The actors: As teen actors in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar came of age in the public eye. Gosselaar played Saved By The Bell’s Zack Morris from 1989 to 1994, but has appeared more recently in NYPD Blue, Raising The Bar, and John From Cincinnati. Meyer’s breakthrough role came when he played Travis Birkenstock, the stoner with a heart of gold, in Clueless, though he’s appeared in dozens of other TV shows and films. Together, the two star in TNT’s new law-office dramedy Franklin And Bash. In this special joint Random Roles, they trade stories from their shared teen-actor pasts and beyond.
Franklin And Bash (2011)—“Peter Bash” and “Jared Franklin”
Mark-Paul Gosselaar: I had a previous relationship with TNT because of Raising The Bar for the past few seasons. That was cancelled in 2009. The pilot season of 2010 they gave me a script and said, “Hey, take a look at it, we’ve got some great writers: Kevin Falls, Bill Chais, Jamie Tarses is producing.” They said, “It’s a legal drama,” and I thought, “Oh, that’s not really what I was looking for at this point,” another one back to back. They said, “Now, it’s got a lot of elements of humor and comedy. It’s a little different take on the standard procedural legal drama.” And one thing I noticed right off the bat, they had a particular actor sort of tied to the project, but I saw that there was this relationship between the two guys, Franklin and Bash. Reading the script, I saw the humor, I saw the complexity of the legal cases, but I wasn’t sold on that fact that him and I could possibly be buddies. He fell through. Long story short, Breckin’s name came about, and I said, “Well, if we can get Breckin, I’ll sign on.”
Breckin Meyer: [Laughs.] Long story short, Breckin came in.
MPG: Well, there was a lot of other stuff that was said before you actually came in the room. I don’t know if you were aware of that. We had a lot of long-winded discussions about you, your career, things that you’ve been on.
BM: Did you? Really?
MPG: I could talk about that.
BM: No, it’s like: long story, short Breckin.
MPG: That’s what you heard? See, that’s you, though.
BM: I know. [Puts on childish voice.] I’m sensitive, Mark-Paul.
MPG: That’s how you feel inside. I never used the word short; I’d never mean to do that.
BM: You’re a sweetheart.
MPG: I’m sorry. I apologize.
BM: That’s okay, pumpkin.
MPG: But anyway, so he came on board, and it was born. It was born and it was good. I definitely think we have something going on here.
AVC: The ensemble cast also includes Malcolm McDowell and Kumail Nanjiani.
BM: Absolutely. It’s called Franklin And Bash, but it is an ensemble. I mean, there’s a ton of people on the show, and you want everyone to be strong. And the casting of the show was impressive as hell. When they said Malcolm McDowell, who I’d never worked with and Mark-Paul never worked with—he shows up on set, he’s exactly what you’re hoping Malcolm McDowell is like. He’s devilish, he’s intense, he’s terrifying, he’s really funny, super sweet, he’s just everything.
MPG: We were kind of disappointed because we were hoping for Terence Stamp.
BM: Always hoping for Terence Stamp.
MPG: But then they said Malcolm McDowell.
BM: Then they said Malcolm McDowell, and we’re like, “Okay, fine, we get Terence Stamp’s stunt double.” And then they added Reed Diamond and Kumail, who brought this kind of unusually asexual twist to Pindar. He’s not just the typical computer nerd. It isn’t just the typical Indian guy. He’s just funny, and he put this weird spin on everything. Certain lines he delivered just blew me away, because I had no idea you could even go that route with that line. But he did. They really did give us the best supporting people we could have.
Raising The Bar (2008-2009)—“Jerry Kellerman”
AVC: Mark-Paul, you came from another lawyer show at TNT. Are there common threads between the two?
MPG: I think that’s where the thread basically ends. Peter Bash is nothing like Jerry Kellerman. Jerry was righteous and extremely insecure on the inside, which he masked by being really confident in the room. Peter’s much more confident and sure of his abilities. The two shows are unlike each other because that show was so heavy, Raising The Bar. It was your typical, traditional legal drama, and that’s what TNT wanted, they wanted a complement for The Closer. For this show, it originally was supposed to be on TBS, then they realized during the pilot that we could be sort of a complement for Men Of A Certain Age. This show doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s more about entertainment value and not about trying to teach the audience—
BM: A lesson.
MPG: Or to sort of dictate a point of view. This is about entertainment value, and I think we do a pretty good job of that. Also saying, though, that if you’re coming to our show to watch a legal drama, you’re going to get that too. The cases are complex enough to keep your standard viewer who watches Law & Order entertained, but also the younger demographic will enjoy the show as well. Little bit of everything for everybody. We got men, women.
