Ed Weeks interview for The Mindy Project
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When Ed Weeks, a talented but struggling 30-something actor and writer, left his native London to seek his fortune in LA last year, most people he knew were confident he’d be back within a couple of months, a few thousand pounds worse off. Instead, Weeks secured something of a fairy story ending, landing a major role in a hugely anticipated network sitcom. Now, that sitcom, The Mindy Project, is transmitting on E4.
Here, the handsome and charming Mr Weeks expounds on his life-changing audition, working with one of America’s rising stars, and his go-to karaoke number.
You star in The Mindy Project on E4. What’s the concept, and who do you play?
It’s based around a 30-something female gynaecologist, played by Mindy Kaling, who was one of the writers and stars of the US version of The Office. The show centres around her trying to square her professional life with her slightly messy personal life. It’s set in New York, and we all share a gynaecologists’ office. I play a fellow OB?GYN called Dr Jeremy Reed, who is a bit of a Hugh Grant-ish mischievous rascal.
You landed the role soon after moving to America. How did that happen?
I actually went to America with the intention of being a writer. I went and I sold a script to CBS – a half-hour sitcom pilot. Then I came back to England and wrote it for six rather cold, bleak months in winter, and then went back to LA in January to discover its fate, to discover they weren’t moving forward with it. But by then I had a working visa, off the back of the script I’d sold, which meant that I could audition for pilot season. So I thrust myself into the heady world of pilot season, where you’re auditioning for three or four pilots a day, and your head is stuffed with lines from all sorts of different genres of show. And The Mindy Project just seemed so different and fresh.
What was it that felt different about it?
As somebody British, it really appealed to my sensibility. It’s not like your standard US network sitcom. Normally, in American sitcoms, the lead character has to have an amazing job and be super-likeable, whereas in the UK our sitcom heroes tend to be more flawed – your David Brents and Basil Fawlties and Edmund Blackadders. We like to laugh in the dark a bit more. But right away in the Mindy pilot, she gets really wasted at her exes wedding, cycles into a pool, goes to jail, has casual hook-ups, all that sort of thing, while all the time also being a doctor. It just seemed to be so refreshing to have a main character, not to mention a female protagonist, who was flawed in that way. It’s really unusual to have a woman in a role like that in a Network sitcom. So I really responded to the script.
Your role wasn’t initially written as a Brit, was he?
No, he was written as an American ‘Bradley Cooper-type’, weirdly. But I’d had enough of auditioning with my slightly pseudy American accent, so my roommate at the time said “Just go in and be British, and maybe that will help clinch it.” So I tried it British, and the casting director really liked it. So I was called back in that afternoon to read with Mindy. There was a bit of the script where Mindy and I were making out, and I had to throw some birth control at her. I brought a condom – obviously an unused one – and I threw it at the casting director’s face, and there was an awkward beat. And Mindy said in a very flat voice “That was hilarious!” Without laughing. And I thought I’d potentially just fucked up my entire career in America. I was internally planning my trip home, but it turned out they liked me, and I ended up getting the part. And the rest is just a complete blur.
Did they change Jeremy’s character at all, when he became a Brit?
They did, yes. The language became a bit more florid and the writers asked me a lot about my background. My dad was in the military, so he moved around a lot. I went to boarding school when I was seven. I went to Cambridge University. So these are things that they added in to the character. They added in a liberal dose of pomposity as well.
Is there much room for improvisation on the show?
A lot of people on the show have a real improv background. Mindy and Mike [Mike Barinholtz, who plays Morgan Tookers] are both amazing at it, so we’ll do the scene as written a few times, and then the director will say “Okay, now let’s try some improve”. And it’s a very generous, welcoming cast, so you don’t feel intimidated. And often you’ll get the funniest stuff when you’re just playing around.
Do you find it difficult not to laugh in that sort of situation?
We corpse all the time. And one of the worst offenders – which is so weird, because he seems so together and gruff when you watch him on camera – is Chris Messina, who plays Dr Danny Castellano. He has this really infectious, childlike giggle. Once he starts, once something tickles him, he’s gone. He won’t even attempt to hide it at all. I will try and laugh behind my hand or turn my face. He will just openly laugh, ruining the take. Everybody else is trying to keep professional, and he’s just wetting himself. But we’re all guilty of it, it can be so tough not to laugh. Ike, especially, is such a funny improviser – that’s his background, and he’ll just take your breath away with some of the things he says. Sometimes you can watch the episodes and sort of see the corner of Mindy’s mouth go upwards, or see someone turn away – sometimes it just stays in the edit.
How has this role changed your life?
