The actor: Sam Lloyd, with his hangdog face and everyschlub demeanor, has been playing weirdoes, losers, and shrugging, nameless laborers for more than two decades. In spite of his regular role in the 1990 Valerie Harper series City, most people’s earliest memory of Lloyd is of Ricky, the mannequin designer whose love for TV Guide is surpassed only by his crush on Elaine, on two memorable episodes of Seinfeld from 1993 and 1994. But nowadays, most people remember Lloyd for playing hapless, sweaty hospital lawyer Ted Buckland on the long-running, Bill Lawrence-helmed series Scrubs. On Wednesday, May 25, Lloyd will reprise the role on the season finale of Lawrence’s current series, Cougar Town.
Night Court (1988-1989)—“Waiter”/“Balloon Salesman”
Sam Lloyd: That was basically my first break. I had done a couple regional commercials before that, but that was my first TV job ever. If course, I’d never done anything before. So I didn’t really know what a sitcom was. I was kind of lucky that I had done so much theater over the years, because basically a sitcom is kind of like a hybrid between a film and a play. Because your mic’s close up, and you’re on camera, but there’s an audience there. So you get to hear the audience reaction and everything.
AVC: Do you remember who you played your scenes with?
SL: Yeah, actually, my waiter character—I think John Larroquette came in at one point in one of my scenes. But I was mostly with the guest star, who was playing a porno actress. I got to utter the immortal line, as I was making the rounds as a waiter, I said, “Cocktail weenie?” Those were my first lines, which all my friends got a kick out of. And then eventually, I asked her if she would sign my hand. So you know, very much typical Night Court kind of raunchiness, which was a gas.
AVC: And they liked you enough to bring you back.
SL: Yeah! I don’t know if it’s unprecedented, but yeah, they brought me back, but I was a different character. Normally on a TV show, they only bring you back in the same season if you’re playing the same character. But with that show, they brought me back for the series finale. The casting person, April Webster, brought me back because there were so many guest stars on that last show, [because] there were so many cases. The plot was that they were pushing so many cases through. So I played the balloon salesman who got mugged in Central Park or something, and all my balloons were deflated.
AVC: When you watched the cast, especially in that last episode, did you get anything from how they operated and how efficient they were at that point?
SL: Oh yeah. But like I said, I was a stage guy. So I, being prepared, kind of was ready for that. You know, it’s strange when you’re a guest star, because everybody knows each other so well, and they’re relaxed, and they have a routine. So you kind of feel like you’ve just been brought up to the majors for one game, and you’re batting ninth. I definitely learned a lot from watching them, but I also got to see what it was like. And like “Yeah, this is definitely what I want to do. I think I’m on the right track.”
City (1990)—“Lance Armstrong”
SL: I had just enrolled in bartending school, because I was at the point where I wasn’t going to be able to keep things going as an actor. I literally had just enrolled in bartending school and paid my tuition, as it were, when I got that part. That was one of those things where, as an actor, it’s just ideal, because they’d been searching for the part and they couldn’t find it, and I came in I think at the 11th hour, and so they were ready for someone that was right for it. And sure enough, I got it. It was great.
AVC: Were you disappointed that it only ran 13 episodes, or at that point in your career, were you just elated to get 13 paychecks?
SL: Oh, no, it was a little bit of both. I mean, I was so excited to get it. I’m a huge Beatles fan, and Paul McCartney was going on tour for the first time in years, and I vowed if I got the part, I’d get a limo and sit in the first two rows. And then that happened. So I was ecstatic, just [at] the idea that I got to be a regular. And of course I was disappointed—I had gotten to be friends with those people, and still am friends with some of them. But we all knew the game. I mean, it was pretty funny, because we knew it didn’t look good by the end of the time we were shooting; they had aired a few, and we could see it going down. And we actually showed up on the set—we all agreed that we would, on the last day of the last episode that was ordered, we’d all wear black as a joke. We thought that would be funny. And then we were all wearing black that day, and we all started getting depressed. So it was like, “Maybe this wasn’t such a funny idea.”
AVC: Was the character similar to the kind of roles you played later, the sort of hapless guy?
