A Conversation with Cougar Town's Josh Hopkins

Every leading lady needs a leading man—or three, in the case of Cougar Town's feisty single mom, Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox). She has a witty teenage son, Travis (Dan Byrd) and a lovable oaf of an ex-husband, Bobby (Brian Van Holt). But she's got her eye on her fiercely sarcastic (but attractive) neighbor, Grayson, played by Josh Hopkins, a Kentucky native and an alum of Private Practice, Swingtown, and Pepper Dennis. While Cougar Town is away for its winter hiatus, we spoke to Hopkins about his studly Cougar Town character to tide you over until the episodes air in January.

TV.com: What's Grayson like?
Josh Hopkins: Grayson is antagonistic to Courteney's character. There's definitely a contentious relationship between those two, but there's a physical and mental attraction as well. They're neighbors. He lives across the street, and they push each other's buttons. He's constantly zinging her with little one-liners. It's kind of like pulling the ponytail in class with the girls you like. That's what he's doing, really. He's obviously really a cynical type, dry, but sometimes he's the only sane one in this whole dysfunctional family or cul-de-sac ... It's a great character to play because there's a great progression. He started really closed and broken, but now Jules has started to work on him a little bit.

In the Thanksgiving episode, "Here Comes My Girl," Grayson subtly admitted that he had feelings for Jules. So here's the obvious question: Will they or won't they?
From the beginning it seemed like it was going to be a will-they-or-won't-they type of relationship. And I do think it is ultimately designed that way, but I think that audiences have grown. They've seen this so much. They're a little tired of it. The trick really is to make it new and fresh and to do it uniquely. And I think Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel, the creators, don't want to do some cliched storyline. Why there’s going to be a relationship there, a back and forth, a will-they-won’t-they-type relationship? I think life is messy and their relationship will be that way. I don’t think it’ll be your traditional, "Oh, my goodness, are they--" and then the big kiss, you know, like "In a very special Cougar Town ..." I don’t think we’ll ever see that. It’s not going to be a real easy transition or an expected one, the way they get these two together at some point.

Do you think Jules and Grayson should get together?
Originally I thought, the longer we wait 'til they're together, the better the show must be doing. They don't need the ratings of, "Now they're together!" But I think, to see the plan that Bill and Kevin have, and Courteney as well, it's going to be fun to oscillate back and forth, like to be together at some points and then something happens. Even though it's an absurd world, the reality that they're trying to write it with is fun. So, yeah, I'd like to see them together some.

How did you get the role and why did you take it?
Well, I'll answer backwards. I took it because I got it! I circled it as what I wanted more than anything. And I had to audition a hundred times. I had to keep going back and auditioning and [doing] work-throughs and tests. It was an arduous process. I had to turn down other [offers] while I was going through the process. But I wanted this so badly, [so] I had to just gamble that I could keep going further and get the role, and it paid off. It really is a dream for me to go in and play comedy every day with such good writers and talented people around, so I got really lucky that I did the right thing and waited.

Grayson sometimes carries around a guitar. Is that you actually playing when he strums the guitar?
That is me.

Do you think he'll become more musically inclined as the season progresses?
I have a little guitar similar to that one that he carries on the show, and I'd just be strumming outside of my trailer. Bill literally pulled up on his little golf cart and stopped and went, "You know that'll be on the next episode," then sped away. And there it was. And people liked it, so it's definitely coming back—it's part of the character now. It comes back every so often.

Do you think they'll explore the awkwardness between Bobby and Grayson more?
They are exploring the awkwardness, as far as they both have this thing for Jules. But they can't help but become closer and really like one another. So their relationship is getting closer despite the fact that they both have their eyes on the same prize. It makes for some good scenes where they may need to talk to somebody and the only one they can talk to is one another.

Who's your favorite character on the show?
Me! No. I really do like Bobby Cobb a lot. Everything he does, he's funny, and I think Brian Van Holt is such a good actor. If you saw him on [John from Cincinnati], he plays this drug addict. Now he's playing not the smartest misfit. When they give him levels, you can see a lot more to the character. He plays it with a lot of heart.

Why do you think shows like Cougar Town and Accidentally on Purpose are coming out of the woodwork now?
Maybe the pendulum swung a little bit. We, as a culture, keep going younger and younger and younger. Everything is young. The music we buy now is just so young, to the point where these young artists are the ones winning American Music Awards and Grammys. Not that they don't deserve it, but we're pressing younger and younger and younger as a culture. I think it's harder for some women to relate to these shows, the Gossip Girl-type shows, because they have storylines that some women like but they can't really relate to these characters. They're just too far removed age-wise. Plus you get to have storylines about things that are fresh and different that haven't been explored on TV with 40-year-old women.

How was the transition from the drama world to the sitcom world?
It's been so much fun. We're all professionals on these shows; when we come to work, it's not like people are down because they've got heavy material to do, but it does rub off on your mood a bit. If you're playing a scene where someone has been raped or there's been a car crash or even if you're so much in love, it just affects your mood a little bit, the way you act as soon as they say "cut." [On Cougar Town], we come to work and try and make each other laugh, so in general it's a lot more fun. And it's a great atmosphere on set because once they get a couple [takes] down that they like, they say, "Okay, go crazy. Do whatever you want." And they use so many of my off-the-cuff [lines]. That's so much fun to see. They like it so much [that] they keep it! There's not a lot of ego in the writing room or production.

Is there a particular improv line that you're proud of that got into an aired episode?
Oh, man! I don't remember exactly, just a lot of little throwaway things and whatnot ... In [the] Thanksgiving episode, I wore my high school shirt that says my high school name and number and stuff. That's fun to be able to do stuff like that because people from Kentucky go crazy for it. It's good to give little shout outs like that. And I'll constantly be saying things in code to friends and stuff, just little bits.

Are there other types of roles that you'd like to pursue outside of Cougar Town?
It excites me to change a lot. I hope this show goes forever, but in the hiatus, I would probably want to do something as completely different as possible. I just did a couple of independent movies that are totally, completely different from Cougar Town.

Are there any particular actors that you'd like to see guest star on the show?
My friends. I'd like to see Dash Mihok and James Marsden.

What kind of roles do you think they would play?
Hopefully something where they were subservient to me, just so I could own them for that week.

What are your favorite TV shows?
My favorite show, which is probably not good to say as a scripted actor ... is a show on Spike called The Ultimate Fighter, and it's like Top Model, but at the end of the show, two guys gotta fight. They own the show.

That sounds intense!
I know. This is really bare bones. This comes right down to it. No cattiness. This is action. No judging. These guys have to fight to stay in, and half of it I like as entertainment and half of it is because I'm so glad I don't live in the house. ... I really like Modern Family [which is on] right before our show. It's really funny. I think Ed O'Neill is a genius. He's spot on. He plays [Jay Pritchett] with no wink to the audience. And I really like Better Off Ted. I hope that it gets a viewership and gets new life. I think it deserves it. I had such a good time when I was on Private Practice, and I really liked everyone so much that I like to check in and see what's going on with it. That place made me feel like part of the family quickly.

Cougar Town returns Wednesday, January 6 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

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