‘Big City Greens’ Star Marieve Herington on Writing Her First Episode of the Disney Series

     September 12, 2020

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Tonight, a brand new episode of Disney Channel’s animated series Big City Greens premieres at 8PM ET/PT, and it’s special for a couple of reasons. First, it continues the second season of the Annie and Emmy-nominated series from co-creators and showrunners Chris and Shane Houghton, and second, guest cast members Lorraine Toussaint (Orange Is the New Black) and Colton Dunn (Superstore) return as Rashida and Russell Remington, with Danny Trejo (Machete) back as Vasquez. But even more importantly, this episodes gives one of the cast members a chance to show off their writing skills!

If you’re new to Big City Greens, the series follows the offbeat adventures of 10-year-old Cricket Green, whose natural curiosity and enthusiasm lead him and his family – older sister Tilly, father Bill and Gramma Alice – on epic journeys and into the hearts of his new neighbors. In the new episode’s first segment tonight, titled “Present Tense,” Cricket struggles to get the best birthday present for his best friend, Remy. Marieve Herington (awards-nominated voice of Tilly Green) co-wrote this particular episode with her husband Jeffrey Jones, which is a first for her on this series.

I had a chance to chat with Herington about this opportunity as part of our ongoing series of reviews and interviews in Collider’s weekly animation-focused podcast, Saturday Mourning Cartoons; that conversation follows below if you’d like to read along with our audio. If you’re new to our podcast audience, Saturday Mourning Cartoons is a part of the Collider Factory podcast network under the curated Collider Weekly list. If you want to support the podcast, and help us to bring original animation into the world, you can do so at our Patreon page and by subscribing on YouTube. You can find all of our previous and continuing episodes on Podbean, iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or your favorite iOS or Android app.

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Our interview follows below:

Listen / Download here:

So first of all, before we get to jump into all things Big City Greens today, I always like to do a wellness check in these uncertain times of ours. So just simply, how are you doing today?

Marieve Herington: That’s so kind of you to ask. We’re doing really well here. We’re lucky to be healthy and relatively sane. Going out for walks is helping a lot, calling friends, but not too much to complain about, all in all, given everything that’s going on in the world at this time.

Exactly.

Marieve Herington: How are you doing?

Oh, I’m great. Thank you for asking.

Marieve Herington: Oh, good.

How has your professional landscape changed, if at all? I saw you posted on Instagram, not too long ago, a shot from your in-home studio where you get to do all your collaboration from. So was that a big shift and a big change for you?

Marieve Herington: You know, it wasn’t for me. Obviously, we used to go in to record Big City Greens, so that transition was made very early days of the pandemic, recording at home, but I didn’t have a lot of setup to do. I actually already had that space. I was just using it predominantly for auditions, and now it’s auditions, it’s session, everything from home. There’ll be the rare in-studio day, if there’s a very specific technical requirement that a project requires, but otherwise yeah, it’s all from home. So not too huge of a shift on my end. Especially because, writing, you can do that from anywhere, as long as you’re free. Then acting is just all being done virtually these days, even on camera. It’s wild.

Yeah, absolutely. And since you mentioned writing, secondly, the reason I get to talk with you today, we have a very special segment and episode of Big City Greens coming up for you personally. More on that in just a moment. That’s a good tease there for our listeners, but for those of them out there who may not be familiar with the Disney series, how would you describe it to, maybe, newcomers who are interested in checking it out?

Marieve Herington: Yeah, so Big City Greens is a hilarious show about a family from the country who moves to the big city. And it’s all tons of fish-out-of-water storylines, and this relatable family that’s, all at once out of their element, but fitting in to this new landscape. And we’re in our second season now, and we’re bringing in all kinds of new characters from the city. Episodes are getting wilder and wackier, it seems like, by the episode in this season. So yeah, that’s, I would say, how you would describe Big City Greens. And it centers around Cricket Green, this young lad, I think he’s about eight years old, or so. I play his older sister Tilly, and then we live with our dad, Bill Green, and our grandmother, Alice. And we have our mom who comes in periodically, because our parents are not together, but they have an amazing relationship. So it’s a really sweet family show.