This has been something that I never, ever, ever thought would happen. I still wake up and pinch myself. I had ten great years in London, and I wrote on a number of shows – I wrote on Man Stroke Woman, I wrote for a show called Clone, I did lots of stuff for Radio 4. And I did guest spots – one of my proudest ones was a spot on The IT Crowd, because I’m such a huge fan of Graham Linehan and all those guys. But I always thought I’d eke out a bit of a living from this, but I’d have to do other stuff as well. I was beginning to give up hope that anything big would happen. I think that’s what gave me the courage to think “Sod it, I’ll see what happens in LA.” So many actors go to LA, and when you say you’re going there for pilot season, the reaction tends to be “Oh really? See you in a couple of weeks, with a lot less money.” But I just had a real sense that I had nothing to lose. And now, my life is incredibly different. I wake up every morning in this great apartment in the middle of Hollywood, surrounded by Palm Trees and Hummingbirds and there’s a pool and it’s sunny, and I drive to work every morning on the Universal lot where they shot Desperate Housewives and Back to the Future. It’s wild. But I had ten lean years, so I realise that it might all end tomorrow. And if it did, I’ve had the best year ever, and I’ve learned a lot and met some amazing people.
How do you divide your time between LA and London.
I’ll always love London, and I’ll always come back here. It’s my city. But this is the first time I’ve been back to London in a year. The schedule on The Mindy Project is pretty intense. You do one episode a week, and you do three weeks on and one week off. And in that week off, you’re just trying to find time to do admin or go to the gym or wash your underwear. And LA to London is a long way to come back for five or six days. But now we’re having a proper hiatus between seasons, I really wanted to come back for a couple of weeks.
Mindy Kaling is a really big deal in the US, isn’t she?
She really is, yeah, a huge deal. I knew about her already, because I’m a massive comedy geek. I’m the kind of person who watches the end credits of every single show, and IMDBs everybody, and spends too much time on Wikipedia, and has very little sex as a result. But yeah, she is amazing. She was one of the youngest writers on The Office, and one of the only females, and definitely the only Indian-American on that team. Within a couple of months, apparently all these older, Harvard-educated white men were deferring to her. She’s been nominated for an Emmy, she was given a role in the show, which was then expanded. She has become a real role model for young women – she’s not your traditional super glossy, super skinny, Aryan type that you find in celebrity magazines. She has 2 million Twitter followers. She’s written an incredible book called Is Everybody hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns) – it’s an amazingly funny bunch of essays. She’s like a young Tina Fey. It’s crazy. You hang out with Mindy in LA and Katy Perry will come up and say hi, or Lena Dunham will come up and say hi. She knows everybody, and everybody is in awe of her. She made Time’s list of the 100 most influential people this year. And she’s a super-cool person, and I’m really proud to call her my friend.
You do all seem to get on really well as a cast. Is it true you all went out and got drunk together and did Karaoke before you filmed the pilot?
Yes, exactly. It was, in retrospect, a really great thing. When people are drunk, singing Islands in the Stream at the top of their voice at 2am in a weird Korean karaoke place, pissed on sake, there’s not much you can hide. So it really helped us get to know each other. Mindy does a very good Islands in the Stream. I did an acceptable Africa, by Toto, which tends to be my go-to number. It was really, really fun. Chris Messina did not come. He often doesn’t join us on our nights out. We always imagine he’s at home watching On the Waterfront or reading biographies of Al Pacino, or stabbing himself in the arm so he can use the pain for his method acting the next day. That’s what we always tease him about, being so serious – although, as I’ve said, he’s really just a big giggling girl. And that’s another great thing about Mindy – even though she’s this super-successful icon for so many people, she will just act like your dirty-minded friend who loves to have a good time. You imagine on American TV shows there will be this crazy hierarchy where nobody is allowed to look anybody in the eye and it’s very separate. That is definitely not the case with Mindy. She’s just one of the guys.
How has the show gone down in the US?
It’s done really well. T’s always nerve-wracking, especially for a US network show, because there’s so much money at stake, it’s a real business over there. Our premiere had pretty good numbers, and we were on after New Girl – weirdly it’s the same on E4. In America and here, New Girl is on at 9pm on a Tuesday, we’re on at 9:30pm. Anyway, it had lots of advanced hype and people seemed to respond to it really well. It was a tough year for ratings in the US last year – people’s viewing habits are changing – a lot of people, especially with sitcoms, tend to DVR them. People don’t tend to watch that sort of stuff live any more. I know that what I do is tape sitcoms, then watch them in a marathon session one Sunday when I’m hungover. So everything was down this year, in terms of ratings, so we had a few hairy weeks where we weren’t sure which way it was going to go. But then, I think about three episodes in, Kevin Reilly, who’s Head of Fox, picked us up for the full 22 episodes (we’d initially we’d only had 13 episodes ordered). So that was an amazing vote of confidence. Then we got picked up for a further two a few weeks later, and then, a couple of months ago, Mindy got the call that we were being picked up for the second season. By that time, the show had really found its audience. And the critics really love it.