Valerie Azlynn previews SULLIVAN & SON Season 2
SULLIVAN & SON returned to TBS last week with an episode designed to re-introduce you to the show, the characters, and the storylines from last summer’s first season. The show, starring co-creator Steve Byrne, and a wide variety of other cast members including, but not limited to, Dan Lauria and Christine Ebersole, follows the story of Steve Sullivan, a corporate lawyer who returns to Pittsburgh and buys his parents’ bar. Steve now spends his days relaxing with his best friends, dealing with his family, laughing at, and with, the barflies at Sullivan & Son, and interacting with a friend from childhood, his current just-friend, Melanie Sutton.
Familiar face Valerie Azlynn plays Melanie; I recently had a great chat with her about what’s coming up on SULLIVAN & SON, why people should be watching this show, why she LOVES Steve and Melanie as just friends, and what she ranks as her number one comedy of all time. Check it out before an all new episodes of S&S airs tonight on TBS!
Congratulations on the success of the show – we’re so excited for Season 2 to have started. What is it like back on the set, shaking out the kinks of Season 1 – how has it changed in Season 2 from the first season?
I think some of the stuff that changes is that they delved a little bit deeper into the characters, which is very nice. Season 1, probably on any show, they’re kind of figuring it out as they go along, and getting used to you as an actor and your delivery. I think this season, they’re really figuring us out a little bit more, and writing a little bit more towards what we excel at. I think, initially, you do, you have to work out that muscle again, because multi-cam is so different than any genre of film and TV. It’s like live theatre, because all of our performances are live. We don’t use a laugh track, which I really appreciate. In fact, my sister-in-law comes to like, every taping and I’m not kidding you, I hear her laugh, every time I watch that show like she’s some weird alternate character that nobody knows, and it’s like, oh, there’s Carrie’s laugh! [laughs] It’s so funny!
With Steve being a part of the writing staff and the show, does that aid in the script process being a collaborative effort? You mentioned they’re writing more towards you as an actor. Can you go to them and say “Here’s what I think Melanie might do?”
Not immediately from the get go. In Season 1, we didn’t have a lot of input. I don’t think that that was because they didn’t want it or anything like that. I think that they had an idea of what they needed to do to get the show off the ground, and that’s where they headed with it. But this past season – our cast is huge. It’s 10 series regulars, for a half hour show. They took a meeting with all of us privately, and we were able to pitch some ideas. Talk about what we love about our character and what we don’t think really works for them and I felt like I got to be a part of the collaboration, and I think that it allows for a bit more of a creative artistic aspect to it, instead of just like “here’s your lines, go for it.”
Talk a bit about where Season 1 ended, where Season 2 picked up last week, and what we’ll see for the next couple of episodes?
Our show is unique in the ability that I don’t think that there is some thick plot line that you have to be up on. Sometimes, if you miss that, like I haven’t gotten into GAME OF THRONES yet and I keep putting it off because I have to watch from episode 1, because there’s apparently all this crazy stuff that happens and if I don’t see all this, then I won’t know. Our showrunner, Rob Long, made a strict choice that he wanted our audience whether it’s the first episode or the second, any episode in the first season and know what was going on. They could just turn on the show and watch it, so it wasn’t overly complicated. I think the relationships are easy to figure out, which is good. I appreciate that, to be honest. There is so much stuff on TV – what do you watch these days? It’s easier to latch onto our show! This season, it gets a little deeper. The characters are getting a lot more fleshed out. We’re still shooting – we still have four more episodes to shoot, so I don’t know what those four scripts are, so I’m eager to see myself! I can tell you that one of the ideas that I really wanted to happen, does happen, and that will be episode 3. First off, we got an amazing guest star, we got Kunal [Nayyar] from THE BIG BANG THEORY. He’s incredible. He comes on it. Basically, my character has always worn her uniform. I’m like Cliff on CHEERS but like the girl version. I don’t want to tip it, but I kind of am. Maybe Melanie changes? What, what, what? Wink Wink! [laughs] It’s cool. We’re exploring love and relationships, and who do these characters want to be with. A lot of people used to ask me about Steve and Melanie, and I think it’s important to remember that they were just friends from childhood, and on a lot of shows, you don’t know if they’re going to hook up or not. I think their friendship is something to be admired. They have a friendship that every girl and guy say you can’t have – you can’t be friends without liking each other. Well, I think we’ve done a really good job of it. You really can be friends. She can be one of the guys and still look like a girl [laughs].
