Interview: Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney on ‘It’s Always Sunny’, If They Share Traits of Their Characters and Having Real Life ‘Sunny’ Moments

Charlie: "I think people will be surprised to see how much of the show is actually scripted"

Comic-Con: Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney are two guys who are just plain ‘ole fun to be around. I talked to them both at Comic-Con in a roundtable interview and even though they hung out for about 15 minutes, I could have talked to them for so much longer.

The show premieres for it’s ninth season on FX’s new network, FXX. People keep asking them if they’re nervous of the move, but both said not at all. It’s exactly the opposite, they’re excited about being the flagship show on a new network. What’s not to be excited about? It’s obvious that the network trusts them and their show.

In this terrific interview, they talk about moving to FXX, if they’re happy with their acting on past episodes, if they’re thinking about the show even when they’re on hiatus and having “Sunny” moments in real-life.

Tell us everything about the new season.

Rob McElhenney: Well, first off, we’re moving.

Charlie Day: Yeah, this is the big talking point and I guess it’s pretty important to get that out there. We’re moving to FXX. FX is creating an entirely new network and we will be found exclusively there. Some people will just get it automatically but you’ll have to check with whatever your local provider is and hopefully people come find us there.

Rob McElhenney: I’ve had a lot of questions about people asking if we’re nervous about the move and the truth is, I don’t know a single one… I don’t know a single person in our demographic, at this point, who watches channels. We all watch shows. Moreover, I couldn’t tell you right now what station FX is. I have no idea. Or Breaking Bad. I don’t know where AMC is, but I watch everything on AMC because I just search for…

Charlie Day: You search for the show. Yeah, I’m not really nervous about the move either. If anything, I’m just hopeful for the network. Clearly it’s going to be an entirely new place to create and make shows and for us that’s exciting. A whole new… they’re gonna have to fill up their programming so maybe we can take advantage of that.

When you guys think about previous episodes that you’ve done, do you more often think that you went too far with concepts or not far enough?

Charlie Day: I’ve never really felt as though anything’s gone too far. I think we have a secret little alchemy on our show for being able to pull that off, which is that, first of all, you understand the joke is on the characters so we can literally get away with murder and we realize, well, as the show creators that there’s some commentary there as opposed to just getting off on that behavior. But, I don’t know. I look back and I’m concerned more about camera angles and stuff than ever tone or set design. I rarely… I feel in terms of the tone of the show, we stay consistent from the first episode until now. We’ve taken some bigger swings stylistically, but at the core of these characters and sort of the message, total message, behind the episodes, I think… yeah. I think we always are dancing around that line like we want to.


Do you guys ever go back and watch your old stuff – acting wise – and think… are you happy with the work that you’ve done?

Rob McElhenney: I think often times I’ll watch episodes, it depends on the mood that I happen to be in whether I like it or whether I don’t, but I always take pride in knowing that if we took a big swing and it didn’t quite work that no matter what we have not taken one episode off. Ever. We’ve done now 104 after this season and we put every single one of those episodes through the same process.

Charlie Day: Yeah. It’s an excruciating set of hurdles that Rob and Glenn [Howerton] and I jump over, but… a lot of arguments.

Rob McElhenney: A lot of fighting. But the fact that we’ve never taken on episode off, we’ve never left for an episode as actors or as writers. So when you hear fans say, “Well, that one didn’t work or that one did work.” That’s fine. That’s subjective and that’s fine. But I want, you know, I want to make sure that we end this show, we feel like we gave it our all on every single one of those episodes and thus far we have.

Charlie Day: Yeah. And then certainly as an actor, I’ve always sort of felt very good about my work on the show and the work of my cast mates. I think it helped to be able to write for ourselves and write to our strengths. But, yeah. I mean, I think if someone had taped some of my plays in college I’d be more spooked out to watch that, but in terms of by the time I got to Sunny, by the time we were doing this, I felt as though we had a pretty good idea of how we wanted to do it. Even when I watch the home… the pilot, I always am surprised by how sort of consistent that is with what we’re doing now, in a way.

Are your scripts really strict? I mean, by this point, 9 seasons, you guys can almost basically go in a room and just ad lib. Right?

Rob McElhenney: No.

Charlie Day: Yeah. You know, I think people will be surprised to see how much of the show is actually scripted. But if you look closely at any Sunny episode, there are… it’s a very sort of spider web of a plot line usually. You can’t really improvise.

