After overseeing his own show, Childrens Hospital, for seven seasons as a producer, director, writer, and star, Rob Corddry approaches his acting gig on the HBO series Ballers almost as a vacation. “Childrens Hospital was like swinging three bats in the batter’s box,” the actor tells Yahoo Entertainment. (The cult Adult Swim series wrapped up its run last year with a surprisingly dramatic series finale.) “Ballers is like stepping up to the plate with only one bat. It’s very light and fun!”
A big source of fun for Corddry is the opportunity to play sidekick to one of the world’s biggest stars, Dwayne Johnson, who headlines Ballers as football star-turned-financial manager Spencer Strasmore. On the show’s third season, which concludes Sept. 24, Spencer and his work buddy Joe (Corddry), take their wheeling-and-dealing ways to a whole new level, trying to be the instigating forces behind a major league deal in the sports world. “What I liked about this season is that Joe wielded a lot of power and responsibility, and really enjoyed it,” Corddry says. “In the beginning, I thought, ‘How do I portray this guy who can drink all night and go to work without a hangover, yet make it clear that he’s very good at his job?’ Each season, you find him getting a little more responsible and taking the reins a little bit more.” We spoke with Corddry about this year’s big Ballers storylines, his love for (and theories about) Twin Peaks, and what to expect from his upcoming Childrens Hospital spinoff.
Ballers made news earlier this year when Elizabeth Warren revealed she was a superfan. What was your reaction when you heard that news?
I got emailed something by someone, and my first reaction was, “No. No she’s not.” And then I realized she actually did say this; it’s literally in the first page of her book! She didn’t wait until Page 2 or Chapter 5. I still had some doubts, and thought that maybe it’s just for a certain voting demographic. But then Sam Bee invited me on to her show, because she was interviewing Elizabeth Warren and she was going to surprise her with me. And right up until the interview, Sam and I were a little worried. Like, what if she doesn’t actually care about Ballers and has to fake it?
But then I walked out and the senator went, “Joe!” [Laughs] It was crazy. But now it makes sense to me that she likes the show; she’s the fiscal policies senator, so she’s always dealing with people that want more or maybe that have just gotten more for the first time. It all revolves around money, so I can see why she’d be very fascinated by the show. The show has a very diverse fan base; I am approached by the most unexpected of people, and she’s the best example of that. On election night, once she knew that Hillary was going to lose, she and her husband just binged Ballers as escapism. So that’s where this soft spot came from; it was a comfort to her during one of the worst times in her life.
The big storyline this season involved Spencer and Joe’s attempts to bring a football franchise to Las Vegas. Have you had personal experience being in a city that’s gained or lost a sports team?
No, I’m from Boston and then lived in New York for a long time, so the sports teams are pretty entrenched there. But here in L.A., we just found ourselves with two football teams, neither of which I care about. [Laughs] That’s my very limited experience with it. Vegas, however, is a different beast altogether. I think what makes this show so good is that it gives people a peek behind the curtain. We have former football players on our writing staff, so it’s very authentic.
One of the big joys of this season is seeing Steve Guttenberg as a Vegas bigwig. I imagine you grew up watching him in movies — what was it like acting opposite him?
Doing this show, I hardly ever get to the see the rest of the cast, but they make up for it in spades by putting me with people like Steven Guttenberg. This role is really antithetical to how we picture him, and he plays it in this really friendly, gleeful way, just on the edge of smarmy. But also so creepy! He almost reminds me of a David Lynch character. They say that you should never meet your idols, but Steve does not let you down. He’s one of those guys like Henry Winkler, a golden soul who I love to be around.
I’m surprised you never offered him a role on Childrens Hospital. He seems like a natural fit.
I bet he was brought up! And I bet the Party Down connection pushed him back a little bit. We shared cast with Party Down, and we made Party Down references in one of our episodes. He had done that Party Down cameo and it was a very memorable one. So we probably felt that we’d be beating it on the head.
You mentioned that you don’t get to hang out with the rest of the cast very often. You also notably don’t have a love interest on the show. Are you pushing for that to happen?
The writers actually told me they were considering it for this season, but ultimately killed it. And you know what? I totally agree. I don’t think we need to see that side of Joe. I mean, I would like to see more about his wife, who died mysteriously on a boat. That little Easter egg was dropped in Season 1, and he references it every once in a while. He referenced it this season, talking about how great it was when his wife died. So that’s a whole thing that might be worth thinking about. But no, a girlfriend [isn’t in the cards]. It’d probably be interesting because she’d be a lunatic, just like Joe. I can’t see him being like the settling-down type.