SL: No, it was a little different. His middle name was Milhous, named after President Nixon, because he was kind of the right-wing guy that had information on everybody and would bug phones. He was kind of an inept bad guy. So he wasn’t as pathetic as some of the other characters I’ve played. He was more conniving.
SL: That was one of the easiest auditions I ever had. I had done this [play] a few years before called The Nerd, and I had played the title character. And that guy, I got to know very well, that character. I continued to do him over the years in a cabaret setting, and kind of a stand-up thing. So when I got that audition, I thought, “I could do this guy. He might fit.” And his name was even Ricky, and the character’s name [in the play] was Rick Steadman. So that was kind of a sign to me. Originally I had made this great set of teeth that I had used for the part, and it became married to the part. I couldn’t do the part without the teeth. But the teeth were, even though they were subtle, they weren’t that subtle. So I couldn’t bring it into an audition. That was the first time I was ever able to do the character without the teeth. But anyway, I went in for that and read. There were two scenes, and I read the first scene, and Jerry Seinfeld was there, and of course Larry David was there. And the reaction was fantastic. And then I read the second scene, and I think reality set in. They were like, “Do we really want to put this guy into the show?” And so after it was over, I’m like, “Mmm… this could go either way.” Sure enough, my agent was like, “Hang in there. They’re still going to see people, but you’re one of their choices.”
AVC: Did they think the character was too weird?
SL: Yeah. I think they thought he was a little bit too weird. And that show can be weird, but also, people play it pretty straight, usually, the supporting parts. So I think that’s what popped into their heads. But they put me in the part. All I could say was that I was very thankful I knew that guy as well as I did. Because when we were shooting that show, it was changing constantly. I mean, they were rewriting it every day. My last scene was written at least three times. And if I didn’t know that guy, I might have been a little intimidated with that cast and everything.
AVC: It’s been said that the cast treated their guest actors very well. Was that your experience?
SL: Yeah. They were awesome. In fact, I got to work with all of them, except for Jerry. But they were all just really cool and really supportive. At one point when I was shooting, we were shooting the subway stuff and we were rehearsing it during the day, and the full crew was there. We were rehearsing, me and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and people were talking in the background, and she basically shut everybody up for my sake. They were really awesome.
AVC: Were you surprised that they decided to bring you back as the designer of the Elaine mannequin?
SL: Well you know, I was hoping they would. The guys who wrote those two particular episodes, they kind of indicated they might be bringing me back. Personally, I think that character is such a great, strong character. I wasn’t surprised. I kind of thought they would, and thought it would be good for them to bring it back, at the risk of sounding like a jerk. But you know, that guy, I still do that guy. So I was very happy they brought me back, but I wasn’t too surprised. [Laughs.]
AVC: It’s always good to have that kind of confidence.
SL: Well, you know what? [Laughs.] Sometimes nobody else has that confidence in you as an actor, so sometimes you need it. And you know, honestly, for any other character, I would never even say that. But I just love that guy. I think he’s a hoot.
Double Rush (1995)—“Barkley”
AVC: Did Seinfeld lead directly to Double Rush?
SL: I don’t know about that. But it sure didn’t hurt. You know, that was a great break for me that I was really thankful for. Because [Seinfeld], as you know, it was huge. And the visibility of it was fantastic, and I still get people that recognize me from Seinfeld.
AVC: Double Rush had an impressive cast: Robert Pastorelli, David Arquette, D.L. Hughley, Adam Goldberg—
SL: I know! It’s so funny to think back on that and think what a great cast that was. [Barkley] was the dispatcher of the bike company. So he kind of was an efficient guy that kept stuff running. He was a little lost in the ’60s, as far as fashion sense. But he was more of an intellectual type of character. As you can imagine, with that cast, David Arquette and Adam and Robert Pastorelli, we had a blast. I mean, we were stealing golf carts, we were driving all over the place. It was so much fun. Robert Pastorelli was about the coolest guy I had ever met in my life. Just loved that guy to death. And he looked after us, and we enjoyed every minute of that. We really did.
AVC: Was David Arquette as wild as he is now?
