Joey Lawrence blossomed into a star on the hit series Blossom and now the 34-year-old actor is starring in the new ABC Family series Melissa & Joey with Melissa Joan Hart, which currently airs on Tuesday nights at 8 PM ET. Joey Lawrence recently held a conference call to discuss the series and you can read what he had to say below:
You and Melissa have known each other for quite some time. How do you guys maintain chemistry onscreen? You're friends in real life, but you have to have a bit of spark onscreen, too.
Joey Lawrence: Right. Well, you know that's why we get paid the big bucks there. [Laughs] It's just all part of the job when you have to play certain characters. There are areas that you have to tap into and you've got to pull from personal things in your life and try to use those in your job. I associate it to just putting myself into Joe Longo's world and he's attracted to her, therefore, I am as well as Joe Longo.
You both also have younger kids. What's it like raising tweens [on the show]?
Joey Lawrence: I think that's where the comedy comes from because these people are barely in their 30s themselves and they have 16-year-olds running around. So, it's really more of an uncle/aunt type relationship-do you know what I mean-or an older sibling type of relationship. I think that's where the comedy comes from is that we're trying to create some kind of normalcy for these teenagers with their parents either in jail or on the run. Yet at the same time when you're 16-years-old you're kind of baked, you're who you're going to be. It's just a matter of the final toppings on the sundae there. I think that we feel that responsibility to hopefully at least set a good example for them. But it's tough, being in our 30s, but we're sort of on the young end of that, so I think that we're still kids at heart and probably act like big kids at times. It's a tough job. I wouldn't know what it's like other than the fact that my youngest sibling, Andy, is 12 years younger than me, so growing up I was really more like an uncle to him than I was a brother because I took care of him and he looked up to me that way much more so than you would a sibling like Matt, for instance. Matt and I are only three years apart, so you have all the much more the normal sibling stuff.
I wonder if you could talk about just how this project got started. I would assume there's something from My Fake Fiance, just that chemistry. Did that lead to this?
Joey Lawrence: Yes, I think so. My Fake Fiance was something that we did together and we had a good time. There were intangible things that happened and I think that in the comedy world we just have this sort of innate timing that really works well. You never know why two people work well together in a certain genre or a certain type. I don't know if it would be the same in drama, but certainly in the comedy world we just worked well. We had never worked with each other or anything like that. We had known each other, but when we were doing the movie I think that we felt that and I know the network, they were watching the dailies and stuff and they were feeling that. Then one thing led to another and before the movie was over we were all thinking, this might work to do a half hour comedy or something like that, and a year and a half later here we are. But definitely I think the initial idea came from My Fake Fiancé thing and that whole experience.
How different is it being the executive producer on a series like this? What does that exactly mean? Do you have more say into your character and how the show goes?
Joey Lawrence: It's awesome, man. You can't be fired at all, which is great. No. That's why I wanted that, because I think that it does allow you a lot more creative control over how the show at least turns out at the end of the day. In this particular medium I have a lot of experience, so it's not just like an actor grabbing at some power; it's that I know as much as anybody does in this particular medium just because I've had so many years of experience. I think that it just helps when you're not feeling great about something or if you have an idea about something, that they've got to take it seriously. It's not like an actor for hire. It's like a part of the team. And if I was going to jump back into this world, to the half hour comedy world, I wanted to be a big part of the team rather than an actor for hire.
On this particular show, why did you decide to keep your first name for your characters?
Joey Lawrence: Honestly, that was an ABC Family decision. They were emphatic and very passionate about that. Initially, believe it or not, the character names were Jack and Annie. But they did their marketing research and the brilliant minds over there in the ABC Family brain trust said, look, there are a lot of channels and a lot of choices, and we believe in this show and we want to make sure that people know what it is and we want to be able to cut through. And we really think that if we use your names, that that will be a no-brainer, people will know what this is and instantly there will recognizability for it. We couldn't disagree, even though I think Melissa and I were both sort of like, eh, at the beginning. But they gave us some examples and they said look, if you look back at some of the shows that have done this and it's worked, to name a few, they said there's Cosby and Roseanne and Seinfeld and Mary Tyler Moore, and after that you just kind of go, okay, because people said do you think people will think it's a reality show or what. I said, really I don't think so and I think if they do the minute that they tune in they're going to realize that it's not. But it was really for name recognition and marketing and so far it's really worked. I think they know a thing or two over there.
