THE WAR ON TELEVISION
by JAY S. JACOBS
Michael Rapaport is one of the best color guys in show business. It’s rare that he gets the lead role, but when a director needs a legitimate, colorful, smart working-class guy for the second or third role, they dial up Rapaport. He has been the punch-drunk boxer who dates Mira Sorvino in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, controversial teacher Danny Hanson on Boston Public, Will Smith’s best friend in Hitch, a screwed up college recruit in Higher Learning, Schwarzenneger’s sidekick in The 6th Day, a green rookie in Cop Land, and dozens of other roles.
Now Rapaport is trading in his supporting status and stepping front and center on the new Fox sitcom The War at Home. Rapaport plays Dave, a father in his late thirties who must try to deal with the new realities of family life in an amped-up modern world. Handed the plum Sunday timeslot between The Simpsons and Family Guy, the show is fast-tracked by the net to be a new smash. A few days before the series is set to debut, Rapaport spoke with us about his career and his new project.
How did you first get involved in acting?
I was a stand-up comic. I started out in stand-up comedy. That got me more into acting. Then I stopped doing stand-up comedy and continued acting.
You’ve worked with some of the great directors and writers in show business – Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Richard Price, Quentin Tarantino, David E. Kelley – does it ever amaze you that you are getting to work with such talented people?
Yeah, I’m always very impressed and humbled that I’ve been able to work with the kind of people that I’ve been able to work with. But, when I’m working with them I leave the fan at home. I come to work as a professional. I think if you go into something looking at people as better than you, if you give people too much respect, I don’t think it benefits you or them. It’s like when you’re playing basketball; when you’re a rookie, you have to play the veterans as hard as you could, even though you may have grown up watching them. When you play them, you have to as hard as you would anybody else.
Your first movie, Zebrahead became a real cult film. Were you surprised at the time by the reaction?
Yeah. At the time I was surprised by anything. It was all so new to me. I didn’t know anything about Sundance Film Festival or that kind of thing. So the whole thing was just a big surprise, because I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Two of my favorite movies that you were in both came out in 1995 — Mighty Aphrodite and the criminally overlooked Kiss of Death. What were those films like to work on?
They were great experiences. Obviously, working with Woody was a great experience. I was fortunate to be able to work with him again on Small Time Crooks. But at the time it was very exciting and a lot of fun. It was a great opportunity. I learned a lot from him.
After working in film for so many years, how did you get involved in Boston Public?
I just got approached by David Kelley about doing the part. I read the scripts and liked it. I took the opportunity. I felt it was the best thing to do. It was the best opportunity, to be on that kind of show and the character was really good. The character had a lot of colors and I really enjoyed doing it. That kind of kicked me off as far as maybe doing something else, which turned into The War at Home.
Even on Boston Public, like the films, you filmed on a closed set. I believe The War at Home is the first time you have filmed in front of a live audience. How is that different for you?
You get a lot of energy from the audience. Also, the audience will dictate what’s funny and what’s not funny. Sometimes things that you think are funny, they might not fly in front of the audience. Sometimes things that you would have never even thought would be funny [get a huge reaction], which is obviously the more positive result. It’s a great thing because all week you’re rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing, and when you get in front of that live audience to perform; the energy that you get when they receive you well is like nothing else. It’s so much fun. It’s very electric.
What attracted you to The War at Home?
I just loved the writing. I love the honesty of the writing. I love the style of humor. It’s really interesting to me. I like that it’s sort of offsetting; it keeps you off balance. You never really know what’s going to come out of their mouths. I really like that. I like that the show has heart. It’s not about a family that doesn’t want to be together and a couple that doesn’t want to be together. They’ve been together for a long time. They’re in it for the long haul. They love their kids. Although, they make comments about it, I think that the character, Dave, would have it no other way. He’d be nothing without his wife and his kids.
Why is it that people of our generation have so much harder a time with being parents?
I think just the opportunities to go out and do things, the Internet and traveling and all that kind of thing. I think that the family has taken a back seat to people living their lives and thinking they’re young. They say forty is the new thirty. Thirty was kind of the time when you became an adult not so long ago. Now they’re saying forty is the new time when you become an adult. It’s just a different time. It’s evolution.
