Tom Cavanagh interviewed – ‘Gray Matters’

     February 21, 2007

I’ve been a fan of Tom Cavanagh since he starred on NBC’s Ed a few years back. After that show finished its run I saw him on Scrubs and then, last season, he was the lead on CBS’s short lived series Love Monkey where he played a music executive with a conscious. Yeah, I watched that and was surprised that it didn’t find an audience.

But I’m not here to cover old ground.

Opening this Friday is Gray Matters which stars Tom Cavanagh, Heather Graham and

Bridget Moynahan. The premise is Tom and Heather play brother and sister who are extremely close – they live together, can finish each other’s sentences, in fact some people think they’re dating. Soon after that misunderstanding they agree on the need to meet new people. When Tom finds Bridget Moynahan, Heather’s character Gray starts to have some unusual feelings. Not the I’m jealous you found someone before me -more like I’m also attracted to your girlfriend. The film is a romantic comedy…just not the regular boy meets girl, some confusion happens, and then it all works out type. It’s more of a romantic comedy about coming out of the closet.

The interview was held a few weeks back and was conducted via roundtable form – meaning around ten of us were asking questions. If you would like to listen to the interview click here, otherwise the transcript is below.

Gray Matters opens in limited release this Friday.

Question: How are you doing and what have you been up to?

Tom Cavanagh: That’s a good question. I’m doing well. That’s a generic answer. What do you want to know?

Question: What are you doing this weekend? How are you watching the Super Bowl?

Tom Cavanagh: Bears/Colts. Well we have this movie that we’re talking about Gray Matters is at the Santa Barbara film festival so I have to go up there so I’m going to be the guy all by himself in the hotel room watching the Super Bowl. …neighbors shut up over there. I’ll be inviting anyone by. Are you cleaning the room? Do you want to watch? Have some chips. Have some dip. That’s what it’s going to be like.

Did you and Heather have a special bond for both having being on Scrubs?

Tom Cavanagh: That’s interesting. We never….we’ve been in the same episode but we our storylines never met. I had a great time over there doing the show for years and they’re great. They love her over there too. It’s almost like oh by the way you do Scrubs too. We’d forgotten about that. Heather &amp I got along from the beginning. I don’t know if you’ve talked to her yet, but she’s a very welcoming accessible person, she’s very nice. We bonded over many things but Scrubs might not have been one of them.

What was the bonding process on this film?

Tom Cavanagh: Basically for us it was like it was her beating me up. Very early on in our time together she started slugging me during scenes and the first time she was like “I’m so sorry” and I was like “girl you can’t hurt me” then it all became a thing whether she could actually you know, lay the beating on the boy. So a lot of our scenes and a lot of the more violent stuff actually didn’t end up on camera because they’re like “can you tone it down a bit because this isn’t like Ultimate Fighting but we had a lot of that going on and ultimately that contributes to the brother sister relationship a little bit. Makes it seem a little more real on screen I think and she loved it I can tell you that much so it was fun.

Did she ever hurt you?

Tom Cavanagh: She never really did you know it was funny, she’s a strong girl and in good shape but that must have been like the fact we had the scene going so I wasn’t paying too much attention. I was more concentrating on getting the lines right but for all her wailing away I can’t say I walked away with too many permanent injuries.

Was there a lot of freedom on this that you guys were trying to get the lines right but was there freedom?

Tom Cavanagh: Yeah, I think sometimes you get that with a first time director and other times you don’t. In this case we certainly did. The old turf ship for her was not the most important. Getting the story right was. We had a lot of room to play around and Sue was gracious, the director, Sue Kramer was gracious enough to allow her actors to kind of get that kind of playfulness out on screen without worrying too much whether we were sticking to exactly what was in the script. That’s an indulgent way of kind of describing it and I don’t mean to be that way but yeah we had the freedom to goof around the way brothers and sisters do.

Yeah, but this is a special kind of sibling closeness. How challenging is that really if you ended up with the wrong leading lead?

Tom Cavanagh: Yeah, it’s funny I don’t know that you have to get along wit the other person to do a competent acting job but I always do feel personally in my own personal opinion that something ephemeral gets translated to the screen when the people really like each other. It certainly doesn’t hurt the process if you like the other person I think. We got along great. For Sue’s movie she wanted these people to be 2 peas in a pod. They finish each others sentences, they get along, they have the same interests, they know everything about each other, and they’re very close. Fortunately whether or not that translates to the screen we felt comfortable dong that. I come from a big family and this seemed very, for me anyway, seemed very familiar. Even that physical thing, not to make light of it but beating on each other, families do that.

Did you rehearse?

Tom Cavanagh: We didn’t have a huge…the thing we rehearsed the most at the beginning of the movie there’s an opening dance sequence. Because we wanted to get that in a continuous shot we had to know the sequence, we had to know the whole thing. That one we spent a decent amount of time working on and that would be the thing we’d rehearse the most.