That’s a great pitch. I would greenlight it just based on that, but luckily we’re already in season two. We’ve got plenty to enjoy. You mentioned you voice Tilly, obviously, on the series, but you actually got to write a segment in an upcoming episode. Today’s episode, actually. So you got to write that along with your husband as well. So how did that opportunity, just in general, to be able to create a story for the show you’re working on, how did that come about?

Marieve Herington: Yeah, it was so much fun, and a real education from start to finish. So, yeah, my husband and I, we’re writing partners, and we’ve been writing together for about five, six years now. And it was January of last year. I think I had had a dream about a Tilly storyline, and I sort of jokingly pitched it to Shane Houghton, one of the creators, at a recording session. And he’s like, “Oh, well it’s funny you mentioned something, that you had an idea for the show, because we just lost a member of our writing team. So we might be open to hearing some ideas.”

So the idea I had in the dream is not what you’re going to see on TV today, but yeah, so my husband and I took a couple of weeks to prepare some ideas. The writing staff gave us really great parameters for what they were looking for, and what every single storyline just needed to have. I think fans who are really paying attention to story can tell that these are just very sophisticated episodes even though it’s a kid’s show. This is very tight storytelling. So yeah, we followed those rigorous guidelines, pitched a bunch of episodes and this is the one that they responded to.

Fantastic. And you mentioned that your husband, you’ve been writing together as writing partners for five, six years now.

Marieve Herington: Yes.

So what was this experience like bringing him into this universe, unless he was already involved with it, kind of tangentially, but what was that experience like getting to actually create this together for a show that you’re currently working on?

Marieve Herington: Yeah, so obviously, I’m more involved on a day-to-day basis on the show then he is, but he’s watched every single show, as well, we’ve gotten to know the creators, not just at recordings, but things like Comic Con, and various fan events, so he knew the team very, very well and was extremely familiar with the show, but in preparation for that we definitely watched everything, and we read and he read episodes that I had already recorded, but that were not already out just to make sure that he was up to speed with where we were at, because you can imagine, this many episodes in that, you come up with an idea of, “How about this?” It’s like, “We did that 20 episodes in season one.” “Well, okay, we can’t do that. How about this?” So it was a lot of going, well, what can’t we do, first, and then what inspires us, and finding the intersection of where that lies.

Gotcha. And this isn’t your first go-round with writing. You’ve written quite a bit for other projects, like Instagrammie, Pleasant Events.

Marieve Herington: Yes. Yeah, yeah.

And those were your original creations, so how did this experience writing for an existing story that you already had some influence on, how did that experience differ for you personally and professionally?

Marieve Herington: Yeah, like I said, it was just a really, really good learning experience, I think, to being different than when you’re steering the ship, to jump into somebody else’s vision. It wasn’t a huge leap, because I feel like, from moment one, I felt like more than just a voice actor on Big City Greens. I feel like the creators, and the directors, the whole team has really allowed us actors, and I’ll just speak from my experience, I feel like I’ve been able to contribute a lot creatively, more than just like the sound files that they get from me at the end of the day. There’s a lot of back and forth, even just as an actor, about like, “Oh, okay, well, I feel like Tilly might not say that.” Or “This feels really organic.” And so I feel like I’ve always had a voice with regard to just maintaining the world of, specifically, Tilly, of course.

So coming into their writer’s room was just exciting to get to have, even just a little bit more say in things, within the confines of what they’ve built, which they have such a well-oiled machine at this point, and such a terrific framework that, that actually was great to come into because there’s no way you can fail with these great rules in place, and just a terrific staff. So, we might bring in three quarters of an idea, and then the writing staff would be like, “Oh, how about this, this, and this?” And it’s like, well that just ties everything together in a way that makes a joke really sing, or perhaps an A and a B storyline intersect in a way that Jeff and I hadn’t thought about. So yeah, the experience was just tremendous start to finish. And I wouldn’t say that… I didn’t feel like I was the outsider coming in by any means, because it’s felt so collaborative even just on the acting side from day one.

Definitely. And that collaborative creative process really comes through, too, when you watch, honestly, any of the episodes, but specifically I was focusing on either the story structure, and like you said, the A, B, and C stories and where they intersect, so that all of that teamwork coming together really makes a sharp episode. That’s just fantastic from start to finish.

Marieve Herington: Oh, well, thank you.

So since fans will get to see that particular episode tonight, can you maybe tease some of the other ideas that you may have pitched or dreamed up that didn’t quite make it, unless they’re saving those for future episodes?

