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Q&A: Austin Basis Talks Hulu’s Casual and New Web Series

WARNING: Mild Casual Spoilers

In the third season of Hulu’s Casual, the relationship between siblings Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and Alex (Tommy Dewey) is codependent on a normal day. Just imagine the neuroses that erupted when it was revealed they were actually half-siblings instead of full brother and sister.

Making things even shakier is another explosive little nugget: Val has a half-brother out there. On top of that, the two are experiencing their own personal identity crises.

Besides worrying about this half-brother, Alex is in the midst of a career transition. He’s currently an IT guy, the kind that tells employees to hit reboot when facing technical issues with their computers. It’s a far cry from owning that data app. Plus, he’s turned his house into an Airbnb to earn additional cash.

Meanwhile, Valerie’s still a therapist seeing patients. She has this on-off-on-whatever connection with Jack. Unfortunately, his sex addiction complicates their relationship greatly. In a move that sends her uncomfortably outside her comfort zone, she’s taking a storytelling class. This is where she’s encountered a new group of people along with more drama.

The cast of characters in this scenario includes Reno 911!‘s Kerri Kenney, Gossip Girl‘s Chace Crawford, and Beauty and the Beast‘s Austin Basis.

Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard

TV Goodness recently talked to Basis, who was already a fan of Casual before he ever guest starred on the show. He revealed the person responsible for getting him into the comedy, what he enjoys most about playing his character, and what it was like to film those classroom scenes with Watkins, Kenney and Crawford.

He also told us about one of his side projects, a web series called Not Your Buddy, where he interacts with an animated rat.

TV Goodness: I read that you were a fan of Casual before you booked this role. What did you love about it?

Austin Basis: There’s this movement in tv and streaming where the half-hour format is becoming more dramatic and still being called a comedy. I feel like, in a lot of cases, it’s skewed a little too much toward the dramatic and has left out the comedy, like the real comedy. The laugh-out-loud comedy.

Casual has that. It has both the dark reality of existence for people in the story, the characters in the story, but also the ability to turn on a dime and make a joke, make people laugh whether the people you’re making the joke with get it, or the audience at home gets it, I think both are valid and both are things that I like in everything I watched, let alone a show that’s called a comedy or the half-hour. It’s the true definition of a dark comedy that can make you laugh and really touch in you in its moments, in its deepest poignancy.

TV Goodness: How did you discover it? Did you just find it on your own, or did somebody recommend it?

Basis: I did not find it on my own. I did a show on CW called Life Unexpected. That was written and created by Liz Tigelaar, who was hired as the showrunner on Casual. Casual was announced to be in the Toronto [International] Film Festival as part of their their tv format. I happened to be filming Beauty and the Beast at the time, up in Toronto, and lived fairly close [to] the TIFF Building, where it premiered.

Initially, it was just an excuse to see my old friend and hang out, and then support her, her new venture. It was my excuse to come hang out. They premiered the first two, I think it was two episodes.

Immediately, it reminded me of shows like Life Unexpected, which, Liz didn’t write the [Casual] pilot, but she was the showrunner on it, hired after it got picked up. The idea that it had those same elements of humor, sarcasm, drama, the kind of awkwardness of real life dating and relationship scenarios that weren’t shied away from, that were leaned into.

Like that awkwardness of going back to someone’s house after a date. Or that first date and trying to flirt, you know, especially for this woman who is just recently divorced, the first season. And also her brother, who basically created a website for dating and is having his own dating issues outside of that, which is the irony of all ironies. It’s like a therapist that needs more therapy than their clients, which is the show, too. ‘Cause she’s a therapist.

TV Goodness: Yeah, she can be a bit of a mess sometimes, but that is real life, you know? So your character’s part of Valerie’s storytelling class. What do you enjoy most about playing Ethan?

Basis: I feel that, in a way, it’s kind of like the closest version of me that I’ve gotten to play. In a way, that’s both, I guess, a little scary but also easier. But not to say that it’s easy, it’s just easier, in the sense that I know who he is. I was almost, to his job and to who he was, in his life, that same person when I first moved to LA. When I read the audition side, I was like, ‘Wow, this is too close. Like, this is too close.’ Did Liz know I worked in my job and what I had to do and all that stuff? It struck a chord with me.

Also the idea that, I believe, in these dark comedies, a lot of the comedy, and in life, comedy comes out of tense moments. There are certain comedies that are just like, they’re just trying to get a joke every third line, or almost every line is a punchline, in certain ways. But in this type of comedy, it’s more like real life. I think that’s what Zander [Lehmann], the creator of the show, really intends, is that, out of the darkest places in our lives, and the darkest moments, come, sometimes, the funniest moments.

The idea that in some of the most intense or heartfelt, or revealing scenes with each of the characters, whether it’s mine, Valerie’s, Alex’s, there comes a comedy that is the natural defense mechanism of the character to either belittle themselves, or self deprecate, or make a joke to ease the tension of the moment. Those jokes are natural. It comes out of the situation. But they’re also funny for an audience to watch, and unexpected in a way, that you’re watching this, ‘Wow, this is a really poignant scene. Oh, there’s a joke.’ That’s funny ’cause it’s real. That’s true.

TV Goodness: So besides Michaela [Watkins]’s character, you also star in these scenes with Kerri Kenney and Chace Crawford, right? How were those scenes to shoot? Did you guys have fun? Was it a lot of improv? What was it like?

