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Photo: Monty Brinton/Warner Bros.
You’ve loved him in pretty much everything he’s ever done, so you will not be surprised to learn that 30 Rock alum Jack McBrayer is his typically delightful self as a new member of the Big Bang Theory universe.
In TBBT’s Season 10 premiere tonight, McBrayer guest-stars as Randall, the meth-cooking and -dealing older brother of Kaley Cuoco’s Penny. Viewers have been hearing about Randall and his criminal exploits for seasons, and with Penny and Leonard carrying out a second wedding ceremony for the benefit of their family and friends, Randall makes his first — and, we’re pretty certain, not last — trip to Pasadena.
McBrayer, a three-time Emmy nominee for 30 Rock, talked to Yahoo TV about bringing his own sweet personality to his portrayal of a meth cook, starting his mornings with beer as a Match Game panelist, the perks of being a big-screen Smurf, and why he’s one of the few people who isn’t dreading his upcoming high school reunion.
Are you a fan or do you watch The Big Bang Theory?
Well, whenever I can. It’s one of those, what’s the word, ubiquitous shows. It’s just on all the time, and on airplanes and everything like that. For me, being on the show was very special, because I also knew most of the cast already, and they are superfun.
Did that play a part in your portraying Randall?
I think it might have come more from the producers. [Showrunner] Steve Molaro was very instrumental in getting me on the show, but even through that, there were a lot of mutual friends and mutual work acquaintances. I think probably it came more from the producers. With that being said, I would like to think that the cast might be able to vouch for me. [Laughs] If not, I will be having conversations with them.
How much did the writers tell you about Randall’s backstory and what they wanted to do with the character? Viewers have been hearing about him for several seasons.
They told me enough to know that the character was a drug dealer, but then I was like, “Oh, so how do y'all want me to say this?” The producer just said, “As sweet as you normally do.” I’m like, “Oh, OK! This is easy.” I will tell you what, it was a fun job. I didn’t have too much experience doing a multicamera sitcom like that — 30 Rock, which I loved and which definitely changed my life, because it’s a single-camera comedy, it’s done much differently. So, just the whole experience of being in front of a live studio audience and getting new jokes on the fly, it was really fun and quite invigorating.
Safe to say you’d say yes to a return visit, then? Randall is definitely a character we need to spend more time with.
Oh, hell yes, lady! It was so fun, and they were very straightforward from the beginning. … Because we did have so many guest stars [in the premiere], the challenge for the writers was to make sure everyone got a moment to be seen. I think they were very successful with that. I knew going in, just make my appearance and be a good guest and maybe later on down the line Randall can come back to visit. They were such gracious hosts, I would like to be a gracious guest.
You have also been great as a celebrity panelist on Match Game this summer. And I think you pulled off something very tricky, which is being a little bit naughty, but in a dignified way.
It really was a challenge. I’ve been a fan of Match Game from way back. So, of course, I was thrilled to be a part of it and goof around with Alec [Baldwin] again, but sometimes you just have to remind yourself like, "Oh, I really want to help these people win money.” Even though they do want you to be crazy, or funny, or silly, or whatever, at the end of the day, I did want to help out these contestants. Believe me, not that I’ve been on a game show before, but I’ve been in their shoes where there’s an opportunity in front of you, so please don’t let some former TV star ruin it for you. Sometimes you just have to put it in perspective a little bit. It was really, really fun, though.
The panelists seem to be enjoying cocktails throughout the show. How much alcohol was actually flowing during the tapings?
Oh, they are pouring it down your gullet. Also, the first show of the day was at 9 in the morning, so you wake up, take a shower, go to work, and they’re like, “What are you drinking right now?” “I don’t know. Give me a beer, I guess.” By the time the third show rolled around, I’m sure the contestants were like, “Are you serious? Keep it together.”
Did you really drink beer at 9 a.m.?
Yeah, yeah, I did. I thought it was kind of funny to see some of the other panelists’ drink choices. I think Niecy Nash, at 9 in the morning, had a margarita with no ice. I was like, “Bleccch!” I love Niecy Nash. I would take a vacation with the lady. She is just delightful.
You also play Frankie’s dentist boss, Dr. Ted, on The Middle. Will you return this season?
I haven’t gotten a heads-up about anything. If they are inviting me back, I would drop everything to join them. To the best of my knowledge, Frankie still works at the dental office, and I’m still her boss. But who knows, with her track record, she could quit or get fired, or her boss could sell the company. Believe me, any opportunity to come and join that group of people, I’m there. I’ve been pretty lucky with the places I’ve been a guest on.
You worked with so many great guest stars on 30 Rock, and Kenneth in particular often had great storylines with guests like Kelsey Grammer and Tim Conway. What did you learn from interacting with all those guest stars that you carry over when you’re a guest on another show?
Be a good guest, like you would be a good houseguest. Come in, be prepared, read the room, how are things done here, and just be a good guest. It sounds very simple, but I think people do get the gist of it, especially if you’ve been on the wrong end of that, where you work with someone who was not a great guest, which may have happened on 30 Rock, as well. … But it is a very simple lesson. Be a good guest, be prepared, clean up your s***.
On the big screen, you are playing Clumsy Smurf in next year’s Smurfs: The Lost Village. Where do you start in creating a voice for a character like that, where you have to capture a very specific personality?
That came a lot with the conversation with the directors and the producers of that particular movie. Clumsy Smurf… the most defining characteristic of course is that he is clumsy, but we did have some, I don’t want to say challenges, but we wanted to make sure that Clumsy wasn’t too scared of everything. We had to find the line of defining Clumsy versus defining Scaredy Smurf and Overly Excited Smurf or whatever. A lot of that just came from the writing and the things that Clumsy encountered.
Had you watched the Smurfs as a kid?
Oh, yeah! We loved the Smurfs. There’s three of us kids, and growing up we would always fight over what cartoon we were going to watch at whatever given hour. My brother would always get all the superhero cartoons and my sister would get all the fluffy pony cartoons, so Smurfs was a happy medium for all of us. It was such a craze back in the ‘80s, when I was a kid. It was definitely a part of my life, and it’s fun to be a part of this iconic cartoon.
You’ll be an action figure now, probably a stuffed animal, on lunchboxes and backpacks…
I will be an action figure, finally — just what the world has wanted! That’s why I got in show business, so I could be on a backpack.
What else are you working on right now? You always have a ton of projects going.
Actually, it’s kind of a nice little slow period right now. I do love my work, but daddy likes a little break, too. I am doing my improv shows here in Los Angeles every week, and so that’s always fun. And I am currently in the process of planning my high school reunion, so I will be going back home to Georgia in November for that.
Are you dreading it?
Oh, gosh no.
You’re going back with some great stories to tell.
Well, yes. Though what I have learned, in all these years, is that sometimes people back home don’t necessarily care about show business. You know what? That is perfectly fine. For me, going back is a treat because too many people left the area, or at least the metro Atlanta area. For me, it’s just nice to go back and see everybody. I’m one of those people who really liked high school. I know that might not be a popular thing to say, but it was fun, and I enjoyed my friends. I am looking forward to it, and not because I’m a huge, huge star you’ve seen on many backpacks.
The Big Bang Theory Season 10 premieres Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. on CBS