BEN AND KATE: Dana Fox on the Show’s Relationships, Their ‘Embarrassment of Riches’ in Casting, and More
October 30, 2012 by Marisa Roffman
When a comedy pilot is delightful, there’s always the question about whether the quality can be sustained or if it’s a one-time fluke.
With Fox’s BEN AND KATE — one of the comedy pilots I adored the most this season — I’ve been so delighted to find myself equally enamored with the episodes that have since aired the show’s first installment.
I talked with BEN AND KATE creator Dana Fox about her series, balancing the dynamics of the show, the complicated relationships, and more…
Your brother, the real-life Ben Fox, played a big inspiration in how the character was created. As you get further along with the series, how much are you trying to draw from his real-life characteristics and how much are you drawing from other sources?
Dana Fox: You know, I would say he’s my inspiration and our relationship is very much my inspiration in that we very much support each other and care for each other and we drive each other crazy. But at the root of it all, there is a lot of love. So I would say that’s still very much there, but at a certain point, the character takes on a life of its own and we sort of let it do that. And Nat [Faxon (Ben)] brings so much to the table and what kind of actor he is brings a ton to the table. And his relationship with people on the show starts to bring things [to the table]. It’s definitely this living organism that starts to evolve pretty quickly, but it’s still really helpful, because occasionally, there will be these moments where it’s like, well, what do you think this character would do? And that’s when I use my brother as a touchstone and say, let me think about it. Or moments where different characters start to feel ridiculous and I can say, my brother is a really successful person who does really well in life, charms everybody, and is the person everyone wants to be near, so that kind of reminds you to bring it back to that place. I use him as a touchstone, but he’s definitely become a fictional character at this point.
That’s probably good for everybody involved.
DF: It’s good for everybody involved, including my brother. He like, “This is weird!”
Well, we have seen some moments of vulnerability to Ben in the first few episodes. Are you making a conscious effort to include those kinds of moments to balance out the potential wackiness of his other actions?
DF: Yeah. And I think the character is funniest when he’s dead serious. And part of that is because Nat Faxon is just naturally funny and he’s incredibly goofy person. And when you start to make him more serious and have more real emotion, like one of those [moments], like you said, where he’s admitting, I don’t have my life together, I’m not 100% cool with that. I do wish I had a woman, or the job situation, or one of my ideas was working on had hit it by this point, I think he stays in the realm of believability, and he stays in the realm of this earth and that actually makes the wacky stuff funnier. Because you don’t go, bullshit, I don’t believe in this. He’s a real person, he’s a real man, he’s manly. He’s not a loser, he’s not a slacker, he actually is a guy that’s up at 5 o’clock in the morning ready to do projects and he’s like, why aren’t you awake yet?
It’s really exciting to see the cuts start coming through, because when you make a pilot, you worry you maybe accidentally caught lightning in a bottle, and you’re not totally sure if you can repeat it or if it has legs or if the actors are as good as you think you are. The actors are way better than I thought they were; they’re a revelation, they’re incredible. We feel so lucky we have all these people on one show. It just feels like an embarrassment of riches. So that’s been an incredible thing for me…it’s given me fuel for the fire. I just refuse to waste them and it makes me up my game even more.
And in terms of storytelling, we have this oddly unique prism to see these universal stories, which is the brother-sister relationship. I was trying to think of a show where a brother-sister relationship was at its center and I really couldn’t think of one. So we feel we’re really lucky, because we can do things everybody relates to, but do them in a way that feels special and fresh. These characters are so specific with who they are, that it’s leading us to these very interesting stories.
Given that there are family, friend, and work dynamics to balance, are you finding it difficult to try and juggle everything?
DF: There are a lot of moving pieces which actually feels good. You feel like you have a lot of interesting places to go. It doesn’t feel like we have too many pieces; it feels like we have the right number of pieces. And I would say we’re leaning heavily on this family — obviously Kate and Ben are the nucleus of the family, but their friends are really important to the “it takes a village” concept, so their friends are heavily involved in the stories.
We’re having a lot of fun with romantic love interests for Kate. We have that unique prism of your brother being involved in your life — I can’t think of anything worse than my brother going on a date with me trying to protect me and doing what he thinks is trying to protect me. I’d be, “Get out of here, you’re embarrassing me.” But he’s playing that role of being a protective big brother and getting involved and getting in the way. So we have that fun stuff to explore.
And adding anyone who’s not used to the dynamic must be fun to write, since BJ and Tommy have been friends with them for a while.
DF: Exactly! Which is why you have to have them interacting with other people to have someone go, “Hey guys, this is kind of weird. You guys are all really weird.” We keep them on Earth; they have to feel real, like real people. You’re exactly right, BJ and Tommy are used to the situation, so they wouldn’t be commenting on how weird it is. They think it’s normal. So that’s a big part of why we’re exploring the world around them.
Will we be seeing Ben’s ex (Lindsay Sloane) again?
DF: I’m trying to keep that as an open-ended question, because I love Lindsay so much and she’s so funny and I want her to be able to come back when I think there would be moments for her to come back.
And Geoff Stults is coming in the mix as a potential love interest for Kate. Right now, is she looking for someone who is more steady in her life, or is she drawn to a guy who is more like her brother?
DF: We’re trying to explore what kind of guy she’d be drawn to. I think part of it is [the question of] are you drawn to people that are a hot mess or are you drawn to those who are really stable? Or does it scare you to be drawn to someone who is stable, because then it could be real and you could get hurt? That’s one of the things we’re exploring.
I think when you have a kid, that changes everything. Even if you do wish you could indulge some of your bad ideas, you set yourself on, no, you can’t do that. These characters are really flawed and I think real people are really flawed. And I think even when you’re not supposed to make bad decisions, you make bad decisions some of the time. A lot of people do. So we’re going to explore that.
Should fans be rooting for Tommy and Kate to get together at this point?
DF: I’m a big believer in watching the actors and watching what they bring to the table and seeing who they are as people and try and innovate that as much as possible to the characters you’re developing, because I feel it will feel more real to people.
I think what’s interesting about Echo [Kellum (Tommy)] is he’s so funny and so great and so loving and such a puppy dog, but he’s a real man. He’s somebody who you’d be lucky to get that guy as your boyfriend. So that’s one of the things I’m exploring with Kate and Tommy: there’s this guy who has always been there and always loved you and you look at him and think I can take it for granted because it’ll always be there. And then at a certain point, that guy goes, “I really love you, and if you don’t love me, I’m not going to waste the rest of my life for this.” And he gets a girlfriend and you’re watching this guy be the best boyfriend in the world to somebody and you’re wondering, “Did I miss something here? Did I make a mistake?” So that’s the stuff we’re going to put out over the next year.
Are there any plans to bring Maddie’s father back into the mix?
DF: We’re probably not going to meet Maddie’s father for a long time, but we’re interested and excited about that [in the future]!
BEN AND KATE airs Tuesdays at 8:30 PM on Fox.
BEN AND KATE Creator Dana Fox Teases ‘Bad Cop/Bad Cop’
BEN AND KATE: Echo Kellum and Lucy Punch on Show Feedback and What’s to Come
BEN AND KATE: Nat Faxon, Dakota Johnson, and Maggie Elizabeth Jones Talk About Their New Show