Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Max Casella’s name is often prefaced by the words “former child actor,” but while that’s not entirely untrue, he was actually already in his early 20s when he got the job launched him into prime-time stardom: playing Vinnie Delpino on Doogie Howser, M.D. Since then, Casella‘s career has been more than a bit of a rollercoaster ride in terms of the size and profile of his various roles and projects, but his career has taken him to Broadway (The Lion King), teamed him with directors like Tim Burton (Ed Wood) and Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), and found him working alongside a list of actors which includes Christian Bale (Newsies), Robert De Niro (Analyze This), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road). In recent years, Casella has also spent a great deal of time on HBO, working on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire—he’ll be returning to the network in 2016 as a series regular on Vinyl—and he can currently be seen in the film Applesauce, now available on home video and VOD.
Max Casella: It came about very simply. Onur [Tukel, writer, director, and Casella’s co-star in Applesauce] sent the script to my manager, who sent it on to me, and as I normally would, I read it right away. Generally if I get offers, something that’s outright, I’m looking for the hair in the egg, going, “Ah, this isn’t gonna be any good…” But as I start to read it, I realize how great it is, and I start to get excited. And I read the whole thing straight through, laughing a lot out loud. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s actually about something. And I was so excited that I read it in one sitting, put it down, called my manager, and said, “Set up a meeting with Onur right away.” And I think I met him the next day.
A.V. Club: How would you describe Les in a nutshell?
MC: Les is the tight-ass guy. He’s a conservative, fearful type guy. The great thing about the movie was that all the characters were kind of awful in their way. I think Les loves his wife, but I’m not even sure if maybe he didn’t love her at all.
I don’t really want to give away what happens in the movie, but he easily moves from one relationship into the other, and it’s almost a bit like some of the alienation themes that Italian guys like [Michelangelo] Antonioni were touching on. We’re all alienated from each other, and our relationships can be cast off easily. Like, do we really love anybody? Are we as a people worth saving at all? Is there anything worthwhile to human beings? Of course, the good thing is that it’s a comedy, because these are kind of dark themes! [Laughs.]
AVC: So at least there’s comedy, albeit of a dark vein.
MC: Oh, sure. Absolutely! He’s a bit childlike, a bit childish. But it was great fun to play. I loved Onur’s script. I just loved the whole thing! The guy had integrity, and he feels bad about his behavior. I’ve never really gotten to play a character like that. It always seems like I’m playing gangster characters or whatever. But this guy was married, he was in a loving relationship, going through trials and tribulations. You know, real people problems. [Laughs.] I really enjoyed it. I thought it was funny and smart. It was a pleasure.
Ephraim McDowell’s Kentucky Ride (1981)—“Joseph McDowell”
MC: Yeah, I was, like, 12. [Laughs.] And that was in Boston. WGBH in Boston is this big TV studio for PBS, and they would produce their own content. That was supposed to be a series called Tales Of Medical Life, and each episode would be a TV movie about a famous medical person. In this case, it was Ephraim McDowell, who I guess in the 19th century performed the first [successful abdominal] surgery, so it was about that, and I played his young nephew. That was the first filmed thing I ever did.
AVC: What made you steer toward acting? Was it something you’d always wanted to do, or was it something your parents suggested?
MC: No, not at all. My first love was actually drawing and painting. I drew from a very young age. Almost as soon as I could hold a marker in my hand, I was drawing and drawing and drawing. I never thought of any career until I got much older. I discovered acting around 12 years old, but it wasn’t my parents. In my grammar school, there was a woman named Judy Contrucci, and she was head of the drama department in all public schools, elementary and high schools. She kind of pushed me into it, so I was doing school plays and stuff like that. And then I started doing plays professionally in and around Boston and Cambridge, where I’m from, and work just came at me like that. And then once I graduated high school, I decided to move to New York and pursue it for real as a career.
The Equalizer (1988)—“Streak”
AVC: Your first New York TV gig would’ve been The Equalizer, right?
