Interview: CHRIS DIAMONTOPOULOS from The Starter Wife

Chris Diamontopoulos

A few weeks ago, during our set visit of USA’s original series, THE STARTER WIFE, which premieres on October 10 at 9pm, we got to speak with the cast about what is coming up this season.

In addition to speaking with Debra Messing and Hart Bochner (read their interview), we got to speak with CHRIS DIAMONTOPOULOS who plays Rodney. Here is what he had to say.

We were told Rodney is less flaming than last year.

Chris Diamontopoulos: Is that what you were told? I hope it was a gay guy that gave you that answer because it’s pretty un-PC. Do you know what? I don’t think that it was so much that I dressed “flaming” last season as much as that it was kind of unoriginal. And that’s no slight on the wardrobe department, they were wonderful. It’s just that they were really limited in their budget. And they had Debra to dress and they had Judy to dress. And usually in television I find that the guy’s wardrobe is overlooked. So I was wearing, like, striped shirts and jeans and it was variations of that.
This season I talked with our wardrobe designer, Agata, and I thought, you know, one of the things about Rodney being a designer in L.A.—I know these guys, they spend a lot of their dough on good clothes. And it’s not that typical, unfortunate thing that you see on television all the time where the gay guy is wearing, like, a fuchsia handkerchief and, you know, a top hat or whatever, you know what I mean? They dress him like a Cat in the Hat character.
Usually these guys are dressed impeccably and, if anything, it skews a little to the eccentric because of the fact that, you know, they’re designers or whatever. But generally speaking, it’s perfectly tailored, well-made, high quality clothing.
And so Agata and I talked and when I was in New York I picked up a few things that fit me well and she picked up a few things. And Rodney’s dressed awesome this season, I mean, there’s some really, really cool stuff. It’s funny because Judy and Debra are always, like, “Where’d you get those boots?” I’m like “They’re wardrobe, they’re not mine!” And they’re, like, “Oh, those are cool”.

I like how your character really loves Molly. And it’s a wonderful thing, it shows a really nice, healthy relationship between a gay man and a straight woman and what it can be as far as a support network for each other and just familial.

CD: Yeah, as opposed to incestuous, which you can sometimes end up feeling, I think.

What are your favorite scenes to act? What are the favorite scenes that you like to do with Debra? The fantasy ones? The intimate ones?

CD: I love the fantasy sequences. I think those are my favorite part of the entire show. I want to be written into every single fantasy scene and the writers are kind of like, enough, we can only put you in so many.
I love the idea of completely disappearing into a character that’s popular for another reason, you know what I mean? They do those old movie fantasy sequences. But the reason—if my relationship, if Rodney’s relationship with Molly seems organic or is pleasant to watch, the reason that is is because working with Debra—and I say this without any shred of insincerity—it’s the easiest thing and the most fun work experience I’ve ever had.
When we met in Australia at a rehearsal, it felt like we’d known each other for ten years. It was the weirdest thing. We met and then that was it. And then we were just fast friends. And aside from the fact that we get along and we laugh our heads off when we’re working together, she’s the most prepared actor I’ve ever worked with. She’s got monsters of dialogue memorized. She’s never ill-prepared, she’s never frazzled about it. She’s always got her shit together.
And so that makes even typical scenes or scenes that might be incidental scenes, it makes them fun. There’s an example, we were shooting the other day where we were at a spy shop. And it was supposed to just be a regular—a really, really normal scene, she’s buying a taser. But we were hanging out and playing during the rehearsal, we were playing with all the props that they had at the spy shop and we ended up using the walkie-talkies and we turned this whole scene into this cloak and dagger Mission Impossible thing. It just sort of happened organically.
She’s so much fun to work with. Did I mention I like her?

Can you talk a little bit about how your character evolves this season?