Heather was saying you really nailed the dancing. Is that….?

Tom Cavanagh: I think that’s a generous way of looking at it. I mean if the mistakes are there, there are as you know but she again…that’s a nice thing for her to say. She’s great. She’s danced before, she’s good. A woman who’s light on her feet is always going to make the guy on her arm look better. I don’t know necessarily that we look good but we’re trying to because this movie for Sue, this movie is a tip of the hat to the 40’s musical and when you lead with the song Cheek to Cheek you want to do that idea a service. It was a fun thing to do notwithstanding the fact that all my guy friends were like oh what another 4 hours of dance rehearsal with Heather Graham? Oh that’s really tough.

Could you forgive someone who made out with the person you loved the night before you were marrying them?

Tom Cavanagh: Well, heck. I think that depends on the individual and the sequence and all that stuff.

Was it a hard place to get to I guess for this character?

Tom Cavanagh: You know, I think that’s a good question first off. I also think that it’s a bit of a….it’s a focal point for the movie and I think no matter who you are you’re stung a little bit when you know the idea of infidelity is raised be it like something frivolous like this you know a drunken moment that the person doesn’t even remember. But I think peoples’ initial instincts are to protect themselves. I think in this movie that’s where we go. The first instinct is like “what, with who?” and you feel….I think that’s Sam’s first instinct is to protect himself then better emotions or reasoning takes over after awhile and he realizes that this woman is his best friend not to mention she’s his sister and there’s probably another way of looking at it. Do you know what I mean? To answer your first question that would be dependant on who you are and the individual you’d have to be in that situation which hopefully none of you ever are. Unless of course it’s 2 women and…..

Have you ever met anyone randomly looking like you did in the movie walking through a park?

Tom Cavanagh: Yeah, I have. I’ll never forget a friend of mine when we were in college together, this woman walked by and this woman is, to use a colloquialism, was out of our league, and we spent about 3 minutes talking about it and then he just went out….talking about how she was out of our league, not talking about what we could do about it, and then in mid-sentence he ran away from me and I have this distinct vision of him running across the quad stopping her like…you know like drawing back from him and him like suffocating with the hands and then coming closer and talking together and her writing out her number and him running back. It’s just like wow, you’re a superhero. Just like one of those great moments. It does happen whether you go to the extent of getting married on that first thing. That in this movie, and some people may call it a reach of cinema, but truthfully, I’ve had friends that have done that. They’re not together still but I’ve also had friends who are together that have done that same kind of thing. You know, they’ve met the person and they know. If Vegas is close, sometimes it gets consummated and solidified very quickly.

When you became an actor did the women who were out of your league before were they suddenly in the league?

Tom Cavanagh: Those women are still out of my league. Yeah.

About Valentine’s Day, it’s coming up and my editors are looking for either really romantic Valentine’s Day story or a funny disaster story.

Tom Cavanagh: Somebody asked me this question and I realized that Valentine’s Day is coming up and I wish I was the guy who had that great go-to story. I think that in terms of like those go to stories you should ask Heather Graham that story. That’s all I’m going to say.

She said she didn’t have one.

Tom Cavanagh: She stonewalled you, huh?

Do you know her story?

Tom Cavanagh: She didn’t volunteer it so I can’t throw that out there. Listen, no I can’t.

Do you have any plans this year?

Tom Cavanagh: As awkward as that is this movie is coming out then in New York and we’re going to….how romantic is that? Hey, come to….you know the movie we’re in.

That could work with those girls that are out of your league.

Tom Cavanagh: You think? No, I think people see through that kind of sham.

What made you be this character?

Tom Cavanagh: First off the director, Sue Cramer, was nice enough to ask me to read the script and then her and I we both live in NY and we met for a coffee and talked about it and she asked me to do it which was very…I’m grateful she did. I had a great time doing this movie and I have to say Sue’s idea….there’s been a bunch of movies coming out, or not a bunch I shouldn’t say you’d know more that me but you know Chicago, the musicals are getting some attention but truthfully those things are not remakes but remakes of existing musicals whereas this thing is…you know they did this movie recently called Down with Love or fairly recently which is a homage to those movies by essentially repetition whereas this thing is kind of a tip of a hat and making homage to the musical romantic comedies of the 40’s but set in modern day. I don’t know if we necessarily achieved it but I think that was a concept you don’t run across every day. That was probably for the actors the most temping thing abut the movie.

Would you say that Sue wrote the character just for you?

