Q & A: ‘Happy Endings’ stars Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. on prime-time frustrations and if dramatic roles are in their future

Happy Endings premiered last April to some modest ratings but the show wasn’t guaranteed a slot on ABC’s fall season. When the network finally announced that the show was coming back, it posed a problem for one cast member: Damon Wayans Jr. went off and got himself another role on FOX’s hit, New Girl.

That’s worked out now – the character on New Girl moved out – and Damon made sure to tell us that he’s perfectly happy with he way things ended up. Happy endings, right?

Wayans and his on-screen wife Eliza Coupe talked to me in a conference call about the pick-up, shooting an R-comedy for a network and if they ever want to try a dramatic role.

Happy Endings airs on ABC, Wednesdays at 9:30/8:30c

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

Damon, I know that your character wasn’t officially written off of New Girl, you just sort of were taken out of the picture so that you moved out. Do you think that there’s a chance that you might make a cameo on the show?

Damon Wayans, Jr.: I doubt it.  I – I don’t think that that will happen.  But I have, you know, I don’t think that I’m going to be on it again.

You don’t want to be on it or…

Damon Wayans, Jr.: I mean, it’s, you know, I want to be on Happy Endings

Damon, what is it about the Wayans family that produces so many funny people?  If the previous generation hadn’t done comedy, if they were a family of dentists or mechanics or pro tennis players, would have you gone into that instead of being an actor and a comedian?

Damon Wayans, Jr.: None of those jobs are appealing to me, the ones you named.  I would never be a dentist, I’d never be a mechanic, never.  Honestly I don’t know. 

I mean, everybody’s pretty funny in my – in my – in my family, it’s just who’s going to take that next step, you know, who’s going to take that leap, you know, into the audition rooms and just slowly get, you know, more and more insecure in life.  Just – that’s what happens when you become an actor, you just get more and more insecure.  Did you like that?  Is that okay?  So it’s like whoever wants to deal with that for the rest of their life and potentially go bald like half my family.  

Working on a network sitcom obviously there are things that you can do and can’t do.  Do you find that constricting or frustrating that you have to walk that line between what can air in primetime?

Damon Wayans, Jr.: Totally frustrating.

Eliza Coupe: Okay, it’s hard because I try – every single episode I – I show up at rehearsal naked and they just (completely stop), they don’t – they’re not into it.  And I’m like, “I want to keep, you know, I feel like Jane wants to be naked.”  And they don’t seem to go with that.  So – but you know what, I’m going to just keep trying because I think one of these days ABC is going to say, “Yes, yes, you can do full frontal.”

Damon Wayans, Jr.: And I’m okay with you doing it every time because I get, you know, no matter what at least I get to see that, you know.

You know what’s funny about our show is like we shoot probably a Rated R show, and then you get to see – you get to see that. 

Like we shoot like takes, you know, that are written on the script, but then we do our own stuff almost all the time.  And so we get like a whole different show, so they just kind of pick and choose what they want.  But it’s definitely nowhere near what we actually shoot.  We shoot crazy things.

Eliza Coupe: Yes, I’m always surprised when we go in and do (ADR), like, you know, I know what was happening and the way we ended the scene, and then they have to, you know, clean it up for – for ABC.  Which is, you know, it’s a good thing because I think we’d all – we might be in jail if we (left) what we wanted to have air air.

You were on Community as a love interest for Abed and one of the Vice President’s bodyguards.  Are there any plans for you to return to that role or has your character moved on?

Eliza Coupe: I think the writers of Community have moved on from my character.  I would love to go back on. I had a really good time and I really liked that character, but I don’t – I don’t think they – I don’t think it’s going to happen.

You can call them.  Actually if you could do that for me that’d be great.

Damon, I found this role to be pretty interesting as far as an African-American character goes, because oftentimes when we see a black male in a role he’s very sort of macho, and then Brad is very different in that he’s very – he’s embraces is sort of feminine side.  Was that part of what drew you to the character?

Damon Wayans, Jr.: Not necessarily drew me to the character.  It was basically kind of like it just started slowly happening.  It wasn’t like – my character is supposed to be like straight, you know, kind of a straight guy.  Not straight as opposed to homosexual, straight like a guy that doesn’t make jokes.

But I couldn’t help myself, so it kind of was like – it was like a take on that character, like, you know, a black guy who’s not necessarily the – the macho type, you know.  (I’ve just) kind of been embracing that and running with it.’

So I’ll probably have some heels on next episode, just walking around with heels.  Jane just catches me with like – in the shower wearing heels.  Like, “Why are you wearing my heels in the shower?”

Is there a lot of improv on the set at all?

Damon Wayans, Jr.: There’s tons.  There’s actually – there’s tons of improv.  That’s like kind of what – that’s what I like about coming to the show, you know, every week.  It’s like hey we shoot like 12 to 15 hour days, but as long as you get to like – that’s what keeps me going – keeps me going, I don’t hate my job is we get to say whatever we want.

What about when you first got involved with the show, what about it really got you excited?

Damon Wayans, Jr.: My audition got me excited for it, when I went in and I auditioned in front of David Caspe, creator of the show.  And I walked in there and the first thing he said to me was F around, but he used the real bad word when he said it.

And so when I just go in I got to do whatever I wanted, I didn’t even have to really stay on script.  So I love that and that’s what made me fall in love with the show.

Eliza Coupe: I have to say the same thing.  It was really great to be able to go in and, you know, I – my character, I had to audition with the – the ending monologue of the first episode, the pilot episode and it was really fun to – when they were just like yes, when David Caspe was like you can just, you know, put it in your own words, say it how you would say it.  And I basically, you know, did a soliloquy at that point, made it really long and did my own – my own thing.  But it was – it was really fun to just have that freedom.

Are there any difficulties or challenges playing an interracial couple?

Damon Wayans, Jr.: Not for me.  I – I feel like, I don’t know, I don’t even – I feel like our characters just don’t see that. 

I mean, we make jokes about it just because we know society – how society thinks.  But when it comes to our relationship I don’t think we see that at all. We just love each other.

And in real life that’s what it is as well.  To me – at least to me.  She could be a raging racist, I have no idea. She plays it off really well.

You guys are both known for comedy.  Are you both auditioning or pursuing dramatic roles?

Eliza Coupe: I definitely am.  I’m not auditioning at the moment – this moment because I’m on a phone call with you.  But…

Damon Wayans, Jr.: Slacker.  There are sides in your hand.  As soon as you hang up you will be going into a room.

Eliza Coupe: I’m outside of an audition room right now to do King Lear again.  No – yes, I would love to do, you know, a dramatic comedy, you know, all of that, it all interests me.  You know, at some point I want to do my Monster like Charlize Theron, so I’m buckling up for that.

Damon Wayans, Jr.: Oh and now it’s on me?  Oh, I’m not – haven’t (unintelligible) audition for – for anything dramatic yet, think I’ll take my time with that, kind of enjoying the comedy.  Unless I do some weird indie, you know, like Gummo, I’m going to – yes, I’m totally going to do something super weird, you know.

Eliza Coupe: I can help you out with that.  I can help you out with that.

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