Actor Danny Pudi discusses playing Abed on Community, the Season 2 DVD set, Chuck, Knights of Badassdom, Season 3 of Community, and more.
Actor Danny Pudi, like most up and coming young actors, toiled away on TV guest spots before finally landing his breakout role. He appeared on such shows as Gilmore Girls and Greek before landing his dream role of Abed Nadir on one of my absolute favorite shows on TV, Community. I was fortunate enough to chat with this young talent over the phone, to promote Community: The Complete Second Season, which hits the shelves on September 6, and Season 3 of Community, which debuts on Thursday, September 22 at 8 PM ET on NBC. Take a look at what he had to say below.
Hey Danny. How's it going?
Danny Pudi: Great, man. I'm a little groggy. We shot pretty late last night, until about 4 in the morning, so I'm still waking up a little bit (Laughs). But things are good, man.
Great. I've loved this show from Day One, and Abed has always been one of my favorite characters. Can you talk a bit about the audition process, and how the character may have evolved since that first meeting?
Danny Pudi: Yeah, you got it. I first read for this character back in 2009. It came through like any other audition, in terms of pilot season, which is traditionally like January through April, early in the year. My agent sent it to me, but I knew something was different because he said, 'Here's your dream role.' He was 100% right (Laughs). When I read the script, I was also terrified because, not only was it my dream role, but this is also my dream project to work on. I just thought it was so interesting, it has a great premise, and the tone was probably my favorite thing about the show. (Creator) Dan Harmon did such an excellent job of crafting a very funny and smart show, with a little bit of strangeness attached to it. Tonally, I just thought that was right up my alley. I went in a couple times, three times I think. The fourth time I went in for a chemistry read with Joel McHale. I had worked with Joel on a pilot, previously. I don't think he remembered, but I did (Laughs). The chemistry went great and I had a lot of fun. The next thing I know I had a screen test with a couple of individuals, and then another screen test. About a week later, I got the role on my birthday. I went to a table read, and, at the time, it was just Joel, Chevy Chase, and I. It started slow, but once the process went into effect, it moved very quickly. That was a little over two years ago.
Can you talk a bit about developing the cadence of Abed? Was that something you brought to the character right away, or did that develop over time?
Danny Pudi: You know, it's hard to say now. I think it definitely developed, the cadence. Initially, in the pilot, I think there was something about him speaking quickly, because his first line of dialogue is a monologue about his life and his dad being angry, not at America, but angry at his mom for leaving him. That whole speech was a response to Joel's character asking what time it is. I thought it was interesting that, in terms of the character, he's a guy that divulges all this information based on another character asking what time it is. Obviously, he's yearning for some connection here (Laughs). He has to get all this information out there very quickly. It kind of evolved from there, in working with the directors, the Russo brothers, Dan Harmon. For me, what makes sense, is for Abed not to think so much. Whatever he says is just going to land on people, and his brain is just going, when he sees connections and things happening. He's just pointing it out and talking about it. It just comes out very quickly, and that, to me, just made sense. I think if if came out a little slower, I don't know if it would feel as Abed-y, to me.
I think you're right. We always get this dose of Abed's awesome pop culture knowledge in every episode. The My Dinner with Andre episode is one of my favorites from this past season. I was wondering how your own level of pop culture savvy would compare to Abed's?
Danny Pudi: I would say mine is average (Laughs). I'm 32 years old, and it's pretty much what a 32-year-old male who grew up in America's would be. There are certain things that I know a lot about, and there are definitely things that I don't know a lot about. Abed's is genius level (Laughs). I always tell people, when episodes come up like the My Dinner with Andre episode, which is a really good example, I had not seen the movie prior to that episode. I had seen Pulp Fiction though, a bunch of times, it's one of my favorite movies. Although I had seen Pulp Fiction a number of times, what would have been more beneficial in that episode, was to have seen My Dinner with Andre a bunch of times. It takes a couple of days of research to be able to speak more like Abed, just so I know the material. I'd say mine is pretty average. In some areas it's pretty good, but overall, I'm nowhere near Abed's capacity.
