Inspired by the life of co-creator Sarah Haskins, the ABC comedy series Trophy Wife tells the story of a reformed party girl named Kate (Malin Akerman), who is hoping that the third time’s the charm, now that she’s the third wife of the slightly older Pete (Bradley Whitford). Determined to make things work and become a part of this instant family, no matter what, she has to figure out how to juggle two ex-wives (Marcia Gay Harden, Michaela Watkins) and three step-children (Ryan Lee, Bailee Madison, Albert Tsai) while keeping her sanity.
During this recent interview to promote the return of new episodes, co-stars Malin Akerman and Bradley Whitford, along with executive producers Sarah Haskins and Lee Eisenberg, talked about how The Bachelor host Chris Harrison came to guest star on the show, how they decided on a Disney-themed party for Bert (Tsai), the upcoming two-part wedding episode, their Scandal parody, the character pairings that they’ve been surprised by, and just how relatable this crazy family is to people. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
LEE EISENBERG: I’m a huge fan of The Bachelor. Bert (Albert Tsai) read the books, so we wanted him to have anything that he wanted for his birthday. We talked about the potential of him having a celebrity there, and we started talking about Chris Harrison. I host a weekly The Bachelor viewing party at my house, and Chris Harrison came to my house for a behind-the-scenes thing to show all the nerds that watch The Bachelor. So, we called him and he was completely down. It was great. And then, I came down to the set because I thought it was cool that he was going to be there. He was talking to Malin, and I said, “Hey Chris, I just want to thank you for doing this,” and I think he thought I was in craft service or something. He said, “You’re welcome,” and then he immediately turned back to Malin, which I guess made sense. So, I stood there, awkwardly waiting for him to turn back to me, but he didn’t. And then, I just shuffled back to the writers’ room.
MALIN AKERMAN: My real mom was on set that day, and she’s a trip. I put her in the back room with the hair and make-up ladies, so that she could chit-chat with the gals. She was out of there in five minutes, and walked straight up to Chris going, “Hi, what about an older Bachelorette?” So, they had some fun conversations. That same day that my mom came to set, the boys were wearing kilts, for a surprise reason. Ryan [Lee] was sitting in the hair and make-up chair, and my mom walked in. She had just met him. He’s 17. He’s not even 18 yet. He’s a minor. And she walked up to him and said, “Hey, are you wearing any underwear under that?” It was a good day.
In order to make the clearances easier, did you have to think of a Disney-themed party, since this show is on ABC?
EISENBERG: It seemed like the right thing. It was very over-the-top. At first, it was a Gatsby party because Bart’s favorite book is The Great Gatsby.
HASKINS: But, that felt a little too precocious.
Malin and Bradley, what’s it been like to work with Albert Tsai?
BRADLEY WHITFORD: He does exceed whatever has been written. He came up to me, early on, and said, “Bradley, you’re playing a lawyer. What do you know about The Constitution?” I said, “What do you know?” He said, “Well, I know there are 10 amendments.” I said, “You know, I was on a show about the government and there are more than 10 amendments.” And he said, “I was speaking of the original amendments.” We actually had one scene where we were reading him to sleep with How A Dragon Learns to Fly, and he was like, “This is really boring! I like non-fiction!”
AKERMAN: There was a row of books behind us on the book shelf and he said, “Why are we learning about how a dragon learns to fly when we could be reading about pioneers?” There was a book about pioneers that he really wanted to read.
What else is coming up for the show?
HASKINS: We have a two-part wedding episode coming up, that’s really fun. Kate (Malin Akerman) discovers Pete’s (Bradley Whitford) old wedding videos for his marriages to Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and Jackie (Michaela Watkins) in the garage. They eloped and she does want a wedding now, even though she thought it was too girly and that she wasn’t that kind of person. So, that turns into a whole saga.
Sarah, did you have a wedding?
HASKINS: No. This is the strongest hint I can send my husband, on national television. I’m like, “I’d like a wedding. Please watch these two episodes of television.” We also have Florence Henderson and Megan Mullally guest starring.
WHITFORD: The wedding episodes were fun for me. It was interesting for my character to understand the boomerang marital choices that I’ve made. I learned exactly how that happened in the wedding episodes.
HASKINS: You’ll see pieces of the wedding videos with each ex-wife and you’ll get some clarification.
WHITFORD: People often ask, “How were you with Jackie?” At one point, we thought maybe she had had a head injury, after the marriage.
HASKINS: There’s also an episode in April that’s an ode to Scandal. We’re all Scandal fans and we have an episode coming up that becomes a Scandal parody. Diane has a bit of a failure, which is very unlike her, and she ends up binge-watching Scandal episodes and channels her Olivia Pope.
EISENBERG: She takes down a conspiracy in the PTA. It’s very high-stakes.
What are some character pairings that you’ve been surprised by?
EISENBERG: I loved when Meg (Natalie Morales) and Diane did beer pong. We weren’t sure about that. Their dismissiveness of one another and the competitive nature between the two of them was really fun.
AKERMAN: I think it’s nice to see the three wives together because you’re not sure how that’s going to pan out. It’s nice to see that, in the end, they can come together and co-parent. That’s a nice dynamic because you don’t get to see that a lot. When the ex-wives get together, usually it ends up being snarky. That was nice because they are friends, at the end of the day.
Malin, have you picked up any things to do or not to do when being a mom, from being on this show?
AKERMAN: This seems like a pretty normal family to me. My son is so little still, so it’s hard to say. I really just want to lock the door and never let him out of the house, which I know is wrong.
WHITFORD: It’s also a crime.
AKERMAN: Why? He’d be well-fed and well-loved. We could be on Bates Motel instead. But more than anything, this seems pretty normal. I grew up in a family like this. I’ve had many step-dads, and still have really close to one of them. And I have a stepmom and step-siblings. So, it feels pretty normal, as far as the parenting goes. That’s what I love about this. At least for me, this is a really relatable family, which is nice to say. I think a lot of people have families like this. I probably wouldn’t do a lot of the things that Jackie does. Some of the choices that Jackie makes, I probably wouldn’t make for my son. But ultimately, I think that this family is pretty great.
WHITFORD: I think what’s underneath the show is a lot of really functional people, in a totally dysfunctional situation, who are dealing with it for the kids. It’s obviously an exaggerated, crazy situation, but it’s about remaining engaged enough to create this post-modern family.
Trophy Wife airs on Tuesday nights on ABC.