Jim Piddock [Interview]


piddock3It has been brought to my attention recently that television is where all the best writing is these days.  This theory has been proven time and time again with the popularity of cable and network shows constantly being on the rise due to new lack of restraint on television audiences that has been in place for well over a decade now.  And some of Hollywood’s biggest names in front and behind the camera are showing up on the small screen more and more often.  Case in point:  HBO’s soon to be released on DVD, Family Tree, written, directed, and produced by the great Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock.  Guest and Piddock are old chums.  Jim has been featured in the Big Guest 3 films (read below for further details) that are easiley some of the best ensemble projects I have ever seen.  Piddock, beyond his acting chops on stage and on the screen, he is also a writer with credits to his name such as The Man featuring Samuel L. Jackson, The Tooth Fairy featuring Dwayne Johnson, and the 1992 erotic thriller Traces of Red, featuring James Belushi and Lorraine Bracco.  Yes, Guest and Piddock have had individual success in their long and storied career.  And now we are fortunate enough to have had the two team up to create what you will surely find to be one of the funniest shows on cable television today.  And as we already made clear, that is a hard feat to reach in this, the golden age of television writing.  And we were fortunate enough to be able to steal a few minutes from Jim to talk about his latest projects, past works, and what else he has on his plate these days. So enjoy!

You’ve had great success on the stage, in films, and on television.  Tell us, what is your preferred method of acting, if you have one?

They’re all rewarding in different ways, but as I get older I find the routine of doing film or tv easier to navigate and maintain a balanced lifestyle. I wouldn’t rule out going back to the stage, if the right project came along, but it’s not that high on my list of priorities right now.

You have appeared in what I call the Big Guest 3 films – Best In Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, all directed by your pal and fellow legend Christopher Guest.  These movies just seem like they would be so much fun to work on, especially with the immense amount of improvisation.  Tell us, is this so?  What have your experiences been like working in this setting?

I think every actor who works on anything that Christopher directs will tell you that the improvisation part is very nerve-wracking, but the on-set experience is as good as it gets. It’s highly actor-friendly and relaxed. First of all, you’re hanging out with a lot of other actors you admire and have mostly worked with multiple times and, secondly, we work very quickly compared to most productions, so there’s a lot less hanging around. When a group of very funny, talented people get together, there’s generally a lot of laughter and very few people hiding in their trailers when they’re not on camera. 

The Family Tree

The Family Tree

You have also recently teamed up with Guest as a writer/producer/actor on the new television series Family Tree, which will be released on DVD and as a digital download on October 29th.  Can you tell us a bit about the show?  Where did the concept for this show come from?

The show originated over a lunch that Christopher and I had around the time he’d been looking into his own family history a little bit. We liked the idea of an ongoing series about a rootless and impressionable young man trying to find his bearings in life, and establish meaningful relationships and purpose to his existence, by delving into his genealogy.

Apart from the endless and varied comic potential of the premise, we also felt it tapped into the larger, cosmic themes we all ask ourselves at some point: who am I, what is my place in the world, and where do I fit in the grand chain of history?

What did you want viewers to take away from this show?  Do you think viewers have or will get what you are hoping to convey?

I think we wanted people to be amused primarily. But, in addition to laughing, we hoped they’d be emotionally engaged with the main characters and care about what happens to them. And judging by the overwhelming majority of responses we’ve had to the show, from both critics and viewers, I believe we succeeded in that. I have heard from so many people, almost all of whom I don’t know, who said they felt genuinely bereft after the last episode of the first season ended. Which is very gratifying because it means that after 8 episodes they were emotionally invested in the series, and in the journey of the characters and the stories we were telling.

Based on the critical acclaim alone, has there been any stages of pre-production for a second season?  If so, is there anything new you would like to accomplish during a second season?

Not yet, but Christopher and I met for a couple of hours recently to discuss possible season 2 ideas and we came up with about 15-20 episodes ideas in a very short space of time. We also have a great ending for the final (or possibly just the second) series which will be even more unexpected than some of the surprising directions we’ve already taken.

familytree2You also have a project entitled Russell in development, in which you wrote and shall be an executive producer on as well.  I know it is early stages, but can you tell us a bit about this project?

It’s a family movie about an Australian conman who has a spell put on him by an Aboriginal shaman and undergoes a body-switch with a koala. You know, that old chestnut.

What would you personal consider your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Working uninterrupted in show business for 35 years.

Is there anything in your career that you have yet to do that you are working towards getting done?

There are many other projects I’ve written and am attached to produce which I’d desperately love to see come to fruition. But, as an actor, the one thing I’d love to do is play a regular character on a long-running series. I’d love the chance to live with and develop a character for a length of time. And the money probably wouldn’t hurt either.

While it seems as though you are constantly working, you must take a break now and then.  What do you do for a little “me time” just to de-stress if you will?

piddock1I still play football (soccer) once a week. And I spend an awful lot of time watching football and baseball. But I also like to read and travel when I can.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The fact that I had to encourage the waitress I had at dinner last night to google me because she didn’t believe I was who I said I was. For some reason it amused me that, after all these years and all I’ve done, I still felt like I had to justify myself to someone half my age. And while I was eating.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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