MC: Yeah, that’s exactly right: The Equalizer. I had a small part. I was quite impressed with Edward Woodward at the time. I felt like, notwithstanding the Boston TV stuff I had done, it was my first big prime-time show, and to see Edward Woodward there… You know, I was starstruck and really excited to be there. I was very, very happy to have gotten the part. I remember it like it was yesterday, you know? Getting that part was a huge deal. And it was the first real job I had in New York, so it was very exciting. I remember Edward Woodward being friendly, but I was such a kid, I didn’t have anything to do with him. But I was impressed by him. And in that episode, actually, I was in a small group of kids, among which was myself, Sam Rockwell, Jerry O’Connell, and Frank Whaley. It was pretty cool.
AVC: When we talked to Frank Whaley, he mentioned that you and he had been waiting tables in those days.
MC: In real life? No, I never waited tables. I never tried to do a job that difficult. I did a lot of telemarketing jobs. I worked at the New York Public Library for awhile, down in the stacks, deep underground. I did a short stint at Häagen-Dazs. I got fired from all these jobs, usually for the same reason: laziness, or shiftlessness, as they say. [Laughs.] I actually got fired from the library for laziness, if you can believe that. That was quite an accomplishment. It took some doing, what with the fast pace of the New York Public Library. But, no, I never waited tables. I knew better than to try doing that!
Ed Wood (1994)—“Paul Marco”
MC: Oh, I loved that! That was such a huge thrill to be in that movie and playing Paul Marco. Paul Marco, rest his soul, was such a character, man. I mean, he threw me out of my dressing room because it had his name on it! He had a cameo, so the day he was on set, he saw my dressing room, it said “Paul Marco,” and he went in there and saw my stuff in there, and he chucked it out. And I was, like, “What the fuck is going on?” [Laughs.] We quickly solved the misunderstanding, but… he was the president of his own fan club. That’s all you need to know about the guy. But he gave me a lot of Paul Marco/Kelton The Cop memorabilia, some of which I still have, like T-shirts and stuff like that.
I loved it. I mean, working with Tim Burton, who I had loved, and Johnny Depp and Bill Murray and Sarah Jessica [Parker] and all these people. I remember how nice Martin Landau was when I talked to him. It was such a thrill to work with such cool people. I was so overwhelmed by it all at the time, I remember, but also it felt really special to be just in the same room with those people. I loved the black and white. I mean, I knew it was such a good movie. It was exactly what I wanted to be doing, you know? I just loved films. I was brought up watching all kinds of great movies since I was a very little kid, and I loved great stories, and this was that. I was very jealous, though, not to be Johnny Depp and playing that part. [Laughs.] But it was such a thrill to be in the movie at all. And I was on it for a long time. Like, three months. It was wonderful. I mean, we’re making a movie about a guy making movies, so we were making movies in the movie. It was just so great.
Revolutionary Road (2008)—“Ed Small”
MC: Ed Small was actually the name of the character, and it’s also the best way to describe the size of the role. [Laughs.] Very, very little is known about Ed Small. He’s an obscure character lost in the mists of time. If you watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean! And yet the wonderful thing is, I attack every role as if I’m the lead. I devoured the novel the movie was based on, and I’d kind of filmed the movie in my head, like, five times over. And then I was on the set, and I love disappearing into different times, with the clothes and everything. I loved watched DiCaprio, who’s such a great guy to work with. He’s such a giving actor.
It’s funny with DiCaprio. He’s such a star, he’s such royalty, that he does little weird things like, when he sees you, he’ll wink at you and smile at you, as if to bless you. [Laughs.] And I thought at the moment, “That’s kind of weird: this guy just winked at me!” It’s little bit like having an audience with the prince. But watching him just do the simplest things in character, like walking through the office bullpen, sitting at his desk, opening the lower drawer with his foot, kicking his feet up, lighting his cigarette with a Zippo, and picking up a dictation machine. Just doing that was with such grace and beauty and movie star finesse, I’ll never forget it. Or how giving he was when it was my coverage, and he was off-camera, and he’d really throw everything at you, even more than he’d done on his own, to help you be good.
