“The New Normal” is a comedy TV series about gay couple David Murray (played by Justin Bartha) and Bryan Collins (played by Andrew Rannells) who are starting a family with the help of surrogate Goldie Clemmons (played by Georgia King), a single mom to an 8-year-old daughter named Shania (played by Bebe Wood). Not everyone approves of this situation, namely, Goldie’s conservative grandmother Jane Forrest (played by Ellen Barkin).
“The New Normal” premiered on NBC on September 10, 2012, and the network has ordered a full season for the show. “Glee” and “American Horror Story” executive producers Ryan Murphy and Dante Di Loreto are also executive producers of “The New Normal,” along with executive producer Ali Adler. “The New Normal” has already proven to be a fan favorite, since it won the 2013 People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Comedy. Here is what Bartha, Rannells and King had to say about the show in a telephone conference call with journalists.
Do you think the show reflects a reality that wasn't always addressed on television until fairly recently?
Rannells: Yes, absolutely, I feel like that's a good point I think that we're just showing - I don't think we're telling a necessarily a new story but we're just - we're just showing what's already happening and what's already sort of out in the world. And I think you're right everybody has some crazy characters in their family and I don't think that's new news for anyone.
King: I would love to add that I think anyone's family is going to be slightly odd, purely on the basis that when you're growing up I think you are trying to figure out who you are and I think putting together two people in any situation they're in there are similarities and dissimilarities. Every family is indeed an odd fusion of different types and characters and some genes that are compatible and some that aren't. And I think you do find that in families everywhere. So yes, I think it's kind of great that we're exploring that.
Bartha: I think you said it very well. I mean it's relatable because it's true and that's one of the things I love about the title of the show is it seems kind of so blunt and almost obvious in a sense. But what we're doing - the fact that we still live in a time where there are people that object to showing what most people would consider reality is interesting in the fact that the name of the show is “The New Normal.” And the normal is something that everyone can identify with is what we really enjoy showing.
What are your feelings about that “The New Normal” being banned by some TV stations in Utah?
Rannells: I think we discussed this when that first sort of that announcement came out. That it's a shame that it came out prior to anyone actually seeing the show, that the sort of decision was made and the controversy started before anyone even got to see any of it. So it's hard to say what people would think of it or who would be offended by it because no one seen it yet. So we were lucky though that another station in Salt Lake [City] actually has decided to air it instead.
So we're happy to be represented there in Salt Lake. But yes, it's unfortunate because I think particularly those people who have seen the pilot know that it's a story about love and creating a family and there's very little certainly that we find offensive in it. But I hope that no one finds anything offensive in it. It's about a story about creating family and the love it takes to start a family. So of course we were I think surprised and maybe a little disappointed that we were [censored] by some people but for the most part I think that the response has been great and particularly after this preview online of the pilot I think we've gotten some really great feedback, which I know I've been very excited about.
Bartha: I have a little bit of a different point of view than Andrew in that. I actually do hope that people are offended by it and I think that hopefully it will be a conversation piece in families home and the families that love it for what it is, which is what Andrews said, it's a show about compassion and love and family — are hopefully the families that will enjoy in the sense and have discussions about those positive aspects.
And then for the families and the people that are offended by what they see, hopefully they will talk with other people about why they're offended by it and what actually does strike them as offensive and wrong. And maybe realize that they're bigots and that they're ignorant and that possibly our show can help them usher in a little more acceptance.
I don't expect it to change anyone's life, I'm not saying that it's that earth-shattering but I do think that it can one of the wonderful things about television that I think our show hopefully brings back a little is a conversation and kind of those water cooler talks that people will have the day after it airs.
Bartha: So it can really bring a discourse into peoples homes that wouldn't normally have those conversations.
King: I would love to add that I kind of go with both you guys in that - well I have say when I read the script the biggest thrill was that I'd get it's an important story. It's not just a case of oh, isn't just being slightly controversial and bringing up topics and questions and ideas and thoughts that varied and I do think it's very important for people to at least consider. I'm not saying that you have to have one specific viewpoint that we're trying to make people feel one specific thing. It's just about opening up ideas and I think that sometimes can be very lost in certain TV shows.
And it's wonderful and it's a privilege to be doing something — exactly as Justin said — [to] create conversation and create ideas and thoughts and just get people thinking about what's happening today. It's very, very current. All the things we're going through, it's not just about gay parenting. It's about a single mother, it's about a girl trying to figure out who the hell she is. It's about an older lady trying to understand where she is at life there's lots of different situations I think a lot of people can relate to.
I was just going to say with respect I understand why some people are struggling with some of the concepts, I understand that. But I do think until you've watched a show and actually see what we're doing and talking about, I think possibly it's a little bit hasty to be making such ...
Bartha: They'll hate it though after they watch it.
King: Well, maybe.
