Jake Johnson and Natasha Leggero on the Musical Vulgarity of Netflix’s ‘Hoops’

     August 21, 2020

Adult animation is having a bit of a moment right now, so it only makes sense that Jake Johnson has made the jump to starring in his own series. The New Girl alum and now-iconic Peter Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse leads the new Netflix animated series Hoops, which is absolutely 100% not for children. Created by Ben Hoffman, the show revolves around a foul-mouthed high school basketball coach named Ben (played by Johnson) living in Kentucky who is beset by disappointment and failure at every turn, and yet is continually strong-willed and optimistic.

I recently got the chance to speak with Johnson and comedian Nathasha Leggero, who plays Ben’s ex-wife Shannon, about what drew them to the Netflix series and how it stands apart from other adult animated series. Indeed, Hoffman filled out the ensemble with a diverse range of talented comedians like A.D. Miles, Ron Funches, Cleo King, and Rob Riggle, and Johnson and Leggero explained how that made all the difference once it came time to record.

They also discussed the musical quality that Coach Ben’s f-bomb-laden rants have, collaborating with Hoffman on the show, and their hopes for a potential Season 2. Additionally, Johnson expressed some understandable frustration with the resurgent popularity of New Girl in the wake of the show’s cancellation and low ratings, and also talked about his potential reprisals in the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion and Spider-Verse sequel.

Check out the full interview below. Hoops is now streaming on Netflix.

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Image via Netflix

Were all of the fucks in the pilot scripted, or do you improvise some of those fucks?

JAKE JOHNSON: That’s a solid first question. They mostly were scripted. There’s a rhythm to the way Coach talks that we found pretty quickly. We did a pilot presentation and I improvised some of that. But once we found it once, we had a great staff of writers on the show and I was kind of shocked that by episode two, all the fucks were in the right places. All the rants were in the right places. We ended up cutting out a lot of Coach’s rants because we would have a three-page scene and then we’d have an extra page of just him going off. But the rhythm of the swears, by the end, they were pretty on page.

There is a musicality to the word fuck and how it’s used in the show.

JOHNSON: And Ben Hoffman, his gig before this is he’s a musician. He came out of Nashville to do this. So there’s a few people who’ve said that this is very musical with the vulgarity and it takes a certain sophomoric mind to look into it. But if you do, there really is something lyrical about it.

NATASHA LEGGERO: You really did hook in, Jake. He would just go on these monologues and they could almost stay at a 10, but still have variety somehow.

Well, for both of you, I am kind of curious how the show was pitched to you and what kind of drew you to those characters? What was the initial pitch of the characters and did you guys have much say in kind of the evolution of what those characters became?

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Image via Netflix

LEGGERO: Well, I went in and got to audition with Jake. I didn’t get to read the script. I think it was more like a scene that they send and we came in and him and Ben were both just like, “We can totally go off the page.” And just right away, I was like, “Oh, this is a really fun dynamic.” I think they explained it as like Sam and Diane from Cheers. So it’s like, they’ll always kind of like each other, but they also can’t stand each other and they’re polar opposites. And so I think that just having that kind of to work with really sold it for me. I was really excited when they cast me.

JOHNSON: I know we were really happy that we didn’t realize a girl from Illinois had such a good Southern accent. Because we liked Natasha a lot. And I think it was Netflix that was saying something about an accent. And obviously I don’t have one in it, so I didn’t care. And I remember in there, we were like, “Can you do one?” And she did it. And Ben was the gauge because he’s from Kentucky. And he goes like, “Yeah, that’ll do it.”

LEGGERO: Well, what you learn in acting school is that’s the easiest one.

JOHNSON: Well, I never learned it because I can’t even do that.

I was going to ask, because both of you are from Illinois, how you landed on those accents for the characters. Was that just always in the script?

LEGGERO: Oh, well, I mean, I became a diligent actor and sort of phonetically figured out how to do the Alabama accent. You don’t say Ben, you say Ban. It’s just like once you kind of get the key words, you can kind of figure it out almost like a math equation or something.

You’ve both done voice work before, but I was curious if there was anything about this project, either through the process of it or even the table reads, the writing or the recording, that was unique to this one.

