2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Q&A: Christopher Meloni and Rachael Harris talk ‘Surviving Jack’

Published: March 26, 2014, 4:51 pm, by Terry Terrones


On Monday I was able to sit in on a conference call with actors Christopher Meloni and Rachael Harris of the new Fox comedy “Surviving Jack.” The show, set in the 1990s, premieres this Thursday following “American Idol.” Below is a transcript of the conversation.

Q: Chris, I was wondering; this is your foray into a sitcom.  Were you nervous at all, or were you have any trepidation when you first began taking on this role?
Christopher: No.  No, trepidation.  I love comedy and I have confidence that—well, I know it’s funny.  Maybe it doesn’t translate that it is in fact funny, but yes, no trepidation.

Q: Social media has become a big part of our society.  Will either of you be live tweeting the premiere episode, and are you looking forward to the fan feedback you’ll be receiving instantly after the episode airs?
Rachael: I’m going to try to live tweet it with Claudia Lee.  So, I know that I’m going to do that.  I think the gals are going to handle that part of the thing.  But yes, I love the instant feedback from fans.  It’s really fun.

Q: I really enjoyed the pilot.  So, can you just kind of talk about how you became involved in the show?
Christopher: For me, it’s just kind of the usual – lot of scripts sent my way.  I responded to this one because I thought it was the best written.  I knew Bill Lawrence both personally and professionally.  So, I trusted his taste and his ability to give this project the best shot of seeing the light of day.  And then after that, I met Connor and Claudia and then Rachael came onboard.  So, it all just fit in rather well for me.

Rachael: Yes and for me, I came into the project later and what attracted me to it was I had worked with Justin and Patrick before on another show.  I had met them and they were lovely and collaborative.  But really, when I knew Chris was attached, I thought that was a very big draw for me just because I had loved his work in so many other things.

Q: What is both of your favorite part just overall working on the show so far?
Christopher: I would have to say how they’ve written the characters and their relationship to one another, the parent’s relationship, Rachael and me, and the parent’s vis-à-vis the kids.  I just think they’re well written relationships.

Rachael: Yes and I can say yes to that and then also, my favorite thing is just rehearsing and trying to find like the best things that we can.  Like I find the rehearsal process for the show has been really fun and really collaborative.

Christopher: Good answer.  Damn, I wish I thought of that.

Rachael: I know.  I know.  I know.  But really, the fun part is making it work.  You’re not in control of the outcome or what other people think, but I know we’ve had a really good time making it.  So, that’s been the best part so far.

Q: Chris can you talk a little bit about the American Gladiator scene in episode two and having the fun with regard to the physical comedy?
Christopher: That was a lot of fun to do.  It was pretty precarious to be tethering on top of furniture while hurling broomsticks around with pillows attached to the ends.  Those three guys, my son and his two buddies on the show, are always grab-assing around anyway.  So, it gave me a nice, fun opportunity to get in there and basically “play with the boys.”  So, that was a lot of fun.

Q: Any fashion or pop culture stuff from the 90s that makes either of you cringe?
Rachael: Thank you.  For me, it would be acid wash jeans, but it wasn’t just acid wash.  It was the fact that they were like regular jeans and they had a flap that came up like as a cinch.  Like a belt that went all the way up to the bottom of your rib cage.  They were like stylish mom jeans and we all wore them and thought that they were amazing.

Q: How did working with younger actors, so like actors who were born later in the ‘90s, like how did you kind of help them understand more like about the ‘90s because obviously you guys lived through that era and these younger actors were born kind of later.  And so, they might not know like a lot about the fashion or the video games and stuff like that.  So, how did you help them like understand stuff like that or give them details about that?
Christopher: Well, very slowly because, first of all, we’d break them to the news that there was a time in history where cell phones and computers were not there and they really couldn’t wrap their heads around that.  So, we pulled out a PowerPoint presentation for them.  …Rachael?

Rachael: No, that just made me laugh.  Yes, we did do that, but then also, they didn’t recognize a lot of the music from the ‘90s.  Like the makeup and hair people, we’d be singing songs from the ‘90s and we’d be like, “Oh, that’s so amazing” and we would just get blank stares from Claudia Lee.  Connor’s pretty hip.  Connor, I feel like, kind knew the music, but the other boys, Kevin Hernandez and Tyler Foden, their eyes would glaze over, like, “Yes, look at these old folks talking about the ‘90s,” which was hard.

Q: Chris, just a specific question for you.  We see your parenting style in “Surviving Jack” as kind of more like I guess you’d say blunt, like you just kind of say it how it is.  Does that relate at all to your parenting style in real life?
Christopher: One hundred percent accurate and the same.  I mean I don’t change.  I leave the house and arrive with the same skills and my little bag of tricks and I go home, same skill set.

Rachael: He’s not really like that.