Did they share their idea for what a Joe-centric romantic storyline might have looked like with you before they killed it?
They did, and it was one of those things that sounds good when it’s pitched in the writers’ room, then you think about it for a little bit longer, you realize nothing’s happening there. How does it serve the larger story of the whole show? Because my character is there to serve. He can be a good plot device, and he’s also there to serve at the pleasure of Spencer. If you want to do something, do something with that. Make people wonder if he’s gay. Or, gay for Spencer! Make that a storyline. That’d be interesting. Because he’s not gay, but he’s totally in love with him.
If they ever do get around to telling the story of Joe’s wife, who would you want to play her in flashbacks?
Natalie Wood. [Laughs] No, Lizzy Caplan. She is someone that Joe might want to murder. And someone who I would love to hang out with for a day or so.
And it ties back into that whole Party Down/Childrens Hospital thing.
There you go! We’ll get them all eventually.
Dwayne Johnson is known for having a crazy work schedule; it seemed like he was making several different movies while also filming Ballers this year. Does that ever impact your relationship onscreen at all?
No, I admire the guy. He is nothing if not driven. Back in the first season, I was watching the Oscars one night and I had to turn it off at 9 because I had a 7 a.m. call the next day. And goddamn it if he didn’t show up presenting an Oscar! I was like, “You gotta be at work at 7 a.m. — what are you doing?” He just does that. He loves to work. So it hasn’t impacted my personal or professional relationship with him at all, except to say that I love seeing him when he’s tired.
What does a tired Dwayne Johnson look like?
He just tells you he’s tired. We know each other pretty well by now, so I would ask him, “You tired today?” And he would just go, “Oh, dude.” He’s not a snapper. If anything, he’s nicer to people when he’s sleepy. And you know, he’s got a new kid, too. So I love just watching the monitors and going, “OK, you’re human.”
Does this season end on a cliffhanger?
There is a cliffhanger of sorts, but the Oakland Raiders-to-Vegas story is resolved in a very cool, creative way. You kind of don’t see it coming. They kept having to rewrite the show as we got closer to the end, because there was movement to bring the Raiders to Vegas in real life! If that happened, they wanted to be able to have art imitate life.
The core cast of characters has been pretty stable throughout all three seasons. Is there a big death or departure looming?
Well, if you’re playing Spencer’s girlfriend, don’t buy a helicopter! [Laughs] That’s what I’ve learned. Otherwise, no. If anything, it looks to me like people’s roles are growing. Like Reggie [played by London Brown], he had a cool storyline this year and I think there’s a bright future for his character. And you know who I’m really impressed with this season? Troy Garity, who plays Jason. He’s like me in that he serves other peoples’ stories, but I think he’s a really good actor and so well cast.
It’s almost like he has Jane Fonda for a mother.
I know, right? I didn’t even know that until well into the first season, maybe even the second. It’s very funny.
Has she ever dropped by the set?
Yeah, she stops by all the time, and is like, “Do it better you old poop.” [Laughs] Boy, I wish! That’d be fun.
What are your off-season plans now that Ballers is on hiatus and Childrens Hospital is wrapped?
I have three shows in development. One is another Mr. Neighbor’s House special for Adult Swim, and another is a Childrens Hospital spinoff. I can tell you that it’s, of course, the same comedic tone and shares some of the same actors. But it’s completely different from Childrens Hospital in any other regard. It’s more like a global thriller/mystery told serially with cliffhangers every week. Where we shunned continuity before, we really have to adhere to it here. That’s really hard, man. I don’t know how these guys do it.
So now you have a sense of what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse experienced on Lost!
Oh my God! Never get yourself in a situation like that unless you’re David Lynch. Did you see Twin Peaks: The Return?
Oh yes. It’s a masterclass in madness.
It is! I’m still obsessed with it. I don’t want it to be over, and I loved the finale. I would love to do something like that. That’s probably what people said when they saw Twin Peaks the first time. Maybe someday I’ll figure out what my version of that is, because I just love the mythology.
What’s your personal take on what happens at the end of the finale?
I don’t mind that there was no defined resolution. I think that freeze frame of Laura whispering into Cooper’s ear says it all. There’s a secret that we cannot know, and the viewer will never be privy to. So why not just be satisfied with this? Well, because we love the characters, and it’s hard to let go of something like that.
Ballers airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.