FX’s hit comedy series, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, follows a group of depraved underachievers known as “The Gang” who are constantly scheming against one another for personal gain and creating elaborate plots that generally backfire. The series is currently in its seventh season and airs on FX every Thursday night at 10:00.
Danny DeVito plays Frank Reynolds, the owner of Paddy’s Pub, a run-down Irish bar in Southern Philadelphia. PCM’s Joe talked with the star about stuffing his face on the set and what gets his character Frank out of the bed in the morning.
Question: What gets “Frank Reynolds” out of bed in the morning?
D. Devito:I’m telling you, and I keep saying this to folks, they’ve kind of infected me with this pulsing desire to get into mischief. They started it out really, like you said, I was kind of going, “Wait a minute. Whoa. What’s going on here?” Although, I did ask for it. I said I wanted to live in squalor and filth and I wanted to do everything the gang does and I want to be part of the gang and everything.
I just started having so much fun. It’s like you get up in the morning and the character gets out of bed going, “Wow. I got to get dressed right away, get down there, and see what the nut nuts are doing, so I can get involved.” Because we know they’re going to come up with something.
Question: One thing I noticed, you spend a lot of time eating. I guess I should say putting food in your mouth. How do you handle those kinds of takes?
D. Devito: How do I hand those kinds of takes? I really stuff my face in the show. I spit it out most of the time, when it’s too much. But once in a while I’ll just munch during the day and I shouldn’t do it. It’s not good for the waistline, but it’s a lot of fun to do that. When I eat an apple when I eat like an animal, that’s a whole other story.
Next Thursday night I do a lot of eating. “Frank’s” brother—we got a show coming up here—where I do a lot of mongrel eating. It’s like a dog, a rabbit—starving; some kind of creature who’s starving. Once I start eating it, it has to go in all the way—just stuff it in, like drinking a beer. I don’t worry about the beer falling all over my cheeks. I just want that cold, thirst-quenching liquid coming down my throat.
Question: The first one is, I know a lot people wouldn’t fit into the show because of the crude humor and the dynamics of the group, but who would you feel would be your dream guest star, if you could pick anybody to fit in with you guys on it?
D. DeVito: I think that deep down inside all my friends that I have, whether they’re people that I have worked with over the years—if they had time and if we had parts for them, they’d all jump in, just for a guest spot. We’ve come close to Edward Norton and we’ve come close to—it’s just a matter of timing and things like—everybody, like all my buds and people who watch the show, I think they would all have the sensibility to jump down into the gutter with us.
Question: What attracted you to the role of “Frank”?
D. DeVito: The fact that they wrote it so well, first of all. There wasn’t a role of “Frank” six seasons ago, and then they said they would like me to come onto the show and I said if it’s organic to the piece, and this was—I was the dad of “Sweet Dee” and “Dennis.” And if it was a character that I’d feel like I could really let my hair down, no pun intended, and allow myself to explore other avenues that were as raunchy or as ribald as I’ve done in the past, but with an FX kind of sensibility. They delivered on every front. And not only that, they became my good buddies and now we’re sailing along having a great time.
Question: How do you think this show manages to not offend people even though it deals with so many controversial topics? What is it about the writing?
D. DeVito: Right. Right. I think that every once in a while there is a barb that gets close to the line. I think we try to stay as close to the nerve as possible, but I got a feeling it’s where it’s coming from, might be one of the things. It might be that the way these characters, with the way “Dennis” and “Dee” and “Mac,” “Charlie,” and “Frank” operate in their daily lives. I think that takes a little bit of the onus off it, so you can get objective, you get behind it.
You can understand somebody in that situation, those guys having not the brightest reaction to when they find a baby in the dumpster. They have the second brightest—they’re going to be nice to the baby, they’re not going to hurt it, but they skip the good part where they should be really trying to make sure they get really good care for the baby. They believe they can do it. They pretty much believe they can do anything, and they try to protect the baby as best they can. The baby becomes part of them and then the next thing you know, he’s being painted with shoe polish and trying to get the parts on television because they’re only hiring Hispanics and African Americans.
I always feel like, no matter what we do—and in the sexual department, it’s usually reciprocal with “Artemis” and I. We both love banging in the dumpster and she more than I. It’s not like a bad thing if you’ve ever—it’s one of those things that falls under “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
Question: When do you feel like you’re at your funniest and what, as an actor, helps get you to that place?
D. DeVito: I think it’s the freedom to allow yourself to go. We have a script that is written every week. Let’s talk about Sunny for a second. We have a script that is really well-written. They all put it all together. And then we’re allowed to venture off a little bit. It’s kind of like an improv, but it’s not. You don’t call it that. We just get into the situation and then everybody parries with each other.
Sometimes some of the funniest things come out of—one day, it was the last show that was on, we were fighting over lines and Rob looked at me, and he was so mad. He said, “I ought to put my finger through your eye, you little …,” something like that. It was out of the blue and I just couldn’t—of course I laughed my … off, but it’s out of those come the funniest situations, where they’re spontaneous. But they do write some really great stuff, so it leads you in the path of hilarity.
Question: What does your family think of the show?
D. DeVito: My family loves the show. In fact, I found the show because John Landgraf sent the first few episodes, when they did them seven years ago, to Rhea. He wanted to get the take on it from our family. They were all sitting watching the show religiously, and I came in and I sat down and I got hooked on it the first season with the dead guy in the hospital—there were so many things. There were racial things in the bar. They were just done in a way that was fresh and I thought each one of the characters was funnier than the next.
