Happy Endings is one of the kookiest sleeper hit sitcoms in recent years. The Chicago-set series is both wacky and unpretentious, and that combination helps the friendships between its six ensemble characters (played by Casey Wilson, Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, Damon Wayans Jr., Zachary Knighton, and Adam Pally) seem real. It’s hard not to dig everyone involved.
I got to catch up with five of the six thespians this week — only Adam Pally wasn’t there — and I asked about the show’s greatest assets: its fun characters, its frantic pace, and its daring weirdness.
One of my favorite things about Happy Endings is that the show never tries to establish each of you as a separate type. No one is “the quirky one.” You all get to be insane and similar, but with sly differences, like real friends. That said: What do you think distinguishes your character?
Zachary Knighton: I kind of have this theory about my character, that he’s a mashup of all of them. He can be crazy and neurotic like Jane or lovelorn like Penny. That’s my theory. He’s all over the place.
Damon Wayans Jr.: My character is like — when he’s at work, he’s at work. But when he’s off, he just like to be happy with his buddies. And he’s probably not. It’s just fun to play him because he’s always kind of upbeat. Rarely is he the mean guy. He balances his type-A wife out pretty well.
Casey Wilson: They’ve written six characters where they’re all so comedic, any type of weirdness can be hung on them. I think Penny can go into such a spiral, but she’s also really hopeful. I think she’s crazy in that sense, like desperate, but also hopeful. That’s somewhat different than the others. But we all think they’re all, like, losers. In a great way.
Damon, can you talk about the differences between shooting Happy Endings and the pilot for New Girl?
Damon Wayans Jr.: When I did New Girl, the people who are there, I love. I went to school with Zooey [Deschanel], and I knew Jake [Johnson] and Max [Greenfield] for awhile. The process was a bit different there. It’s a lot looser on Happy Endings. We’re so gelled together. It’s like… fun. Like, “Oh, we’re going to be here for 16 hours?” I love being around these guys for 16 hours.
Elisha, you’re great on the show, but it’s so different than 24 and the other stuff you’ve done before. What’s it like working in this world? Weird?
Elisha Cuthbert: It is. It’s a totally different style and a different pace. It’s interesting; we broke [production] for three weeks for Christmas, and I came back, and it took me two days to get back into the pace and the speed, keeping up with the rest of the actors. I do come from a more subdued, subtle form of acting. But I like to be right up there with them. It’s been a lot of fun. Even though it’s different, I’m comfortable in it. I feel like I belong, and it’s good. But like I said, it’s going to be interesting if we get a third season, to get my brain back into the pacing of comedy and improv. Surrounding myself with these actors, it’s like an improv class, a stand-up comedian class, happening at the same time. I’m learning a lot. It’s been a lot of fun.
The fans of your show are very vocal. Do you feel like they reach out to you in a particularly personal way?
Zachary Knighton: Definitely. We were put on at the end of the first season when people don’t even watch TV. The marketing campaign for our show when we started… I think it was awesome the way did it with Twitter, quoting people on Twitter talking about our show. That was sort of our jam, in a weird way. The timing was all perfect for us to weirdly be a social media show. The word was spreading. Things trended on Twitter. I think we have a really young fan base, which is really cool. I’ve had so many kids come up to me, like 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids, and it’s just crazy. We’re a little older than them, but I like that kids are watching our show, and I guess Jersey Shore too.
Damon Wayans Jr.: This guy tweeted me who was like, “Dude, I’m 12. I f*cking love you.” I was like, “Where are your parents, man? What are you doing?” And he was like, “I’m doing homework!” I was like, “Block.” His profile picture had wolf eyes. They were all wolflike. Weird little kid.
The show’s spontaneity is so interesting. I know you guys get to improvise a lot, but is it ever difficult to be be spontaneous in an original way? Do you ever think, “Oh, shoot, I already ad-libbed that exact line before?”
Eliza Coupe: That is a great question. We all have a unique way of speaking — or our characters all speak similarly, but maybe it’s the different inflections we use. Even when I read a script now, I can kind of tell how someone will say the lines. But what’s great is that every actor continually surprises me — how they see a line and how they say it. For me personally, the best way to do that is by being the character, it informs how you’ll say the line. How I’d say something is completely different than how Jane would say something. In real life, you say things differently all the time. You have to remember that just because you’re a character and you say things certain ways, it doesn’t mean you have to say things exactly the same. Being spontaneous off of that is just playing the scene.
Casey Wilson: That was like a Master Class!
Does filming ever feel out of control?
Zachary Knighton: We always break and lose it. It usually happens on Friday at 2 a.m. when we’re tired and ready to go home.
Damon Wayans Jr.: I remember when Eliza kept coming in and leaving. It was a kickball scene. We did something to her where we were all laughing. Zach, you were in that, right? Eliza would come in and just laugh as soon as she came in.
Zachary Knighton: Was that when you were moonwalking to first base?
Damon Wayans Jr.: That hurt my calves.
Zachary Knighton: You looked so good doing it though.
Damon Wayans Jr.: It felt good.
Does the writing ever seem so crazy on the page that you’re not sure how it’ll make sense when you’re filming? Adam Pally played a bear for an entire episode recently.
Elisha Cuthbert: Or me playing Marilyn Monroe with a man’s voice [for the Halloween episode]. When I got that script, I was terrified. Because I thought, “How will I make this believable?” And two, we tested my regular voice, and then we tried it with an altered voice. Then we did a version where I was talking raspy. Ultimately they ended up using my real performance voice. But it was like, “Oh my god. This is crazy.” But the producers saw me doing the Marilyn thing, and they were like, “She doesn’t look like a guy. How did the boobs happen?” But then we showed the producers pictures of how great some of these drag queens look, and how hard it is to tell the difference. I think, ultimately, having all the right conversations to bring it down and make it work, it ended up working out great. After that, it was a free-for-all. I was game to do anything. I thought, “If I can pull that off, I can do anything.” But we’ve all had our crazy moments of, “What?! No way!” Those moments.
Eliza Coupe: The bear thing was very interesting. But I will say, I laughed every time he turned over with the two cubs. Everything having to do with bears — not the sports team — gets me going.
Casey Wilson: Sometimes things are so crazy on the page that they don’t even air — like, a character named “Old Penny”? Penny had this dream, and they age me to be like 80. In the dream, I am having tea with [laughs] miniature ponies that were all colorfully braided. Literally they were intense. They were on the ground eating off of plates in my face. [In disbelief], I was like, “What show is this?” So I guess they’re going to put it on the DVD.
Finally, can you tease any upcoming episodes?
Casey Wilson: We have a kickball episode coming up! Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears is Penny’s love interest. Because that’s an obvious choice… And in the season finale, Penny thinks she has a boyfriend, but he cancels [on a wedding date] at the last minute. First she’s bragging to everyone that she’s finally not going to get the singles table, and then Derek — Stephen Guarino‘s back, it’s his wedding — Derek’s like, “You’re not at the singles table. You’re at the Skype table,” which is people who can’t be at the wedding are on computers, and they’re set up on seats. They’re Skype-ing in from all over the country. So she meets Brian Austin Green at the Skype table. And she has to dance with Stephen Guarino’s uncle. He wants to take a dance around the floor, and so she’s dancing with a computer.
Elisha Cuthbert: I saw the Skype table. Actually, I saw it on camera and it looked so cool! Everyone on the screen, kind of talking, interacting. Very neat.