Q & A: Glenn Howerton on ‘It’s Always Sunny’, Not Getting Emmy Love and Auditioning for Blockbuster Movies
It’s not every day that a show is asked to help launch a brand new network, but that’s what happened with the gang at It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The cast took it in stride though. “[We were] mildly honored to be launching an entire new network. Maybe slightly worried that it wouldn’t work out, but not that worried,” star Glenn Howerton said.
Well, they don’t need to be worried because since the premiere, the show has kept their demo almost the exact same as it was when it aired on FX.
For the past nine season, Howerton has played Dennis and he told me in a recent conference call, that it’s still fun. “I do enjoy playing bad guys,” he said. That’s why he loves playing the character. Also, “because the challenge is making Dennis, you know, likable even though he’s such a despicable person.”
In the interview, he talks more about playing Dennis, not getting any Emmy attention, auditioning for blockbuster movies and tons more.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs at 10pm on Wednesdays on FXX
You guys seem to find the right balance between having your characters be horrible to each other, but it’s still funny and it doesn’t get too uncomfortable or feel too cruel, whereas other shows don’t quite find that line. How do you write it so you don’t go over that line and you find the right balance? Did that take awhile to find it?
Glenn Howerton: That is a very good question, and it’s kind of a difficult question to answer in some ways, because I don’t totally know the answer, other than to say I think the reason it works is because none of our characters, at that end of the day, don’t get away with their behavior. They’re not celebrated. They don’t, generally, achieve their goals. So, I think it’s become pretty clear to our audience that, you know, our behavior is ultimately self-destructive. Even though, the characters lash out at each other and other people, I think it’s generally understood it is to their own detriment. Do you know what I mean?
I think that in some ways, seeing the lesson be learned, not by the characters, it’s just so obvious that this type of behavior is not rewarded in any way, and I think that’s why we get away with it. Then, I think, you combine that with a certain amount of, I don’t know, wish-fulfillment, I guess. But, ultimately, I think it’s because the behavior is never rewarded.
Why don’t you guys get Emmy love?
Glenn Howerton: I’m the wrong person to ask. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know if you saw the last week’s episode, but we did an entire episode, essentially, about that. I’m not really entirely certain, all I’ve got are theories, and I’d be happy to spout them for you, but I don’t really know. I mean, I think first impressions are huge in this business. I think we started as a very, very small show, and I think we looked so low-budget and FX wasn’t known for comedies, and I don’t think people really paid any attention to us. We didn’t have Danny on the show, and I think because it took so many years for it to grow its audience, it just, I don’t know.
I think that first impression of a low-budget, we-don’t-need-to-pay-attention-to-this-small- cable-comedy thing kind of stuck. It seems like, though, the Emmys, in general, they really love cable dramas. But, they don’t really seem to love cable comedies. I could be wrong; I don’t pay that close attention to it. I wish I knew, my friend.
Will you be interacting with any of your Twitter followers during any of the episodes this season?
Glenn Howerton: Oh, like a live tweet kind of a thing? You know, the idea has not been proposed in terms of any sort of official capacity. That’s not a bad idea. I mean, I would love to do that; that sounds like a lot of fun. You know, I am sort of two minds about it, though. I enjoy that sort of thing, but by the same token, I also really kind of want people to turn their phones off, you know. Kind of shut up and actually sit down and dim the lights, and just watch the episode from start to finish instead of being on their computers, and their phones, and watching TV, and doing this, and cooking, and eating, and petting the cat. I don’t know, our attention spans are so scattered these days. While it does sound like fun, on the other hand, I kind of just want people to watch the episode and talk about it afterwards.
Dennis is such an incredible sociopath, what do you think are some of the creepiest things he’s done in the series?
Glenn Howerton: You know, it’s a funny question for me to try and answer because we do work very, very hard to—I guess you could argue that things like having the conversation about the implication is pretty dark. But, it’s weird, I get a little bit defensive about that, because in a way, for as dark as it is, I think the character does make it very, very clear that he wouldn’t ever actually hurt these women. He just wants them to think that the possibility of them getting hurt is there, so he can get his way. It’s still dark, but I’d say that’s one of the darker things.
Last season, in order to stay in character as playing this Ryan LaFave personality that Dennis was playing, I almost—well, not me, but my character almost had sex with, like, a small Asian caddy, just to see how far he would be willing to take this whole thing. So, yes, he’s definitely come very close to crossing some lines that you don’t really recover from, but, yes, there’s definitely going to be some more of that this year. It’s sort of the nature of the character at this point.
In Dennis and Mac’s apartment, there’s a prominent hole canned in the TV. Is that Dennis’, Mac’s, or is it just because everyone has anger management problems?
