Just Another Day in Paradise Cove
by Jay S. Jacobs
Nice beachfront property in Malibu is very hard to come by, but Paradise Cove takes that hunt to an extreme.
The new owners of this beach house are Knox (Todd Grinnell, who has played Schneider in the One Day at a Time reboot) and Tracy (Mena Suvari, of the unofficial American trilogy – American Beauty, American Pie and American Horror Story). The house had been bequeathed to Knox by his late, estranged mother. They move into the house with their beloved dog to rebuild and resell it. Tracy is also spending their time there to see a fertility doctor.
It’s definitely a fixer upper. In fact, it was nearly gutted in the fire that killed Knox’s mom. However, it has great bones and a view to die for. And Knox is a builder, so he decides to uproot his family, gamble his nest egg, hire some contractors and rebuild it and then flip the house and make a small fortune. Of course, you find out quickly that Knox is willing to stretch some zoning laws and look away from some slightly shady areas of his potential personal fortune.
However, every dream house has a nightmare, and this one’s nightmare is Bree – played by actress/model Kristin Bauer van Straten (True Blood, Once Upon a Time and… my personal favorite credit… Jerry’s girlfriend with “man hands” in a classic episode of Seinfeld). Bree is a forty-something former model and Hollywood wife who claims that Knox’s mother stole the house from her. Now she is squatting in the sand underneath the home’s stilts – safe from the elements and with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean – and she absolutely refuses to leave. She also is… umm… rather eccentric, in ways that become more and more alarming as the film goes on.
Paradise Cove was a challenge for star Todd Grinnell. Though he has done drama over the years, he is best known for TV comedy, particularly for four years in his breakthrough role as needy landlord/handyman Schneider in the reboot of the classic 70s sitcom One Day at a Time. Grinnell feels right at home in a thriller, playing an ordinary, mostly good but flawed man who is thrown in way over his head in some very dangerous waters, eventually getting into a battle royale with his unwelcome houseguest.
A week before Paradise Cove was released for On Demand purchasing, we caught up with Grinnell. (Well, by phone, no in person interviews these days.) It was a tough day for the actor – his wife, actress/musician India de Beaufort (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, One Day at a Time) was out of town working and Grinnell was in charge of their kid, and also, they had just gotten some scary COVID-19 news about a family member. However, Grinnell was a trouper and gave a very personable interview, telling me all about Paradise Cove, One Day at a Time, “Insane Duane” and life in the strange new world.
What was it about the script for Paradise Cove that intrigued you?
It’s just such fun. I really love thrillers. My wife doesn’t always love scary, intense movies. Sometimes she’ll say, “I want to do something else tonight. I’m going to go draw in my room,” or something. And I’ll be like, “Oh, great, because I want to go watch this really scary, intense movie on a Friday night.” It just really struck a chord with me. It felt like all these awesome classic thrillers that we’ve all watched, and always enjoy. I love that.
And I love the character. I love the idea that Knox is a guy who’s just trying to do better for his family. He gets a break where he gets left this fixer upper – in Malibu, of all places. It’s like winning the lottery, especially since he’s a contractor. Then he starts to fall apart. He gets pushed to the brink. You get to see what you would do in that situation.
For me, it was kind of exciting to think about that.
Well, it’s like you said in a lot of ways, Knox is a very good man. But he does have his issues too.
Like, sometimes he took his wife for granted and he didn’t really seem to care all that much that his mother may have stolen the house from Bree. Then when people are falling dead, he was thinking more about himself than what was happening around him.
In what ways was the character difficult for you to reach as an actor? In what ways would you say the character was sort of like you?
That’s a great question. Like I just said, there’s a part of him that’s a guy who’s just trying to do good for his family. The part that I think is different from me, that is something that I really had to think about and work on, was the disregard for everyone to just get what you want. Which is a tough thing. I’m not the guy who steps on someone to get to the top, at all.
I can see that.
(laughs) Clearly Knox has a little bit of that in him, from his mom. Clearly, he learned that from his mom. That’s something that he brought into his life. He just put these blinders on. He said, “Okay, somebody’s losing out when I’m winning here, but I’m not going to look at that.” Then eventually, as the movie goes on it became, “Well, somebody just died. But I’m not going to look at that. I’m going to keep going to get what I need.” There was a little bit of that that was there was interesting to play with, that I don’t normally think about in my daily life. (laughs again)
I interviewed Mena about a decade ago for another movie, and it was very nice to see her in the role of your wife. What was she like to work with?
She was so great. I loved working with Mena and Kristin. The three of us had a blast together. It was so fun. We got to shoot all over the place. We shot in Malibu and we shot a lot of it down in Long Beach. Both Mena and Kristin are just so fully committed and so passionate about what they’re doing. It just elevates you. Made me a better actor. We just had so much fun.
Most of the time when people find that they have been homicidal, insane squatters staying in their house, she isn’t a former model. Did you ever have any trouble sort of picturing Kristin as a homeless person? As someone who was crazy and dangerous?