He's almost like this pop culture idiot savant. It's pretty amazing the things that come out of his mouth.
Danny Pudi: It's beautiful. It's fun to read new scripts, when we have table reads on Monday's. I look forward to seeing what Pierce says, and who he offends, of course, but I also look forward to seeing what kind of words of wisdom that often times Abed and Joel's character has, in terms of pop culture and how this is a reflection on this or that. I think that's really interesting and I feel like I'm constantly learning about all of these shows and things I wasn't even aware of. I am very grateful to play Abed because I feel I'm getting a crash course in television and film, in the past three years, just in playing him.
With your background in improv, how much are you able to use that on the show? Are there any favorite improv moments of yours?
Danny Pudi: I mean, I think it comes in very handy. It's not like we're always improvising, or anything like that, but it's always there. The writers write such great material, and once you put us all in a room together, doing our bits, you kind of never know what's going to happen. It's fun to just jump on an idea and have everyone throw their hat into the ring. That's fun. There are certain times where we improvise more than others, like at the end of the scenes, or if it's (Donald Glover's) Troy and I doing a tag, there is a little bit more improv than in big group scenes. I would say that Donald Glover and Jim Rash are our finest improvisers on the show. They're just so good at it. You'll see a little bit more of their improvisation end up in shows, because I think the writers know to give them moments to see what happens. In terms of my favorite moments, I think one of them is at the end of the My Dinner with Andre episode, actually, the tag where Donald and I are at the fancy restaurant and Troy's like, 'I got this, I got this. Market price? What market do you shop at?' Then at the end of the tag it was like, 'OK, I'm going to run,' and we both run from the table and dine and ditch. It was a quick moment, and we only did that once, but it ended up in the cut. I just thought that was a really good moment of what Troy and Abed would really do at this fancy restaurant. That was one of them that made the cut.
I remember reading about those tags. In the first season, the first few episodes didn't have them and then the La Biblioteca rap really blew up. Is it weird how these little tags have evolved and become some of the fans' favorite part of the show?
Danny Pudi: Yeah, definitely. That's something we didn't even know was happening until we were shooting the fourth episode. Then, all of the sudden, we were doing this interview, Donald and I were doing this improvised rap. Dan Harmon saw the rap and came to us and said, 'Hey, why don't you do this thing I wrote in Spanish.' It kind of just took off from there. We definitely didn't expect it to have the effect it did. If you would've told me we'd be doing 50 tags when we were doing the La Biblioteca rap, I would've been like, 'Yeah, sure we will.' Yeah, it turned into this thing, and I'm so thankful for that. It's an opportunity for Donald and I to have fun. It's our little time to be sketchy and be as goofy as we want. That's fun. It's like icing on the cake, where the writers get to come up with an extra little joke. I think it's really beneficial for Donald and I too, because it's another way for us to explore our characters in a different way.
This year we have the wonderful John Goodman at Greendale as a new professor. I read he's supposed to be in at least six episodes this year. Is there talk of bringing him on for more? Can you talk a bit about getting to work with him this year?
Danny Pudi: Yeah, I'm super-excited about it. I don't know how many episodes he's doing. I know he's done two thus far. I have yet to get to work with him yet, and I'm bummed out about that because I've read both scripts and I was eagerly turning pages, hoping I would get a scene with him. Alison (Brie) and I were talking about that. When we read the scene where he comes in, we were both like, 'Please, please please... oh, we're not in the scene with him.' I was also a little terrified, because I am scared for the first time I have to work with him. He's such a great actor and I have to pretend that I'm not aware of the fact that he is John Goodman. At the same time, Abed also has to be aware of the fact that he is not John Goodman (Laughs). So, we'll figure that out, but he's incredible. I think he's like a vice dean, something like that. Him and Michael K. Williams are bringing a very cool different element to the show. We've already gotten to work with Michael K. Williams as the study group, because he's our biology teacher. That's been a lot of fun, to have him talk in front of the class and watching the study group react to this guy, who's pretty serious. It will be interesting when John Goodman, hopefully, gets to talk with the study group and see how we react to him as well.