Rannells: I think that the family that we're creating is perhaps no different than yours. That it's a group of sort of unlikely folks that come together to create this family and I think that it might seem awfully different than a lot of peoples families. It might seem a little specific but I think that the story we're telling is really universal and I think my hope is that people will see themselves in the story.
King: Yes, I would like to also add that I would like the story to remind people how beautiful, no matter what your family is. How absolutely wonderful and beautiful it is to have family and have connection and have unity and very much love. And it's so important of our story, it's just quite funny if anything because there's so much controversy and so much negativity. So it's really because it's really a very positive story. So I guess I would say it's all about family.
Bartha: And I'd like them to come out after watching the show realizing that the gays and the Jews really do run Hollywood.
So can you talk just a little bit about your first impressions of the script when you read it and what you drew you each to your characters?
Rannells: I thought the script was - at the time that I sort of joined on there actually wasn't a script. There was only a story but I knew that Ryan and Ali Adler were creating something really unique and special and topical and it all seemed very exciting. So when the script was created, I don't know I just loved that the story was very heartfelt and very topical but that it didn't sacrifice. I think Ryan's sort of brand of humor, which I'm a huge fan of on “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck.”
And I think sometime we forget to say that the show is a comedy and I think we've been talking a lot about sort of what it means politically or what it means socially but it's a really funny show about family and about these relationships. And so I was really attracted to the initially the story but also by the humor of it. I was really, I really fell in love with.
King: Yes, I read many pilots I read because I came as a [U.K.] position and, it kind of feeling like a nice sore thumb. I don't know how to say that. Compared to other stuff I'd read clearly that I found it racy and I read it in a heartbeat, which it went so fast and I needed to reread it. It was clever and thoughtful and every single character, which is strange and you could say, “Oh I made such clichés and character types and whatnot.” But I felt like they were also real and detailed and there's a real finesse to the story even though it kind of hit me around the head like a bulldozer.
So it's kind of a really clever, striking mix of detail and impact. That was my initial reaction. Plus I am a huge, huge fan of doing comedy and as Andy said. So for it to be very, very witty but in a sophisticated, clever way was really refreshing. It wasn't kind of project. I mean, I'm sure there will be a project joke in there but … it was like really something like educated in its wit.
So I think those are the things that really initially got me. And then I read this and it was just a dream role and she really relates to a lot of her characteristics and really responds to that character and really wanted to try and embody everything that she is good and wholesome and brave and. So yes, they all have incredible journeys, all the characters. I think any actor given the option to play one of those - it's a huge adventure to play one of those characters.
Andrew, do you plan of having kids and do you think that this would be a route that you would consider if you did?
Rannells: I don't know. I haven't really made up my mind concretely about having kids. But I'm happy to practice on television. I think this might be a good way to sort of explore that. But no, as for me personally I'm not sure if I'm quite ready to do that.
Justin, this is a very different role for you from “The Hangover,” where you were this great hunk getting married to a girl and all this. So how has it been for you to step into playing a gay character?
Bartha: Well, man, do I have to bite my tongue on this question. I want to say so many jokes but I can't because I don't want to insult anyone. But I will say this that the character isn't defined by his sexuality. None of the characters I've played have been defined by their sexuality. And so it really makes no difference to me personally that the character is gay or straight or anything. So there's no difference between the ones that you brought up, this one and “The Hangover.”
Georgia, your role is so complex and so complicated in so many ways. You have a completely different life from your character, but are you starting to see some things that you hope people will look at in a different light and be more accepting? Is surrogacy something that you will hope the show will bring to a different light and help people see it in a better light, being more accepted?
King: Oh that's right, yes it's so interesting. The whole concept of surrogacy is very new to me. I've never given it much thought until this show. And I'm really surprised and I have to say there is one thing I really was disgusted by was how many people have alleged comments about how they really think it's disgusting and it's wrong and it's mind shocking and it's absolutely against nature.
I kind of want to shake anyone and says that and shake you up with the times because nature is rapidly changing always and I do feel like I have so much, so much respect and time for anyone who would be willing to start and be carry a baby for someone and enable a couple to have a family. That's one of the most selfless, wonderful things you could do for somebody and it's so generous. I really do admire anyone who's a surrogate.
I have to say those are really good days and I would seem that concerned would be part of the story. I find them very uplifting and very unifying and so I really do support surrogacy I think. If that can bring life and family and love then yes, that's fantastic.
Based on how much you filmed and taped so far or how much Ryan conveyed to you initially, could you talk just a little bit about what kind of play you feel the show has beyond the premise of just sort of being the situation that's presented in the previews and in the pilot?
Bartha: Well I can say this: We're shooting the fifth episode right now. And we've read I believe six scripts.
Rannells: That's correct.
Bartha: And the shows get better and better and better.
King: They really do.