That’s a really good point that you make – watching shows, all the shows that I do watch – it never seems like there can be a guy and a girl friendship – it’s nice to relate to that, because it does happen in real life.
I hate when people put that on you – it’s like, NO, no guy and girl can be friends – they always end up together, and it’s like “Why always?” All it takes is one relationship or one character to break the mold, and there you go! We’re breaking the mold!
You mention the size of the cast – you don’t see a lot of multi-camera shows with 10 series regulars being serviced well by the writing and directing! You all interact very well – is there someone in a scene that makes you break the most, or causes the most re-takes of scenes?
We all will goof off. One of the beauties of our show is that if it’s not funny while we’re taping it, if the audience doesn’t laugh, they’ll run in, and they’ll cut the joke, and give you a new joke. They’ll literally run on the stage, stop the scene, cut the joke, and give a new joke, and that’s why I think that shooting live is better than preshooting. A lot of sitcoms nowadays preshoot a lot of their material, and I think sometimes it doesn’t play as well. Recently, one of the lines that Steve said to me, and in rehearsal, it got tons of laughs, from our crew and all of the network comes to rehearsal, and it wasn’t a problem in the rehearsal, but the second he said it to me, the reaction from the audience was like this, like “…ooh…” They didn’t like him talking to me like that, because they don’t want to see it. It was a really interesting thing to go, okay, so he can’t talk to her in that way, because people are not going to respond. People are going to think no, because we like both of you. Steve and I get to play the straight-man. My character has a strong moral ground, and she’s a good girl, and she’s tough. They’re romantic but not romantic leads – so a lot of times we don’t get to do as much of the goofy stuff and some of the other characters are off the wall. You know who breaks a lot, who really gets me going, is Owen [Benjamin, who plays Owen on the show]. He kills me sometimes. He had to say a line this past week to me, because we are friends personally, because I think they just don’t even see me…they see me kind of like a sister – the line was a little bit more flirtatious, and he couldn’t’ get it out. He came up behind me to say the line, and I just hear this breathing on my new, and it was like, ew, my god, just say the line! [laughs]. I don’t want you to breathe on me! That was all live and in front of the audience. We do an outtakes reel, and I can’t wait to see that! It will be ridiculous!
Playing Melanie – what are some things you love playing?
I love that she’s really fiercely independent. Very strong, and yet shows such vulnerability in different moments over different things. I think it’s a very realistic portrayal of my age right now. Just because women, we’ve made so many amazing steps forward, and I think it’s kind of cool to be accurately portraying what’s really happening, as opposed to making some glossy version of stuff. I think she struggles with the independence sometimes and that may get in her way a little bit – also, if she didn’t have that, she wouldn’t be who she is. That’s her sort of inner struggle, and then she is sensitive. For as tough as she is, she’s sensitive. I think we all are, we all put up such a strong front, and go home. My poodles see a different side of me, is what I’m trying to say to you [laughs]. Would you like to interview my malti-poo? [laughs]
What I love about the show is that Pittsburgh is essentially a character itself! Have you had a chance to go and experience it? I know that the crew shoots exteriors, but wasn’t sure if you had been able to shoot anything there?
I’ve been to Pittsburgh – actually, my best friend out here in Los Angeles is from Pittsburgh. She was ecstatic when she found out that the show is taking place there. She started throwing out all of the terms! I wish we could go and shoot something exterior. Maybe like, season 3? It would be kind of cool. Road trip – they go to a Steelers game! Oh my gosh, fun! Crazy fun!
Why do you think that SULLIVAN & SON is a show that people should be watching?
