Already renewed for Season 2, the hit Showtime comedy series House of Lies closes out its first season with unexpected twists and surprises, as Marty Kaan’s (Don Cheadle) management consultant team at Galweather & Stearn fight the MetroCapital acquisition. Actor Josh Lawson plays Doug Guggenheim, the brilliant, Harvard-educated member of the team, who is also a quintessential math geek with mad analytical skills, but no skills in the dating department.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Josh Lawson talked about how strong he felt the ending of the season was, how much the cast loves each other, what it’s like to work with the super-talented Don Cheadle, how much of his character was initially on the page versus what developed over the course of the season, his favorite moments on the show, that he’s rooting for Doug to meet a nice girl in Season 2, and how the fan support is inspiring them to push the boundaries even further. He also talked about the role he recently wrapped as Zach Galifianakis’ brother in The Campaign, also starring Will Ferrell, what it was like working with that cast and director Jay Roach, and why he also loves writing and directing his own projects. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Collider: Now that you’re finished with Season 1, how do you feel about the way things ended this season?
JOSH LAWSON: I thought the last couple of episodes were really strong. I think they did an amazing job. (Show creator) Matt Carnahan and the writers wrapped it all up in a way that really surprised. It’s really hard to do that. I was watching as an avid fan, by the end of it, because I got wrapped up in the show as well. There were so many scenes that I had never seen, that I wasn’t in, with Don [Cheadle] and Richard Schiff and Griffin Dunne and Greg Germann. So, I was watching these things that I wasn’t in and just loving them. I just thought they were so well written and so well acted.
Did you guys become as tight, as actors, as you were as the team on the show?
LAWSON: We really love each other. I know that sounds like a bit of a cliche, but we got along so well. By the end of it, we were just zinging. We had our own language and we really felt like a team. We could have kept doing it for another 12 episodes, so I’m really glad we get to come back and do it again.
What’s it like to work with Don Cheadle? Is he really as nice as everyone says?
LAWSON: The guy is super-talented and really nice. I just hate him. It’s so unfair. There’s got to be a secret. No one is that nice. There will be a time when it will come out that he’s a serial killer and we’re all going, “You know what? That doesn’t surprise me. It was just too good to be true.”
How did you initially come to be a part of House of Lies?
LAWSON: I’ve been a fan of Showtime for a long, long time and I’ve been a fan of the shows that it’s had on. I said to my agents, at the start of the year, “Guys, I really want to find something on cable. I want to find a comedy on cable that we could really push the boundaries in.” I really wanted something that could make a statement about what we were doing and the life we were living in society, and the shows that push the boundaries, in those ways, are shows on cable, particularly networks like Showtime. And, when this job came up and [Don] Cheadle was attached and the script was so strong, I remember thinking, “I want this. This one, I want.” So, I went in and auditioned, and I kept getting called back. We were improvising a lot. Matt [Carnahan] was really okay with us improvising, and (executive producer/director) Stephen Hopkins was in the room, and we were just messing around. Eventually, at the test, I met Don [Cheadle], and Don and I and a couple of the other actors were just talking about the script and the characters, and I got to work with him a little bit, in that audition.
I remember thinking, “This is a guy I want to work with and learn from.” He is so good, and he really thinks about everything. It’s not just luck. He doesn’t just say the words. He does the work and he’s a real pro. He’s never dropped a line. He comes in every morning, before we start shooting, with thoughts and ideas and suggestions about the scenes that we’re doing that day. He’s always thinking about the project. So, when I left the test, I said to my agents, “This will hurt, if I don’t get it. If I don’t get this one, I’ll be really upset. This one, I want.” Thankfully, it worked out that I got it. In this industry, you’re so used to heartbreak because nine out of 10 times, you don’t get what you want. But, that one out of 10 times, you do and it’s just the best feeling in the world.
Since viewers really didn’t start learning about the backstories of these characters until about half-way through the season, how much of this character was actually on the page initially, and how much has developed since you’ve been working on the show?