No. It’s funny, because before the movie started, I didn’t know her, but I knew of her. As I’m reading in the script, I said, “How is she going to play a deranged homeless woman who has been living on the streets for years?” It’s interesting, because I think people have a preconceived idea of what that character might look like, physically. Obviously, Kristin is a beautiful lady. That’s not necessarily the image that you conjure up when you think of that character, but the way that she played it, and how committed she was, it just all made sense. I had no trouble, once we got on set going, “Oh, you are this deranged woman who’s trying to take our house away from us.” She just was so, so committed. [She] created such a deep character that you just saw it in her eyes. It was quite something.
You had mentioned how fun it was working in Malibu. Obviously, the house was in bad condition after the fire. But with that view, and when it was all fixed up, it was an amazing place. I once stayed in a home quite like that in Malibu. I loved it there. What was it like to film there and see the place coming together? I’m sure that they just messed it up for the film. Also, just to be able to go to different places around Malibu, like you said.
Yeah, it was great. We actually shot in a couple different places. I mean, there’s a soundstage in Long Beach where we recreated the outside of the house. Then we shot at a house on the beach in Malibu, for some of it, and then we also shot at a house in the Hollywood Hills, for some of the interiors. We’re kind of all over the place. But, in the house that we shot where you walk in, and it’s obviously it had been on fire [in the movie] and it was just a mess. It was crazy because that’s somebody’s home that we’re shooting in. I walked in, and I said, “Oh, my God, I cannot believe these people let us do this to their house. We’ve just destroyed this place.” Then, of course, by the end, I said, “Oh, this house is gorgeous.” It is amazing what our set and design team did to bring it back to life. But yeah, the first time I saw the house, and we shot all those scenes, and it was already in that state. So, it was pretty amazing transformations. Big kudos to the team.
Now this is just me, but I can deal with humans getting killed in horror movies. But when she goes after the dog, that was just a little bit too far for me. It seemed in the movie that the people Malibu gave Bree a lot of slack – the cops and everyone like that. Granted, she had a tough life. Still, don’t you think that the cops should have taken some more notice of the things that you and your character Knox and Tracy were complaining about?
Well, yeah. You would think. You would want that. You’re begging for that when you watch the movie. (laughs) You’re wishing that these cops would take it more seriously.
At the same time, it’s a testament to how great that character was written, in the sense that she really knew how to get away with things. There’s no way to prove that she had me inadvertently kill our dog. She was just very crafty. It was a well-written character in that sense, but the parts where the police and different authorities came in, they wrote that very well too. She knew how to skirt around the system.
She sure did.
Also, the laws in beach towns are kind of open sometimes in terms of who gets to walk where and sleep where. There is only so much the authorities can do. She knew how to work the system, for sure, which is ultimately super frustrating for Knox. (chuckles) That’s the part that drives you insane.
Between Knox and Schneider, you’re getting known for playing a lot of property owners/handyman workers.
That’s true. (laughs)
Are you good at that type of work? Do you ever do any kind of carpentry or building or anything?
I do. Yeah, I do a lot. I’m a pretty decent amateur carpenter. I do a lot of work around the house. I built a big shed outside my house, earlier on in the pandemic time. I just I installed our stone patios. I do love working with my hands. I love building things. I stop at plumbing and electrical, because that’s when I feel like I can really do some damage to the house. But yeah, I do. I love it. If I could just build stuff all day, I would.
I know, you said that you’re a big fan of thrillers as the audience. But before I’ve mostly seen you doing comedy on TV. I know you’d have done other dramas as well. But was it fun to do something a little bit more serious and scarier with the film? Did you enjoy taking that kind of a role on?
I did. Yeah, I did. I really did. It was nice. It’s definitely completely different from what I’ve been doing for the last four or five years on One Day at a Time. So, it was a nice break in our TV show schedule, to go off while we had a few months off, just do something totally different. I would definitely love to do more of it. But I also love comedy. I mean, that’s where my heart is. I find myself (laughs) when I’m doing something dramatic when the scene ends, and they yell cut, then I make a joke, you know? It’s hard for me to escape making something funny.
Like you mentioned, One Day at a Time, you’ve had four seasons. It’s actually one of the rare shows that got a second chance. After leaving Netflix, it went on to Pop TV. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, the fourth season got cut in half. Is there a chance that there will be a fifth season?
No. Yeah, they announced that. We found that out in December, right before the holidays. Obviously, everybody was heartbroken to see this show end. But at the same time, excited about this stuff on the horizon as well. I think everybody wishes that we could have finished, at least finish the season to have some closure to the family. I feel like the show deserves that. It’s a tough, tough situation. We weren’t the only show that fell victim to the times that we’re living in right now. It was unfortunate, but we’re all still super close. In fact, I just got off the phone with Rita [Moreno]. We were talking about this new documentary that came out about her [Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It] which is amazing. The Alverez’s are finished, but the rest of the One Day at a Time family is still very much with each other and just grateful. We got so much, so many seasons. It was the highlight of my career for sure.
What was it like to work with legends like Rita and Norman Lear? The rest of the cast was great too, including your wife, though, she was only in the later seasons. What was it like to be part of the show?
