Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them about.
The actor: A sitcom staple who in recent years has turned toward showrunning, Mike O’Malley made his small screen debut as “New York Policeman #1" in the first season of Law & Order. He’d go on to host Guts and other Nickelodeon game shows before launching and losing an eponymous NBC sitcom. He quickly bounced back with Yes, Dear, where he brought his dry wit and dad sensibilities to millions of people for over 100 episodes. He charmed as Kurt’s father Burt Hummel for years on Glee, and more recently has popped up on episodes of The Good Place and Snowpiercer. His latest role—and showrunning gig—is as out-of-town promoter Charlie Gully on Starz’s excellent new pro-wrestling series Heels. In an interview with The A.V. Club, O’Malley shared his thoughts on success, failure, and why—barring moral objection—you always take an acting job.
Heels (2021)—Showrunner, “Charlie Gully”
Survivor’s Remorse (2014-2017)—Creator, showrunner
The A.V. Club: How did you prepare for your role as Heels’ showrunner, and how did you decide that you also wanted to be on screen?
Mike O’Malley: Believe it or not, I got this gig because I was the creator and showrunner of a show called Survivor’s Remorse, which was on Starz for four years. I’d written plays in college and then in my 20s, I’d written pilots and screenplays and plays, but I was focused more on acting. I have three children now, and when my wife and I were settling down and having kids, I wanted to just [be around more as a writer and producer]. What’s funny is that it ended up not being the case that I was around when I started writing because we shot four seasons of Survivor’s Remorse in Atlanta and also Heels in Atlanta.
I was in my 40s when I got my first staff writing job on Shameless because I really wanted to learn how to become a showrunner. And so I wrote on the first four seasons of that. I learned an awful lot. I co-wrote a couple of pilots with John Wells, and I learned an incredible amount from him. And then I had the opportunity to create Survivor’s Remorse with LeBron James and Maverick Carter and doing that, I really learned a lot and I loved working with Starz. One of the things I love about Starz is that they really love filmmaking. They’re very specific about their work.
So when Heels came up, Michael Waldron, who had created it, was not available to run the show because he was doing Loki. And so [Starz executives] Carmi Zlotnik and Jeff Hirsch reached out to me and said, “We had a good time doing Survivor’s Remorse. Would you be interested in doing this?” And I read the script and I loved it.
I also thought, “Wow, this could really be an amazing project” in terms of acting in it, too. When you’re an actor, you get to be a player on a team. It’s a really fun thing, especially if you get great relationships with the cast and you just have to do your part. There’s a lot of joy in just being an actor. It’s a craft. It’s hard work, but a lot of times I think a lot of the hard work has already been done in having weathered acting school, deciding to be an actor, getting an agent, and beginning to get work so people know you. Later on in your career, a lot of the panic about acting goes away because you get better at the craft, hopefully.
One of the things that happens when you’re a showrunner is that you’re so immersed in the overall producing and giving people good news and bad news that you miss the fun and the joy of acting. Being a showrunner is like being a head coach. Sometimes you’ve got to write a play that somebody doesn’t want to run or you’ve got to make a decision after somebody gives you feedback that doesn’t necessarily support what they want. And that’s part of the job. But it oftentimes puts you in opposition to other people. Whereas when you’re an actor, it’s just playing. It’s just joyful. And so I thought if I was going to be working this hard, being away from home and there was a part that I could play… I mean, I was selfish and I took the part. What can I say?
AVC: It’s a fun part, too. Gully’s wearing cool tracksuits and walking around in a huge mansion. He flies a helicopter. You’re not working in a coal mine.
MO: What’s interesting about that is that I totally put my look in the hands of Laura Bauer, who was our costume designer. I trust her implicitly and she had everything to do with deciding how I was going to look. I knew that I couldn’t be objective about it. What’s funny is it may not have been how I would have done it, but that’s probably good for the project, because the minute they dressed me in these outfits, every everyone in the cast was just… they were great to me. Obviously I’m still their boss, so to speak, but I think it was genuine and that it really helped.