Marieve Herington: Oh gosh. That’s a great question. You know, I don’t, because this is going back about a year and a half now. I don’t know that I remember. I will say, I know one that was like, not swiftly, but kindly struck down. And then after the fact I realized, well, of course that was struck down. We pitched a paranormal episode where the ghost actually did exist. And then after the fact, two, three months after I went, “No, at no point, of course that was swiftly struck down.” Because the rules of the world are such that anytime there is Tilly, or Cricket think there is UFO’s, or whatever, it’s always something out there. We’re not actually dealing with real paranormal stuff. So, I realized immediately, well, I shouldn’t say immediately. A couple of months later. “Yep. That makes sense as to why that was not chosen.” Yeah.

Well, I hope, maybe, you get to rewrite that some day.

Marieve Herington: Yes. Maybe we will. Maybe we will, and we’ll come up with a clever idea for why they would think there was a ghost, it was some kind of haunted mansion, something or other, because who doesn’t want a haunted mansion?

Yeah, Disney loves a haunted mansion, for sure.

Marieve Herington: That’s right.

And you’ve also had the Halloween Special, which is one of my favorite episodes of the first season. So hey, you never know. Maybe they’ll find a way to work that back in.

Marieve Herington: You never know. Exactly.

I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Chris and Shane previous times for the different episodes, and different specials, but I’m curious, how are they as creative collaborators, especially when it comes to shaping the story that started with your idea? How are they in that writer’s room with the team?

Marieve Herington: Oh gosh. I feel like a broken record so many years into the show, but it remains true. They are a dream to work with. The two of them, because I feel like in the room, Shane is the one who’s leading the conversation, perhaps a little bit more. Chris, oftentimes… It was funny. He would lean back, and behind him there was a white board, and so he’ll be drawing, perhaps, what you’re talking about. And it’s wild to see how creative he is just like, “Oh, here, here’s a joke that you’re talking about.” And he’s like, “Oh, well let me just quickly draw that out.” Which is just so unusual. And I can’t imagine that happening in a ton of writers’ rooms around town, is getting to see it that immediately, but yeah, Shane would be leading the discussion, but you could tell the back and forth between the two of them.

It wasn’t like Shane would ever green light an idea that Chris was not a fan of, or vice versa. You can tell that they’re just so keyed into each other’s sensibilities and what the show needs. And even when you would pitch an idea that they didn’t love, it was never like, “No, not that.” It was just like, “Okay, well what about this?” And then the rest of the writing staff is extremely talented as well. We learned a ton from Kenny Byerly, who was also in a leadership role in that room. Then Rachel McNevin, who was a newer writer at the time that we got to write this episode. And then of course, Carson Montgomery is one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet. So yeah, we felt incredibly supported. There was almost no bad idea. Even if there was a bad idea, they made it seem like there were some kernel of good that could come out of it. Yeah.

Before I checked out this episode, I was wondering, since you obviously wrote the episode, I was wondering if it would have more of a Tilly focus as an A story. And not to give any plot points and stuff away, but did you think of that? Did you think about taking, maybe, some writer’s ownership of the character and also acting as at the same time? Did you think about focusing on Tilly for your story?

Marieve Herington: When we were able to share the news that we had co-written this episode, that’s what Twitter said. It was like, “Oh my God, I bet it’s going to be a huge Tilly episode.” And I was like, “Actually, no.” Tilly has a really fun runner with Bill, which is just so endearing, and speaks to her love of the animals, but no. I guess there might’ve been a handful, because I think we ended up pitching eight episodes, which each had A, B, C, obviously, to them. So there may have been some that were more Tilly-centric, but not really. Here’s the thing with this show is, I feel like I’ve gotten to express so much of Tilly, that it’s not like as an actor I was like, I have to write myself something because I don’t feel like I’ve got to flex this muscle or that muscle. You know what I mean?

So it was just like, the inspiration of the episode was really, Jeff and I were talking about what were some of our favorite memories as kids, and what were those sparkly moments in our lives? And so this episode centers around Remy’s birthday party, because we always felt like the birthday parties, our friend’s birthday parties, were such a highlight of the year. And it’s actually, now I feel like the timing is ideal for it to come out at this moment where it’s been a few months of kids not being able to go to their friends, birthday parties, host their own, blah, blah, blah. So at least they can live vicariously through Cricket, and Remy, and Tilly, and the kids.