Bartha: Now, when you obviously what you're saying can happen to any show once the second season starts, third season starts. You know, that's something we don't look at it like that. I don't want to say negative way of looking at things but the reason why we all signed up for this if I could speak for everyone is, the main reason is Ryan Murphy. Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler, the co-creator.
And what the following episodes do are really explore the depth of each character in this show and make them extremely indelible. So that you can really fall in love with each character separately and they become necessary to each other. And when you continue watching the show what we're trying to do is make this a very real family. And a family that you're going to want to sit down and watch every week and laugh with them and cry with them and feel with them and go on a journey of starting a family with.
So whatever happens to this family it's more about the characters and less about this situation. That's why it's a tricky thing to call our show a sitcom because we really it's not easily definable. Yes it's a comedy and we try to make it as funny as possible but we want to make this a family that everyone wants to sit down with and love the characters. So no matter where the situations take us you're always with these characters that you love.
King: I was just going to say as well, just to add that I see after reading and doing the part I was thinking, “My goodness, how are they going to top this?” The obvious is like does she have the baby does she not etc.? Just as Justin said, every episode gets better and better. And if you are to be very exactly and to sort of make a note of what is happening with my character in this episode.
And if I'm to write down or talking to two or three. Justin said it just so much, they go through every single character is going to and is bonding and traveling through this crazy kind of adventure in these huge acts. And so much is dealt with, yes it's very exciting and just has so much, just right for Ali and Ryan and I'm not sure how they do it, but yes, they're writing is just incredible.
Bartha: Always we're always trying to live within these characters and make them as real as possible. You know, this is we take that very seriously. This is we really want to make these characters real.
What has been the most challenging part about playing a gay couple?
Rannells: I don't know. Justin buddy, I haven't really found … There really haven't been a lot of challenges as of yet. We were lucky that Justin and I had a sort of a natural chemistry when we started and I think we continued to find that and I think the scripts are really incredible and sort of lend themselves to us exploring that. But I haven't really found a lot of challenges, I mean and maybe that's because I'm gay but it’s not too challenging.
Bartha: [He says jokingly] Yes I think, yes it's been surprisingly from the first time that I looked into Andrew's eyes with my eyes, this is a man I could fall in love with. [He says seriously] But I just I can't speak for Andrew and hopefully he won't speak about this either because I know he feels differently. But I just have such a respect for him as an actor and as a person and I think that that was for me immediately apparent when we first met.
And I just thought he was funny and I think he's a good looking, talented guy and he's easy to be around. So that was the basis of it and then you just make sure that all of the creators are on the same page and that was something that I really wanted to know before I kind of signed up to do it was that are we going to make this a real couple. Like I was interested in really defining who these people were, what they were as a couple not as a gay couple.
Like what was the relationship like and not play the gay as you will. Just play them as two people that love each other and are going through struggle just like everyone else in the world goes through. And I think that Andrew and I and Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler we were always on that same page.
And Ryan is always reminding us of that. Literally the other day he called everyone aside and he just said, “Let's just make sure this is as real as possible, let's all remember this.” You know, we all want to make it funny but we also want to make these people very, very real. It is not a sitcom in the classic sense. We want to make it real. So that's the biggest challenge for me is to really obviously we want to make people laugh but we also really want people to fall in love with these guys and I think that we all have the same tastes in what that entails.
Do you stick strictly to the script or is there a lot of ad-libbing going on?
Bartha: The scripts are fantastic. I mean they're all so good and we all I think have a fairly healthy sense of humor and we and Ryan at the very beginning told us that he would love for us to improv as much as we like after we get it from the page. And so sometimes when the scenes call for it we'll try some things. And then when they don't obviously a lot of times it's pretty perfect on the page. It depends on the day and on the scene.
King: It's surprisingly easy to miss the material of the page and just do it. I hate watching stuff when you can almost see the script, some people are talking.
Is there any added pressure knowing that the series is based on Ryan's life and his attempts to have a baby with his fiancé?
Rannells: I don't know if pressure is the right [word]. I think that we're really fortunate that Ryan is going through a process and Ali Adler with her own family. And I think that we're lucky to be able to benefit from that experience. And the scripts are can benefit from that experience. But Ryan makes himself very accessible to all of us and I feel like the story that we're telling is not so specifically his that it feels like we're doing a reenactment of his life or something. It's very loosely based on personal experience.
King: I was going to say if anything, it's more a positive energy than something that's so that it means it's very important to Ryan and Ali, the story and it's kind of if anything probably added a boost as far as I can see it.
Rannells: Yes, yes.
There's such a great rapport between all of you. Was there instant chemistry when you all began working together?
Rannells: I would say yes, I think that we hit it off pretty quickly I think during that pilot. So yes, I would say there was instant chemistry.
King: I am having a ball, I don't know about you guys but I have a very big crush on everybody.
