David Walton charmed last season as Jess’s love interest Sam on New Girl and headlined the critically acclaimed but short-lived NBC comedy Bent in 2012. You’ve also seen him in Perfect Couples, The Loop and Cracking Up.
Now Walton, an actor who so deserves a hit show, is back in the new NBC comedy About a Boy, which got a special premiere this past Saturday at 11 p.m. after the network’s Olympic coverage. In the series, which is based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name, single mom Fiona (Minnie Driver) and her 11-year-old son Marcus (Benjamin Stockham) move in next door to the lackadaisical Will (Walton). Much to the uptight Fiona’s dismay, Marcus and Will soon form an unlikely friendship.
Paste recently caught up with Walton, who is married to actress Majandra Delfino, to talk about the show, his career and how he keeps a positive outlook.
Paste: How did this part come about for you?
David Walton: I had done this show called Bent, which I thought was really good. We probably had something really good, and it got cancelled quickly. So I’m convinced that [NBC Entertainment Chairman] Bob Greenblatt felt bad for me and told [About a Boy executive producer] Jason Katims that he had to cast me.
Paste: Were you familiar with Jason Katims’ other shows, including Friday Night Lights and Parenthood?
Walton: My wife was on Roswell, and that was Jason’s second show. I had actually heard about him for a long time. And he’s sort of this mad scientist genius. He’s the nicest guy in the world. There’s no trace of ego. He’s widely considered one of the best showrunners in town, and he has this sort of signature style where you’re watching and you’re laughing and then all of a sudden you’re crying. He has a way of hooking you into the stories and worlds and characters. I don’t think a lot of people have that talent.
Paste: Paste: You’re married with two young children. How do you relate to the commitment-phobic Will?
Walton: Past experience. There was definitely a stage in my life where I was allergic to responsibility and really just kind of doing the most enjoyable thing at all times. And when your single and you don’t have any commitment, you can do whatever you want, wherever you want.
I think, even when you have responsibilities, you dream about those days, so it’s easy to access that love for total freedom and no commitments. That’s a fairly simple thing to tap into. Every guy has that kind of impulse that lives within them.
Paste: Have you seen the 2002 movie About a Boy starring Hugh Grant?
Walton: I had seen the movie when it came out, and I was really moved by it. I thought it was great. I intentionally avoided it when preparing for this because, right or wrong, I just didn’t want to have any influence of Hugh Grant or anything like that in an attempt for a completely original take on the character. The show is the same name but with some key differences like I’m not British for example. I’m a bit younger. One of the key points in the book and in the movie is Will’s dad wrote the song, so Will just collects royalties from his dad’s music—sort of like a trust fund kid. In our series, I wrote the song, a crappy Christmas jingle, but it hit and I’ve just been collecting that money and haven’t been writing ever since, so there’s something to explore there.
Paste: What else can viewers expect in this first season?
Walton: I think the overall trajectory for my character is: you sort of think you have the world completely figured out. You have the best life possible. All you want is to just enjoy yourself, but in doing so, you don’t realize that you’re kind of missing out on things—you’re not getting close to people. You’re not actually caring about other people. This little boy kind of randomly comes into his life. He’s this weird kid, and Will can’t help but sort of fall for him. The kid sort of chisels his way into his heart. And ultimately I think that starts carbonating these other very human desires to have real emotional connections, have some meaning in your life, feel like you’re living for something more than your hedonistic impulses. That’s sort of the overall trajectory, but Will will also never change in a lot of ways—he’ll always be a sort of smart ass who says what he thinks to a fault. But this little boy is going to really complicate his life in a good and funny way.
Paste: I love how Will talks to Marcus as if he is an adult.
Walton: I stole that from Mark Ruffalo in [the 2000 movie] You Can Count on Me. He was so good in that movie, and I kind of always liked how he and that kid got along. You kind of get in this melody with kids and how you speak to them. In a lot of ways, Will respects Marcus as an equal. It’s hard for Will to put himself in the shoes of someone that young. When I try to start to become this sort of father figure to Marcus, it’s ripe with comedic potential.
Paste: Will unexpectedly showed up in the January 16 episode of Parenthood, and Dax Shepard, who plays Crosby on Parenthood, will be on About a Boy.
Walton: When Jason told me the crossover idea, I got really excited. I just loved how subtle it was. I think I had one or two lines on Parenthood. When Crosby comes to our poker game, he’ll sort of be featured a bit more. You can see the difference in the tone of the shows. They definitely live in the same world. Will is sort of Crosby season one. That’s where he kind of is with his life.
Paste: You’re obviously very excited about About a Boy. How do you keep your optimism in this business?
Walton: I realize there’s nothing gained—I mean you can kind of go down a negative path and be like, “It doesn’t matter if shows are good.” But ultimately I feel like it’s just a protection. You’re just protecting yourself from the pain because it’s a very real pain when this thing that you love, this thing you put all your energy into and really feels like something that deserves to have a spot in pop culture and television history is denied the opportunity. It’s almost like you get to the one-yard line and, it’s so hard to get there and the refs just call the game and you’re not given the opportunity to run the ball into the end zone. It’s hard. It really is. But you get through it, and obviously it helps to have a balanced life and maintain perspective and all that stuff. Ultimately, when you get through it—and I’ve been through it a lot—you realize how you can recover fully. You start seeing that it’s not that there’s only one good project in the world. If Bent was still on, I wouldn’t be doing About a Boy, and I love About a Boy. One door closes, and another opens.
Paste: What’s the plan for Will and Fiona?
Walton: The short answer is I have no idea, but I can tell you it’s definitely not a “will they or won’t they.” We’re not leaning on that in any way. What’s happening in this first season that’s really cool is you have this family forming. Both of the parents would never admit that it is. There’s just a lot of opportunity for really funny situations and a lot of heartfelt, powerful emotions, which is what we’re aiming for.
Paste: Your wife stars in the upcoming CBS comedy Friends With Better Lives, which premieres March 31…
Walton: Her show is really good and really funny. It’s going to be a very competitive spring in the Walton house. We’re talking a lot of smack to each other about whose show is going to do better.
(After its post-Olympic premier, About a Boy settles in to its regular time slot on Tuesdays at 9 p.m.)
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.