Who made a course-changing difference in Josh Malina’s life?

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Rick Yaeger: Hey, everyone, it’s Rick Yaeger here with the “One Question Interviews.” The show where I get the golden opportunity to talk to a celebrity, and then I waste it on some totally random question. Today’s guest plays attorney, David Rosen, on ABC’s “Scandal” and also Dr. Scott Beck on CBS’ “Extant.” Please welcome Josh Malina.

Joshua Malina: Hello, Rick.

Rick: Hello. Thank you for doing this.

Joshua: Thank you for having me.

Covering all networks

Rick: I didn’t know you could do that with having two series on two different networks. Aren’t they warring factions?

Joshua: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’ve been able to squeeze little things in. Prior to Scandal, I had started occasionally, I’ve only done three episodes thus far. For the “Big Bang Theory,” I play President Siebert, president at Caltech.

I occasionally do that, and I’ve done once since Scandal started. They have been nice about that. Extant also CBS, I was able to do one episode this summer. After Scandal was done, during our hiatus, I did a “Law and Order SVU.” I try to sneak in as much as I can.

Usually, you’re allowed to do two. Then, after that, you have to go to ABC and go, “Please? I’ve got kids to feed.” [laughs] Then they’re pretty good about it.

Scandal

Rick: We’ve got to tell people what’s been happening with you over the last little while. Of course, we’ve talked a bit about Extant, a little bit about Scandal.

Joshua: Yes. I guess by the time this airs, the show, the fourth season of Scandal, will have started airing. But as we speak, through the magic of the Internet…

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: …we’re actually filming the third episode. Tomorrow, I’ll go in, I’ll shoot the second day of the third episode of the fourth season. We’re a few weeks into shooting the new season, which is great. Very happy to be there. We had a shortened season last year with 18 instead of 22. We had almost four months off which is a long time. It’s nice to be back and working with everyone, seeing my friends and getting back to it.

Rick: Such a popular show. I started watching it on Netflix. If you’re a US Netflix subscriber, all the first three seasons, you can catch up on Netflix.

Joshua: It’s kind of a bingey show. A lot of people will walk up to me and say, “I just started watching three weeks ago, and I’m up to date.”

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: [jokingly] “What else have you been doing?” “Not much.” It’s fine. Shonda Rhimes has that crack-pipey way of ending an episode that makes you want to watch the next episode.

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: I’m sure she’d love that I described it thusly.

Rick: Yeah, I bet. Actually, that is how we [laughs] watch it. We look at we want to finish up at our usual bedtime. We’ll look at the time and think, “Can we fit in another Scandal? Yeah, let’s do that.”

Joshua: It’s insidious. Things like Netflix and Hulu have, one, for me, they’ve largely ruined watching things the old-fashioned way, when it’s on. That and DVRs have made it impossible to where I’m not satisfied by one. When I finally caught up to “Breaking Bad,” I was late to the game, so I was able to binge Breaking Bad.

Then eventually, I caught up, and I was like, “I can’t watch it again until next week? What? Help.”

Rick: [laughs] [jokingly] “I have to watch this weekly like the common people?”

Joshua: [jokingly] “And I have to pause for commercials?” Although, if you give your DVR a little time, you don’t have to. You can zip through those.

A Few Good Men both stage and screen

Rick: I’ve been interviewing quite a few actors lately that have surprised me with Broadway chops in their resume. Investigating your Broadway experience, I unearthed something I find interesting. You were in “A Few Good Men” on Broadway as an understudy.

Joshua: Actually, I was in it the entire Broadway run, which was about 15 months. In the original cast, I understudied three roles and played small roles. There were five of us who understudied all the leads and had little roles throughout the thing, moved some furniture around, and stood, variously, at attention, and paradees for the entire second act which takes place in the courtroom.

The last six or eight months, I played PFC Louden Downey, who was one of the two murder defendants, the white one.

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: Which I felt I was suited for.

Rick: [jokingly] That’s typecasting. [laughs] I imagine being an understudy is like studying for five tests and not knowing which one’s going to be called or when.