The best actors are the ones who are always actors at heart, who know that when it comes down to doing the job, whether you’re DiCaprio or just one of the other members of the cast, we’re all an ensemble. The best ones behave like work-a-day actors. I mean, when you’re in a play with no famous people and everybody is acting with each other, it’s the same thing. Cate Blanchett is another one. A great, great actress, an Academy Award winner, but you act with her, and it’s just like you’re with another consummate actor.
Passione (2010)—“Soldier / Jailer / Lover”
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)—“Pappi Corsicato”
MC: Oh, I loved Pappi Corsicato! Pappi Corsicato is named after a guy I know in Naples, Italy that—by some small-world irony—the Coen brothers knew also. I went to Naples with John Turturro to film this movie Passione, which was sort of a documentary, but…not a documentary full on. I was acting, singing, and dancing in it. It was a documentary / music video type thing of the music of Naples, and we were hosted at the house of this guy Pappi Corsicato, who was a very wealthy director in his own right, but he was wealthy from his family’s money. His mom was this old lady who’d bring out the most delicious food you’ve ever had, and they lived in this gorgeous, special apartment overlooking the bay of Naples, and we were very generously hosted by this guy. And I guess the Coens also got that treatment when they were in Naples! [Laughs.] And they never forgot the name, so they named the character “Pappi Corsicato.” I think the original character was called Cookie Venda-something.
I loved the guy. I wanted to do a whole movie of that guy! I just loved him. He was a real Greenwich Village Italian from back in the day, when Little Italy was really Little Italy, and when the Italians really were living all up and down Mulberry Street and Mott Street. So he was of that group, and I loved the Coens’ writing. It was almost musical. And Pappi was a great guy. I love him because he’s sexy and absurd and perverse at the same time. I feel like he fucked everybody. [Laughs.] All the girls, if you wanted to perform at the Gaslight, you had to fuck Pappi. You had to get laid by Pappi, and then you were in. I just loved what a sexual animal he is. He was so much fun to play. I wanted to do more! I mean, there was much more in that character I wanted to explore. I may bring some of him back in some other thing. I guess there’s elements of him in everything I do, mostly!
The Bronx Is Burning (2007)—“Dick Howser”
Fading Gigolo (2013)—“Guy at Counter”
AVC: You actually worked with Turturro before and after Passione.
MC: Yeah, I worked a lot with him. I’ve done a lot of theater with him. We did Endgame at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a few years ago, with Elaine Stritch and Alvin Epstein, and I’ve done some movies with him. He’s a close, dear friend of mine. We’ve done a lot together.
AVC: Most recently, you had a tiny part in Fading Gigolo. Did he just call you and ask, “Do you want to play this guy at the counter?”
MC: Yeah, exactly. Just as a friend.
AVC: You also did a miniseries with him that was pretty high-profile: The Bronx Is Burning.
MC: Right! Although for me that wasn’t that big a deal, because—again—I didn’t really have that much to do in that. But the theater that I’ve done with him was much more rewarding. Making Passione was probably the best experience I’ve ever had making a movie, hands down, to be in Naples, Italy, working with an Italian film crew. And the way John was making it, every day you didn’t know what you were going to be doing. The thing was just being created on the fly. And he asked me to do so many different roles, I was like Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove. [Laughs.] It was just so much fun. And the food! Filming there and going out to dinner afterward and having the best food of your life. It was amazing. Amazing!
Sgt. Bilko (1996)—“Spc. Dino Paparelli”
AVC: Based on what I’ve heard from other cast members, the experience of making this film seems to have been entertaining.
MC: Well, yes and no. I mean, at that time in my life, I don’t know, I was in a weird place, I wasn’t that happy with things, and I didn’t get along with some of the people. Some I did. I remember I was very much infatuated with one of the actresses, and it was not reciprocated, and one drunken evening I, like, professed my love for her or something, and she was just, like, “Uh, yeah, sorry, no.” [Laughs.] And then I had to continue working with her every day!
