Andy Daly on the Life of Forrest MacNeil

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Andy Daly on the Life of Forrest MacNeil

If you’re a connoisseur of comedy, you likely spent a long time wondering when Andy Daly was going to get his moment to shine. The talented stand up and improv actor found a fairly decent niche in small roles like the play-by-play announcer Dick Pepperfield in Will Ferrell’s ABA parody Semi-Pro or his memorable turn as a Ben Franklin impersonator in The Office, not to mention his frequent appearances on Reno 911, MADtv and Comedy Bang! Bang!.

Last year, we finally got to see Daly get a taste of the spotlight with his starring role in the brilliant Comedy Central series Review. Based on an Australian TV show, the half-hour mockumentary found Daly’s character Forrest MacNeil attempting to review experiences, from the mundane (eating 15 pancakes, hunting) to the life-altering (getting hooked on cocaine, divorcing his wife). Until the very end when he ran away from the whole show, MacNeil plowed forward through every awful and painful and occasionally delightful minute.

The new season of Review is kicking off this week with a bevy of new review possibilities and, as you’ll see in the first episode, some darkly hilarious moments for this stalwart critic, so we took a few minutes to catch up with Daly to chat about what’s in store for Forrest this year and the process behind making this fantastic addition to Comedy Central’s schedule.

Paste: I got to catch the first episode of this new season and was happy, if that’s the right word, to see things turn dark so quickly for Forrest.

Andy Daly : They sure do! I don’t want to spoil it for people but Forrest comes back to the show fully committed. His commitment wavered at the end of season one, but he comes back and he is 100% ready for action. And that commitment is tested in a big way right off the bat. It’s a test and I think he and the show confront it full on and pass the test. The commitment test.

Paste: How do you and the guys in the writer’s room approach this new season?

AD: It was a little bit hard to get started in season two because we kind of gave Forrest a sensible move at the end of season one, kind of the only smart thing we’ve ever seen him do, which is to run away from the show. [laughs] Then we had to sort of buy that back and say, “No! He’s back. He has rescinded the one smart thing he’s ever done.” So we talked a little bit about why he would do that, and I think that’s something that you learn a little bit more about in episode two this season. What exactly it was to cause him to come back. We definitely made the decision that he comes back this season more committed than ever and that commitment is very important to him.

Paste: That’s the one thing that’s strangely admirable about Forrest: he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a review even if it means losing his wife or getting physically hurt in the process.

AD: Yep. That’s for sure. He is motivated and propelled forward by this profound belief that this show is a crucially important public service and he is the only person that is qualified to provide it. So a lot of the time things get difficult for him or for other people, mostly for him. Other people definitely get swept into his maw, but nobody pays for what he’s doing more than Forrest himself. Certainly this season. There is something admirable about it until you stop for a second and think about how stupid the show is.

Paste: Another thing I really admire about the show is how all of the support roles are played by fairly unknown actors rather than stacking the deck with familiar faces from the comedy world.

AD: Absolutely. This was a pattern that we started in season one to say if we really want people to buy that we’re in the real world here and that this is a mockumentary then there were certain people that our casting director was pitching to us that were very familiar faces. And we were like, no, I want people to sort of get lost not necessarily recognizing this person as an actor. Also let’s have real looking people, real seeming people. That was a casting directive for us. We obviously allowed that to lapse in the case of someone like Fred Willard. People are going to recognize Fred from a million things but who cares because he’s so wonderful. I think we used his recognizability well in the sense that I don’t think anyone would have expected what we did to him. Our casting director Rachel Tenner is great for that. She won the Emmy for casting Fargo. When we trying to figure out who should play Marissa the nurse that Forrest meets and falls for in episode one, she pitched Allison Tolman to us and we’re so glad that she did. She is wonderful and hilarious.

Paste: You gave Forrest a small victory at the end of the first season with him getting away from the show entirely. Is that something you feel beholden to with this character, giving him the occasional win?

AD: No, not particularly. [laughs] It does feel like Forrest has made this bed for himself. He is arrogant enough and dumb enough to believe that no sacrifice is too great for this work because it is so important. He is the author of his own demise and the more demise the better. I’m not saying that I’m not open to victories for Forrest or seeing Forrest make good decisions. From time to time, it does happen, but it’s a great deal of fun, I think, watching him fall.

Paste: That seems to be the turn that comedy has been taking over the last decade or so, towards these stories that are a little more uncomfortable and awkward and don’t resolve easily.

AD: I think it’s always fun to surprise an audience. I think that people are so programmed to have the happy ending and to have things tied up neatly at the end, and to feel like the character went through all this for a real reason and got himself to a better place by the end of this half-hour. It’s fun to subvert that expectation and to have it feel a little more real. Sometimes you do a stupid thing and it doesn’t all work out for you in the end. Sometimes you make a bed and you have to lie in it. Hopefully, we’ve found surprising and delightful ways to make that happen to Forrest. I certainly am more attracted to the idea of subverting somebody’s expectations of a happy ending than giving them a happy ending.

Paste: Are your efforts to try and get that kind of vérité feel to the show helped by having a documentary filmmaker like Jeffrey Blitz directing the episodes?

AD: Having somebody who has himself been behind the camera and who understands how the camera follows spontaneous action is hugely helpful to shooting this show in a way that really sells that this is being spied on and that none of this is expected. It’s little things that I think just kind of wash over you, that you don’t notice unless you look for them. For instance, the camera never pans to somebody for the start of their line. Someone will start talking and then the camera will go find them. Little things like that are incredibly helpful in getting our universe across.

Paste: How I got to know you is through your stage work where you were trying on these different characters and doing improv. How is it for you only having to concentrate on one character and one persona?

AD: It does feel like a very different job from sketch work and from the more sketch comedy type stuff that I do. I would say it’s not more challenging, it’s a little more satisfying actually to be able to really commit to one character and exploring all of the aspects of who he is and who he isn’t. From scene to scene to kind of learn more about him and find more of his tics and his traits. It’s more fun to do somebody a little more grounded and a little more real.

Paste: You also seem like an actor that could make the jump into doing dramatic roles pretty easily. Is that something you’re interested in?

AD: I would definitely be open to it. I always feel like the best dramas always have a sense of humor to them. I don’t necessarily see such a dark line between comedy and drama. I think Review is a comedy that has quite a bit of drama to it. And I feel like The Sopranos was often really hilarious. Breaking Bad was essentially a comic premise. It’s an odd couple relationship, it’s a fish out of water story. It’s pretty fucking funny. I almost feel like I’m already doing a drama, and I certainly would not mind doing a show that is more frequently referred to as classified as a drama.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.