Will Sasso Interview
Canadian-born actor Will Sasso is a funny, funny dude. He stood out as one of the most talented cast members on MADtv for five solid seasons. Sasso’s knack for spot-on impressions and wacky physical comedy made him a fan favorite. Sasso has been acting since 1991, and in addition to his MADtv work, he’s also appeared in numerous films and sitcoms over the years.
Sasso’s newest effort, $#*! My Dad Says, is a CBS comedy that’s based on Justin Halpert’s ultra-entertaining Twitter feed, @shitmydadsays. Justin’s Twitter profile explains it all: “I’m 29. I live with my 74-year-old dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says.” Justin’s profile has over 1.7 million followers and has lead to a blog, a book and now this new sitcom starring William Shatner, Sasso and MADtv vet Nicole Sullivan.
I had a chance to speak with Sasso and we discussed his new show, working with Shatner, reuniting with Sullivan, Katherine Heigl, Jason Priestly and a bunch of other fun topics like his favorite Canadians of all time.
CS: So tell me about your role on the new show Shat My Dad Says or Shit … what do you call it anyway?
WS: It’s called Bleep My Dad Says, if you seen the way it’s written it’s got $#*! My Dad Says and we’re producing that bleep, so yeah it’s going really well (laughs) what do you want to know?
CS: Is Justin Halpert involved in the day to day writing of the show or not so much?
WS: Yeah he’s one of the executive producers and he’s written – I think him and his writing partner Patrick have written I think 3 of the first 8 episodes. Justin is also one of our bosses so he’s very involved in every single script, he’s one of the executive producers along with his writing partner Patrick Schumaker and of course Max Mutchnick and David Kohan are the executive producers who pre-dated Will and Grace so it’s all four of those guys.
CS: That’s cool. So what do you think of the whole Twitter-inspired TV / TV-imitating-web-imitating-life situation?
WS: I think it’s really interesting. For years writers have based their sitcoms and 1 hour dramas – all sorts of stuff on TV actually – on their lives. This is the first time where an audience can actually go back and track it.
CS: Yeah (Laughs).
WS: What has happened and what a writer cares to put in and leave out. I mean you can actually check in with us, if you’re been following the Twitter feed you can see how accurate Ed’s barbs are to Justin’s real father Sam’s barbs and that sort of thing. So I think that really makes it interesting, it really makes it an interesting way to conceive and execute a television show. Sam is still a wealth of material obviously for his son Justin. So yeah that’s definitely coming through in the show and I think it’s interesting from an audience standpoint of what you’re able to do, you’re able to actually go back and see it.
CS: So are you happy to be working with Nicole Sullivan again?
WS: Yeah. Oh yeah, of course yeah I mean that’s kind of a dream come true there because we’re pals and we’ve work together on MadTV starting over a decade ago so yeah that’s kind of … you know it’s familiar in a really great way and it’s just unbelievable. We really do know each other’s rhythms and what the other may do at this point or that point and it’s a lot of fun, it’s a real treat. I kind of can’t believe it sometimes, I kind of pinch myself that I get to do that.
CS: That’s cool. So is William Shatner totally nuts?
WS: You mean totally nuts?
WS: Not totally nuts.
CS: Just a little bit off? (laughs)
WS: Barely actually. You know, it’s funny, I mean here’s a guy that’s been in the business for over 50 years and you’d expect that someone like that would either be maybe not at all interested in the day to day happenings of a show – and 50 years is a very long time obviously, he’s been doing it longer than most of the people in the show have been alive, so you’d expect that, but Bill is a real actor through and through. It’s interesting for a guy like that, but he’s literally about every scene and every line and every word and making sure it’s good and making sure that relationships play and are three-dimensional and that it’s really funny. He was already one of my heroes, but now it’s like he might be my overall showbiz hero. When I’m his age I want to be doing that.
CS: Okay so you do a lot of awesome impressions; you’ve got Steven Segal, Tony Soprano, Randy Newman, Kenny Rodgers, De Niro, even Shatner. I recently saw this Kevin Pollack standup set where he talks about meeting the people he impersonates. Do you have any funny stories about meeting the people you’ve made fun of in the past? Or specifically Shatner, I guess, because you guys are working together now.