BM: We got kids.
MPG: You, with your shirt off.
BM: I bring the kids.
Saved By The Bell (1989-1994)—“Zack Morris”
Clueless (1995)—“Travis Birkenstock”
AVC: Do you get tired of talking about Saved By The Bell? Was there a time when you were just over it, and are you proud of it now? I know it was a big deal, for Saved By the Bell fans at least, when you came on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon a couple of years ago as Zack Morris.
MPG: That was only because Fallon had this Saved By The Bell resurgence going. I don’t know what he was trying to do. His show was new, he was trying to get viewers, and he just came up with this idea of doing a Saved By The Bell reunion. The only reason I came on as Zack was because I was supposed to promote Raising The Bar, and I didn’t want to do a straight interview on Fallon. I knew that all he would talk about was Saved By The Bell, because it was relevant at that time. I said, “Well, if I do a straight interview and you’re going to ask me about this reunion, I’m going to say no,” because there is no reunion. It’s something he made up. No one’s going to watch a straight interview. So I came up with the idea to go on as Zack. And it went viral and it did exactly what we needed it to do. We got a huge jump in the ratings the next week, and that was its intention, to do that.
But [Breckin and I] don’t shy away from our past roles. We’re very proud of what we’ve done. We were saying this earlier, generally the fans are positive about our work. It’s not like, “What the fuck were you thinking by doing that show.” They’re excited that Zack Morris or Travis Birkenstock are doing a show. If that translates to viewers who are going to come over and watch our show and we can be on the air for five years, great. Call me Zack, call him Travis. Do whatever you got to do, just watch our show. We’re not trying to prove anything. I’m certainly not trying to prove anything, like, “Oh, look at me, I can do something other than Saved By The Bell.”
AVC: Was there a point in 1996 or something where you were like, “Please stop asking me Zack Morris questions”?
MPG: It wasn’t as big of a show as it is now. It was starting to be syndicated in ’94, ’95. So it wasn’t as big as it is now. We have this whole generation after generation [thing]. It’s the same with [Breckin’s] role. [To Breckin.] Your daughter will probably watch you in Clueless, and that starts a whole other generation. It stays current for some reason.
BM: I think it’s different with a TV series versus a movie sometimes, though. Because TV, it’s free, so it’s in your house all the time.
MPG: You can find a DVD of Clueless for free.
BM: Yes, you could. But I think they feel like you’re part of their family, they know you better than they know someone in a movie. And also it was on longer. It was on for four years or whatever. Clueless was two months out of my life, and then when it came out it did great, which is awesome. And then people remember it, which also great.
But yeah, it’s very rare someone walks up and is like, “You were in Clueless, right? Fuck you!” [Laughs.] It’s very rare. And usually if it does happen, it’s pretty impressive that someone’s got the balls to do that. But really, it’s someone coming up and complimenting your work. It’s what we do for a living, so for someone to come up, whether it was 10 years ago or five years ago, and say, “Hey, I like what you did,” it’s a compliment.
You know, I’m tired of people asking me to give them weed, because I don’t have any.
AVC: They don’t ask you to draw Marvin The Martian?
BM: No. I’d be more than happy to not draw Marvin the Martian because I don’t know how.
Josie And The Pussycats (2001)—“Marco—Du Jour”
Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)—Lead singer
AVC: You’ve worked with some of the people from Clueless since. You’ve worked with Donald Faison a couple times, like in Josie And The Pussycats.
BM: He was in Josie and he was in Can’t Hardly Wait, which are both movies my wife [Deborah Kaplan] directed. She knows Donald. Donald and I were buddies. It was just cameos. It was fun. And because Sethie [Green] was in Can’t Hardly Wait it was like, “Yeah, I’ll come play on set with Seth.” The whole movie was my friends at the time. It was fun to come and do that.
Donald and I are doing an animated project together right now and I see him every week, and it’s just fun to work with your friends. Mark-Paul and I didn’t know each other before this show, but we instantly became buddies. It’s a pleasure to show up to work with your friends, especially friends who take work as seriously as you do.
AVC: What’s the animated project?
BM: I actually can’t talk about it. Legally I’m not allowed. But [Donald] does Robot Chicken for us as well. Donald’s actually our intern. I swear to god, he is an intern in the animation department at Robot Chicken. I mean, he doesn’t get paid and he does grunt work, because he really likes animation and he’s been starting to get into it. I could care less about animation. But Donald is actually our intern. It’s very funny. But he does voices for us as well
Robot Chicken (2005-2011)—“Boba Fett,” “Superman,” “Lindsay Lohan,” and more
AVC: Do you go in to an office for Robot Chicken? What’s the process like?
