I recently had the pleasure of chatting one-on-one with Tim Jo, who plays the oldest son, Reggie Jackson, of the alien family on ABC’s The Neighbors. He was so much fun to talk with, and he put me right at ease. Before tonight’s new episode, check out his great answers to the questions I threw at him.
Jenny: First of all, my husband, 14-year-old son, and I are all huge fans. It’s our favorite new show of the season. We just love it.
Tim: Thank you so much. That means so much to me because the show was met with a lot of harsh criticism initially. They didn’t really know what to think of it. It was…quote-unquote, it is a high-concept show that features aliens in a suburban neighborhood. I think once people saw it and understood what the show is trying to do, they started opening up their arms to us.
Jenny: What we’ve said from the beginning was that it could have gone either way: it could have been really wrong, where it wasn’t as funny as they wanted it to be or it was really too cheesy or silly, but instead, it’s so silly and so much fun. You don’t have to worry about anything. You just have to sit back and laugh and enjoy the silliness.
Tim: That is the highest compliment because… Let’s say we were doing a really strong drama, I would say the work day feels very heavy and you sort of feel what the show is hopefully while you’re making it. But this show…while we’re making it, we’re having a really good time and everyone’s really silly, but we’re really pouring our hearts into the show as well, and I think the heart is the unexpected surprise of the show. I think it has a lot of heart, and I hope it shows.
Jump with me to read more.
Jenny: When you heard about the role, what attracted you to it?
Tim: Well, first of all, like any other working actor or aspiring actor, I get audition notices that tell me who wrote it and a quick synopsis and a character description. Mine originally said a family moves to a New Jersey neighborhood to find out that all their neighbors are aliens, and I was like, that sounds great. Good…. The second part said I was playing a character with a sports name—a very angry teenager who just wishes to be back home on his planet Zabvron. I was like, Eh, I can relate to that. Check. The third part said it was written by Dan Fogelman, who had made Crazy, Stupid, Love that year and also other favorites like Cars, and Tangled, and Bolt, so all three were like Check. Check. Check…, and I just really wanted the role really, really bad—not that I could fathom that it was possible [that I would] actually [get] it.
Jenny: In my thinking, I think it would have surpassed what I’d hoped it would be.
Tim: Oh, it sure has. Even after they had cast Amber [played perfectly by Clara Mamet] and we started getting to work together, I think that relationship sort of caught me by surprise. I think it also caught some of our bosses…Dan, Chris Koch, maybe even some of the ABC people realized You know, there might be something here between the two of them. So that has caught me off-guard, too, the fact that it’s just so much fun to work with Clara Mamet and the possibility of having this kind of…inter-species relationship blossoming. It is really fun to play, and it’s really touching. A lot of times, I get these scripts and I’m really touched and my eyes get a little bit watery.
Jenny: That kind of leads into my next question. What is the best part and the hardest part about filming this series, because I imagine that it is fun playing these alien characters who know very little about being human, but I bet that also presents a lot of challenges.
Tim: Well, I say the best part of the show is…personally, I think it’s getting to work with children [Note from Jenny: Tim is one of those Hollywood actors who is able to play much younger than his real age of 28]—Isabella Cramp [Abby], Max Charles [Max], Ian Patrick [Dick] are the children on our show. It’s almost impossible to be in a bad mood when you’re around kids who are just so full of joy and having such a good time. It’s impossible to be nervous when you’re shooting and impossible to have your mind on anything else when you’re having poking wars and thumb battles and dancing. That’s probably another unexpected part of the job that is easily one of my favorite parts of the job…is working with kids. And then the hardest part, I suppose, is…we have to do so many silly things, but as aliens, we have to put these blinders on because… Let’s say Reggie Jackson hears information and he takes everything so literally because he wants to fit in so bad. So when I’m performing a lot of these scenes…Tim Jo knows that Alan Alda is not a pop star that kids are gonna think is cool, right? But as Reggie Jackson, I’ve gotta put these blinders on so when I’m acting, a lot of these funny scenes that are written so spectacularly and so cleverly, I’ve got to just put my blinders on as an actor and perform them so straight. I think that’s probably what helps the comedy is getting these really fantastic and hilarious situations and really trying to ground it and not really accept that it’s funny to me.
