Ted Danson and Holly Hunter ground the silliness in ‘Mr. Mayor’
Veteran actors Ted Danson (“Cheers,” “The Good Place”) and Holly Hunter (“Succession,” “The Comey Rules”) had never worked together before their new NBC sitcom, “Mr. Mayor.” Yet, they’ve totally nailed the dynamic between their offbeat characters, Neil Bremer — a billboard ad executive-turned-L.A. mayor and Arpi Meskimen, his no-nonsense deputy mayor and former rival. The two joined The Envelope over Zoom recently to talk about the series, L.A.'s own mayor and Danson’s comedy chops.
You embarked on this venture after busy periods in your careers. What prompted you to sign up for this show so quickly?
Hunter: It’s Tina [Fey] and Robert [Carlock]. They are the crème de la crème and practically invented their own genre of TV. It’s original, incredibly intelligent and you’re kind of high-flying, but it’s lowbrow and silly too.
Danson: Lots of opposites on this show. Tina and Robert are up here in this alternate reality. Your job as an actor is to ground it in some reality no matter how silly it is. You need to say, “What I’m saying is true to me.” They put you in some extraordinary circumstances sometimes that there’s a real tension, and you’re wondering: How the hell am I going to ground that? And it’s that difficulty of doing their material that also drew me to it.
What do you love about working with each other and playing these characters?
Hunter: Ted has this skill set and ear for comedy and timing that few people have, and it’s very much his own. He has honed it to be his own. If Ted has any hesitations on the set, I’m listening. If he says we need to finesse a scene a little bit, I believe it and listen to that.
Danson: I remember reading a draft before Holly had joined the project, and I thought, “Oh, they’ll have to rewrite this character! No one can do this.” And in walked Holly, and I thought it was as if it was written for Holly Hunter. It had the same ferocity in the character and not an ounce of intellectual laziness about her. There are a lot of things you can’t perform or play, and intelligence is one of them. Trust me; I know. You can’t fake it!
Did you base your characters on any politicians we all know?
Danson: It’s so lame, but actors sometimes fantasize about the questions and come up with their answers beforehand. My joke response is “Oh, yes, I was very lucky. Eric Garcetti invited me to stay with his family for three months.” But you do recognize that this character is so different from you and he has this skill set that you don’t have, and you need to become proficient at. But I, Ted, am fairly wealthy, old, white and should not be in a position of power, and all of those things play into the part of Neil. He has good intentions and is in way over his head. So, you just hit your marks and know that you’re perfect for the part.
The show shot at the height of the pandemic in town. Tell us about that surreal experience.
Hunter: I think for the many people who functioned in a professional way last year, it had its moments of exhaustion. To be an actor is an act of connection, and you are seeking contact. There were moments that I felt very tired because of working through the masks and the shields and the protocols, which were there to protect us and did protect us. I think we take less for granted for this year.
Danson: Yes, gratitude is a big one. We were blessed to be able to work, because not everyone was able to do that. There’s one thing as an actor: Your job is to show up childlike on the set and put on your pretend clothes and be unfettered by real life and go play and be imaginative in front of the camera. There was so much fear in the air that you really needed to be disciplined, because there is nothing playful about people in hazmat suits, sticking things up in your nose and with shields in front of everyone’s faces.
What do you hope to see for these characters for Season 2?
Hunter: I have no expectations except for that “sky’s the limit” feeling that is Tina and Robert’s specialty. I’m up for anything at this point.
Danson: We did nine episodes this season. But back in the day, you used to shoot 22 episodes a season, and everybody would just really understand the show and the characters by around the 12th episode. For “Mr. Mayor,” we didn’t even get into that halfway mark to discover who we are. We can’t wait to see what the show creators have in store, because they are so bright and do make these new adjustments.
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