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Whitney Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Whitney

This is an interview with Zoe Lister-Jones and Maulik Pancholy on September 28, 2011 about the show Whitney.

Question:
Unlike a lot of the shows and movies you both have recently worked on, Whitney is filmed in front of a live audience. Can you talk about what that's been like and how that's been different?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
I think the cool thing about the cast of Whitney is that we were all either trained in theater or stand up. And so I think for all of us as actors having a live audience is actually a real asset. And it's a lot of fun to be able to play with an audience and be able to react off of genuine reactions from them as opposed to a single camera which you're sort of acting more in a bubble. And so I think it's a really cool experience for all of us because it sort of feels like coming home again.

Maulik Pancholy:
Yes I would say one thing too that's really fun is that when we do our tape nights and the audience is there the writers will often throw us alternate new lines that we have to try out for the first time in front of an audience. And so there's kind of like this there's like a give and take with the audience where they're laughing at the scene and then you come out and you surprise them with a whole new line and when they're thinking they're going to just like watch the same scene over. And it's just really fun. It's really fun having them there.

Zoe Lister-Jones:
It definitely keeps us on our toes like Maulik was saying. And I think that's such a great opportunity for us to be able to play with.

Question:
Zoe, I want to know why is re-creating a first date important to Whitney considering she and Alex are already a couple?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
I feel like most couples who have been in committed relationships for a certain period of time will probably relate to that to the lull in romance that often occurs once the honeymoon phase is over. And so Maulik and my characters who are in a relationship on the show are constantly challenging ourselves to keep romance alive.

We also have only been together a year whereas Alex and Whitney have been together for three. And so they're at a very different stage in which I think they've settled into a sort of complacency of a long term relationship. And so the first date is to get themselves back into the place of feeling that excitement once again and really being the attention to detail that sometimes gets lost over time.

Maulik Pancholy:
Yes there's also there is also a moment at the beginning of the episode where I think Whitney realizes that they never did the first date thing. And there's just like a little moment where she sees Zoe and I actually interacting and we're about to go out to dinner then there's this whole like we're dressed up and we're excited to go out. And so I think from there this like idea sparks in Whitney's head that she's like wow we never did that and I want to do that, the excitement of the first date.

Question:
Maulik, I want to know from a guy's perspective why does Neal have an interest in going along with Lily's plan to stage this chance encounter thing?

Maulik Pancholy:
The first date between Alex and Whitney causes some strain in their relationship as they get through it which is what the episode deals with. And I think by the end of it we are trying to anxiously get them back together to alleviate the stuff that's going on because the first aid leads to a little bit of trouble on their parts.

Question:
How did you land the Phineas and Ferb role? And are you responsible for Jack McBrayer being on the show?

Maulik Pancholy:
Phineas and Ferb, they actually invited me in to come read for the part. Dan Povenmeyer, he's one of the creators was a fan of Weeds and they wanted I think cast an Indian actor to play the Indian character on Phineas and Ferb. And as if you know the show my voice is so different on Phineas and Ferb obviously then it is on Weeds. But he was like oh he's funny, let's have them in here and see what we can do. And in the addition they just kept pushing my voice like higher and higher and higher and it just worked.

So that's how I got the role and then I think they're all like really big 30 Rock fans anyway. And I think they wanted Jack McBrayer on there. But I did I did kind of pitch to Jack but I think that he would have been on there with or without me. But it's really fun having him on there. And my character and his character have actually had scenes things together that we've gotten to record together in the recording studio and it's really fun.

Question:
There's been so many great talents doing voices for that show, Allison Janney, John Larroquette, and Ashley Tisdale. Do you think any of those cast mates might guest on Whitney?

Maulik Pancholy:
I don't know if they will or not. I know that we are we're we're definitely having guest stars on the show and there's some pretty fun people so who knows, maybe. That's be cool.

Question:
Zoe, it seems as if you've been on every Law & Order incarnation there is except Law & Order UK. Do you have any plans on completing your set?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
It is a pride of the of a New York actor I have to say. That's a real rite of passage. And Law & Order was my first television show and then I continue to be on all four franchises including the short lived Trial by Jury. I was never on Law & Order LA because I'm an East Coast thief all the way. I know but no plans to return. I've moved on from dead bodies to being in a loving relationship with Maulik Pancholy.

Question:
Is there any designers you'd like to give a shout out to?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
A lot of my friends are designers and I love their stuff. I have a line called Correll Correll C-O-R-R-E-L-L-C-O-R-R-E-L-L but there's amazing clothes that are sold in a number of boutiques. And then another line called CO, C-O, which are really beautiful and chic basics that are showing in department stores now. But thank you. That's a real compliment. Can I say jewelry company I love? Stowellen it's S-T-O-W-E-L-L-E-N.

Question:
We've only seen a glimpse of Neal and Lily's relationship in these first two episodes. Can you talk maybe a little bit more about what we're going to see with them and if they're perfect looking relationship is going to get some bumps in the coming episodes?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
I think Neal and Lily will go many places in the upcoming episodes. You can't talk about it much in detail but they're definitely going to inhabit all of the places that a new relationship goes and the things that you start to learn and find out about after a year together. And there will be discussions of marriage.