LAWSON: That’s a really good question. It really wasn’t on the page, and Matt [Carnahan] will tell you that. Matt didn’t really know how Doug and Clyde were, and he wanted the audition process to figure out which actors brought a strong sense of character to the audition. I read the script and thought that Doug was written a lot like Clyde. He was a sharp-shooting, silver-tongued motherfucker, who would run over his own mother to get to the top. And I remember thinking, “Okay, well, they’re all sort of like that. Wouldn’t it be more fun, if he was the opposite of that, and was the only decent person in this swamp of indecency?” I thought that would be more fun to play. So, I went in and thought, “This is a bold choice. It’s going against everything on the page, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to make him really nice and really innocent and really uncomfortable when he’s asked to do awful things.” And Matt really dug it, and started writing and developing the character in that direction.
I’m really glad I did it because he’s certainly not the sort of role I normally play. Doug is not a stretch, per se, but it’s certainly an unusual character for me to play. I’ve met a lot of people who are fans of the show and have no idea that I’m Doug Guggenheim, even after talking to me. Josh Lawson, in real life, looks and asks nothing like Doug Guggenheim, I hope, but that’s the job. The job is to act. But, he has been the most fun character that I’ve gotten to play, in a long, long time. I really love him. I also think it’s a good thing that we haven’t learned much about these characters. It gives us somewhere to go. In the second season, I think we’re really going to explore who Doug and Clyde are, where they come from, why they are the way they are, and how they ended up in this crazy world. I think they’re really smart, keeping a few aces up their sleeve like that. We don’t answer everything right away. You want some surprises, and I think you’re going to get plenty in Season 2.
Do you ever wonder how Doug can maintain being the moral one around this group of people who constantly try to get him to do things that he doesn’t want to do?
LAWSON: I think the only thing that gets him through is his skill. He’s awesome at his job. Otherwise, he’d be out on his ass, so fast. But, because he is so clever and he is so good at numbers, they keep him around. In fact, it’s because he’s so good at numbers that he’s so bad socially. What he lacks in social grace, he makes up for in economics. It’s very rare that someone who is so good at the language of numbers, is as good at the language of life. They’re two very different worlds, and that’s Doug. Doug doesn’t understand why he has to lie to people and cheat because he’s never had to face the client, in the way that Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) does. Doug’s job is to go through the numbers, find out where they could be better, how we can fudge them and how they’re being fudged, and how we can manipulate them. That’s the language that he understands. He doesn’t understand people. He can’t read people, he can’t understand behavior, and he’s terrible with women, but when it comes to the job, he’s the best at what he does.
Are you rooting for Doug to meet a nice girl in Season 2?
LAWSON: Oh, I totally am! I really want to see that for Doug, and I think we’ll do it. By the way, I have no idea what they’re thinking about for Season 2, but I think that Doug is the kind of guy who would turn up to work and his girlfriend is a fucking supermodel. And he doesn’t quite understand how he’s gotten her, he just has and it drives Clyde crazy. Clyde can’t figure out how he’s gotten this amazing woman. I hope we see Cat Deeley back again. I’d love to see Cat and Doug have a bit of an epilogue to their story. But, anything is possible. I’d love to meet Doug’s parents. We have this ongoing joke on set that Doug’s mother, who I’ve called Janet, is a nightmare. She’s just this horrible woman that belittles Doug and treats him dreadfully, and that’s part of the reason he’s so bad with women. I’m just very keen to see where he goes. I hope people do root for Doug. He’s a really nice guy. He’s just a bit clueless.
Don’t you feel that Doug just so often needs a hug?
LAWSON: He totally just needs a hug! I think Doug is a great hugger, by the way. I think he’d hug the shit out of you.
Was there anything you were most surprised to learn, either about your own character or any of the other characters on the show?
LAWSON: Well, watching Marty unwind and unravel throughout the series was a real surprise to me. You read it, but Don infuses so much subtlety and truth into it, that you just don’t see on the page. And then, when you see him in the episodes back-to-back, that’s when you go, “Oh, wow, I didn’t see that on the page. I needed Don Cheadle to show me that.” This is a guy who seemingly can get out of any single situation. He’s got the gift of the gab, and he is a slimey operator. But, watching him slowly fall apart, as his world crashes down around him, has been the real surprise for me. I’ve watched that with great fervor. With my character, there’s always something to sink my teeth into, in each episode. But, we’ll see. I think Season 2 will hold more surprises.
When you signed on for this show, did you have any idea what a management consultant was?
LAWSON: No, I didn’t really, and that’s how they want it. They love that you don’t really know what they do. So, I did do a little research. What was interesting was that, after the show has been on the air, a lot of friends of mine have said, “You know, I’m a management consultant,” and I’m like, “Oh, that’s what you do. You’ve always told me, but I’ve never understood.” It’s actually a more common job then I realized. It’s something that I really wasn’t aware of, but now that I know about it, I see them everywhere.
