‘Your Family or Mine’ star Kat Foster on the Myth of Romantic Chemistry

04.07.15 4 years ago

Kyle Howard has made his “Your Family or Mine” co-star Kat Foster believe in love, or at least believe in on-screen chemistry.

“I never totally bought the idea of 'chemistry,' like 'romantic chemistry.'” Foster told me. “I always thought like,'”Oh well if you”re a nice and sweet person with some kind of charm you can probably kind of have chemistry with anyone.' And I thought that for a while and then as we”ve shot the show I”ve started to buy chemistry because I truly feel that Kyle and I really have a genuine kind of simpatico that is actually very, very rare to find with someone you”re playing opposite.”

All together now: “Awww…”

The conceit of “Your Family or Mine” is that Foster's Kelli and Howard's Oliver are married. Each episode alternates between the couple's interactions with her family — Her mom and dad are Ed Begley Jr and Cynthia Stevenson — and his — with Richard Dreyfuss and JoBeth Williams as his parents. Theoretically, this structure allows us to see how individuals and couples are different depending on the high-pressure context of their respective families.

I talked with Foster and most of her “Your Family or Mine” co-stars in November on the TBS comedy's set in Culver City. In addition the chemistry question, we discussed the fun and challenge of playing differently inflected versions of the same character, as well as her comfort level with the multi-cam comedy format.

“Your Family Or Mine” premieres on Tuesday, April 7. 

Check out the full Kat Foster Q&A below…

HitFix: So talk to me a bit about what the conceit of this show does in terms of your character and how she”s different in each of the two versions of the story.

Kat Foster: That”s a really good question. So, you know, my husband, who's played by Kyle Howard, he and I are in every episode. We”re the only two characters that are in every one. The other cast alternates week to week. And so his family is much more conservative and buttoned up and slightly passive aggressive and wealthier and more traditionally WASPy, if you will. And my family, we”re Irish so we”re much more hot-blooded. Ed Begley plays my dad and so he”s always losing his temper. And my mom is kind of a wacky character who on the surface seems really, really bubbly and nice but then we find out she goes to the gun range on weekends and stuff. And my sisters are total wackadoos. One of them is completely like promiscuous and the other one”s like has a major anger issue and like can never choose an identity. And so, Kyle”s family first. We shot them all together and so going through that it was really for my character it was really about, “What are my boundaries?” Like, “What am I okay with and what am I not okay with and how do I negotiate being in a relationship with this family that”s also sort of now my family in kind of a peaceful positive way even though they are such differences there?” And truthfully like I”ve never gotten along with my mother-in-law but we try and be pleasant. And then with my family, the difficulty has to do with navigating what, who I am versus who they are. Like I am slightly from a more crazy kind of hippie-ish background but how do I still maintain my individuated self among the codependent enmeshed craziness that is my family.

HitFix: She”s on the defensive in the first episode because as you said…

Kat Foster: Certainly. I feel much more on the defensive in general when I”m at Kyle”s family”s house. I mean these are my in-laws and they present all sorts of, you know, they”re fairly personality disordered. And so is my family but in like the complete opposite way. They seem so loving and friendly but, you know, if you get sucked in like you”re suddenly having crazy thoughts like, you know, you don”t want your sister wearing your cheerleading outfit or she”s stealing your favorite jean jacket and we”re in our thirties. Do you know what I mean? So it”s easy to kind of get sucked into the craziness of my family. Whereas with his family I can kind of maintain a more mature distance.

HitFix: Does that mean that sort of every other week you get to be more wild-and-crazy as an actress? Do you just sort of get to let go every other episode?

Kat Foster: I mean definitely, you know, when I”m with my family there”s a childishness that happens that doesn”t happen with his family. With his family I tend to be more reasonable although there are hijinks with his family, too. I think like the fun part of Kelli is that we have these two opposite extremes. On one hand she”s very mature, very wise, very dependable and solid as a person. And then on the other hand, she kind of descends into some of the madness because she likes having fun and she can get jealous and competitive and she can get kind of immature in her own ways too.

HitFix: So did you guys shoot a pilot and you didn”t know who your parents were? You just knew that eventually they would have to be important? What was that like when they cast Ed and Cynthia?

Kat Foster: We had a very rough idea. We just knew that my family was gonna be kind of like, you know, hot blooded and a little crazier than Kyle”s family. But once they were cast, once Cynthia Stevenson and Ed Begley came along, it suddenly became so much more rich. Like I really, really understood where I was coming from and just how stark the contrast was between the two families.