What’s amazing about an outfit like that is that you’re really reminded as an actor that so much work is already being done for you. It really helps you stay grounded because obviously the outfit is ridiculous. I would never wear that in life. But the outfit is is projecting something to the audience just as the house is projecting something to the audience and the music and the fact that he’s flying a helicopter. It really helped me as an actor to just sit back and let the words do the work and the story do the work.
Yes, Dear (2000-2006)—“Jimmy Hughes”
My Own Worst Enemy (2008)—“Raymond Carter”
Snowpiercer (2020-present)—“Sam Roche”
AVC: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because you’ve done a lot of roles where you’re dressed as sort of an everyman, or—from what I can tell from Getty Images—like Mike O’Malley the person. In short, you’ve worn a lot of baseball caps. How often do you have input into that sort of stuff or is it just that it seems like what the character would wear?
MO: Well, I mean I would say that in Yes, Dear that was just a choice. He’s sort of an all-American guy, dad, flannel shirt, T-shirt, baseball cap. At this point now they even call that kind of baseball cap that I wore on that show a “dad cap.”
I would say the two most high profile roles that I’ve done were Burt Hummel on Glee and Jimmy on Yes, Dear, and I had a baseball cap for both of those things. I had some input on Yes, Dear, but I didn’t have any input on Burt Hummel. That was just how they wanted me to dress.
After Yes, Dear I was on My Own Worst Enemy with Christian Slater. I didn’t wear a hat in that show. I don’t wear a hat on Snowpiercer. And then sometimes in Glee they wouldn’t. But you know, I would just have to say a lot of it came from Yes, Dear. In the end we did 122 episodes of that show, and I always had a hat on.
In Snowpiercer, I’ve got this crazy pointy beard that I have no input on and looks ridiculous. Obviously in Heels and in the third season of Snowpiercer, which we just finished filming, the beard almost looks like I’m the Unabomber, which is a dated reference. My family hated it. They would joke to me when I finally shaved, they’d say “Wow, you look 10 years younger” And I’m like, “Wow. So I finally look my age?” and they said, “No, you look 65 with the beard.”
The thing about being an actor that most showrunners understand is that you want the actor to be comfortable on screen so they’re not thinking about their appearance or worried about how they look. And so that’s what I think about. I like to be comfortable when I’m doing things. In life, I dress very casually. And I think if that’s the vibe of what I’m doing in the show, I want to be casual.
Justified is another show where I didn’t wear a hat. They wanted him to be a little bit more menacing and they dressed him like a guy who thought he was dressing cool. But it wasn’t cool. I was wearing a Members Only jacket. It’s the kind of thing like “Oh, my gosh, this guy thinks he looks good, but he really doesn’t. He looks terrible.” I think that amounts to something about the character, too.
AVC: Your first big show, The Mike O’Malley Show, aired only two episodes. What was it like to go through the process of getting that show off the ground, have a great cast, and then have it not do as well as you hoped? What did you learn from doing that show?
Mike O’Malley: What I learned from doing that show was—and thankfully I have lived my life this way—that you better have a solid group of family and friends, because when you deal with disappointments, you don’t want to just completely unravel and feel as if you don’t have anything worth offering in the business that you’ve chosen. I also learned that I have incredible representation. [My agents] are just incredibly great guys and they were like, “look, I know this seems like a setback, but you’re going to do great.” And six months later, I got Yes, Dear, and that went for a long time.
I don’t think I realized how difficult it was to get a show on network television. That was when they had the three major networks and then they had Fox, The WB, and UPN. So it was a hyper-competitive business and that didn’t dawn on me. What’s different now about the business is that it’s like a sporting event where you put a show on the air. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it is, you’re going up against competition every night, and that competition wants to absolutely crush you. We were on after Will & Grace and we’re were supposed to be going up against Sports Night on ABC. But then ABC double pumped Dharma & Greg, which was their big show, to blow us out of the water from the beginning.
