Exclusive: FRANKLIN & BASH’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar Interview

Mark-Paul Gosselaar

While Mark-Paul Gosselaar got his big break making people laugh as Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell, he has spent most of the last ten plus years in dramas ranging from NYPD Blue to his most recent series, TNT’s short-lived legal drama Raising the Bar. Starting June 1, Gosselaar will be back on TNT in the new legal comedy-drama FRANKLIN & BASH, playing suave, charming Peter Bash, an unorthodox attorney who, along with partner Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer), is recruited to a white shoe law firm where they must find a way to fit in without losing themselves or each other.

Daemon’s TV talked to Mark-Paul Gosselaar about why he chose a more comedic role, what we can expect from Franklin & Bash‘s first season, and the nude scene he has in the pilot.

I understand you were the first one cast on the show. Were you always meant to be Peter Bash or did you look at both roles?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: I think that I was always Peter Bash. When I was offered the role they had someone who was interested in playing Jared Franklin and they tossed my name into the hat to play Peter Bash. The other character fell through and then we went after Breckin Meyer.

What was it in the script that you were interested in playing?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: I thought the legal side of the script was very complex. I really liked the case. I thought that it was very well written. I knew the background of Kevin Falls and Bill Chais and thought that they were great, but also what I was really surprised about was how well the humor and the comedy element was weaved throughout the piece, as well as the strength and the relationship between the two guys and the bond that they have. I thought the banter was great and it was broad without being plastic, silly and in the courtroom it feels very strong. I thought that it appealed to a wide range of viewers.

You had been doing drama for years, so were you looking to get back into something light or was it just a coincidence?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: It was a happy coincidence. I’d come back from New York where I’d just finished a play that was a comedy and I enjoyed myself. I hadn’t done a comedy in over a decade and it was just a different muscle to use and I enjoyed the challenge and when I came back I was actually looking at other pilot scripts and comedies were available, but they’re just subjective and people have their own opinions about what’s funny and what’s not funny.

I had read some comedies, and I was like, ‘Yeah, they’re good,’ but they were nothing that I would attach myself to and then this came along. I knew the network and I was very excited to be working with TNT again and I knew the people behind it. When Breckin came onboard, that was the final trigger pull for me.

After ‘Raising the Bar’ did you have any hesitancy about playing a lawyer or again?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Oh, absolutely. I remember finishing with ‘Raising the Bar’ and looking at other shows that were sort of in the legal genre and I passed on a lot of them. I thought, ‘Well, jeez, now I’m doing a show for TNT that’s a legal drama?’ But again, looking at all the components that were with this project, it was hard to pass.

Breckin said you both clicked in the chemistry test, but that shooting the pilot in Atlanta that cemented the relationship we see onscreen. Do you agree?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Yeah, definitely. We spent two and a half weeks spending almost every hour together, minus the ones where we were sleeping and even that we tried to see if we could spoon, maybe every once in a while. A little cuddling here and there. I didn’t think his wife would mind. That really cemented the relationship that we had with each other, yeah. It was great. We’d be on the set and spend time there, and then we’d go back to the hotel and work on the next day’s work and figure out how to embellish the work that was on the page. I think that it really helped us throughout the pilot.

How would you describe Peter Bash in a single sentence?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Well, I’ve been using a confident attorney who’s an assassin in the courtroom with the precision of a surgeon with a jury.

And of Jared and Peter, who do you think would be better able to survive on his own, either in the law firm or just out in the world in life?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: I don’t think either of them have a weakness because they’re able to be chameleons in certain situations. When one is down the other one rises and vice versa. I don’t think one of them is the straight man and one of them is the funny guy or that one of them is the sort of loose cannon. We have our moments and it’s a yin and yang, but I don’t know which one is the yin or the yang or the equation. I like that about this. I like the fact that it’s not like, ‘He’s the Laurel and he’s the Hardy.’ I think that gets boring. That’s a boring way and I think that would be lazy actors and lazy of the writers to create characters like that. I think these are much more complex characters.

What can you tease about what we’ll see in the first season?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Just the progression of the characters and working with an environment that is a little more uptight and stuffy than what they’re used to. Franklin & Bash, they have a firm in their house and working in a white shoe firm, their patriarch being Malcolm McDowell and seeing how they stay true to being Franklin and Bash, yet working in a much more aggressive and more powerful environment.

Are there any scenes or episodes coming up that you especially likedl?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: I really like episode three which was called ‘Jennifer of Troy’. I thought that was a really strong episode. Really, all of them. All of them have a special place for us. I felt that we really, this season, tried many different things and we stayed true to the structure of the show, but definitely pushed the envelope in some directions, trying to find what we could do this season. I hope that continues. I don’t think any of our episodes were like the other ones. That made it challenging for us as well as feeling that every week we get a new script and there wasn’t a thumb over us telling us that we had to be a certain way. Especially in the first season, you kind of want to take those chances and see where it lands you. I think it’s going to be a good first season.

You’re very nude in the pilot, which, of course, is getting a lot of attention. Is that ever easy to shoot?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: No. I would rather not shoot those scenes ever again, but it was part of the character. That particular scene was difficult because it was just me. Usually, like the one on ‘Weeds’ I had Mary Louise Parker to use as a sort of human shield, to cover up areas. It’s a little easier when you have a partner in crime. That was just me, standing there in front of all the hundreds of crew members and extras and whatnot. So that was pretty difficult. But I thought that it was to prove a point with the character. I thought it stayed true to the character. I didn’t think that it was frivolous. I thought that it was needed. I stood behind, no pun intended, the decision to shoot that scene.

Will you be making a habit of that in this series or is that just in the pilot?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: No, I don’t think so. We do scenes in the hot tub, but nothing as graphic as that. That was just to prove a point of who Peter Bash was, I think. You get a pretty good sense of his character.

You’ve been working a long time. Is it ever possible to guess if a show is going to connect with viewers?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Never. I mean, we have a good buzz behind this show and it seems like we have an audience that’s ready to go on our journey, but you never know. We had a huge opening for ‘Raising the Bar’. We had over seven million viewers and the next week we had five million and the week after that we had three. We settled into a very comfortable number, but you never know. Who knows why shows are a success. I would enjoy watching this show. When Breckin and I sit down and watch the rough cuts we really enjoy watching them and that’s a first for me, to enjoy watching myself. But I have no idea what makes a show last and what doesn’t.

It looks like everyone is having a good time and that has to count for something, right?

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: Yes, and that’s really important for the projects that I’m a part of. I would always like to see everyone have a good time, whether it’s a comedy or drama. I think particularly for a comedy, if you’re having a good time on the set it’s going to translate to having a good time on the show and the viewers are going to pick up on that as well. That’s the case here. The crew is one hundred percent behind us, as well as the actors and we had a great time. You’re spending more time on the set than you are with your own family and your own friends. So you better like the people that are surrounding you. So that was important, especially, like I said, for a comedy. If you’re having a good time it’s going to translate onscreen.

Franklin & Bash premieres on TNT Wednesday, June 1 at 9pm eastern/8 central.

You can read all our Franklin & Bash coverage here.