LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - “Who canceled that got me here?” Ray Romano joked as the first of The Hollywood Reporter’s Emmy Roundtable series kicked off with some of TV’s top dramatic actors.
Humor dominated the hour-long discussion at the Chateau Marmont, during which the “Men of a Certain Age” co-star traded yuks with Matthew Fox (“Lost”), Matt Bomer (“White Collar”), Alexander Skarsgard (“True Blood”), Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”).
Matthew Fox: I don’t (watch). Never. I‘m a fan of the show and I watched early on because I wanted to see how it was put together. But I don’t find any benefit in seeing what I‘m doing.
Matt Bomer: Sometimes. You want to see the character come to life in an authentic way and hope you’re not mugging or being inorganic.
Alexander Skarsgard: I watch it and I‘m blown away by my own performance! (Laughs.) No, every single scene, I‘m like, “Oh man, way too big. That look is so redundant. Again with that flat delivery?” I really don’t enjoy it.
Skarsgard: I do. I‘m like a drug to myself. (Laughs.) I did movies in Sweden before I came over here, and I would never watch dailies because I didn’t want to see myself in the character. But that obviously had to change (on a series) because I couldn’t wait seven years until the show’s over to go back and watch it. I still don’t watch the monitors; but when the season airs, I do watch it.
Jon Hamm: We don’t have playback on our show, but watching playback is a whole different experience because you’re right there and you’re like, “Ah, I can’t watch it. I wanted to do something else, it’s not coming through.” Watching a complete version of the show, you’re far enough away that you can feel separated enough to sit and enjoy it.
DO YOU APPROACH A DRAMATIC ROLE DIFFERENTLY THAN A COMEDIC
Bryan Cranston: You have to know the tone of your show. This show (“Breaking Bad”), for instance, is very dark, so the things I look for are the subtle opportunities to lighten it up a little bit. Every good drama has a nice sprinkling of levity to it, and every good comedy has its sincere moments to surprise the audience. What I don’t like is whenever the lay person in Nebraska can sense it -- set-up, set-up, here comes the punchline. If the audience can sense it and is way ahead of you, you’ve lost them.
Ray Romano: The harder part on this show (“Men of a Certain Age”) is doing the comedy because it has to all come from a real place, (whereas) in a sitcom you can stretch it and get away with it a little bit. The difficult part is doing the comedy on the drama, believe it or not, because I feel the dramatic parts are just as real they can be.
Hamm: As depressing and sad and slow and boring (laughs) as our show can be, there are some really funny moments ... that are usually given to (John) Slattery. (Laughs.) It’s important because that’s life.
Hamm: Yeah, if they suck. If someone says you stink at your job, that doesn’t feel great. I can viscerally remember Tom Shales’ review of the first season of “Mad Men,” which said this would have been a good show if someone good had been the lead. And I was like, “Hmm!” (Laughs.)
Skarsgard: Who’s laughing now?
Bomer: Suck it, Tom Shales!
Skarsgard: I stay away from all that. It’s not just the bad stuff; I feel like the positive stuff might make my ego explode.
Cranston: When I first started 31 years ago, I took any job I could get and I was glad because I had rent to pay. But you would never put it on your resume if you were embarrassed about it. Now you can’t do that. In a way, it kind of keeps you honest. It’s going to be on IMDb before we start.
Romano: The sick part is, I don’t really believe the good (reviews).
Skarsgard: You believe the bad ones?
Romano: Yeah, the bad ones really get to me. If my father had hugged me once, I would have been an accountant right now. (Laughs.)
BRYAN, WHAT‘S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU‘VE FOUND IN
Cranston: I always start with a compliment about me! I respond well to that. I sleep with myself, too. (Laughs.) The hardest thing about directing is you’re also in it. I directed nine episodes of “Malcolm in the Middle” and I was in every one; and then this show, I’ve directed two so far. Hardest thing is to be able to know what other characters are doing, when your character is in the scene. There’s not a real way of definitively knowing, so I just print everything that I‘m in and look at it in the dailies. It’s really difficult and I feel like there is a part that does suffer. For instance, I directed the first episode of the last two seasons. I did that because we weren’t in production yet and I needed the time. I would work all day, 12-13 hours, and I’d come home on my computer and write my notes and send my notes via e-mail to my editor and he would recut it and send it back two days later. You miss a lot if you’re not in the room with the editor and feeling the sensibility of it, so it’s a little frustrating. I think I may not direct again on the show.
WHAT‘S THE HARDEST THING ABOUT THE ACTING SIDE OF THE JOB?
Hamm: It is a big time commitment -- especially on a network show -- and you’re on an island, for some of us. It’s hard to be fully engrossed in it for so long. Family, other commitments -- you’re so focused on one thing that everything else gets pushed behind you. And a lot of things tend to back up at the end of a run.
Fox: The publicity requirements: People don’t see how much time goes into that. Early on, when we were trying to launch a show, the publicity demands were just enormous.
DID EVERYONE IN THE CAST BRING THEIR FAMILIES TO HAWAII FOR
Fox: Everyone with kids, yeah. As soon as the show took off and we felt it would be on for a while, everyone with kids moved them over and got them into schools. My wife and I have a rule where it’s never more than three weeks. No matter what I‘m doing, we’ll pull the kids out of school if we have to because it’s never more than three weeks that I‘m away from them.
Cranston: I have the same rule with your wife -- never more than three weeks. (Laughs.) Just to keep it fresh.
Romano: I’ve been married 22 years, so with mine it’s the opposite: She wants me away for three weeks!
Bomer: “Get another show, dammit!”
Skarsgard: The hardest thing is the lack of control working on a television show. When you do a play or a movie, you have everything in front of you and I have my process, I know the arc, I know what’s going to happen and how I want to play the scenes. Suddenly you’re on a show where -- we’re shooting Episode 9 right now and I haven’t read Episode 11 yet. I have no idea what’s going to happen.
Cranston: Episode 11? Sometimes it’s last-minute and the scripts don’t come in and we’re shooting the next day and we get it that night.
Hamm: That’s the same with us. We get the script at table readings, which is the day before (shooting).
Bomer: That’s nice, to get a table read. We get the pages day-of at times. The speed of this medium is so fast. We shoot an episode in seven days and a lot of times it’s 10-page days, so you’re just plowing through material so fast that you’ll do it in two or three takes and you have to let it go. A lot of times, that’s right when I‘m getting comfortable.
Cranston: The work you do on the ride home is always the best.
Skarsgard: You wish they had a camera in the car, right?