Christopher Meloni and Rachael Harris took some time out of their busy schedules to discuss Surviving Jack. Surviving Jack premieres tonight at 9:30/8:30 central following the American Idol results show on FOX. This is THE best comedy of the year. You do not want to miss tonight’s premiere. I can’t say enough good things about this show. You will instantly be hooked. Your Thursday nights are now going to be about Surviving Jack and Vikings.
Conference Call Interview Highlights:
Q: Will either of you be live tweeting the premiere episode, and are you looking forward to the fan feedback you’ll be receiving instantly after the episode airs?
Rachael Harris: I’m going to try to live tweet it with Claudia Lee. So, I know that I’m going to do that. I think the gals are going to handle that part of the thing. But yes, I love the instant feedback from fans. It’s really fun.
Q: Can you just talk about how you became involved in the show?
Christopher Meloni: For me, it’s just kind of the usual – lot of scripts sent my way. I responded to this one because I thought it was the best written. I knew Bill Lawrence both personally and professionally. So, I trusted his taste and his ability to give this project the best shot of seeing the light of day. And then after that, I met Connor and Claudia and then Rachael came onboard. So, it all just fit in rather well for me.
Rachael Harris: Yes and for me, I came into the project later and what attracted me to it was I had worked with Justin and Patrick before on another show. I had met them and they were lovely and collaborative. But really, when I knew Chris was attached, I thought that was a very big draw for me just because I had loved his work in so many other things.
Q: What has been your favorite part overall of working on the show so far?
Christopher Meloni: I would have to say how they’ve written the characters and their relationship to one another, the parent’s relationship, Rachael and me, and the parent’s vis-à-vis the kids. I just think they’re well written relationships.
Rachael Harris: Yes and I can say yes to that and then also, my favorite thing is just rehearsing and trying to find like the best things that we can. Like I find the rehearsal process for the show has been really fun and really collaborative.
Christopher Meloni: Good answer. Damn, I wish I thought of that.
Rachael Harris: I know. I know. I know. But really, the fun part is making it work. You’re not in control of the outcome or what other people think, but I know we’ve had a really good time making it. So, that’s been the best part so far.
Q: What is it like to work with Claudia Lee and what are some of her strengths as an actress?
Rachael Harris: Okay. I will say that it’s the best thing. It’s like she’s very professional and can still maintain being a 17-year-old. I think also she’s just very—without being affected or trying too hard, she’s just a very smart gal and I’ve always said I want to be Claudia Lee when I grow up. She’s more mature at times at dealing with different situations than I am, and I just find her very kind and generous.
Christopher Meloni: Right. I’m kind of in line with that. She’s smart. She’s savvy. She’s unaffected. She has a very—there’s a clarity about who she is, what she wants, what she’s doing and on top of that, she’s very kind to my daughter and takes her out to do “girl” stuff. So, that’s pretty cool.
Q: Do either of you have a favorite Claudia story either on set or off set?
Christopher Meloni: Well, it’s actually—well, I have a couple, but I’ll just stay with one. One on of the episodes, she is berating Rachael, her mother, Rachael Harris. She’s berating Rachael Harris, her mother, about cooking little pigs in a blanket, frozen pigs in a blanket and her line is, “Mom, really? Be better.” Well, that made me laugh so much, as well as my daughter who was on set that day that my daughter actually made up sweatpants for Christmas for each of us which on the back, on the butt says, “Meloni” and on the front panel, it says, “Be better.” She inspired that Christmas gift for the Meloni family. So, we always have her around the house basically.
Rachael Harris: Oh, my gosh. I love that. I love that story. Okay. Mine really quickly is in a similar vein though, but I was concerned about the way that I looked in something and she just grabs my arm and she says, “Rachael, just stop. Just stop. You look great.” It was like, “Thank you, Claudia.” It was kind of like in that vein of like “Just don’t, just don’t do that. Just don’t.” That’s just very much her. She’s like, “Just don’t worry about that.” I don’t know. Very strange. Very mature or I should say wise. Wise is probably better than mature.
