*‘Son of Zorn’ is a new hybrid live-action/animated comedy about ZORN, a warrior from the island nation of Zephyria – where everything and everyone is animated – who returns to Orange County, CA, to win back his live-action ex-wife, Edie, (Cheryl Hines, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), and teenage son, Alan (Johnny Pemberton, “21 Jump Street”).
Tim Meadows plays the black stepdad to Alan, and EUR/Electronic Urban Report caught-up with the comedian ahead of the preview episode, “Return to Orange County,” that aired Sept. 11. He revealed that one of the reasons why he signed on to the unique project is because of creative team behind it, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the directors of the “Lego” movie.
Meadows is best known as one of the longest running cast members on “Saturday Night Live,” where he served for ten seasons. In addition to discussing what viewers can expect to see this season on his new FOX series, we also asked Tim to share his fondest memory and last conversation with his fellow SNL alum, the late-great Phil Hartman.
Check out our chat with Tim below.
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I know that the mixing of real characters with animated characters is done in several ways, but can you tell me a bit about how it was accomplished for this project – and any challenges you faced during the process.
TIM: I hadn’t really done a lot of greenscreen work. So what we would do is, we’d block the scene with an actor. A young man named Dan Lippert, who’s a comedian/comic improviser with the UCB in L.A, and he’s about 6’5. So he’s our stand-in for Zorn when we’re rehearsing the scene. And then we shoot the scene without Dan, and on the set, but Dan would do the lines from off set. And we set eye marks to wherever Zorn would be in the room. That’s what we would film. And then they would do another take where they didn’t have anything on set, so the animators would have a photo to do the drawing on basically. They lay those on top of each other.
Without spoiling anything, how does Craig’s desires or motivations change once his stepson’s animated warrior father returns to reconnect with your family?
TIM: In the beginning of the series, Craig and Zorn are adversarial. But Craig is a psychologist and he sort of understands the problem that Zorn is having with Craig being in his ex-wife’s life. So he becomes more of an advisor to Zorn. He sort of explains to him how he’s feeling and why he’s acting the way he is. And then he helps Zorn readjust to living in Orange County.
Do you share any of Craig’s strengths and/or weaknesses?
TIM: I don’t know if it’s a strength or weakness, but I definitely listen to people when they have issues, especially with my kids. I think I’ve probably become a lot better at listening and letting them express themselves and not judging them. Sometimes I feel like they just need to say something so that they know that they’re heard. I’m the same as Craig in that way, and I think that would be a strength.
Weakness? I would say is probably soup. Craig loves soup, and I do too.
What’s your favorite soup?
TIM: I love tomato soup with a little bit of butter in the middle and Ritz crackers.
Homemade tomato soup, or will you also eat canned soup?
TIM: I’m a straight up Campbell’s man.
Without giving too much away, what can viewers expect romantically from Craig and Edie?
TIM: Well, I don’t want to give too much away cause the characters go through some changes as the series goes, but the thing that you will notice as the show goes on is that Edie is really in love with Craig. And we find out that they have a very passionate love life. The funny thing about it is that, it’s unexpected because of how Craig is such a laid-back character. Then you find out that their love life is pretty exciting.
Will the series explore any serious social themes – any messages you’re hoping the viewers walk away with?
TIM: It’s pure sit-back and relax comedy, but those things are sort of thrown in. We have episodes that are about recovering alcoholics. We have episodes that are sort of about racism. Zorn finds out that Americans view Zephyria sorta comically, cause there’s a sitcom about Zephyria and Zorn sees it and he hates it. So there’s a show that has to do with racism, or stereotypes, but it’s about how we have stereotypes about Zephyrians.
You’ve played so many memorable characters, what role has been your favorite so far?
TIM: ‘Mean Girls’ is probably the one I went into thinking, ‘I’m gonna really try to just be an actor, and try to bring something to this guy.’ And then I realized when I was reading the script that he was kind of wary about working. That he really wasn’t into being a principle at the school anymore. So I just played it that way. I just thought, okay, this is going to be his last year teaching. He’s probably going to quit after this year. He just wants to make it through the year. Even like the biggest things that happen to his character, like with the burn book, and the girls were fighting in the hallway, and it was a riot at the school. He got through it by thinking, ‘This is my last year working here.’ That’s the one role I was really like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna study and I’m gonna come up with some backstory.’
I would say that this movie I did ‘Walk Hard: The Dewy Cox Story’ was probably the most fun that I had on a set on a day-to-day basis. Everyday was just coming in and working with Matt Besser, and Chris Parnell and John C. Reilly, and I just love those guys. We had a great time.
As you reflect on your career, are there any key moments or key opportunities that changed your trajectory?
TIM: I would say it was probably when Del Close — who is a director here in Chicago — hired me to be in the main stage cast at Second City. That completely changed my trajectory. It made the biggest difference in my career. This director named Jeff Makowski, when he hired me to be in the touring company. And Lorne Michaels, when he hired me for ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Those are the three big moments of my career where I went from being a broke actor to being a working actor to being a working actor who can just survive to being a working actor who actually had money in the bank and had a career. They all made a big difference in my life.
Speaking of SNL, would you mind sharing a fond memory that you have of the late-great Phil Hartman, or the last conversation you had with him.
TIM: Well, I love Phil Hartman. Phil taught me a lot when I was working at SNL. He taught me how to read cue cards. He taught me how to deliver a joke on the show without being nervous about it. He taught me don’t be afraid of the silence in the studio audience when you’re doing a sketch, and I loved Phil for that. We used to call him The Glue because we said he held the show together. If we didn’t have Phil Hartman, we wouldn’t have a show. Chris Rock gave him that nickname, The Glue.
My last conversation with him was, he called the studio after I walked off stage from doing The Ladies Man scene, and he called and said that he was watching it at home and that he was really happy that I was able to break out on the show because he always thought I was very good. Then he told me, ‘Whenever you come to L.A., I want you to come by and have dinner. I want to see you.’ And I said, ‘I will, Phil. I promise.’ And he goes, ‘If I find out you came to L.A. and you didn’t come see me, I’m gong to be really disappointed in you.’ And I told him, ‘I promise when I come to L.A, I’ll come see you,’ and that was the last conversation I had with him.
What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out as an actor?
TIM: Not worry too much about it. I think early in my career I was just worried about being good and being accepted. And I think now, looking back on it, I wish I hadn’t worried so much.
I kinda feel like the things that I learned as I was coming up still hold true today. Ya know, you sorta have to make a sacrifice in order to do the work sometimes. Whether it be not being able to see friends or family, and just working hard and your reputation and stuff.
No doubt you’ve been an inspiration to many comedians, actors and directors, so what inspires a person who inspires others?
TIM: I’m inspired by the reaction of people. I love when I can make people laugh. Whether it’s an audience, or people that I’m just talking to, or friend or my kids. That inspires me. I’m sort of inspired to try to create a body of work that’s varied and different and not stereotypical. That inspires me. And then to have young, African-American improvisers come up to me and say that they got into it because they saw me doing it, is a big inspiration. It makes me feel really good.
“Son of Zorn” premieres Sept. 25 on FOX. You can watch the special preview episode at the official website.