Interview: Parker Young talks ‘Suburgatory,’ ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Choice’

On “Suburgatory,” Parker Young plays a character whose nickname is The Body.
On “Mad Men,” Young recently guest starred playing a character called Handsome. 
And on an upcoming episode of FOX’s summer reality dating show “The Choice,” Young gets to be himself, as celebrity kibble for attractive singles.
It’s been something of a breakout year for the 23-year-old actor and it’d be hard to miss the common denominator. 
But although Ryan “The Body” Shay superficially appears to be a locker-humping, shirt-removing, IQ-starved jock, his possibly budding romance with Jane Levy’s Tessa has been one of the most amusing and surprising developments in the acclaimed first season of “Suburgatory.” Young has been able to inhabit a character who’s fun to laugh at, but who you find yourself unexpectedly rooting for.
“Suburgatory” has its finale on Wednesday (May 16) and I talked to Parker Young last week shortly after the comedy was renewed by ABC. In our conversation, we talked about Ryan’s innocence, his love for his mother (a plot point in the finale) and his love for Tessa. We also touched on “Mad Men” and “The Choice,” because he’s a busy guy.
Click through for the full conversation.
HitFix: First off, congratulations on the renewal!
Parker Young: Thank you so much!
HitFix: How did you find out?
Parker Young: I got a text message from a girlfriend of mine who just sent me a picture message, a snapshot of some website that had announced that “Suburgatory” was picked up. I was in my car driving.
HitFix: I assume you had no real doubts, did you?
Parker Young: You know, I didn’t have doubts. I was optimistic, but at the same time, I was not telling anybody that I was as optimistic as I was, because I didn’t want to put any eggs in that basket and be disappointed, but I had so much faith in this cast and this production. I wasn’t overly shocked.
HitFix: This was your first time doing a comedy for this length of time. When you think back on your first season on “Suburgatory,” were there any important lessons that you learned about The Art of Comedy, as it were?
Parker Young: Oh my gosh! Man, I learned so much this first season. Wow. Yeah, I feel like just seeing these professionals just exist on set in this environment… I guess the biggest thing is that you show up to a table-read and I’ve read the script already, but you show up and it completely changes when it’s in the hands of our actors and you just see how much each individual brings to it. It’s inspiring, I guess. You really have to figure what you want to do and bring it and bring it with confidence and then let the director tweak it if he’s not happy, but these people *bring* it. It’s been really cool to watch the ownership that Jeremy and Alan and Ana and Chris, that all of these people just take with their characters, and then watching them evolve as well, because as the series progressed, characters change a little bit here and little bit there and kinda sink into their roles. That’s been the biggest thrill to watch.
HitFix: Ryan is obviously a character who starts off as this stereotypical dumb jock, but he’s obviously much more than that. Was there a piece of character information or a scene you got that allowed this character to click for you?
Parker Young: Yeah, it was really weird because the first time Ryan’s been introduced to viewers was Episode 2, “The Barbeque,” where there’s like this crazy car-wash scene and making out with Tessa and it’s like this really crazy episode, and maybe a week prior to that episode, Ryan wasn’t written to be quite so dumb at all. He was just kinda the arrogant jock. When I had auditioned and I had originally booked it through, it wasn’t like that, so when I got the script and he was this knucklehead and he doesn’t know anything, it was a shocker, but I was happy with the direction it went, because I think it gave me more freedom to just be very childlike and outgoing. He gets away with more. Humping lockers, for example, would be creepy if he wasn’t so dumb. Stuff like that. But when we had serious moments with Tessa, I don’t when exactly it was, but I know that there’s one episode where she starts hanging out with another guy and Ryan’s really upset by it and he tells her that he wants her back and I think that it was in that moment that Ryan became truly a genuine person to me and not just some dumb jock. He really has feelings for this girl and wants to change and better himself for her.
HitFix: One of the things I loved is that we have this initial impression of him almost as this himbo type and then there’s the episode where he gets to second base with Tessa and his reaction is one of almost sweet, total innocence. Is that the real Ryan?

Parker Young: Yes. That’s the real Ryan. The real Ryan is that guy and he sorta has to put on this jock-y performance, because that’s who he is at school. He’s this jock and he’s not that smart, so he puts on this tough-guy thing a little bit, but yeah, the real Ryan is sweet, innocent and doesn’t want to hurt anybody, wants to do well, wants to succeed, wants to help people and clearly loves Tessa.
HitFix: Give me a little tease of what Ryan is up to in the finale…
Parker Young: It’s Mother’s Day and Ryan loves his mother, so he’s really got big plans to just help her feel appreciated and do whatever he can to be her Prince Charming. All of Chatswin takes Mother’s Day very seriously and he just wants to be the most appreciative son he can be. That’s pretty much Ryan in the finale. He jumps through some hoops to make sure that Sheila’s happy. 
HitFix: As we look forward to Season Two, which you can officially do now, are there any things about what makes Ryan tick that you’re looking forward to learning about and exploring?
Parker Young: Ryan’s very sheltered growing up in this town. Everything is so monotonous and the same. The people are the same, they dress the same, the houses are the same. He’s lived a very sheltered lifestyle. Tessa makes him tick because she doesn’t fit here. He’s evidence that life exists outside of this lifestyle and he’s excited to kinda explore that and makes him kinda nervous and I hope to explore with him more of what life really is life, hardships and how he deals with things when they don’t go his way. It’s just broadening his perspective a bit when he leaves the nest and spreads his wings, maybe traveling elsewhere. I think to get out of Chatswin would be hilarious and an eye-opener for him.
HitFix: One of the advantages of being part of this big ensemble here is that you were also able to make the time to do a guest spot on “Mad Men” this spring. What was that experience like?
Parker Young: It was great. It was such a different vibe, but equally rewarding, I guess. I was there for such a short amount of time, but the biggest thing I learned being there, or realized, is just how much pride they take in that show, down to every little detail and the secrecy. They really take pride in that show and it was an honor to be a small part of it for a moment and then jump back into Chatswin, where I’m happy to be now.
HitFix: And then as a total change of pace, you also seem to have done FOX’s “The Choice.” What was happening there?
Parker Young: [Laughs.] Yeah. That was a one-time episode that I did, me with Joe Jonas, Seth Wescott and Mike Catherwood. We did this game show. It was a little bit scary going in. They were being really secretive and not telling us really what it was, but it turned out to be a great experience. It was a lot of fun. We had the whole revolving chairs and stuff, because it’s like a spinoff of “The Voice.” It was a lot of fun. I picked a girl and we went on a date a couple days ago and it was good. It was a good experience.
“Suburgatory” ends its first season on Wednesday, May 16 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.