Exactly. And for those of us who don’t … we’re still kids at heart, but we’re not kids in real life anymore, we get to live vicariously through those super fun birthday parties as well. Maybe speaking for myself.

Marieve Herington: Yeah, and let’s be clear. The parents are very involved with this episode, too. So grandma’s got just a really funny run. Artemis Pebdani, there’s nothing that she does that’s not so, so funny.

Yeah. It was amazing. It was great to watch for all sorts of reasons.

Marieve Herington: Yeah, even if it’s only the C line. A C story line just pops it a couple times here or there, but she brightens anything she does.

Oh yeah. And it absolutely works. Was that part of your original pitch, or is it something that maybe came up in the collaborative process?

Marieve Herington: That actually was more of a last-minute thing. Because, at that point, I think when we submitted our first outline. Actually, we had a pitch that grandma lost her glasses. Somehow her glasses got… A kid bumps into her and the glasses get lost at the birthday party, and she has to go hunting for them. But unbeknownst to us, and this was the disadvantage of being a freelance writer and not on staff is, that you don’t know what’s coming up in the production pipeline.

So they very quickly said, “Oh no, we have a grandma sight storyline coming up. So what else can you come up with?” So that was born of that needing to pivot at the last moment.

Yeah. Well, what you came up with was fantastic. I can’t wait for fans to check it out. It’s a great, even if it is a C storyline, it’s great.

Marieve Herington: Well, and let me tell you, that was one of the things that was in the, there’s a handy guide that was given to us of do’s and don’ts, and how to craft a Big City Greens episode was, even if it’s a small thing, how can we make something feel really big and full of adventure? So I think that C storyline really speaks to that guidepost, is it’s got to feel epic, even if, perhaps in real life, it wouldn’t be so epic.

That’s fantastic. I’d love to get my hands on that, but one of the things that I noticed from the show, not to give spoilers away, again, but I noticed a scene in which there are quite a few Easter eggs from fellow Disney animated series, and they go by fairly quickly, so you might have to watch it a couple of times to check it, but if you know what I’m talking about, was that your idea that you pitched, or was it something that, maybe, the board artists and animators came up with and worked in?

Marieve Herington: That was definitely a board artist thing.

Oh, cool.

Marieve Herington: I’ve learned so much about the animation process, just being on Big City Greens from day one, because they invited us actors to come and see a board pitch. I think it was like six episodes, or so in, so this is going back several years, because I didn’t even know that a board pitch was a thing. I had been on script-driven shows before, but not board driven shows. So that’s even another aspect. When I say co-written, I don’t mean just with Jeff, my husband and writing partner. I really mean with the board artists, because it was a trip to get to watch the episode in advance, and see like, “Oh, this was the story that we came up with, but then you added all these visual gags that we wouldn’t have thought of. So talk about just absolute collaborative experience.

And now, I think this goes without saying, but it seems like you had a pretty good time with this experience. So would you like to write more episodes in the future, if that opportunity comes up?

Marieve Herington: Oh yes. You got my number Disney. Yeah, it was great. And you always… Look, I’m a big dork who loves to study everything that she’s into, and there’s only so much school, and writing of your own pilots, and shooting of your own stuff that you can do. And it’s so great to get to collaborate with people who are so skilled in storytelling, because that’s just the best education there is, is just doing it. I’m getting to play with these people who have such mastery of the craft.

Fantastic. My last quick question for you today, before I have to let you go, what else are you currently working on that fans of yours can look forward to?

Marieve Herington: Sure. So at the moment we are working on some fun sketches, some quarantine-centric sketches, that Jeff and I are writing and shooting at the moment. So that will be, I’m sure, we’ll post about that on social media very shortly, but in the time being, you obviously keep tuning in to Instagrammie. We’ve got more coming out of that. And then, yeah, wrapping up season two of Big City Greens, if you can believe it. Already at that point.

Already. Well, we’ve got more episodes to look forward to and hopefully many more in the years to come. So thank you again so much for your time today. Best of luck with your other projects.

Marieve Herington: Thank you so much.

And looking forward to more Big City Greens. Thanks again.

Marieve Herington: Awesome. Thank you.

Big City Greens’ new episode “Present Tense/Hurt Bike” airs tonight 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel

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