KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF Q&A — Eric Petersen Wrestles With Being "That Guy"
In KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF, Eric Petersen plays Kevin McRoberts, the quintessential sitcom husband. He's comedic, lovable, but also downright infuriating. In this interview with amc.com, Petersen talks about his love of classic sitcoms, how COVID helped the cast come together, and how he came to terms with delivering some of Kevin's harshest lines.
Q: The premise and execution of the show is definitely unique, but what was the “wow factor” that got you really excited to work on this project?
A: I got sent the script and got an audition set up, and immediately knew this was going to be fun. The title itself was very gripping and right off the bat I was like, "Wow, okay. And it's an audition to play Kevin. Okay, great, let's check this out!" Once I read it, I was so excited because I'm a big multi-cam sitcom fan. I love the history of it. I like the ins and outs of the production and the history of the networks—all that old school stuff. I've done a lot of multi-cam acting in my career, so I was excited to be a part of something that was going to crack multi-cams wide open. To me, I felt beyond lucky, because there aren’t as many multi-cams being made anymore. As an art form, I’d say it’s in its twilight years, no longer in its full glory. So anytime I get a chance to audition for one I'm excited.
With KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF, I’m a part of a show that has a really specific point of view. I feel overwhelmingly lucky to be a part of it, and to play this character in an interesting way. I think it would have been easy to play him as a one-note guy. I tried to be more than just a bad husband who's really mean to his wife and who doesn’t care about anybody else. I tried to play him as a loveable, classic sitcom husband… but then you see these moments of him saying something really terrible to his wife, or even if it’s not totally terrible, he's being so outwardly dismissive of her. And he's so completely unaware of it. I tried to be aware of the push and pull of just how far to lean into being a real douchebag, and how much to tap the brakes and make him just blatantly uninformed or ignorant on how he should actually be acting.
Q: Once you see Allison’s world from the single-cam perspective, you can’t unsee how a character like Kevin is inherently problematic—even if he’s loveable at the same time. What’s so interesting as a viewer is moving between these two worlds and these two perspectives, but it does take a little getting used to.
A: It does. I’ve seen the first four episodes, and every time there's the transition from the multi-cam to the single-cam world, it's jarring. And I like that! I hope that audiences have the tenacity to stick through that uncomfortableness because I think that's the point of the show. The point is to make you slightly uncomfortable, and to make you introspective. Valerie Armstrong, our brilliant creator, has said many times: "What have we been laughing at for 50, 60 years on television?" And I think that's the point. You see the formula unfold in the multi-cam world. It goes set-up, set-up, joke, laugh track, set-up, set-up, joke, laugh track, door closes, boom! And it's like, "Oh s--t." You realize that when the men are gone Annie or Mary Hollis have to deal with their terrible jokes, their insensitivities, and the way that they don't listen to them at all.
Q: Did you get any backstory on Kevin from the creators, or were you left to build and experiment with that backstory yourself? How did you prepare to play Kevin?
A: I was left to experiment with it. Like a lot of classic sitcom characters, I think eventually we’ll find out more about how Allison and Kevin met and what their early dating life was like. A lot can be inferred from the type of people they are. I think a good sitcom character feels familiar, and once their energy, rhythms, tempos, and vibe are established the character doesn't really change. As viewers, that’s what we like about sitcom characters. So even though this sounds bad to say as an actor, Kevin’s backstory wasn’t that important to me once I locked into who he is now. Of course with something like a drama, you’d want to have as much information as possible to make a truly rounded, nuanced character, but that's not necessarily what I was going for here.
What I was really trying to do with the character was help the story along. I like to think that I'm a pretty good guy. I have a wife and two kids, so I'm aware of a lot of the issues that our show is addressing. There were times when, as Eric, I'd be like, "Do I have to say that line? Can't we make it a little less cutting?" And they'd be like, "No, that's the point of the show. You're that guy. You've got to say these things." And I'd be like (sighs), "Okay, all right. I'm ready. Let's just do it."
We didn’t have a full live studio audience like you would in a traditional multi-cam because of COVID, but they did bring a group of about 10 to 15 laughers that were all COVID tested. They would respond in real time with real laughter, which was great. They were set up on the multi-cam side and never saw any single-cam scenes, so they were definitely on my side through all of the filming. You could feel their energy, they were like, "We love Kevin! Kevin's great!" So whenever I would have to say these terrible lines, they'd kind of be like, "Oooh." But you could see that they wanted to forgive me because they're conditioned to be like, "Aw, that was bad, but who cares?" There’s a moment near the end of the season, when Allison says, "Kevin, you're really not a good guy." She's kind of giving it to him. The live studio audience of 10 to 15 people were like, "Why are you being so mean to Kevin?!" They didn't say that, but I felt that energy! They were like, "Come on, Kevin's a good guy!" Once people see the multi-cam and the single-cam worlds, they’ll see the full picture.
Q: You, Brian Howe (who plays Kevin’s dad), and Alex Bonifer (who plays Neil, Kevin’s neighbor), are a tight knit unit. How did the three of you work together to build that well-synced chemistry?
A: Thank you, I appreciate that! One of the silver linings of COVID is that we ended up waiting about two or three months before we started shooting. So during that time we would all meet weekly and read through scripts, hang out, talk to each other about our characters, and about who we are as people. This was a huge luxury! That we got to kind of hang out for a few months—sure not in person, but through Zoom—but in television that never happens! I come from a theater background, so it felt very theatrical to me. It's like when you go to something like summer stock and you get super-close with everyone because you’re fully in each other's lives. You get to know who they are as people, and then that allows you to act better with them. It was extremely helpful for us to have that time before we started shooting.
Q: As a fan of traditional sitcoms and the overall history of this format, what do you think someone like Lucille Ball would think about the show and how it flips the sitcom model on its head?
A: Even the premise of your question brings me immense joy because I love Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy! Who knows what will happen with the show. I hope it's massively successful and becomes something that people talk about in regards to the evolution of the American sitcom for years to come. I hope she would be proud. The I Love Lucy show actually was from a female perspective, maybe not in the writer's room, but at least Lucy being at the heart of it. For some reason, we just stepped away from that model for 50 years. So I would hope that Lucy would be proud and happy. Honestly, I think she would give major kudos to Annie Murphy, who is so brilliant in this show and is such a comedian. She’s able to handle the drama of the single-camera stuff, but is just at home doing the multi-cam comedy stuff. I would hope that Lucy would be proud of us and would say, "It's about damn time!"
Read an interview with Annie Murphy, who plays Allison on KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF.
The first two installments of the eight-episode season of KEVIN CAN F**K HIMSELF are available now on amc.com and AMC apps for mobile devices. New episodes air Sundays 9/8c and are available one week early on AMC+.
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