Tom Cavanagh: No, I think Sue wrote these things very…I think the movie is semi-autobiographical and I think certainly the gay themes it touches on are stuff she’s familiar with because when her sister came out of the closet there was something that she wanted to do to serve her sister and serve her sister’s story. A lot of that is in this movie. I think she wrote the character to try to tell that story. I don’t think she people in mind, but I know the minute she met Heather and this movie was 6 years in the making, but I know the minute she met Heather she felt “oh my God this is the woman who has to play Gray” and it worked out well because Heather is bankable and hopefully the kind of person who can get a movie made and put people in the seats. I think that was the first big step. My thing was…once they had Heather they could make a movie you know. Then it was just a matter of plugging in the pieces. Which by the way she did…you know you look at the cast of this movie the fact that you have Alan Cumming, Sissy Spacek, and Molly Shannon and Bridgette Moynihan, the cast of this movie ….for when we made it, a small independent, is a pretty nice cast that she put together.

What kinds of parts are you being offered these days and what kinds of parts do you want to play and is there a disparage between those two?

Tom Cavanagh: I think the key word there that I have to be careful of is offered. There’s a thing where…there’s a huge factor that is basically the do they want you factor? The kinds of parts you want to play are wide and across the board from good guys to bad guys. The Warner independent movie I did recently called Sublime was a kind of a dark thing and it’s something that probably I wouldn’t be the first guy you’d think of but it’s been extremely helpful to have done it to have people perceive you in a different light but at the same time as an actor all you can ask for or the thing as an actor that you want is being able to do the parts that go across the spectrum…good guys, bad guys what have you. Then again it comes to that thing well, do they want you? Then if they do, it’s always a great thing.

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How did you go into acting, Tom?

Tom Cavanagh: I just always had it in me.

You mentioned about this being a personal story for Sue. Did you talk to her or her sister or anything to get some ideas?

Tom Cavanagh: Oh, her sister Carolyn she’d be on set a lot of the time. She’s been a huge supporter of the movie and I think she’s extremely proud and happy for Sue. As you know, it’s not a …this is a small movie but any movie that gets made, any script that gets written is an accomplishment. Any movie that gets made and ends up in a position where people are coming to talk about it, it’s not a small thing. Whether the movie does anything in terms of viewer-ship is almost beside the point. It’s an accomplishment already. Carolyn is extremely proud of Sue and Sue is extremely proud of Carolyn and the end of our last shooting day there was a lot of tears and a lot of raising of glasses to the 2 of them.

Does that mean in that equation that you were playing your director? If it’s autobiographical were you based on her persona?

Tom Cavanagh: You’d have to ask Sue that question. I think Gray was the more mirror of Carolyn that was the most personal it got. You could ask Sue and she might have a different answer.

It seems like you kind of disappear in the middle of the movie while Heather is realizing her issues. Are there any deleted scenes where you would have popped up more frequently?

Tom Cavanagh: No, I don’t think so. This is Heather’s ….this is Gray’s movie and Heather plays Gray. The people that revolve around her contribute to her story as best they can to tell a good story. I’m one of those pieces. The better those revolving stories are the better it is for the main character.

Some performers go into meltdown when their series ends. How was that for you when Ed ended? More resilient or?

Tom Cavanagh: Well, Ed I think for us…I thought you were talking about Love Monkey which was last season and that was…

That was very short.

Tom Cavanagh: That was a little more difficult because we had high hopes of about a New York record producer and the A&ampR guy said we felt it was a long shot for network television but we also felt given the chance it was the kind of thing that would certainly seemed different. We weren’t picking bodies off slabs or investigating scenes. It seemed like a different kind of thing and ultimately it didn’t go. I think most people who were involved with television will tell you if given a season or given a 13 episode order and getting those episodes on the air and if viewers don’t come I think most people will tell you they’d walk away. They feel they were given a fair shake and if viewers didn’t come they didn’t come. I think a lot of people will tell you at the same time also that not getting…getting less than 13 leaves a lot of unanswered questions. You don’t know if the potential was ever realized. In terms of Ed, 4 seasons was exactly what Rob Burnett and I ….in fact we talked about it…we talked about 4 being a great number because you were still in but you weren’t tired of yourself and you weren’t on the down side of the slope. I think for that number of seasons for that show was perfect.

You left on a good note and were ready to move on.

Tom Cavanagh: What was nice about that ending for us is that we’d come to that…we’d already agreed that was going to be it and we knew it was going to be it. I think a lot of series don’t get a chance to say goodbye. I think that could affect people a little bit differently. Having a chance to wrap things up, to tell everyone this is going to be last 5 last 7 episodes knowing that and knowing that this is the last time as a group together. It’s really a nice thing and not a lot series get a chance to do that. Sometimes it’s just a phone call in the middle of the night. This thing….there’s a lot of great things to be said about getting a chance to say goodbye.

Are we going to see Ed on DVD?