Jenny: Is that harder to do—where you have to play it straight, like you said, when it’s really funny, or where you have to try to make it seem more funny that you actually think it is?
Tim: That’s a great question. Working on this show has been great and has taught me so many lessons on how to approach comedy. In my own learning arc, I suppose that [in all comedies], you’re always searching for the groundedness and the reality of the situation. It makes it that much more challenging, I suppose, when the stakes are so fantastic and so much more elaborate… You know, when we’re talking about aliens, the comedy is going to be a little harder to make real than I suppose than a stapler being missing at an office. So that’s been a great lesson. Yeah, in the past, I’ve had jobs where you’ve got to search for the comedy in a scene, and in this one, it’s almost like, how can you service the comedy.
Jenny: It almost sounds like it would be harder…not necessarily hard, but you feel like you have a lot more to live up to when the writing is so good.
Tim: Oh yeah, it’s definitely a challenge when you read something that is so funny… I’m like, I am not worthy…, but at the end of the day, I just play it as written and connect with it in my heart, and as long as Dan and Chris are laughing, then I say let’s move on.
Jenny: What’s been your favorite scene or episode to shoot so far?
Tim: So many… There’s an episode coming up where Reggie Jackson attends a high school dance, so you can imagine what may unfold… You know, dances require dates, and Amber exists in my life, and I think it’s pretty obvious I’ve got quite the crush on her, so… This episode in particular was really fun because…I guess we’ll see if Reggie Jackson’s crush pans out…or if he gets crushed.
Jenny: Is any of the show not scripted? Do you guys have any leeway on where you can go with some of the jokes, or do you pretty much stick to the script?
Tim: I would say most of what we see on the screen is scripted. Everything is so intricately guided scene-wise and what we do, and the writers are always on set with us guiding us, but what is also great is they always use the opportunity to throw in little lines here and there and add in little jokes that might not have been so evident while writing the scene. So a lot of times, it’s the writers saying, Tim, why don’t you say this? or me saying, Why don’t I try this?, or Dan saying, Why don’t you add in this little laugh at the lunch table scene. I don’t know if you remember the episode, but there’s this one scene where Amber’s telling a joke, a golf joke about Phil Mickelson, and Reggie Jackson gives the most annoying, embarrassing giggle. That was totally unscripted that Dan got me to do, so… It makes it so much fun.
I don’t know how this really happened, but reading the script for the second episode, when Marty’s grilling my parents about aliens, you know, blah-blah-blah, and Transformers—are Transformers real? Because that Michael Bay’s onto something. And then Jackie Joyner says, How does he know about Michael Bay?. The last line wasn’t in the script, the how does he know about Michael Bay. It was such a funny joke and so perfect in the scene…[Note from Jenny: he started playing coy here. LOL]…I think somehow, word traveled to Mr. Bay and I guess he approved the joke and he liked it, so he may be making an appearance in one of our episodes soon. And he might have already shot it… [TVLine.com had the news on November 13 that Michael Bay is guest starring as himself. You can read more here: TVLine.com]
Jenny: For my last question… Anything you want to tell my readers? I’ll link to your Twitter page, but do you want to mention or link to your band…Animals of Kin, right?
Tim: My band is Animals of Kin. Actually, there’s really not much to say right now, other than stay tuned to whatever I may put out on my Twitter. It’s sort of a secret project right now that my best friend, Ryan Donowho have been working on for a while, so… We’ve got a lot of music and a lot of videos that we’re just waiting for the right time to release it all. It started as a pet project and at the insistence of friends and family. We’ve been working pretty hard at our live set, and we’ve got a full band and going to play some shows around L.A., so I will definitely keep people posted if they live in the L.A. area, and we’re hoping to go on tour, so… Within the next few months, there should be some definite news coming out.
Thank you again so very much to Tim for chatting with me. You can catch him on Twitter @hellotimjo
If you haven’t seen The Neighbors, I strongly urge you to check it out. It airs on Wednesday nights on ABC at 8:30/7:30c.