Dan Byrd's big break was the short-lived CW comedy Aliens in America. He's since had guest spots on Heroes, Greek, and Saving Grace—but now he's found his stride playing Jules Cobb's (Courteney Cox) lovable, dry-witted, insanely tolerant son Travis on Cougar Town. We chatted with Byrd about his new show, his old stomping grounds, and his TV-watching habits.
TV.com: What’s Travis like?
Dan Byrd: I’m still kind of figuring [him] out. The weird thing about being on a TV show is that you don’t get the whole story laid out in front of you, so you don’t really know who or what the character is until the episode’s progressed to a point where you can actually get a grasp on it. I’m learning with each episode more and more, but in my mind, he’s like a Ferris Bueller type. He’s obviously not the jock, but I don’t think he’s necessarily a nerdy outcast, either. He falls somewhere in the middle. But you could put him in front of pretty much any type of [person] and he could probably get along just fine.
Cougar Town centers around Jules’ romantic life. Is Travis going to have some romance in his future, too?
Yes! Actually, the last two episodes we shot introduced a girlfriend character, which is exciting. A high-school sweetheart type. And, of course, in typical Cougar Town fashion, there are some tremendously awkward situations that arise with this girl. Hopefully that’s just a way of gradually transitioning me into the actual cougar world, because I’m ready to be preyed upon.
Who’s your favorite character on the show?
I guess it would be Travis -- no, just kidding. Honestly, I really love this group of people so much. It’s hard to pick because it’s like character versus people. It gets blurry in my mind as to what I’m really thinking of. But I really love Brian [Van Holt]’s character, Bobby. He’s hilarious.
You two have some pretty funny father-son chemistry on the show. Is a lot of that improvised?
The show moves at a very fast pace, but when we’re shooting it, it moves very fast, too. We typically don’t do more than two or three takes of any one thing. Usually [for] the first two takes, we’ll do the scripted version, and then on the third take, [creator Bill Lawrence will] be like, "Okay, just try whatever you want or, just do it way bigger and crazier than you think is necessary and let’s just see if anything funny comes from that." So, I wouldn’t say a lot of it is improvised, but there [are] definitely lines and moments here or there that are improvised, which is cool because, in television, it’s not really encouraged when you’re on such a tight schedule and the script has already been through, like, fourteen drafts and has to be okayed by every person who works at the network. And everybody’s really paranoid about the words on TV. But they’ve managed to create a really collaborative working environment. Everybody gets to feel like they’re putting their imprint or their signature on whatever it is we’re doing, which is a cool, fortunate thing to have as an actor.
What’s it like to work with all these veterans? You're acting alongside Courteney Cox, Busy Phillipps, Christa-Miller Lawrence, and Ian Gomez, to name a few.
It’s awesome. I feel really fortunate. I love being the kid on set and I love having all these bright people with so much experience under their belt there at my disposal to just ask questions if I feel it’s necessary. Or learn from their example. I think that’s how you learn the most from actors—by watching them, both on camera and off camera, [and observing] how they just sort of deal with the politics of being on a television set. ... On top of that, they’re all incredibly nice, grounded, down-to-earth people that I feel completely at ease and comfortable with. And, that’s a blessing because I think a lot of times, people with their type of track record [and] this type of experience tend to overcompensate, because they’re used to being the boss and having people listen to them. But that’s not the case with any of these people.
What’s it like to have a hot TV mom?
It’s good. There’s nothing wrong with it. I can’t think of any drawbacks that it would present. If anything, I have developed a little bit of an inferiority complex, because I don’t feel like I’m good looking enough to be the son of Courteney Cox and Brian Van Holt. ... They’re both really beautiful people. It’s a little intimidating, but otherwise it’s great. If somebody else thinks I could maybe, in some weird way, be the son of these two, then I take that as a compliment.
Are there any guest stars that you can tell us about besides Lisa Kudrow?
Yeah, Lisa Kudrow, I just heard about, too, so that’s hot off the press! But I don’t have any other names. I know for the sweeps they like those special guest stars. I’m sure if the show continues on that there may be possibly more Friends recruits. But I haven’t heard anything along those lines other than Lisa.
Do you think Jules will ever get together with Grayson (Josh Hopkins)?
That’s the obligatory "Will they, won’t they?" that every good TV show needs. You’ve got to have that tension between the two romantic leads to keep people hooked, to keep them tuned in. ... It’s obviously set up to sort of keep people guessing, but I’m very much in the dark when it comes to the future story lines or where any of these arcs are going to end up. I’m on a week-by-week basis. I find out what’s happening next week when I get the script a couple of days before we start shooting. ... So, [we'll] just have to wait and see.
What was it like to work on Aliens in America? Is there anything you miss about that show?
It was great. It was such a grind. It was, professionally, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, just because I’m not used to being the main guy. On this show, I’m there maybe three, four times a week. It’s a relatively lenient work schedule. But we shot [Aliens in America] in Vancouver [for] fourteen, fifteen hours a day, every day. It was truly exhausting. Outside of that, it was a great experience and I thought it was a really cool show. I got a best friend out of it—the guy that plays Raja, Adhir [Kalyan], is still one of my best friends. So that’s great. I’m proud of it. We got really good critical response, and I think the fact that it never found an audience has much more to do with the network we were on than the show itself.
What’s your favorite TV show?
I don’t want to be one of these pretentious LA people, but I’m going to be right now. I don’t have cable. All the TV I watch is online. There’s not really any shows that I watch on a super-regular basis. I don’t watch any dramas regularly. The only ones that I’ll sit down and make a point to watch are comedies, like 30 Rock and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I really like HBO comedies; Eastbound & Down is my favorite comedy on TV right now. ... Whenever I’m watching TV, I just get sucked into the trashiest TV you could possibly imagine. I try to avoid it at all costs so I don’t end up sitting and watching a marathon of Tila Tequila or whatever you call it. It’s such a drug, TV. That’s why I just decided to get rid of it ultimately, because I have plenty of distractions as is and that was just another one. But, of course Cougar Town and Modern Family are on that list, too, the comedy block. I definitely watch both of those shows.
Cougar Town airs on Wednesdays at 9:30pm on ABC.