Based on the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby and executive produced by Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), the NBC comedy series About A Boy tells the story of Will Freeman (David Walton), a good-looking, charming guy who’s single, unemployed and loving it. But then, Fiona (Minnie Driver), a needy single mom, and her oddly charming 11-year-old son, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham) move in next door and disrupt his perfect world, in what could turn out to be the best way possible.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor David Walton talked about how much fun he has making this show, telling a compelling story that people can really care about, that the season finale goes for the jugular in a surprising way, that he had no idea the variety of things he’d get to do on this show, how even though he’s a father himself, his irresponsible phase is so fresh in his memory that he has no problem relating to his character, why he thinks romance between Will and Fiona would ruin the show, and how great his young co-star Benjamin Stockham is to work with. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DAVID WALTON: It really is. One of the advantages our show has is that this cast is so small and the stories are so simple that you end up really only having an A story and maybe a little B story, with every episode. Whereas other comedies I see have to juggle these huge ensembles. I think that helps people be able to hook into the story when they get home from a long day of work. It’s not that it’s not intelligent writing, but you set it up right away and you’re on this journey. You don’t have to go, “Who’s that?,” or “What’s this new character?” It’s simple and intelligent, at the same time.
If you were going to do a half-hour comedy, was it important to you that it be one where you could have some real character growth and progression?
WALTON: Yeah, and even more so, as we go along. Unfortunately, a television episode is 21 minutes with credits. Story is the hardest thing. Everyone can write jokes and makes things clever. The thing about Jason Katims, which I’ve always trusted, is that he can make a compelling story that people can really hook into and end up caring about. Having him there was a really settling, relaxing feeling.
Going into this show, was it nice to know that you were in the hands of someone who’s not only done well with turning movies into successful TV shows, but he’s also really great with characters and story and pulling at people’s emotions?
WALTON: I know. I’ll tell you, our season finale goes for the jugular, in Katims’ style. I think it will be surprising how this organic story gets told in the season finale. I think people will talk about it because I don’t think a comedy has ever gone for it like this. But, people like to feel things. When I watch a comedy that’s just hitting you over the head with jokes, constantly, some really hit, but if they miss, you’re like, “Eh.” And we don’t really go for that. We go for the situations, but there’s never a joke that either character could say. It’s always very specific. And there just isn’t really that many jokey jokes. So, I love that. All I have to do, and all we have to do as characters, is just play the scenes pretty real, with a heightened fun. That’s my favorite stuff. And there’s some real, heart-wrenching stuff. Every character has cried. I was like, “Is this a comedy, or what?” And I was a little nervous about that, when we were shooting before the show aired. Hopefully, when you watch the show, you feel better at the end of the episode than when you started. You feel like you got a hug, and that’s a nice feeling. I don’t think it’s the funniest show ever made, but combining the heart, realness and humor, I think it’s a really special show. I hope it will be the tip of the spear for a seismic shift in what people are doing with network comedies.
When you signed on to do this show, did you have any idea that you’d be doing such a variety of different things?
WALTON: No. Honestly, I met with Jason and I asked him, “What happens after the pilot?” And I think with someone like him, who’s obviously done so much work and is confident, he was very simply like, “We’re just gonna explore who Will is, in a somewhat heightened sense of reality, and tell stories that don’t always end well.” I think the first four episodes matched the pilot structure. As new people come, they had to see what it would be. But now, we’re in this exciting territory where every episode is going into new directions.
How much fun was it to get to sing on the show?
WALTON: Truthfully, I didn’t know I could sing, and [Katims] didn’t know that I could sing. I was so relieved when I finally saw it. I was terrified doing that, but it was a nice relief that I could, at least, carry a tune. I couldn’t sing it well, but I could carry it. Will’s a songwriter, not a singer.
Do you enjoy getting to have so many great guest actors to play off of, like Leslie Bibb and Adrianne Palicki?
WALTON: Oh, yeah, I think they timed it perfectly. It was getting a little bit old with, “Oh, Will’s got a new girl over, every day.” That would have been fine, but my character falls in love with Adrianne’s character, which is a first for him. It comes out of nowhere and you’re like, “This is a whole new side of this person.” And as the series progresses, you’ll see some sides of Will that are far more vulnerable than you would have anticipated when you first saw it. There’s an evolution of the relationships. With a lot of comedies, you could see the first episode and then see the season finale and go, “Not a lot has changed with these people.” If you did that with our show, you’d be like, “What, what?!” There’s a real organic progression that is appealing and will make people want more.
WALTON: No, my irresponsible phase is so fresh in my memory that I truly have zero problem relating. I think a lot of Jason’s ability, as a showrunner, is loosening the reigns and letting the actors and the other writers make big decisions and say, “This isn’t working. I wouldn’t say this.” He’s not precious about anything. A lot of improv gets in. As the series goes on, you start to know your character as good as anyone.
With a show like this, people immediately begin to wonder whether the two leads with get together. Where do you fall on that, especially when the idea of it tends to be better than the actual reality of it?
WALTON: I think it would ruin the show. There’s something really cool going on. If you were to fast-forward to Season 6, let’s say, of this show, I think the show would be a family comedy. It would just be this family that would be Will and Fiona, as parents of this boy. It would be a modern family, in a way. You would accept that he loves this kid as much as a dad does. You would accept that Fiona and Will have a deep bond that’s not sexual. People always want that, but the minute we start doing that, you’ll lose something. I know there’s no plan for that. I do know, however, that in the season finale, and as we get closer to the season finale, there are some touching moments between us where we start to realize our shared love of this kid, that are really touching.
What’s it like to work with Benjamin Stockham, who’s really great on the show?
WALTON: He’s incredible. He really has this magic thing. You could give him a different language. I’m sure if you gave him French and just taught him the pronunciation, he would say the line and all French people would be like, “Wow, he’s great!” I think he just has a magic instinct with the written language and his look, and everything. He just comes across as a really interesting, layered, funny, weird kid, but so sweet. I always knew our relationship was important, but any scene between the two of us, visually and how they’re writing for us, is lovely. I just think it’s so great.
About A Boy airs on Tuesday nights on NBC.