IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA Rob McElhenney Interview

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Rob McElhenney spoke with us about his role as Mac in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Mac looks a little different this year and you can thank donuts for that.  I don’t know about you but I’m kind of into “cultivating mass” Mac.  This season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is hilarious so far.  Don’t miss It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Thursday nights only on FX.

Conference Call Highlights:

Q:  How much of the show is scripted versus you guys just rippin’?

Rob McElhenney: Well, we usually try to do at least one or two takes completely scripted. So, we very carefully and arduously over probably the longest span of the production cycle spend writing, and I’d say we get at least one or two, maybe three, takes of it exactly as scripted. And then from that point forward we’ll ad lib and maybe change the scene, or if certain things aren’t working we’ll make cuts. And then, in the editing room we have either scripted or non-scripted takes, and then sometimes we find that it just works better in script form, and sometimes it just works better as a completely new scene, and we’ll build something completely different in post.

Q:  Do you ever worry that you go too far?

Rob McElhenney: No, but mostly because we have—I think we have a really sensitive barometer for that, and ultimately we have a rule, which is, if it comes across as the characters being mean and abusive, then it’s funny. But, if it comes across as the writers or the creator or the producers being abusive or mean, then it’s not funny. And, I think ultimately the audience can tell the difference.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your viewpoint as one of the actors/producers/writers with the show?

Rob McElhenney: Yes. I mean, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. For us, it’s just sort of been that way from the very beginning. And, because it was such a grassroots show, and because we didn’t know how to make a TV show, we just kind of figured it out as we went along. You know, it’s the really, the only way we know how to do it, and we’ve definitely—over the years—have gotten a little more patient and certainly a lot more respectful of each person’s individual role on the show. And thus far now, I think, in Season 7, we’ve spent a lot of time delegating responsibility, and that’s really been, I think, the key to the show continuing to grow and to get as good as it’s gotten.  So, it used to be that we would sit behind the monitors, and right behind the director’s ear, and kind of be really, I think, ultimately overbearing, and I think we’ve gotten to a point where we work with the directors. Well, this year one director, Matt Shakman, we’ve gotten to a really great rhythm with him where we’re getting what we want, and he’s getting what he wants, and everybody’s happy.

Q:  One of the big things this season we can expect is, you putting on a lot of weight and getting fat. Could you tell us more about that? You actually put on what, 50 pounds I think it is?  What was the reasoning behind this? Were you guys just like, “Oh, we think it’d be funny is Mac got fat?”

Rob McElhenney: Yes. A little over 50 pounds. I think the final count is like 52 or something—53. No. Ultimately, what happened was, it was in between seasons last year; six into seven. And, I was watching a popular sitcom, and I noticed that the actors were getting better looking as the years were going by, and I started to think about any show that I have ever seen in which that wasn’t the case. I feel like shows in their sixth, seventh, and eighth season, the actors have a lot more money, they become a little bit more famous, and they have better access to better wardrobe, new hair, new teeth, sometimes plastic surgery. And, I thought how untrue of life that was, that especially characters like this who abuse themselves in so many different ways, would start to look—would start to deteriorate over time and certainly wouldn’t look better.  And, our goal has always been to try and do what’s not being done on television, and literally deconstructing the sitcom. So, where most sitcoms try to make the characters as lovable and likable, and as far I’m concerned, as fake as possible, we try to go the opposite, which is to make them as deplorable as possible, just to see if we can get away with it. And, it seems like the audience responds to that. So, for me, it wasn’t just about getting overweight, it was about trying to look as unattractive as I possibly could. So, it was as if, what would happen if the character would completely just let himself go and his age caught up to him? So, I grew a disgusting beard, I didn’t wash my hair, and I was 50 pounds overweight, and yet the character still thought he looked good. That to me was funny. Simply getting overweight, that would be just a stunt, and that wasn’t very funny to me.

Q:  What else can we expect from Season 7, besides that?