Do you have a favorite episode or moment this season?
LAWSON: Where do I begin? I loved doing my scene with Cat Deeley. I thought that was a lot of fun. But, I also loved that scene with Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), where we realize that Doug was the victim of bullying. You get a little glimpse into the pain that has caused Doug to be such a misfit. I enjoyed acting that, as well.
When you do something like this, that’s so edgy with its humor, you have no idea how people are going to receive it. Was it nice to get such a positive reaction to the show, right away?
LAWSON: Totally! You can never predict what an audience is going to respond to and what they’re going to watch. What we always knew was that we were making something that we were proud of and that we thought was important, and we hoped that people would feel the same way. Not only was the initial response so great, but the response has grown and solidified, as the season has gone on. People have really gotten behind the show, and that’s been awesome. People have really been positive, and that makes it all worthwhile. You go, “Okay, we are now making it for an audience.” With Season 2, we know people will be watching and we know people have love for this show, so now we have to push the boundaries even further and have this show really make a statement about the 1% of corporate America who are the money people. Let’s start exposing these people for who they are, let’s have fun doing it, make it sexy, make it funny, make it entertaining, and also make people think. When you’ve got that combination in a show, then I think you’ve got it made.
Have you shot anything since the show wrapped?
LAWSON: I just wrapped on a film that was called Dog Fight. [It’s now called The Campaign.] It keeps changing names. I’m not quite on top of what it’s called now, but it’s Jay Roach’s film with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. We shot that in New Orleans and I play Zach’s brother in that, and it’s again a very different character. I play a district attorney in North Carolina, who is the perennial frat boy. That was great. That was an awesome amount of fun.
How much fun is it to work with people who are so good at comedy, including director Jay Roach?
LAWSON: You are only as good as the people you work with, I think. Particularly off the back of House of Lies, where I had just been working with Don [Cheadle] and Kristen [Bell] and Ben [Schwartz], I was like, “I can tackle anything. I feel like I’m at the top of my game right now.” And then, you go on and do a job with Jay Roach and Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and you up your game even more. I thought, “Okay, this is a different sort of project and these guys are different sorts of actors, but they’re the best at what they do as well.” You’re constantly raising your own bar, getting better and better every time, I hope. It was awesome.
I got really lucky going from House of Lies to Dog Fight. The people that I worked with made the job so special. Jay is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with, and he’s also one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked with. He’s generous. Chris Henchy, the writer, was on set and he was generous with his time and letting us improvise. Zach and Will were just so great. Brian Cox played my dad, and I’ve been a fan of his for years and years and years. I got to work with Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow. It was a dream come true, really. Dylan McDermott was there, and he was awesome. You’ve gotta understand, I’m still the 15-year-old kid from Australia, looking at Will Ferrell and going, “Holy shit, it’s Will Ferrell!” I’ll never stop being that guy. But, when I get to do what I love to do, which is act, at the same time, then that’s the dream.
What made you decide to work behind the scenes as well and do some writing?
LAWSON: I never started writing because I wanted to write myself stuff. It was really more that I had these stories to tell, and I wanted to work with people that I respected and liked. I hope I never have to stop acting. I love it. But, I think the coolest thing about acting is working with these amazing people all the time, and writing represented a new way to meet those people and to tell stories, at the same time, which I’ve always wanted to do, and to tell jokes. I love comedy, so writing was a way of getting these jokes that I had down on the page.
And then, once you’ve written, you meet producers and directors and actors. You get to meet interesting, talented, creative, artistic people, and it also staves off a bit of creative stagnation when you can’t act, which is the reality of the industry. So often, you can’t act because there are just too many cars and not enough car parks. But, I love writing and I’ll never stop doing that.
I’ve also recently started directing. I directed one of my shorts that did festivals around the world, and that was great. I’ve got a bit of a bug for that now. I just hope I keep challenging myself and keep doing stuff that interests me with people who I respect and who teach me stuff. If I can keep doing that in anything – acting, writing, directing or whatever – I’ll do it because life is short. Fuck, if you can do stuff you like with people you like doing it with, that’s got to be the best thing that you can do, and making a living at it is just gravy.