BM: That’s like my day job. I have an office at Robot Chicken and our writers’ room where we go in and write our show, and across the street we record. Yeah, it’s like my 9-to-5.
King Of The Hill (2000-2010)—Joseph Gribble
AVC: Breckin, you’ve done a bunch of voice work. How did you get into that?
BM: I started doing voice-overs when I was a kid, because I’ve always had the voice I have now. It never changed, so back in the day I was this little raspy kid who’s 11 years old with this voice going [raspy voice], “Hey, how you doing?” So I did a thing in An American Tail, that was one of the first things I did. I did Potato Head Kids. I was a Western potato named Spud. That was it.
It’s funny, you meet these voiceover guys, the real guys who do it, like Hank Azaria, these journeymen, brilliant renaissance men who can do every voice in the world. I do me. I’m not the guy who can jump into doing a dad voice. I’m not going to get that part. That’s not me. So with Robot Chicken, it was like, well I write it, so I can do it. “Hey can anyone in here do Lohan?” [really raspy voice] “I can!” So we’ll just do that. I’m terrible at voiceovers, I just happen to write it, so I get to do it. And King Of The Hill came about the same way, which was I was just kind of goofing off with voices in the booth for another part, and they go, “Hey you want to do Joseph?” And I’m like, “Sure.”
So for the most part, the animation stuff I do is stuff I write. Sethie does Family Guy, which is the greatest job in the world. I tend to do the stuff I write.
AVC: It seems like a pretty good gig.
BM: Sethie on Family Guy is the greatest job ever. You get paid to show up twice a week. You don’t have to shave, and you can literally show up in your pajamas, and sometimes you can do it from your house.
MPG: A lot of those guys do it from their house.
BM: Yeah, and Robot Chicken is not that budgeted a show. We get paid very little and we do it for the love of the game, but it is really fun. And if I ever knew that the Emmy nominations I’d have would be for writing Robot Chicken, I would be very surprised.
MPG: Why don’t you throw that in there?
BM: Also, I have two Emmy nominations for doing Boba Fett. [Laughs.] I also never thought I’d voice Boba Fett, which is maybe the coolest job in the fucking world.
AVC: Does your inner nerd get to really run rampant on Robot Chicken?
BM: It does. There’s a level, though. Our nerd ratio is pretty great on Robot Chicken. It starts with me, and I can tell you that Boba Fett’s ship is called Slave One. And then you go all the way up to the top nerds who can tell you what it runs on. And I can’t do that. That’s where my limit stops. That’s my degree of nerddom. I know Neverending Story trivia; I’ve never seen Star Trek. I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek in my life.
MPG: Michael, my son, was asking me if Boba Fett’s ship is called Slave One, what was his father’s ship called.
BM: I don’t know.
MPG: What is it called? Slave?
BM: We have one bit where it was Lando Calrissian and Boba, and we had Billy Dee [Williams]. And he was like [imitates Billy Dee], “Hey Boba, I like your ship, don’t care for the name.” [Laughs.] And it was pretty great.
The Wonder Years (1988)—“Brad Gaines” and “Gary Cosey”
AVC: Did you guys know that you were both on The Wonder Years?
BM: We knew when Fred Savage directed episode seven of Franklin And Bash.
MPG: The one with Jason Alexander.
BM: Yeah, Freddie directed the one with Jason Alexander. I knew I had been on it, but I didn’t know he had. And when Fred came on it was kind of funny.
MPG: He actually remembered you being on it and not me.
BM: That’s true, he remembered that I was on. It was a big moment in my career as an actor to be on The Wonder Years, because it was the season première of the second season, when it was blowing up. People were like, “Wow what is this show and that kid’s amazing, that Fred Savage.” And it was pre-Travis Birkenstock, but it was the same character basically. The bad boy story.
AVC: Your voice is exactly the same now as it was playing this badass 12-year-old.
BM: Yeah, he was a little smoking kid. And you can see, I didn’t know how to smoke before. So in the show, which is actually pretty funny, the only reference I had for smokers was Andrew Dice Clay. So you see when I light it I throw my wrist out like a jackass. [Laughs.] With the lighter too. Like, suddenly there’s this little Dicey kid set in the ’70s. Yeah, he didn’t remember that Mark-Paul had been on. Everyone went through that show back in the day. If you were a young actor you had to be on The Wonder Years at some point.
AVC: Do you remember when you got that, Mark-Paul? Was it a big deal for you to get The Wonder Years?
MPG: I was on a few shows before.
BM: Was that post-Saved By The Bell?