Your character on the show is a bit embarrassed by having the job as a nanny, and I was wondering what your feelings are about playing a male nanny.
Joey Lawrence: Look, I think that every good dad and husband is part nanny. That's part of the job, right, you have kids, and I know that part of the domestic responsibilities, it's a 50/50 road there. I'm doing laundry at home and cleaning up around the house and cooking meals, and that's just the way it works. But I think that for this guy in particular it would be a little tough to go from making millions of dollars and basically having life at your fingertips to living in a basement apartment and cooking meals. It would be a transition, to say the least, and I think that's where the comedy comes from for Joe Longo. That's why he's obsessed with the fact that he's not actually working for her he's working with her and he's freelance, so he thinks he can leave at any time he wants. He probably could, but he wouldn't have anywhere to go. So until he gets his feet back under him, that's sort of the underlying theme. He's going to use this job until he can trade again, which is five years from now, because he struck up a deal with the Feds to avoid jail time, but he can't trade for five years. So it would be tough, I think. Not because of the job but just because of where you came from to where you were at the moment.
Are you going to use your musical talents on Melissa & Joey?
Joey Lawrence: Yes, I actually did write the theme song for this. In the opening titles, the way they do it nowadays sort of the theme song as a whole has kind of disappeared, which is unfortunate, they don't play the whole thing. But at the end of the show if you listen out for it and it's like this, "I guess you're stuck with me," right, and that is part of a full song which will be up on iTunes and it's a really cute little folky-pop thing. Then we totally did a full remix, a brand new version of it, which will be on my record which comes out early next year, which is really exciting. The record's great. I would not have gone down that road again if I didn't really think it was awesome, and it's exciting working with Matthew Gerard and a bunch of great guys on this thing and it's a pop record that I think people are going to be happy with. I don't think people are going to be upset. It's really exciting stuff. Anyway, the total remix version is we did this Reggae sort of dance version of this song and we flipped it up on its head and I re-did the vocal and everything and it sounds really sick. So that will be on the record too.
You and Melissa both have a really large fan base that goes back a long way and so I was hoping that you could talk about who the fans are for the show and what audience you're expecting, new fans, old fans, and just the response so far.
Joey Lawrence: The response so far has been great. I think our fans are people that have grown up with us and then I think there's a younger growing fan base that's grown up with the reruns of the shows. That's what's so great. I know that when Brotherly Love went over to the Disney Channel, although my fans at the time were probably 19, 20 years old, it went over there and became the number one show on that channel for four or five years, and it was exposed to a bunch of 8-year-olds and 10-year-olds who are now 17 and 18. So even though probably my core audience is 25 to 35 or something like that, there are all these 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds, and 17-year-olds that know very well who I am and who Matt and Andy are just because of that success. I know it was the same with Melissa with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch being on reruns everywhere and stuff like that. I think that's what makes it very unique. When you're blessed enough to do this kind of work for a long time and yet still be so young, you are exposed to a bunch of different ages, and they will start to follow you if you're lucky. I think we've both been very lucky in that regard. I'd say the age range is probably, it's really probably anywhere from 12, 13, to 49, which is I think what made it kind of enticing to the network, because I think that that's the age that they go after, that 18 to 49 is what they call the key demo, that's where the advertising dollars love to be spent and all that stuff. So when you have that as your base, then it becomes enticing on a whole other level, let alone just the quality of the show and all that kind of stuff.
I know in the past you've worked with your brothers in a lot of different projects. Is there any chance one of them would guest star in the future? Would you be interested in that?
Joey Lawrence: Sure. I love those guys, man. I love those guys. They're so talented. Yes. We're already starting to throw around some ideas in interesting, cool ways to have Matt and Andy on the show in some regard. As a matter of fact, it's a very good chance that Matt at some point will be on the show very shortly, and Andrew will as well, but I think the role for Matt will probably come up first. But it's something that we're working on, yes, because those guys are excellent and if there's a role that makes sense, there's nobody that I'd want to play it more than those guys. But we have really great writers who find new and unique ways to make these things that you expect and twist them on their head, and that's this idea that we have for both Matt and Andy that will be on separately. But yes, definitely working on it.
