Torrence and I talked more about his co-stars, his time I Chicago and how playing the ever-optimistic Roman sometimes hurts. "He does give me a headache from smiling so much," he said.
Roman is funny in that he's kind of a boy, not a man. He's not an "idiot," really, but clueless.
This is what's great about Roman. When we first met him, obviously, they're going for this completely man/child-esk, naive man, but what's great is we get to watch Roman kind of grow up a little bit into this idea. I think, as the series continues, I slowly become more of like a conscience to Ben because he is so pessimistic in life. I end up getting to be his friend that's completely optimistic and we get to play off each other really well in that.
I love this character. As we've gone along, the writers have just found some really funny, funny stuff in his relationships with the other characters ... because he has such a bizarre background with his mom, specifically. The relationship with his mom is so bad. The relationship with Ben is so bizarre. And then his love relationship with Heather, who is Ben's assistant, that slowly grows...
I love the line where Ben tells Roman that Heather starts fires to get back at her boyfriends, and Roman considers it, then says, "Yeah, but she's hot," or something like that.
Yeah. Exactly. We had, like, literally 10 different lines for that, where Roman was like, "Yeah, but she smells like cherry." We had so many because they can just go anywhere with Roman. Oh, it was so funny.
Roman's not going to get burned, literally, by Heather?
[Laughs.] We hope not. I think the problem is Roman begins to burn. [Laughs.] That's the problem.
Is it difficult to get your mindset into Roman and his innocence thing and cluelessness?
It's so funny, never would I be negative about him, but he does give me a headache from smiling so much. I'm not joking. During the day, you get to Hour 14 and I'm like, "My head; I'm so tired of smiling."
He smiles all the time. Everyone would make fun of me because I literally wait until moments before, like on the "ready, set..." I would begin to smile. I'm a happy guy, but Roman's at another level from me. It's just like, "Wow, that's a lot of energy and eyebrow raising."
So do you leave the studio every day and just want to go kick a dog or something?
[Laughs.] I don't smile much. I'm an angry man. I got through the El Pollo Loco drive-thru and they're like, "What's up with that guy? What's up with him?" [Laughs.]
And your wife's like, "Mellow out."
Exactly. [Laughs.] "Come on, give me a little bit of a smile, something!" But what's cool, too, [is] I would say that 90 percent of the reaction that I'm doing is my 6-year-old son. He really is a child in that way. It's really great because my parents and my wife's parents just finally got to see the pilot and I hadn't even told my wife's parents that I'm watching my son for my character. He reacts and speaks bizarre ways that I was using as my character and she totally nailed it. She's like, "You look exactly like Cooper!" And I was like, "That's awesome that you caught that!"
Well it's great you have Cooper to "study."
No, totally. Like some of those looks, I am so excited. As the episodes continue because for how quiet or defeated he seems, Heather gives him a little bit more confidence. And so you get to see this oddly confident Roman when he's around Heather and wants to impress her. That's also my son with these little 6-year-old girls on the playground. He's always trying to win them over and I'm literally just studying my child. That's hilarious.
Heather likes Roman too?
I love that they did that, because I wasn't sure when we started off if they were going to make her completely crazy or Roman [just clueless]. But there's a real interest in how genuine they are. The writer's are doing an amazing job at making him the sweetest person in the world. I struggle with, or hope he never comes of annoying because he is just so sweet to Heather. When you're playing somebody who is so sincere or so sweet or so naïve, it can almost hinge on that. I think we pull it off; a lot of people will like awe at Roman.
There's already been some crazy stuff happening on the show, but is there something in particular coming up that Roman gets to do that you had a lot of fun doing?
Well, one, I love how with this show as we get deeper and deeper into it, we really start focusing that much more on the relationships that are happening within the workplace and that, in the setting of this chaotic area where the main storyline doesn't wrap fully around everything that's happening at the arena, like, "This week, this person is coming in so this is all we're going to talk about for the next half hour!" They do a really go job that that's not a crutch and that it gets way more into, "How are these relationships going to work out with the awkwardness?" The writer's, again, just do a great job at how we really start tackling the intertwining between all of these characters.
But with me, specifically, they had Jimmy Connors on to play tennis and Roman's the ball boy, which is really funny. ("Celebrity Tennis" airs March 23.) I don't want to give away too much, but there's a funny thing that happens as I'm running after a ball. But within that, I actually played tennis and I'm half decent. I actually was a letterman in high school ... And so I got to play tennis at the Forum with Jimmy Connors and Fred Savage--he's another guy we have come on--and Matthew Perry. . It was a celebrity tournament and we're in the Forum, there's a bunch of extras and we're playing tennis and I'm like, "This is pretty surreal right now." It's one of those moments that I'm kind of gonna to remember forever.
Right. That's funny; Matthew Perry said the same thing about being able to play with Jimmy Connors.