WS: You know it’s funny, Bill has never seen my impression of him.
WS: Yeah, he’s never seen it. I mean I’ve never done it for him or anything like that so no, I mean if I have it my way it will stay that way you know? (laughs)
CS: (Laughs) Yeah, right.
WS: He’ll never see it. But yeah as far as meeting – I’ve met a bunch of people I used to impersonate on MadTV. I’ve impersonated – man I’ve met a few of them. I met James Gandolfini, I used to do an impression of Fred Durst and I met him, I used to do an impression of Dwayne Johnson and I met him. Yeah, I can’t remember some of the other ones. Lance Bass from ‘Nsync, I used to do an impression of him and I met him. It’s usually kind of like you talk about it for a couple of seconds and it sort of becomes an afterthought, most people don’t really want to talk about it you know what I mean? Like some impression you’ve done of them it’s kind of odd when you think about it.
CS: I can’t imagine Gandolfini being like “do it, do it, come on I want to see.”
WS: Yeah no, not that kind of guy (laughs).
CS: So you grew up in Canada and you went to school with Jason Priestly, were you guys like the real life 90210 in British Colombia?
WS: He left the school well before I got there. I think he was gone – well not well before but he’s probably like 10 years older than me or something like that so he was out of there just like a couple years before I got there. So I actually only met him once, I met him like 2 years ago in L.A. It was funny because we were both like “hey” because we’ve always heard a bunch about the other person from other people.
WS: But yeah we just kind of talked for a few minutes about our drama teacher, Eileen Joe, and that was pretty much it (laughs).
CS: So who are some of your all time favorite Canadians?
WS: Boy, I guess yeah I would say Bill, I like Bill. John Candy is my idol, I love him. There are too many to count, Terry Fox, Michal J. Fox, the entire cast of SCTV, you know. The Canadian ones at least.
WS: And the non-Canadian ones for that matter. I grew up watching that and then later on watching “Kids of the Hall” those guys are all favorite Canadians of mine. Gee whiz I don’t know … I would say John Candy and Terry Fox, if I had to pick a couple of favorite Canadians.
CS: So how did you get started in sketch comedy? Did you start off doing improv or standup? How did you gravitate towards the sketch performance?
WS: You know it’s funny, I never did improv or standup.
WS: I’ve been fortunate enough to just sort of be acting, doing a bunch of film and TV from the time I was like 16, so it was sort of a natural progression from there. Then I moved to L.A. when I was 20 or 21 years old and I guess a little after that. I started doing MADtv when I was 22. It was just, you know, they were cleaning out half the cast after the second season. So you’re kind of going in there, doing their material, writing your own material, coming in with characters, and those things led to something that I thought I’d really like to do. So yeah, you know you audition for – I think the audition process was a couple months of coming back and getting up another rung and another rung, and finally at the end it’s like you and two other guys and you’ve got to beat those guys too. So yeah it’s funny, I never really did standup and I don’t come from an improv background, I kind of came at it as an actor.
CS: So your Twitter account says that you’re the actor that played the guy’s friend in that thing. Tell us about your role in the new film Life As We Know It.
WS: (laughs) Well, in Life As We Know It, I play one of six neighbors, these three couples who come by to dispense parental advice to Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl. In the flick they become the foster parents to this baby who is left behind by Hayes MacArthur and Christina Hendricks and yeah so I’m one of six. Speaking of improve, we did a bunch of improv in that film. Not a lot of it ends up on the screen. I mean when you’re shooting a feature film and you’re improving a lot, it’s interesting to see what ends up in the cut. The six of us were all sort of familiar with improv and enjoyed improvising together. We play the neighbors in the film where we’re in the neighborhood and we’re always dropping by, that kind of thing.
CS: So is Katherine Heigl as high maintenance as she comes off in person or not so much?
WS: No, not at all actually. It’s funny because I have a really good friend who worked with her on a film that she made just before this one, and I remember them saying “oh you’ll like Katie, she’s a real kick in the pants, she’s cool.” And she was really cool. I mean I’ve seen disasters on set and Katherine – actually I don’t even know where the hell it comes from to be honest with you.