When you’re out there working hard and you’re an actor and you’re auditioning for stuff, when you leave the audition room you don’t hear, “Oh, that guy sucked, I hated that guy. I hate that guy’s looks. I don’t think he’s funny.” You just don’t get the job. And so you’re going along in your life just trying to get jobs and you think, “I had a good audition, but I didn’t get it.” I had a sitcom [Life With Roger] that was on the WB that did well, and then I developed the show. You’re just humming along. You’re just paying attention to the positives. You’re trying to jump from opportunity to opportunity and make a living and make your life successful.
I think the ignorance was that when you open the newspaper every day and you read a bad review, you never think that that’s going to be about you. When a show gets canceled, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, that show got canceled.” It’s a spectator sport to everybody. When you develop your own sitcom, you’re hoping it’s going to be Seinfeld. It’s going to be Roseanne. It’s going to be Everybody Loves Raymond. At least that’s your goal, that you’re going to write and create a show that is going to fulfill all your creative and artistic desires and then be wildly successful. When it doesn’t happen… For me, I didn’t have a film career to go back to. I didn’t have a theater career to go back to. I wanted to do sitcoms.
Anyway, I had done a pilot for another show with Sam Simon, who had created The Simpsons. That one didn’t get picked up, but it led to the show at NBC. And, like you said, the cast was unbelievable. Will Arnett, Kate Walsh, my sister [Kerry O’Malley], Mark Rosenthal, Missy Yeager, all of whom I will say I’m still friends with.
AVC: There was a video going around recently by a comedian named Sarah Schaefer, and I know you retweeted it, but it illuminates just how hard it is for a show to ever see the light of day. It’s incredible that you got a show on the air at all, so you should be proud.
Mike O’Malley: It is unbelievable how many people have to get behind the idea of you being at the center of a show, or even cast in the show. It is remarkable how many people have to say yes to the idea of you being in something. It’s stunning. Stunning. I think most people wouldn’t do it if they really knew how hard it was. I certainly didn’t know how difficult it was. So I really wanted to get behind the scenes because every single part is debated by countless people, especially when you’re first starting out.
AVC: Speaking of first starting out, a lot of our readers will probably know you from your run on Nickelodeon. You were on a number of shows at Nick, including Guts. How did you first get involved with the network?
MO: I grew up in New Hampshire. I moved to New York. I studied acting with a great acting teacher, and then we had a showcase. All acting schools have a showcase where their graduating students perform some scenes and then they invite agents and managers and casting agents to come see them. As a result of that, I got an agent. I was submitted for an audition for a show called Get The Picture, and I got it. I did two seasons of Get The Picture. I think we made 115 episodes, and I think I was paid $250 an episode.
As a result of that show, I went on a national mall tour to market Nickelodeon. We would go to different malls and slime kids, and then they’d do little games from Double Dare. Ostensibly it was to try out for different Nickelodeon shows. Well, I shouldn’t say ostensibly. It was, but it was also to market Nickelodeon.
What really took off was when I was cast to be the host of Guts. We made four seasons and 120 episodes, and that was great. It was a great time in my life. I was in my early-to-mid 20s—I think I worked for Nickelodeon from about the time I was 23 to about the time I was 27 or 28. I was in New York, and then I was traveling around and seeing different parts of the country. That’s when we weren’t making the show. When we were back, the show was in Orlando and there were a lot people making shows for Nickelodeon. They were all very young people who had been given a lot of opportunities to create programing for the network.
I took the role on Guts very, very seriously. It was almost like I was an older brother or a school camp counselor to these kids. A lot of times when you work with kids, people talk down to them. They talk to them and in a voice where they say, “Hey, little guy! Good job.” I hated that when I was a kid. I always liked it when grown ups and older kids talked to me on the level and treated me with respect and and felt as if I was a full human being. And so that was how I looked at it on Guts.
