14 episodes in, the Lethal Weapon television series has made a name for itself without sullying the classic film franchise that inspired it. The chemistry between Damon Wayans’ Roger Murtaugh and Clayne Crawford’s Martin Riggs is undeniable, like Danny Glover and Mel Gibson’s originals before them, but showrunner Matt Miller (Forever) has ensured the show wouldn’t just copy and paste what came before.
Enter Leo Getz — the angry, sniveling witness/con man who, as played by Joe Pesci, annoyed Riggs and Murtaught in three of the four films. A new Leo played by Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!, The Odd Couple) will make his debut during tonight’s episode, “As Good As It Getz.” While this iteration’s occupation as an ambulance-chasing lawyer distinguishes him from Pesci’s snitch, Lennon knows the dangers he faces in rebooting a classic character. Hence why he approached the job with a blank slate of sorts.
“I wasn’t really sure what I was doing until I started,” Lennon told us. “It was one of those weird moments where I didn’t necessarily have a plan.” As audiences will soon find out, however, this The State alum‘s take on Leo will honor Pesci’s performance as much as it distinguishes itself. Lennon even grew his mustache back for it.
When Fox announced a Lethal Weapon television series, I assumed a new version of Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz would pop up at some point. As with most remakes, this worried me at first, though I was pleasantly surprised when you were announced for the role.
Thank you! I’ll tell you, I did think about it for a good couple of days before I decided to take the role. But I was delighted to do it. I like to take on things that might be particularly difficult, and I thought the level of difficulty of this would basically be a double black diamond of sorts. I asked myself if there was anything I could really do to make this work. It was very daunting, certainly.
Had you watched the show before you were cast?
I’ll be honest, I’m remiss. I had not really seen that much of it until I went and filmed it. I was unaware they were making a giant, McG-sized action movie every week. The last time I was on anything as big as Lethal Weapon was Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction. The scale of this thing is really pretty amazing.
Right, which the Lethal Weapon films are too. Yet the show manages to channel that into a once-a-week drama series.
It’s certainly that, but it’s also an inexplicable thing. The sort of lightening in a bottle of the two leads, Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans. I didn’t really know Clayne very much beforehand, but the very first scene we shared together was fun. This Leo Getz is an ambulance-chasing attorney, so there’s a few slight changes to his character, but hopefully you’ll see that I’m trying to do an homage to Joe Pesci’s character while creating a whole new one who just so happens to share the same name.
But the first scene I was in with Clayne and Damon, Leo offers to negotiate with them but requests some water. He’s just being obnoxious. So Clayne threw a water bottle at my head at — oh, I don’t know — 80 miles an hour. It was really, really fun, and I was a catcher in high school so I managed to catch it. It was just a plastic water bottle, but it was one of the most fun, real things to happen to me in a scene in a long time. Working with the two of those guys was an endless delight. They’re so unbelievably funny, and also the level of dedication — like doing almost all the stunts. There’s a huge stunt team, but they’re doing a lot of the actual stunts. It was also fun because not since Reno 911! have I been at work where, three out of five days of the week, people are shooting at me. It’s a really great way to keep your endorphins up. I was actually wearing my Fitbit on at the time, and ended up with around 17,000 steps.
Speaking of Reno 911!, your comedy work past and present is rife with improvisation. How much freedom did you have to play around with your version of Leo?
They were really, really nice to let me play around. The script was amazing and funny, but they still gave me some leeway. When you are playing a role owned by someone else, you have to be able to improvise. When I first started talking about doing this, I said I couldn’t do the nebbishy Joe Pesci thing. I’m not good at that. I’m more of a weird, Jeffrey Dahmer type. I’m better at weird. The first page of the script described Leo as a “human weasel,” and I knew I could do that.
If you’re a young actor out there who gets a script describing your guy as a weasel, and you say “Oh good I can play that,” it’s a great moment in your career. That’s when you realize you won’t always be the lead. Sometimes you’ll be the guy described as a human weasel. In terms of improvisation, however, I certainly did try things out with the character. Plus, Damon told me he was a big Reno 911! fan on my first day, which nicely gave me the confidence to try and crack him up. I’m pleased to say on a couple of occasions, I think I got him pretty good.
But was attempting Pesci’s nebbish characterization ever a question? I assume avoiding an impersonation of the Lethal Weapon films’ Leo was chief among you and the production’s worries.
I was definitely super worried about it. I talked with the show runner [Matt Miller] about it beforehand, and he said nobody was doing impressions of anything from the film series. I guess what they wanted to bring to it wasn’t necessarily the Joe Pesci-ness of it, but the humor and annoyance of the Leo Getz character. I will say, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing until I started. It was one of those weird moments where I didn’t necessarily have a plan. Then again, that was the case on Reno, and I always found I could be my funniest when I didn’t have much planned.
So I relaxed into the script, then started improvising a little bit. I really do feel like I found some nice, new weirdness for this version of Leo. And I had knew several weeks in advance I’d be playing the role, so I had plenty of time to wrap my head around it. That and, per the showrunner’s request, grow back my incredibly weird mustache of Reno fame. When in doubt, if you’re not sure what your face should look like while playing a human weasel, grow a mustache.
I can’t help but mention your resurrection of another classic character on another television program, The Odd Couple.
I’me very aware of the pattern. By the way, the first thought that went through my head when the part of Leo came up was, “Am I the guy who reboots other people’s performances?” This was both the first and last thing that went through my head then, as well as every day I was on set shooting the episode. My answer to that would be it’s certainly not something I set out to do, to be the rebooter of funny weirdos. But I’m also a person who loves to work, and lots of things are being rebooted currently.
I would never take on one of these characters if I didn’t think I could do a good job of it. Nor would I ever play one of these characters just to do an impression of somebody. It weighed very heavily on my shoulders, and I suspect I will probably get some flak for being the guy who went from playing Lieutenant Dangle to rebooting two famous roles in a row. Whatever my next thing is will be substantially different, and hopefully I’ll retain my credibility. I’m hopeful people will see that this version of Leo Getz is very, very me.
Oh, I’m by no means being accusatory.
Not at all! This was just 100 percent the first thought that went through my head when this part came up. That I couldn’t let myself become the reboot guy. It’s just a matter of finding good work when it’s available, and since we’re living in a time when reboots are popular, that’s where a lot of the work is. But it definitely weighed heavily on my shoulders, and it’s probably why I’m in therapy right now.
Given the chance, would you bring your Leo back to the show?
In a heartbeat. It was one of the most fun shows I’ve been on in years, if not longer. Since doing my own show at least. It simply comes down to the fact that I’m the weird sort of person who likes to be shot at by fake machine guns regularly. I would love to. Everyone on the series was delightful. The only trick is the production schedule, which is basically a movie every nine days. Almost. It’s very intense.
Good to hear, since I’m fairly certain Matthew Perry has never chased you with a machine gun.
Whenever Matthew has chased me with a machine gun, it was always very good-natured.
Thomas Lennon’s episode of Lethal Weapon, “As Good As It Getz,” airs February 15 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.