Alex Anfanger and Lenny Jacobson on Playing Brothers
We talked to the stars of Comedy Central’s “Big Time in Hollywood, FL.”
On “Big Time in Hollywood, FL” Alex Anfanger and Lenny Jacobson play brothers Jack and Ben, respectively. They’re in their thirties, still live at home with their parents (played by the inimitable Kathy Baker and Stephen Tobolowsky), and don’t do much of anything except for harbor insane dreams about making it big with the lo-fi movies they film in their garage.
When their parents kick them out of the house, they hatch a ridiculous plan with their friend Del (Jon Bass) and local actor Jimmy Staats (Ben Stiller) to extract $20,000 cash from their mom and dad. The plan goes horribly awry and the police get involved, but the brothers plow ahead, undeterred both by practical logistics and moral boundaries.
Off-screen, Anfanger (who also created the show) and Jacobson are pleasant comedy enthusiasts who spoke to Maxim about their influences, breaking character during filming, and the worst lies they’ve ever told.
So Alex, in addition to playing Jack, you also co-created the show with Dan Schimpf. How’d it all come together in the first place?
Alex Anfanger: We created a web-series first called “Next Time on Lonny.” We met at NYU and started collaborating and developed our weird, perverted sense of humor there. Our web series was a way to pay homage to our love of film. That was kind of the origin of “Big Time.” Dan was a film student, I was an actor, and we had just gotten out of school and we wanted to make things, but it felt like we didn’t really have the means or an audience for anything that we wanted to create. That frustration came out in the characters of Ben and Jack. They want to be filmmakers but they don’t really have a connection to that world. You know, obviously we’re not anything like those characters, but we wanted to create characters that have no moral compass. On top of that, we wanted to build a really fun, linear story that really built episode to episode and that was inspired by so much TV that we love to watch now, like “Breaking Bad.” We also incorporated a bunch of different movies: you’ll see some “Dumb and Dumber,” some “Step Brothers.”
Yeah, I also saw a little bit of “Eastbound and Down” too. How did Ben Stiller come into the mix as a producer?
AA: Our manager sent “Next Time on Lonny” to Ben Stiller’s production company. He just really really loved it. He called us immediately and told us that he would love it produce the second season with us. I think we have kind of a similar sensibility, like with “Tropic Thunder” and the other kinds of things he likes to make. It completely changed our lives.
And Lenny, what drew you into the role of Ben?
Lenny Jacobson: The first page of the script was the dinner scene. That was the first scene that I got to audition, and as soon as Alex’s character Jack said, “Fuck you, Dad,” I immediately was like “I need to be a part of this.” I loved it – it’s like a slap stick drama, like “The Three Stooges” meets “Breaking Bad.” I like when people do things that aren’t comfortable, but you know they’re real. Jack and Ben are selfish, and they’re oblivious to their lack of ability, but they’re completely dedicated and focused to that one thing, and that’s making their movie their dream.
Once I met Dan and Alex, it was instant chemistry, especially with Alex. We have to play brothers, but they’re also brothers who don’t seem to have anyone else. They’re so closely tied around each other that it’s almost unhealthy. Alex and I have become versions of these two characters. We’ll fight like brothers do, we love each other like brothers do, and we’ll beat up each other like brothers do.
AA: I would also say, for this love festival, we didn’t really know what we were looking for. It’s so hard when you write something, and then when you audition all these actors. they bring their own voice to it. When Lenny came in, he brought this energy that is so different from Jack that we didn’t even realize we had been looking for. There’s a sweetness and kind of a vulnerability that Lenny instantly brought to this character that’s kind of a monster like his brother that just ended up informing the way that we wrote him and the dynamic of the brothers. We were so lucky to find him.
To put a damper on the love fest for a second, the characters are also total sociopaths. They’re so terrible, and obviously it works well with the general plot, but was there ever a point when you thought “holy shit, we’re going way too far with this?”
AA: That question as definitely raised. The whole show started off way more grounded. They were doing less crazy things. Dan and I just kept pushing them further and further because we thought it was funny. What you’ll notice in the middle of the season is they’re hit with these horrible obstacles that make them question who they are and the way that they act to people. They kind of shift back and forth between being miserable people and trying to grow up.
LJ: I don’t know if you’re supposed to root for them. It’s almost nice to have characters that you don’t have to root for. You kind of enjoy the fact that they don’t do well. I think it would be kind of different if we made them these horrible characters and then they kind of succeed.
AA: Yeah, to a certain extent I agree. I also think that by the end of this season, you do root for them. I think about Kenny Powers in “Eastbound,” and he’s a miserable fucking prick, and you still root for him. You feel bad for him, at least. There’s also a running theme where the best people in the show, sort of the most good-natured people, get the shit end of the stick.
LJ: I don’t think they’ll root for us in general. There’s definitely a redeeming quality, their love for each other, their love for Del, even their love for their parents. We love our mom and I think we love our dad just as much but our relationship with him is kind of like when you’re at that certain age where your biggest thing is just to disagree with everything your dad says. You almost have a rivalry with him.
It’s honestly really funny to us that the sweetest, nicest man is just abused by his children. It’s very difficult to be mean to Stephen Tobolowsky from scene to scene. Any scene where we have to be mean to him, he has this little grin or smirk on his face when he’s starting to feel the laughter coming on. Alex and I immediately start laughing and we’re screwed for the rest of the take.
The dynamic is great, even if it’s a bit painful to watch at time.
Now, my last question is a bit personal. In the beginning of “Big Time,” the guys tell a huge lie, and keep going along with it, and it ends up with someone getting killed. Have either of you ever told a lie so extreme and just run with it until it was out of control?
LJ: When I was younger my cousin and I used to light things on fire. I remember being two blocks away from the home where I grew up in Massachusetts, and we were just lighting weird stuff on fire. We were lighting a newspaper on fire and as we were putting it out by stomping it out, it relit. My cousin and I ran. We were in the 5th or 6th grade, and it was very much like Ben and Jack. We were running to my house and thinking immediately of the lies that we would say of why we were running from a fire that was slowly getting bigger and bigger. “We saw these two men…they were like smoking or something…”
Three fire trucks came. There was no damage to anything. I’m sure the statute of limitations are out, but there was no damage to anything. We basically built in lies that we were going to stick with. When my parents came home and asked what happened in the woods, we were like, “We don’t know. We had heard it was these two guys just fooling around, but we were over here in the porch just watching. It was really scary.” I had never actually told that story, I’m sure no one ever found out, but we did burn a decent portion of the woods.
Was it relieving to admit that?
LJ: I do feel pretty good. I might go tell my parents about it now, right after I’m done talking to you.
How about you, Alex?
AA: I’m trying to think of one. I feel so lame. I had two older sisters, so I didn’t have to lie about stuff. By the third kid, my parents were very lax. I remember trying to break in to my house one night when I was 16 because I didn’t have my keys, my mom just opened the door. I saw her and threw up instantly in her flowers. She just looked at me and went, “Oh great, Alex, come in!” I said, “I’m drunk, sorry.” I wish I had a story like “yeah, my friends and I killed someone.”
LF: I will say there was no damage to anyone in this fire. No animals were hurt.
Photos by Jesse Grant