Nickelodeon now isn’t what it was when I was in my 20s. Certainly, kids knew what Nickelodeon was, but nobody my age knew what Nickelodeon was. They knew it was a cable channel, but it wasn’t like what it is now. I could go and do a sitcom in the ’90s, and nobody who would be watching that sitcom would have any idea that I was on Nickelodeon. It’s only now that I do stuff now that people of a certain age are like, “Oh, yeah? Well, my favorite show you ever did was Guts.” What’s funny about that is that you get that from people where they feel like they’re heckling you a little bit. “I know you just did this dramatic arc, but I remember you on Nickelodeon.” I have nothing but absolute fond memories of my time on Nickelodeon, those people and doing that job. I loved it. You know, it’s in my Twitter bio because I’m proud of it.
AVC: It did always seem like people working at Nickelodeon were having a good time, like on shows like Figure It Out. That’s good, I suppose, because you guys were really grinding out the content. 120 episodes is a lot of episodes to make in a short amount of time.
Mike O’Malley: Yeah, but the alternative is that you’ve got to start working on a play that has 74 seats and you just hope somebody will come see it.
Graham Yost, who [worked on the Nickelodeon sitcom] Hey Dude, years later cast me on Justified. When you’re around young people and you’re not married and you don’t have kids and you’re making something just to get any foot in the door… For anyone who wants to be an actor, I think they should read this book because I think it’s one of the best biographies about being a young actor: It’s Charles Grodin’s book, It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here. I went on to read his other books and God rest his soul. I met him once and he was just a very kind man.
Anyway, he really breaks down in his biography how, as a young man, Charles Grodin used to do a Candid Camera with Ted Knight. He says if you can get a job in show business and it’s not coming up against your moral values, you should do it because you’re going to meet people. Right around the time I was doing Guts, Laurence Fishburne did Boyz N The Hood. Obviously, Laurence Fishburne is an amazing actor, but the story was that Laurence Fishburne had met John Singleton working on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.Think about that. John Singleton is a P.A. on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and you don’t know he’s going to make Boyz N The Hood. Right around when I was starting out, Ed Burns had made his movie The Brothers McMullen, but he was a guy who worked at Entertainment Tonight as a P.A. and he saved film and on the weekends he’d use equipment, and he shot that movie. So that’s what it was like back then.
Obviously, I think it’s it’s easier now to make something, and video cameras did exist back then, but there was a lot of snobbery about, “Is it a film or is it done with video?” Nothing was being done with digital. It was just like, “Can you get into show business in any way?”
The people at Nickelodeon really helped me. They introduced me to people at MTV Networks and different casting directors. And they really helped me when I wrote a play and they bought the theater out for a night. That was a great place to work.
AVC: A few years back I interviewed some of the kids that did Nickelodeon’s annual Super Toy Run, and one of them mentioned how nice you were as the host, and that you had dinner with him and his family, and you’d see them around the hotel and whatever. So, you made an impression on those kids when you treated them well.
MO: That’s always nice to hear. Honestly, I could put myself in any of those kids’ shoes. It’s so nerve wracking when you’re a kid to be doing something where you know all eyes are on you. Certainly these kids knew that if they failed, all their friends at home would be seeing that they didn’t do well. You’re just trying to put yourself in other people’s shoes. That I was nice to that kid, it’s not like, “Oh, my gosh.” It’s just like that’s how I would want to be treated if I was a 12-year-old kid going on a Super Toy Run.
AVC: Whenever I talk to someone for Random Roles and they were on Law & Order, I feel like it’s obligatory to talk about that show. One of your first roles ever was as “New York Policeman #1” on the first season of Law & Order. What do you remember about that experience? The show certainly wasn’t what it would become in later years.
MO: It was only two days, but I do have pride that I was in Law & Order season one. It was my first acting job and I had a real line. We were digging up a mafia burial ground in Jersey, and the overlook in the background is Manhattan and the Twin Towers. My line is, “Hey, sarge, we got a fresh one here.”