Rob McElhenney: Well, one of the episodes I’m really, really proud of, and I think it’s really funny is—a few of our writers were really into the show Toddlers and Tiaras,  which is about a children’s beauty pageant, and we thought, “Man, that would be really funny to see these characters in a situation like that.” And, we’re always trying to do more musical episodes, because we had such a great response to our past musical episodes, like Nightman Cometh, and when we started the band. So, this was an opportunity to kind of fuse the two together, and I think that will be our third episode of the season.

Q:  Do you have an end game in mind, like as far as how seasons that you see the show running for, where the characters are going to go?  Obviously you don’t want to spoil things like that. How long you see it running for?

Rob McElhenney: Well, originally we did. And, what we found is that we just kept thinking that the show was going to get old after awhile as most sitcoms do, but I think we have a couple of things on our side.  One is that we don’t do 22 or 24 episodes like most sitcoms. We’ve done as few as seven and as many as fifteen. But we’ve never exceeded 15, and I think that that’s helped us just from a content standpoint.  So, we have that kind of going in our favor, so it’s not about the amount of years. It’s more about the amount of episodes. And, every time I kind of mention to fans, “Hey, do you think that this is going to get old?” they keep saying, “Well, it hasn’t gotten old, yet.”  So, our feeling is, if we can keep making the episodes and people keep watching them, then we’ll try to do it as long as possible, and I think a barometer for us will be each year saying, “Is this episode as good or better than the season before it?” And, if the answer is no we’ll have to think about wrapping it up. And, if it is, we’ll keep making them. And, as of now we’re under contract for at least two more.

Q:  Just out of pure curiosity, in your journey to put on 50 pounds, is there a particular food item you found most effective?

Rob McElhenney: Donuts.  Yes. I actually worked with a nutritionist to try and do it as healthy as possible, but at a certain point I just needed to consume as many calories as possible. And, he said go for the donuts so that’s what I did. I would literally eat six to eight donuts everyday through production. That was amazing. I will not lie to you.  It was actually from a local donut shop that baked them fresh daily. I was originally buying some of those donuts that you can find prepackaged in the supermarkets, and my nutritionist was like, “Look. If you’re going to eat donuts everyday, don’t eat those, because they have a shelf life of six months, and they’re pumped full of so many preservatives and chemicals that you’re going to wind up even sicker than you would be otherwise.” So, I was literally encouraged to find a healthier form of donut, and I found that in the form of a local bakery.

Q:  There was a lot of blood and stuff in the first four episodes, so why is that?

Rob McElhenney: I don’t know if we intentionally did that. I know what you’re talking about. Certainly in the season premiere, I don’t think we were intentionally trying to get gory. I think it was just well, what would happen in this moment that people would not expect? And, hopefully that scene with Charlie in the limousine you were not expecting what happened.  And certainly what happens in the final scene as he gets audited, you’re not quite expecting that, either. So, ultimately that’s always our goal; it’s never to shock or to be gory or gross or anything like that.

Q:  How did you do the vomiting of the blood? Did he have like a tube hooked to the side of his face that we couldn’t see?

Rob McElhenney: Yes, we have an amazing special effects team, and they literally like create this sort of tube that is painted green that goes over the side of  his cheek and then from certain angles it looks like he’s projectile vomiting. But then, you’re ultimately able to, in post, go through and paint out the green and just paint back in his cheek.  Yes, it’s pretty cool. Like Avatar.

Q:  Did you guys use a green screen for when you were on the raft in the ocean?

Rob McElhenney: Well, we used green screen plates. Yes, we were in the ocean, but we couldn’t go out into the middle of the ocean to shoot it. It would just be too difficult and expensive and dangerous, but we did wind up shooting right on the beach. So, we were in the ocean, but the background would have been a jetty and the beach. So we thought, “Well, if we just put up green screen plates, then we can create the look.” I think ultimately it’s going to look as good as a sitcom can get it. If we had more time and money, we could’ve made it look perfect, but I think people get the joke.

Q:  When you guys are coming up with storylines, do any of you ever say, “No, my character would never do that?”