MPG: No, that was before. I think I was on Highway To Heaven at that point and Punky Brewster. I think that was all around the same time.
BM: You did an episode of Punky Brewster?
MPG: I did.
BM: A couple?
MPG: Just one.
Highway To Heaven (1986)—Rolf Baldt
MPG: Highway to Heaven was big for me, because I remember my parents watched that show. And Michael Landon was like, [awed voice] Michael Landon. That was big. But on something like The Wonder Years, I just had a small part. I just played this kid that steals his girlfriend away from him. But it was fun. Those were the innocent years, right?
Camp Cucamonga (1990)—“Cody”
AVC: Breckin, you were also in Camp Cucamonga, which was another of those things that every young actor seemed to be in at that time.
BM: At that point, that was like almost one of those Battle Of The Network Stars, Love Boat things, where it was Urkel, Chad Allen, Candace Cameron, Josh Saviano from The Wonder Years, Jennifer Aniston, who was promoting Ferris Bueller the series, and Brian Robbins from Head Of The Class. I was the only one who had no show; I was just a kid who auditioned.
MPG: What year was that?
AVC: That was 1990. Danica McKellar from The Wonder Years was also in it.
BM: And Danica from The Wonder Years. So it was literally all these big-time teen actors and me auditioned for the show. I just auditioned. Once again, it was that Travis Birkenstock worldview. All I did in that movie, that fucking movie of the week that Cliff from Cheers was also in, was rip off Keanu Reeves from Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. That was the only thing I did. The only thing I knew going into that was I could skateboard okay, I knew how to wear a painter’s cap backwards, and I knew that if somebody asked me a question, no matter whether it was positive or negative, to answer by going, [puts on surfer voice and shrugs] “okay.” And that was it. That’s the whole thing. I was intimidated.
By the way, do you know who’s in it? G. Gordon Liddy.
MPG: Who’s that?
BM: G. Gordon Liddy from Watergate.
AVC: He’s a conservative commentator.
BM: Super-conservative commentator now. And Mr. Jefferson. Sherman Hemsley. It was crazy.
AVC: The rap video is all over YouTube. Urkel raps.
BM: Yeah, him and this girl Tasha Scott, I think was her name. But yeah, it was one of those things where all those kids were on shows and I was not. I’m surprised [Mark-Paul wasn’t] in that, by the way. It seems like it was right around that time.
MPG: And you were talking about the writer. The writer was Bennett Tramer.
BM: Bennett Tramer, who wrote on Saved By The Bell. Jesus.
MPG: I think I passed on it.
BM: [Laughs.] Fuck off. Chad Allen came in and swept your ass away.
She Cried No (1996)—“Scott Baker”
AVC: Mark-Paul, you did get to do a TV movie six years later with Candace Cameron, though.
MPG: Oh yeah, She Cried No. That was a great title.
BM: [Loudly] What? Were you a rapist?
MPG: Yeah, I played a rapist.
BM: You did not.
BM: For real? [To interviewer] Did you see it?
AVC: The whole thing’s on YouTube.
BM: Fuck off.
MPG: The whole thing is on YouTube?
BM: Why’d you rape her? Why’d you do that?
MPG: I was trying to rape —
BM: Were you an army guy?
MPG: No, I was a frat gut. I was a freshman.
BM: Is it about rape?
MPG: Yeah, it’s not funny at all.
AVC: It was like a Lifetime movie.
MPG: No, it was NBC.
BM: And it’s called She Cried No.
MPG: She Cried No.
BM: Maybe that’s why you didn’t understand her.
MPG: Please don’t say that.
BM: She was crying.
MPG: Please don’t say that. Actually the working title was Freshman Fall. But NBC likes those three-word—
BM: Really dramatic.
MPG: She Cried No.
BM: Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?
MPG: There was another I did for NBC at the time; it was like, Dying To Belong. And there was another one. I forget what it was called. I did three back to back. From August to December I did three movie-of-the-weeks back to back.
AVC: Were they all NBC?
MPG: They were all NBC.
BM: They were just backing the truck up.
MPG: Freshman Fall, the one with Candace Cameron Bure, I had to interview for that, though. I was working on NBC for six years on Saved By the Bell. This movie was three years after that, though, in ’96, and I auditioned for that role and had to fight for it. Ended up getting it, and then they subsequently gave me other movie-of-the-weeks on top of that.
BM: She Said No, and he laughed yes. [Laughs.]
Law And Order: Special Victims Unit (2001)—“Peter Ivanhoe/Wesley Jansen”
AVC: You also did a pretty serious episode of Law and Order: SVU with Elizabeth Banks.
