I’m Dying Up Here is a brand new drama on Showtime centered around a comedy club in 1970’s LA. The show premieres on Showtime this Sunday, June 4th at 10:00 PM ET/PT.
In preparation for the series’ inaugural episode, CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke with Oscar Award winner Melissa Leo to discuss her role, working with executive producer Jim Carrey and much more.
MW- Hi Melissa!
ML- Hi Matt!
MW- You star in the new Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here as Goldie, who runs a prominent comedy club in 1970’s LA that serves as a launching pad for new comics. What can you tell us about the story of the show?
ML- The story in our show is that there is kind of a gateway to the biggest chance a comic had in the early 70’s and that would be the Johnny Carson Show. The gateway at that moment, in our story, is through Goldie’s stage and this was related to a true story, the notion that Mitzi Shore’s comedy club was a gateway to that possibility. I think we’ve ratcheted that up some and Goldie is THE aficionado in Los Angeles at that time and Johnny Carson’s bookers know it so they come to her club to find comics. They come to her club to find comics because she is not easy on the comics, it’s not a game to her, it’s life or death. She doesn’t let anybody on her stage that isn’t funny. She has a small venue for them downstairs to get funny, or funnier, which serves as a practice place. She understands something that I have heard from many comics – you don’t know if your material works until you take it out and try it.
MW- I know that they’re two different realms but do you think that experience is comparable to the experience of someone who is starting out in acting?
ML- No, I don’t know, an actor’s life is a hard knock life but goodness a comedians life – blahhh (laughs). That’s a hard life and we’ve had so many wonderful comics, Jim Carrey himself, who are really wonderful actors as well as being comics and that sense of ‘well couldn’t you take me seriously one day.’ I’ve worked with Robin Williams and he did some of the best work I’ve ever seen from any actor but when you mention Robin Williams to people they think about his funny stuff because he was so excellent at that. Not everybody can be excellent at funny.
MW- Speaking of Jim Carrey, he’s an executive producer on the show, what’s it been like working with him? Is he just high-energy all the time?
ML- You would think he would be a high-energy guy but that’s the persona you see, that’s his act. Jim Carrey is a gentle, sweet, darling, caring man. Just the other day out in Los Angeles I saw him give a beautiful speech to open our premiere out there and it’s gentle and it’s wry wit. I think that’s been one of the many, many pleasures of being involved in this show is a chance to get to know Jim a little bit and find out what a beautiful human being he is.
MW- On a personal note, he’s one of my all-time favorite actors so that’s really great to hear.
ML- I think that usually when people have somebody that they take to their heart the way people take Jim to their heart; I think generally that’s pretty much the marker of someone who, if you actually met them would be a really decent human being. I think if you get a stinky kind of feeling about people that might be because that’s who they really are.
MW- You’ve done a whole bunch of roles on television, you’ve been in so many movies, is there a difference in your approach when you start to take on a character in a movie vs on a television show?
ML- Well the difference there is that in a film you know the beginning, the middle and the end. You know the arc of the character. In television you rarely know anything about where your character will be heading until two days before you shoot the episode when you receive the script. There’s a constant sort of learning about the character and in television back in the day a lot of the actors were very fond of going ‘oh well my character would never do that.’ I long ago took the challenge to go ‘OK, well maybe I thought my character wouldn’t do that, but how do I get her to do it now that it’s been written for her?’ By that way, rather than negating what was written I try to collate information about her into the character I’ve already built. Just like living live, being a character on television you get to grow and change and that’s a very interesting challenge and a delight.
MW- Sounds like the key to being successful in television is adaptability then?
ML- Television you have to be willing to adapt. It moves too fast to do it any other way.
MW- I have one last question for you and I’m going to put you on the spot with this one. Can you describe the new show in five words or less right now?
ML- REALLY GOOD INTERESTING NEW TELEVISION!
MW- Beautiful, that’s perfect, five words on the dot. Thanks for your time today Melissa and good luck with the new show!
ML- Thank you so much!
I’m Dying Up Here premieres on Sunday, June 4th at 10:00 PM ET/PT on Showtime. Check your local listings for more information.