CD: Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely an evolution. I think in the mini-series — the mini-series was never intended to be a full-up series, it was intended to be, like, a six-part movie. And all of the characters surrounding Molly’s life were ancillary in some way, I mean, they were satellites. Everything that they did had to somehow inform what her journey was.
And even their B story lines weren’t designed to create any sort of level of massive intrigue from the audience because the main story line was Molly’s story line, we had to follow that.
When they realized they were going to do a series, they took Rodney and Joan and some of the other characters, or in this instance, they’re new characters, and they decided to create real, you know, a story lines for all of them. And so for Rodney, I get a love interest. But it’s not a typical love interest. It’s a clandestine affair with a movie star who’s in the closet.
And, you know, I credit the writers with so much for this show in terms of setting a tone and setting a world that we can all play in that feels comfortable. But what I credit them the most is for the fact that they’ve written a three-dimensional, real character in Rodney and despite the fact that we’re in this slightly heightened level of reality, where there definitely is a little camp here and there, they’ve really captured Rodney as a good guy, and as you said, as a real friend to Molly. I mean, he would lie down in traffic for her.
And it’s not just implied, you know, it’s not, oh, he’s the gay best friend, they actually show it and there’s real substance to the relationship, with Molly and with Joan, and with Felix, his love interest. There’s a real—they’ve written this guy as a deep, sensitive and caring human being and it’s great to play that as opposed to playing, you know, a cardboard cut-out.

Have you gotten feedback from gay guys on the street?

CD: You know, I haven’t. That’s a good question, actually. After the mini-series I think a couple of people that I bumped into, usually not on the street, it was usually at an event or something, they would stop my wife first. And my wife’s on Ugly Betty, she plays Amanda. And so they would stop her and gush, you know, which I completely, totally, I was with them, you know, gushing. And then they’d turn and go “Oh, wait!” you know, and they’d say “Oh yeah, you were great, blah, blah, blah” and they’re, you know, they seemed to really enjoy it.
I think that Debra [Messing] has such a fiercely loyal following and specifically I think in the gay community they really, really love and respect her. So I get a lot of mad props just for being able to hang out with a diva, so it’s pretty cool. I love it.

I heard that everybody moved to New York [for “Ugly Betty”], so [how are you guys dealing with it]?

CD: Oh my God, don’t talk to me about my life right now, I’m on Jet Blue every weekend. So we come from New York, Becki [Newton] and I met in New York and we lived in New York. And then we came out here for pilot season a few years ago and she booked Ugly Betty and so we ended up moving out here. And for the first season and a half, most of the jobs that I got kind of shot all over the place. And the mini-series shot in Australia and it was lovely to do it, but it was so hard being apart.
And so when I got back I said, “Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll only do a series if it shoots in L.A.” And so then the producers called and they’re like, “So we’re doing a series that’s going to shoot in L.A.” I was like “Really? Oh my God, we’re going to live in the same place!” So we got a place here, we were all set, we were about to lock up the place in New York and I signed the contract and then two days later she came home and said we’re moving to New York.
And then I realized, you know, it’s sort of a good lesson for us. And to be perfectly honest, because this show is only ten episodes and hers is twenty-two, it’s actually fathomable. It’s about three and a half months. The first month she hadn’t started yet because the Mode sets weren’t ready. So she was here for me the first month, so it turned into two and half months. And then they lumped all of my stuff in episodes one and two onto a couple of days and they gave me two and a half weeks to go to New York, so it ended up just being two months. And then in those two months she’s had five days off, I’ve had five days off and we’ve really been bridging it. We have this two-week rule, which is much easier to employ in this country than it was when I was in Australia, because it takes two weeks just to get to Australia.

It’s funny how most of her scenes are with a gay guy, and you’re playing a guy friend.

CD: It’s very, very strange. I know, I don’t question it, I just try and handle it. You know, the truth of the matter is, we’d be lucky just to be working on any old shows in the climate, you know, the way that jobs are going and the way that so many talented actors are out of work. So if we were on anything and working, we’d feel like we were at an A plus.
The fact that she’s on a show that she loves that is well-respected that she gets to just go to town on, and the fact that I’m on this show, which I think is the best run show I’ve ever been on, working with pros, having a chance to utilize this material and have such a great time, I mean, it’s ridiculous. That’s why we take the New York thing with a grain of salt and we say, well, you know, if that wasn’t there, then we’d have to slap each other silly because it would be a little too perfect. So it’s great to just, you know, have that balance.

Chris Diamontopoulos

Do you have a dream, a fantasy sequence, that you’re always pitching?

CD: Well listen, I’m a huge James Bond fan, like, beyond question. So Josie [McGibbon], Sara [Parriott], if you’re listening, Rodney’s got to be Bond. That’s all I’m saying. Can you imagine? “Well I understand Double Os have a very short life expectancy.” It’d be great. Totally work it out.

