411mania Interviews: David Alan Basche (The Exes)
Posted by Al Norton on 11.30.2011
411's Al Norton sits down for an exclusive interview with David Alan Basche, star of the new TV Land comedy The Exes.
David Alan Basche is one of those actors who you see all the time but are never sure of his name; in the last few years alone you've seen him starring on The Starter Wife and Lipstick Jungle, guesting on all three Law & Order's, White Collar, The Mentalist, and Royal Pains, and up on the big screen in Sex and the City 2 and Real Steel. His newest role is starring opposite Kristen Johnston, Donald Faison, and Wayne Knight in the new TV Land comedy The Exes, which debuts tonight at 10:30pm following the season premiere of Hot in Cleveland.
Al Norton: How far along in development was The Exes when you came on board?
David Alan Basche: It was almost done, I think. Honestly, I think I was one of the last pieces of the puzzle. Originally when I heard about The Exes it was to audition for the part that Donald Faison plays, the part of Phil. My wife put me on tape here in New York on our little video camera and sent it off. The network said, "we know he's perfect for this role" and then a little bit later said, "our mistake, he's not Phil. We think he might be the other guy. Hold on." Then I heard they cast Donald and I got much more interested in the project, and then I heard they cast Wayne Knight and I was much, much more interested in the project. They got back in touch and told me they wanted me to audition for the role of Stuart, kind of the Felix role, the Jack Lemmon/Tony Randall part, and I said, "great, thanks for the compliment. I think I'd be better for that as well."
Later I heard they had cast Kristen Johnston and Kelly Stables and really couldn't have been happier. Once I heard I got to stand next to all those funny people it was really a no-brainer.
Al Norton: Not that you aren't quite funny but Donald, Kristen, and Wayne have such a great comedic track record, did it make you feel like you had to step it up to work with them?
David Alan Basche: Yes, and that's the best thing about it. It's like when you play tennis; you play with someone better than you and you get better. I hope that's what happened with the show. You really can't be near Wayne and not be funnier; he's that kind of guy, so funny and so smart. And the same is true with Donald. I am hoping that I got good game now because of those guys.
They're certainly all more recognizable than I am and I hope that bodes well for the success of the show. It was amazing to work with them. I really did feel like standing amongst those folks, I was really honored to be working with them. I know a lot of people say that but it's not bullshit from me. I was really happy to be working with this group of people and I can only hope that I brought the funny.
Al Norton: Is it harder to be the straight man?
David Alan Basche: In some ways. In some ways it's easier because you're not relied upon for some of the bigger gags. I don't know harder but it's different to be the straight guy, to not just keep a straight face but also make doing very little very funny. There were times in the episodes where I would be thinking, "ok, I'm listening in this scene but I know they want this to be humorous so what do I do while I am listening that doesn't take away from what my fellow actors are doing?" In that sense as a straight man it is a very different challenge, especially in a sitcom.
Al Norton: With the cast you are working with I am assuming the gag reel for the show will be very funny.
David Alan Basche: (Laughing) I think it will be. At the wrap party after our 10th episode they showed some of those and I did pee a little bit. It was really funny. Between Kristen and Donald those outtakes are wildly profane and x-rated, but very funny. What you hope is that the show is as funny as the gag reel. You've got to figure as an actor if you're show is funnier than your gag reel, you're golden.
Al Norton: Fans of television love that all the cable networks are getting into original programming because it means a lot more viewing options but actors must love it even more because it means more jobs.
David Alan Basche: Absolutely. On the one hand, the disintegration of the network audience among the newly found 500 cable channels poses a problem or a challenge for producers and distributers as certainly the audience as a whole has been fractured but the truth is, as artists, there are a lot more choices. What's wonderful about TV Land is they went back to a classic formula. They said, "what do we love about all these sitcoms that we've been rerunning, like Cosby and Family Ties and Facts of Life and Sanford and Son? What do we love about these sitcoms?"
It's the wild characters – the clearly defined but eccentric characters, the outlandish situations, hence situation comedy, and in the end, the characters, even the crazy ones; do the right thing; the stick up for their friends or their family, they learn a lesson no one thought they could learn. There is a little bit of heart there. Look at Betty White; it doesn't mean it's not nasty, fowl mouthed, and a little bit despicable, it just means in the end there's some heart. TV Land has really captured that formula.
FX is a channel with a particular brand right now, with Sons of Anarchy and Justified, and they did The Shield, and AMC has Mad Men and The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, and I think TV Land is similar in that they have found their brand and are sticking to it. I, for one, am thrilled about it. As an actor happy to have the work, for sure. When I shot the pilot it was the beginning of pilot season and part of me said, "do I need to be talking to TV Land right now because all the other networks are casting their shows, too" but as I read the script and saw how funny it was and then saw who kept coming on board, my representation said, "they're not fooling around. They're willing to pay actors what they are worth, they will commit to 10 episodes, they're really on it" and I realized there wasn't much difference between them and the larger networks.
Al Norton: And quite a vote of confidence to get the post Hot in Cleveland timeslot.
David Alan Basche: Yes, we're thrilled with that. You've got to be happy when you get a great lead-in like that. Betty and I did some promotions together and when I saw her I gave her a big kiss and said, "I'm pretty sure I have you to thank for my job" and I told her to keep up the good work because my kid needs college tuition.