Basis: I wasn’t sure coming into it whether there would be freedom for improv. I think, with Kerri, when you’re working with someone who lived in that improv world for years on, like, Reno 911!, comes with the skills and abilities she comes with. You say, ‘Hey. Whatever, she has free reign,’ and that’s kept everyone else on their toes. I think Chace kind of stuck with the lines pretty much, but he made the most of it. He added some stuff on his own, too.

But to watch every take, there being new fun and surprises from Kerri was kind of a lesson in, just, every moment, living in it, taking chances. Even when those chances made you forget the actual lines you’re supposed to say, then it’s worth it, ’cause it’s being filmed.

It was definitely, in a sense, intimidating, because I hadn’t worked in that type of comedy or improv since I did Curb Your Enthusiasm years ago, and that’s all improv. There were no lines to stick to, just like, ‘Whatever you say is good. It’s coming out, as long as it seems real.’

TV Goodness: What can you tease about what’s coming up?

Basis: I think all I can really say is that Valerie has to, you know, she’s got some decisions and some crossroads that she finds herself at, that she has to make some choices and decisions, and that Ethan is a character that winds up helping her make some of those decisions.

My usual role is kind of a confidante, so there is an aspect of that to it. Kind of like a drinking buddy. Someone who is similarly cynical and like Val, he’s maybe a male version of Val. But, I think the main difference, in my opinion, is that he may be a little more content with it than she is.

She’s searching. She’s trying to find her own life post-marriage and away from her codependent brother. So there’s this arc for her that is a journey, and I think her encountering or befriending Ethan, I hope, helps her direct her journey a little towards the end of the season.

TV Goodness: Talk about working with Michaela Watkins. How was that?

Basis: It was just an absolute pleasure. There’s been some articles that I’ve seen on Twitter about the show, just because it’s on. The idea that there aren’t many women in her category or age that are able to do what she does, is exactly what I’ve been talking about what I love about Casual, is to really play the darkness of existence. Our existence in this world, specifically as it refers to dating, being a mother, being a friend. But also have the timing and the sensitivity to swing between both comedy and drama in the same scene, in the same line, and not sacrifice, ever, the suspension of disbelief that this person is actually experiencing this.

The most difficult thing I find, just watching and also trying to do it, is the ability to make something funny while not violating the reality of the moment, of the character. The existence that you’re trying to portray. Especially in these really naturalistic types, whether it’s a drama or a comedy. The comedy is harder just because you can’t hit it over the head. You can’t punch it up, like on a multi-camera sitcom like a Big Bang Theory.

TV Goodness: You can’t go over the top.

Basis: Right. You have to err on the side of reality. To do that, maintain both the reality of the story you’re telling and the character’s point of view, but also hit those comic notes and make them actually funny and not just amusing, is a skill that I obviously aspire to have. Many people have. I think Michaela’s one of the few women on tv that’s able to straddle the line between both successfully.

TV Goodness: Let’s talk about your web series. What is Not Your Buddy?

Basis: [It’s] a combined live action and animated series that, basically, depicts me post-Beauty and the Beast, with no friends, no job, no wife. Having to depend on an animated, cartoon roommate to share the rent with me. We’re both actors, so the concept is that the cartoon is actually an actor. He’s not a character in a movie. He’s auditioned for all these animated tv shows and movies, going all the way back to like Steamboat Willie and competing against Mickey Mouse. He was just, you know, he was passed over all these times for other actors that got those roles.

TV Goodness: So he’s bitter.

Basis: All of those others became famous and he’s living this Hollywood life, where he knows everyone, but can’t break through and find his dream of fame in animated Hollywood. He’s also hand-drawn and now working in a digital age, where he’s kind of old and bitter and behind the times. A little un-PC in his views on life, and politics and culture. And very vulgar. So, totally opposite what I’ve been doing with everything else I’ve done. So that’s kind of the game. I’ll probably do something nice and neat on Lifetime next, you know? Nice little Lifetime movie or something.

TV Goodness: So, each video is like a different topic of conversation, is that what it’s going to be?

Basis: Yes. The first episode we drew was us helping each other with auditions. The second episode was as roommates eating dinner together. You know? Lonely, on a Saturday night deciding what to watch on tv, and having the debate of what he likes and what I like.

Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard

TV Goodness: Well, what’s next for you, acting-wise? You have a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, but what about acting? Do you have your next project yet?

Basis: Well, actually, in the natural pendulum swing for my career, I wrote a really, really dark short film that I’m gonna try to produce and get a friend to direct this summer.

TV Goodness: Oh, awesome.

Basis: And start submitting it to festivals and stuff. It’s kind of, in the sense, the idea, I’m not gonna tell you what it’s about. But the idea, for as an actor, in today’s day and age, that self-producing and self-facilitating projects seems to be, in a lot of ways, the only other thing to do while waiting around for auditions to come in.

Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard

I’m not one to kind of wait around and sit on my, what do they say? ‘Sit on your hands.’ Or, ‘Sit on your heels.’ Rest on my laurels and wait for someone to knock on my door, and that’s gonna be the perfect project for me. It’s probably gonna be a tech geek or something, and it’s maybe not something I want to do right after I played one, a science tech geek for four years. To create, put out there what you want, a new light that you want to be seen as, kind of like a darker version of what you’ve done so far. And I’m more, like I said, more edgy and more raw, emotional landscape that I can act in and show more of my skills.

Basis can be seen on Casual which drops Tuesdays on Hulu. Next week check back here at TV Goodness for the second part of our interview, where Basis talks about his former projects including Life Unexpected, Beauty and the Beast, and Supernatural where he spent time as a Ghostfacer.

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