Glenn Howerton: I don’t know whose that is. That’s one of those things where early on in the series we had a set decorator, they decorated the apartment to have all this stuff in it, and we just never changed it. So, really, a lot of those things weren’t deliberate decisions at all. The only deliberate decisions we’ve made, in terms of our apartment, were probably when you go into Mac’s room and you see that it’s pretty sparse, and there’s just this crucifix on the wall, and like a picture of his dad. But, all that stuff, it’s just ridiculous because now, us being in like our mid-thirties, it looks like the apartment that, you know, two 19-year-olds would share together, which I actually think is kind of funny.
Are there times when you guys are all hanging out, and you are kind of like “wow, this would be a great idea to explore on the show.” When do ideas for episodes or jokes generally hit you?
Glenn Howerton: Sometimes they definitely hit us when we’re all together, but most of the time I would say, sort of the seeds of those things hit us in the off-season. I know, for me, I’ll get an idea for something or a story line or, you know, even a B-story or a C-story, and I’ll kind of make a note of it in my phone, I’ll just write it down. Then, bring it up once we get in the writers’ room. We really do reserve most of the actual, you know, sitting down and kind of coming up with ideas for when we are in the writers’ room. But, yes, certainly occasionally, we’ve all been kind of talking about something and a good idea for an episode pops up.
If you could teach a college course, what would you teach?
Glenn Howerton: Oh, boy. First of all, I’d probably have no business teaching a college course because I feel like I’d be just winging it the entire time. But, I guess, if I were to teach a college course it would probably be in how to make acting more authentic. That’s it. Or, maybe, how to, I don’t know. It’d probably be an acting class of some kind, because that’s the only thing I feel like I could actually teach. Everything else, I would be just way too stupid.
Charlie Day was in Pacific Rim this summer. Do you ever have interest in doing the big summer blockbuster type stuff? That being said, I read on your AMA recently on Reddit, someone asked if you’d want to play The Riddler and you said yes. Have you ever pursued, or been pursued, for any of those big, superhero-budget films?
Glenn Howerton: Not really. Let’s see, I think ten years ago, I auditioned for the Superman reboot, and that was about like two years before that actually came out, the one with Brandon Routh. But, that was before Sunny. And then, I did audition recently for the Guardians of the Galaxy, to play the role that Chris Pratt is playing. I know that the director of that movie, supposedly, is a big Sunny fan, which is cool. But, usually, they’re already looking for some giant movie star to play those roles.
I certainly don’t have anything against doing something like that. I have to admit, I really do enjoy playing bad guys, and extremely evil people, which is why it’s a lot of fun for me to play Dennis, or at least the challenge is making Dennis, you know, likable even though he’s such a despicable person. I think playing something like The Riddler would definitely feel like it was in my wheelhouse.
What was your reaction when you first heard that the show would be moving from FX to launch the new FXX channel?
Glenn Howerton: I didn’t really have a strong reaction at all. I wasn’t disappointed or excited, just kind of, I don’t know. It’s odd; you would think that there would have been a bigger reaction from all of us. But, I think, all three of us were just kind of like “Okay, let’s do it.” You know? I guess mildly honored to be launching an entire new network. Maybe slightly worried that it wouldn’t work out, but not that worried. I don’t know, I think all of us kind of feel like our audience is the kind of audience that will find the show no matter where it is.
Most savvy young TV watchers these days, you punch in the title of the show you want to watch, and your DVR finds it, and then you record it, and then you watch it, and it doesn’t matter what … channel it’s on, you know what I mean? It just kind of is. We were a little bit bummed that FXX is, at least initially, in less homes than FX, and that’s definitely a disappointment, I know, to the fans, and definitely disappointing to us, as well. I would say that would be the only thing that I had sort of a strong reaction to, but we’re not really asked to consult of those decisions, so I think we just took it in stride. It certainly didn’t effect what we were doing on the show. It’s the same show.
You frequently put different combinations of the five regular characters together for different story lines. I was wondering who your favorite combination is, to sort of set-off on their own plot during an episode?
Glenn Howerton: Oh God, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think I really have one. I mean, if you’d asked me a couple years ago, I might have said that I really enjoy when me and the other two guys get to do stuff together. But, for me, I mean I love working in all those combinations. I certainly don’t have a preference in terms of who I want to act with. I’m thinking of every combination in my head, and they’re all funny to me. I don’t know. We definitely try and mix it up, though. We usually look at an entire season after we start breaking stories, and make sure that we’re not doing the same combinations over and over again because that can happen sometimes. I don’t think I have a favorite.
You were talking about the Emmys a little earlier, do you honestly think Modern Family is the best comedy out there?