Q: I wanted to ask how does your characters’ marriage differ from other marriages we’ve seen on TV sitcoms before.
Rachael: Well, first of all, I think what’s different is kind of no eye rolling and I never put my hands on my hips, like, “Oh, Jack, what are you doing?” because obviously, he’s taking up parenting as I go back to law school.  But, I think the thing that’s great about our relationship is they really love each other.  They don’t feel put upon by each other.  I’m not the ball and chain and he’s definitely not this man that I don’t respect.

I think what’s different is we have a deep respect for each other.  We both really like each other and we both have each other’s backs when it comes to parenting.  We may differ as far as how we would go about things, but at the end of the day we’re both really glad to be parenting together.  We really like each other.  How’s that?

Christopher: I like that.  Yes, I think that one of the marching orders was how deeply—and it comes from the pilot episode.  “Jack,” my character, deeply, deeply loves this, not needs Rachael’s character, “Joanne” in his life.  He voices that without compromise or anything.  He loves his wife deeply and unashamed to admit to it.

Q: One of the things I noticed is that you have great chemistry with each other and that the relationship really does feel like you’re married from the pilot.  Was that something that you just naturally clicked?  Did you work together to kind of develop it?  I don’t know how much of a back story you do for a sitcom, but I’m just curious.
Christopher: Yes, you know what it was is we met each other, hated each other, and really said—I was like, “She’s so overbearing” and she’s like, “Oh, he’s Mr. know it all” and then we bumped into each other and she dropped her schoolbooks.  I picked them up and the whole time we really like secretly liked each other.  It just happened that way.  Right, Rachael?

Rachael: Yes.  Exactly.  No, I think we genuinely have—I know that I really, really like Chris and I love the way that he—I admire him.  Like I like his work, but I also like the way he talks about his family and I love the way that he talks about his kids and for me, that was really appealing.  So, I think that when you genuinely like someone, you—I think … chemistry with them.

Q: I find it funny that you’re still kind of playing off this tough guy persona here.  “Jack” is funny, but he’s also kind of scary.  Was that part of the appeal, and were you actively looking for a comedy after “Law & Order?”
Christopher: I was leaning towards a comedy and the threatening “Jack” thing, I didn’t intentionally make it thus.  I guess all I did—it’s just how the script struck me and I think possibly my physicalness kind of lends itself to that in combination with how Connor plays his part.  He seems like he’s a kid who seems perpetually uneasy in his own skin.  When you compare that to a guy like “Jack” who seems to me perpetually absolutely calm and comfortable in his skin, it really then makes my character a little more threatening or whatever.

Q: I know this is based on Justin’s book, “I Suck at Girls.”  So, I’m wondering at what point did the adaptation shift to focus more on the dad character?  Did either of you meet Justin’s dad and get some blunt advice from him?
Christopher: I haven’t met him yet.  I look forward to it.  I think he’s the kind of guy who’s like the kind of guy who’s like, “Yes, I’ll meet him when it’s a success.”  If it’s not, he doesn’t want to be—

Rachael: Exactly.

Christopher: But, I always thought that it’s seen through Justin’s, Connor/Justin’s eyes, the son’s eyes and Justin’s book really kind of is all about his dad, how his dad influenced his life with his aphorisms and his piffy statements.  If anything, I think the show has caught up everybody in the swirl, meaning Rachael and my relationship, how important that is, the strength of that.  That’s how I feel.

Q: I wanted to go back to one of the previous questions about the era that the show is set in.  I really love that the show takes place in the ‘90s.  Is there a particular aspect from then that you wish was still around, or maybe it’s the whole no cell phones and Internet.
Christopher: I wish they’d bring Grunge back.

Rachael: Yes.  I wish that we could have it both ways.  I wish that we could have like six hours, six to eight hours of Internet and cell phones and then for six or eight hours we have no access.  So, we have to actually just like use a landline and call people and wait for calls and things like that.  How about that?

Christopher: Yes.  Don’t you wish we could have self-discipline now and not—yes.

Rachael: Yes.  I mean I guess I could do that, right, Chris?  I could just say, you know what?

Christopher: I guess so.  It’s difficult.  It’s hard, Rachael.

Rachael: Yes.  It’s really hard.

Q: Did you guys ever play pranks or anything on set, anything like that that maybe was funny?
Christopher: No, because—well, I don’t think so only because we have Connor and his two school buddies and they’re always doing boy prank stuff.  Like if you look where they have their finger, then you have to drop and do 20 pushups or they get to give you a wet willy or just this weird—or they mag tag each other.

Q: How do you guys most feel that you’re similar and different from your characters?
Christopher: I’m taller than “Jack” in real life, but past that, our parenting styles are exactly similar.

Rachael: I don’t have kids in real life and “Joanne” has two.  I’m really just not old enough to have children that age in real life, and I’m kidding.

Christopher: “Joanne” wouldn’t do that.

Rachael: And then, I think that “Joanne” likes to rock a lot of shoulder pads on the show and I don’t.

Christopher: Oh, Rachael.  Really?

Rachael: All right.  I do.  I do wear them.

Christopher: Make peace with it.  It’s time.

Rachael: I know.

Christopher: It’s okay.