Danny Pudi: I'm trying to think here. Thus far, not really. We're on Episode 5 right now, so we're just getting started.
At the end of both seasons, there was a wonderful little cliffhanger. In Season 3, do you tackle that issue right away in the premiere?
Danny Pudi: Oh yeah, yes. The first episode is kind of like the Season 2 first episode. We address it right away. People know this is hanging out there and it does need to be resolved. We get to the point pretty quickly, and move on. I think the study group realizes that they need each other, more than anything.
One of the other things I love about the show, is it could be so easy to just throw in all these romances. It could turn into this community college version of Friends very quickly, but it never really becomes that. Is that one of the cool things about the show, for you, that it doesn't turn into what a lot of others shows have become?
Danny Pudi: Yeah, I think it is. I think that's the challenge and the exciting thing about it, riding that fine line, knowing your show and not trying to be like every other show. I think Dan Harmon and the writers are up there in the writers room with the blackboard and I'm sure they're constantly talking about that all day, coming up with great ideas for us. I'm thankful for it. I don't know how they're solving all the big problems, but I love it. I think the setting of Greendale and the study group gives us the perfect springboard for all these possibilities.
Danny Pudi: I can't really tell you too much yet. I haven't shot it yet. I think I'm going to be doing it a couple of weeks from now. I can tell you that there's a connection there to the Nerd Herd and definitely a connection to Vik Sahay's character, which is good because I'm actually friends with him, and Joshua (Gomez) and Zachary (Levi). I'm just really thankful to be a part of this. We're talking about the Nerd Herd and these are things I relate to and I'm excited about it (Laughs).
Danny Pudi: Awesome!
We saw a little bit of you in the footage, but I was wondering if you could talk a bit more about your character. I believe you play a cleric?
Danny Pudi: I do, yeah. I play a cleric. It's a movie about live-action roleplayers and I spent about two weeks shooting there. I play a minor, supporting role, but, for me, it was really exciting because I got to blend in with this terrific ensemble with Peter Dinklage, Steve Zahn, Ryan Kwanten, Summer Glau, Jimmi Simpson. There are so many great actors in the movie, and that was a lot of fun for me. It's kind of natural for me, also, coming from Community, which is so ensemble-focused. This movie is very much an ensemble and its filled with great actors and it's such a silly premise. Sure, they're live-action roleplayers, but things sort of take a dark twist and things become very real, very quickly. It's just fun to see how these people would react to something very real. My character is a cleric who, I don't think he'd rather do anything else other than be a cleric in live-action roleplaying. That was fun for me to play. His name is Lando, no last name, but I'm assuming it has something to do with Lando Calrissian, who I think, although he made some mistakes, became very valuable (Laughs). I hope, in some ways, I become valuable to this ensemble.
Danny Pudi: Yeah! We're super thankful and excited for Season 3. Season Two had a lot of crazy things happening. No only did we have a space bus, but we had the return to paintball with Josh Holloway, Dungeons and Dragons, a blanket fort. Troy turned 21, we talked about Farscape, and Betty White rapped. There are a lot of things to catch up on. Even for me, I forget how many crazy things we went into. Every once in a while, I'll remember, 'Oh yeah, we were also in claymation.' If you're looking for a place to get away from your work, or to take your mind to a different, crazy, strange place, then Season Two is definitely the place to go to catch up on the lives of these study group members at Greendale. We return on September 22 and I'm really excited. We have some new elements and its the third year, it's junior year for these guys. They know each other pretty well, at this point in time, and it will be interesting to see where these relationships go.
Awesome. Well, that's about all I have for you. It was great talking to you, Danny. It was a pleasure.
Danny Pudi: I appreciate it, Brian. Thanks man.
You can watch the wonderful Danny Pudi as Abed Nadir on Community: The Complete Second Season, which hits the shelves on September 6. Community returns with Season 3, which debuts on Thursday, September 22 at 8 PM ET on NBC.