Al Norton: I assume that Betty White more than lives up to the hype?
David Alan Basche: Exponentially. Betty White exponentially lives up to the hype. I said to her, "my wife says I can give you a big wet kiss because I have you to thank for my job" and she said, "did you brush?" She was right on it. She is a spitfire.
We're thrilled to get scheduled behind the network's tent pole. As good news for us is that Fran Drescher's show launched in that same time slot earlier this year and it's a huge hit. Now they have these two great shows – Hot in Cleveland and Happily Divorced – and Retired at 35 is also a strong part of their lineup. We hope to come in, hit it out of the park, and in four or five weeks they order some more episodes. We would love that.
Al Norton: What happened with The Starter Wife? It seemed like people liked it and it was doing reasonably well, and then it just never came back.
David Alan Basche: It was doing great. I think it was a victim of a slide into recession, and it may have been in the wrong place. Honestly, USA is a very male oriented network. Even the new stuff, like Covert Affairs and Necessary Roughness, they have female leads but they're very male based. Burn Notice, White Collar, lots of WWE. I've worked for them since Starter Wife and they're great to work for but I think it was harder for them to generate a strong female audience than they thought. Debra Messing brings a great fan base with her, for sure, but I don't think the female viewers came with her as much as they thought. The overall numbers were great and I was surprised when they cancelled it. I still to this day have people come up to me on the subway in New York and say, "oh, I love Starter Wife, when is it coming back?"
Al Norton: M y guess is that people recognize you all the time but don't know from which particular show, they just know that they know you.
David Alan Basche: It's awesome because I still have some anonymity. Not that I wouldn't want some of it to go away (laughing). I learned a long time ago to be careful of that because people will look at me – and I have one of those faces that people think they know anyway – and I know they're looking and trying to figure it out. I am not ever bothered in any way when someone approaches me to tell me they enjoyed my work and frankly, any actors who get bothered by that are a little full of themselves. The joke is I've had people said, "I love you on Boston Public."
I was doing a show on ABC a few years back and I thought I was hot shit. I was standing on a street corner, hanging out with a bunch of high school buddies. I was playing the big spender, taking care of everybody, and this couple came up to me and said, "we recognize you" and right away I said, "yes, you do. I'm on a show on ABC on primetime; it's called Oh, Grow Up. Thank you very much." The little old lady said, "nope, that's not it. You were our waiter for 5 years", and the husband says, "and not a very good one." This was in front of my closest friends, so I learned very quickly that when someone says, "Oh, I know you from somewhere" that I say, "where did you go to school? I live in Harlem, do you live up in the neighborhood?" I'll try anything before I say, "I'm an actor."
It's the best job in the world. If my worst problem is that people stare at me and know my face but don't know my name, my life is very good.
Al Norton: I noticed on your IMDD page that you have the acting trifecta of doing three Law and Order guest spots (original, SVU, and Criminal Intent) as three different characters.
David Alan Basche: My wife, a fabulous actress, has also done the three playing different people. I've been lucky enough to play distinct characters on each of the shows. The last time I did Criminal Intent my agent wanted me to turn it down because my character was killed in the opening and that was it. I said, "wait a minute, how does he get shot?" They told me I took two in the chest and I said, "I'll do it." I always wanted to get shot on camera. The pyrotechnic guys put the squibs on me, it was fantastic. Not only was I shot but it was outside in the Meat Packing district, so I was trendy shot.
Al Norton: You worked with Alan Ball on Oh Grow Up, which was one of his first TV projects; could you tell even then that this was a guy of enormous talent and creativity?
David Alan Basche: Absolutely. I think what I could tell at the time was that he had a very low level of ego. What was great was that he had just finished American Beauty and sort of shrugged it off, saying, "I just made this little movie, I don't know how it's going to be." He had TV chops from writing on great shows but felt dissatisfied and felt like he had these quirky stories to tell. He was always willing to let someone else have a funnier joke or listen to someone's idea for a line. I've kept in touch from time to time and he strikes me as still being the same way, still interested in telling stores and having fun. He's a true collaborator. I love seeing all the shows he's done and can't wait to see what twisted thing he does next.
My guess is ABC was kicking themselves for cancelling Oh Grow Up and then a couple of weeks later he won five Oscars.
Al Norton: Pitch me on The Exes.
David Alan Basche. The Exes is the most fun you can have with your pants on, and you can take them off if you want, because we don't care. The Exes is the odd couple but with three guys. It's three ex-husbands living together and they couldn't get more dysfunctional. Watching Wayne Knight sitting on the couch trying to sell things on the internet is fantastic comedy. If you just watched him, that would be a funny show. If you just watched Donald Faison as a misogynistic sports agent, with a different woman every night, dealing with huge sports stars, that would be a funny show. I hope someone might even tune in to the Stuart show, about this nerdy, anxious, neurotic guy. You put the three guys together and I think you'll have such a good time with all the storylines.
And then Kristen Johnston walks across the hall and knocks on the door, saying "I'm not just your divorce attorney, I'm also your landlord", everything gets wildly confused and that makes for good comedy. I've never laughed so hard making a show, and that's a great sign to me.
Don't miss the premiere of The Exes, tonight at 10:30 pm on TVLand.