Of all the delights of ABC’s “Cougar Town,” the most surprising one may be Josh Hopkins as Grayson, the emotionally closed-off boyfriend of Courteney Cox’s Jules. I’d seen everyone else on the show be funny at one point or another, and the big eureka moment of the show’s first season was when creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel realized that they should just provide opportunities for them all to be funny together.
Hopkins, though, I mainly knew from straight dramatic roles on shows like “New York Undercover” and “Swingtown.” (His IMDb lists some comedic shows, but I either never saw them, like “Pepper Dennis,” or had stopped watching by the time he turned up, like on “Ally McBeal.”) But he’s been a ton of fun, whether playing goofy songs on his acoustic guitar, dancing to Enya in acid-washed jeans or squirming as other characters make fun of his “tiny eyes.”
So when the TV critics made a field trip to the “Cougar Town” set last week, I made sure to chat with Hopkins for a few minutes about the agony and ecstasy of having your personal traits turned into jokes on the show, and about getting typecast based on the last thing you do in this business.
Do they have a way of making you self-conscious on this show, like with all the jokes about your tiny eyes?
They try, you know? The new jokes lately have been about – (the writers) don”t like Dan (Byrd)”s haircut so they make fun of the haircut in the script. And they were like, “Is that too mean?” I”m like, “No, he can cut his hair, I can”t change my eyes.” So if you”re going to be mean to me, you guys can be mean to him.
in general, do you guys walk around in fear at all of what they”re going to pick out next to put on the show?
No. We pretty much pick on each other outside of the show too. It”s a pretty brutal bunch, so we all kind of share that, which is I guess lucky or not lucky. I don”t know which one it is, but it is fun to know when they say a little something about you that everyone in the writers room at one point was like, “Yeah,” and jumped on-board and you”re kind of annoyed. I”d like to make fun of the writers sometime.
Now I say this with all due respect, but before this show I had no idea you were funny, at all.
(A nearby reporter interjects, “You didn’t see ‘Pepper Dennis’?”)
I don”t think I did see Pepper Dennis.
Well it”s funny, how when this came up (for an audition), the first response from the network or the studio was, “Uhh, you know it’s a comedy, right?” And now I”ve submitted for things and they”re like, “Uhh, it”s more of a drama.” I swear that”s what”s happening right now. People are like, “Oh, this is a drama, so I don”t know if he can really do it.” The last thing you do it”s the only thing anyone remembers.
But back when you were doing “New York Undercover” and all these other things, did you think of yourself as a funny person?
I think the answer to that would be all my friends and family were like, “When are you doing comedies? We”re always seeing you so somber and looking for the bad guy or whatnot.” And I was like, “I don”t know. I can”t get hired for a comedy.” And now I can”t get hired for a drama.
And Bill”s told the story about seeing you playing your guitar on-set and how that”s what gave him the idea to do it. Were you surprised when that suddenly turned up in the script?
I was sitting outside a trailer just playing a little guitar, just passing the time. He pulled up in his golf cart and he was like, “You know that”s going to be in the next episode. Hold off.” And sure enough, there it was. That”s been a lot of fun for me because I get to write almost all the songs.
Like, the script will say, “blah-blah-blah, and then Grayson”s playing…” and they say, “Josh write a song about not liking your…” something. And then I”ll do it, so that”s been fun for me.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com