Josh Zuckerman on His ‘Significant Mother’ and How Guest Starring Roles Are Like Being “the New Kid at School”
“It’s sometimes better to just understand the scene in your own words before you go to the actual words. It seems counter-intuitive but I think that’s the best thing.” – Josh Zuckerman on Auditioning
From 90210, Kyle XY and tons of guest star roles to the incredibly funny Sex Drive, Josh Zuckerman‘s career seems to have never hit a lull.
He’s now starring as ‘Nate’, in The CW‘s new sitcom, Significant Mother, about a guy who discovers his best friend (Nathaniel Buzolic) is sleeping with his recently separated mother (Krista Allen). “That’s the piston starter for the race,” he told me. “That’s the big event that occurs right off the bat.” The show was originally scheduled to air as a web series on the CW’s CW Seed but the executives at the network liked the show so much, they decided to put it on their schedule. “We were very thrilled to hear that news,” Josh said.
I talked with him recently about how he got the role, his audition process and early career and the awkwardness of being a guest star.
Significant Mother airs on The CW on Mondays at 9:30pm.
Tell me about on the show. It looks really fun.
Josh Zuckerman: The way they like to phrase it is that a young Portland restauranteur named Nate, who I play, he returns home from a business trip and finds out that his best friend and roommate – who is the same person – has started sleeping with his mom. That’s the piston starter for the race, that’s the big event that occurs right off the bat.
And as the series progresses, it gets a lot more complicated because his best friend and his mom try to figure out what exactly their relationship is and whether they want to be dating or whether they want to be a couple or one-time thing. And that creates a huge conflict for Nate’s life and for his sanity as he tries to navigate those waters. He wants to do what’s best for his mom and his best friend but of course it’s very tough for him to handle and really swallow the pill of seeing them in a relationship.
And what adds to the fuel to the fire, is that Nate’s dad, played by Jonathan Silverman, has been trying to get back together with his mom. And once he gets wind of this new relationship, he can’t stand it and he’ll go to any length to put the kibosh on it and if that means using me as a pawn in that game, so be it.
And it helps that the mom is Krista Allen.
Josh Zuckerman: Yeah, it helps when you watch the show and it helps to justify the romantic relationship. And it helps to justify that Johnny’s character wants to get back together with her. She’s just not only beautiful but she’s really charming and strong and funny. She’s just so perfectly cast.
The show has kind of an interesting beginning. It was originally going to be a web series, right?
Josh Zuckerman: Yeah, yeah. It was described to me as kind of an incubation… I don’t know what to call it. CW Seed is where shows go to kind of prove their worth. They put episodes to see if people watch them, if people watch them how they respond to them and then they might decide to order something more for the network. Or they might decide to order more episodes for the CW Seed.
And our show never made it to the CW Seed because it stayed within the network. And so they ordered it to series about a month later and it was beyond everyone’s wildest expectations. I think that was like the narrow light at the end of the tunnel, I don’t even know if that’s the right expression, but it was a pipe dream. But it actually occurred and we were very thrilled to hear that news.
How did you originally get involved? Because when you got involved you knew was can be a web series right?
Josh Zuckerman: I was out of town shooting a film and Alloy Entertainment, who I worked with before actually on Sex Drive, they offered the role to me. My manager found out that there are looking for a “Josh Zuckerman type.”
You’re a type now? Congratulations.
Josh Zuckerman: I’ll take you up on that. The question is whether the same will continue. At least we know it occurred at one point and hopefully continues.
But yeah, she found that out and said, “Would you be interested in the real Josh Zuckerman?” And they were. I guess they had never bothered to check my availability or whether I’d be interested in the show. I don’t know, maybe they thought because it was a web series I wouldn’t be interested.
But they made an offer, they sent over the scripts, I fell in love with the writing and I said, “Yeah, I absolutely want to do this.” So that’s how came to pass.
Have you shot the whole, what, 9 episodes I think they ordered?
Josh Zuckerman: Yeah. We shot three episodes initially and had to re-shoot parts of our one and three episodes because we had to recast a role. But yeah we shot nine total.
When you guys are shooting something at first for the web series and it moves to network, do you guys have to redo anything?
Josh Zuckerman: You know, there’s a lot more of a network presence. When we were a web series I feel like we can get away with a lot more. There were certain words you could use, there were certain jokes you could use that could be more crude that you could get away with.
