press department has already released a photo from the finale which shows Audrey and Jeff holding their new baby. Now, when I talked to Patrick Warbuton a few years ago, he said he’d fight against it if they ever tried to add a baby to the mix, and the last time I talked to you, you said, “Oh, God, every time we read even hints of that, we’re, like, ‘That can’t happen.’”

MP: [Laughs.] Yeah, famous last words, huh? Well, you know, we knew it was inevitable. I think that Patrick and I had been fighting against having a baby on the show the same way we’d fight against having a monkey on the show: we’d love having a monkey on the show, but that’d be a big, difficult shoot, wouldn’t it? Every time we have all eight thousand of Liz’s cats on the show, it takes two extra hours to film! But once we had an actual baby on the set, well, of course we just melted. We’re a couple big, sappy idiots.

BE: So what’s the status of the show? Is it still in flux? Will there be a Season 8?

MP: You know, every year we say it’ll take a miracle, and this year it felt done. I mean, we did 100 episodes, and it felt like, “Well, that’s an amazing number for any show to get to.” But as ever with this show, I guess you never know.

(Writer’s note: Funnily enough, if you go back and look at the interview I did with Warburton during the show’s third season, when I ask him about the possibility of Jeff and Audrey having a baby, he replied, “Yeah, well, hopefully, that will be season eight.”)

BE: When you look back at the run of the show thus far, do you have a particular favorite – or favorites – that leap to mind immediately?

MP: Oh, man, I have a million. And the truth is, my favorite…I don’t think of a whole episode as a favorite, generally, as much as particular scenes. Oh, no, wait, there is one. It’s called “Atlantic City.” Jeff lies to Audrey that he’s going to Atlantic City, and Audrey lies to Jeff that she’s going to a spa, but they’re both telling each other complete and total untruths for absolutely no personal gain. And then it just keeps avalanching, snowballing down a hill, lie upon lie upon lie, with both of them trying to race home to prove that the other one is lying while still somehow covering up their own lie. And yet, again, none of it is for personal gain. They’re not doing anything that the other would even care about! [Laughs.] So, yeah, I love that one, ‘cause to me it feels like a Noel Coward play. It was crazy, and very fun to do. But I love anything with Jeff and Audrey just talking about life. Nothing big happening, just their interaction. To me, it always sounds like a real couple. A real messed-up couple, but a real couple nonetheless.

Role Play

BE: It really is a realistic dynamic that they’ve got between them.

MP: Yeah. I don’t know which one of the writers’ relationships it is, or if it’s an amalgamation of all of them. [Laughs.] It makes me feel sad for their wives.

BE: “Rules of Engagement” is one of those shows that’s been a stalwart of the CBS lineup even as it pretty consistently flies under the critical radar. Does that bother you, or are you just glad that you’ve got the dependable fans who keep coming back to watch the show?

MP: Well, I’ll tell ya: it falls under the critical radar except when they criticize it, but it makes us really appreciative of the people who notice the little things. Like, Patrick called me a couple of weeks ago, and he was, like, “I can’t believe this! I can’t believe this!” In USA Today, one of the writers had written that our relationship was the most realistic, funniest couple that’s ever been on television. And I’m, like, “What, in Season7 They just wrote that?” He said, “Yeah, there’s a whole article about how great our characters are!” And I was, like, “That’s, uh, unbelievably kind!” [Laughs.] Because, y’know, I feel like a lot of fans know that, but we haven’t really heard it in the press too much.

But, then again, our show has been a little inconsistent. I mean, when you have only a few episodes each year, or when you’re pulled and then put back on…we turned over a lot of writing staff, so I think there were years when it was a really, really well-written show, there were years when it was okay, there were years when we had new writers, and years when we had amazing writers who then left and, uh, went to do “Modern Family.” [Laughs.] It’s tough to keep your writing staff consistent when you never know when you’re coming back.

BE: In regards to the writing, is there any plot development related to Audrey that just rang untrue for you?

MP: [Long pause.] Yeah. I think it was very tough for me to constantly…well, I shouldn’t say “constantly,” but it was tough for me to do anything that rings in my ears to be, like, Clichéd Sitcom Wife. So if I’d have scenes where I’m going, “Hey, you’re supposed to be taking care of your health, we’re having a baby,” or that sort of thru-line, it’d just make me nuts. Cliché sitcom couple stuff has always been my biggest pet peeve, starting with taking the show with Donal. The only reason I wanted to do “Grounded for Life” was because that was not a couple that I had seen on TV. So for this couple, for me, every time Audrey feels like any other TV wife, I just get my hackles up.

BE: Well, to start wrapping up, since you brought up “Grounded for Life,” I have to tell you that, in the comments section for that interview I did with Donal, one of the recurring motifs involved people first praising the show, then praising “the hot wife.”

MP: That’s hilarious! You know, I once overheard these kids talking about me when I was on a plane. We were actually in the middle of shooting “Grounded,” and I was trying to get home from Arizona, and my flight was canceled. So I wound up with the last available seat on a Southwest flight back to L.A., so I could make it back for shooting. So I’m sitting in the middle of the aisle in the back of a Southwest plane, and these two teenage boys are sitting behind me, and they keep punching each other and arguing, and they’re whispering back and forth. Finally, one of ‘em goes, “Dude! If that was the hot mom from ‘Grounded for Life,’ she’d have her own plane!” [Laughs.] That’d be nice, wouldn’t it, my own plane? Mostly, though, I was going, “They think I’m hot? That’s so cool!” I also got free flip-flops at a surf store once because the clerk had been 16 when “Grounded for Life” was on!

BE: Okay, lastly, I just wanted to let you know that you were directly responsible for one of my wife’s favorite moments from the Television Critics Association press tour. It was at a Sony party a couple of years ago, and you were talking to my wife when Matthew Perry came up. You and he talked for a few minutes, but then you got called away to do an interview, at which point Matthew Perry turns to my wife and says, “So I suppose you want to talk to me now.” And because she’s not a journalist, she just looks at him and says, “Oh, GOD, no.” His jaw dropped. Then he burst out laughing.

MP: Oh. My. God. That is hilarious! That is so funny. He always loves to bring up how I blew him off when he was doing “Friends.” I was at Jennifer Aniston’s birthday party, and I was totally ignoring him, and he walked up to me and he goes, “I don’t think you understand, little girl: you better date me now, ‘cause my star is on the rise!” And I think in his head he was totally kidding…or he wasn’t, and now he claims that he was kidding. Because at the time it did not sound like he was kidding. I was, like, “How big is your ego, dude? Move on!” [Laughs.] So, yeah, now he likes to bring up how I misunderstood that he was joking. Uh-huh. Sure he was. In the heat of “Friends,” I’m real sure…

My favorite Television Critics Association story was when we were launching “Grounded for Life,” and there was all this talk about how I was only 10 years older than Lynsey Bartilson, who played my daughter, and…I mean, they just could not get off the subject. And finally, this big, fat guy raises his hand and goes, “Hey! Megyn! How old are you?” And I’m up on the dais, in front of this huge group of people. And I go, “How much do you weigh? Can we move on from the rude questions, mister?” It’s, like, “How rude are you, asking ‘how old are you’ to an actress?” And he said it in such a rude way. Thankfully, everybody in the whole room starting laughing, but, I mean, seriously, how inappropriate is that question? But I will say that usually I have fun at the TCAs. They tell you, “Oh, I’m sorry, you have to go to this thing,” but I like it, because it’s not all Hollywood types. It’s normal people. Well, you know, for the most part. [Laughs.]

  

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