Interview: DANIEL GERROLL from The Starter Wife

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

In addition to speaking with Debra Messing and Hart Bochner, Chris Diamontopoulos, and Danielle Nicolet, we got to speak to DANIEL GERROLL who plays David Shea, a drunken British movie star Joan has to take care of. Here is what he had to say.

The scenes at the airport when Judy Davis was picking you up were great, and you were just so vile and delicious.

Daniel Gerroll: Oh, I was vile, yeah, yeah.

What famous celebrity did you pattern your bad behavior after?

DG: You know, all of them are like that. No, I’m joking. None really. It’s just—you know, the great thing about this is if it’s well-written, you don’t have to do—I’m not a research type. You know what I mean? If it’s there, you do it. It’s as simple as that. I mean, there have been all sorts of situations with celebrities overindulging in one thing or another and making slight fools of themselves. And it seems if anyone does it now, it’s wide open, largely because of the media.
Remember the old days when the used to cover it up and hide you. You’d go to a Beverly Hills mansion and be put in a gilded cage until—the studio handled the stars—it doesn’t happen. Now, not only do you get it in the paper, you get an actor playing you doing it in a TV series.

Can you tell us a little bit about the character?

DG: Okay. He’s an English, London-based movie star who lives in Santa Monica who has a bit of a drunk and philandering problem. And he’s busted for drunk driving by two rather butch female cops, and he makes off-color remarks and gets thrown in the back.
And then he’s sent to rehab, and that’s where Judy Davis’ character, who she herself had—is in recovery and part of being in recovery is to work at the rehab place. She’s assigned to this asshole to sort of—to wrangle him. And the great part of—the great thing is that his character becomes—he just falls for her, I suppose, he spends the time either trying to escape from rehab or seducing her, and that’s the story line.
It was funny. When they—I was back east, and when they sent me the script, they made a mistake. They sent the script, and they said, “You’re reading for the much older husband of a middle-aged woman.” And I was like, I went to my wife, and I said, do I look like a much older husband? I mean, there’s a—and they say, you know, Hollywood’s cruel.
And then I said, well, you know, I’ll do it. I’ll suck it up. I’ll do it. I mean, you know, I need a job. I’m not proud. I’ve no vanity, and I’m reading it, and there’s this really cool character of this English movie star who’s drinking and womanizing. I’m like, well, those days are gone, I suppose. I used to play all those roles.
So I just did this karma thing. I learned the part, drove into New York. Manager rang two minutes in. Terrible mistake. You’re not reading the geezer. You’re actually—they want you to read for the English movie star—and I was like, A), fantastic! B), it’s in two minutes!
And that’s how it started.

How did you end up getting the script and getting involved?

DG: Well, no, you know, they said, apparently they’d been casting it in LA, and I don’t think they really wanted to go to the expense of flying somebody from further away than Las Vegas, you know? But somebody in the casting thought of me, and so I just got a call, and I went into the office in New York, finally with the right role, put it on tape a couple of times, and they brought me out here to meet Judy and, you know, and that.
So I came here with enough clothes for a weekend and ended up having to stay, which was a little embarrassing. I actually went swimming in the hotel pool in my workout shorts. A), because I didn’t have any swimming trunks, and B), it was the only way I could, like, get laundry done, you know? I’m not saying which hotel—I’ll never been allowed back in there.
It’s true. Then after a few days here, I got a chance to go home and get some clothes.

Have you had the chance to be in any of these fantasy sequences?

DG: I’m in one—I’m in the next one.

Is that your first?

DG: The next episode. Yeah, I think it’s the first. Yeah, I don’t think I was in any of the other ones. I’ve been doing this now since June. I can’t quite remember what—no, I don’t think I was in any of the others, except maybe one. I got—oh, yes, I am in one. I knew there was one. I’m on horseback. They’ve had me swimming, horseback riding, now I think I’ll be singing, without asking me whether I can to any of them. You know, it’s like, fine. But yeah. The scene—actually probably one of the best hooks this series has, these marvelously well—brilliantly-done fantasy sequences [they’ve got], plucking from every different genre of Hollywood movies. Very, very clever. Very clever.

Does your character actually attempt recovery, or are you kind of always skirting on the edges and like, right on the verge of taking another drink?

DG: Well, he is in—he is in recovery. He goes through the program, but he—you know, he certainly finds it tough. You know, I mean, even I don’t know how it’s going to end up, to be honest, you know. But it’s nice. I mean, I’d hate it to be too happily-ever-after because, you know, as we all know, it’s such a common thing now. We all know how difficult it is.
You know, so it’d be a shame to—I just feel a big squeamish having a drink the first week. When I went to the bar, like, “Whew, that was a hard day’s work, playing a drunk in rehab. Can I have a martini?”
But you know, I don’t know what—how they’re going to do it. It’s actually—it’s actually more fun playing pre-recovery than post-recovery, but fortunately, like, during the period when there’s a recovery, there’s this really great kind of sort of—it’s not exactly a torrid romance, but it’s a very edgy relationship with the Judy Davis character, and that’s what—that’s what’s really great fun, you know. So.

