Q&A: Scott Foley talks ‘The Goodwin Games’ and Why He Loves Working in Television
Scott Foley stars as Henry, one of three estranged siblings, in the new FOX summer series, The Goodwin Games. When he, his sister (Becki Newton) and brother (T.J. Miller) return home after their fathers death, they unexpectedly find themselves poised to inherit more than $20 million. Trouble is, they can only get the money if – and only if – they can adhere to their late father’s wishes.
The show is from the executive producers of How I Met Your Mother and Scott, who after graduating high school bought a one-way plane ticket to Los Angeles, said that even though he loved the script, he took the job “because I was available and it was there.”
I met Scott briefly a long time ago and he’s the most down to earth guy. And honest too based on his quote above. I talked to him in a conference call promoting the show and in the interview he talks about the cast, why he loves working in TV over film and theater and how he’s been very “fortunate” in his career.
The Goodwin Games premieres tonight (Monday) at 8:30pm on FOX
Can you talk about how you became involved in the show?
Scott Foley: It was sort of a faithful thing. I was on a show called True Blood for a little while and thought I was going to be on for a couple seasons, and the storyline took a turn where we got word from the executive producers over there that my schedule was now free. It looked like my character died, which seems to be a trend with characters that I’ve played recently between Greys Anatomy and True Blood.
It was the time that Carter and Craig and Chris from How I Meet Your Mother were casting The Goodwin Games. It was really the first script that came across my desk, and I took a read and I loved it. I had met with Carter and Craig, oh god, six years ago now for How I Meet Your Mother, and the meeting went great, and we sort of crossed paths numerous times in those years. I sat down with them and loved their script, and we had just this sort of love fest over, “Hey, we wanted you” or “We missed you on How I Meet Your Mother, and now you’re free.” The stars sort of aligned in the right way.
I’ve got to say doing this show out of all the shows I’ve done, whether it was Felicity or Grey’s Anatomy or Scrubs or The Unit, I had more fun and it was such a collaborative effort that I’m really proud of it. I hope you guys like it.
You say about it being collaborative, do you guys’ improv a lot or do you more stick to the script?
Scott Foley: Well, you know obviously there’s a script every episode, but the creators and the writers were so great about letting us … at certain parts. We had such a great cast, especially Becki. And T.J. Miller, who is basically known for his standup, is one of the funniest men I’ve ever met and is able to—I mean you give him a word and he can go for hours on that word and you’ll be in tears.
Because of him and because of Becki—doing an hour long show most of the time if another actor after a take would say to me, “Yeah that was pretty good. You should try this,” I think I’d walk right away. But these guys were great and after takes Becki, I’d say, “What do you think?” and she’s like, “It was good. Try it like this,” and I’d say, “Oh yeah that’s great.” You know because it’s a comedy you so want to find, if I can coin a phrase here, to find the funny, and being able to sort of lean on Becki and T.J. and the creators of the show, Chris and Craig and Carter, was such a benefit and I think it really shows in the show.
Tell us a story from the set that kind of typifies your experience of filming Goodwin Games.
Scott Foley: Oh, man, you know there are so many, and like I said in the previous question one of the great things was the collaborative effort we all had. But T.J. Miller specifically has a scene in one of the upcoming episodes where he’s basically come out of the shower and he’s wrapped in a towel. T.J. has a way with words that can sort of drop you to your knees, and he did this bit that wasn’t scripted about how he has a toddler body, a body of a toddler. It must have taken 45-minutes to get, not just Becki and myself, but the crew sort of back on focus and on par.
He does this whole sort of standup thing, and I don’t know if he does it in his routine. I’ve never seen him do it in his routine but this thing about him having a toddler body for whatever reason took us so off guard and it was impossible to get back in to working mode for literally 45-minutes to an hour.
Can you describe a little bit your working relationship with Carter, Craig, and Chris? What is it about them that attracted you to want to work with them? What’s the key to their genius, for lack of a better phrase?
