Despite their immediate on-screen chemistry as comic foils on the new NBC comedy “Mr. Mayor,” Ted Danson and Holly Hunter didn’t know each other prior to working on the show.
“I run in shallower circles then Holly,” Danson jokes. “At the Golden Globes, she’s sitting in the movie section I’m down in the TV section.”
In this bonus episode of the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, Danson and Hunter talk about their starring roles in “Mr. Mayor,” including their give and take, learning how to perform the rapid-fire jokes that are the hallmark of a Tina Fey and Robert Carlock script. They also share what it’s like to work in quarantine, and Danson, who plays the mayor of Los Angeles in the series, reveals whether he has any political aspirations of his own. Listen to the podcast below:
Originally conceived by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock as a “30 Rock” spinoff of sorts, with Alec Baldwin resurrecting his character Jack Donaghy, “The Mayor” eventually morphed into the latest vehicle for television icon Danson.
Danson plays Neil Bremer, a retired business tycoon who decides to run for Los Angeles mayor on a whim. And he wins, much to the chagrin of his own daughter, as well as city council member Arpi Meskamin, played by Hunter.
“I remember being happily astounded that Holly was going to do this,” Danson says. “It just kind of made the entire show that I had just been reading and imagining all of a sudden come roaring into focus knowing that Holly was going to be playing Arpi.”
It’s Hunter’s first sitcom role, and she’s relishing the chance to do something different, while having fun verbally sparring on camera with Danson.
“Ted has the most sophisticated instincts and intuitions for comedy,” Hunter says. “So when Ted ever speaks up, about blocking, about the words, about when sentences are being spoken, props, where we are in the room, all that stuff, I listen. Because his intuitions are unerring. I’ve never done a sitcom. It is a different thing. So it was scary. Now it’s no longer scary. And I just continue to watch and listen to what Ted’s instincts are.”
Much like “30 Rock” or Danson’s previous series, “The Good Place,” the show also relies on an ensemble cast that includes Bobby Moynihan, as press secretary Jayden, as well as Vella Lovell and Mike Cabellon as Bremer’s staff members and Kyla Kenedy as the mayor’s daughter.
“They’re such wonderful nimble actors and they are being written by Tina and Robert,” Danson says. “What’s wonderful is when you have a cast of five or six people that the writers can write to each one of them, and have them be able to carry a story. And I think that’s where we’re headed by the end of season one.”
Given how loaded with jokes “Mr. Mayor” is, Danson compares working on “Mr. Mayor” to downhill skiing: “Much like if you’re on a very steep hill, you have one choice, point your skis down, and ski it as fast and as well as you can.,” he says. “And if you try to sit back a little bit, you fall, and I think it’s a little bit like that. You just have to trust, you have to really know your words, and then kind of joyfully leap off the cliff.”
Adds Hunter: “Ted and I talked about it, I said, ‘Hey, so the jokes go by really fast.’ And I was like, ‘Do we hold for any of them?’ Ted was like, ‘No, no, no. You feel the wind in your hair, you move on.'”
Asked why he was eager to get back on another sitcom so soon after “The Good Place,” Danson quips, “My hair. I figure I have about three more years with this hair. So, you know, milk it.”
Hunter, meanwhile, was drawn to the mystery of her character. “I think that she’s difficult to get a real handle on, it’s one of the things that I love about her on the page immediately is like, What does she stand for?” Hunter says. “There’s a lot of contradictions. And as the show goes on, they really make the contradictions manifest in kind of very, sometimes shocking ways, but mainly surprising. I love that while she can be very condemning, she’s also kind of enlightening.”
It’s that back-and-forth that brings up the question of chemistry. “My fix on chemistry is two relatively competent actors with magical words,” Danson says. “The joy of performing it together that makes for chemistry. And Holly is one of those actors that it’s, the old metaphor ‘If you’re playing tennis with somebody way better than you, your game improves.’ So, everybody’s game improved.”
The two also had the opportunity to hone their characters’ relationships while doing some reshoots on the first episodes, which also allowed for more sharp, topical jokes — including some that reference the pandemic.
“We’re afraid that Tina and Robert actually might suck if they have a normal shooting schedule,” jokes Danson. “Maybe they need all this time.”
As for whether Danson might consider a career in politics, despite his passion and advocacy for issues like the environment, he’s fine just playing the mayor on TV.
“One big nope,” he says. “I love that I’m playing the mayor of LA. I love that I live in LA. I love that I’m learning, maybe not necessarily through the scripts, but I am more aware of LA, we all are, of the sadness and the suffering and the issues and the problems. But no, I take a vote to cross the street. I’m not that political leader. I love to kibitz. I don’t want to be the one writing the rules.”
“Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast,” hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.