Erinn Hayes has definitely paid her dues as that actress whose name you might not have known but you noticed appearing on dozens of your favorite TV series and stealing scenes from the stars. And now she's got a hit of her own.
As Donna Gable, the infinitely forgiving wife of a newly retired-but-not-exactly cop (Kevin James) on CBS's breakout sitcom "Kevin Can Wait," Hayes has the biggest spotlight of her career to date, even after an Emmy nomination for her regular role on the beloved medical drama satire "Childrens Hospital" and guest shots on seemingly every great show of the past 15 years. Hayes joined Moviefone to help her new legions of fans get even better acquainted with her.
Moviefone: As a comedienne, what werethe quirks that you want to bring to Donna when you started figuring out who she'd be?
Erinn Hayes: We wanted her to be a fully fleshed-out person with flaws, and she's interesting, and not just the stereotypical sitcom mom. That path has been tread, so we wanted to do something a little bit different ... if you look at any marriage -- and you really look at a marriage, or even just really look at a human being – people are weird.
Most people are really weird when you get to know them. I'm a weird person, and I think there is room for that. I want her to have some strange interests. I want her to, I don't know, I just want her to be multifaceted and interesting and weird.
To come in and work with Kevin, who has such a specific comedy persona, what's been the treat of playing off of him and finding out how the two of you fit together?
It's interesting because working with somebody who is such a well-known entity -- and he's a real force -- he has a real point of view, and he's real comfortable in his comedy. I don't think I could have come at this the same way at a different point in my career.
But meeting him now, and where I am comfortable on a set -- I've worked on multi-cam sets -- that's not a new world to me, I love that world, I was very nervous/excited about, how are we going to work together? Are we going to be able to kind of craft a scene together? Or does he, as an executive producer, have his vision of it and I kind of need to fall in line?
And it was very pleasantly surprising to see that he is in it. He wants to find the funniest thing for any given scene, and is up for suggestions and workshopping it and just figuring it out. So it's been really fun.
Yeah, people love Kevin James. I had those friends coming out of the woodwork that you wouldn't think would be Kevin James fans, and be like "I would have watched this show even if you weren't on it -- I love Kevin James!" I had never watched a ton of stuff with him, but he's such a pro, and so smart, and so kind, and really takes care of everybody, and wants us all to be having a good experience, and to make the best product possible.
Yeah, it's what we all grew up watching. To be able to do it with somebody who the audiences are already on his side, and hopefully on our side, you don't have to work as hard. They already like it, so that if you can just do a real good job, you're not kind of fighting it at all, if that makes sense.
And you like that traditional way?
I do. I came from theater. It's tricky, but so rewarding. You can see some sitcoms at times when they will play to the audience, and then things get a little too big, a little too broad, in my opinion. So for me, it's finding my own balance between playing to the audience, and remembering the audience, that you're really there for the cameras.
This give-and-take gives you energy on the night without pushing on the second take because they're not laughing as hard as the first take. Then you get a reminder ... It's an exercise. It's fun.
Looking at your resume, you've played such a great diversity of parts on TV. You've popped into so many different kinds of shows. I imagine, sure, the weekly sitcom paycheck is great, but those opportunities to pop into a show and see how you can fit in and make a mark must be really great as an actor.
It's very exciting, and it's very rewarding. I like comedy, I like drama. I like the mainstream stuff, and I love weird indie, or alt comedy. And I really enjoy television, that's the thing. I like watching things and figuring out the tone of it and how you might fit into something like that.
And I've been very lucky to be able to jump into a bunch of good stuff. To jump in from like a "Parenthood," to doing "Childrens Hospital," to a "New Girl" -- just all these different shows that vary tonally.
A favorite character of mine was your recurring "Parks and Recreation" role, lifestyle guru Annabel Porter.
That "Parks and Rec" one was so fun. The character is so ludicrous. You start with Gwyneth Paltrow and you blow her up times a million.
Then "New Girl" was also really fun. It was pretty, like, just slutty nurse on the page, and then there was just the one word in there. I was like, "Why is she saying freakin'?" I was like, "Well, that's it!" Just to jump into this kind of trashy, somebody who that's their crutch, is saying "freakin'." I think those two of the last couple years have been the most fun in terms of those recurring roles.
You've said that "Childrens Hospital" was the job of your career -- and it earned you an Emmy nomination. Tell me a little bit more about why that was the right show, and that was the right part for you.
Well, I realized I've kind of just been playing by the rules. I'm, like, slowly climbing the ladder. I started as a guest star, I got another guest star. It started as extra work. It was just kind of waiting for roles to come to me, and then you realize there is that little bit of luck.
And my luck was a failed sitcom with Rob Corddry, and then, this job made me realize that the brilliance of creating a show with friends and people that you trust and you admire, and it all came together so well, and it opened all these doors of me. The doors that my past hadn't been opening.
The interesting comedy stuff that I so desperately wanted to do, but was not being considered for because I hadn't done it yet. But getting to know Rob and having him get to know me, and just like going, "Come with me on to this show," was, I don't know -- I feel really cheesy, but it feels like a very beautiful gift.
Who were the biggest influencers on what you consider your style of comedy?
I mean, there's the classics: there's the Lucille Balls and the Carol Burnetts, and then my personal favorite is Madeline Kahn. I mean, she's the greatest. She's so subtle with huge choices. I rewatched "Clue" the other day. "Clue!" -- I love that movie. When she's talking about the ... just her face and everything she did.
And of the current day, I am the biggest Kristen Wiig fan. We did this tiny movie that will never be seen -- thank God! -- together years and years ago, and I immediately like turned to each other and was like, "You're the funniest person I've ever met in my life!" I've been so excited to see all of her success. She's brilliant.
As a person, what surprised you most about Kevin? What was the fun thing to learn about him?
He's like a sweet shy guy. He's got his persona, but he's actually a little shy. But that makes sense to me, because often standup is an act, and it's a put-on persona, and that's a part of who you are. But then there's this other part that's a little more real and hanging out all the time. Those are all different parts of him who we all are. So that was the surprising part of that.
People take little swipes at Kevin having the hot wife. Tell me why Kevin James should of course have a hot wife.
Kevin James, number one, does have a hot wife. Yeah -- smokin' hot wife! He is funny, he is kind, he is a caregiver, he is just a stand-up guy. There's nothing not to like about Kevin James. He's super cute.
I get it: There is that trope on TV of chubby guy with a hot wife. But I'm not going to begrudge my job or belittle it -- when we started working together, it was a chemistry that worked, and they saw a bunch of people, and this particular relationship works. So I don't want to diminish it to just this stereotype.
"Kevin Can Wait" airs Mondays on CBS.