HitFix Interview: New ‘Scrubs’ star Michael Mosley

12.15.09 8 years ago

Nathaniel Taylor Photography

Michael Mosley doesn’t have the resume of a sitcom star. 
A glance over his TV and movie credits include a larger-than-normal number of cops, detectives and FBI agents. In 2009 alone, he played a sheriff on “The Mentalist,” had a tragic turn on “Kings” and watched his wife fight for her life on “Three Rivers.”
And in his current role, Mosley’s playing a medical school burnout with a prison record. 
Naturally, it’s a comedy.
Mosley is part of the new cast of ABC’s “Scrubs,” playing Drew, an aspiring doctor with a troubled past who attracts the attention and excessive admiration of John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox and, in the process, the jealousy of Zach Braff’s J.D.
It’s Mosley’s first regular half-hour gig, trying to reinvigorate an Emmy-winning comedy currently in its ninth season. No pressure or anything.
HitFix caught up with Mosley last week to chat about his intense and intensely funny character, how smoothly things work on the long-running show’s set and whether the fresh “Scrubs” stars are still being hazed.
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HitFix: I know I’m interrupting your lunchbreak here. What episode are you guys up to?
Michael Mosely: We’re doing Episode 12. We’ll wrap that on Monday.
HitFix: That’s 12 of 13?
MM: Yeah, 12 of 13 and that’s that.
HitFix: Do you have plans for when the initial run is completed? Will it just be sitting around and waiting to see what comes next for “Scrubs” or do you have other work lined up?
MM: I’ve got a movie that I shot in Texas called “Restive” and I’m waiting to see what that cut’s going to look like and I’m also working on a project  with my fiance, we’re writing a movie together.
HitFix: So you’ve got plenty to do while you’re in the “Scrubs” holding pattern?
MM: As of right now, we don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know if there’s going to be another order or another season. They’re keeping their cards pretty close to their chest right now.
HitFix: After 12 episodes, has the “New Kid” hazing ended yet?
MM: Oh yeah. I think it’s all pretty cohesive now at this point. Everybody’s all in the same boat. I think it was mostly Zach who was doing most of the hazing.
HitFix: What did that consist of?
MM: Oh, he’s just a great guy and he has a great time on set, keeps everything very light and very buoyant. He’s a bit of a ball-buster at times, but he’s a good guy to have around.
HitFix: Were you a “Scrubs” viewer before?
MM: I was. I liked the show. I always thought it was a unique, farcical kind of piece that I hadn’t really seen before.
HitFix: Most of your TV work before had been on hour-long dramas. Had you been looking for the chance to show your comedy side?
MM: You know, I hadn’t really done a comedy, except for “Alpha Mom,” which was a [“Scrubs” creator] Bill Lawrence-helmed piece that we did two or three years ago. That was a pilot that never got picked up and I’d never done a comedy till then. After working with Bill, I was just blown away by how much fun it was. You get on these hour-long dramas and the mood on the set can be very serious and very epic, but when you work on the comedies, it’s really just about being funny and keeping everything funny, so it’s important that from the ADs to the producers to the PAs to the guys working at craftie, that we’re all just keeping that ethos in the air. When I shot “Alpha Mom” with Bill, we’d do the scene two or three ways according to the script and then he’d say, “Just say whatever you want. Try and crack each other up.” Or he’d give you new lines. It was such a fun way to work and I totally wanted to get on to do another comedy. I auditioned and tested for many of them over the years, but it was Old Bill Lawrence who gave me my second swing at it.
HitFix: He remembered your from that earlier pilot and reached out to you?
MM: Well, I auditioned for it and I came back in for him and for the other producers and then I tested Disney and ABC and now it’s three months later and we’ve almost wrapped with Season Nine.
HitFix: Do you feel like you have to go extra distance to convince casting directors that, as a drama guy, you can be funny?
MM: I think if you’re funny, then it works. That’d probably be a better question for my agent. In the beginning, I think they put me out as that dramatic like like, “Well, we’ll give this guy a badge and a gun and have him chase bad guys somewhere down the line.” Then I started testing for these comedies so I think that widened the horizons of my team. Then I started getting in more rooms and it became more of a possibility that inevitably one of them would come to fruition. I definitely think that typecasting is something that happens all the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of whispers and murmurs when I would audition for some of these comedies in the past and people would probably think, “He’s not that guy. He’s not a funny guy. He’s a serious FBI agent or something.”
HitFix: You’ve done both pilots and established shows before, but “Scrubs” is a little of each at this point. Coming on, did it feel more like a new show, or more like a veteran?
MM: It felt like coming into a new show, but there are still these people who you’ve known for years, not known, but you’ve known them in some capacity on your television set. So having that around, definitely made it feel old. The cadence of the show is still the old “Scrubs.” But I know it felt new to Bill and a lot of the writers and the showrunners. I know that they were treating it as a new thing and ABC wanted to keep the name brand. So they were pitching it as a continuation of the old. To me? Either one is great. It’s terrifying and incredibly humbling to be asked to do the 9th season of a show that’s already proven itself to be incredibly well received. Then it’s also just as exhilarating to do something that’s brand new.
HitFix: How entrenched are the old cast members and the veteran crew members on set? How smoothly does the show run now that it’s been around this long?
MM: It works work. Bill is great. He’s got “Cougar Town” right across the lot from us, so he’ll poke his head in here, changing things up and give us notes and then producers will come in and they’ll give us notes and a couple alt readings for jokes or lines, but it’s really the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. Everybody is just so cool and so laid back and so relaxed and we just have such a great time. And it moves quick. We shoot it in five days. When you’re doing the hour-longs, you’ve these crane shots or you’ve got explosions and it’s Friday night at 5 in the morning. But with this thing, it just cooks. Bill, I’ll literally be walking from one part of the lot to another to do a rehearsal for the next scene, and one time he drove by on a golf cart and he just shouted out an alt to one of the lines. I have no idea how he knew what we were going to shoot, but he just said, “Hey, Mike, on this one line right here, instead of saying it like this, say it like this, because I think it’ll be funnier.” And then he’s gone. The fact that he’s keeping both of these shows in his head at all hours of the day is just fascinating. I think the smoothness of the show can be attributed to Bill’s talent as a comedy writer.