JOHNSON: I think what was unique for this one was the amount of comedic talent. Mostly you’ll have, at least what I’ve done, is you’ll have one or two comedian comedians. And then you’ll have your actor actors and then a few just voiceover actors and it’ll all mix together and there will be scenes where the funny people are doing the funny thing. Everybody in this show was the funny person. Everybody was the funny one. So if I wasn’t recording with people and I was just sitting in the booth, when everybody showed up, the whole vibe would light up and it would feel like, “Oh, the funny person’s here. Now we get to laugh.” And that was unique that nobody’s the straight person.

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Image via Netflix

LEGGERO: And also just the fact that we got to be in the room together for me was unique. Because I’ve done a lot of voiceover and that’s usually never the case actually, because it’s a scheduling issue.

JOHNSON: Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord] did that on Spider-Verse. And that was the first time I saw the importance of it. It’s hard for the animators because sometimes there’s overlap. And so when you ask, they say no. But then I asked Chris how he did it. And Chris Miller said, “They can deal with a little overlap.” And so I felt like, “Oh cool. I have Chris, he knows us.” It’s harder for them, but it’s so much better for chemistry in the actors.

Well, I believe it’s the same animation studio that does Bob’s Burgers. And I think they record together as well.

JOHNSON: Yeah. They’re good at it.

But yeah, I will say I was delighted to see A.D. Miles was playing a teenager in the show.

JOHNSON: A.D. Miles is so funny and he’s a perfect example. A.D. Miles, when he’s in a room, he’s the funny guy.

LEGGERRO: I started stand up and we used to do open mics together. He used to be a standup.

JOHNSON: He’s killer.

LEGGERO: He’s so funny.

To that end, I mean, what was the working relationship with Ben like? I know everyone asks, like, “Did you guys improvise a lot?” But when you have that many funny people in the room, was there much room to improv?

LEGGERO: Yeah. Well, one thing I will say about Ben too is, I mean, I obviously don’t know him how you know him, Jake, but he is just extremely clear with what he wants. He has a vision and that’s why I think the end result is so cohesive and the tone is so set because Ben is just like, “Okay, the third take. Okay. No, say it this way.” There’s no on the fence with him. Right? I mean, he sees it.

JOHNSON: Adam, you’ve watched the show. Do you remember the Time Bomb character, Adam?

Yeah. Yeah.

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Image via Netflix

JOHNSON: That’s Ben. So Ben plays that voice. And so that kind of tone. Time Bomb, who’s our probably most disgusting little guy, Ben’s our most disgusting little guy. So as a leader of a show, he was really good because he knew what he wanted and he knew what he didn’t want. So you could say it could seem like a dickish move, but if he didn’t like something, he would just move away from the idea. But once you knew what he wanted, it was very clear and he didn’t waste any time. There’d be times you’d do one take and he’d be like, “That’s the one. I’m going to use it.” And the audio engineer would go, “Can we get another one for safety?” And then you were literally just doing the other one for the engineer, because Ben was already done. And once you get into that groove as a performer, it becomes really fun because you’re not guessing anymore.

You both having worked in live action and animation, I mean it’s hard to predict what Hollywood looks like next year right now with the pandemic. One thing that does seem to be a common refrain is that animation is going to be leaned on harder than ever before. Are you guys kind of feeling that, like there may be a lot more animation as that’s a kind of a safer way to go back to work?

JOHNSON: No idea.

LEGGERO: I guess I’ll be spending a lot more time in my car with a blanket over my head recording my voiceovers (laughs). That’s my sound studio right now.

JOHNSON: It’s hard. You know what? I think like everybody else, I’m going to just be optimistic that the world’s going to open and these vaccines are going to work. We’re going to blink our eyes and everything’s going to be normal because animation can work in terms of the prep. You do lose a lot if the actors aren’t in the same room eventually. You can do it, but there’s something to be said about actors acting together. Chemistry is a thing. And so could we get away with it? Absolutely. I also know they’re talking about shooting live action and everything in singles and separating and zones. It could all work. The best will be when we’re just back to making television and movies the way people are used to and the way we’re used to making them.

