The Light from the TV Shows: Jack McBrayer gives thanks for ‘The Middle’ and other post-”30 Rock” roles

It’s been a few years since Bullz-Eye last chatted with Jack McBrayer…and by a few years, we mean more than half a decade: the previous occasion was when both the second season of “30 Rock” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” – both of which featured McBrayer, in case you’ve forgotten – were making their DVD debut. Since then, “30 Rock” has taken its final bow, leaving McBrayer without a full-time TV gig, but lord knows the man hasn’t been lounging around doing nothing. In addition to a very high-profile role in last year’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” either his voice or his actual physical being have turned up on Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” and “NTSF:SD:SUV,” Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” and, to bring this intro in for a landing, ABC’s “The Middle,” where, as part of his recurring role as the dentist for whom Frankie Heck works, he’ll be turning up for the annual Thanksgiving-themed episode, airing on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

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Bullz-Eye: Well, I was able to watch the Thanksgiving episode of “The Middle” this morning, thanks to the kind folks at Warner Brothers, and I’m happy to say that it lives up to the high standards the series has set for its holiday episodes.

Jack McBrayer: Oh, good! I haven’t even seen it! [Laughs.]

BE: So how did you find your way onto “The Middle” in the first place, coming off of “30 Rock” as you were?

JMcB: Well, I had been a fan of the show from way back. I’m friends with Neil Flynn, who plays Mike Heck. I’ve been a friend of his from way, way back. From Chicago days. He was in Second City. We were at Second City at the same time: he was performing, I was in classes. And, of course, Patricia Heaton we’ve all known for years and years. And the show in general just kind of struck a chord with me, growing up in Georgia, in a small town, with parents who were overextended and always tired, and, you know, we’d eat cereal for dinner and…it all hit home to me! And, also, I happen to know a couple of the writers. Robin Shorr is a writer over there. So I think when they knew “30 Rock” was over and that some of the cast members would be available, they were, like, “Oh! What can we do?” [Laughs.] So I was happy to say, “Yes!”

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The Light from the TV Shows: Rob Lowe Talks Up ‘Killing Kennedy’ (But Don’t Miss ‘JFK: The Final Hours,’ Either)

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The National Geographic Channel has slowly but surely been making a presence for themselves in the field of TV movies, thanks – oddly enough – to having been provided with the opportunity to adapt a couple of Bill O’Reilly’s books. First came “Killing Lincoln,” starring Billy Campbell as ol’ Honest Abe, and, to keep things on a chronologically-accurate path, next up is “Killing Kennedy,” with Rob Lowe taking on the role of JFK.

NatGeo is going out of their way to make sure TV critics are well aware of this project, first of all by spotlighting it at the summer TCA tour and setting up interviews with various cast members, then by sending a few additional critics – including yours truly – to a press junket in Dallas, where we were fully immersed in the details of Kennedy’s final 48 hours. I mean, seriously, it was pretty amazing: we stayed in the same hotel where JFK and Jackie Kennedy spent their final night, met a few folks who were actually there that day, stood in the places where he gave some of his final speeches, and then went on a tour of various locations in the Dallas / Fort Worth area which were key to both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald over the course of those last hours, including attending a screening of “Killing Kennedy” in the Texas Theater, where Oswald was apprehended, and then we had dinner on the seven floor of the former Texas School Book Depository, after which we went downstairs one floor to a museum dedicated to the assassination…as is only appropriate, since that’s where Oswald was stationed.

Having watched “Killing Kennedy,” I will say that, first and foremost, the reason to see the film is not necessarily Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin as JFK and Jackie – although they both do quite well, with Goodwin in particular shining in the post-assassination scenes – but, rather, Will Rothhaar and Michelle Trachtenberg as Oswald and his wife, Marina. Rothhaar, who was with us throughout the tour of Dallas, is liable to get a serious career boost after the work he does in the film, and Trachtenberg will surprise many with her fluency in Russian…much as she surprised the producers of the film, who didn’t know she could speak the language until after they saw her audition. If you’ve got Kennedy fever, though, I recommend that you tune in early to watch “JFK: The Final Hours,” a documentary which, while perhaps a bit overlong, provides an amazing amount of detail about what Jack and Jackie did during their time in San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Dallas in the day or so before that fateful trip into Dealey Plaza. Plus, it’s narrated by Bill Paxton, who – you may or may not know – was actually in attendance for JFK’s speech outside the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth the morning he was assassinated.

