Glenn Howerton explains how the show got made, how it gets written and rewritten, and his next film, The Strangers

In the role of Dennis Reynolds on FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Glenn Howerton knows a thing or two about how to make people laugh. He also knows something about getting people's attention, which explains how the pilot that he and some friends shot turned into this show. We recently sat down with Howerton to discuss the show as well as the upcoming DVD release of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Seasons 1 and 2. It is truly amazing what you can accomplish with just a video camera and some funny guys.

Could you tell our readers a little bit about the character of Dennis Reynolds that you play on the show?

Glenn Howerton: I always have a really hard time with that question. I don't know why... my character is probably the most vain character on the show, he's pretty high on himself. I think he has an overblown view of the effect that he has on people in general, especially women. I think the best way to sum up my character is to say that he thinks he can solve any problem by popping his shirt off.

As also a writer on the show how did that effect how you worked as an actor?

Glenn Howerton: I think one of the unique situations that we've gotten ourselves into, where this show is concerned, the three of us do spend a lot of time on every script, regardless of who writes it. What ends up happening is that we take every draft of the script and the three of us reads it out loud. We do a lot of improvising in the writing process, so that a lot of what goes in the script itself comes out of pretty much improving in the room to get there while we're writing it. When we're on the set, of course we find ourselves in the actual situation, on the set, in the costumes, actually acting it out and you get inspired to say and do entirely different things that sort of follow along with the same character intentions that's been established. You just find yourself inspired to do different things.

One of the things that makes any good entertainment, whether it's a play, drama, comedy, television, film, whatever, is that you feel a certain about of spontaneity. Because of the unique situation that we're in as producers and writers we don't have to ask to change a line. (laughs) A lot of times I'll be on the set doing something and something that has never been scripted will come out of Charlie's (Day) mouth, and it's really funny and we'll just end up responding in the moment or vice versa. Hopefully, that gives our show a different texture then a lot of other things that are out there.

How did It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia come about? I remember hearing something on Myspace that you guys did a very inexpensive version of the show at first?

Glenn Howerton: In essence the three of us, Rob (McElhenney), Charlie and I were friends from New York and we all actually have the same manager. We just started doing things in our off time as actors, which a lot of times we had a lot of, where we would read each other's scripts... we were shooting little short films and just doing funny little things together that we were shooting on home video cameras. This, in essence, started out as one of those things. Then it just, sort of, became our primary focus because once we started working on it we realized we really had something. Well, we felt like we really had something. You never know until you put it out there. We basically shot the whole thing as a home movie, with no money, just using our own apartments and using the sidewalks of our neighborhoods. We didn't spend any money on it, we just used home video cameras.

We showed it to our manager and the whole thing just sort of snowballed. He really loved it, he showed it to his boss, his boss started setting up meetings through Endeavor, our agency, and then it just kind of went from there.

What's it like working with Danny DeVito?

Glenn Howerton: It was a thrill. Just to hear that somebody as iconic and brilliant and talented as Danny is... to hear that he's a fan of the show when we were considering adding another character on to it, hearing something like that is really exciting. I grew up watching this guy on Taxi. Then to actually meet him for lunch one day was just absolutely amazing. To find out that he was a fan of the show and consequently that he wanted to make his return to television my television show... it was just really exciting. He's such a great guy and he's so fun to work with. He's easy.

Throughout this whole experience of acting, writing and producing It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is there one thing you think you've learned. One thought or idea that you didn't know, you realized it and now you keep coming back to it?

Glenn Howerton: Oh gosh, there's probably a million things but they're all small things. I don't know, I think I just kind of took it one step at a time. I think I knew going into this that I didn't know how to do any of this, (laughs) so I didn't have any expectations on myself. We really have, this whole time, tried to stay focused on making the show funny. So any sort of hurdles that we've had to jump over in that process, have all been the steps that we had to take to get our vision on the screen. I guess the whole thing was such a new experience for me that I didn't really know anything.

At the same time it was incredibly simple that we only really had one goal all along and that was to make a really funny show. We never cared about the money, or the prestige, or anything like that, we just wanted to do something unique. Hopefully, if we got lucky then a few thousand or a hundred thousand people would actually see it. The fact that we're going into our third season still continues to kind of blow my mind. It feels a little bit unreal. I feel like I'm a little out of touch with how many people have actually seen the show. It still feels so obscure to me and so underground. I really don't feel like I have a concept of fanbase or anything.

What do you have coming up next?

Glenn Howerton: The three of us have actually quite a few projects that we're working on, it's just hard to actually focus any time and energy on them because we're so busy with the show. We really are involved in every aspect of it, writing it, shooting it, and as producers we sit in and we cut the show, too. We try and squeeze out and do other things. For me personally, I've got a movie opening, hopefully in 2008 called The Strangers. It's being put out by Rogue Pictures. I guess you could call it a horror film but it's more of a scary thriller, starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. I'm pretty excited about that. The trailer just came out the other day. It looks pretty cool.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Seasons 1 and 2 come out on DVD September 4 from Fox Home Entertainment.

Evan Jacobs at Movieweb
Evan Jacobs