HitFix: So what is the energy that Ed and Cynthia bring that is different from what Richard and JoBeth bring?

Kat Foster: Well Richard and JoBeth just have this real kind of staid, more quiet, that kind of Minnesota smile kind of thing where you never quite know what they”re really thinking. And they”re not so cautious about the words they use and they can be somewhat insulting whereas my family, Ed and Cynthia kind of bring just a looser more like loving but also very volatile energy to the whole piece. So I guess if you were going to really break down the feeling of each family it would be volatile and hot and crazy and kind of like high-strung. And then cold and slightly distant and manipulative, I would say. Something like that.

HitFix: Now I was watching the pilot last night and there was laughter but it looks like – is this a hybrid?

Kat Foster: It”s not actually. No it”s not. It”s actually taped in front of a live audience.

HitFix: Oh, okay. So what is that like for you?

Kat Foster: It”s amazing. Yeah, that”s my favorite day of the week is when we get to be in front of the audience because things that we didn”t think were that funny suddenly get these huge laughs. And it”s like, “Oh, okay, all right.” I mean, you know, we think generally speaking that it”s all funny but we sometimes get reactions that we weren”t expecting. And so it changes our performance a lot. I mean the audience is a huge, huge part of this process, if not the biggest part because sitcom is written in a very specific rhythm. Multi-cam is written in a rhythm that anticipates laughs and so when the laughs finally come it”s sort of like the other character in the scene.

HitFix: Well you”ve done both though over the years. What is your comfort level with either? What were you looking for when you were sort of looking at pilots?

Kat Foster: I”ve always loved multi-cam. And I think that my love of multi-cam comes from my studying Shakespeare, because it”s so rhythmic and I love being big. I love getting to like make crazy stupid jokes. I love that. I love that the stakes are high about things that are mundane or somewhat juvenile. There”s something really exciting and fun about getting to act out in that way. But single cam, of course, and drama too gives an opportunity to really sink in and be very subtle and kind of still and real and naturalistic which carries a thrill of its own.

HitFix: Now I know that you and Kyle were both on “Royal Pains” but I don”t remember did you guys overlap at all?

Kat Foster: No we never overlapped. We never overlapped. Actually Kyle and I first met on a van ride out to some crazy location in Long Island when we were both working on “Royal Pains,” but we never actually had a scene together.

HitFix: But you did know each other at least. Vaguely.

Kat Foster: Well yes. We had a nice 45 minute long van ride conversation.

HitFix: That you were able to establish that down the road you”d eventually love someday to do a multi-cam comedy together.

Kat Foster: Yes, eventually who knew one day we”d be getting married and renewing our vows in the same episode. Who knew?

HitFix: What was the sort of audition process to make sure that you guys had the right dynamic? Because you”re the centerpieces here.

Kat Foster: Well what”s so interesting is that I think they cast us pretty last minute. I mean I actually came in at the twelfth hour because I was working on another show. I was working on “Franklin & Bash” and I literally couldn”t make it in for any auditions. So I just came to the final, final, final, final test and hadn”t seen Kyle since our van ride to Long Island. And after we had both gone in individually they had us come in together and we read the scene, we read the car scene from the pilot episode. And it just worked and after that we kept hearing, “You guys have such amazing chemistry.” Your chemistry is so amazing. And it”s funny because between us – this is secret but like – it”s so secret but between us like… [She laughs.]

HitFix: You”re confused by what this recorder is doing. I can tell.

Kat Foster: [Mock shocked.] Oh wait. Are other people going to hear this? I thought this was just me and you gabbing, you know.

HitFix: Exactly. I like to record everything with my friends.

Kat Foster: Wow, very fastidious you are. Your records must date back…

HitFix: You should see the audio hard drives.

Kat Foster: I can't even imagine… But between us and everyone reading this amazing interview, I never totally bought the idea of “chemistry,” like “romantic chemistry.” I always thought like, “Oh well if you”re a nice and sweet person with some kind of charm you can probably kind of have chemistry with anyone.” And I thought that for a while and then as we”ve shot the show I”ve started to buy chemistry because I truly feel that Kyle and I really have a genuine kind of simpatico that is actually very, very rare to find with someone you”re playing opposite. Like a real, natural, easy love for each other actually. And similar working styles. So I do actually feel like our chemistry is really, really strong. They kind of lucked out though. I mean they really only saw us for like, you know, one scene together.

“Your Family Or Mine” premieres on TBS on Tuesday, April 7. 

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