Can you go more into that relationship between David and Joan?

DG: Well, it’s really great because they have—what I love, maybe it’s because, you know, we’re all my generation, we’re all baby boomers, and so people in my generation are still writing love stories about people of my age. You know, because it’s—otherwise, you’re always going to see people, like, 22 years old falling in love. So Judy and I have this really great—you know, she married, and I want her, and she’s, you know, torn.
And she’s just beastly to me all the time, which doesn’t put me off. It’s a marvelous—the Shakespeare play, “Much Ado About Nothing,” where they’re slamming each other the whole time, but really, they’re in love. So it’s kind of got [a little bit] of that, which is really—it’s a classic story. They do a—they do it really well here.

Did you watch the mini series before?

DG: I did, I did. I sat down. I thought—I didn’t—I hadn’t been watching them. I have kids and a life, so I hadn’t really watched a whole lot of TV. And so I—and I’d seen Debra Messing on the stage years ago. I thought she was brilliant, and she was all over these buses all over New York, Starter Wife, but I never—I saw it, and I thought it was only a pilot, and this was a series. So I sat down to watch for an hour. Six hours later—but it was great, and I had friends in it, and so actually, it was a good—it was great to be able to watch something and actually take a meal break and want to come back and watch it. So I knew it would be something I’d want to do. That was before I knew I was going to do it, like, while I was auditioning.

Did that influence the way that, then, you approached your character and interacting with Joan?

DG: Yeah, because it’s important to understand—when something has any element of comedy to it, you really have to know where everybody is pitching it. You know, you can’t clown where it’s light comedy, you know, and you can’t be too dry where it’s comedy. You know, you just have to know what everybody is doing.
And you can carve out your own niche and find your own style, but you can’t, you know—very often, people can be very mocking in comedy where it’s actually meant to be told very truthfully and visa versa. And the two main women, Judy and Debra, two of the most accomplished actresses in the business.
So it was like, to be honest, as soon as I knew who was in it, that’s why I was going to play the old guy if they asked. Really. It doesn’t get better than—so much depends on who the main actors are for a show to—and also, it’s funny because the writers said to me that, they said they loved writing for my character because it’s very kind of delightful.
And when you have, like, really good actors like those girls are, too, you know, it brings out the best in the writers, and that’s a wonderful sort of chemical reaction that happens to some of the most successful shows on TV. Same sort of chemistry. A friend of mine—Kelsey Grammer’s an old friend of mine, and you know, my god, his dry wit in Cheers.
I mean, the writers fed of that for years, and it just blossomed, and that’s really cool about—American television’s gotten so much better over the last 15 to 20 years because the writing is so good. Maybe some of the actors aren’t so good.

Do you think English perceptions of drinking problems are different than American perceptions?

DG: Totally. One of my closest friends, he was somewhat older than me. He was a famous playwright, and he died a couple of—about a month ago, and I went to his funeral in England. And he had nearly died from alcohol about ten years previously, and we were—and my wife came with me.
I have a lot of friends I hadn’t seen for 30 years or so. And English actors are famous drinkers, and we used to go the pub and drink during movie—you know, making a movie, and then doing our thing. There’s a huge refusal to believe that it’s a disease, which was true here many years ago, but now it’s an acknowledged thing in America’s, [to think] that it’s a disease.
And in London, it was rather like New York 35 years ago. They’re not—they’re almost there. You can feel it coming, but it’s still—it’s like, you know, some very close friends of mine. I would look at them. I’d realize—and they’d say, “Oh, yeah, you know, I’m probably an alcoholic, so I’m only drinking white wine.” You know, and I’d be like, “This is so bizarre.” So yeah, there’s a huge difference. It’s quite shocking.
The pub culture is something which we don’t have in America. It really is, you know, you’re either at home, in bed, or at work or at the pub. But yeah, there’s a difference.

Do have a dream sequence idea you kind of wanted to pitch for the show?

DG: God, I haven’t thought of that. The funny thing is, though, that I was in “Chariots of Fire,” and it’d be funny because that’s another sort of a genre. It’d be funny to do that, but there was a scene where I was in a swimming pool, and Judy would say, come on. Come on, out, out. As I was running, I started singing the Chariot song.
I thought, well, that was clever, you know. I wonder who will pick up that I was actually in it? And when I was in New York, they called me up to do ADR. They said, no, we got to have you sing something else. We can’t afford the rights to have you singing a movie I was fricking in. And I’ve still got the chapped legs from running on the beach, but that would be one that’d be kind of fun.

You bring Joan back to your home, and you have your stripper pole in your apartment.

DG: Oh, yeah, right, right, right.

And you do that quite naturally. Was that a talent?

DG: I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet. First of all, I thought it was—how—you know, how—who—that’s pushing it. Actually, I couldn’t—nothing—anything you see here is, you know, it’s out there. That was kind of fun. I just—you see a pole, you dance. I mean, you know.

You did a great job.

DG: Did I? Oh, thank you. My wife’s a dancer, too. And she said, “Is somebody going to like, you know, you’re the klutz in the family.” She said to me, “Is anyone going to help you with it?” I’m saying, no.