Gary Cole as Harrison Johnson in mixed-ish - Season 1 | ©2019 ABC/Brian Bowen Smith

Gary Cole as Harrison Johnson in mixed-ish – Season 1 | ©2019 ABC/Brian Bowen Smith

MIXED-ISH, a half-hour comedy created by Kenya Barris & Peter Saji, is a spin-off of BLACK-ISH, created by Barris. MIXED-ISH, which has its series debut on ABC Tuesday, September 24 at 9 PM (followed directly by the Season 6 premiere of BLACK-ISH), explores the ‘80s childhood of Tracee Ellis Ross’s BLACK-ISH character Rainbow (played in MIXED-ISH by Arica Himmel – Ross narrates as Rainbow’s adult self). Rainbow and her siblings have to move with their parents, black mom Alicia (Tika Sumpter) and white dad Paul (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), from a mellow commune to racially conscious suburbia. Culture shock ensues. So do family issues, especially with Paul’s less-than-woke dad, played by Gary Cole.

ABC’s THE GOOD DOCTOR has its third-season premiere on Monday, September 23. The title character, Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore, is a brilliant surgeon who tries not to let social awkwardness born of autism affect his career. Richard Schiff plays Shaun’s friend and mentor, Dr. Aaron Glassman, who in Season 2 battled esophageal cancer.

Between them, Cole and Schiff have racked up over 300 acting credits on film and television. Coincidentally, both men have been honored for their portrayals of political operatives. Schiff won a Supporting Actor Emmy for his performance as White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler on THE WEST WING, while Cole was nominated for an Emmy for his guest work on HBO’s comedy VEEP as presidential advisor Kent Davison.

While MIXED-ISH and THE GOOD DOCTOR wouldn’t seem to have much in common beyond their mutual home at ABC and featuring (mostly) regular characters of goodwill, Schiff and Cole know each other, and are consequently hanging out together on a balcony on the top floor of West Hollywood’s Soho House, taking in the incredible view of L.A.’s Westside.

Earlier that day, Cole described his character to reporters. “It’s a great joy to be unleashed into no restrictions of filter in a character. But the character is there to represent, I think, ignorance and all the challenges that the family faces personally, and in culture, and in their experience, that is unique. One of the things I thought was sort of brought up about the commune aspect is it’s exaggerated, because this core family lived in a bubble, really. Not only would the experience of what they go through have been challenging anyway, but they’re going at it, especially the children, coming from total innocence, not having anything butt up against that. And I think Grandpop provides that [challenge] on an ongoing basis inside the living room.”

Before THE GOOD DOCTOR originally premiered, Schiff told the press why he joined the series. “I think it’s always tough to know what a project is going to turn into. And it’s guesswork. And sometimes I’ve guessed wrong, and sometimes I’ve guessed right, you know? You roll the dice based on conversations that you have with people. So [THE GOOD DOCTOR creator/executive producer] David Shore was the first person I talked to about this. And when I have to make a decision, I go into panic attack. My brain shuts off. And I have to ask everyone around me what I should do. So it’s tough, it’s really tough, especially something that might demand my attention and presence for quite a long time, which this has the potential to do. So having a conversation with David and what his vision was and is was a huge factor. But the personal reason is that I have a history with this particular challenge of autism, with a couple of different people in my life. I personally appreciate any person in real life that steps out of their way to save a life, so to speak, even if it’s psychologically.

“I told Hill [Harper, who plays Dr. Marcus Andrews] the story of how Gilda Radner had seen me in this big room when I was a teenager and nobody knew me, and I was very troubled at the time. And she cut a beeline to me, put her hands on my face, and said, ‘It will be all right,’ and then talked to me for quite awhile. [Gene Wilder’s nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman] told me that that’s who Gilda was. She would just find the person who was troubled and do that. She didn’t do that with every person. And those kinds of experiences in my life saved my life. And the fact that [Schiff’s character] went out of his way to find somebody who was troubled, because not only was he challenged with this problem, but he went through trauma. And the fact that he decided to be a mentor to this individual, to me, that’s a very touching and compelling story. So I jumped off the cliff for this based off that, and hope that it finds fruit.”

ichard Schiff as Dr. Aaron Glassman in THE GOOD DOCTOR - Season 3 | ©2019 ABC/Art Streiber

ichard Schiff as Dr. Aaron Glassman in THE GOOD DOCTOR – Season 3 | ©2019 ABC/Art Streiber

Now Cole and Schiff talk with, to and about each other.

ASSIGNMENT X: What have the two of you worked together on?

GARY COLE: Well, when Richard was in THE WEST WING, I appeared as the vice-presidential replacement [character Bob Russell], and a later candidate for president.

AX: He was conservative, as is your MIXED-ISH character. You are often cast as sort of right-of-center people …

COLE: [laughs] I guess that’s true.

AX: Do you have any idea why that is?

COLE: I don’t know. I have no idea. I fit the suit.

RICHARD SCHIFF: You fit the suit really well.

AX: So were you familiar with the BLACK-ISH universe before you joined it?

COLE: I was familiar with BLACK-ISH, because Anthony and I had done a film [THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN] together. I think it was right before BLACK-ISH began. So I watched it – I didn’t really follow it, but I just checked it out because I liked Anthony, I liked his work.

AX: Had you done a lot of half-hour before?

COLE: Not really. Well, I did VEEP, which is a half-hour single-cam before this, but before that, not really any per se. I did a couple of guest-starring things, but most of the television I did was basically drama. Some of it had humor or comedy in it, but I never did a flat-out comedy.

AX: Do you like the hour format, or the half-hour format, or is it just dependent on the role?