Q: Chris, can you talk a little bit about the American Gladiator scene in episode two and having fun with regard to the physical comedy?
Christopher Meloni: That was a lot of fun to do. It was pretty precarious to be tethering on top of furniture while hurling broomsticks around with pillows attached to the ends. Those three guys, my son and his two buddies on the show, are always grab-assing around anyway. So, it gave me a nice, fun opportunity to get in there and basically “play with the boys.” So, that was a lot of fun.
Q: Any fashion or pop culture stuff from that time period that makes either of you cringe?
Rachael Harris: For me, it would be acid wash jeans, but it wasn’t just acid wash. It was the fact that they were like regular jeans and they had a flap that came up like as a cinch. Like a belt that went all the way up to the bottom of your rib cage. They were like stylish mom jeans and we all wore them and thought that they were amazing. And the other one would just be—I think it would be self-belts where you have a belt that’s the same pattern as the dress. I know. I know.
Q: How did working with younger actors, actors who were born later in the ‘90s, how did you help them understand more about the ‘90s because obviously you guys lived through that era and these younger actors were born later? And so, they might not know a lot about the fashion or the video games and stuff like that. So, how did you help them understand stuff like that or give them details about that?
Christopher Meloni: Well, very slowly because, first of all, we’d break them to the news that there was a time in history where cell phones and computers were not there and they really couldn’t wrap their heads around that. So, we pulled out a PowerPoint presentation for them. …Rachael?
Rachael Harris: No, that just made me laugh. Yes, we did do that, but then also, they didn’t recognize a lot of the music from the ‘90s. Like the makeup and hair people, we’d be singing songs from the ‘90s and we’d be like, “Oh, that’s so amazing” and we would just get blank stares from Claudia Lee. Connor’s pretty hip. Connor, I feel like, kind knew the music, but the other boys, Kevin Hernandez and Tyler Foden, their eyes would glaze over, like, “Yes, look at these old folks talking about the ‘90s,” which was hard.
Christopher Meloni: Very difficult. Very difficult.
Q: How does your characters’ marriage differ from other marriages we’ve seen on TV sitcoms before?
Rachael Harris: Well, just steer me in the right direction if I start to meander. Well, first of all, I think what’s different is kind of no eye rolling and I never put my hands on my hips, like, “Oh, Jack, what are you doing?” because obviously, he’s taking up parenting as I go back to law school. But, I think the thing that’s great about our relationship is they really love each other. They don’t feel put upon by each other. I’m not the ball and chain and he’s definitely not this man that I don’t respect. I think what’s different is we have a deep respect for each other. We both really like each other and we both have each other’s backs when it comes to parenting. We may differ as far as how we would go about things, but at the end of the day we’re both really glad to be parenting together. We really like each other. How’s that?
Christopher Meloni: I like that. Yes, I think that one of the marching orders was how deeply—and it comes from the pilot episode. “Jack,” my character, deeply, deeply loves this, not needs Rachael’s character, “Joanne” in his life. He voices that without compromise or anything. He loves his wife deeply and unashamed to admit to it.
Q: You have great chemistry with each other and the relationship really does feel like you’re married from the pilot. Did you just naturally click?
Christopher Meloni: Yes, you know what it was is we met each other, hated each other, and really said—I was like, “She’s so overbearing” and she’s like, “Oh, he’s Mr. know it all” and then we bumped into each other and she dropped her schoolbooks. I picked them up and the whole time we really like secretly liked each other. It just happened that way. Right, Rachael?
Rachael Harris: Yes. Exactly. No, I think we genuinely have—I know that I really, really like Chris and I love the way that he—I admire him. Like I like his work, but I also like the way he talks about his family and I love the way that he talks about his kids and for me, that was really appealing. So, I think that when you genuinely like someone, you—I think … chemistry with them.
Christopher Meloni: It’s easier to please them.
Rachael Harris: No, me too. No, but I think that we knew that chemistry—I think we knew what kind of relationship they have, but I think you can’t just materialize chemistry. I think it’s there or it’s not.