Okay, enough of my yakking…not that it probably bothered those of you who were drawn here by the title of this piece, since I’m sure all you did was skip past all the opening paragraphs and go straight for the Rob Lowe interview, anyway. All things being equal, what I’d hoped to do was spend enough time with Rob Lowe to produce a Random Roles interview for the Onion AV Club, but we only had about 10 minutes together during the TCA tour, and we never managed to hop back on the phone in the intervening time, so that just never happened. As such, Bullz-Eye reaps the benefits of the “Killing Kennedy”material, while I continue to hoard the stuff he had to say about “Class,” “A New Kind of Family,” and “The Stand” until I am able to get on the phone with him. For now, though, I hope you enjoy his comments on playing the President of the United States.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Tamala Jones (‘Castle’)

The actress behind Richard Castle’s favorite medical examiner discusses her experiences on the series, talks about how she got into acting, and teases an upcoming Lanie-centric episode.


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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Lacey Chabert (“Scarecrow”)

Lacey Chabert got her start in acting before she was out of single digits, but her big break came just after crossing into double-digit territory, when she was cast as Claudia Salinger in FOX’s “Party of Five,” giving her a full-time gig for six seasons. Since the show’s cancellation in 2000, Chabert has continued to work regularly, sometimes as a voice actor – you may remember her as Eliza from “The Wild Thornberrys,” but she’s still in the studio on a regular basis for other series, most recently on The Hub’s “Transformers: Rescue Bots” – but definitely still in front of the camera on a regular basis, too. Chabert can be seen in the latest SyFy original movie, “Scarecrow,” which premieres tonight, and she chatted with Bullz-Eye about her experiences working on the film, reminisced about some of her other past projects, and explained how she’s belatedly found her way onto social media…but only on her terms.

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Bullz-Eye: So how did you enjoy doing “Scarecrow”? I’ve only seen the trailer so far, but it looks like it would’ve been fun to do…or, at least, I hope it was!

Lacey Chabert: It was a lot of fun! I’ve never done a horror film where I was… Well, I was in “Black Christmas,” but I got killed kind of early on in that film. [Laughs.] My character didn’t even know that the killer was there! But this was something where I’m actually running from the killer…you know, the predator, the scary monster. So we’re running from him for basically the entire film, so that was a whole new challenge, something that I’d never done before, and…it was fun. It’s a fun Halloween movie!

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Stephen Frears (“Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight”)

Director Stephen Frears has done so much notable work for the cinema that it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s more than capable of dipping his toe into the world of television on occasion as well. His latest effort behind the camera, “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” falls somewhere between the two mediums: the HBO Films production is making its TV debut on – where else? – HBO this Saturday, but it was actually screened in Cannes back in August, along with its small-screen brethren, “Behind the Candelabra.”

During this summer’s TCA press tour, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Frears and discuss his work on “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” including how he came to join the project and what he knew about Ali’s Supreme Court struggles prior to signing on, but he was also kind of enough to chat about a number of his other films. Although the conversation occasionally drifted in unanticipated directions, the sidebar excursions proved just as enjoyable and entertaining as anything that I’d gone in actually planning to bring up.

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Bullz-Eye: What was your familiarity with the Muhammad Ali story going into this project?

Stephen Frears: Well, it was both a lot and nothing. In other words… I remember Ali fighting (Sonny) Liston, so that’s how old I am. [Laughs.] I don’t remember the Olympics. But then I remember the trouble in America, of course. And then he sort of disappeared, and I couldn’t tell you what happened until he fought in Zaire and he became a sort of comedian. He became very, very funny. So this bit was like a sort of black hole.

BE: How did you come aboard as director?

SF: I ran into Shawn (Slovo) at a party. I said, “What are you doing?” She said, “I’m writing something very, very interesting.” [Shrugs, then laughs.] So I snooped around and found that it was very interesting. Simple as that.

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BE: Had you known her prior to that?

SF: I knew her to gossip to her, to say “hello” and talk to her at that party. [Laughs.] But now I know her much better.

BE: Was the script more or less filmed as written, or did you have to do some tweaking to make it work?

SF: I think there was a certain amount. I like to have the writer on set, because in a sense you’re writing all the time, but that’s just to make scenes clearer, things you learn as you go along. It must at some point have sorted itself out enough for us to say, “Right, let’s make this.” I can’t recall, there might’ve been a couple of drafts that we went through before we made it. And then we were writing the whole time on set, just to make things clearer.

BE: It’s interesting that the film focuses on a key moment in Ali’s career, yet it does so without ever portraying Ali. His presence is simply via archival footage. Was that always the plan?

SF: Yes, that was always planned, and the truth is that it was a great relief. The idea of casting Ali didn’t bear thinking about, so I was really pleased by that. But the interesting thing about archival footage is that people never quite say what you want them to say. [Laughs.] They don’t say what you’d like. But eventually we started finding a way how to deal with it. So it was very, very interesting.

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