Rob McElhenney: No, pretty much because our characters would do anything if it suited their needs in the moment. So like, even forms of like great ultraism, or any acts of great ultraism, would still play regardless of how deplorable our characters were if they felt like it was going to garner them what they wanted in that particular moment. Because, then you buy it, because you know what the motivation is, even if in the moment the motivation is selfless, you know ultimately it’s going to be selfish.

Q:  When you’re on hiatus, are you pursuing other work like auditioning or writing other things, or just taking a much-needed break?

Rob McElhenney: No, I feel like I’ll take a break when I’m in my 40s. I think right now I want to take as much time as I have to take advantage of the opportunities that we have because of the show. So, I’m writing a movie, and I know the guys are writing a movie and working on a couple of other TV shows, and we’re producing an animated show for FX that will be on next year. So, we try to stay busy.

Q:  This season is looking fantastic, spectacular, and obviously it requires some planning. What are you thinking, assuming you’re getting approved for Season 8?

Rob McElhenney: Yes, we actually we just signed an overall deal for the next two years with an option for the tenth season, so we’re definitely coming back for Seasons 8 and 9. And, what we’re going to do is, cut the order back to ten episodes, at least for Season 8. We’re not sure about Season 9.  And, ultimately that’s because we want to make sure that the quality of the show stays up to par, and ultimately we’d all love to do 15, 20 episodes, because it would be incredibly lucrative. But, I think, really when it comes down to it we don’t want to ever feel like we’ve sold out our fans.  And as frustrating as it might be for us and for the fans to only get to watch ten episodes, and for us to only make ten episodes next year, I think, ultimately, it will keep the quality of the show up. And, to me, I believe that this season, the seventh season, is our strongest season yet. Which to me, it makes me incredibly optimistic for the future.

Q:  Has there ever been a joke or idea that you guys have approached the network or the directors, and been like, “Hey we want to do this” but they flat-out told you no just because it was too edgy or too extreme?

Rob McElhenney: We never got a no. We did get, in the first year, we wanted to make—I don’t know how familiar you are with the first season, but we did an episode in which a teacher is accused, not guilty of, but accused—falsely accused, actually—of molesting a couple of the students. And, it turns out that it didn’t happen. We wanted to make that a Catholic priest, and the network thought that that was maybe inciting some issues that they didn’t want to incite. And, I think ultimately we went with the gym teacher just because it was the first year of the show, and we weren’t sure if the people were really going to understand the show and what we were going for, and recognize that we weren’t making some sort of indictment on the Catholic church. It was more of an indictment of these ridiculous characters that they thought they were going to get away with accusing a teacher of sexually abusing somebody. So ultimately, I think you can get away with that in Season 7, but I think they made the right call in Season 1. It might have just upset people for no reason, because they didn’t understand what we were trying to do.

Q:  Do you guys plan on ever doing another Night Man Cometh tour?

Rob McElhenney: We actually, we thought about doing it this year, to promote this year, because we—two years ago we did the East Coast and the West Coast, but we took a lot of flack from all our fans in the Midwest and in the South who wanted us to come there. You know, the Chicagoes and the New Orleans and the Dallases and the Houstons and the Kansas Cities, and we really wanted to make it happen, we just didn’t have the time. So, this year we talked about doing it, but Glenn—it would’ve been right around now—and Glenn’s wife would have been having a baby. So, we decided let’s put it off until next year. And so, I think we’re planning to do it next year.

Q:  You have some pretty fantastic guest stars and cameos, especially from actors from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Who’s the one person you haven’t had on the show yet that you hope to get on at some point?

Rob McElhenney: We worked on John Tesh for awhile, but that didn’t work out.  That would be amazing. We had a couple—this year we have The Kings of Leon, which we’re super excited about.  Yes, They’re friends of ours, and they were really interested in doing an episode of the show, so we wrote them in something really cool in the season finale. Yes. It’s going to be fun.

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
Rob McElhenney Interview – Mac in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia & Creator/Executive Producer/Writer
Thursday Nights at 10 EST on FX
September 15, 2011
Lena Lamoray

 

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