I wanted to know what you like best about your character, Joe Longo.
Joey Lawrence: What do I like best? I like that he's a guy's guy. I like that he's brutally honest. I sort of wanted to create him as a throwback because I didn't think that this guy was on TV right now, sort of this brutally honest kind of Bruce Willis from Moonlighting type guy who had a swagger and had a great heart. But he's just the kind of guy that if a woman asked him if she looked good or not in a dress he would be perfectly honest and say, "Honestly, that one doesn't look that great." That's the kind of guy that you think you'd hate, but at the end of the day I think you'd probably like him because he's not saying it for malicious reasons but he's saying it to be honest. Whereas, most guys would go, "No, honey, you look fine, you look great, you look wonderful," you know, and they really wouldn't know one way or the other or maybe they would but would never say it. This guy would say it. I just wanted that guy back on TV. He's a little politically incorrect. He's kind of a unique combination because he's very smart and made a lot of money and now he's taking this job that he feels he's really sucking it up for a minute until he gets his life back together. And he's kind of a complex guy and I didn't think that that guy was on TV, so that's probably what I like best, that he's just brutally honest.
I guess my first question is just what it feels like for you to work in front of a live audience. Do you find the energy is different having the immediate reaction from the fans?
Joey Lawrence: Yes, I think that with this particular medium, the half hour comedy, I prefer it in front of a live audience, or at least some sort of hybrid version of it, just because I feel that a lot gets lost when there's no live audience at all. It was really intended to be theater in a box, I mean, that's what half hour comedy on TV was intended to be, and I think that as it's grown and changed I think that there's a single camera format where you don't have any audience. But me personally I miss the sense of the live crowd there. I think it keeps the show alive and moving along and keeps it bubbling under the surface, so to speak, and I like that energy being in this format. It's fun to watch and I think it makes you feel alive when you watch it. It is a rush, because it really is like theater. You get that great response when a joke works and you also don't get a great response when a joke doesn't work and you know and then you can change it, which is what we do. I don't know; it's a great experience.
With the teenage characters on the show, how involved are you in choosing some of their storylines as executive producer and saying, you know what, I don't want to go too dark with them and I don't want to make them seem like they're growing up too fast? Because you are a parent of young kids and in a way I feel like ... role model for the younger audience that is watching them.
Joey Lawrence: Yes. We're on the edgier side, so we're not going to sugar coat it, but at the same point in time it's not the Disney Channel. It's not for 8-year-olds. I would say minimum would be 13, just because of the content of the show. It's a young adult comedy with teenagers, so it certainly wouldn't be for 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, or 8-year-olds. It probably wouldn't hurt them to watch it, but it's not for them. In terms of the teenage stuff, we try to handle it responsibly but part of the comedy is that Mel's character is not responsible and that I'm there to sort of shed some light on responsibility. That's where some of the comedy comes from. So there are moments when there is not the right example set, but I think by the end of the half hour somehow you get a sense of either what should have happened or what will happen the next time. They're not really parents and I think they're both less developed in that area than I am in my personal life and Melissa is in her personal life, because we are young parents and they aren't. That's the give and take, and then they have these two teenagers who are running around and they're kind of baked already. When you're 16 you're the person that you're going to be. It's just the final touches of maturity and life experiences, finishing the job. But the crux of your center is already there and cooked and we're just trying to navigate that. You feel a responsibility but I think that we try to make shows that at the end of the day you realize what should have happened even if it didn't happen during the course of our show.
Do you have any plans to write an episode of Melissa & Joey?
Joey Lawrence: I don't know about that. I may direct one of them coming up at some point. But writing, that takes a lot of patience, which I don't have. I'm the idea guy and then I've got so much going on it's tough for me to sit down and open my mind and complete ... right. That's not always been my forte. I can do it. But it would take a lot for me to settle myself down at a point where I could do that. Maybe, though, I never say never. If we have an opportunity to run for a long time there will be several opportunities to do a bunch of that kind of stuff.