SL: He was crazy, that’s for sure. We all were. I mean, me, him, and Adam would be in one of our dressing rooms making prank phone calls to, you know, the rest of the lot. That was our idea of fun. But yeah, he was pretty nutty. And there wasn’t anybody trying to rein him in, other than maybe the producers. But yeah, he was a character.
A Bucket Of Blood (1995)—“Leonard”
AVC: Judging by who was in it, I’m guessing this was a horror-comedy?
SL: Yeah, it was a black comedy kind of thing. It was a remake of the Roger Corman movie A Bucket Of Blood. It’s very Little Shop Of Horrors. It was made around the same time that was.
SL: Yeah, I know! It’s crazy the people who were in that. And the list goes on, right? I mean, so many people in that movie. The great thing about it for me was that one of my best friends out here, his dad, who is an actor and directed me in a play, and I was good friends with and cast in a play, he played Leonard in the original [Bucket Of Blood] movie. So that was really cool.
NYPD Blue (2000)—“Larry”
AVC: You’d been doing mostly comedy up until this time. What role did you play on NYPD Blue?
SL: I played like the manager of a hotel where a guy had been cut up in the bathtub or something. It was a serious role, but it had some comic elements to it. But the guy that had died had been bringing up male prostitutes into the room, and my character talks about it almost as if he thought it was cool that he was doing it. So yeah, it had some comic elements in it, but that was nice, because I had gone out for NYPD Blue like, three times before that, and had never gotten in.
(1998-2000)—“Walter The Supply Technician”/“Paleontologist No. 1”
AVC: Was this the first time you’d worked with Bill Lawrence?
SL: I actually knew Bill before that. I met Bill at a Quantum Leap party; a friend of mine asked me to go along with her to the party, and he was there with his actress girlfriend at the time. He recognized me from Seinfeld, and was a big fan of the episode. We became friends. We found out we both played basketball, and he invited me to his basketball game. So we stayed friends over the years, when he got in Spin City. He had actually worked on Champs with Gary David Goldberg also, which was a 13-episode series. And I did a guest-star part on that. And then Spin City came up, and I actually auditioned for two of the regular roles. And the first one, which ended up going to Alan Ruck, I might have had that role if my agent hadn’t kind of thrown me under the bus. Which is a sad thing, but it definitely does happen.
AVC: What did he do?
SL: I auditioned for that part, and they liked me. And they said “Okay, the next step is that we’re going to fly you to New York to read with Michael J. Fox.” So I’m like, “Woohoo! Awesome!” So I’m waiting for the phone to ring to tell me when I’m going out there, and the phone never rings. Meanwhile, Diane English, who had done Double Rush, was casting another pilot, and I was up for a regular part on that pilot. So I was going to be tested for that. So long story short, my manager finally calls me and says “Okay, they gave the part to someone else,” and I said, “What do you mean? I was supposed to see Michael J. Fox.” They go, “Well, um, it didn’t work out.” I find out from Bill that my agency had told them I was in second position for [Spin City], that I was in first position for the Diane English show. The reason they did that is because they also represented Alan Ruck. So there you go. They were trying to get me onto the Diane English show, which I didn’t get, and which series didn’t even go, and Alan Ruck, of course, he’s a movie actor, they’re going to get a lot more money per episode than I am. So anyway, we actually went to our agent and said, “Did this happen?” and he said, “Yeah, that might have happened.”
That could have destroyed my relationship with them forever, you know? I went to them and I said, “I just want you guys to know that was not me! I never would have wanted to take that role over you guys” and blah, blah, blah. So they were cool enough to bring me back in for [what ended up being] Richard Kind’s role. I had a great reading for that, but Richard Kind is frickin’ perfect for that part. But that’s the way it goes. That’s show biz. And also Alan Ruck is a frickin’ great guy too. So they brought me in a couple times for the show, and once they flew me into New York for it, and that was so much fun.