Tom Cavanagh: Yeah, I guess they’re talking about it. Last I heard was they were close on season one. The stumbling block as it’s like a lot of the time is the music rights. They were fortunate enough because of the clout they had as the Letterman’s producers to get a lot of great music as one-offs, of course when you put those on a DVD that becomes a whole different thing. I think that’s the difficulty. It would be nice it would be helpful to have a little something to have a paper weight on the desk.

You’d come back and do commentary and stuff?

Tom Cavanagh: Gosh I don’t know. That might be the death of the DVD. I’d like to hear what the producers have to say, that’s for sure.

You’ve done TV and film. Do you have a preference right now for the future?

Tom Cavanagh: It’s funny I’ve done a bit of…recently I was doing a Broadway show and I was talking to these guys about this stage thing which would be great. I love that. For me again, the idea of the “will they have you” is always important. For me if its television, if it’s theater, if it’s film and it’s good I don’t make much of distinction between the 3. I think there’s only so many great stories out there. If you get the chance to be a part of one, it doesn’t matter what it is.

I bet your agent makes the distinction?

Tom Cavanagh: No not really. What’s nice is to have an agent that believes in that. Truthfully, I think you guys have been doing this for a while you know that the lines are a little more blurred now between film and television. It used to be the film people did the films and the television was considered…I don’t know what it was considered maybe a lesser thing….I don’t know. But now it seems…you see James Woods doing Shark and Ray Liotta doing ….there’s a bunch it seems to me like an aura of legitimacy and I think that is for the actors because there’s a lot of movies out there that maybe don’t make the grade and a few that do make the grade and so there’s a lot of talented people writing television. If you get to go in and tell a good story every week that’s a great position to be in. The other thing is that actors like to act. I’m that way. Television offers…if you get with the right people it offers a lot of great things because you’re doing it every day.

Going back to Gray Matters, what audience do you think it will play for?

Tom Cavanagh: I don’t know. For us we’re hoping a lot of people watch it. I don’t care what walk of life they’re from. It would be nice for this movie to get attention. I think it’s a very hard thing to do to have a small movie catch on. At the risk of sounding crass, numbers would be great. It would be great if there was a lot of people, I don’t care who or where they’re from. It would be great if a lot of people watched so that more people watch the more people will watch. That would be nice for the movie.

With regards to your possible return to the theater, is there another musical you’re looking at?

Tom Cavanagh: Yeah, I don’t want to jinx myself but actually one is and another one isn’t, so one’s a straight piece and one’s a thing. You know getting something up and running is a long road and we’re not far along that road but at least we’ve started walking down it.

In Gray Matters, it seems for a moment that Heather Graham‘s character might actually get Brigitte Moynihan. Have you in your personal life ever had a hot lesbian friends block you from a date?

Tom Cavanagh: I have to run through that sentence. Any hot lesbian friends block me from a date? I know if that had happened I’d remember that. I want to say for better or worse I want to answer no but I certainly do appreciate the question. Any hot lesbian friends block….. I think that’s the first time I’ve been asked that it’s safe to say.

And here is the last bit that I didn’t record the beginning of. The question was something like… was the budget of Love Monkey any higher due to filming on location and in New York?

….the answer was no. the budget was the same as a network show and a little bit less in some ways. Sony was the producing studio and they had set a pretty tough line. We came in under that line fairly consistently. At the end of the day we were right there which is next to unheard of. The fact we were shooting in NY it was just a funny thing because I would expect it would be a really difficult …NY is for the big movies. It’s for the Scorsese it’s that kind of thing. Not only that we were down in the East village where parking is difficult to find, locations are hard to find and we were down there nonstop for 8 months. We were consistently on budget. You have to have a good location manager all that kind of stuff. But you also have to have people want to help you too.

I know you have to go, but I actually watched the show and I enjoyed it and I know it got put on VH1 and how….

In many ways VH1 was probably where it should have been the whole time. There’s a huge difference between wanted and not being wanted. CBS, I can’t necessarily say….I think their intentions were pure but they didn’t stick with it that long, whereas VH1, when we were there you could just feel them happy to have you. That’s a great feeling when they’re like airing it 5 times a week and you’re just like slow down folks. It’s nice to be wanted and truthfully I think there was a lot of talks about VH1 doing more but they don’t have the budget for it but that demographic….the people watching VH1 like the 22-24 year old guys who are blogging, know the music before it gets out there. We had Nick Harcourt as our music guy and he’s a gem. He’s the truth, he’s great. We had the upcoming music, the upcoming bands and these people are on that. We were trying to break bands on the show The VH1 audience is perfect for that. They’re right there with you. They’re right there on See Say or whatever the band is coming out and they’re like it’s going to be big next month but they’re on it now. That was kind of the right audience for it but you know sometimes it’s hard to find the correct fit.

I know you have to go, but it was a good show.

I appreciate that. Thanks very much, I like to hear that. We had a fun time doing it.

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