I think that you feel like you’re the other characteer at the bar. It’s an easy-identifying show that everybody knows somebody like one of these people there. I feel like it’s kind of crazy characters, and it’s all grounded in reality in truth. It’s really edgy, and we get away with that because of being on cable. It’s not your glossy little sitcom. It’s just not. It’s something wildly different. I think it’s a lot more current than a lot of stuff, to be honest, and I feel really lucky to be a part of it. It’s cool. Come join us at the bar!! Have a beer, watch a TV show, and relax!
Do you have a favorite comedy or a favorite show that you never missed an episode, it’s your favorite?
GOLDEN GIRLS! I love it!I can’t get away from it. It won’t leave me; it won’t leave me. I learned so much from them. They’re comedy mavens. I don’t know that we’ll ever have anything like that again. So top notch. That show was edgy for its time. They covered topics that people did not want to talk about it. You can’t still watch that show, and it’s so relevant! Maybe that interior is a little dated.
It looks just like my Grandmom’s house!
Yes! I was going to say “…is it really?” [laughs]
You watch other shows from the 80s/90s, and they don’t often hold up, but GOLDEN GIRLS is just funny.
They did a really good job of having it be relationship oriented, as opposed to just ha-ha funny. That’s where shows will fall down. Thank god that’s another thing that we do. It’s the relationships and dynamics between characters that keep an audience invested. They feel like their friends.
Let’s switch gears and chat for a bit about what else you have coming up. I’ve heard so much about CAROLINE AND JACKIE!
CAROLINE AND JACKIE I know right now you can get it on iTunes. We just had a small theater opening, which for that movie, is incredible. It’s the definition of a lowbudget indie. We shot it for, the amount of money is something ridiculous. $1,000, maybe? We all did our hair and makeup ourselves. Our wardrobe was our own. We shot primarily in one house. We did exteriors very quickly and fast with the camera. What was very cool – that director, I’ll just say it right now, he’s somebody to keep your eye on. I have no words to describe him. I wish I could be as creative as he is. He is a genius. To have done what he did with this movie – he had a script written for it, and he took what he wanted in each scene. We got story beats. We never got a full script. We used our own dialogue and were able to improv, and build our characters. That is a very rare experiment, not doing experimental theater, and not doing it for a movie. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, but in this situation. Bitsie Tulloch gives an incredible performance. Marguerite Moreau – the level of talent in that one woman – it’s off the charts. And actually, after that movie, Bitsie and Dave went on to get the leads in GRIMM! We shot before they were in GRIMM.
Oh I read that leading up to our call, and I wasn’t sure if they came to the movie because of GRIMM or vice versa.
I remember at the time, Dave was testing, for SUITS, or something like that, some USA show – we were running lines upstairs, and we all went out for pilot season, and when he booked the role, Bitsie had gone in to audition for the role, and to my knowledge, that’s the way it went down. They wound up having good chemistry because they worked together. The movie is really unique. It makes a nice statement. It’s a heavy movie. It’s really cool. The other project I’m really super excited about, that will be coming out hopefully this fall – I did a remake of THE LITTLE RASCALS. That was INCREDIBLE!! I play Miss Crabtree, their teacher.
It was so cool! It was like, wow, this is amazing. Dyed my hair blonde, and got to work opposite Lex Medlin – he’s great. He’s on that show DROP DEAD DIVA. He’s really funny; he plays Officer Kennedy. And Doris Roberts plays Grandma. And all of the kids, they kind of like cast over Skype! Isn’t that incredible?
It’s crazy what we can do!
I know!! The little boy who played Alfalfa, who did such a great job, had never done anything before. He’s from Austin, TX. He came out, and now he’s Alfalfa. So that one’s really cool. And I finished up a horror movie this year, called NEVERMORE. That’s a dark, scary one. It’s been a wild year.
Wow, you like playing the same character, huh? [laughs]
[laughs] Lots of different roles! I love that! I’m so happy that I’m not pigeon-holed like that. It’s great. It’s really cool.