No, Paul Reiser doesn’t really look that bad. It’s just his ‘Method’
It’s been almost 40 years since Paul Reiser’s screen career took off, playing the noodgy Modell in Barry Levinson’s beloved 1982 comedy, “Diner.” He’s hardly been away ever since.
In the last few years alone, the actor, comedian and writer-producer has been seen in a one-season “revisit” of his hit 1990s sitcom “Mad About You” as Paul Buchman; playing famed producer-composer Cy Feuer in the FX miniseries “Fosse/Verdon”; in a recurring role as Dr. Sam Owens in Netflix’s “Stranger Things”; and in such films as last year’s psychological thriller “Horse Girl” and the current Kevin Hart drama “Fatherhood.”
And that doesn’t even include the part that recently earned him his 11th Emmy nomination, portraying the sweetly hapless Martin Schneider in the third and final season of “The Kominsky Method.”
The acclaimed Netflix show, which stars Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky, an acting coach in his 70s, finds Sandy’s 30-something daughter, Mindy (Sarah Baker), romantically involved with — and become engaged to — Martin, a retired schoolteacher closer to her father’s age.
So how does the busy and versatile Reiser, who turned 65 in March, decide what he wants to take on these days? “There’s no real formula or that much thought given to it,” the performer said during a freewheeling Zoom chat from his Los Angeles home as his boxer, Gracie, lolled nearby. “You measure each opportunity that comes your way … and think if it’s worth your while.
“And, as we all get older, I think you look at it with a bit more scrutiny, like, ‘All right, how much longer am I going to be alive? Do I want to commit to that much time?’ If I’m going to do something, I want to make sure there’s at least the promise of it being good.
“But I’ve been ridiculously fortunate,” he added, “that so many things have fallen in my lap.”
That includes how “Kominsky” creator Chuck Lorre came to hire him for the show. Reiser, who worked with Lorre some 30 years earlier on the NBC sitcom “My Two Dads,” had dropped him a note praising the first season of “Kominsky.” Lorre invited him to lunch and, though Reiser came armed with several series ideas he thought they might partner on (they had often talked about writing something together), Lorre instead asked Reiser to join the “Kominsky” cast for Season 2.
“He had this idea that there’d be an old guy dating Michael’s [much] younger daughter to be a thorn in Michael’s side,” Reiser said. “I think when I reached out, something sparked in Chuck, who thought, ‘Y’know, if we put a little makeup [on] and age Paul a bit, he could be close enough to Michael’s age … to be his buddy.’
“They didn’t try to make me 75, but they said, ‘Let’s bump you up a few years, make you look worse,’” the affable Reiser recalled with a laugh.
That “worse” guise — padding to add weight, a bald cap and a fringe of gray hair with a foot-long ponytail (a touch Reiser called “genius”) — could have felt risky to a more image-conscious actor concerned that viewers might wonder if he’d quickly gone downhill. But not Reiser.
“I didn’t worry or think about that, but it’s funny — that’s actually what happened because [the look] wasn’t so far-fetched,” he said. “I had a lot of calls from friends who are going, ‘That’s a wig, right?’ But what was worse were friends who didn’t even have the courage to call me, who’d call other friends and ask, ‘Has Paul let himself go like that?’
“I have, but not to that extent,” Reiser said, with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I’ve only let myself go that much,” he says, spreading his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
He couldn’t be happier with the results of his physical transformation or the bonus it provided. “It really does so much of the acting for you,” Reiser notes. “It was also a great way to lose your ego and vanity because you just go, ‘Well, this guy [Martin] is not at all about vanity and, if he is, he’s just kind of clueless.’”
Reiser, who co-created, produced and wrote on the long-running “Mad About You” (which earned him 10 Emmy nods, including five for lead actor in a comedy) and performed similar duties on such short-lived series as 2011’s “The Paul Reiser Show” and 2017’s “There’s … Johnny!,” found the more singular focus he could bring to “Kominsky” “a joy.”
“I certainly love being able to steer a ship or take an idea to fruition,” Reiser said. “But, at the same time, it’s a great relief to jump into somebody else’s sandbox, to let them do all the heavy lifting. It’s sort of like swinging the two bats on deck and then you drop one and go, ‘Oh, this is much easier, it’s just one bat!’”
He continued: “Chuck was very open, with me anyway, to input and feedback. … There were many times where he would just take an ad-lib of mine and use it or invite me [to jump in], so it didn’t ever feel at all constrained. I felt it was very much an open collaboration.”
From the Oscars to the Emmys.
Get the Envelope newsletter for exclusive awards season coverage, behind-the-scenes stories from the Envelope podcast and columnist Glenn Whipp’s must-read analysis.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.