We had to be more creative because it’s a risqué show as the scenario suggests. And it holds a promise of a lot of fun jokes, so you’ve got to be really creative. Fortunately Richard Keith and Erin Cardillo, who created the show, are just so on it and they always have 1000 ideas for any particular joke. So if it’s something we’re not sure the network will approve or the network hasn’t approved or they’re on the fence about, we always had so many different variations to try.
That’s the biggest thing I noticed other than a slightly larger crew as well.
You started acting when you’re in high school right?
Josh Zuckerman: I think my first job I was in middle school, I think I was in eighth grade? So I was 13 or 14 probably.
What was that your first professional job?
Josh Zuckerman: My first job was a pilot for Nickelodeon. It was called No Place Like Home. I don’t think anybody’s ever seen it, I’m sure they burned it. It was with Amanda Bynes way back in the day.
When you were growing up did you want to be an actor?
Josh Zuckerman: No. Like every kid, I loved movies. I was more of a movie guy, I did watch TV but I was mostly movie guy. But I never really thought about it. I kind of just fell into doing theater in our small town, Los Altos and Northern California.
I love rehearsing a play. I loved kind of becoming a family with these other actors and I loved performing in front of an audience and quite honestly hearing that response, hearing them laugh. It was so intoxicating that I kept doing that. It was just so fun to think, “Wow, these people really enjoyed what we’re doing up on the stage.” And so I kept doing that and eventually somebody offered for me to go down and audition for something and I did. I didn’t get that role but I did get an agent through that casting director and then the next thing I know I got that first job, the Nickelodeon pilot.
You’ve done a ton of guest star work. The one thing for me when I get on set is that it’s kind of awkward. Everyone is really nice but it is a family and you’re being inserted into them for one week and it’s a very strange experience.
Josh Zuckerman: I totally agree and I’ve talked to a lot of people about this. It’s really hard to be a guest star or co-star because everybody knows you’re the new kid at school. You’re the new kid at school that everyone knows is gonna be gone within a week. So it’s like, are they gonna invest in…. I mean, people can be nice but there’s always this feeling of, “Oh, we know they’re only be around for a little bit.”
And you also feel like you can’t really ask for what you need because you’re just the new guy and you should be lucky to be there. Such a hard thing to do.
You also feel a little bit like, “Well, nobody knows me. Nobody knows what I’m capable of so maybe I have to really prove myself.”
And you’re bound to feel uncomfortable, I think, in acting no matter what. Especially when you around a whole bunch of people who have bigger fish to fry and you’re not privy to any of the things that are really going on in the social dynamics of the set. So yeah it’s really hard.
Say you got an audition right after this phone call. What are the first couple things that you do? What is sort of your process?
Josh Zuckerman: It changes from audition to audition. I read it. I read it again. I keep reading it. I usually take a pencil to it and write notes. There’s a great book by Michael Shurtleff called Audition, have you heard of it?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
Josh Zuckerman: I love that book. I don’t even know if I have a copy of it anymore but it’s always stuck with me. He has those 11 guideposts or something and often I just go through those and I go, “What am I really trying to communicate? What just happened? What’s the relationship? What’s important in the scene? Can I find a different color here?”
And words can sometimes be a hindrance. If I have the time, I love to try and memorize the words but not to the detriment…. To me, I don’t know if you feel the same way, but it’s always tempting to go straight to the words and that sometimes distracts. It’s sometimes better to just understand the scene in your own words before you go to the actual words. It seems counter-intuitive but I think that’s the best thing. Especially if there’s an accent, and you go, “Okay, I’ll focus on the accent and then memorize the words.” And then you go, “I don’t really know the scene is about.”
So yeah, I think that really just trying to understand what’s happening and understand the beats of the scene.
What’s the worst audition you’ve ever been on?
Josh Zuckerman: Gosh, there are so many horror audition stories. I did one time audition for a show and I won’t tell you which show… I really didn’t think I was right for the role, I was a little young. I’ve always had this thing where I fall between the cracks and I think a lot of actors feel that, where you look a certain age but you don’t play a certain age. You don’t play the age that you are.
So, I auditioned for this role – and they ended up casting somebody who is a lot older than I was – but I was auditioning for it and he was in the CIA or something. And I was doing the sides and I was in the audition and I prepared it and I did something that was just really dramatic. I made a choice for some reason that I thought, maybe because in my mind I felt subconscious and so I was trying to make myself seem older? Anyway, I did something really gruff. It must have looked something like a Harrison Ford impersonation or something. It was probably similar to Harrison Ford saying, “Get off my plane!” And I could’ve sworn that the producers in this room stifled a laugh. And it is not supposed to be funny, it was a dramatic show. And I was so embarrassed afterwards but at least I gave it a shot.