Have you guys talked with Ben about, I mean, if hopefully this is a success, where your characters might go in future seasons?

LEGGERO: I mean, obviously a second season would be amazing and we’re excited to see how this one’s received. I mean, I definitely, my character, I see her very torn I do see her kind of still having this fantasy for Ben. So who knows what could happen.

JOHNSON: I see what you’re pitching. I’m reading the room here.

LEGGERO: I mean, what else can Shannon do? I mean, I guess she could go off and maybe go back to school.

JOHNSON: That’s a dramatic turn.

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Image via Netflix

LEGGERO: I think it’s better if she gets pregnant or something.

JOHNSON: There’s a turn. The question would be who’s the father.

LEGGERO: Exactly.

JOHNSON: Oh, you know what? Because they do have their little moment, don’t they?

LEGGERO: Yeah. See.

JOHNSON: Now we’re talking. I’ve talked to Ben a lot about it. I know at a certain point we had to make a document of what season two would look like. I think it’s up in the air. I know Ben would like to do Season 2, I would like to do it and we talked to our producers on it and obviously Netflix too. We just want to keep doing new, fun, weird stuff with it. I don’t think anybody’s looking at this as hopefully we can make a thousand of these. The tone was very clear. Season 1 was really fun I thought. If we’re going to do a Season 2, what makes Season 2 really worth doing? What’s fun about it? There is a code to that. I just don’t think anyone knows what it is yet.

Jake, I was curious, it feels like New Girl has kind of had this resurgence on Netflix. It’s only been off the air for a couple of years now, but I was wondering if you’ve felt that from this younger generation. For me it was Friends, but it feels like New Girl is kind of that comfort watch for a whole new generation now.

JOHNSON: I’m not really on social media. I’ll post on Instagram and then I take it off my phone. So I know that it’s having this resurgence based off the interviews that I’ve done today, because people have said that it seems to be a big hit again through Netflix. And what I would say about that is I think that’s really cool, but also where the fuck were you? We were canceled! (laughs) We could’ve kept going, younger generation! Watch a little bit at television live, man! We need these jobs! So I’m glad it’s coming back around from Netflix. That’s cool. But none of these fools were watching us live. We had like 85 people watching us live on Season 7 (laughs).

I understand. You may want to talk to Tom Holland about that. I know he’s a huge fan of New Girl.

JOHNSON: Oh, okay.

And then have you shot anything for Jurassic World yet? I know they’ve started filming.

JOHNSON: I was getting ready to go out and then this pandemic hit. And so everything got pushed and the schedule got rearranged. And now we’re trying to figure it out because obviously I’m in Stumptown. We’re going into Season 2 of that. And so we’re figuring out the scheduling, how and if we can make it work. But Colin Trevorrow, the director, is a good friend. We’re old friends and we’ve been talking a lot and we’re trying to figure out how to do it.

It does just feel like that character from the first movie, you just want to see what his life is like when the world is overrun by dinosaurs.

JOHNSON: (Laughs) It’s funny because Colin and I had the same talk where we said everything’s getting really tricky, but there’s something we don’t want to just throw away. If this is the big finale and everybody’s coming back, there would be something amiss if Lowery didn’t make at least an appearance.

And to see how big of a super fan he is of Dr. Grant and Ellie and everyone.

JOHNSON: Totally. At one point I pitched that he has a huge ponytail now and he’s got an Army jacket and he’s kind of going through some PTSD of what he lived through. I wanted those 70s glasses and he’s always smoking a cigarette. But luckily Colin said no. So we’ll see what happens.

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Image via Netflix

I would watch that. I would be down for that.

JOHNSON: I was like, “Man, I think he should be tatted up from ankles to the ears. He saw a dinosaur attack.”

I know it’s super early days, but have you started any work on the Spider-Verse sequel yet? I mean, I know Phil and Chris are working pretty hard on it and they want to make sure it’s as unique as the last one was.

JOHNSON: I trust those guys a lot. They’re wildly talented and I’m waiting for the call.

Hoops is now streaming on Netflix.

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Image via Netflix

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