Glenn Howerton: Well, to be honest, I haven’t seen a ton of episodes of Modern Family. But, the episodes I have seen, I think are great. Because I work in comedy, I actually don’t enjoy watching most comedies just because it’s hard for me not to just sort of analyze it, break it down structurally, and be overly critical of it, you know what I mean? Not for any other reason other than it’s what I do for a living. I just don’t watch a lot of stuff.
But, the episodes I have seen of Modern Family, I’ve really enjoyed. I think it’s a great show and I think it’s very, very difficult to consistently make a funny show on a network, A, because you have more restrictions, and, B, because you have to do more episodes per year. I’m always very impressed by the fact that I’ve never watched an episode of that show where I wasn’t laughing consistently from start to finish, and I think that’s a hell of an achievement. There are other shows that have won multiple Emmys, and I won’t name any names, where I simply don’t understand why, and I would not put Modern Family in that category at all. I think that’s a very funny, smart show.
Do you think there’s anything your show can do to, kind of, push you into Emmy territory?
Glenn Howerton: Well, I appreciate that. I don’t know that there’s anything we could do. I know that there’s nothing we would do. Even if somebody said “Hey, all you got to do is this.” I mean, look, we would do it if we didn’t feel like it was compromising the integrity of our show, or what we like to do on the show. If it was just sort of a matter of like “hey, if you just tweak this a little bit, and it’s not going to change anything, and you’ll win an Emmy,” it might be worth a shot. But, you know, I do and I don’t care about winning an Emmy. It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers, I guess. I don’t know, really, who sits on the Emmy board, I don’t know if those are my peers. It’s weird; I just don’t pay attention to the politics.
Would it change anything if you won?
Glenn Howerton: Look, I have an ego. Do you know what I mean? I’m definitely not so anti-awards and things like that that I would be like “oh, … that.” I wouldn’t get up and do a Marlon Brando thing, and just be like “Yo, what about the Native American thing?” But, would it change—I don’t think it would. I don’t know. I don’t really know. I think, probably, many, many people who probably have ignored us for many, many years might perk up a little bit and say “well, maybe I should pay attention to this show, maybe I should watch it.” I think most people, at this point, nine seasons in have either watched it and didn’t like it, or, they watch it and they love it and they’ve already made up their minds about the show. I don’t know that it would make much of a difference.
What do you like to watch on TV?
Glenn Howerton: I skew more towards really, sort of darker things. I’m definitely a big Breaking Bad fan. I think that show is just terrific. I’m always digging around and trying to find the stuff that is harder to, sort of, that no one has really heard of. I don’t know why, it is just kind of my tendency. I do the same thing with music. I mean, I just finished watching both seasons of this channel 4 U.K. series called Black Mirror, which I think is one of the most brilliant things I have ever seen in my entire life. So I am a little bit obsessed with that right now. They only did six episodes of it.
God, I’m trying to think what else I watch. I actually have really been enjoying Ray Donovan. I guess the quick answer would be I really enjoy watching dramas more than anything else, and I watch a lot of movies, too. But, I’m certainly not an anti-TV guy. The truth is a lot of comedies, when I do actually sit down to watch them—I’m not usually compelled to do it, but when I do, I tend to think they’re pretty funny. I think The Mindy Project is really, really funny. I think Children’s Hospital is one of the funniest things on TV. I think that deserves awards. I don’t know if it’s won any, but I think that show is terrific. I still love South Park. I think South Park is a terrific show.
You talk about the awards and all that, bringing the guys from Game of Thrones doesn’t necessarily guarantee an award, but the implication—
Glenn Howerton: Yes, I see where you’re going with this.
How did that come about and what can we expect from that episode?
Glenn Howerton: Well, I will tell you that it was not, I can promise you, it wasn’t calculated at all on our part in terms of garnering more attention. It was not a publicity stunt at all, even though we have been talking about it because it does make for very good publicity. I think Rob and Kaitlin had just met David Benioff and his wife at a couple parties, and they just kind of became casual acquaintances and friends. They both expressed mutual love of each other’s shows. They’re huge Game of Thrones fans and were, I think, very shocked and surprised and pleased to hear that both D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are like the biggest Sunny fans on the planet, which seems very incongruous and strange.
They are actually massive, massive fans, and I think they just floated the idea that they had an idea for an episode, and they really wanted to write one, and we just thought let’s just see if that could work. It’s really the only time where somebody from outside of our “organization” has successfully written an episode, I’ll put it that way. We took them through the process, and gave them the best shot. We actually brought them into the room and broke the episode with them, and sent them off to write a draft, sort of incredibly shocked that they would even have the time or the energy to do it. They came back with a great episode. We, of course, did what we always do, and we had to do some re-writes, but really not that many. It was pretty solid.