Danny DeVito Talks It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Episode 7.05
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?
Danny 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 it's just a matter of timing and things. 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.
What attracted you to the role of Frank?
Danny 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 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.
How do you think this show manages to not offend people even though it deals with so many un-PC topics? What is it about the writing?
Danny 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'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, it's one of those things that falls under "don't knock it until you've tried it."
How do you compare your experience working on Sunny to your time on Taxi?
Danny DeVito: Oh. Have you ever watched Fringe? It's like another universe. It's the same thing, in a way, because we don't have the live audience, but we do have really good writing. And we had great writing on Taxi. And this is from an actor's point of view, we had a great cast on Taxi and we have a great cast on Sunny. We have people who really care about each other, but it's just an alternate universe. It's a different milieu. It's a different whole zeitgeist of what goes on there. And it's a different time. I remember doing Taxi and falling in love with the candy girl who was Rhea (Perlman), and she was the nice girl, and everybody didn't know why she was going out with me. I asked her and she said, "Everybody tells me not to go out with you. The doorman tells me not to go out with you." And I said, "Well, why do you?" And she said, "Louie, you touch me." And I say, "Holy ...." And the standards and practices wouldn't let us say, "Holy ...." We had a fight-she had to say, "Holy" and "..." in the same sentence. We wound up doing it, but times have changed also.
I'm going to be blunt here. Frank makes Louie De Palma look like Mother Teresa. Since no one sees himself as the villain in his own story, what is your "in" for playing Frank? What do you use to play this character season after season, and is there an ongoing catharsis for doing that?
Danny DeVito: Yes. I agree with you on every front. I think that Louie De Palma is, like you said, the Mother Teresa-except for the fact that Mother Teresa would not put her mother in a home, just so he could have a party at her house, like Louie did. Louie's getting a pass by being called Mother Teresa, but he had a nugget of brass for a heart. He had something in there. There were some sensibilities in there of Louie. Frank has it also, but he has a tenderness inside. But because of the parameters he set up, Frank has set up for himself, where he wants to live in squalor and filth and he wants to experience everything that he never got a chance to do, that he always criticized possibly in the past. But always deep down, really wanted to do that thing where he just put on the Mardi Gras beads and go out and party all night and find somebody who he could buy to have sex with. He just never did it before. He was a business man, his nose to the grindstone. He needed that liberation. He needed that freedom and it is cathartic. It's cathartic for Frank. Louie got off on making their lives miserable from the cage, but he did actually care about the characters. I think he felt Tony Danza was this poor palooka who could never take a punch or throw one. Marilu (Henner) was never going to get-he didn't have high hopes for those characters. He knew Judd (Hirsch) was always going to be a cab driver, never get out of there. Louie was, on the one hand, having a good time making their lives a little interesting. These guys are more like Lucy and Ethel, where they always have some scheme, Rob (McElhenney) comes in with some scheme and this one's got a plan and that one's got a plan. It's a breath of fresh air because Frank is-they're half his age and he gets a chance to put his foot on the running board of a wild racecar that he probably couldn't drive on his own.
Do you find that there is a personal catharsis in playing a character who was so free.
Danny DeVito: Yes. Yes. Since I've taken this leap into this wonderful arena with Glenn (Howerton) and Charlie (Day) and Rob and Kaitlin (Olson), I always live pretty much free and always have a lot of fun, but this is really relaxing. And no matter how much work there is and how much you're doing in a short amount of time, we only shoot for a certain amount of time, we have 13 episodes concentrated - it's wonderful getting up out of bed in the morning, going down there, and having a ball. It's also affected me a little bit. I did the thing where I grew my hair for a year or more. My family thought I was little crazy. I was braiding it at the table and putting it in a bun when we'd go out. And now it's all gone. I've taken it all off and I'm a blonde.
When do you feel like you're at your funniest and what, as an actor, helps get you to that place?
Danny 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.
What does your family think of the show?
Danny 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 (Perlman). 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.
What gets Frank Reynolds up out of bed in the morning?
Danny 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.
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?
Danny 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. On Thursday night I do a lot of eating. On Frank's Brother, I do a lot of mongrel eating. It's like a dog, a rabbit, 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.
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?
Danny 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.
Is there a specific episode that you're looking forward to seeing fan reaction to this season?
Danny DeVito: I've been watching the shows and they've been really 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.
In regards to creating a new season. What do you guys think about as a way of improving or making it different from the previous seasons?
Danny DeVito: I think what happens is we look at, or they and the writers, look at all, whatever is going on in the world and get inspired by whether it's politically, or whether it's socially, or something's happening in the world and then take that as a clue and just invent other stories. But I think the best way to put this is that they're always on, and they're always on the hunt and they're always on the hunt to raising the bar as much as possible. The thing about Rob and Glenn and Charlie and Kaitlin and the writers that we have, they're all very energetic about the show and they all love it. I have no doubt that we're going to get another couple of seasons of ridiculous hilarity.
Since your range as an actor seems so broad, was it difficult making that transition from feature films to working in television?
Danny DeVito: 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.
In the show the dialog 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?
Danny 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.