Maulik Pancholy:
I mean I think Neal and Lily like they're pretty fearless about being in a relationship and being a couple. I think they represent that side of they're just a couple that like they really love courtship and they love being in love and I think that's all going to continue to play out. But I also think that like they're very three-dimensional characters and they're going to encounter their own issues that they'll have to deal with over the season.

Question:
I heard that the show is based on Whitney's standup and her experiences but she's kind of like a frat boy trapped inside a woman's body as far as her standup is concerned. Has it been challenging for her to kind of tame her content and make it prime time friendly?

Maulik Pancholy:
Whitney talks about how the character that she's playing on the show is different than who she is doing standup and that the person that she was, but the person that she was when she was doing standup was single and this character that she's playing on the show it's a person in a relationship so that kind of changes who she is. So there's a little bit of a difference between her and her standup.

Zoe Lister-Jones:
I think it's funny you call her a frat boy inside a woman's body. I mean I think Whitney's delivery is definitely fearless and her content is fearless. But I do think that she's truly a feminist. And I think the content might be toned down in terms of like profanities.

But in terms of the, I think the message that has always been a part of Whitney's voice it's pretty consistent in that it is about what it is to be a woman in a relationship in a very complicated new climate. And I think that's what's so exciting about the show is that Whitney really tells it like it is and she makes it superb relatable but she also has a very distinct point of view that is not (to seem) eccentric but really pro-female and feminist without being didactic.

Maulik Pancholy:
I think the show's like really honest in terms of the way it speaks about like relationships and sex. And maybe that's something that makes this a little bit edgy and refreshing for network television that she's not shying away. She's still putting out the message that she wants to put out there.

Zoe Lister-Jones:
Yes and I mean like to have a pilot episode on network television have like part of the takeaway is in a sex shop is like somewhat outrageous. I think that she is constantly pushing the bounds and the writers are all trying to push the bounds.

Question:
Have you read any of the reviews yet? I mean do you engage in that or due you prefer to just do your best and not really pay attention to that?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
I don't read them because I don't think it's helpful to my process. And I think as actors we're all pretty sensitive. So it's it's always hard to digest any negative feedback. But I think we all have such faith in the show and we all have so much fun doing the show that that's all that really matters at this moment.

Maulik Pancholy:
Yes and I would second that.

Question:
Are you able to ad lib at any time?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
We don't really ad lib.

Maulik Pancholy:
No the scripts are like so tightly written and we shoot in front of a live audience so for four of the five days it takes to film an episode we are rehearsing and we're so occasionally someone will like think of something funny and but for the most part it's like the writers are getting to hear their words and to tweak it and to get it to be funnier. We have like an amazing staff of writers and so most of it's like pretty tightly written. I feel like any improving comes sort of like in the physical actions in the moment.

Zoe Lister-Jones:
There will be moments occasionally when an actor well ad lib something in rehearsal and it will get written in to the script which is always cool.

Question:
Is there going to be a big change or a shocker between your characters for the season?

Maulik Pancholy:
I don't know.

Zoe Lister-Jones:
There will be a surprise this season but we can't talk about it. So you'll have to stay tuned. It won't take long. It won't take long for surprises to be revealed. So hopefully you and your fans will keep tuning in.

Question:
I see that you guys get along very well. Is the chemistry always this great onset?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
No.

Maulik Pancholy:
I think we're pretty lucky. I feel like we're very lucky. Like our cast actually genuinely enjoys hanging out. Like even today for example, after we finished rehearsal we all hung out and had lunch together. And I think that is I don't know what every other show is like but it's totally a gift that we all really get along and are really, really friends.

Zoe Lister-Jones:
Yes and I think Whitney in casting the show with NBC was hyperaware of that, that she wanted to cast people that all could be friends because she wanted the chemistry to feel genuine. And so that's sort of a testament to her that she put us all together. And we do really have a lot of fun.

Question:
Tomorrow night's episode is about trying to re-create a first date that never happened. If you guys could have some event that you missed out on that you could re-create what would you choose?

Maulik Pancholy:
I might want to re-create. I didn't miss out on it but I might want to re-create my high school prom like knowing what I know now like knowing that like it's okay to be a nerd and awkward and be insecure. I may want to re-create that moment and get to do it again without all that anxiety and fear.

Zoe Lister-Jones:
My high school prom was a disaster. Yes I would say if I could re-create, it would be to have fun in all of the times that I was fearful or like that which is most of my life. I'm a Jew. I'm driven by fear. And so that's my New Year's resolution that I'm going to have fun and less fear.

Question:
Maulik, now that you're on Whitney will we still see Jonathan on 30 Rock or are you all done with that role?

Maulik Pancholy:
I think you will see Jonathan on 30 Rock. They're both shows are NBC and I know that Tina Fey wants to keep the character on the show. And I know that I would love to still do it. It's just be a matter of working out schedules. Whitney shoots in Los Angeles and 30 Rock shoots in New York. But I like traveling so I think we can make it work out.

Question:
What do you like best about playing a couple opposite each other?

Zoe Lister-Jones:
Eat a lot of beef before kissing scenes. That's just part of my process as an actor. I just feel like beef is helpful for romance.

Maulik Pancholy:
And I feel like it doesn't count like if I'm a vegetarian but it doesn't count if you're getting it out of the mouth of someone else.

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