The West Wing (1999-2002)—“Bob Engler, U.S. Space Command”
SL: Oh yeah! I got a big kick out of that. I auditioned for that and got the part, but I went to school with Aaron Sorkin. We were both in the theater department at Syracuse University. So I knew him pretty well from school, but he didn’t even know I was up for the part by the time I got it. So that was very cool when he was like, “Sam! Oh my God!” He liked what I did with the part that first time, and said, “Oh I’m gonna bring you back, I’m gonna bring you back.” You know, you hear that a lot, and it doesn’t happen. But I was absolutely shocked when it [did], because I’m like, “How are you gonna bring this guy back into the show?” He’s just such a haphazard character. And then they brought me back in for that. I read the scene, and I thought, “Oh, there’s no way they’re going to keep this whole thing. It’ll be cut down by the time I shoot it, or certainly after it’s shown on TV.” I was just thrilled that they kept the whole damn thing in there.
AVC: What was Aaron Sorkin like in college?
SL: We were both music-theater majors, if you can believe that. And I knew he wrote a little bit. After he graduated, he came back with some of his classmates, and they did a reading of a play he had written. So that was the first time I knew that he was a writer. Up until then, he was an actor in the music-theater department. Friends of mine were roommates with him in New York as well. And he was a very funny and creative guy.
Scrubs (2001-2009)—“Ted Buckland”
SL: Bill was doing a new show, and he basically called me up and said, “Hey, I’ve got this show and there’s a part that’s good for you, just like a little guest-star part, but there’s a possibility it could recur.” And you know, those are the best parts you ever get, because you don’t have to audition for them. So that first day of shooting, I thought, “Okay, this is a guy who is obviously inept, and he’s probably not comfortable speaking in front of crowds,” so I asked them to make me pale and put sweat on me. And little did I know that that would be my life for the next eight years.
AVC: Ted was one of the sweatiest characters on television.
SL: Yeah, I think so! I mean, and over the years, we really developed a great method of doing it.
AVC: Which would be what?
SL: Well, there’s different ways you can go. You can put glycerin on you, because that won’t evaporate. But then you’ve got that oily glycerin on you for the whole day, and that’s a pain and gets on your clothes and stuff. And then we discovered the best way to go about it would be, I would go in for makeup, and they would put on me a moisturizer first, like an oil-based moisturizer, and then they would put my base makeup on, and then they wouldn’t powder me. And as the day went on, I would get a nice beautiful sheen. So that became my standard Ted. And then if he was in a particularly stressful situation, we would bring in those little Evian spray canisters. And just before the shot, for last looks, they’d come in and give me a squirt on my temples and over my lip.
AVC: Any reluctance about the fact that he’s probably one of the more pathetic characters on a TV show?
SL: [Laughs.] Yeah, well, you know, I don’t think these things through, usually. And when they start out, I’m just excited to have a part, you know? So I jumped right in on it. Of course, after like, three or four years of being called a loser and putting on bad suits and having the sweat and all that stuff put on me, it does start to get to you after a while. I never was able to put it into words until I read one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, called Blink. There’s this section where these people would talk about reading expressions, and how you can pick up tendencies of people by just seeing their expressions. A couple scientists spent months categorizing all these different expressions. One of the things they discovered was that when they were working on the sad expressions, at the end of the day and at the end of the week, they just felt awful. And I’m like, “Yes! I know how you feel!” [Laughs.] By the end of the week, I’d be pretty sad, not to mention the characters are all calling me a loser and making fun of me constantly. So after a while, it would start to get to me. Now when I got out for stuff, I go, “Do I really want to go out for this now?” You know, I’ll be at a gas station, and someone will see me, and go, “Oh my God, you look fantastic! What’s changed in your life?” [Laughs.]
AVC: You’re in an a cappella group called The Blanks, which was Ted’s backing band on Scrubs. Which came first, the band or Scrubs?