Joshua: It is horrific, and I have tremendous respect for people who do it, having done it. I did it a second time on the national tour of A Few Good Men. I played a great, little, funny role and then understudied a bigger role.

I have two horrible understudy stories. One is that before we went to Broadway, we opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. I was understudying three roles. Aaron Sorkin was writing prolifically, changing the script every single day to the point where I didn’t even have a correct script.

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: I was supposed to collate it. They’d just give me new pages, but my script was 1,000 pages long. I didn’t know what was where. This was my first professional job.

We had never rehearsed, not once. Every now and then, the stage managers would say, “By the way, understudies, you are responsible for your role.” I kept thinking, “I couldn’t possibly play these roles.”

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: Then one day, you know you have to arrive about a half hour before the play and before the show is supposed to start. I kind of got word, one of the stage managers ran up and said, “Hey, Josh, just so you know, Michael Dolan isn’t here.”

I was thinking, “Why are they telling me? Yeah, I’m his understudy, but I don’t know the role.” [laughs] That was at least a half hour. Then about 10 minutes later, they came and said, “We can’t get in touch with him.” I’m starting to think, “This can’t be happening.”

[laughter]

Joshua: Five minutes later they came to me, and they’re like, “You have to get into this.” I hadn’t even been fitted for my own wardrobe for his role. He’s much taller than I, so it didn’t even fit.

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: I started looking around and thinking, “Everyone seems to think I know what’s I’m going on. They don’t know that I don’t know the role.”

[laughter]

Joshua: Then Victor Love, who played the other defendant in the show, the play opens on us. He came and he goes, “Do you want to run lines?” I said, “OK.” He said his first line, and then he looked at me, and I was like, “Don’t know my first line.”

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: It was actually out-of-body experience where I was thinking, “Wow. I just went from my dream job to my career’s over.” At some point they’re going to push me out on the stage, and they’re going to realize I don’t know what I’m doing.

With two minutes to go, Michael Dolan strolled in, and he was like, “Oh, wait a minute. I know daylight savings or something.” It saved my ass.

Rick: You bastard. [laughs]

Joshua: He showed up.

Rick: You were in the film as well?

Joshua: That is true. I can recreate my entire role here. It is, “Sir, yes sir. Yes sir. Yes sir. Yes sir. Sir. Sir, yes sir.

Rick: Oh, my.

Joshua: I have five words, three of them yes, two of them sir. That being said, I was speaking it to Jack Nicholson.

Rick: That’s something.

Joshua: A small role certainly, not an inauspicious beginning, and I learned a very good lesson there on that movie. When it was time, basically, he plays Colonel Jessup, and I’m a marine assistant guy who he calls in, “Tom, come in. We’re surrendering our position in Cuba. Get the president on the phone.” “Yes sir” and I leave. That’s been my whole role.

When it was time to turn around and shoot my single, Jack Nicholson stood off camera and did his whole long speech and I thought, “All right. That’s a pro.”

Rick: That’s class.

Joshua: He could have been in trailer while someone else read the script to me. He was there for me, because the other actor gives you something, and you play off of it. I just thought like, “That is a stand-up guy. That is a professional.”

Rick: That’s cool.

Joshua: Yeah, very cool.

Rick: You hear so many stories the other way where…

Joshua: Yes.

Rick: …as soon as it was my close up, gone. [laughs]

Joshua: I’ve had experienced such a thing with far lesser likes than Jack Nicholson.

The Interview

Rick: [laughs] I’m going to get to the official interview if you are…

Joshua: Go. Let’s do it.

Rick: …ready? I’m going to put the hat on. Very good.

Joshua: I should have been ready with the hat.

Rick: Oh, no. I do the hat. It’s mine.

Joshua: Oh, fair enough.

Rick: [laughs] As you know, this show is called “One Question Interviews.” I have almost a thousand different questions ranging from the profane to the profound. We will choose one at random, and you’ll answer it seriously or in a funny voice, if you like, and everyone goes home happy. Sound good?

Joshua: Bring it.

Rick: I’m going to grab a handful here. Then we’ll do the riffle down the side thing, and you tell me when to stop.

Joshua: Stop.

Rick: OK.