WS: Yeah, and I always kind of go “well she was nice to me.” You know I’ll meet people who everyone else will think is a freak and I go, “well where did you get that?” and they’ll go “oh I read it in this magazine.”
WS: And you know, there are some people that I’ve met that I’ve heard are nightmares and then they’re not, so yeah, I don’t effing know (laughs).
WS: And to be honest with you I don’t care, like I really don’t care. When I show up on set if someone is a jerk I don’t care so long as they’re not a jerk to me. Having said that I did not witness one moment where Katherine wasn’t actually in a really good mood, enjoying doing the work.
CS: So you do a lot of voiceover work for shows like Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, how does your approach to that differ from the expressive, physical comedy that you normally perform?
WS: With voice it’s totally opposite. I’m not worried about what my face is doing at all when I’m doing voice stuff.
WS: As a matter of fact my face is doing very little. I am literally just kind of up in my head doing the voice. So yeah, it’s all about controlling the voice and exactly what it’s doing on those two shows and other ones that I’ve done and am doing now. Yeah, I’m always just worried about the voice.
CS: So you have to do a lot of that stuff in isolation, right? You’re not bouncing off other people or how does that usually go?
WS: Yeah, it depends on the show. A lot of shows like to keep everybody together in the same room, bouncing off one another. And with a lot of other shows it’s just, come in, say these things and leave. I can do it either way. I actually kind of prefer just saying them one after another, because it allows you to really kind of focus on the voice and allow the director and the producers to worry about where it fits into the show.
WS: And you just get really specific direction, like “okay she just said so-and-so, so now you’ve got to react to that.”
CS: So you have quite a few writing credits from your MADtv days and you also wrote a TV movie and served as a producer for upcoming projects like For Christ’s Sake and The Legend of Awesomeus Maximus do you think you want to do more writing and producing in the future?
WS: Yeah, I mean I wrote a pilot last year at CBS, called Waiting To Die, I wrote and produced that. It was a lot of fun doing that. It was part of a Sony writing deal that I was in for a couple of years. Me and my good buddy Chad Kultgen wrote that one which CBS ended up buying and we ended up shooting there as a sitcom. But yeah, writing and producing was primarily what I … sort of up to really … not this previous year, just this year’s bad, but kind of 2 ½ years before that I was doing more writing and producing than acting, much more. So yeah, it’s something that I’ve kind of discovered in the past few years and it’s something that I’d like to do more of.
CS: So you were in Happy Gilmore right? I think you were like one of the moving guys making the bet that Adam Sandler couldn’t hit that shot.
CS: Was that a fun set? I mean it seemed like it would be a fun movie to shoot.
WS: Yeah, it was a gas. I mean it was Sandler’s second big movie behind Billy Madison, so yeah it was a lot of fun. He was a lot of fun to work with. He was really just super mellow. He’s kind of … he has a reputation for being a really mellow, nice guy and obviously he’s very funny, so yeah it was a lot of fun doing that.
CS: And how did you prepare for your 1993 role of “Classmate” on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air?
WS: I don’t know how the heck that ended up in my IMDB because I wasn’t in that.
CS: Oh what? (Laughs) Oh man! I dug that up and was like “this is going to be a crazy story” but you weren’t even in there?
WS: That’s right.
CS: IMDB bollocks!
WS: Yeah isn’t that weird?
CS: That is weird. So do you have any other projects that you’re working on now?
WS: Yeah I’m working on a cartoon that my good buddy Tommy Blacha created and is writing. He created Metalocalypse on Adult Swim an now he has just created Mongo Wrestling Alliance for Adult Swim. So yeah, I’m doing that with him and that’s about it right now. Just working on the sitcom, I’m doing that show and having a good time.
CS: And the show’s been pretty well received so far, right? I mean I know it’s only been a brief time, but it seems like it’s already doing well, right?
WS: Yeah yeah, we opened as the number one new comedy of the year.
WS: And that’s there where I stop being interested in the ratings.
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