Let’s talk about the boy of “About a Boy”: Mr. Benjamin, who probably deserves his own accompanying reality show. I imagine it’s exponentially harder to find the right kid for a part — given experience and maturity levels.
The title is “About a Boy,” so so much was riding on finding the right kid for this. When we were casting the pilot, we worked really hard in casting the kids. You usually get stuck on at least one kid, and you never know what that’s going to be. We saw lots of kids. We started Skype-ing auditions — people from New York, Canada, England. It was getting very discouraging. I mean, the kids were great, but we needed somebody who was going to be able to capture this very unique spirit of Marcus. Then Ben came in. I think he was like three lines into his reading and I looked at Jon Favreau and I was like, “It’s him.” As we all say, he’s the only pro on the set.
I feel like it’s finally time we address the elephant in the room because I don’t want the anger in my eyes to begin to make you feel uncomfortable. I’ve been trying to play it cool. So, let’s cut to it: Joel and Julia. What? Why? How? Huh?
Uh, you know, because it happens.
No. I need more than that. Seriously, though, some people felt Joel’s response was out of character, others thought it snowballed out of control. How do you respond to that? Can you understand the frustration?
Well, what I think is that, my personal opinion is that I feel with the Joel and Julia relationship is that while there is this incredible love between them, and always has been, there’s also been throughout their relationship lots of tension. They’ve always been a couple that maybe has an issue but then kiss and make up at the end of the episode. But we felt that there’s been such a transition in their lives — Julia not working, Joel going back to work and a lot of the struggles they’ve had with Victor … they’ve been pushed a lot further than they’ve been pushed before. So I feel what people are responding to is they don’t expect that to happen, they expect them to kiss at the end of the episode. But I feel this is what happens. You have people you think are the best couple and that they’ll always be married, and then suddenly you hear that they’re separated. We were interested in telling that story because we don’t want Joel and Julia to always be the C story. The actors are so great. And there is hope for Joel and Julia.
Another interesting story line you explored this season centered around Hank (Ray Romano). I imagine this wasn’t something you set out to explore with him all along. Talk about what led to the idea that he might have Asperger’s.
Yeah, I hadn’t always foreseen it. What happened was I went to an Asperger’s conference a couple of years ago and sat in on a meeting of fathers of kids with Asperger’s [Katim's son, who the “Parenthood” character Max is loosely based on, has Asperger’s]. It’s a group of maybe 15-20 people, and in that meeting, several of them had been diagnosed through their children’s diagnosis. They talked about what that revelation was like. It varied a lot between people of what it was like for them — whether it was good or bad to know, what it did to them finding out as an adult.
The reason why I was interested in telling that story — first of all, I wanted to tell that particular story, the idea of an adult having it, because a lot of adults are being diagnosed late. And the other reason why I wanted to tell that story is because kids with Asperger’s grow up. I was interested in telling a story of what that could look like. I thought about it a lot in terms of whether it made sense with Ray. I thought about it myself. I talked to our consultant, who is a psychologist and works with people with Asperger’s, and I obviously talked to the writers of the show. But truthfully it wasn’t what I had intended for that character.
We worked very hard with the writers, the directors, with Ray to build up that story so that when it happened it felt natural. I think that Ray has done such incredible work on the show, and I think that this has given him an opportunity to even go further than last season.