It was a dream. It was literally a dream come true. Norman Lear has been my hero, for many reasons, for a long, long time. I grew up watching all of his shows, I mean, on reruns, probably. But just to be able to call him a friend and collaborator and work with him. It’s just one of the great honors of my career in my life. The same with Rita. My whole life growing up watching her in things and she’s just incredible to work with. The same with Justina [Machado] and Isabella [Gomez], Marcel [Ruiz] and Stephen [Tobolowsky]. We all just loved each other. It’s not often that you get to work on something where everybody loves everybody. You have your own individual relationships with each cast member that’s as strong as all the other relationships. Just a ton of respect and beautiful collaboration and support, personally and professionally. It was definitely, definitely a dream come true.
Now, you directed an episode of One Day at a Time as well. Is that something you would like to explore more?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve been really sort of training for the first couple of seasons. I’ve been shadowing every director that came on the show and studying under Phill Lewis and Pam Fryman, who directed a lot of our episodes, and they really were key in mentoring me and showing me the ropes. Eventually, when we got to season three, I approached Mike [Royce] and Gloria [Calderón Kellett], our show runners. I said I would really love to pitch myself to direct an episode. They were so supportive and loving. [They] let me direct an episode and I just loved it. It was great. I’m definitely looking to direct more. I was supposed to direct the two episodes after we came back, but we didn’t. (laughs) We did six episodes. I was supposed to direct episode eight of the past season, which obviously I never got to direct. That was a bummer. But yeah, I’m definitely pursuing directing jobs. And looking forward to doing it a lot more.
You just mentioned Pam Fryman. One of the first times I remember seeing you was when you were on How I Met Your Mother.
Oh, Insane Duane. (laughs)
Yeah, exactly. What was that set like to be on?
Oh, my God. If a set could be a warm hug, that’s what How I Met Your Mother was. It’s tough sometimes coming on as a guest star. You’re there for a week. That’s a big machine of people who’ve worked together for years and years. It’s like being dinner guests at a party full of people who’ve known each other since they were kids. That’s sometimes how it feels. But when I walked onto that set, it felt like I worked there forever. There was a familiarity and a familial aspect or feeling to that set that was just so warm and inviting and supportive. It was great. It was really super fun. Everybody was so funny. I think a lot of that has to do with the cast and the creators, but also Pam. Every set that she works on feels that way. It all comes from the top. She is just the most supportive and loving and fun and easy person in the world. So talented and smart. If she’s if she’s at the helm, then that’s what you need.
I was reading that you have another film coming up called The Time Capsule. What can you tell us about that?
I do. Yeah. That’s a great movie. It’s very different from Paradise Cove. It’s a beautiful movie. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s a love story that takes place in the future. I don’t know if it’s really sci fi, but there’s a bit of a sci fi element to it. Obviously, the title Time Capsule we’re dealing with so you can tell there’s an element of time travel in there. It’s just a really cool, interesting, beautiful movie. I hope everybody gets to see that soon. I’m not sure when exactly that’s coming out, but I’m looking forward to it. Brianna Hildebrand is in it. KaDee Strickland. Baron Vaughn. We all loved playing with each other. It was just a super fun time. We shot the summer before last – right after Paradise Cove, actually. That’ll be one to look for.
The movie world is sort of been turned upside down with a pandemic. A lot of movies that may have played in theaters or stuff like that are going directly onto platforms like Amazon, Netflix, HBO Max and even On Demand. Even TV series like One Day at a Time as well. Do you think that helps smaller films like Paradise Cove and maybe even The Time Capsule find an audience that might have gotten crowded out of the big theaters amongst the blockbusters?
I think so. I hope so. That seems like what should happen. I mean, everybody’s home. I know I’m always starving for more TV shows and movies that I haven’t seen yet. I feel like I’ve seen almost everything at this point. (laughs) I’m just now rewatching TV series that I watched 10 years ago that have 100 episodes, just because I need to have something to watch. There’s a lot of great stuff out there. I think that there are definitely smaller movies that if they had a theatrical release in theaters would get drowned out by the Wonder Womans in the bigger box office tentpole movies. The fact that people are at home every night, scrolling through going, “What haven’t I seen?” is only going to help smaller movies, which would be great, because there’s so many great, smaller movies out there that need to be seen.
On a more personal note, how have you been handling the shelter in home, social distancing world? You said earlier that your wife’s grandmother just got COVID. Obviously, that’s horrible. How have you been dealing with the day-to-day life?
Probably just emotionally and spiritually, like everybody else, I think nobody has enjoyed this time that much in the sense that it’s been hard. It’s stressful, and it brings up anxiety and some sadness here and there. But ultimately, we’ve been really very lucky. We’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old at home, who has no idea that there’s a pandemic, and really just loves playing. That’s been a huge blessing for us because we just get down to his level. We play. We try to make everyday fun and interesting and exciting for him. That brings that to our life, too. For us, we just have really tried to be present every day and just say, “Okay, what are we going to do today to have fun, try to get things accomplished and not think about of this whole situation in general?” It’s a little overwhelming. We’ve been hanging in there. We’ve definitely recently had a little added stress because my wife’s grandmother’s in the hospital with COVID, which is tough, but we’re very hopeful that she’s going to be okay, which is great. So, fingers crossed.
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