Steve Martin was a great guy. He had us all over to his house to swim, and he played his banjo, and he showed me his Picassos. That was fun. And we went to Vegas, where I got very, very sick. [Laughs.] Some of the guys picked up a prostitute off the Las Vegas strip and absconded with her and kept her in the room for, like, four days. I don’t know what was happening there. I was not party to that. I felt very left out that one, actually!
But, yeah, there were some good people. And I liked what I was doing in that. But I used to overact so badly in that thing, I would mug so violently, that my face would actually hurt. [Laughs.] Actually, that’s a quote you can use, because that’s the absolute fucking truth. I remember realizing, “My God, my face hurts, I’m acting so hard!”
But the director, a guy named Jonathan Lynn, he loved me, man! He was like, “You’ve got ace comic timing!” He actually took a scene away from another actor and gave it to me. You know the scene where I’m in drag and Bilko’s trying to make Phil Hartman jealous or something? That was going to be another actor, and then Steve Martin and Jonathan Lynn decided that I should do it, because I was so funny in the other scenes. So that was a nice vote of confidence.
AVC: The other person from the cast that we interviewed for this feature was Pamela Adlon.
MC: [Abruptly.] That’s the woman I professed my love for! But at the time she was Pam Segall.
I was crazy about her! She’s still a very attractive woman, but you should’ve seen her back then, 20 years ago. She was just… I mean, wow!
The Notorious Betty Page (2005)—“Howie”
MC: Oh, God, that was such a small part. I’ve played so many fucking small parts. It’s depressing. And I was good in that thing! I was really terrific in that. But from, like, 2000 to 2010, I’d just moved back to New York, and there were a lot of these tiny little roles sporadically over the first 10 years of the millennium. And I was so happy to be getting the work at all! Because these were what I considered to be art films, whether they turned out to be good or not, and that’s always what I envisioned for myself: to be a cool actor who does great art movies.
So I was just happy to be working with Mary Harron. She did I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho and stuff, so I was really thrilled. Plus, it was black and white, it was a period thing, it was cinematic. So I was really happy with it, and I thought I did a good job. Unfortunately, I only worked, like, a day on it. But things got better around five years ago. I started doing more things.
MC: Cro, yeah. Quite depressing, that.
AVC: You know, just for the record, I’m not actively trying to depress you.
MC: [Laughs.] Well, again, at the time, I just was not particularly happy. I couldn’t really work! This was post-Doogie Howser. I was still in L.A., before I moved back to New York and started over, which was the best thing I ever did. The last couple of years in L.A. were rough. Although I did do The Lion King in New York during that period, otherwise I could only get voice work. I wasn’t really interested in it, but it was the only work I was getting. I was glad to get something, but I was going through the motions. And I was really going through the motions with that one. I was depressed. I was an overgrown washed-up child actor… although on Doogie I was already 21 or 22. I wasn’t even a child at that point! But I looked like one, and as far as anyone was concerned, I was one. So there I was, one of these kids off a TV series that’s been cancelled, and I was adrift for awhile. And all I could do was voiceovers.
The Lion King (1997)—“Timon”
AVC: So how did The Lion King come about?
MC: Lion King came about just out of the blue. My agent in L.A. was like, “They’re casting Lion King, go audition for it. Learn ‘Hakuna Matata’ and go read these two scenes. They’re doing it on Broadway.” And I was like, “How the fuck are they gonna do that on Broadway?” [Laughs.] And I was not at all interested in doing a play or a Broadway musical or anything of the kind. All I could think of was that I was trying to produce a movie at that point—I thought it was something that would launch me into a film career—so this was in the complete opposite direction. But I go there, I read the part, and I loved the scenes. The Timon character came to me very easily, and “Hakuna Matata,” I learned very easily and performed it, and I aced the audition.