Is there a fantasy scene that you’ve already done that maybe you can describe?

CD: We did an Elizabeth fantasy sequence which was great fun where Debra is The Virgin Queen, and she’s spectacular. We did a “Hello Dolly” sequence which was spectacular, good fun, an old-school musical thing. But we’re doing a “Tomb Raider” thing, which we haven’t done yet, we’re shooting that next week. That’s one I’m looking forward to. I love anything that has, like, stunts.

Who are you in the “Tomb Raider” scene?

CD: I play Daniel Craig. So I’m one step closer to James Bond. And you tell him to watch his ass, because I will be the first Greek-American, actually Greek-Canadian green card to play James Bond. Listen, man, stranger things have happened. Isn’t Lohan dating a woman?

Where in Canada are you from?

CD: I’m from Toronto, born and raised, by way of Greece.

Who’s your favorite James Bond actor?

CD: Well so I love, I mean, Sean Connery, you know, that’s the answer that you have to give when you’re big Bond fan and I love Sean Connery. But I grew up with Roger Moore, who was a lot, you know, a lot more—he was a lot lighter in the loafers. But I have to say, I resisted Daniel Craig like the plague. Well because I just, you know, blonde Bond, and he’s a little shorter and little weird looking, and I wasn’t quite sure.

Did you see Layer Cake?

CD: Yeah, I loved it — so that’s what did it for me, look at you, you totally, yeah. So I saw “Layer Cake” and I was, like, this guy’s going to rock it. And then I saw “Casino [Royale]” and was totally sold. I think Casino’s the best Bond movie. And now my brother and I—it’s a little pathological, we watched the movie almost — he’s in Toronto, he’s a strength trainer. But we watch the movie almost every day and we, like, text each other with stupid lines, it’s ridiculous. It’s the dumbest thing, but I know that movie inside out and backwards.

Do you have any fun practical jokes here on the set?

CD: On this set? No, but Debra and I are kind of like monkeys with each other a little bit. Like, we’re always—I don’t know, they just joke that we’re, like, picking fleas off each other and eating them. We don’t really do that. But we probably, after season two, might be.
No, there aren’t really any practical jokes. I’d say that this is the most amiable group of people I’ve worked with, though. Everyone’s very, very low key and got a great sense of humor. No practical jokes, though. But you’re giving me ideas. I’ll have to Saran Wrap her toilet one of these days.

If you didn’t act and you had to pick a career behind the camera, you know, below the line, behind the scenes, what would you be and why?

CD: I’d be a director. I wouldn’t have answered that a few years ago. I wouldn’t have even answered that a year ago, but I think I’d be a director. And I’ve been watching a lot of—I watched Dan Lerner and I watched Lee Shallat and I think it would be great fun to—I’m a bit of a control freak. So I think it would be really great fun to put something together, yeah, and develop something like that, it’d be good fun.

How much do you like being married to another actor?

CD: It’s the greatest thing on the planet, when you find the right one. Yeah, that’s all I’ll say about that. What I will say is this. I used to say, you know, oh, dating an actor, because when I was living in New York and working on Broadway, I dated dancers and singers and actors. And I kind of thought that I’d get out of that and then just date a normal person. But no normal person would be able to understand these hours and this weird, you know. It’s like, “Oh, we’re going to your parents’ place for Christmas, except now we’re not. Now we’re going to be in Sri Lanka,” you know. Everything changes at the drop of a hat. And aside from just being an actor, she’s just so flexible with all that stuff that, yeah, I can’t imagine dating, like, a teacher or a lawyer. It would be just bizarre.

Did you have, like, a screen test with James Black who plays Felix? How was that and how was that chemistry?

CD: Oh, it was random. They cast the actor that they thought would be best for the part. And they found a really, really great actor. They really lucked into James. He’s terrific. And, you know, so much of that chemistry is in the writing, I mean, I would say for most things. Even if you find two actors that don’t necessarily get along, if it’s written well, you can make it look good.
And actually, I find that sometimes when the actors don’t get along and it’s written well, it almost works better. Because you see—there’s that opposing thing that they’re working with, and it works. But James and I get along great and it works very, very well. And they’ve written really great stuff for him.