Zoe Lister Jones and Maulik Pancholy discuss Whitney Season 1
Whitney is the latest addition to NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup and, as we reported yesterday, the show was picked up for a full season. Whitney airs on Thursday nights at 9:30 PM ET, and two of the show's co-stars, Maulik Pancholy and Zoe Lister Jones, who play Neal and Lily, held a conference call to discuss what's in store for the rest of the season. Here's what they had to say below.
Unlike a lot of the shows and movies you both have recently worked on Whitney is filmed in front of a live audience. Can you talk about what that's been like and how that's been different for you guys?
Zoe Lister Jones: Well I think the cool thing about the cast of Whitney is that we were all either trained in theater or stand up. And so I think for all of us as actors having a live audience is actually a real asset. And it's a lot of fun to be able to play with an audience and be able to react off of genuine, you know, reactions from them as opposed to a single camera which, you know, you're sort of acting more in a bubble. I think it's a really cool experience for all of us because it sort of feels like coming home again.
Maulik Pancholy: Yes I would say one thing too that's really fun is that when we do our tape nights and the audience is there the writers will often throw us alternate new lines that we have to try out for the first time in front of an audience. And so there's kind of like this give and take with the audience where they're laughing at the scene and then you come out and you surprise them with a whole new line and when they're thinking they're going to just like watch the same scene over. And it's just really fun. It's really fun having them there.
We've only seen a glimpse of Neal and Lily's relationship in these first two episodes. Can you talk maybe a little bit more about what we're going to see with them and if they're perfect looking relationship is going to get some bumps in the coming episodes?
Zoe Lister Jones: I think Neal and Lily will go many places in the upcoming episodes. You can't talk about it much in detail but, you know, they're definitely going to inhabit all of the places that a new relationship goes and the things that you start to learn and find out about after a year together. And there will be discussions of marriage.
Maulik Pancholy: I mean I think Neal and Lily like they're pretty fearless about being in a relationship and being a couple. You know, and I think they represent that side of they're just a couple that like they really love courtship and they love being in love and I think that's all going to continue to play out. But I also think that like they're very three-dimensional characters and they're going to encounter their own issues that they'll have to deal with over the season.
I heard that the show is based on Whitney's standup and her experiences but she's kind of like a frat boy trapped inside a woman's body as far as her standup is concerned, you know? So I was just wondering has it been challenging for her to, you know, kind of tame her content and make it prime time friendly?
Maulik Pancholy: I mean Whitney talks about how the character that she's playing on the show is different than who she is doing standup and that the person that she was -- I'm kind of paraphrasing the way, Whitney says it here -- but the person that she was when she was doing standup was single and this character that she's playing on the show it's a person in a relationship so that kind of changes who she is. So there's a little bit of a difference between her and her standup. But in terms of toning stuff down I don't know what- do you have thoughts on that Zoe?
Zoe Lister Jones: You know, I think it's funny you call her a frat boy inside a woman's body. I mean I think Whitney's delivery is definitely fearless and her content is fearless. But I do think that, you know, she's truly a feminist. And I think the content might be toned down in terms of like profanities. But in terms of the, I think the message that has always been a part of Whitney's voice it's pretty consistent in that it is about what it is to be a woman in a relationship in a very complicated new climate. And I think that's what's so exciting about the show is that Whitney really tells it like it is and she makes it superb relatable but she also has a very distinct point of view that is not (to seem) eccentric but really, you know, pro-female and feminist without being didactic.
Have you read any of the reviews yet? I mean do you engage in that or due you, you know, prefer to just do your best and, you know, not really pay attention to that?
Zoe Lister Jones: I don't read them because I don't think it's helpful to my process. And I think as actors we're all pretty sensitive. So it's, you know, it's always hard to digest any negative feedback. But I think also that we all have such faith in the show and we all have so much fun doing the show that that's all that really matters at this moment.
Maulik Pancholy: Yes and I would second that.
Are you able to ad lib at any time?
Zoe Lister Jones: We don't really ad lib no, right Maulik?
Maulik Pancholy: No the scripts are like so tightly written and the - we shoot in front of a live audience so for four of the five days it takes to film an episode we are rehearsing and we're, you know, so occasionally someone will like think of something funny and but for the most part it's like the writers are getting to hear their words and to tweak it and to get it to be funnier. We have like an amazing staff of writers and so most of it's like pretty tightly written. I feel like any improving comes sort of like in the physical actions in the moment.
Zoe Lister Jones: There will be moments occasionally when an actor well ad lib something in rehearsal and it will get written in to the script which is always cool.
I see that you guys get along very well. Is the chemistry always this great onset?
Zoe Lister Jones: No.
Maulik Pancholy: I think we're pretty lucky. I feel like we're very lucky. Like our cast actually genuinely enjoys hanging out. Like even today for example, after we finished rehearsal we all hung out and had lunch together. And I think that is, you know, I don't know what every other show is like but it's totally a gift that we all really get along and are really, really friends.
Zoe Lister Jones: Yes and I think Whitney in casting the show with NBC was hyperaware of that, that she wanted to cast people that all could be friends because she wanted the chemistry to feel genuine. And so that's sort of a testament to her that she put us all together. And we do really have a lot of fun.
What do you like best about playing a couple opposite each other? Like I've read that you're a vegetarian Maulik so does she eat beef before kissing scenes or what goes on? Would you rather just be playing friends or are you happier playing a romantic couple?
Zoe Lister Jones: Eat a lot of beef before kissing scenes.
Maulik Pancholy: Did you eat beef before our big kissing scene in the pilot?
Zoe Lister Jones: Yes. That's just part of my process as an actor. I just feel like beef is helpful for romance.
Maulik Pancholy: And I feel like it doesn't count like if I'm a vegetarian but it doesn't count if you're getting it out of the mouth of someone else. Do you know what I mean?
Zoe Lister Jones: That's true. That's true. It's almost humanitarian like teething the meat.
Maulik Pancholy: Oh my God I forgot what the question was besides the fact that you eat beef before you kiss me.
Zoe Lister Jones: I would say it's playing a couple because we really like each other. And so we get to hang out a lot.
Maulik Pancholy: Yes I feel like yes, we have so much fun together. We have so much fun. And it was fun doing those kissing scenes. Actually one of the scenes we kissed so hard I actually bruised my lip and that's...
Zoe Lister Jones: I think you were bleeding.
Maulik Pancholy: Yes I think I was bleeding. I was shying away from saying that because I thought people might think it's unsanitary. But we kissed so hard that I have a little cut on my upper lip which the makeup people were a little freaked out about as we moved into the next scene but hopefully you didn't.
Zoe Lister Jones: They were more freaked out about me because I did that.
Maulik Pancholy: Exactly.
Zoe Lister Jones: The beef makes me aggressive that's all.
Whitney airs on Thursday nights at 9:30 PM ET on NBC.