I’m interviewing Bret Harrison on a “Breaking In” set decorated to resemble San Diego’s Comic-Con. All around us are people dressed as the usual Sailor Moons, “Star Wars” characters and, for a very specific reason, familiar faces from “The Goonies.”
Harrison’s costume isn’t very elaborate. His character — brilliant hacker, occasional slacker Cameron, recruited to Contra Security by Christian Slater’s Oz — is dressed as a janitor, but other than the mustache, he looks a lot like Bret Harrison. The mustache, however, is distracting, perhaps because Harrison has maintained the same boyish appearance dating back to his long run on “Grounded For Life.”
Sans mustache, he won fans playing a pair of Sams on the relatively short-lived, but relatively adored “The Loop” and “Reaper.” And once Harrison stopped fiddling with the mustache, we discussed what drew him to “Breaking In” and its similarities to those previous cult favorites.
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: This is a sibling of sorts to “The Loop” and “Reaper,” isn’t it?
Bret Harrison: Sibling how?
HitFix: Another show where you get recruited by a demonic figure to…
BH: Yeah, I guess I’m getting recruited and it’s certainly the same in the work sense as with “The Loop,” sorta being the eyes and ears of the audience coming into a new world. Definitely. I don’t think we get maybe as zany as “The Loop.” There are definitely differences. But there are certainly similarities.
HitFix: I feel as if Philip Baker Hall and Ray Wise and Christian Slater’s characters are all demonic figures cut from a similar cloth…
BH: Yeah. I do. I tend to work with assholes. I don’t know what the deal is. Not in real life, of course. But I think that’s the dynamic and the chemistry that sells. You could almost equate it to the Alec Baldwin/Tina Fey relationship on “30 Rock.” I think those boss/employee, father/son, dominant/not-dominant…
HitFix: Any sense of what draws you to shows with that dynamic?
BH: I think what draws me to it… In all honesty, you get handed scripts during pilot season and this was the best thing I read. This was the best thing. And working with [creator] Adam Goldberg again was a big thing and working with [director] Seth Gordon, that was a huge thing, “King of Kong.” I really responded to the material and I thought that we were doing something that was fresh and it just had a different tone to it than a lot of the other comedies I was reading. A lot of times during pilot season, you end up seeing kinda the same pilot. I read maybe six or seven shows where they’re three different couples in different stages of their lives.
HitFix: And they’re all on the air now!
BH: There are a few shows that I could have done that are on the air, but that doesn’t mean… I look at a show and you have to think about it in terms of this being your day-to-day life — for me, as an actor anyway, not everybody — but I don’t like to look at it as “Is this going to get on the air or is this not going to get on the air?” I look at it like, “Does this excite me?” and “If this did go seven years and this was seven years of my life and there’s no way of getting out of the contract, you have to be there…” So this was the thing and these were the people I wanted to work with. And that’s a really important thing.
HitFix: You had at least one development season when you were writing a project, right?
BH: Yeah, I was working for CBS on a sitcom.
HitFix: And what was it that you were writing for yourself?
BH: Well, to go back to the same kind of relationship, it was an “I Love You, Man”-style bromance between a younger guy and and older guy. They become best friends even though they’re at two totally different places in their lives.
HitFix: Is that a path you see yourself going down in the future?
BH: Yeah, writing and producing. Just being a part of it. That was another thing, working with Adam Goldberg on this, I’m not producing or anything, but there are certain people in this industry who are like, “You’re the actor, say the lines and shut up” or whatever and then there are people who are really creative and want to hear from people. Adam and Seth have been nothing but gracious and amazing with all of us, like “If you have a joke, pitch it.” There’s no negativity in that regard.
HitFix: So the writing is something you do in your spare time for now?
BH: It’s just something I’ve always got. If you’re an actor, if you’re not writing as well, or you’re not going to improv classes, there are long spurts where you’re not physically in production — unless you’re Channing Tatum at this moment right now — where you need to be doing something. Look at the Judd Apatow kids and the line of talent he’s produced and that’s because somebody really took them under his wing and said, “Alright. Show me what you’ve got.”