I had forgotten my glasses, and the shot was being done on a crane. I couldn’t see the assistant director give me the signal at all. The crane is showing me talking in the distance, because we found a dead body in an unmarked casket in a mafia burial ground. We’re in New York City cop attire, and I say, “Sarge. We got a fresh one here.” There were so many moving parts to the scene, and when I didn’t see the cue the first time. I completely blew it. So then we had to reset and then the assistant director had to basically jump up and down because I couldn’t see far away. So I saw the line and then I went running around the grave is if I’m one of the Three Stooges. It was one of the most awkward runs ever.
Then we were trying to lift the actor who’s playing the dead guy who’s got a bullet in his head out of the grave, and he was doing it so method. Well, I shouldn’t say that. He was doing it exactly how he should be doing it, because he was supposed to be dead, and he was so heavy. So it was me, and I’m getting paid a day rate to do this, and some other background actor who’s probably getting paid $70. We’ve got to lift this guy out of the grave over and over.
I remember that it was late at night. Michael Moriarty, George Dzundza, and Chris Noth were all there. It was like two days before Christmas, 11 o’clock at night. These guys are working out on the cold mafia burial ground and all bringing it. It was very, very exciting. I remember saying to Chris Noth—who I later worked with on The Perfect Man—I was like, “Hey, man, it’s my first job.” He said “Hey, congratulations.” Everyone was really nice.
AVC: Do you think working as an actor helps you be a better writer, producer, or showrunner?
MO: 100%, because an actor will come to the set and they say, “What is the objective that I’m playing? What do I want in the scene and who’s stopping me from getting it?” If you train as an actor, if you go to any acting school, you learn to break down the scene by saying, “What do I want and what’s stopping me from getting it?” And so if you write every scene knowing, as the writer or showrunner or director, that someone’s going to be asking you those questions, you put yourself in a better position.
I’m not saying that you have to be an actor to do that. I just know that I try to anticipate the questions that the actors will ask me on set, because to be a good showrunner, you need to keep things moving. You have the assembly line, especially in television, of producing seven, eight, nine, 10 pages a day. I learned this from John Wells especially, but the danger is that if you’re sitting there on set and you’re having a debate about what the person is doing… I’m not talking about how to play it. I could play it funny. I could play it dramatically. I could play it seductively. I could play it more demanding. There’s all the subtleties and shadings of performance, and that’s just sort of chef’s choice.
If you’re actually having to talk about the scene and if the actors don’t believe what they’re playing or you don’t give them a good answer, they’ll still do it, but they will begin to question your judgment, and that’s terrible. So you really need to say, “This is what the scene is about. The story we’re telling is this and that.” Your job as an actor is to really only worry about your character. What am I doing? What objective am I pursuing? How do I go about doing that and then learning my lines?
On Survivor’s Remorse, I would always write scenes the way I wished that I would have them. In other words, [as an actor] I would love to have a big long scene, five pages and a ton of dialogue where the scene was about the actors performing and not necessarily about the visuals. And so that’s how I write. Some actors love that. I’m sure some actors are like, “Oh, my gosh, there’s so many words I have to learn today.”
Glee (2009-2015)— “Burt Hummel”
AVC: You mentioned it a little bit before, but what was it like to work on Glee? And why do you think it was so important to see a character like Burt Hummel on TV?
MO: I first read the script and I was like, “Oh, man, I don’t wanna play this intolerant guy from the Midwest. I’ve seen this before.” But by the end of the show, he has this turn that’s like, “I’m not coming down to the basement saying I hate it because you’re dancing, I’m coming down to the basement because the music’s too loud,” which every parent can relate to. [When his son came out] He said, “I love you and I just want to be there for you.”
