Hilariousman (I can't call him merely a "funnyman") David Cross has himself a new show on IFC, and it's called The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. Heed my advice when I tell you: You must watch this show. It premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT, and follows the entertaining misadventures of an American pathological liar (David) as he bluffs his way into a senior marketing job in the London office for Thundermuscle, an "awesome new energy drink." Assigned by his blowhard boss (Will Arnett) to launch the new beverage line and sell several thousand units in just one week, Margaret's progress is significantly disadvantaged by his complete inexperience with sales and with British culture. Look for special guest appearances by Will Arnett, Spike Jonze, Janeane Garofalo and Amber Tamblyn.
I was thrilled to get the chance to discuss this ingenious new show with David a few weeks ago. And now I publish it here, for you all to enjoy.
Celebrity Extra: First of all, I want to tell you that I absolutely love your work, so I was very excited to learn that IFC had picked up your new show.
David Cross: Oh, thanks. Did you see the show at all?
CE: I got to see the first three episodes — that’s all they had on the press screener, so I am excited to see the last three when they air.
DC: The first three? Interesting…
CE: Trying not to read any spoilers online, because I was reading that the showed aired first on Channel 4 in the U.K. Is that true? And how did it come about that IFC picked it up?
DC: Well, that’s not exactly true. It will air six weeks later to the date in the U.K., which was a contractual thing because IFC put in most of the money. It initially was going to go to Channel 4, but they passed on it. The pilot aired, and they passed on it. And then IFC became involved. And then they were like: “Oh, so we can have a show for 60,000 pounds and I get six episodes? Sounds good to me!”
CE: Now, can you convert pounds to dollars quicker than (your character) Todd Margaret can? Because as we see in the show, he gets into a bit of trouble because of it.
DC: Oh, good Lord. I am very well aware of it. And it fluxuates every hour on the hour. Having spent half a year in London when the dollar was at its lowest. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to stop doing it and try to train myself to not to automatically think like that, but I would walk out of a pharmacy or a Boots and say, “Holy Shit! I just spent 32 bucks on toothpaste, soap and toilet paper!” So, I’m hyperaware of the exchange rate.
CE: I didn’t realize you were over there that long.
DC: Yeah, half a year almost to the day — Hang on my dog just poo’ed unexpectedly. So I’m gonna have to get a bag out. It’s so fucking infuriating when people don’t pick up after their dogs in the city … it’s criminal!
CE: As another responsible dog owner, I completely agree with you! I was wondering about the show itself. How did the whole idea come about for you?
DC: Three years ago last summer, I was in London, doing some shows at 100 Club. After one of the shows these two women who were from REF Productions approached me about doing a show that I would write — where they would pair me a writer from the U.K. — and for me to star in for the U.K. that could then potentially be sold to the United States. That’s where the genesis of the whole thing came from. And then I had to figure out what the show was. That’s the first time I’ve ever created something with such specific parameters. I’ve usually just had an idea, came up with the idea and wrote it up, whether it was by myself or with somebody else, and then pitched that idea. But this was very much like, “Ok, let me figure out what this idea is going to be.”
Obviously I have to be in it. Obviously I’m an American, I can’t pass for British. How do I get myself over there? What’s my story? And then, one thing that was important that I discussed with the funny folks at REF was, we didn’t want it to be simply a fish out of water. And as you can see with only three episodes, each show literally takes place the next day. So, there’s a story being told. There’s definitely a fish out of water for sure but there’s a whole crazy involved story that exists.
CE: Well, I really liked the storytelling convention, like you mentioned, with it taking place one day at a time, beginning with the judge reading off the different crimes your character is accused of and then cutting to: Six Days Earlier …
DC: And that’s how it will be for the life of the show if I do any more series. Then that series will start with a different opening, and it will keep going to 12 days earlier. If I’m lucky enough and the show lasts for three seasons, the entire time that’s traveled will be about two weeks. So, that’s one thing I’m quite happy with, that I’m telling a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. And I know what that end is. Not sure with the middle. But I know the beginning and the end.
CE: Just the character of Todd, he’s just so — please tell me that’s all from your imagination and you don’t know anybody like that!
DC: I don’t know anybody like that! And, I’m glad you’ve said that as opposed to what a number of people have said, “Is Todd based on you? Do you share any characteristics with Todd?” Which is not even remotely close but it’s almost unbelievable how ridiculous he is. Like the title. Everything is just … everything he fucking does its like, “What are you doing? Shut ip! Don’t say that! You had the perfect opportunity to tell the truth and get yourself out of this sticky situation.” But, he just makes everything worse every step of the way.
