Hollywood is, in many ways, the quiet eye in the swirling entertainment hurricane of Los Angeles. Although most of the world thinks of Hollywood as the capital of motion picture and television production, it's really the outlying suburbs of Santa Monica, Glendale, Burbank and Culver City where the grunt-work of making movie magic happens.
It's a hurry-up-and-wait state of existence, too. Programs are okayed, a pilot is rushed out, focus groups tear it apart, and a new series gets revamped. The folks who have to do this on a daily basis can find themselves out of a job, or working overtime to get the show to the tube on time. So, scheduling events can be a difficult task.
These were the conditions that brought about my interview with Wallace Langham, the voice of Single Dad/Brother Andy French of The WB's animated series Mission Hill. For the past weeks, I'd been working with Keith, the show's publicist, on getting a quick one-on-one with Mr. Langham. It seemed like a good chance of getting this together as I left for L.A., but I still had no firm date or location for the meeting.
When I touched base with Keith, I had just checked into a motel in Hollywood - a place that seemed to be centered between all the interviews I had arranged before I got to L.A. Keith was working on a few other interviews for me, and wasn't sure about getting Wallace in for a face-to-face chat. We talked a while and then he said he'd check with Wallace about a good time.
The phone rang - it was Keith.
"Wallace is kinda busy - could he do a phone interview with you?"
I thought a moment: (a) I could say no and lose the interview or (b) give into less-than-clear audio on a phone recorder. I chose (b).
"Um, okay," I said, "when would he want to do this?"
"Now," said Keith.
I was thinking "Thursday" would have been a good answer, but "Now" was almost as panic-inducing as a flat-out "No." I didn't have a phone pickup, I didn't have my questions in front of me, I didn't have the page layout figured out without pictures...
So, I begged. "Could he call in 15 minutes? I have to set up the audio." Ha. I had to figure out if I could jam the mike into the receiver and talk into the bottom part of the phone and still be understood. Oh, and read my notes and make sure the minidisc recorder was working. So nine hundred seconds would be plenty of time. [ring irony bell here]
Keith says sure, fine, fifteen minutes.
Maniac Mode: I'm plugging things in and stretching phone lines around the teeny motel room. Someone in the room below me starts up what sounds like a chipper/shredder filled with railroad ties. I've got a stack of mismatched faxes about every show except Mr. Langham's, and I notice the phone is ringing. That was no fifteen minutes, was it?
Wallace, can you hear me okay? --
Wallace - Yeah, I can hear you fine.
Well, I'm just going to--
Wallace - I just have to let you know I haven't - I'm just in a bit of a time pressure here.
Okay, I'm sorry - I'm just - just a couple of quick questions then. Um, most of the questions are about, well actually they're all about your new show, but let me get to it real quick then. Um, have you done any voices for TV shows before?
Wallace - Sure I've done some -- guest spots for shows on Disney.
But this is your first actual series - series cartoon one?
Wallace - Yeah, yeah I did a character on "Pepper Anne" and then, um, gosh I think something for uh, the "Buzz Lightyear" series.
Wallace - Yeah, this is my first series, though.
Okay, now in acting in a cartoon versus working like in your work in Larry Sanders and things like that -
Wallace - Right -
Is it more difficult? Is it easier? I mean, what -
Wallace - It's a little bit more difficult for me because uh, Andy French is a pretty straightforward character, but still has to have, uh, the cartoon element of - of - of - what's the word? - of heightening the performance - so that it comes through in a bigger-than-life kind of way.
Right you're still emoting, but you've got that paint going on.
All during this part of the interview, I've got the papers flying up in the air and I'm trying to read the notes I've scribbled on photocopies of press releases. Suddenly, I find my page with most of my Langham notes in some kind of order.
When you're doing this, I'm assuming you're doing this as an ensemble.
Wallace - Yeah.
I mean you're interacting with the other cast - you're not isolated?
Wallace - Yeah, it's sorta like a semi-circle of microphones set up and uh, it's like an old radio show.
Right. And do you do it pretty much like a table read or are you "shooting out-of-sequence?" How does that -
Wallace - Well we do -- we do a table read on Monday and then we do/shoot/record the thing on the following Wednesday. And we - oh, when we actually record? No, it's taken out of sequence.
Oh, so you can add in effects and things like that
Wallace - Yeah.
Some of the concerns - I know some actors have a concern about being "lost in the part" - meaning you're lost as a cartoon character and people don't recognize you. Is it - -
Wallace - (laughs)No, I think it's only when you're doing a hit television series.
Yeah, I mean you get to be in a hit show, and then you don't have to worry, I mean you can go out in public without having to be spotted instantly.
Wallace - Right.
Your character: do you feel your character is a Single Dad? I mean, would you call him - he is the older brother -
Wallace - Right.
-the actions he has to take in the show - do you feel he is a Single Dad in the show?
Wallace - Well, he's put in that position by his parents. But he's probably the worst single dad that there probably could be, for any kid!
Oh, allright -
Wallace - It seems like Kevin [the younger brother] has more of the responsibility of being the Single Dad to Andy.
Would you class him as a worse dad than say, um, Jonny Quest's dad, who used to take him to places and get him involved in places where he could get killed and -
Wallace - Yeah, I think we all wanted to have that kind of dad. If I had Andy as a dad, I think - I think it would sorta like be the movie Mask, having Cher as your mom.
Okay, I -
Wallace - You know?
Yeah, it's -
Wallace - Having to clean up the vomit and put away and clean out the ashtrays.
Um, now, the way - in the universe of prime-time cartoons, would you say this is about as cynical as something like Dr. Katz or something or is it -
Wallace - Ahh -
Where would you - usually people are trying to relate - I mean it's a new show -
Wallace - Yeah, that's why -
I mean, where would you put this?
Wallace - Yeah, I don't know if you could do that for this show. I think it is - uh - as smart as The Simpsons, or Dr. Katz, and so with that comes - sure, a flavor of cynicism, but it's not a cynical show.
Right. Do you have any input into how your character develops? I mean when you're talking with - I guess the writers are Josh and Bill -
Wallace - Yeah.
Do you get some feedback with that and say, "I don't think you should say it like this? Or -
Wallace - Um, I really don't find the need to do that. I mean, yeah, there are some characters where I - I will disagree creatively with - with the writers but - I have no need to do that on this one. It's so well-written and so well thought-out and the sensibilities are already kinda built in so - - I'm very happy with what I see.
And you see a long future? I mean, it looks like something that, when you're in it, you can feel when something 'has legs?' I guess -
Wallace - Yeah - yeah, I think this is a very solid show.
Great. Do you know why [the title] was changed from The Downtowners to Mission Hill?
Wallace - Yeah, apparently there's a show on MTV called MTV Downtown that I think is an animated show.
Oh, okay. There's a confusion there.
Wallace - Yeah.
And that was pretty much it. I thanked Wallace for the interview and told him it would be up on the site later in the week. He cut a site ID for me - click here for a listen.
Sounds like a promising show. After talking with the producers (see the Bill Oakley / Josh Weinstein interview), I'm pretty sure it'll be a success. Of course, I thought The Critic was a show that would last, too. I guess we'll all find out soon enough.