See, I'm a little young. Jimmy Connors, I knew of him but I'd be more in the [Andy] Roddick world. But it was so amazing to watch how excited [Matthew] was to see Jimmy Connors. And then just in that setting--we shot that fairly early--you're still just kind of overwhelmed because, man, when we got in that Forum, it's huge. You feel like you're doing a movie. It's got that massive, large budget where you have the flying light balloons on the ceiling to light the whole place. It's just big scope.
So is that were you shoot all the arena stuff?
We don't shoot. We usually try to get there every three episodes. It's run as a church, I believe, and someone actually owns it. We try to get it and then once we have it, we make it long days or longer than they even usually are and try to get everything we need for you know, for the last three episodes. And then they built half of the outside of the Forum at Sony Studios. So it's really cool, you're in the Forum and we have that exact set. And they made this crazy job that they match perfectly.
So, Roman and his mom, is that ever gonna get better? It's really sad; he walks away from her and he's just totally defeated.
[Laughs.] I know; it's a slow, sad process. That's the one thing; sometimes it's almost too sad. Even watching the pilot when she says, "I don't have any children of my own." That's so sad. Crystal is such an eccentric character. I remember talking to Allison about it. I'm like, "How hard that you have to play these crazy [moments]; it's mean." But I think with the craziness of her character and the over-optimistic aspect of my character, we get buy with it. But she apologizes several times for wrong doings in the past. [Laughs.]
It's sad, but funny.
Oh no, it's hilarious. And that's what I think is so funny. We always make sure that we don't go too long without her ever apologizing, but then there are always a thousand more things that she does. They're just horrible. [Laughs.]
How is working with Allison? This isn't the first time, right?
Oh, I love that woman. I really do. I got to work with her for a little bit on "Studio 60," so I met her there. We were doing some sketches; she shot me with a machine gun. But we got to hang out then and it's always nice when you have some sort of relationship coming into it. But man, she is so great.
It's weird to watch someone who is bizarrely talented in the way that I'm getting to watch her do things that I've never watched her do in her career. I guess everyone is. ... No matter what, I try to be a well-rounded actor. The goal is maybe someday [to] get a little more indie [film] cred, or dramatic cred. Obviously people are going to pigeon hole me [into comedies], "Oh, I can't see you playing a straight character."
She has dabbled with [comedy] in "Juno" and stuff like that, but to see her physical comedy. She does so much physical comedy in this show! And that's something I grew up on, with Second City and having always been compared to Chris Farley or Jack Black with my energy on stage. So I was just surprised [with her]. I'm like, "Wow! You're really good at this. I take pride in being good in this and you're like killing it."
She also is really just a smart actor. She always is bringing stuff to the table. I think I've got more confident in that with a background in improv. ... I watch her confidence; she never backs away from trying something different. And she always gets the shots they want. But she always is willing to say, "I can do that completely different if you want me to." To watch that I feel like I'm kind of in school a little bit, because she has a character actor background where you can pull off things in a completely different emotional manner and she'll dig into that.
It's been great. It's really fun because she says such mean things to me, too. So we break a lot in our scenes, because she'll be like, "Oh, I can't say that; that's so mean." Or I'm laughing because she is so brutal. [Laughs.] We make each other laugh. It's a fun set. Everybody does though, too.
So what about Matthew? You guys worked together on "Studio 60."
It's been cool to watch him really take on the production aspect. He's just doing so much. I think it's cool to have someone with that much power--he's an executive producer, as high as you can kind of get on the show--have an actor's voice and a comedian's voice. ... I saw him just taking off in this idea that if a scene wasn't working or if a joke wasn't working in a scene, he would stop and say, "We need to rewrite that joke, it's not funny enough." Sometimes that was as little as us pitching jokes to each other or him grabbing a writer and going into his trailer or the office. We'd take 45 minutes and they'd rewrite something and he'd come back down and say, "Let's try this." ... If the scenes weren't paying off, he was able to bring these nuggets and really fix not only this issue, but the whole episode.
So this probably different than your experience on "Studio 60?"
Yeah, well, exactly. Obviously. What's interesting is how much I would actually compare him to ["Studio 60" writer] Aaron Sorkin; that's what Sorkin did. Because Sorkin had to power, he just wasn't an actor. He was a very hands-on writer. He would come down for all of our rehearsals. He would watch them and then he would rewrite things. But he wasn't an actor and it wasn't actually from comedy, because there is obviously a difference when you're working with Aaron that he's got such a larger map and he's looking so far ahead and it's dramatically based. Whereas with a show like "Mr. Sunshine," we're just looking to be as funny as we can. Yeah, there are arcs and things like that, but we want to make people laugh. We started really hitting our groove about Episode Four or so.
You have experience here in Chicago at Second City.
I never did main stage Second City. I trained there and then they opened one in Cleveland. I would go to like the Playground and iO West and stuff like that, but never did touring company or main stage at Second City.
How long were you in training?
