Peter Cambor Talks 'Notes From The Underbelly'
'Notes from the Underbelly' airs Mondays at 9:30, following 'Samantha Who?' on ABC. The season 2 premiere is Monday, November 26.
ABC is starting to find its voice with comedies in the last few years. Last year with shows like Ugly Betty and this year with Samantha Who?, I think that, when I talk to television critics, at TCA parties, and they interview you, a lot of people came up to me after the show aired and said, “you know, I wanted to not like your show,” and they ended up actually really liking it. It was a lot of “what is some network going to know about pregnancy that I don’t know” and “how are they going tell me anything”, the show is much more, in terms of the friends and the relationships and it has to do with the pregnancy as well, but that’s just kind of the back drop for it. People, who are in their thirties, who are going through that critical time in their life. It changes relationship with other people, and how those people react. For my money, when people come up to me, they’re like, “I can really identify with the show.” It’s always something that helps in any show, especially network television, because people will find something to identify with, and I think that’s one of the strengths of our show. I’m surprised that I have the show in the first place. This is all so new to me. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was surprised when I got the pilot, and was surprised when we got picked up because everyone’s like “oh there’s no chance this is going to happen.” And then when we got a second season, it was like “oh this is great, they lied.” There is an audience out there. It kept building it seems to me.
I think it’ll be very helpful for the show, to have it on after Samantha Who? That’s exactly the demographic we’re looking for. And I think last year being paired with According to Jim, I think that’s a very different kind of audience. The Samantha Who? audience is very similar to our target audience, who it kind of speaks to. I think that’s really going to help it this year.
I was out here in LA, I had lived in NY, and I was doing a play here at a regional theatre with Annette Bening and Alfred Molina, a Chekov play. It was an unbelievable experience. I was out here, I had a small agent in New York. I just couldn’t get “arrested” out here, for lack of a better word and then, in the 11th hour, the show was about to end. I was calling my restaurant back in New York, trying to get my job back, waiting tables. One of the producers, the creator of the show came to see the play. And you know, they’d been trying to cast this one role for a long time, saw me in the play, I had like a moustache, mutton chops, and it was this period piece. I got the call on Monday to come in, and a week later, I had the part.
So much of what I do, and what people in the arts, or actors do, it’s so much about being in the right place at the right time. It was definitely one of those times and I'm so very, very grateful that she decided to come see the play that night!
A lot’s going to happen this year. Where we start, we’re sort of in the middle of the pregnancy, and we get through that. The baby will be born this season, and we’re shooting all of that stuff right now. In some ways you get the tail end of the pregnancy, and then you get, in some ways, where I actually think the show really begins, because it’s a whole other chapter, which is about the parenting, these young parents. That’s when a lot of the changes really begin take place. And the show kind of takes on a whole new life about midway into our season this year.
It becomes a show, something like Malcolm in the Middle or something, that’s like a young family. And also, their friends. It’s truly like an ensemble cast. So much of what has to do, is about how it affects everyone else on the show. Like Rachel Harris and Michael Weaver, Melanie Moore and Sunkrish Bala, and Jen [Westfeldt] who plays my wife, it’s a really fabulous cast. A lot of comedy really comes from their reactionary reactions, dealing with the pregnancy, dealing with the child.
It’s a very ensemble kind of show. There’s really not a lot of ego that we bring into the room. You’re as good as the people you’re acting across from. I think that any good actor feels that way, and I think that it’s the same story. It’s a real ensemble driven show, and everyone treats it like that. There’s no jockeying for position, and we all get along really well. We’re also really grateful that we have the opportunity to be working, and to have work. We have a fabulous crew and some really great directors, fabulous writers, and we’re all very sad that they’re on strike.
Oddly enough, our writers, they are a very efficient group of people. Knowing that we were going to be midseason, we didn’t know exactly when that was going to be. Sure enough, we found out that it was November. They were very prepared, and they got a lot of scripts in. We’re not done shooting yet, we have one more script to shoot after Thanksgiving, and then we will have 10 out of our 13 order, and we also have 5 episodes that were shot from last year, that we didn’t air, so we’ll have a 15 episode season this year.