In a lot of ways, the pilot sort of reminded me of Married: With Children, in that the parents really aren’t sure what they are doing with the kids and there are no group hugs and lessons learned. In fact you often wonder if this family really likes each other, but you know they do love each other. It’s a hard juggling act for an actor to pull off. How is the cast to work with?
The rest of the cast is good. Anita Barone plays my wife. She’s a lot of fun to work with. I have a lot of respect for her. We’ve both been very supportive of each other, so that’s a good environment. The kids are great, Kyle (Sullivan), Dean (Collins) and Kaylee (DeFer); they’re just a lot of fun. They’re all very talented. They’re young, but they’re all very professional. They’ve been working for a long time. They’re just interesting young people who I enjoy being around.
Speaking of interesting young people, there is Kyle’s character. I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I’d have done anything to not have my parents think I was gay. Why do you think your son in the show would prefer to be thought of as gay than to get grounded for borrowing the car without permission?
I think it’s just an interesting quirk in the character. It’s just a different take on things. Some of that may have come from (writer) Rob Lotterstein’s personal life, personal experiences and all that sort of thing. It’s just a different way to tell a story. A different angle to approach things.
Not that I’m complaining or anything, but have you noticed that they never do a sitcom where a father has an unattractive teenage daughter?
Why do you think it’s so interesting to have a father trying to keep his beautiful daughter pure?
True. I don’t know, I think it’s a theme that every… It’s kind of like a fantasy kind of thing. Every parent’s worst nightmare is to have a sixteen year-old daughter who is beautiful and sort of discovering her sexuality. I think it plays for good conflict.
Are you afraid you’ll become known as the guy who called Mary Tyler Moore a bitch on TV (in a joke in the pilot episode)?
Nah, I didn’t even think about that. That might happen, but I think that… I really believe in the show, so whatever people take to. I feel that the show is quotable, in the early stages. There are so many interesting things being said by the characters. The different points of view are so interesting. I think that people are going to dig it. Hopefully, they’ll take it with a little grain of salt and won’t look too far into it.
Well, I’ve only seen the pilot so far, what can we expect from the show in the future?
There’s a whole thing about sex stuff on the internet. My character gets caught playing around on the internet, doing some bad things. Kyle, the would-be gay son, that whole thing kind of plays itself out. There are definitely things dealing with race and Dave’s discomfort with his daughter dating a black kid. Meeting his family, that’s a very funny episode. We did one that deals with a missing stash of marijuana in the house. That was a lot of fun.
You got a really good time slot, after The Simpsons on Sunday nights, so Fox must believe in you.
Yeah. I think they do.
With so much tragedy going on in the world, like the Gulf Coast floods which happened recently, how do you think a comedy like yours can help people?
I think that the comedies are just for that. They are to give people laughs. For entertainment. Sometimes they can spur dialogue. The thing that I think The War at Home does is that I think it will make people talk. Although it’s not Sixty Minutes, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s not a very, very serious show, but I think the weighty issues are dealt with. We can promote dialogue. Other than that, it’s just about entertaining and making people laugh.
While doing Boston Public, you also continued to make films on the side. Now that you are the lead character of a series, which is such hard, time-consuming work, do you plan to continue taking movie roles or are you going to concentrate on the series?
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m looking forward to doing some stuff when I’m not working, and even maybe squeezing something in while I’m doing the show. Movies will always be a part of my life. They’ll always be something I’ll do, as long as I continue to get the opportunities. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve made like 40-something movies and movies aren’t going to go anywhere. At this time, I need to try something different and try something new and refreshing, where I get to sort of stand in the front.
Yeah, I noticed on your filmography that you’ve done 55 movie and TV roles in less than 15 years. That’s pretty amazing. What’s it like working so much?
It’s been a real whirlwind, but I’ve been able to learn a tremendous amount of stuff from a lot of great people, a lot of great experiences. I’m really fortunate to have done all that stuff. I’m looking forward to continuing to do the show and other new stuff that will come my way.
Ideally, how would you like for people to look back on your career?
Look at somebody who gave his all when he was in front to the camera. Someone who tried to depict people in an honest way. Someone who had a little bit of versatility. And someone who maintained his integrity throughout his career.
Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
Yeah. Sometimes people think I’m dumber than I am because of the characters that I play. But it takes a genius to play a fool.
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Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 10, 2005.