Rob and I might be able to go on a little run about the Batman movies or whatever within the context of an episode, but so much of it has to be laid out. But we’re also not so precious about our writing that when we get to set and someone has an urge to try something else we don’t discover something funnier. And that formula has always made a nice balance between a really loose, improvisational feel without that sort of meandering lost quality that sometimes things can have if they’re too improvised.

Do you guys write all the scripts beforehand and then shoot? Or are you shooting and writing?

Rob McElhenney: We try to.

Charlie Day: We try to get them all done ahead of time. Actually, we did it this season.

Rob McElhenney: We did it, yeah. This was… we’ve only actually achieved it twice. We always try to get them all done and we always wind up writing at least one or two while we’re shooting.

Are you doing it on weekends as well?

Charlie Day: Yeah. On the weekends in our trailers.

Rob McElhenney: In between setups.

Charlie Day: And usually that one that is done so last minute winds up being one of our favorites.

Rob McElhenney: Yeah. Not a lot of thinking about it, just executing.

Charlie Day: Yeah. No time to over analyze and just go basic off your gut. But, yeah, this year we got it done.

Do you look back and have favorite episodes at this point? Out of 100 episodes there’s got to be some that stand out, or is it all a blur?

Charlie Day: I mean, I’m so proud of so many of them and I have so much love for this television program that it’s tough to just pick out a few. But every now and the I think we’ve sort of hit on something where we’ve surprised ourselves and made a really exceptional episode. And there’s always at least one in every season where I’m like, “That is some of the best work that we can do.

Rob McElhenney: And you never know before… you never know in conception, script form, on the day, you never really know until you see that first cut. And even then, you don’t know until you see the final cut, which is going to work and what… I feel that they all work and they all have moments in which they work, but sometimes you think, “Oh, this episode is not gonna be so great,” and then it just, who knows why, it’s just all worked and went together.

And then other episodes that just never quite clicked. And that’s a part of the fun of the process.

Charlie Day: I would say the 8th season was the most consistently, I felt as though I was really very happy with each episode where in seasons past there are ones that I love and other ones where I’m like, “Oh, that’s ok but it could’ve been better.” And last year I felt great about every single episode, which I hadn’t really felt since maybe the second season. Where I usually feel good about a lot of them but there’s like one I’m upset that didn’t turn out as good as the others, but I didn’t have that experience last year. Last year felt great. But then again, it’s so funny. Sometimes the one that in my opinion I love the most isn’t necessarily the one that the audience picks out.

Rob McElhenney: There’s certain, in terms of favorite episodes, there’s certain scenes that I loved shooting, and those are the ones that I remember. The ones that I had so much fun while we were shooting. And they usually wind up landing on the DVD, like in the outtakes where I just am laughing the entire time because I think somebody’s joke is so funny.

Charlie Day: Yeah. True. That does happen a lot.

Is there a personality trait in your own characters that you kind of identify with or that you particularly like?

Charlie Day: There must be. I think to do any character well, unless you’re a Gary Oldman type who completely transforms himself every time, you have to tap into a little something of yourself even if it’s only your sense of humor. But there’s… you know what I think all of the characters of Sunny have, which I like, is this optimism. For as dark and twisted as they can be, they’re so positive about their opinions and their goals and their tactics and I do like that quality in my character and in all the other characters. Their sense of… their joyful sense of drive even if sometimes it’s a very misguided drive.

When you guys are on hiatus and you’re working on other projects, are you still jotting things down for the show and thinking, “Oh, this would make a good thing,” or waking up in the middle of the night?

Rob McElhenney: I try to compartmentalize as much as I can, but it’s hard to shut that off. So every once in a while you’ll think of something and go, “I’ve gotta write,” which is great because now we have phones everywhere I can just jot it down and then bring it back up when we sit down in January.

Charlie Day: It’s true. You do try and check out so that you can sort of recharge your battery and feel fresh, but Mary Elizabeth and I were in a restaurant having breakfast and we ran out of… we were about to leave and we went inside to see if we could get a to go cup for our coffees and the hostess was saying, or the cashier was saying, that someone had just had a stroke. Which it turned out they didn’t have a stroke, I think they choked for a minute, but… and it was one of those moments where it felt very Sunny-esque where we were like, “This is terrible and awful,” but we still wanted to get our cups. You know? So it’s like how do we…? So there definitely are those times in life where after doing the show for so long where you can’t help but feel like the characters a little bit. Everyone was fine and we got our coffee.

Rob McElhenney: It’s a happy ending.

Charlie Day: It was a happy ending. It was a win-win.

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