Joshua: I felt a vibe heavy on that one.

Rick: Do you want the top or the bottom?

Joshua: I was thinking the bottom one.

Rick: Bottom one. Yeah, usually, but I thought I’d ask.

Joshua: I appreciate that.

Rick: All right. Joshua Malina.

Joshua: It did dip below frame. You could have thrown it away and picked something new out of there. I’m just saying. If you were a magician, this is what you would do.

Rick: It’s duly noted, and a lot people that know me know that I am a magician.

Joshua: Oh, there you go.

Rick: [laughs] Josh Malina.

Joshua: Yes.

Rick: Who was the person who made a positive course-changing difference in your early life?

Joshua: I’ve got to think deep there. That’s a serious question. I can’t think of a funny way to answer it, so let’s see. The reason I can’t come up with something immediately is that my life’s been largely on the same course.

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: I am, weirdly, one of those people that I’m a flat liner, and I never rebelled. My wife occasionally says to me, “You’re 48. Are you going to rebel?”

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: “Are you going to start rebelling against your parents or something? If it’s going to happen, you’re a little bit late for it.”

Course-changing. I would say, it could perhaps be, I’ve never even thought about it this way. It’s a toss-up for me. I could go with Aaron Sorkin, although my life was already on the course of wanting to be an actor. He played such a role in helping me become a professional actor that I’m tempted to say Aaron, but I’ve spoken about that a lot in the past, and I was on that course already. One way or another, I was going to go for it.

I going to say, maybe, one of my dad’s best friends, possibly his best friend, a theatrical producer named Emanuel Azenberg, Manny Azenberg. He’s Neil Simon’s longtime producer. He produced, if you looked him up online, play after play after play. Tom Stoppard, “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” tons and tons of wonderful theater.

He was a little bit of an uncle figure to me. Because he was such a good friend of my dad’s, I got to see tons of theater, specifically, Broadway theater. As a kid growing up in New Rochelle, New York, which is 45 minutes from Broadway, as commemorated in the classic song, I would go to a lot of opening nights, almost all his plays on opening night.

There was something about the raw excitement of live theater then heightened by this opening-night extra vibe that definitely was intoxicating to me. I had a very strong sense of “I want to do that.” It was lots of comedies, because I saw the Neil Simon plays. Eventually, I saw, specifically, the Neil Simon plays, the trilogy that starred Matthew Broderick. “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues,” and “Broadway Bound.”

That had a role. I was really able to go, “Not only do I want to do that, generally, I want to play that role.” To Manny’s credit, he tried. He asked … … to see me in plays in high school. He had me audition for these roles. I never could quite close the deal or get the part.

Giving me the access to that level of theater, acting, and tons of musicals, and tons of comedy, and straight plays, and Beckett and Stoppard, I think he helped set me on the course of becoming an actor.

Rick: Wow. That’s amazing. I’m really getting an education in theater doing this show. I’ve always thought of stage, theater as being on the front lines. [laughs]

Joshua: Also that’s one of the exciting things about live theater, is you also might get a little feel from the audience about how to deliver your next line. They’re responding to this. It’s not just finding out what the reaction is but playing against it, and feeling it, and having your performance as it happens is irreplaceable.

You don’t get that on TV. You don’t get that with movies. Now, as a professional actor, I’ve spent most of my time doing TV, which I also love, and has its pros, nothing, and I think most actors would say this who have done some theater, “Nothing compares to live theater.”

Rick: You had a sense of that when you were a kid, the difference there?

Joshua: I don’t think I pondered it much, because when I thought to myself, “I’m going to be an actor,” I thought largely about theater. I would say one of the mild regrets of my career is that I haven’t done more theater.

As a kid at school, at camp, and high school, community theater, college light opera company, and during one of my summers in college in Cape Cod, that’s what I did. I did theater, and I thought that would be a bigger part of my professional career.

When I started, as we discussed, doing A Few Good Men, but not long after that, I moved to Los Angeles, and started to get work, and it picked up. Then I ended up having a family. All sorts of things led me to do…Although I did theater in LA also, little 99-seat theaters and stuff like that.