SL: We had been singing together over the years, very casually. Three of us went to Syracuse University together, so we knew each other from there. And one of them, George Miserlis, had been involved in Forever Plaid, which was a very popular off-Broadway show that ended up touring all over the world. [It was] about a four-part group, he had understudied and played the part in Los Angeles, and had the music, and he was like, “Hey, we can do this private party if you guys learn like, six songs.” So that’s how it started. Then we had a chance to get on a cruise ship, which we thought was the be-all. We auditioned for the cruise ship and the mics didn’t work, so that didn’t happen. So we just hung out together just for the fun of it and kept singing, and basically had three songs that weren’t Forever Plaid songs. And when I got onto Scrubs, they had a cast and crew Christmas party, and I offered up the quartet as entertainment, and we sang our one famous party song, which was the John Williams “Superman March,” arranged for four voices, with original lyrics, which is just as ridiculous as it sounds. The whole thing. Four and a half minutes long. It’s got about four movements in it, you know. And the lyrics are just ridiculous. Paul Perry from the group wrote them. We sang that for them, and they said, “Oh my God, we’re going to put this on the show. It’s too ridiculous.” We couldn’t get the rights to the John Williams thing, so we ended up doing [the] Underdog [theme] instead. And that’s how it started.
AVC: And so The Blanks developed from that?
SL: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, we knew like, three songs. And part of it is because we’re all pretty lazy people, especially our arranger, who, unless you have a deadline, he’s not gonna do it. Scrubs forced us to have a deadline. And when I say forced us to have a deadline, I mean boy, we usually wouldn’t find out what we were singing until the Friday before the Monday shoot. And then, you know, we’d have to have it arranged and learned by Monday morning.
Desperate Housewives (2004-2005)—“Dr. Albert Goldfine”
AVC: How did playing Dr. Goldfine on Desperate Housewives fit in with the Scrubs work?
SL: That was nice. The only reason I could do it to begin with is because I was never under contract with Scrubs. Up until the end, I was a week-to-week guest star. So I could go out for other stuff. There were a couple times where it was tough planning both of those at the same time. But I was lucky enough that both of them were able to work it out.
AVC: How does the vibe on that set compare to the Scrubs set?
SL: Oh, it was totally different. But part of that was, the Scrubs hospital, we shot that in a real hospital. It was like we were like totally autonomous, and everybody was in there together, as opposed to something like [Housewives], where they shoot at Universal. It’s a lot, and they’ve got a couple stages where they’ve got different sets built, and they bring you to your little trailer, which is outside, and then they bring you into the set and you do your scene, and then you leave and go back to your trailer. It’s a very different kind of feel from Scrubs. I was only working with one or two of the actors, so I didn’t really even meet anybody, except for Marcia Cross and [the actor who played] her husband. Then my stuff was just with her. And she was absolutely lovely and stunning just to look at. So it was a lot of fun, but a totally different atmosphere.
Cougar Town (2011)—“Ted Buckland”
AVC: How did that come about? It seems that Bill Lawrence loves to bring people back to his shows.
SL: Yeah, total surprise. First I got the call saying, “Would you want to do this?” and then, “Would you want to do it as Ted?” Like I said, I was kind of ready to move on and be happy after doing Ted for so many years. But then they said, “…and it’s in Hawaii.” And I’m like, “Oh yeah. I think I would like that, very much so!” A great part of [Bill] is that he can pull stuff out really fast, and that was just a last-minute decision, I think. They didn’t even know they were for sure going to Hawaii. After a while, I gave up that I was going to be doing it, because it was supposed to shoot the next week, and I still hadn’t heard from them. Then the Thursday before I was supposed to go, they call up and say, “Okay, we’re going.” So I’d given up on it, and then two days later, I’m in Hawaii.
AVC: That’s an intense experience, to just pack up and go to Hawaii at the last second.
SL: [Laughs.] Yeah, I know! It was very strange. But of course, you know, when we did Scrubs, he pulled off a trip to the Bahamas, where we shot the janitor’s wedding. So it wasn’t unprecedented, but it rarely happens.
AVC: Your publicist said you’re trying to concentrate on the band now. Is that true?
SL: Yeah, part of that is just that’s the opportunity that’s been to given to me right now. It’s kind of nice, because I’m able to, in spite of the fact that Ted is still on in syndication, I think it’s good to get a little distance from doing the character. Also, honestly, I don’t have to wait by the phone for it to ring. I’m out of town a lot, so I don’t get some of the opportunities I got before, but I feel like it’s a great time for me to be doing The Blanks. And when something else comes up, I’ll be there.