It was about a year-and-a-half, and then they opened one in Cleveland, and I moved back there and then started training there to go on main stage, actually. I had gotten married in between moving from Chicago to Ohio and that's when we started really thinking about maybe taking the leap and going to L.A. So I actually moved to L.A. right before main stage started and all my friends were on main stage or in Cleveland. I came out here and then I hooked up with the Second City in L.A. And I did their graphic design so I could take writing classes there because I had already done everything. I just was trying to network, meet funny people, that's kind of all it is.
But it got me an agent. I give Second City a lot of props because coming into L.A. without anything on my resume, [no] film, television, commercial, that was the one thing that got me into agent doors. And the for commercials, I give them all the props. When anyone asks me how I made it, it's because I have an improv background. I was willing to do something completely crazy that was unscripted in the room during a commercial audition and 20 percent of them hated me for it. Eighty percent of them loved me for it and then I ended up booking commercials. So, my props and love is all to improv. And specifically Second City because I've done Groundlings, too, and I definitely relate mostly to [Second City's] style of training.
It seems like now you can't really see a comedy without seeing somebody who's a Second City alum.
It definitely got some respect. IOS has stayed strong, but Upright Citizens Brigade is getting some real props. But again, that's L.A. and New York. But UCB was brought to us by Second City alums, Amy Poehler and [Matt] Besser and all of those guys. I think comedy specifically with Judd when he started making films and we started seeing that playful filming and being in the moment relationally and building friendships in a real way, that became something that is an expected tool almost to have now in comedy. It wasn't, even since I've been here. And some people really frowned upon it, like it was disrespectful to the writer, I can understand that completely. Like Aaron Sorkin, for instance, you could never go off book; they would reshoot. They would yell, "Cut!" and you would redo the scene. I respect that.
But I do think there's been a huge movement in comedy that has not gotten to this very real, very in-the-moment place. I sincerely credit all that to Second City. I don't know if I've ever talked about it, but I was at Kent State and I was doing theater there and I was majoring in theater. No disrespect, I was like, "Where do people from 'Saturday Night Live' go? Because I'm not into theater; I'm into being funny."
I found out about Second City and me and my brother got in a car and came out and saw a show [in Chicago]. The show we saw was "Paradigm Lost," and it was Tina Fey, Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch, Jim Zulevic, and it just was amazing. It blew me away. I literally went home, told my parents, "I'm dropping out of school. I'll finish the semester, but I've got to go and study here."
I was freaking out; I'd never even seen improv before. I was just out of high school. ... I met my manager, probably about five years ago and it was at a time where I was doing the Capital One commercials. I didn't know who I was going to go with [as a manager], and she ... [worked with] Scott Adsit. And I freaked out; I love this guy. And that was before "30 Rock" or any of that. And I was like, "No, you don't realize, I changed my whole life because of a show I saw him in.
When were you in here in Chicago?
Oh, that would have been in 98. And I wanted to add ... Second City didn't have a class starting right away for the time I wanted. So I went to Players Workshop of the Second City, which was Eric Forsberg, Josephine Forsberg. Then I went to iO West, which Stephanie Weir ... And I remember freaking out her and Bob Dassie, which was hilarious. They were so great. And "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind!" I used to go to that. My brother, Jason Torrence, was artistic director there for seven years ... We were doing sketch comedy stuff and then when I got married and moved to L.A., he ended up moving to Chicago, auditioned for "Too Much Light" and got in.
All right, do you have anything else coming up?
I have a cartoon coming out for Disney XD. It's my first time; I've been trying to break into the animation world. And so it's called "Motor City." They haven't given me an exact release date; with animation it's crazy. Our pilot got picked up. I play a guy named Chuck and basically it's kind of like a "Speed Racer." Where it's high action, set in Detroit in the future and cars have been outlawed. People can only fly in flying machines. This group of degenerates, called "The Burners," all have cars and I'm the mechanic who works on all the cars and I'm scared to death to be in any of them because they go 300 miles per hour. So I build all the cars for the lead guy, Mike, and it's kind of a sidekick role. A very Shaggy-esk role, like in "Scooby Doo."
So that's cool. And I have a very small role in a movie called "The Big E" which is coming out, I think in October. I had actually read the script when it was in its real preliminary stages and they didn't have anyone attached. I loved it, and then they ended up getting these huge names attached: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black are doing it. They remembered me from casting and just called and said, "Hey, you know, we don't really have a role you know, a large role at all, but we'll give you a role where you have a couple of lines with Steve and Owen if you want to fly out to Vancouver and film it." So who knows? With roles like that, you know you're always like, "Nah, it could get cut." But I got to hang out with Steve and Owen for two days.
It's that what you hope to do, work with good people and get some fims in?
Yes. I totally did it for that reason. ... As you're trying to build your career, you're very aware of taking smaller roles that you're just trying to get seen in something in a different light. But I'd be stupid to let that one go. I have no punch line even. That's what's even funnier. I like walk in and I know people are gonna be like, "What's up with that kid?"