Fox is getting ready to debut its brand new series, The Sons of Tucson, which will premiere on Sunday, March 14 at 9:30 PM ET. One of the stars of the show, Tyler Labine, who plays Ron Snuffkin, recently joined executive producer Justin Berfield on a conference call to discuss this new show. Here's what they had to say.
An actor once told me that one of the things he looks for in a good character is an interesting name. He said that if he's got a character that's got an interesting name or a weird name he's halfway home in figuring out what his character's all about, and I was thinking with a name like Ron Snuffkin, is there anything to that theory? What do you think?
Tyler Labine: Yes, absolutely. I agree. I wouldn't say halfway home with a name, but it definitely inspires you to sort of delve into the character a little bit. With a name like Ron Snuffkin immediately a few nicknames spring to mind, like snuffleupagus, snuff's enough, can't get enough of the snuff. You just think in little self-referential nicknames, and it sort of lends itself to you figuring out the character, of being a little bit ..., little bit neurotic. Yes, I guess there's a little something to that, but I wouldn't say half the work was done. It's definitely a nice tab to grab onto in the beginning.
What was it about the show and the premise and the character that blew your skirt up and made you want to do it?
Tyler Labine: Well, initially, it was obviously the writing and then the name as we just went over, but the writing for the pilot was great, and it definitely grabbed me right away, and obviously, the character is an amalgam every sort of great slacker character that I've ever played, that I've loved to play and have never been able to flesh out and turn into a three-dimensional character, and these guys have taken that sort of character and put him right in the forefront and made him a real human being. I really appreciated that, so I grabbed onto that right away, too.
I've got to understand how did the kids dole out the money? You negotiate a $400/week salary or $350 depending on who's paying. How do they have the money? Explain that to me.
Justin Berfield: Well, we don't really say for sure exactly how they have the money, but in our minds we sort of figured that they have a stack of cash that they have somewhere in the house that as they need it they go out and disperse it for whatever needs they have.
Tyler Labine: What I've always put together in my head is that the dad in an attempt to sort of keep his kids out of foster care or social services when he was in jail for this white collar crime was clever enough or stupid enough to leave his children, yes, exactly as Justin just said, a big stack of cash so they can stay out of trouble and go to their house in Paloma Ridge or in Tucson ....
Tyler, kids are annoying, and so you're working for three kids, and what's even worse and annoying kids is when they have that over you that they're your boss, they're your overlords. Which one of the three is the most annoying to your character, Ron Snuffkin?
Tyler Labine: Definitely Gary, the middle kid, he's like, and this isn't saying that wives everywhere are annoying, but very typically he's the counterpart to Ron. He's sort of the wife or I'm the wife. I don't know what the ... exactly because it's very confusing, but definitely we're butting heads the whole series. Yes, power struggle with a 13-year-old, lots of fun.
How many episodes are we going to see for the first season?
Justin Berfield: It'll be 13 including the pilot.
Tyler, this question's for you. Aside from the financial incentive, you've already mentioned about the money that Ron's going to get from the boys and it's the unconventional proposal that they offer him, but it attracts Ron, and what is it that attracts Ron aside from the money into agreeing to the situation and sticking with it for as long as he does?
Tyler Labine: That's a good question. I think initially, yes, the money is the big allure, but then I think it's money only, actually. There's nothing deeper about Ron wanting to go join with these kids and help them out. It's just the money, and he thinks it's going to be temporary as well, but I think the allure of future money coming in is the thing that keeps him there, and then there are times with Ron I think this sort of reluctant paternal figure sort of starts to take shape in Ron, and I think he starts to learn from the boys, and he starts to sort of feel needed from these children what he hasn't had in his life. He hasn't felt that anybody really needs him for anything. I think that could become a big draw for him, too, and also just a place to stay.
Now, it's seems like Robby, Gary, and Brandon, they're pretty smart kids, and they're quite young. What nuggets of knowledge will Ron try and instill in the boys, sort of a reciprocal relationship in that way?
Tyler Labine: What sort of knowledge am I going to try and instill in the boys? I don't know. I think Ron's a bit of a dummy. Well, he's not a dummy. He just may not have the most sage words of wisdom for these kids, but that's what I'm saying. I think it's this sort of reluctant responsibility. It's this reluctant father figure thing that's coming out of Ron that I don't think he even really knew that he had. He doesn't really, I don't think he even recognizes when he is being quite responsible, and it's hard to pick out moments that are actually responsible in the show because, like I said, it's sort of like the blind leading the blind. It's basically them just trying to stay out of physical harm, so anything else that helps them out is sort of gravy, the bonus. I don't think Ron is capable or set to impart any wisdom on these children.
We have stealing money from kids, trying to con an old lady, where does Ron draw the line, or does he even want to sketch one?
Justin Berfield: I don't know if there's really anywhere that Ron does draw the line.
Tyler Labine: Yes, it's definitely sad to say. Look at what he's doing. The only thing that keeps him from being completely despicable is the fact that he is sort of, as you get to know Ron and you get to know the boys, you see that maybe there is something inside of Ron that's awakening that's sort of enjoying this responsibility, but as far as where does he draw the line with what he won't do, I think as long as he's not going to kill anybody, as long as nobody's going to get really badly hurt, he's up for it. He's game.
I wanted to ask about the recasting process because I remember watching it last fall. Justin, was that difficult? Did you change a whole lot about the pilot?
Justin Berfield: We actually didn't change too much with the pilot when we had to reshoot because of the recasting. It was just a decision that we made to go a different direction with some of the characters, but the pilot really remains the same. We punched up some scenes that we were fortunate enough to be able to do because we were reshooting, but nothing much really changed.
What were you looking for in an oldest son?