HitFix: And Adam’s taken that role with you?
BH: Absolutely. Absolutely! He’s done it with Rosenbaum…
[At this point, from a good 10 yards away, Michael Rosenbaum’s ears prick up and he practically beams himself into the middle of the conversation.]
Michael Rosenbaum: Who’s done it with Rosenbaum?
BH: Goldberg and you?
MR: Oh. OK. All I heard was “He’s done it with Rosenbaum.” Sorry for messing up your interview.
[Rosenberg vanishes back into the ether.]
HitFix: Going back to your “Breaking In” character. We’ve talked about that common dynamic, but how would you say he’s different from the other recent regular TV roles you’ve had?
BH: I’m afraid to say that he’s smarter, but I do. I think he’s a smarter character and while I know that Christian Slater’s character, Oz, is coming across as a boss, but I think that unlike in “Reaper,” where I was working with the Devil and he was telling me what my mission was — “That’s your mission, that’s what you do” — I feel Oz is treating Cameron more as a protege, than he it’s “This is your job, go and do it.” So I feel like we’re a little bit more on an equal level and I think you can play better comedy that way, in all honesty.
HitFix: And you’re returning to single-camera comedy. You’ve done a few of these now. What’s the draw of the format for you?
BH: The biggest draw for this show, is that it’s really original in the fact that it’s a half-hour action-comedy. Tell me if I’m missing one, but there’s not one half-hour, single-camera comedy where there’s a caper once a week. It’s not the biggest part of the show, but look at what we’re doing right now. I think that’s going to be our biggest challenge, but if we pull it off, that’s going to be our greatest victory.
HitFix: “Chuck” does it in the one-hour format.
BH: Exactly. And “Reaper” did it in the one-hour format. But I think what happens, too, with those kind of formats is that you get more story, but you lack in comedy. Or sometimes vice versa. But I think we’re going more after the comedy here. You know. In “The Office,” it’s about a paper company, well we happen to be a security company. This is the thing that takes place in the background, but it’s also what we always talk about, where we get our jokes, where we find our characters and whatnot.
HitFix: As we’ve said, you keep playing these characters who are newly introduced and thus somewhat unsteady in these chaotic worlds. Do you think the characters would lose some of their comedic punch if they ever got too confident on the job?
BH: You know what, it does. Or that’s what people tend to think will happen. But in his original incarnation, Cameron was much geekier and much less of an equal to Oz and [FOX Entertainment President] Kevin Reilly, who has been helping our show, that was his biggest note: “No, make Cameron cool. Not every joke needs to come from this place of weakness.” And when they’ve gone and tested the show, that’s what really worked, was the chemistry between Christian and myself.
HitFix: But after what happened with “The Loop,” which got tested and tweaked and rebooted almost to death, do you get cautious when you hear things like that?
BH: Oh, when I knew that I was doing a FOX, single-camera, half-hour comedy, that’s the only thing that went through my head. But then I’d go back to, “Well, then I could pick this other show which, yes, is going to get on the air, but it sucks.” So to me, I’d rather do the thing that’s cooler, but if it only goes for seven episodes, at least I did something cool and I tried and didn’t do the thing like, “Oh, well we’ve seen that a thousand times and nobody really did anything different.” Alright. Then I have a job. But then I’m stuck in that job for seven years and I’m not happy.
HitFix: I definitely thought “The Loop” was a terrific show.
BH: I thought it was amazing, but part of the problem is that you can’t do seven episodes and then get picked up again a year later to shoot another seven episodes. People don’t watch TV like that.
HitFix: And in the interim between this getting picked up and production beginning, you got to do the brief role on “V.” Why was that what you wanted to do with that window? It didn’t feel like they got great use out of your Bret Harrison-ness.
BH: Yeah, I know. Well, they pitched it as comic relief and ultimately that didn’t happen. Again, there were some really great episodes that we got to shoot, but uh… I’m also good friends with some of the creators and I wanted to go work on a show and just work. It was acting class, man. Those lines… I don’t know *what* I was talking about.
“Breaking In” premieres on Wednesday, April 6 at 9:30 p.m. on FOX.