I didn’t know who Julie Taymor was, except that they told me she was a very big deal in New York avant-garde theater, but she was very happy with my audition, and she asked me to come back another day to work with the puppet. And when I heard that, I was, like, “Puppet? What the fuck are you talking about?” And she trotted out this fucking contraption that I was supposed to wear. And then I was, like, “Oh, no, no. This is not for me at all. There’s no way that I’m doing this.” But she straps me into it—with duct tape, because it was actually built for somebody else: Mario Cantone, who had done the workshop and swore off ever fucking wearing the puppet ever again in life. [Laughs.] So he did not want to continue, but the puppet was made for him, so it didn’t fit me perfectly, so that’s why she had to duct tape me into it. And then she just said, “Move around with it, dance around with it, whatever comes naturally to you. I want to see what your instincts do.” I felt like such an idiot. But I just started having fun with it, and I realized I was a natural puppeteer. And she was just thrilled to pieces.
They flew me to New York to do the same routine for Michael Eisner, and then I got the role. My newly signed agents, Innovative Artists, it was the first thing I got for them, and they were over the moon. I remember I was sitting in the bathtub, having a bath, when I got word that I got the part. I was still in New York, at my mom’s apartment, and I get the call, and they’re, like, “You got it! You got it!” They were so happy. And all I could think of was, “Fuck! I want to make this movie now! This is just a big inconvenience.” [Laughs.] It’s the weirdest thing. A lot of times—although not in the last few years, but very often in the past—good fortune would come my way, and I wouldn’t recognize it. That turned out to be a phenomenal experience, but at the time, it just seemed like a huge digression from what I wanted to be doing.
The Sopranos (2001-07)—“Benny Fazio”
MC: Another situation—this is a running theme!—where I’m on a great show or a great film that I loved, but my role was so inconsequential that I felt frustrated. Frustrated, but glad to be associated with and a part of something of such high quality that was so phenomenal and historic and one of the greatest fucking shows ever.
I was thrilled when I got it. It was the first TV job that I got after moving back to New York in 2000. At the time, I was in a Broadway musical, The Music Man, which is the musical after which I swore I’d never do another musical. [Laughs.] And I’ve stuck to that! But I got the recurring role on The Sopranos, and I was so fucking happy… and so jealous and wishing, “Someday I want to be on my own TV show in New York on HBO.” Because it’s so great to be on a TV series on HBO. It’s not like network television. It’s not safe. I mean, you know how network TV is, particularly dramas. But HBO, that’s really fucking good writing! And people talk and look like real people!
So I was very happy to be part of The Sopranos, and I ran on with that for years, up through…what, 2006? 2007? I did four seasons of it, and it was great for me. I mean, I met Terry Winter through that, and now with Vinyl, I’ve fulfilled my dreams from back then: to have my own TV series. Well, I mean, I’m a member of the regular cast. And it’s on HBO. And it’s in New York City. Everything I ever wanted, everything I worked for… I’ve got it.
Boardwalk Empire (2010)—“Leo D’Alessio”
AVC: Did Terence Winter ask for you specifically for Boardwalk Empire, having worked with you on The Sopranos, or was it an audition situation?
MC: I did audition, and for a few different roles, but I think it helped with Terry being such a loyal guy—and not just stupidly loyal for the sake of loyalty, but loyal as in he likes rewarding hard work. He likes my work, and we like each other very much, and he found me a role. I auditioned for a few parts on the pilot, but in the third episode or whatever it was, he found me a role—Leo D’Alessio—and that role went to the end of season one. And then I was killed off, as the story dictated. But, yeah, he found me something. He made sure to do that.
Vinyl (2016)—“Julie Silver”
AVC: I’m sure you can’t say but so much and wouldn’t want to spoil anything even if you could, but can you talk a little bit about Julie Silver and his place in Vinyl?
