The world of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery isn’t one often thought of as standard sitcom fare. But leave it to creator Peter Farrelly to make a comedy out of it — albeit a dark one. His new series, Loudermilk, stars Ron Livingston as the titular Sam Loudermilk, a gruff, often combative recovering alcoholic who also leads a 12-step support group. Premiering this Tuesday on AT&T’s Audience Network, Loudermilk follows Sam as he does his best to navigate his own tumultuous personal life, and try to do right by those up who look to him for guidance.
Over the summer, after the pilot screened at the ATX TV Festival, we got the chance to sit down with creator Peter Farrelly, head writer Bobby Mort, and stars Ron Livingston and Will Sasso to talk about how the series came to be.
There hasn’t exactly been a lot of programs that deal with addiction and sobriety. How did that all come about?
Bobby Mort: We were talking [about] the idea of this character who is kind of at war with the world, [which] always is a very funny concept for a script. So it was the idea of what would be the worst job for a guy like this? Helping people. There we go, off to the races. That was basically the genesis of the thing. Then we wrote the pilot scripts and Pete and I got together on it, developed it further and here we are.
Was the idea that it was centered on a recovery group always a part of it?
Mort: Yeah, it was always there. And I think it grew as we developed more episodes and built the world. It started off as a smaller part, but there was really a lot of stuff in mind here, with people with issues and problems and we can have fun with them without making fun of them, and explore where we don’t really get to see on TV very often.
I have to say, as someone who’s been sober for a couple years now, I was immediately drawn to the concept. When you explain to someone that you’re sober, there’s usually some kind of reaction. Then you have to sort of explain yourself. Like, “No, I still enjoy things, I just don’t drink.” So this was kind of slaughtering the sober cow, so to speak.
Peter Farrelly: You know, my wife is in the program and ever since I’ve known her. [For] 25 years, I’ve been surrounded by people in the program, plus I have family members in the program. So I’m very familiar with [it], but I’m not in it myself. But I know that there are some people, literally went into the program and their lives just turned around 100%, everything was better. But most of the people, their lives got incrementally better and it was like the drinking just magnified the other problems. When they drank the other problems were exacerbated, but those problems still exist.
And I’ve always said this: I have never met an alcoholic I didn’t like. Ever. Honestly, because there’s a humility to them, too. There’s something about them. They try hard. And there’s an entertainment factor in people who aren’t drinking and people who are trying to quit. And I just like that world. I don’t think it always has to be portrayed in such a dark way. You know, you go into these rooms and movies or something and it just looks like the saddest sacks on the planet. And they’re not. I compare this show to the group in Cheers. You never once saw them drunk you know, ever. All those years they never got drunk. It’s weird. And that’s these guys but without a beer in their hands.
Ron, what was it that drew you to play the character of Sam Loudermilk?
Ron Livingston: I heard about the script, I read it. It immediately clicked as something I thought was funny in and of itself, and it was like a voice that you don’t really hear a lot. I really didn’t know if I was gonna be able to pull it off. I wasn’t sure. Sometimes you read something and you hear yourself doing all the lines and go “Yeah, I know how I’m gonna do this.” This one was not that way at all. It was kinda like “I think I’ll get there.” [But], by the time we have to do it, I’ll figure it out. And I’m glad I did.
Farrelly: I remember early on your fear was that, because when we started shooting it he doesn’t know what I’m gonna do and my reputation is broader than what this is. This is a dark comedy but I’ve done broader things, so I think you were afraid of me saying “Come on, funnier.” That kind of thing.
Livingston: I knew from reading it that this is not There’s Something About Mary, this is a different animal than that. But because it is a tone mash-up, it’s a little bit of a puzzle as to where this thing is gonna land. And I fucking love Something About Mary, I love that shit, it’s just I’m not always the guy for it. I was the guy that when I went to audition for commercials in Chicago all the time, the casting directors would just be screaming at me “Have more fun with it!” And I’m just, I’m trying. I’m having as much fun as I can! So I think you sort of reassured me, the idea that I’ve seen what you do and what you do is part of what I’m trying to get at, and we’ll figure it out then.
