Head games with Ali Wentworth
On Starz' original series Head Case, comedian Ali Wentworth is not afraid to talk about giant vaginas with Greg Grunberg or play the terrorist card with Ahmet Zappa. As a therapist to the stars, she has to explore some dark territory with her famous patients, and that makes for some fun, awkward television.
Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Head Case is an improvised, personality-driven show, and Wentworth's role is not unlike Larry David's, although she plays therapist Dr. Elizabeth Goode and not a version of herself. Also, Dr. Goode's a WASP; Larry, not so much. Ali was kind enough to take our call last week and let us get inside her head.
TV.com: Where are you right now? Where are you talking to us from?
Ali Wentworth: I am sitting in the lounge at the Peninsula Hotel in New York on 56th and Fifth. There's a party this evening for me for Head Case. We had a premiere party in LA, so this one's for my friends.
TV.com: How did you come up with the idea for Head Case?
Ali Wentworth: I came up with the idea in two ways. One was that I'd be at the market, and I'd see OK! and US Weekly, and I'd think, "God, what the hell is going on with these people? Aren't they in therapy?" And then I thought how funny it would be to see them in therapy. Originally I liked the idea of seeing rock stars, because Marilyn Manson on the couch is very funny to me. And then I sort of opened it up to celebrities in general.
TV.com: Is it difficult at all to find celebrities for the show?
Ali Wentworth: There was a little hesitation at the beginning because everybody gets freaked out when they hear "couch therapy." And so what I think celebrities are starting to realize is that it's completely tongue-in-cheek. It's completely fun. And obviously I don't delve into anything that's real. This season people did it and had a ball.
TV.com: It seems like it might be a little bit in the same vein as the Larry Sanders Show, where celebs get to have fun with their persona, kind of make fun of it but without it necessarily being about themselves.
Ali Wentworth: Exactly--it's a perfect analogy.
TV.com: I noticed a Felicity connection on the show with some of your guest stars.
Ali Wentworth: There's a Felicity connection? I mean, I know Greg Grunberg was on the show.
TV.com: There is. You have Greg Grunberg. The actor who plays your boyfriend on the show, Rob Benedict, was on the show, as well as Amy Aquino, who played a counselor.
Ali Wentworth: You know, I didn't even know that Rob and Amy did it. How do you like that?
TV.com: I think that's great. Did Greg get them on board?
Ali Wentworth: It's purely casting. I didn't know Amy or Rob before. And Amy is brilliant as the dirty-mouthed, nasty, mean ex-wife.
TV.com: How do you cast your celebrity patients? Is there an audition process?
Ali Wentworth: No. There's no auditioning. We think of people that we think would be fun. We make offers. And then they show up the day we're shooting, and I basically say "hi" to them, meet them and say, "Listen, it's really fun. Don't worry. If at any point you're uncomfortable, we can stop shooting." And then they come on the set. And the way we have set up the cameras, they're not really obvious. They're kind of hidden, and I have a real kind of office. So they come in and they sit down and then we just shoot. We just keep shooting. We don't stop.
TV.com: Tell us about some upcoming guest stars that you had a good time with.
Ali Wentworth: I haven't seen the episode with Rosanna Arquette. But she came to the set in the middle of a horrible breakup with her boyfriend in real life. She completely brought that to the show. So what we did to counter it, was in the show, I'm about to get married. She's practically crying and miserable because she found out this guy she was seeing was having an affair with a stripper. And our session keeps getting interrupted because I have the wedding-cake tasting, or I'm trying to pick my flowers. So it just worked really well because I was so happy and she was so miserable, and I was pushing it in her face.
Who else? Jeff Goldblum was fun just because he's so seductive. You know, you can't help think he's the fly. I mean, if you've seen The Fly, that's all you can think of when you look at him. I don't know why. He is that insect personified.
Nicole Sullivan from Mad TV came on, and that was really fun for me. I mean, anytime somebody comes on with any kind of improvisational background, because we're unscripted, it just makes it more fun for me. It's like playing tennis with someone who's a good tennis player. You know what I mean? Sometimes it can be a lot of work. But Nicole Sullivan was very funny and she came in because she had just had a baby and she was conflicted about spending time with the baby versus going back to work. And I basically convinced her that she wasn't going to work until she lost a lot more weight and had some plastic surgery.
TV.com: That's exactly what you want to hear from a therapist.
Ali Wentworth: I know! But she's so great at playing the counter of that. Her face was like, "What are you saying? What are you--?" She was great.
TV.com: So how long approximately to shoot a session with a guest star?
Ali Wentworth: It changes. Some people took five hours. Greg Grunberg shot his in about 45 minutes. It was like he came in, we shot it, he left. And sometimes we'll shoot a session, and then I'll have an idea after we've shot it and think, "You know, it would be really funny if..." And then it all becomes about props and things you can do in the moment. With Ahmet [Zappa], for example, when he did the trust exercise [the exercise where a person falls backward, trusting the other person will catch him], we had already gone through the session talking about trust. Then I said, "You know, it would be really funny if we did that trust exercise and I let him fall." So then we get up and shoot that.
TV.com: Which actor sucked? Just kidding...sort of.
Ali Wentworth: I'll tell you, last season Tom Sizemore was a tricky customer because he's kind of an odd guy. When the sound guy tried to mic him, he dropped his pants and had--you know, he was totally naked.
Ali Wentworth: Yeah. I think there were moments when we were shooting a session that he kind of thought he was in therapy, so everything got really dark and scary. The whole set took a shower and went to church afterward. And it made me realize, you know what? You kind of want somebody that enjoys comedy, and not crack and war. I don't know for sure, but I know that very shortly thereafter he went to jail.
TV.com: You're married to ABC's Washington correspondent George Stephanopolous. Are we going to start seeing any political figures on your show?
Ali Wentworth: Oh, from your lips to God's ears. I would love, love, love to get people on the couch. We will see. That would be something for next season. I know it's not going to be my husband!
TV.com: Who's the last big-name politician that you hung out with casually?
Ali Wentworth: Right before Christmas I was singing Christmas carols with Condoleezza Rice. She's got a very beautiful voice. She talked about American Idol. She TiVos the show. So I hung out with her. And then who else? I don't know. Washington's sort of like Hollywood that way. You can go to a dinner party and if you care, those people are there.
TV.com: Are there any TV therapists that you enjoy? We interviewed Jonathan Katz recently.
Ali Wentworth: I used to love that show. Everything's serious now. There's that Gabriel Byrne show [In Treatment] and Tell Me You Love Me. All the therapy shows are so serious and dramatic. Maybe this is the love of Woody Allen in me, but I truly think that therapy [shows that are] one-hour dramas are really tedious to watch. You can't really enjoy anyone else's problems that you're around because it's such a narcissistic thing to be in therapy. I don't really care about characters' made-up problems unless I'm laughing.
TV.com: Last question: How would Dr. Goode help Britney Spears?
Ali Wentworth: I think she would go to an extreme. I think she'd do a little shock therapy, maybe she'd tie the hands to the bed. I don't think there's anything to talk about. It's all just out of control.
TV.com: Thank you for talking to us!
The next episode of Head Case airs Wednesday night on Starz. For more information on the show, check out TV.com's previous coverage.
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