MC: Julie Silver is the culmination of Papi Corsicato and so many of these other characters that I’ve been able to play. Terry wrote that role with me in mind, and then [Martin] Scorsese had to okay it, because Scorsese didn’t know me, but it was basically written for me. He’s such a great character. He’s a passionate madman, a lover of American popular music with an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, rhythm and blues, rock ’n’ roll…everything. He’s passionate about it, but he’s also desperate. He’s getting a little bit long in the tooth for the A&R job and struggling to maintain his relevancy, and he acts out in ridiculous ways at times because of his passion and insecurity. It’s a great part. And there’s definitely some Papi in there. [Laughs.] I wanted to bring that back, because Julie’s very much a sexual animal. He moves, he dances… He’s a real organic person, and he’s fiercely loyal to Richie, his friend and boss, played by Bobby Cannavale.
Blue Jasmine (2013)—“Eddie”
AVC: How did you enjoy the experience of working on a Woody Allen film?
MC: Oh, it was wonderful. I just loved—loved!—working with Woody Allen. I was so excited to just be there with him, and he’s so familiar to me in so many ways. He looks a little bit like my dad, and I instinctively felt like I understood his humor and his personality. He was not at all difficult to work with or weird or anything. He gave succinct direction: He would compliment you when he was happy, and if it wasn’t good, he would say flat out, “That was no good.” And I was very surprised at how well the scenes I was in turned out.
AVC: You obviously developed a chemistry with Bobby Cannavale in the film.
MC: Yeah. Actually, I knew Bobby a little because we’re members of the same theater company—the Labyrinth Theater Company—so I knew him from that and doing readings of stuff with him. And John Turturro’s a mutual friend, so… I think I knew him in 2008. The first time I actually worked with him was Blue Jasmine, but I’ve known him for a long time, and we have a good rapport with each other.
Newsies (1992)—“Racetrack Higgins”
MC: Racetrack! Yeah, Newsies was my first movie—my first theatrical movie—and I was really excited about it. It was a historical piece, set in 1899, so I threw myself into that like a madman and lived at the L.A. Public Library, researching the role and everything, studying Jacob Riis photographs. I loved doing it. It was a huge, long adventure—six months!—and I just loved Racetrack. I just jumped right into. Racetrack and all of those guys, they were like little men. They dressed like men, so they pieced together their outfits. Like, Racetrack was a bit of a dandy, so he had a pocket watch, a vest, and spats, or whatever it was. I always felt like the Artful Dodger in that way. [Laughs.] But, yeah, I really threw myself into it completely.
AVC: There’s at least one interview with Christian Bale where he talks about how hormones were running high on the Newsies set.
MC: Hormones were running high! I don’t know what he meant by that specifically, but obviously they were. Except there weren’t enough girls to go around, was the only problem. I was actually living with my girlfriend at the time, so I wasn’t really…well, you know. [Laughs.] Also, because I was older than a lot of ‘em, I was 24 or something, and a lot of the other guys were younger, I remember some of the younger guys kept asking me about sex and stuff!
Blood Drips Heavily On Newsies Square (1992)—himself, producer
AVC: The thing that I find most fascinating about the film isn’t even Newsies itself: It’s the horror movie you made while you were filming it: Blood Drips Heavily On Newsies Square.
MC: The fact that anybody even knows about that is just crazy, man! I can’t believe that thing got out, and now it’s out there and it just proves to you that nothing stays a secret. Everything comes out. [Laughs.] We made that for fun because we were bored on long days of shooting.
Me and Michael Goorjian were the two main people behind it. Michael was sort of the director of it, but I filmed a lot of it, and between the two of us… That overtook us completely for a few months, making that thing. That was a lot of fun. And we edited it in the video camera! It was one of these early ’90s video cameras with a VHS tape that would go inside the camera, so we would just shoot it chronologically. [Laughs.] We’d shoot the scene until we were happy with it, and then we’d shoot the next scene right after it! And everybody’s in it. Christian’s in it. Bill Pullman’s in it. It became a whole thing. We shot some of it at my house, and my girlfriend is in it. That whole period of my life, it’s right in there.