This show harkens back to the'80s sitcoms and TGIF, similar to Who's the Boss? How did you and ABC Family know that America was hungry for this sort of show that's different from a lot of what's currently on?
Joey Lawrence: Well, we were all fans of those great comedies, the great Thursday night lineup with Mad About You and those Tuesday night lineups on ABC. I don't think the audience necessarily ever got sick of that. I think it was the business that said, let's try something new and maybe reality will be a cheaper way to make people laugh and get our bang for our buck. And I think, look, reality is not going to die, clearly it's going to be around forever, but they can live and co-exist. I don't think it needs to replace it. I think with the resurgence of the half hour comedies on CBS and Two and a Half Men and all that kind of stuff I think that you are seeing that, and we wanted to bring a romantic comedy back, because I don't think a romantic comedy was on TV. So it's working so far, man. But it's like a big chocolate chip cookie, it makes you feel good. And I think that the chemistry is working on the show, I think the writing is good, and it's a young adult comedy. There are very few romantic comedies out there for 18-year-olds to 49-year-olds, there's just not a lot happening, so we were happy to pave that road again and so far it's been working.
If you didn't choose this line of work, how do you think you would have done in real life as a nanny?
Joey Lawrence: Well, I'm a big proponent of whatever job you have take pride in it and do it well. I don't think that any job is too small. I think there are people too small for jobs. So I don't care if I was painting roofs or doing this kind of work, I would probably throw myself into it 100%. That's the way I was raised.
Hypothetically, would you have enjoyed being a nanny?
Joey Lawrence: I'm a dad, so I'm part nanny anyway. I don't know. I probably would because I enjoy cooking and I like things clean and neat. I'm not obsessed with it, but I do like things nice and clean and neat. I'm always cleaning up around my house and I'm cooking some of the meals and doing some of the laundry and changing sheets and stuff. So yes, it wouldn't bother me. I wouldn't feel like it was below me or be in misery. If I could see my work and wow, a nice clean house at the end of the day and some good food, it would be a simpler life, but it would be okay.
Melissa & Joey were obviously given your real first names. Are there other personality traits in real life that have been infused into the characters?
Joey Lawrence: I think you've got to put a little bit of yourself into all the characters that you portray. There are some similarities, but I'd say there's more things, especially in Joe Longo that are not similar to me, but that's what I enjoy. I enjoy playing that because that's not the guy that I am essentially. But I do like the fact that he's honest. I think we share that in common. He's brutally honest at times, but I'd take that over some sort of line of BS any day of the week. He's sort of a little politically incorrect, and I tend to be sometimes, just because of the honesty factor. I think people today are so worried about what they say or how it's perceived but if you're just honest then that's just the way it is. I like that Joe is simple that way, that Joe Longo is very simple that way, and he's that weird mixture of really smart guy but sort of rough around the edges and has had a lot of success and now is doing this job that is sort of out of body to him, and I think that's where a lot of the comedy comes from.
You mentioned the possibility of your brothers guest starring, and I wanted to know if you guys have any other exciting guest stars coming to the show, either people we're going to know from sitcoms or from something else?
Joey Lawrence: Yes, we shot this big Dancing with the Stars kind of crossover episode and we'll have somebody from that show that you all know. We did it in a very edgy, on its head way, it's not what you think the show would be about. It's kind of funny, which is what we like about it, because it's something that people will go, oh my God, it's a Dancing with the Stars episode of course, but then they're going to watch it and go, oh my God, that's totally not what I thought it was. I think that was our plan. But that will be on in a couple of weeks, it's September 28th, I think. We're always looking for people to come on if it makes sense, not take you out of the show, but if it makes sense. We have Lucy DeVito is helping us out, Danny DeVito's daughter, and she's just been fantastic and is going to do hopefully several more episodes with us. I'm probably going to have Matthew and Andrew on the show at some point, not as my brothers but at some point in roles that are very cool and funny. Then we're always open to the idea of a name coming on and helping us out. There's been talk, you're going to meet my ex-wife at some point, and we're throwing around a few great names for that too. We haven't locked anybody in yet, so I can't tell you, but it will be somebody that you know, I think, for that. It always is fun to do that if it makes sense and doesn't take you out of the show.