Christopher Meloni: And I’ll also say this if I can throw this in; I still feel like our angles of how we go about getting to what’s funny to each of us is different, but we both understand “funny.” What tickles our funny bone is in the same area. It overlaps, but it’s also a little different and I found that very appealing. The bottom line was she’s obviously very funny and understands what funny is and has great timing. Does that make sense to you, Rachael?
Rachael Harris: It makes perfect sense, yes. It also helps in the sense that we’re both each individuals, but that come together really well.
Q: Chris, I don’t think a lot of people know that your early TV career involved a lot of sitcoms, right, or several anyway. It’s funny that you’re still kind of playing off this tough guy persona here. “Jack” is funny, but he’s also kind of scary. Was that part of the appeal, and were you actively looking for a comedy after Law & Order?
Christopher Meloni: I was leaning towards a comedy and the threatening “Jack” thing, I didn’t intentionally make it thus. I guess all I did—it’s just how the script struck me and I think possibly my physicalness kind of lends itself to that in combination with how Connor plays his part. He seems like he’s a kid who seems perpetually uneasy in his own skin. When you compare that to a guy like “Jack” who seems to me perpetually absolutely calm and comfortable in his skin, it really then makes my character a little more threatening or whatever.
Q: This is based on Justin’s book, I Suck at Girls. At what point did the adaptation shift to focus more on the dad character? Did either of you meet Justin’s dad and get some blunt advice from him?
Christopher Meloni: I haven’t met him yet. I look forward to it. I think he’s the kind of guy who’s like the kind of guy who’s like, “Yes, I’ll meet him when it’s a success.” If it’s not, he doesn’t want to be— But, I always thought that it’s seen through Justin’s, Connor/Justin’s eyes, the son’s eyes and Justin’s book really kind of is all about his dad, how his dad influenced his life with his aphorisms and his piffy statements. If anything, I think the show has caught up everybody in the swirl, meaning Rachael and my relationship, how important that is, the strength of that. That’s how I feel.
Q: Is there a particular aspect from the ‘90s that you wish was still around, or maybe it’s the whole no cell phones and Internet?
Christopher Meloni: I wish they’d bring Grunge back.
Rachael Harris: Yes. I wish that we could have it both ways. I wish that we could have like six hours, six to eight hours of Internet and cell phones and then for six or eight hours we have no access. So, we have to actually just like use a land line and call people and wait for calls and things like that. How about that?
Christopher Meloni: Yes. Don’t you wish we could have self-discipline now and not—yes.
Rachael Harris: Yes. I mean I guess I could do that, right, Chris? I could just say, you know what?
Christopher Meloni: I guess so. It’s difficult. It’s hard, Rachael.
Rachael Harris: Yes. It’s really hard.
Q: If the two of you could teach a college course of your creation, what would you teach?
Christopher Meloni: Adapting books to film: The decisions that much be made. I just find that fascinating. They have to take a book and figure out what to cut, what to condense.
Rachael Harris: I think my college course would be just on the premise of saying “Yes and” instead of saying no. It would be more like philosophical as far as saying “Yes and” to live.
Christopher Meloni: The power of positive thinking?
Rachael Harris: Probably, yes. Maybe that is a college course already being taught. That would be my own like spin on it.
Q: How do you guys most feel that you’re similar and different from your characters?
Christopher Meloni: I’m taller than “Jack” in real life, but past that, our parenting styles are exactly similar.
Rachael Harris: I don’t have kids in real life and “Joanne” has two. I’m really just not old enough to have children that age in real life, and I’m kidding.
Christopher Meloni: “Joanne” wouldn’t do that.
Rachael Harris: And then, I think that “Joanne” likes to rock a lot of shoulder pads on the show and I don’t.
Christopher Meloni: Oh, Rachael. Really?
Rachael Harris: All right. I do. I do wear them.
Christopher Meloni: Make peace with it. It’s time.
Rachael Harris: I know.
Christopher Meloni: It’s okay. She’s wearing stone washed denim right now. Oh, you cut her off.