The Last Of Robin Hood (2013)—“Stanley Kubrick”
MC: I wish I had done a better job with that. I love Stanley Kubrick, and however many weeks I had to work on it, I worked myself into a complete frenzy. There’s not a lot of film of Stanley Kubrick, actually. There’s very little. As far as I know, there’s a behind-the-scenes of him making The Shining, then there’s a short behind-the-scenes of him making Full Metal Jacket, and then there’s an even tinier—like, really tiny—piece of footage of him being interviewed outside the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I think. And that is it! There’s a 20-minute audio conversation between him and this guy, which I found the most helpful, but there was really very little. And I don’t feel like I really looked like him, but I just revere Stanley Kubrick, and I thought I did an okay job with it. I could’ve been a lot better. But I’m not, like, overly proud of it. I feel like I sort of missed it.
Analyze This (1999)—“Nicky Shivers”
MC: Ah, Nicky Shivers! I’m working with De Niro, I’m also in The Lion King at the time, and this was only maybe the third movie I’d ever done. Third or fourth, whatever. But I had a day on it with Robert De Niro, who was very intimidating. At the audition, he seemed sort of kindly, nice, maybe a little bit artistic, but a friendly guy. But on the set, he was in character as a gangster, and he’s threatening me with a lead pipe, and I’m handcuffed in a chair with my hands behind my back, and he just went right off script and started improvising. It was scary. [Laughs.] Yeah, that was all right.
Doogie Howser, M.D. (1989-93)—“Vinnie Delpino”
MC: Well, that was huge for me, the whole thing of doing Doogie. I mean, it changed my whole life. It literally changed my whole life overnight. Like I said, before I did Doogie, I had done some theater and small TV things in Boston, and then in New York I did that episode of The Equalizer—and also one of Kate and Allie!—while I was studying and working in a small off-off-Broadway theater. I was very broke, living with my mom up in Inwood, 207th Street, counting out the pennies to get on the subway. I was studying acting feverishly and working in that theater, being in the shows but also cleaning the place, running the lights, and doing all of these odd jobs… and then BAM! I get this thing and I’m in Hollywood doing this TV series I’m making a ton of money—for me, anyway. I didn’t go to college, so it was sort of like my four-year college experience. Leaving home, learning to drive, getting a license, getting a car, getting my first girlfriend, getting laid for the first time… It was crazy. It was a wonderful, adventurous time.
AVC: You had great chemistry with Neil Patrick Harris on the show.
MC: Oh, he was great! We had just a great time together. Like you said, we really had great chemistry, and I loved him. But at the time, he was 16 and I was 21 or 22, so we weren’t really hanging out. Also, culturally, we were from different planets back then. I’d say Neil—and I say this with all love and affection—was the first real white person I had ever met in my life. [Laughs.] Because, you know, I’d been living in New York City, but even growing up in Boston, I lived in a black neighborhood, and I was always trying to be black, hanging out with black guys and listening to black music. And you don’t really meet real Anglo-Saxon white people until you get deep into the country, into the Midwest, so meeting Neil and his family… It was a culture shock!
I remember how, early on, Neil and his family—his mom and dad and brother—and me and a friend of mine, we all went to Disneyland in the car. I was literally sitting in the back seat with my mouth open about these strange people, the way they talked to each other, thinking, “They’re so polite with each other! Nobody’s calling anybody a fucking asshole, nobody’s getting slapped, everybody’s speaking in such dulcet tones and so courteously.” I’d never experienced that before in my life! [Laughs.]
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (2011)—“Canetti”
AVC: We’ve obviously covered a bunch of stuff, but is there anything that’s a particular favorite that hasn’t come up?
MC: No, I think we covered all the really good ones. Am I forgetting anything else? I think you got everything. [Hesitates.] I mean, you didn’t get Big Mommas. Now, come on!
AVC: Well, now that you’ve brought it up…
MC: Actually, you know what? Let’s not go there. I, uh, don’t think that’s necessary. [Laughs.] Yeah, let’s just file that under “the less said, the better”!