I agree with you. It’s a horrible thing, because we have a really great crew and I feel horrible for them because they’re the ones all over Los Angeles that really need to bear the brunt of the strike, they’re the people living paycheck to paycheck. We’re in the best situation one can be in, in terms of where we are for the strike. In a weird way, it’s a weird thing, but we’re in good shape given the circumstances.
I’d love to make it to season 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and beyond, and how long the show could go. See an actual like little kid, a 5 or 6 year old, and what happens in that. The arc of the story spans a lifetime. I think there’s exciting potential for the show. If you have an 8 season DVD collection, you could see from the baby to all the way up to this stage. It could be really fascinating.
Exactly. It would be neat to be able to look at that, to see how that arc goes. As an actor, you think as simple as possible, you know, one episode at a time, then you can all look at the big picture. For me, this is my first television gig, too. From last season, if I watched the pilot, to the end of the last episode that was shot, I see great growth in myself as I actually get more comfortable at everything. I’d be curious as it goes on to see where that goes.
There are people like George Clooney that I’m really into these days that are kind of current in the way they are aware of what’s going on in the world around. I really respect people like him for doing things like that, for using what we have, and how he makes movies that are a kind of works of art. I think George Clooney is one of the most obvious examples, based on movies he’s done in the last few years. I really admire actors who just work and work and can be everybody and do everything. They’re not necessarily the most famous person who walks down the street, or the most celebrated, but it’s the person that’s been in everything. Actors like Paul Giamatti – you see him everywhere. Or, we had a great guest star on our show, William Devane, who has just been in so much stuff.
I really admire people like that. Kind of transient. In the core of our genes, that’s what we are. People who work and work and work until we drop dead of exhaustion from working. I love that idea. Going back to the theatre, I would hope to always be able to maintain that kind of lifestyle.
They’re both so rewarding. There’s an obvious side to theatre that is sort of exhilarating and thrilling because you’re in front of people. Some television, with multicameras, you’re front of people, an audience. In theatre, there’s an immediate kind of rush. It gives you a great feeling of power. Nothing compares to that on some level. At the same time, there’s a lot about doing a film, you really feel like you’re involved. I feel myself, like when I’m on set, being just one spoke in the wheel and everybody else, whether it’s the transportation department that drives us around to our grips who hold a light, or an electrician or a camera operator – everyone is equally important to that medium, that film that you’re making. There’s something really exciting in that. You completely have to rely on the people around you. While you don’t see the results immediately – you see it 2 weeks later, or so, in post production. That’s what’s very sort of interesting about that, working with people who are all working, sweating it out. There’s something really satisfying about that. They both fulfill in different ways.
What other TV shows do you watch, when you have time?
I’m a big fan of The Wire. 30 Rock I like a lot. I was a big fan of Extras.
I heard about that like last week! I didn’t get into Extras until kind of late. I didn’t own a television until like last summer. But really, The Wire is the most amazing show on television.
There’s nothing like it on TV. Every time I watch, my jaw just hits the ground. It’s fantastic.
Is there anything that you’d want fans to know, either about the show, or you, going forward, why they should watch or something in general you’d want them to hear?
I’ve talked to critics, like I said, who when you look at the show, one might think that it’s a very kind of cheesy sort of topic, but from the beginning, from the conception [no pun intended, I’m sure], it’s really thought out. Barry Sonnenfeld is an amazing cinematographer and director. It kind of looks like nothing else on television. It uses a lot of wide lenses and Barry really set it up to be that way, so it’s very cinematic in the way it’s shot. On top of that, it’s a great cast, very humble, really trying to tell a simple story. It’s a story about these friends and the change in their life. I think it’s really funny because it’s very relatable, and that’s what, hopefully, people have enjoyed and what they will continue to enjoy. Definitely give it a look see, and most people will be pleasantly surprised.