Justin Berfield: Because we obviously needed one of the older kids to be the complete opposite of Gary whereas Gary's the driven, hard-edged type of guy, Matthew's character, Brandon, is he just sort of goes along with the flow. He's like a lover, not a fighter. He's very trusting, like a very trusting guy, his character.
Is that how Matthew struck you in real life, or he just doing a great acting job?
Justin Berfield: He's a fantastic actor. He sort of resembles me. I remember how I was when I was a child actor. He's constantly asking questions. He's very curious about the whole process, and he's always hanging out with the crew, talking at them, seeing what they do, and asking questions. I guess he's very similar to Brandon in that sense. He's a very curious guy.
Tyler, I wanted to ask you first off if maybe you could tell us a little bit about your experiences shooting the pilot and maybe some of the challenges to stepping into this role initially for you?
Tyler Labine: Yes, shooting the pilot was amazing. It was so much fun. It was one of those instances where you get so much more out of the process than you expected. I learned a ton from working with these kids. It was amazing, and I learned sort of one of those very invaluable lessons is how to stop being such a thinking, like, in my head actor working with children. It was my refresher course. It was sort of just doing it. Someone just pushes you in and you swim. ... unjaded and not so hypercritical of themselves, and you find yourself having genuine fun and really getting sort of authentic performances out of them, and it's infectious, and it was really, really fun to do with those kids. That was sort of my favorite thing about it. There were some downsides, but it was very, very fun.
Justin, from a creative standpoint in your job with the show, what maybe have you enjoyed so far working on The Sons of Tucson would you say?
Justin Berfield: I think I just enjoyed because for so long just purely being in front of the camera you never got to see the whole process of developing an idea for a script all the way through to filming it, and for me just being to especially from the pilot where back in 2008 we were developing this little inkling of an idea and then just selling it, it's just been eye-opening for me. I'm just so excited to be part of something from the very beginning. For me personally for once, and I love the whole casting process because I've been in those rooms on the other end of the camera, and now I get to sit behind the camera and sort of make ...
Tyler Labine: Judge.
Justin Berfield: Yes, judge.
Tyler Labine: We love it.
Justin Berfield: It never gets old. A lot of the other guys are, like, we'll sit out this casting session. I want to be in every single one. I love the whole process.
I was wondering how did the idea of the show come about?
Justin Berfield: The idea came up from our creators, Tommy Dewey and Greg Bratman. They brought this idea to us way back when, and we just sort of developed it from an idea to scripts. Finally, we took it to Fox because I had some relationships there obviously, and they purchased it from us. It was exciting. It was like our first scripted show that we sold as a company at J2, and we couldn't be happier with the people that we're working with and the two guys that wrote it.
Tyler, you have a lot of fans out there who are science fiction fans because of the shows you've been on. Anything you'd like to say to them?
Tyler Labine: Yes, don't expect any time traveling or demons in this show. It's a little more straightforward than that, but like Justin said, the concept of the show, this high concept or whatever, it's a running theme on the show, but like he said, you don't need to know exactly what's going on. It becomes more about just the relationship with this guy and these children than the actual sort of hook, I guess. It's an easy show to just jump in and enjoy, but no flying, no demons.
Tyler, I was wondering on the show what does Ron learn from the boys?
Tyler Labine: What does Ron learn from the boys? I could create many things, but I think overall it's sort of this reluctant paternal figure starts to come and take shape in Ron that he really didn't know that he had, but I think he starts to relish it and starts to take sort of a bit of pride in the fact that he thinks he actually might be a pretty good dad, but ... it just looks like a mess. It's not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting. I'll put it that way. He's doing the best he can, but I think that's the one thing he takes away the most is that maybe he actually is pretty good at this parenting thing.
How do you like being executive producer as opposed to or different from being in front of the camera?
Justin Berfield: I like it. They're both unique in their own ways, but I'm enjoying what I'm doing and where I'm at right now. It's a whole new level of stress. It's a different kind of stress, but they're both rewarding.
I love your use of character actors, Kurt Fuller, Joe LoTruglio. Can you talk a little bit about some of the other guest stars you may have coming up and if those guys will be back?
Justin Berfield: Kurt is only in the pilot, and Joe is actually in, how many episodes is he in? He's in at least-
Tyler Labine: He's in five I think.
Justin Berfield: Yes, five. He comes back quite a bit. In the first three episodes, did you get to meet Sarayu Rao? She's in about five episodes as well, and she plays Joe's wife. She is an amazing actress.
Tyler Labine: She's hilarious.
Are we going to be seeing any of the family of the boys? Will we see the father in prison or maybe any family members that come out of the word work?
Justin Berfield: No one in the family the first season.
Tyler Labine: Thank God. ...
Justin Berfield: That'd be jumping the shark pretty quickly.
Tyler Labine: Also, Alexander Breckenridge who plays my potential girlfriend, Gina, she pops in another couple times, and she's fantastic as well.
Tyler, I've read a couple of reviews kind of comparing you in this role to a Jack Black type. Is that something that you were doing maybe intentionally, or is that something that you just feel is kind of ...?
Tyler Labine: No, I would never intentionally try to emulate another actor, especially not one that's famous and famous for his shtick as Jack Black. I think it's a nice comparison. I'm a little tired of it because I've been acting for about 22 years, and I've sort of formulated my own sense of humor before I even knew who Jack Black was, and it just so happens that he got there before me I think. It's a nice comparison. I could imagine being compared to a lot worse people, but if anything I tried very hard to buck back in the other direction, but this town likes to slap labels on people, and that's the one I've been stuck with.
Executive producer Justin Berfield's The Sons of Tucson, which stars Tyler Labine, premieres Sunday, March 14 at 9:30 PM ET on Fox.