Scott Foley: Well, look I think the key to their genius is one they’ve really sort of perfected the way they work on How I Met Your Mother, and even though this is a single camera show and How I Met Your Mother is a multi-camera show they have such a gift with set ups and punch lines. They are so easy going. There are a lot of sets where the head writers are very focused on the words and making sure that everything comes across just how they saw it in their head.
They understand that—and I hate to use this term, you know you say that about using the word genius—but they understand as artists, as collaborative creative people everything works so much better when you allow everyone to sort of do what they do and put their two cents in. They are so willing and we’re so willing to hear what we have to say, and I think that’s what made it work. I say that’s what made it work; the first episode hasn’t even aired yet. I hope it does work. You never know what’s going to happen with FOX and their comedy block. They had sort of a tough time this year, but I think we fit nicely in to it and I think this run if it gets a chance will do really well for them.
You’ve worked on a number of great shows, both dramas and comedies, and The Goodwin Games seems like a lighthearted show with some more serious and relatable undertones. What appealed to you about that kind of show versus something more dramatic like Scandal?
Scott Foley: Well, I think a lot of people say, “Well, I took this job because.” I took this job because I was available and it was there. Look, I love these guys. I love the work they do, and that being said I have a blast doing Scandal. It’s such a great group of people and talented writers and actors. But for me The Goodwin Games came along and it was a comedy with heart. There are some shows out there that have this but I think this speaks on a different level to maybe a different audience because there are not a lot of shows that you find yourself—
I remember watching—and I hate to compare this—but I remember watching Family Ties as a kind growing up, and there were times when you really sort of fell into the family dynamic in a dramatic way. There were problems that they had that were dealt with comedically, and I think The Goodwin Games fits that mold to a degree. It was really relatable to me. Nothing is funny all the time. Nothing is heavy all the time, but they found a great balance, and to call it a comedy is on-point, but there are family dynamics that are relatable to all of us and give it a dramatic edge. I think that’s the balance that appealed to me about the show.
Your character Henry Goodwin seems pretty tightly wound and possibly the most reluctant of the siblings to go digging into the past. What is his state of mind like going in to the games?
Scott Foley: Well, look, I think you’re right. I think you hit the nail on the head. I think he is the most successful obviously out of the three of them and hesitant to go back and fall into the trap that is his family. I think he’s worked very hard to get away from that dynamic, and I think that reason alone makes him hesitant.
Now, the fact that they’re playing for $23 million I think changes his mind instantly. Any time you can put—you dangle a carrot of that size in front of really anybody it’s hard for them to say, “No.” I think the story is ultimately as much a comedy and as much about the game. It’s about three siblings who’ve lost touch with themselves and each other, and they come back and through this game—I hate to say learn to love one another again—but learn to appreciate each other, and I think that was really interesting.
You’ve made a lot of guest appearances on various television shows. I want to know if there’s something about the television process that you enjoy versus film or theatre and if that element was there when you walked on The Goodwin Games set.
Scott Foley: Yeah. I’ve always said I grew up on television. I love television, and I like to work. I’m sort of a working stiff, and television allows me to do that. It’s a five day a week gig, and when you’re a regular recurring actor on one of these series you get up in the morning. You go to work. You come home, and you kiss your kids and you put them to bed, and you get up the next morning. It’s a steady job I guess is what I’m saying.
I’ve done some theatre. I’ve done some Broadway and off-Broadway and that’s very similar; although, it’s not quite as lucrative, to be honest with you. Films are great. I love doing a film, but they are, for me at least, sort of I say few and far between. The process of doing a film is you get a film. You’re cast in a film. You wait a couple weeks or a couple months until the film starts. Then you’re shooting 120 pages of film script over three or four months.
You know you’re shooting two pages a day, three pages a day as opposed to television where we shoot seven, eight, nine pages a day. I don’t know how to say this. I want to say it’s faster because in television we’re shooting, if it’s a drama, 60 pages a week or if it’s a comedy 40 pages a week. We’re doing much more work in a shorter period of time, and it is ongoing. I like having a steady gig. I like having a steady gig and films are tough.
