The new Fox series Running Wilde is a romantic comedy series in which Steve Wilde (Will Arnett), a spoiled, filthy rich playboy, desperately tries to win the heart of his humanitarian childhood sweetheart, Emmy Kadubic (Keri Russell), by helping raise her 12-year-old daughter, Puddle (Stefania Owen). Rather than run the risk of letting Emmy slip away again, Steve pulls out all the stops to win her heart, but that may not be enough for this hopelessly mismatched pair.
During a recent interview, creator/writer/executive producer Mitch Hurwitz talked about how Running Wilde will be different from his last series, Arrested Development, why some changes have been made since the pilot was shot and what makes Will Arnett the perfect choice for a romantic comedy. He also gave an update on the progress of the Arrested Development feature film, said that they’re about half-way through writing the script now and that he hopes the cast will be interested and willing once they’re finished. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Mitch: We’re almost trying to capture Will Arnett, the way he is on talk shows more than the way he will play in movies sometimes. There will be a pomposity to him, and yet a self-awareness. It really did start from a moment that Will had where he was pulling a bag out of his trunk with tennis rackets in it, so that he could go play tennis with Lorne Michaels, and he just said, “What kind of fool am I? Look at me. It’s 3 o’clock on a Wednesday. Why am I not working?” That’s the charm of Will. He’s full of himself sometimes and he’s unbelievably kind at heart. There’s something to this character where he’s kind of the generous one. It’s the hard-headed woman and the soft-hearted man.
Each week, will you have a misguided attempt at him being selfless, where it ends up so wrong?
Mitch: It’s not exactly that literal, but yes, that is definitely one of the repeating themes and motifs of our show.
Were you frustrated when critics saw the pilot and then started judging the show?
Mitch: I have come to terms with the fact that this may be an acquired taste, if you know about Arrested Development. I’m not comparing this to Modern Family, but even if I had done something of that high quality, there might have been a big group of critics that would have said, “It’s different. He’s backing off something.” My personality and, more to the point, my past work is going to be a factor, in the discussion of this. Hopefully, it won’t be with an audience, but I think it will be with critics.
Do you feel like the timing and the cut-aways have a similar vibe as Arrested Development?
Mitch: Not really. I’m not doing it as much. That was always in service of story, and we would do eight stories. That was the big difference with Arrested. There were eight stories going on, so to tell eight stories with eight versions of flashbacks, it suddenly becomes a fuller thing. If you have two stories going on, you don’t have as much need for that. We never did the Family Guy flashbacks where they were just jokes. It was always some piece that would tell the story. So, there’s less of it.
Will any of the Bluths from Arrested Development make appearances on the show?
Mitch: They probably all will. We were even talking about, little by little, feeding them in, so that the finale is just the cast of Arrested Development.
On Arrested Development, Jason Bateman served the purpose of being the normal one. Is that what you’re trying to do here?
Mitch: No, we’re not. Oftentimes, as we were finding the Emmy (Keri Russell) character, we were thinking, “At some point, she might be Jason Bateman.” But, right now, she’s a little too charactery, on the surface. We always thought Jason was the craziest one in the family, but you didn’t know it until the second act. We’re starting in a slightly heightened, more formulaic place with her, but eventually, we’re going to see what everyone gravitates to and what the actors do. If she plays the plausible really well, then we will manipulate that and make her plausible in the first act, and then make us realize we were all mislead by her in the second act.
Why did you decide to make some changes with that character?
Mitch: She was a little unsympathetic. We put her in there to be the governor of Will, who is so delightful in what he plays that, by definition, the governor of that is a little less fun.
How did you know that Keri Russell would be a funny person?
Mitch: One of the things that we’re trying to do is have the characters take themselves seriously. People who identify themselves as funny people sometimes do that the worst. I often think of when we found Will Arnett. He was coming from a dramatic play. He’s a true actor, in the sense that if you can tell someone is acting, they’re not doing a good job. We have found Keri to be hilarious because she means what she says. When we make the stakes stupid enough, a lot of comedy comes from that.
It seems like normally Will’s character would be set up to be in the wrong all the time, and be the buffoon, but it seems as though there’s an equal measure because they’re both so steadfast in what they believe and what they do, and they both look foolish at times. How are you going to balance that going forward?
Mitch: One of the reasons we were excited about working together with Will on a show that he was more central to is that this is a true romantic comedy. He really does have great skills as an actor and can play a wide range of things, but because he is so funny, which is such a striking quality, people tend to use that quality of his in movies and in guest spots on things. The fun for us, in working with Will, is finding those levels, those surprises and those dramatic moments, just like the fun with Keri is finding those moments where she’s more comedic and not the voice of reason. She has such a likability and relatability that I think there’s going to be a lot of fun to be had with playing against type, for both of them.
Can you have any fun with the oil backdrop, given what’s happened in the Gulf?
Mitch: When we did Arrested, I remember thinking the same thing because I had put in there what already seemed trite, old and ‘90s, which was a guy that was arrested for accounting fraud at a corporation. And then, just as we premiered, some of the big companies had the same problem and I remember feeling the same way because people lost their pensions, but it didn’t matter. We were on the right side of that. We were saying, “This guy is a jerk.” With this one, I think it’s going to support Emmy’s character, in a way. Emmy is going to be able to make some real points that create some tension. I don’t think it’s going to be glorifying the oil companies. Hopefully, it will do the same thing.
Now that you’re re-shooting some of the pilot, will you be inserting any BP jokes?
Why did you move the show to New York City?
Mitch: There were a couple reasons. One of the things that we really wanted to get across was that fantasy of this Cinderella story, to a certain extent, and that needed some opulence. We just had trouble getting it there. There were a couple of mansions that we could actually shoot at, but we couldn’t be in the neighborhood after 10 o’clock. There were just crazy things like that.