What I like about how they wrote Burt—and this is all writing that Brad [Falchuk] and Ian [Brennan] and Ryan [Murphy] did—is that they didn’t make him somebody who was like, “Now that I know this about you, we’re going to go to the parade in Greenwich Village and we’re going to go to the parade in West Hollywood and I’m going to get you a subscription to The Advocate.”
It’s very hard as a parent. I have three kids right now and you have to let them grow up by themselves or they will resist you, especially if you try to get too much into their business. So even though Burt may have had an inkling or an inclination that his son might be gay, it’s not up to him to say “You’re gay” until Kurt said it.
What was so wonderful about that particular part in that relationship is that it showed a way for a father and son, despite their perceived differences, to just love each other. One of the most important things as a parent is that you feel your child is happy and fulfilled and that they’re on a path and that you’re always a backstop for them. You’re always somebody who is there behind them all the way, no matter the mistakes they make, which is something I try to say to my kids.
I’ve had people stop me on the street and say “That relationship has helped me and my son. That relationship has helped me and my father.” I can’t take credit for that because I didn’t write it, but I was a part of it. The credit all goes to the story that the writers wanted to tell. And then acting opposite Chris Colfer... he was just so emotionally available. It really wasn’t like acting, I just thought “Here’s my son. I’m a dad, and I love my son and that’s all I got to do.” I just got to love him. When the overriding objective to play in every single scene is “I’m going to love my son,” then that really anchors your performance.
The Good Place (2018-2020)—“The Doorman”/“Jeff”
Meet Dave (2008)—“Knox”
Behind The Candelabra (2013)—“Tracy Schnelker”
Justified (2013)—“Nicky Augustine”
AVC: I want to ask about your role on The Good Place, because you were there at the end, as it were. How did you get brought onto that show, and what did you like about being the doorman?
MO: I had met Mike Schur many years ago and always wanted to work with him because I think he’s so funny. I tested for the part of Ron Swanson. I didn’t get it, and that was a bummer. They cast the right guy, but I would have liked to have done that part. And so, I’d see Mike and I’d sort of joke like, “Hey, man, was there nobody else I could have played on Parks?” But then Parks And Rec was on when I was doing Glee, so I wasn’t really available.
You’re always looking to work with the best. I’ve been lucky to work with Greg Garcia, John Wells, Ryan Murphy, and other really great showrunners. You want to work with them again and again because you see what it’s like to go to work on their set. Mike Schur has an impeccable and flawless reputation for being a great guy who’s also wildly talented. So when somebody like that calls you up and says, “Do you want to do something?” You’re like, “Yeah.” You don’t even really even ask what it is. When Greg Garcia calls, I say, “Yeah, I’ll be there,” and I don’t know the part. It’s just “How can I go be there and associate myself with talented people?”
The Good Place was a set where everybody was just amazing. They were just so friendly and I loved it. I loved working on that show. It was all about working with Mike.
It’s also knowing that—and this has happened to me time and again—but when I went to do Glee, it was only one episode. It turned into something else. And so I say this to my friends all the time: If you have an opportunity to work with a great showrunner, like if they call you up to do one part on a show, you go do it. You go meet and work with great people. You have no idea where it’s going to lead.
AVC: Are there other roles that you’ve taken because of that type of situation? Like, did you do Meet Dave because you wanted to work with Eddie Murphy? Or Leatherheads to work with George Clooney? Behind The Candelabra?
MO: I mean, all of those parts.
Behind The Candelabra, the part is nothing. I just wanted to work with Steven Soderbergh. He had cast me in The Informant!, but I couldn’t do it because I was working on My Own Worst Enemy with Christian Slater.
I took Snowpiercer just because I wanted to work with Jennifer Connelly, and I was a series regular this year and I’ve been there for three seasons.
I took a small part in Leatherheads because I wanted to work with George Clooney. Anything where it’s working with cool people, I want to go work with them. I took Meet Dave to work with Brian Robbins, who I knew from my Nickelodeon days. At Nickelodeon, I met Brian Robbins and I met Mike Tomlin, and I’m still friends with them to this day. They cast me in a number of different projects, and I’m working on a project with Mike Tomlin right now. It’s a relationship business.