That’s one thing; he’s not a malicious guy at all. And I guess if anything is taken from real people or a person’s particular personality trait is that a couple of guys I know have is that they mistake kindness for romantic interest. Which Todd does every step of the way. He believes that, “Oh, she just smiled at me. She must like me!” I know guys like that and then they start flirting, and it’s just ugly and you’re just like, would you stop it!
CE: I don’t like to compare characters from different shows, because Todd is like no other character I know, but the only way I can describe him is: He makes me 10 times more uncomfortable that Michael Scott from The Office.
DC: Well good! I’m excited for you to see the rest of the show. Because he really does… the awkward moments really start ramping up. I mean, they get pretty crazy. I hope I’ve grounded it in enough of a reality that that makes sense.
CE: I love the supporting characters you have, like Sharon Horgan and Blake Harrison. Were you involved in the casting process? How was that to work with them?
DC: I was involved with all aspects of casting, and both of those guys I was not familiar with at the time I was casting. And I knew of the show, the In Betweeners, I think I’d seen it before. But I really was not that familiar with Blake. And Sharon was recommended to me by Channel 4 when we were getting the pilot together. I actually wrote it with someone else in mind. The Alice character was initially much more of a sweeter, ingénue with this kind of fantastic life. And she was sort of the opposite of Todd … and then I was given, for consideration, copies of Sharon’s show, Pulling, which I saw and was like, “Holy Shit! She phenomenally talented!” And then I thought, is she going to even want to do this because it’s not really at her talent level. And so then we really changed the character to suit her. Initially, she’s just way too sweet and — I don’t mean to say this in a mean way, but she has a tougher quality to her, which the character didn’t initially have. But I could not possibly be any happier with the cast. They are all so good. Everybody fucking nails it. Even the British cameos, people who are kind of big deals to get in Britain. Everybody nails is.
CE: I love to that we always see Arrested Development people in each other’s projects, so I was thrilled to see Will Arnett plays a supporting role. With Will, do you just roll the camera and say go?
DC: Yes and no. Every single actor we cast was, and we verbalized this to everyone, was cast with an eye toward improv. And I told everyone when we were auditioning and part of the auditioning process is that we do what was on page, and then I’d just start riffing. For me it’s like a form of Tourette’s where I cannot stop and I can’t shut myself up, and I keep riffing and stuff. So we encouraged that.
But like most things out there you have to get what’s on the page. Because there is information on there that may seem innocuous and meaningless but is actually kind of important. And we’d have to definitely have to get everything on the page and then when I was meeting with potential directors, I told all of them like, “I’m going to ask you to sacrifice that cool shot that directors like where you put the camera here and we move here and we do that — because that takes an hour to put up and shoot and break down. I’d rather sacrifice that shot and do an extra hour of just riffing.”
So it was encouraged then and as I said, everyone that was cast with an eye toward their ability to do that. But there’s a lot that doesn’t even make it in. Because unfortunately you only have 22 minutes, and you have to tell a story and sometimes you have to sacrifice laughs for the story or information that becomes important in episode five.
CE: And then maybe we can get all that extra stuff on the DVD.
DC: Oh yeah, it’s all there. Now wait till you see the stuff that was cut from the pilot of Will and Spike. I mean, it’s so goddamn funny. It’s like sidesplitting, cryingly funny and we just had to lose it cause of time.
CE: You were saying if all goes well you could possibly do a season two or season three … What can we do as fans to make that happen?
DC: I think part of the tradeoff of doing a show with a tiny budget, not making any money but having the creative autonomy to do what you want, doing it on a cable channel — the tradeoff for working that hard for not enough money, the bar is set so fantastically low for what success means. I’m not trying to be cute … it’s true. I think it would just have to be an endless failure for it to not be picked up. It doesn’t really cost them a whole lot and they are very happy with the show.
IFC has been great in promoting it and they are truly excited about it and so is Channel 4 in the U.K. And so far I have not read one review that has not been at least kind of above average. No one has had a negative review. And what is IFC for ratings? A few hundred people? So, just spread the word. Say there’s a show out there and it’s pretty cool. I appreciate your asking me that question but outside of saying, “Check it out; it’s pretty cool,” I don’t know what else to do.
CE: You have a recurring role in Will’s new show on Fox, Running Wilde — what can you tell me about your character?
DC: I play the annoying, sexless, self-described echo terrorist fiancé of Keri Russell’s character who is Will’s love interest in the show. Should be interesting …