In anticipation of tonight's series premiere of Raising Hope, creator and director Greg Garcia (of My Name is Earl fame) and the new-to-TV series star Lucas Neff recently conducted a little conference call tell-all about their new baby. Here's what they had to say about the show, babies in peril, and Cloris Leachman.
Garcia on the premise of the show and its characters:
"Jimmy Chance is a 23-year-old guy who's a little aimless in life and is kind of wondering what his purpose on this earth is. He goes out and he has a one night with a woman who turns out to be a serial killer. And she becomes pregnant. And when she’s executed he gets stuck with the baby. He lives with his mother and father, who had him when they were fifteen. His mother Virginia, played by Martha Plimpton, cleans houses for a living. ... Her husband, played by Garret Dillahunt, owns his own landscaping company and does a few lawns and pools around the neighborhood. I don’t think they were looking to be grandparents, or to be parents a long time ago. But they stuck with it and did the best they can. Now they find themselves being grandparents and have the opportunity to try to do a better job this time of helping to raise a baby. And they all live with Maw Maw, played by Cloris Leachman, who goes in and out of being lucid. When she’s lucid she’s not a big fan of the fact that all these people are living in her house. And when she’s not lucid she’s just running around like a kook and she’s having a lot of fun. [Then there's] Sabrina, played by Shannon Woodward, who works at the grocery store. ... I think she’s kind of interested in Jimmy in the sense that he’s kind of from a different world ... and I think she’s a little worried about this baby and has a watchful eye on it. And as she meets the family and learns about them, I think she’ll become increasingly curious and interested to hang out with them."
Garcia on casting Neff:
"The funny thing is is that it didn’t take me long. I watched about half of the first scene that he did on tape and knew that this was the guy. He was very funny, but in a relaxed kind of way. He wasn’t having to push anything. He just felt very real to me. He felt very honest and I felt myself rooting for him as a character. And then when I met him as a person I find myself rooting for him as a person. He has qualities as a person that bleed into the role. He was perfect for it."
Neff on what his life was like a year ago:
"This time a year ago, I was in rehearsals for a play for which I was being paid $500 total for three months of work. I had just quit my job where I was canvassing for an environmentalist lobby group. I was just standing in the streets getting abuse heaped on me by ungrateful strangers. And I had just taken up cleaning houses as a side gig and had scrubbed my first two toilets. [laughs] Life looks a lot better. When you’re elbow deep in someone else’s toilet, it’s hard not for life not to go upward from there. I’m in a new city, learning about life out in L.A., learning about TV and film work as opposed to theater, and working with just some of the best actors I’ve ever worked with in my entire life. So, it’s kind of an incredible magic carpet ride."
Garcia on how much of his experience as a parent comes into play:
"I think I draw from it a lot. I’ve got three kids, ages 12, 10, and 3. So it hasn’t been that long with the newest one since I’ve been going through the stuff that Lucas goes through. I think you draw from real life and then you amp it up. In the pilot, they change the diaper and throw up on the baby. I've never thrown up on one of my children but I’ve certainly gagged a number of times. ... I use a lot of it, definitely. And as the kid gets older on the show, I’ll use more of it."
Garcia on keeping the baby-as-a-main-character concept fresh and funny:
"In the pilot, we certainly have more shocking moments with the baby. It’s not like we set off and thought, 'How can we put this baby in peril every week?' Actually it's just the opposite. We have this amazing ensemble of adults and we want to see a lot of them. We’ve really been finding stories where the baby can be more of a catalyst that stirs up conflict between within family. And we'll occasionally do stories that are more baby-centric. But for the most part, we’re trying to use the baby as a way into more adult stories."
Neff on the challenges of working with babies on-set:
"There’s been a fair amount of vomit on me. One of them in particular really likes to fart mid-scene and it’s just unbelievable how loud they are. The main thing is learning to be as patient with them as possible. We have to move at their pace because babies are just babies. They’re doing what babies do. And when they cry it’s just cause they’re going to cry for a while. They’re sleepy or they’re hungry. We just have to do the things to keep them happy and be patient with them when they’re not in the mood to sit around and be surrounded by strangers and giant alien equipment."
Neff on getting hazed on-set:
"There’s a fair amount of that. They’re all really focused professionals and we’re still at the point where we’re finding our groove. But Garret likes to give me charlie horses and punch me right before we start scenes. The other day Greg laid in front of a door that I was supposed to run through. So I slammed into it and it didn’t budge at all. I’m sort of like the little brother to the entire set. There’s just a lot of riffing on me by everyone all the time."
On Leachman's portrayal of Maw Maw and the ratio of the character’s lucidity to fogginess:
Garcia: "We kind of go in and out of it. We actually just shot some stuff where the family knows [what to do] when you want to get her really lucid. You wake her up out of a deep sleep and then you’ve got her for a good couple of minutes before she drifts off again. It’s kind of dictated by the story. But I’d say, so far, it’s about 90 percent kooky, and 10 percent lucid.
Neff: It’s about as true to life as you can get.
Garcia on why people should tune in and watch the show:
"Obviously our first goal is to make them laugh and hopefully they find our show funny. Second to that, I’m really hoping that they connect with these characters and they can relate to them. Hopefully at the end of every episode, when we earn it with the right story, we will actually kind of make them feel something for these people as well. Hopefully, they’re going to laugh and feel good after watching it."
Raising Hope premieres tonight (Sept 21) at 9:00pm on Fox. It starts in the UK on Sky One on Thrusday (Nov 18) at 10:00pm.