SCHIFF: I like good writing. If it’s theatre, or if it’s film, or if it’s TV, or if it’s half-hour, or if it’s an hour, I was on BALLERS for a long time, I had a great time doing that. I just like good writing.

COLE: I basically fall down on the writing is the thing. I never look at comedy and drama all that differently. I don’t really go about doing anything differently, other than trying to tell the story.

SCHIFF: That’s why I love him so much in comedy, because he never goes for the laugh. He always goes for the honest moment, which turns out to be very funny. I love watching you do comedy.

COLE: Well, thank you, sir.

AX: When your THE GOOD DOCTOR character originally got esophageal cancer, did you think you might be written off the show, or were you confident that we would follow Dr. Glassman’s progress through treatment and recovery?

SCHIFF: I’m good either way. I was pretty sure [death] wasn’t the case, but if that happens, that’s fine, too.

AX: Over the course of the two seasons of THE GOOD DOCTOR we’ve seen so far, what have been developments that have excited you the most?

SCHIFF: My real-life wife, Sheila Kelley, plays my love interest on the show now. We have a good storyline this year, and I’m very excited to have her more in my life, because she’s working with me now, and we get to be in love on the show for a little bit, and that’s very exciting to me.

MIXED-ISH - Season 1 key art | ©2019 ABC

MIXED-ISH – Season 1 key art | ©2019 ABC

AX: On MIXED-ISH, you’ve got three young actors playing your grandchildren. How is working with them?

COLE: This is a great cast of kids. They’re terrific. They seem very experienced, and they deliver all the time.

AX: Does your Grandpop character have an older version of himself played by a different actor on BLACK-ISH, or is your character passed away by the time BLACK-ISH starts?

COLE: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know if there’s any reference to him. I don’t believe that there is, not that I know of. He may be out of the picture.

AX: I know that on BLACK-ISH, Beau Bridges plays the older version of Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s MIXED-ISH character.. I saw the TERMINATOR: SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES episode, where Adam Busch played the young you …

SCHIFF: Yes, he introduced himself to me one day, and told me he played the younger me. He had much more hair than I would have had at that age. I don’t remember much of that. That was a guest star on one episode many years ago. I just remember getting beaten up quite a bit, slapped around a little bit. That’s all I remember.

AX: Have you ever had to play a character who was played by a younger or older person at a different age?

SCHIFF: Yes. Remember ROOM 222? The principal. Michael Constantine. I played the younger version of Michael Constantine in a movie called MY LIFE, with Michael Keaton. I was the young Russian father. And Michael Constantine played that Russian character with a Puerto Rican accent that was fascinating.

COLE: Wasn’t a young Eric Laneuville on ROOM 222? Or was that THE WHITE SHADOW? [It was ROOM 222.] He’s been a director for years.

SCHIFF: Thomas Carter [another actor turned director] was on THE WHITE SHADOW. And Ken Howard, who played the coach, who’s sadly no longer with us, was on THE WEST WING.

COLE: Kevin Hooks [another WHITE SHADOW actor] directed also.

AX: A lot of directors apparently came out of that. Do either of you direct?

SCHIFF: I have directed some WEST WINGs and one episode of IN TREATMENT, the HBO show, but I decided shortly after that that I didn’t want to direct. I started out as a theatre director, and for eight years, I had my own theatre company in New York. Directing on television is very different, unless you have your own show. I’m sure [there is more freedom for] a show runner or if you wrote it, or if you’ve worked so long with the show, like we had on THE WEST WING, where people had freedom to actually create their vision. But I decided I didn’t want to do it. I directed one play last year, which was fun, and I get asked to do that every now and then.

THE GOOD DOCTOR - Season 3 key art | ©2019 ABC

THE GOOD DOCTOR – Season 3 key art | ©2019 ABC

AX: So you enjoy directing theatre, but directing television is too much like a hired gun?

SCHIFF: I would direct something that I wrote, or I would direct something that I really [was involved in] from the ground up, but I’m not really in that position. So if that comes along, I would do that. I have a lot to learn, as far as working with this new technology that the kids use [laughs], but it’s manageable. But you really have to have your heart in it, to do TV, and maybe I’ll do a GOOD DOCTOR, but I don’t like to be [directing scenes] in the operating room [laughs], you know what I mean?

COLE: It’s like the dining room table, but even worse.

SCHIFF: It’s like The Oval Office on THE WEST WING. It’s like the conference room on L.A. LAW. It’s endless shooting. But it was a one-off, like the fly in BREAKING BAD, where they’re just contained in that one room. What do they call that?

COLE: Oh, a bottle show.

SCHIFF: A bottle show. If there was a bottle show, and if I inspired the writing of it, or if I wrote it, it was me and Shaun, or Shaun and another character, and it was more like a play, I would love to do something like that.

AX: How about you?

COLE: Never directed [laughs].

AX: What would you most like people to know about MIXED-ISH?

COLE: I think it’s a very unusual comedy, in that there are a lot of things to like. You’ve got a core family that has a mixed marriage, with mixed children, who lives in a commune, who abruptly is forced into 1985 culture in America. And hopefully that’s ripe for comedy, as well as something to say.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about this season of THE GOOD DOCTOR?

SCHIFF: That I am still there, haven’t died, and they’re welcome to come and see what happens.

This interview was conducted during ABC’s portion of the Summer 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: Exclusive Interview with BLACK-ISH star Marsai Martin on Season 3

Related:Interview with BLACK-ISH creator Kenya Barris

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Article: Exclusive Interview with MIXED-ISH actor Gary Cole on the new comedy series and Richard Schiff on Season 3 of THE GOOD DOCTOR

 

 

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