Justified, I love that show. I thought it was such a high quality show. I went to do one episode and I ended up doing six or seven. Nicky Augustine was one of the best parts I’ve ever played, and I really got to do great work with Walton [Goggins], and with Timothy [Olyphant], Jere Burns, and Stephen Tobolowsky. That was fantastic.
A funny story from going work on Justified: When I showed up on the set, I had learned all my lines and when I got there, they said, “We’re going to throw this story out. I’m going to work on something else like it.” I was like, “Oh, my God, what are you going to do?” So, anyway, they came back and said, “Okay, so you and Stephen Tobolowsky, your characters went to grade school together.” Now, Stephen Tobolowsky is a well known, successful, amazing character actor. He’s also 20 years older than me. So when they said “You went to grade school together,” I immediately thought to myself, “Oh, my God, what am I going to do? Should I get a facelift? I’ve got to get to a chemical peel.” I mean, I’m not normally a vain person, but I thought if I looked like I went to grade school with him, what have I done wrong? No disrespect to Stephen. I’m just 20 years younger than him. You’re going to have to fact check that, but I believe I’m 20 years younger than him. At least 15. [According to publicly available information, the actors are 15 years apart in age.—Ed.] I thought, “maybe if he was in eighth grade and I was in first,” but no. We were buddies. We were in the same grade.
AVC: You just worked with Greg Garcia writing the book for Escape To Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett musical on Broadway. That’s not something I think most people would think about when they think “Mike O’Malley.” How did you end up working on that?
MO: So, Frank Marshall, the famous Hollywood producer, is one of Jimmy Buffett’s best friends. About 15 years ago, Alan Kirschenbaum, who created Yes, Dear with Greg Garcia, he and I wrote a pilot for ABC based on and inspired by Jimmy Buffett short stories. That didn’t go forward, but then about seven or eight years later, I think in 2014, they called me and said, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing a musical. Would you be interested in doing this?” I was doing Survivor’s Remorse at the time, and I thought of Greg Garcia, who was a Jimmy Buffett fan. Greg has three shows that he’s put into syndication: Raising Hope, My Name Is Earl, and Yes, Dear. He’s an incredible storyteller. We were not going to do a biographical musical about Jimmy Buffett. We’re going to take his best known songs and try to create an original story that wove those songs together as story songs. And so we we met with Jimmy and Frank and then we we got hired to do it. And, man, we spent a lot of time working on that.
The hardest thing about doing a Broadway musical is that every night you’re going and you’re watching and seeing how things are playing and then you’re readjusting based on how those things are playing. You also have a time limit. It can’t really be much longer than two-and-a-half hours for a comedic show, maybe two hours and 15 minutes.
It’s just an incredible amount of moving parts. There’s music. If you’re going to end the scene, there’s things you learn. People who do musicals know this, but people who just watch musicals may not. It’s like, why all of a sudden is there a scene with these characters on stage? It’s because the other characters who were just on stage are changing their outfits. They have to be backstage doing something different so we can get ready to tell the next part of their story.
We had great actors in that. We were in very capable hands at the La Jolla Playhouse with Chris Ashley, who directed it. It was a gas. It was really fun working on that with Greg because I got to see him every day, and he’s a really funny guy.
Margaritaville is on a national tour right now and it’s playing in regional theaters. I just heard from family members saying, “We’re going to go see Margaritaville tonight.” One of the great things about a musical is that it can continue to be interpreted and performed all around the place. We’re getting ready to go to Vegas when we open back up [post-COVID-19 pandemic.]
It was an opportunity to, again, challenge myself in a new way and to work with a guy who had an incredible amount of success in Jimmy Buffett.
AVC: And you can probably get front row seats to any Jimmy Buffett show now—and any Lakers game Lebron plays, for that matter.