FOX pulled together some of their sitcom line-up’s top talent — Ike Barinholtz, Mindy Kaling, Jake Johnson, Zooey Deschanel, Nat Faxon, Echo Kellum, Lucas Neff and Shannon Woodward — to talk about their shows (“The Mindy Project,” “New Girl,” “Ben and Kate,” “Raising Hope”) with a possibly punchy group of journalists at press tour. The results, while not sitcom-worthy, were often amusing and, less frequently, informative.
Things started off slowly. When questions were slow to start, Deschanel (“New Girl”) started pointing to people in the audience. “Am I supposed to call on people?” she asked.
When the stars were asked if they watched one another’s shows, Kellum (“Ben and Kate”) said, “There’s definitely a lot of off-screen hanging out.”
Faxon (“Ben and Kate”) joked, “That’s weird. I’ve never been invited.”
“We all text,” Neff (“Raising Hope”) added. “Group text. Don’t you have iChat?”
Only Deschanel took the question seriously, saying, “I try to keep up. I’m pretty caught up on all you guys.”
Kaling fielded questions about her show’s frequent shuffling of character pairings, part of the seemingly endless retooling of “The Mindy Project.” “Ike just became a series regular, which is great for the show. And he and Chris [Messina] have [great] chemistry,” she said, looking at her co-star Barinholtz. “He’s like ‘Raging Bull’ and you’re like Bull from ‘Night Court.'”
When asked about how long it took to shoot the show’s Christmas episode, the answer — six days — caught Deschanel’s attention. “You got an extra day?”
Kaling shrugged. “We just get extra days and extra money for stuff. Don’t you guys?”
Kaling also discussed Seth Rogen’s coming guest spot on the show. “I’ve known him since ’40 Year Old Virgin’ seven years ago… He plays my first kiss that I met at Jewish summer camp. There will be flashbacks. We’re casting the younger versions of ourselves, which re weird and fun. I loved two people talking, and it was fun to reunite with him.”
Asked whether she’s grilled Rogen about Barbra Streisand, his co-star in “The Guilt Trip,” Kaling admitted, “We haven’t shot the episode, but when he comes to the table read, I’ll bug him then.”
Deschanel, who mentioned she has been injured doing pratfalls for “New Girl” (“We have an episode where I just had to knock around this barn and I wing it and I hurt myself. Not badly, just a little bit”), almost performed a pratfall on stage. When Neff tried to field a question and noted that his mic had fallen off, she stood up to assist him — and almost unplugged herself. It was only the desperate waving of Johnson and Faxon that returned her to her seat.
But it was Neff who got the most laughs of the afternoon, gamely grabbing center stage when a question was lobbed his way. “Do you want Mindy to answer that?” he asked, chuckling when he realized the question for him was really about his experiences with co-star Cloris Leachman. “When Cloris goes off script, how do I stay in character? You know, they pay me, and that’s usually my main incentive. Because I’d like to keep getting the checks. I’ve had no checks before, and there were times when I wasn’t getting them. And I like getting them. And they say that word, action, so I go to that place. It’s hard to describe it.”
When his co-star Woodward answered a question about which episode he liked the least (“Lucas wasn’t really fond of the Hulk make-up in the Halloween episode”), Neff joked with the journalist who first spoke to him. “No one’s gonna ask me a question again, so you walked into a bear trap. Stay on that side of the chairs. It’s an X Factor. Fox, check it out!”
Questions from the audience became more more playful, as Johnson was asked if Jacob is his first name (“That’s only when my mom is mad at me”). But some questions were more serious. Deschanel was asked about how she felt about the prominent product placement for Ford in the episode in which she models at a car show. “It’s funny, they actually stepped in,” she said. “We could have made up a fake car company, and the whole crux of the episode is she’s at a car show, selling. I didn’t even think about it until people mentioned it to me as being a product placement… I don’t have a problem with it and I love that episode.”
Johnson nodded. “I thought it was as smooth as a 2013 Ford Escort.”
Kaling did assure the audience that her character is going to keep attempting to improve herself, which seemed to be the theme of the pilot. “The idea of her wanting to become a better person, tonight’s episode is about New Year’s resolutions, and I think there’s a new sense of, what are the five things I need to do to be a better person? Every episode, we come up with something we’ve been thinking about in the writer’s room.”
Oscar-winner Faxon said that being the lead in “Ben and Kate” has been a refreshing change of pace. “I have sort of been the super hot guy’s fourth friend in a lot of things, so it’s really nice to be more at the center of the show.” Still, the show isn’t necessarily his most recognizable role.”I have gotten a few shout outs [but] I will say the majority are ‘Beerfest’ related… ‘Let’s shotgun beers,’ that sort of thing, and I do it…”
Barinholtz joked, “The takeaway is Nat has a pretty serous drinking problem.”
Though “Raising Hope” wasn’t the main focus of interest for the assembled journalists, Woodward did field a question about complications facing Sabrina and Jimmy’s as their wedding looms. “I don’t know if it’s challenge [for them] as much as it’s growing up. I think their challenge will be the real life issues. They haven’t really harped on the issues other shows have covered. We never made issue of the fact she’ll have to raise someone else’s child… he tries to keep it fresh… I don’t think there’s a lot of super relationship drama.”
Faxon also addressed a question about working with young Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who plays Maddie. “She is a very talented young actress. She clearly is the voice of reason, the adult on the show at times, and I think he writers utilize her very well. We [adults are] often manic and crazy, and they know they have a gold mine in cutting to her face and her reaction, and it’s a well utilized piece for them that they can fall back on. She’s disturbingly cute and a sweetheart but yeah, I’ve had very terse, stern conversations with her about getting too much attention.”