Did you find a certain element when you walked on The Goodwin Games set that just felt right, like it just clicked for you and that was the right decision to make?
Scott Foley: I’ve been very fortunate, like you said, to have done quite a bit of TV. I was talking to my wife the other day and she was looking on IMDb. She goes, “Do you know how many episodes of television you’ve done?” I had no idea, and she was like, “It’s over 200.” I mean it’s crazy, and I’m so blessed to have that sort of in my life.
Now, The Goodwin Games is just like any other TV show that I go on with the exception of—I hate to say this—of me being one of the main cast members. I’m always happy to be on some set. I think I’m happiest most—forgive me wife—when I’m on set. I thrive in that environment and The Goodwin Games creatively and personality wise with all the other people there—sometimes you just mesh. I mean you know when you’re doing a show. When we did the pilot of The Goodwin Games—I’ve done a lot of pilots where you get on set and you think, “Oh this is not going to be good,” and I did not have that feeling on this show. We all had such high hopes and still do, and it was just there from the beginning, and I hope it keeps going.
How do you psych yourself up to go from a weighty drama like Scandal to something a little bit more lighthearted?
Scott Foley: You know it’s funny you ask but you’ve got it backwards. I did The Goodwin Games first. We shot all seven episodes of The Goodwin Games. We were supposed to do 13 and they cut our episode order short, and I found myself free. Shonda Rhimes found out that I had a little lag in my schedule, and she called me as soon as I was done and said, “Come do Scandal. I have a great character for you.”
It was the reverse but it’s no less sort of difficult or the thought process is no different. You sort of have to develop a character and my job as an actor is to find the real moments of the characters whether it’s in a comedy or whether it’s in a drama. You play the situation in words, and hopefully, I’ve done my homework and if I have the character down in my head whether it’s a comedy or a drama it’s the same process. Physically you go to the set. You do all that stuff, and you get hair and make-up and you find where that character lives, and you play the reality of the situation whether it’s a comedy it’s funny or whether it’s a drama it’s heavy.
For me there’s not much difference. I like both equally and am so blessed that people don’t sort of pigeon hole me and say, “Well, he can’t do comedy” or “Well, he’s just a comedic actor he can’t do drama.” I’m very fortunate to sort of play in both worlds.
Was anything that wasn’t scripted for your character that you actually add to the role?
Scott Foley: Oh god I hope there was a lot that wasn’t scripted that I added to the role whether it was character traits or dynamics or the way that Henry Goodwin walked and talked and held himself. Specific lines, good lord I can’t think of anything specifically, but I think every actor brings something different to each role. That’s obviously part of the casing process and what the producers look for when they’re casting a role, someone who can bring something that’s not on the page.
I hate to say this but that’s a question for the person who casted me, but I hope that I brought a dynamic to the sibling dynamic that no one else could have whether it was in my relationship sort of with the other characters or in how I saw Henry Goodwin as maybe a little more stiff and prime and proper than the creators saw him. I felt that they had him as a doctor and possibly a Republican, but everything else I sort of—the way he held himself and the way he spoke and his history with his siblings was all sort of my creation so I hope that comes across. I hope I answered your question.
What did you find the most challenging aspect of working on the show?
Scott Foley: Working on The Goodwin Games, you know the most challenging thing for me is staying in the moment. We have so much fun on set, and we really do adore each other, and the lighthearted moments can—I’m 40 years old. I still have a hard time keeping it together sometimes when I’m around really funny people like Becki and T.J. The most challenging thing is really getting through the day and making sure that we get through. We have eight pages of work today, making sure that we don’t spend three hours laughing and screwing around. There’s a job to be done. A lot of the times the hardest thing is to focus on the task at hand and not get sort of caught up in the comedy of it all.