MPG: That was fun. Only in the sense that I had just accepted the role of John Clark on NYPD Blue and because I’d worked with Dick Wolf on a project prior to that in ’99, so he asked me if I wanted to be on SVU. I said, “Sure, I’ll do an episode.” And then I had to play a guy who gets raped by three men.
BM: You got raped?
MPG: Yeah, I got raped. I was a porn star who ends up getting raped.
BM: So you played a rapist and then a year later you got it back to you.
MPG: Not a year later. It finally caught up to me about five years later.
BM: Karma. TV karma’s a bitch. Is there a rape scene in that?
MPG: Nope. They find me in an alley with three types of DNA in me.
BM: Whoa. Hello. Wow.
MPG: It’s good stuff.
BM: You’re a smoothie.
MPG: But the funny part is that I’d just signed on to play a cop for NYPD Blue. And the cops that were on our set for NYPD Blue, we were doing research for the role and stuff, and I had shot SVU, but it was going to be shown in the summer, so it wasn’t until we started filming until that it came out, and they were more, [New York accent] “You motherfucker, this is the character you play?” I’m an actor. I’m not really a cop. But all the cops were like, “It’s a scumbag that you play.” It was great.
AVC: You were pretty scummy in that show.
MPG: I was a little scummy.
NYPD Blue (2001-2005)—“Det. John Clark, Jr.”
AVC: For NYPD Blue, what was it like training with cops?
MPG: We trained for about a week. One of the executive producers was a detective for 25 years, Bill Clark. My name on the show was John Clark, that was the name of his brother… And so we would go with warrant squad, we would do warrants. I would go with narcotics and do busts. It was fun. It’s the fun part of being an actor, because you get to do these things. I went with detectives, got to see crime scenes, it was intense. Same with Raising The Bar, I went to New York, to the Bronx Defenders as an intern for a week. It’s a fun part of our jobs.
Garfield (2004) and Garfield: A Tail Of Two Kitties (2006)—“Jon Arbuckle”
AVC: Breckin, before our time runs out, we have to go from cops and rape to Garfield.
BM: Very similar. There’s a rape scene in Garfield, but it got cut out.
AVC: What was it like when they called you to be Jon Arbuckle, who’s kind of an iconic character. Was it something you had to try out for?
BM: No, I was in South Africa doing a movie, like kind of an action-y thing. And I always kind of want to do whatever I didn’t just do. You always want to do something opposite, and this was exactly that.
I was about to have a kid, I think. I read the script. It was by the guys who wrote Toy Story [Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow]. And I read it, and I was like, “That’s cute. I haven’t done a kids movie. That might be fun.” They said it was with Jennifer Love Hewitt, and I knew her. And then they said all I had to do was not even a chemistry read, but just a meeting. Sit down with Jennifer Love Hewitt, let them videotape you two so they can see if you look repellent onscreen together.
I came in from South Africa, jet-lagged as hell, and I sat down with Love and the directors and just goofed off. And they’re like, “Yeah, it’ll work.” And they were trying to get all these different voices to be Garfield, and they couldn’t decide or couldn’t get—
MPG: Bill Murray, right?
BM: Yeah, it ended up being Bill Murray. It started at the time, it was like, “Let’s get Jack Black, let’s make our film really crazy.” Honestly, Bill Murray is as close as you can get as far as the great attitude of Lorenzo Music, who did the original voice in the cartoon. When they said they got Bill Murray, I’m like, “That’s fucking awesome. That’s as close as I’m going to get to working with Bill Murray.” It was fun.
AVC: Did you meet Bill Murray?
BM: I met Bill Murray on the second one. [Laughs.] Bill, oddly enough, even against what he said in Zombieland, he was very involved in the script in number two.
BM: I did not know what reason he had, but he really wanted to be involved in number two.
AVC: The stories around what he wants to do are all kind of weird. He has that 800 number.
BM: Right, can’t get a hold of him. He doesn’t have a cell.
MPG: And that’s legit?
BM: Yeah, you just leave a message; hope he can get back to you.
AVC: He’s done weird student films. He’ll turn down big things but he’ll do whatever appeals to him.
BM: It was the first movie I’ve ever done that you’re actually contractually obligated to do. When I signed the first one, it was for that and the sequel. And then it did well enough that we started doing a sequel. I had a lot less to do in the second one, though.
I was like, “You’re not going to get Bill.” And they got Bill. He really wanted to be involved. So I met him on the set, he came up and said, “I’m Garfield.” And I’m intimidated. It’s scary. Bill Murray’s a genius. There I am suddenly talking, this story about Arbuckle and Garfield and stuff. “Aren’t we just doing the comics? Don’t you just like lasagna? Are we done?”