Farrelly: Yeah, just play the character, which he did. You slipped into that character. You found that character on day one.
Mort: Exactly, that was the thing. It was that kind of collaboration. Here’s this script, here’s this actor, and now, here’s Loudermilk.
Livingston: Right. “Let’s go!”
Mort: Yeah, it was awesome.
Will Sasso: I was walking outside a studio in LA and almost got ran over by people. It’s true. And I was in [Farrelly’s] The Three Stooges, and so Pete was like — after my brush with death — “Hey, I wanted to tell you there was this thing that we were developing, this script. I don’t wanna tell you too much now, but the next time I run over you, I’ll tell you.” And then a year and a bit later, he called me up and told me again “We’re doing the thing.” Then when I read it I was so overjoyed that he had considered me to be a part of it. Loved the character, loved Ben, my character. Loved Loudermilk, the script itself, the whole world. I was really glad to be a part of it.
As actors, how familiar were you guys with the world of AA? What did you find yourselves doing on the research front to prepare?
Livingston: Most of my experience with alcoholics had been alcoholics that were not in recovery. But I did have a good bit of experience with that. I did know people that were in 12-step programs for various things, and I guess I knew a couple of people who had been in the program. I went to some meetings, just to get a sort of sense of it and it was really eye-opening.
And I had been to some Al-Anon meetings before, so I sort of knew the shape of it and how it worked. But the thing that interested me is that the bones of it are there. The bones of the program or what it is, but every single group you go to is a completely different experience. Not only depending on which meeting you go to, but depending on how many people show up at that meeting and which people they are. So I think ultimately it’s just about a bunch of people coming into a room together, and at the door, they’re saying I’m going to come in here and take a look at myself, and maybe try to fix some things that need to be fixed. And there’s just something great about that.
Farrelly: We also don’t call it AA because we can’t, legally. But also because it’s not AA, it’s not the same thing.
Livingston: We break a lot of the AA rules.
Farrelly: Yeah. We have a leader. AA…
Livingston: It doesn’t have a leader.
Farrelly: They don’t have a leader, everybody is in the same position. We went to one, and my wife’s gone to one, where there was a leader. Where there was somebody who is calling “You coming in?” “Yeah, okay I’ll come in.” Who was always the person who kept the group together, and they were all friends. And there was a feeling of community in there.
Livingston: I feel like sometimes we’re AA’s dysfunctional cousin.
Farrelly: But we don’t pretend to be AA. We’re not AA. We’re a 12-step program.
Bobby, did you do anything in that regard when you were penning these scripts?
Mort: None. Completely made up. It was self-help, kind of like Tony Robbins, that kind of vibe to it. And it was like “What would not really help these people?” And you’d be kind of like “Hey man, get your act together.” You know, that kind of world, that kind of language but with a completely fictionalized group. So not a lot of research, to be perfectly honest.
Regardless, you’ve all managed to carve out a pretty interesting world.
Livingston: And as it goes on, it gets more and more interesting, because we start following characters in the group. And we have some really good characters. Obviously the pilot, you’re trying to salvage the girl, Claire (Anja Savcic), who is in the first episode, she hits rock bottom and ends up getting a big character throughout the year. But they become a large part of it, and he’s sort of the straw that steers the drink there, and these people all have their little problems. And he gets dragged into a lot of shit.
How has it been working with The Audience Network throughout the production process?
Farrelly: I don’t know if I’ve ever had more creative freedom, to be honest. They definitely left us alone. First of all, they read the pilot and said, “Yeah, let’s do 10 ten episodes.” Which is nice, we didn’t have to shoot it first. And then when we shot it, it was really the four of us. We really were just kinda doing it ourselves. In post-production, once we started editing they gave notes and they gave extensive notes, sometimes they gave like 40 or 50 notes, but they were good notes. And the ones that I don’t think are good, I don’t do and they never come back at me with it. So it’s definitely 100% us, I never felt forced into doing one thing for this show that we didn’t want to do. They’ve been great.
Mort: It was incredible. Just the trust and confidence
Sasso: Mildly amazing.