On Arrested Development, you had a lot of characters who behaved extraordinarily badly. Are you going to miss that in your two main characters? Do you have a lot of supporting characters who take up the badness slack?
Mitch: Yeah. I think we very much loved doing Arrested and do miss it, and it’s why we do want to make the movie still, but this is a different project. It has a different set of rules to it. You love all your children equally, even though they’re all different, which I think is interesting. There’s real peril in trying to repeat yourself, and apply rules that applied to something else to a new project. Kevin Reilly (President of Entertainment at Fox) has been unbelievably helpful in helping us ground this, and I really feel like he is helping me get out of my comfort zone. It is sometimes easier to write those dislikable characters because they do funnier things.
After all the drama that surrounded Arrested Development off screen, do you worry about the same thing here, in creating a show that’s a little risky and different?
Mitch: I personally worry about success. Having to continue doing it is far more perilous for me than the fear of it being cancelled. I guess I would describe it as a hope of it being cancelled. That’s a bit of an overstatement. I don’t sound sincere when I say this, but I really am sincere in saying that Arrested was an amazing experience and opportunity, and I’m very grateful to Fox and 20th Century for letting us do it for three years. When I look at the climate of television today, I don’t think you could do it. Maybe you could do Arrested Development, but you couldn’t necessarily do a show that took as many risks, right off the bat, and that they gave me a lot of room to play. I never had any entitlement or expectation that I deserved to just keep that on the air forever. They stayed with it for a long time.
Is that why you’ve returned to Fox with this show?
Mitch: I’m certainly happy to be back at Fox. I think they do some very interesting and adventurous things, but on top of that, Kevin Reilly has just really been terrific to work with. We went through nine or 10 drafts of this thing and, every time, Kevin would give us some very specific idea, and we would curse and gnash our teeth, and then say, “He’s right. It’s getting a little better.” We are still re-shooting the pilot. We’re going to re-shoot about half the pilot because of some very insightful comments that he made, some recasting and things like that. We do tend to want to just be funny. In some ways, he’s really taken me out of my comfort zone, but I think he’s really giving us a great opportunity here.
What will the changes be, and what specifically did Fox tell you that they wanted to see more or less of?
Mitch: We were very rushed in making a very ambitious pilot because our favorite directors, the Russo brothers, were doing another show, which got picked up at ABC, so we didn’t have them until the last minute. We didn’t have a lot of prep, and we had six or seven days of post, which is from the end of shooting to delivering the thing. That’s a very short amount of time, and that affects everything. That affected casting and how much time you get to spend with the characters. We threw a lot of stuff out there very quickly, and we were able to look at it and say, “You know, here’s where we’re not as invested in the characters.”
I think Kevin was able to laser in on the fact that we had lost a lot of what was really special about Emmy’s character, and we had just left the things where she had made her daughter live in the jungle, and she had been a little shrewish with the Steve character. So, a lot of it has to do with a little more backstory on her, explaining where she’s coming from.
We also had a character that played his nanny, and the idea there was to have a matriarchal character, almost like a mother ,who doesn’t want her child to go to therapy and has a lot at stake. Jayne Houdyshell is a wonderful actress, but it didn’t quite connect. We had a couple of scenes that we cut where she and Emmy would come head to head, and you didn’t feel good about either character. That character is now becoming this Mr. Lunt character, played by Robert Michael Morris from The Comeback. Hopefully, there will be a heartbreaking element to that character, who does not want to be told that all their work in raising this child is wrong. It will be somebody who has given his life over to taking care of Steve, and that will make it more complicated for Emmy to tell him off, just for whatever reason. It’s a chemistry thing.
Also, we had a character named Migo, played by a wonderful actor named Joe Nunez, who was very funny in the pilot, but we just needed somebody that was a little more of a contemporary to Will. We really wanted to tell people that these two had been together their whole lives. This guy is somebody who thinks his boss is an idiot, but loves his boss and is a little bit of a point of entry for an audience. There are a lot of things that are going to be subtle shifts, but hopefully will make the pilot easier to connect with.
Mitch: Yeah, we’re writing it. We’re on a little bit of a break, as we’re getting the show up and running, but I would say we’re about half-way through.
What would you say to people who just don’t believe it will ever happen?
Mitch: The reason I’ve been so cagey about this is because I know it’s taken us awhile to get it going and I hate to tease the fans who have been so kind to us. But, I really want to do it.
Since you’re half-way through it now, can you give any hints at all as to what the movie will be about?
Mitch: I don’t think I should right now.
Does it have a title yet?
Mitch: No, not without giving away too much.
Do you think everyone will be on board?
Mitch: I don’t know. That’s the other thing. [Jason] Bateman gave an interest quote which was, “Yeah, Mitch is writing the script and then, when we get it, we’ll decide if we want to do it.” I was like, “What’s this?!” No, he’s the best. The only reason to do it, because it’s not going to be a big money maker, is that it will be fun for us to be together. It will be a family reunion, so on that basis, I think everyone is going to want to do it.
Could there be stumbling blocks between now and actually shooting it, or do you really think it will actually happen?
Mitch: I think we will make this movie. The only stumbling block could be scheduling. All of a sudden, somebody could have a movie out of town, and then we’d have to push it back. But, I think everybody just wants to play together. There have been no fall-outs. It was a delightful group.
Is it the kind of script you could make on a 30-day schedule?
Mitch: Yeah, we’re going to have to, to get everybody in.
Are you working on anything else with this show?
Mitch: I want to get into producing TV again, but I’m a little more hands-on with this, and then I’m going to try to dive into the Arrested movie, so probably not. Although, I feel the absence of an income.