Now for a lot of years, largely what I’ve been doing is TV and I miss the theater. Although I’m also part of, maybe I can stick a little plug in here.

Rick: Good.

Joshua: I’m part of a monthly theatrical event here in Los Angeles. It takes place at a theater called Largo. It’s called “The Thrilling Adventure Hour.” It’s ongoing serialized stories, with fantasy/sci-fi elements to them, that are read live before an audience of about three or 400, scripts in hand, and it’s a new style of old-school radio.

Rick: Awesome.

Joshua: It’s written by two guys, Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, believe it or not, Acker and Blacker, who are these incredibly great, very funny, very smart writers. I’ve been a regular member of this troupe for two or three years, but it’s been going on for about eight years.

The stories they set into motion eight years ago are continuing, and have the most dedicated, unbelievable audience that comes back month after month who are right on top of all the characters and what’s going on and all the situations.

That’s an incredibly great…That scratches that itch I referred to of wanting to get on stage. Actually, it is a podcast as well, so if anyone is interested, you can listen to the many, many archived episodes at nerdist.com.

Rick: Nerdist. I’ll get the actual link right below your face.

Joshua: That will be great. A lot of people listen to the podcast, and then if they find themselves out in Los Angeles come the first Saturday of the month, they’ll try to come out and see the show. That’s a lot of fun.

Rick: Very good. Let’s grow that audience.

Joshua: That would be nice.

Rick: That would be very nice. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

The Wrap-up

Joshua: This was so much fun.

Rick: That was a great answer. Everybody, it’s already premiered, it premiered September 25th, but it’s at a new time.

Joshua: That’s true.

Rick: So if you’ve been showing up at 10 o’clock, and it hasn’t been there, you’ve been missing it. [laughs]

Joshua: You’ve no doubt been enjoying Shonda’s new show, “How to Get Away with Murder,” which is on ABC at 10.

Rick: Probably, yeah.

Joshua: Pop in an hour earlier, and watch our show, too.

Rick: Yes. It’s 9:00 PM, 8:00 Central. If you have missed a few episodes, you could go to abc.com and check those out. If you’ve missed a lot of episodes, go to Netflix.

Joshua: Or call me, and I’ll catch you up.

Rick: That’s good. [laughs]

Joshua: That’s not true. I can’t catch you up.

Rick: Your phone number will be right below. [laughs]

Joshua: 555-5555.

Rick: By the time this interview has been posted, Extant will have finished its season, but, hey, wasn’t that fun?

Joshua: Hopefully, a new season will be announced.

Rick: Yes. Follow Josh on Twitter. He is @JoshMalina and has the oddest Twitter avatar. [laughs] What is going on there?

Joshua: I’ll tell you. It is a brief scene. It’s a GIF. GIF or GIF? What’s the final? Which way do you go, Rick?

Rick: I go GIF.

Joshua: I go GIF, too, and only recently people have been giving me grief about it or is it “jrief.” Is it grief? Grief. They’ve been giving me grief.

Rick: [laughs]

Joshua: There’s a GIF that is a tiny little moment from “Sports Night,” also created by Aaron Sorkin, in which my character, Jeremy, in an attempt at outreach to his non-Jewish girlfriend, attempts to drink eggnog and cannot keep it down, so he spits it out. I create a little GIF. Actually, someone else created a GIF that I stole of him spitting up.

[laughter]

Joshua: Many people have asked me to put something else up, but the way GIFs work on Twitter, if you remove it, you can never put it back up again. They’re brand new GIFs. I’m grandfathered in, so I have to leave it.

Rick: Yeah, I know what you mean. I invite you all to head over to onequestioninterviews.com where I’m going to have a transcript of this interview, along with all of the cool stuff we’ve been talking about, links to all the stuff, all the pages, going to simplify your whole life. This tiny part of it anyway.

That’s it. This is Rick Yaeger for One Question Interviews. Thank you so much for watching. Subscribe to the show for free in the iTunes Podcast Network or on YouTube. I really like the YouTube subscriptions. Definitely, do that. You’ll not miss out on the next episode.

Another way I’m simplifying your life. That’s what I do. All right. Bye-bye, everyone. Take care.

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