And then later on, Landgraf sent me the note, or the email, that they were interested in talking to me about being on the show. My kids love the show now; although once in a while I do embarrass everybody by coming out of the couch naked. But it’s all in fun and they put the little Christmas wreath by my tushy.
Question:I’m curious to hear some of your thoughts on how TV comedy has changed over the years? As someone who’s a comedy legend, in my opinion, and how it’s changed for you as an actor, being a part of it back then and now?
D. DeVito: I’m not sure about that question totally—how to answer my take on the change of the comedy itself. Things have to do with timing, and things have to do with subject, and things have to do with surprise, and things have to do with things like that. All those things are the template for comedy, because the audience has to be surprised and has to be all those.
Whether you look at any of the comedians along the way, or you look at the television along the way, it’s always that. Then the times change so things get different out there in the world and the material changes because of it. Whether you’re mocking something or you’re emulating something that is so ridiculous, that is the way. Values change in the society and then also your PC, what you call PC, changes—like politically correct or socially correct, or something that is irreverent. You may have been thinking about it for many, many years, but it just wasn’t its time yet and now—and that is the way I think things have changed.
Question : As a follow up, is there a specific episode that you’re looking forward to seeing fan reaction to this season?
D. DeVito: I’ve been watching the shows and they’ve been really—must say, up to our expectations. Seems like the fans are having a good time. This week we have a special show on where I meet my brother. I see my brother for the first time in many, many years and we had a very sordid past. This is kind of fun. This is like a show that does flashbacks and you get a little bit more insight into what “Frank” went through as a young man. I’m looking forward to this.
Question: You played so many in the past, but do you think “Frank Reynolds” compares to any of the characters you’ve portrayed in your career?
D. DeVito: I think he’s got—no, he’s an individual definitely. His character is set up the way his character is. His situations definitely—when you play characters and they have a certain amount of energy or they don’t have a certain amount of energy, you as an actor, you gather some of that. That always stays with you because a lot of it’s you. A lot of my moves and my things that I like to do, may come from within.
They possibly resemble, like for instance, even in—well, from “Louie” all the way to Other People’s Money to Twins and all those. There is a lot of similarity and sometimes their spirit, but of course, the situations and their makeup is different. I don’t think that “Louie” would want to live with “Charlie.” I know that. He wouldn’t want to do night crawlers. Man, I’m telling you. “Louie” would throw that. “Charlie” would be—if it was a situation like that, “De Palma” would have him sleeping out on the fire escape. There is no way. They’re similar in that way, but I guess the answer is yes.
Question: Since your range as an actor seems so broad, was it difficult making that transition from feature films to working in television?
D.DeVito: I came from—I was in the stage doing off-Broadway work in New York, then I came out and did some episodic television, then I did the three camera stuff. I actually did movies before that because I did Cuckoo’s Nest, and all that was before those. If the audience accepts you in the different genres, then I think you’re really fortunate to go back and forth.
I’m just watching Claire Danes now on her show, Homeland, and she’s doing a great job. That is a different kind of show, but it’s still going from movies to TV. She’s doing a really good job. Then you look at the old days when it was Travolta went from the TV show to the movies. So did Clint Eastwood in those days. It wasn’t commonly done.
And now with all the different medias—the internet medias and the wonderful communications that we have out there in the world—people like to see the actors, especially young folks. It’s doesn’t really bug them if I see them one day in a movie and the next time I see them they’re on TV or even on the web. I think it’s pretty free.
Question: What is it like being from a different generation of actors than the rest of the cast? What do you bring? How do contrast? What is that like?
D. DeVito: Basically, “Dennis” and “Dee” are definitely like my kids, and so is Rob and so are “Mac” and “Charlie,” in their age. They’re in their early 30s and I’m in my mid-60s. How it works is, I know more than they do. They have to listen to me. They do everything I say and they wait on me. And then everything else is the same, nothing different.
And we act together, but if I need something they go get it for me. They take me to my car. They make sure I get home. Take care of the Dad. They take me out to dinner. They don’t clean my dressing room, but we have a person to do that. But, they would because they’re my kids and kids have to take care of their parents.
So far it’s been really nice. They take care of me really—and it’s fun being with young people. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for everybody who’s in that generation, the baby boomers or whatever I am, to open themselves up to young folks because I believe—not to sound cliché and like I’m winning a beauty contest—but I believe our future lies with the young people.
I’m really excited about what’s going on Wall Street, and I’m really excited about what’s happening in the world, and I think it’s about time we don’t take to the streets just because we’re going to be drafted, which is what we did when I was a kid, and not sit around and understand that there are really, really important things going on in the world that we have to raise our voices to.
Question: In the show the dialogue is crazy and the stories are ridiculous, but you and the rest of the cast play it perfectly. Is it hard for you guys to play most of those situations and keep it seemingly real and not usually over the top?
D. DeVito: We’re very committed to our mental capacity. One of the great things is when Rob and Glenn and Charlie created the show, they set the bar. And there are a lot of these things that they believe, and I have come to believe as well. I think the Charlie sandwich is like tasty. I like playing night crawlers. Honestly, it’s really a great thing. I do a lot of things, like randomly drink things that—we don’t comply to the “don’t mix” rule. We don’t do that. We throw up a lot. We do a lot of stuff that we’d do in normal life and it’s probably easier for us to do. I like banging whores—that is in character, that’s not married.
There are so many things—it’s just committing to what you’re doing and getting into it and always thinking it’s a great idea, until it blows up in your face like an M80 in a bunch of meat.
Catch Danny DeVito on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Thursday nights at 10 on FX.