HitFix: In the beginning of production, though, when you just were starting, was there some sort of unavoidable Old Scrubs/New Scrubs division?
MM: Maybe when we were doing the read-through for the first table-read, us newbies might have kinda huddles in a corner and then all of the Old School, who hadn’t seen each other for a while, they all were shaking hands and patting backs and happy to see each other. There was that, but there never a war or anything. There was never anybody trying to outdo each other. We were always geared to keeping that “Scrubs” soul that has always been there. We were there to keep that ball bouncing.
HitFix: What do you think the New Class has done to reinvigorate the show? 
MM: I think that there’s just new people who haven’t been seen yet. I don’t know if there was a Cole in the last eight seasons of “Scrubs.” I don’t think there was a character like that. And Denise is brand new. She was on last year, but she’s being fleshed out this season. I don’t think there’s been anything like Drew on the show. I think that to take that world, with the traditional “Scrubs” gags and then putting the dress on three new people, you see how they wear it.
HitFix: We’ve heard a lot of outlying details about Drew’s past, about his first med school burnout about his time in prison about getting shot by a 12-year-old… How much more do you know about the character and how important are those specifics?
MM: I think I know 13 episodes worth. I don’t don’t know all of the adventures he’s had in the past 10 years, but I know a great many of them. I can’t say too many of them, because I think the point is that they’re supposed to be funny and surprises, but a lot of that is just in the head of Bill and the writers. We’re let into the loop as the loop becomes clearer to them.
HitFix: The character details we have for Drew, they could be the backstory for a darker and more dramatic character. Do you treat them in the same way on a comedy as you would on a drama?
MM: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that there’s a fine line between comedy and drama. I think that ultimately, the less winking that’s going on when you’re doing comedy — And this is just my own thing and maybe it’s why I’ve never been hired in comedy except by Bill Lawrence — but I think that the less winking you do with comedy, the better off you are. I think that the more committed the character is to the circumstances he’s been given, it can then be either funny or tragic. I think that the writers can make it ridiculous enough that inevitably the audience will have to crack and start to laugh, as long as you’re committed to it. That’s not something I always do. I try not to wink, but it’s not always easy. There’s just a lot of people falling off of ladders and pratfalls and banana peels and stuff like that that are just in my brain somewhere, but I think ultimately the goal is to not wink at all and to really feel that stuff and to really be mad that I’m suddenly responsible for these kids and I don’t know who they are and I couldn’t care less. I want to really feel that and let the audience decide if it’s funny or not. That’s one of the things that “Scrubs” does and does well.
HitFix: So you just play the lines and let the context work out the tone on its own?
MM: I try. I might not always do it. I might find something funny and start to crack myself, in my head and in my heart. When you’re saying things like  “I lived in a yurt for two years,” when you say things like that, it’s a little ridiculous. You just try. The line between comedy and drama is very thin and I love movies like “American Beauty,” or something like that, where the guy next to you is crying and you’re laughing your butt off. To spoon-feed people their comedy is not the proper evolution of the art.
HitFix: You mentioned this was something “Scrubs” has been doing for a while. Was there anything you learned about the “Scrubs” rhythms from doing scenes with Zach or John C. McGinley?
MM: It’s very easy to get caught up in the rhythm because they’re so good at it and they’ve been doing it for so long. It’s dry. The stuff just comes out and it’s ridiculous, like you go on rants and in the middle you go, “What did he just say? Did he say what I think he said?” Those types of rants are what Cox is definitely known for. It’s very contagious. You get on set and you find yourself slipping right into the rhythm. It’s something that starts to happen, maybe through osmosis or something, it gets in your skin. 
HitFix: The established stars didn’t give you sample line readings in the start to ease you in?
MM: There are times when John will be like “If you don’t tighten that up, it’s gonna get cut.” He knows that the script is like 32 pages and they’re gonna need to cut these pages out in the end and these guys know how to cut the fat out like that. There are times would he’d give me little hints like that, or they’ll give you a joke. But it’s all in trying to make the best product we can. It’s never overbearing. It’s always a group effort, very egalitarian.
HitFix: Well given how long “Scrubs” has been on the air and given how many times it’s cheated death, does anybody even mention ratings anymore? Does anybody get neurotic about that still?
MM: I don’t think anybody’s being neurotic at all. “Scrubs” has always had a very loyal fanbase. When it started out, it was an explosion because it was after “Friends,” but I think there have been times where it has peaked and valleyed. But recently, it’s just been about maintaining those loyal followers and keeping them on their toes and having fun. They’re the ones the show’s really geared toward now. I don’t think ABC or Disney thought this thing was going to be “American Idol.” They just wanted to keep the “Scrubs” family that’s already been built. But no, nobody on-set is in any way flipping out or giving up or getting over-excited. It’s even-keeled and everybody has a good time and is happy to have a job in this crazy world and happy to be laughing at our job every day.
“Scrubs” airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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