Rannells: Oh no, absolutely.
King: And you know, especially my character I spent a lot of time with Bebe and we're very, very close and rapidly more so as the series go on. We spend more and more time together in our time off and that's very important to me and to her I think.
Andrew, what's your transition been like from Broadway to television?
Rannells: It's been a lot of fun. I feel very fortunate that I was given this opportunity and everyone here has made me feel very welcomed. So it's been good. I certainly miss New York and I miss all my friends there and I do miss doing “The Book of Mormon,” but this has been a perfect introduction to Los Angeles working with all these guys and getting to tell this story. So it's been a fun transition.
Georgia, can you talk a little bit about what her experience has been like with Ryan Murphy?
King: With Ryan? Oh my gosh, it's quite extraordinary.
Bartha: I think she should talk about her experience working with me.
King: With Ryan, it's been extraordinary. I've never met anyone like Ryan. I don't know if anyone like Ryan in the world. And especially coming from Britain and I knew that I had to keep very hush-hush that I wasn't a foreigner at first. And he's got a wonderful reputation for not being sort of kind of huggy and fake and very, very supportive and personally I love that. I absolutely love that he's candid and so clear in his ideas and what he wants to see and I'm very, very happy when he's directing. And we've been very lucky that he's being able to direct a few of the episodes so far this season.
And as exciting as it is working with other directors I feel so very, very safe with Ryan. Even though I feel he pushes us all very hard and I know that just before I began the pilot with everyone he said that I and Justin had very, very tough parts because we had very much to kind of hard characters. He said that especially Goldie is a very strange. And bringing the truth to that as we are all trying to do was very important to him. So I've been absolutely privileged and I'm stammering now. So yes, absolutely privileged with Ryan. He's amazing.
This question is for Andrew and Justin. How similar are you to your characters when it comes to relationships? Are you more easygoing or more over-bearing than your character is when it comes to dating or relationships?
Rannells: I found myself generally in sort of long-term monogamous relationships. So yes I guess in that respect very similar to my character that I very much I think settle down rather quickly when I can.
Bartha: Similar in what sense exactly?
Did you click with the character as far as like, “This is how I act when I'm dealing with a partner”?
Bartha: I think the characters David and Bryan in the show, they have an extremely loving and familiar relationship. They have a mutual respect, love, admiration and they have a partnership true to the word. So I that's something that I look for all the time I look for in my relationship. I've always looked for. So I really admire their relationship, and it's ideal, in a sense. They have what I think a relationship should be.
Ryan Murphy is obviously known for “Glee,” but he's also got that dark side with “Nip/Tuck” and “American Horror Story.” Were any of you a little worried that come the second episode there would be a bloody body in the shower or something really dark and twisted?
Bartha: Less worried and more hopeful that there'd be a body.
Rannells: I agree, I agree that's the wild thing of being a fan of that side of Ryan. I'm a big fan of that side of Ryan so I don't know what the likelihood of working some of that “American Horror Story” into “The New Normal” is but if there's a way to do it …
Bartha: That's the funny thing about Ryan that I think that he's so versatile and he has all of these different sides to him and they're all so clear and pointed assures me at least that that his view of this show will be the same. And he has such a very specific point of view of what he wants his shows to look like. So that helps immensely.
Rannells: Yes, I agree.
King: Ditto, Justin.
Jane, Ellen Barkin character, always says the most inappropriate thing. Does she surprise you at all? Has anything she said shocked you?
Rannells: Oh absolutely, I think regularly we do these table reads of new scripts and I think everyone, I think including Ellen is sort of surprised with the new way our writer's come up with ways to be shocking. She had some incredibly offensive and hilarious things to say.
King: A variation and length to which they found ways for Jane to express herself is quite extraordinary. I've been like crying with laughter at table reads at how far they can push our characters is such a treat I think. And Ellen is wonderful.
Have you known anyone like Jane?
Rannells: Not maybe necessarily to that extent. I certainly have like extended family members that have that we do not share similar political or social viewpoints that have to sit through lengthy holiday dinners with. But no, nothing quite that extreme but I know it exists, I know it's out there.
King: It does exist.
Is Jane a member of One Million Moms? Will that be worked into the story at all, the fact that she is a member of that group and they're boycotting your show?
Rannells: Ryan had mentioned that when we were at the TCA's [Television Critics Association press tour] here in Los Angeles and it was the day after that boycott had come out that Ryan sort of came up with that idea that perhaps that Jane would be a member of the One Million Moms. I'm not sure exactly how that will factor into future storylines but I do love the idea of it and I think that Ryan very much was on board with incorporating that into her story line.
King: Ryan and Ali are very, very, very on the get-go and were very sharp. They pick up so much of everything that's going on and just manage to pull things into scripts. Just everyday events and things that are happening with the scripts is just very exciting.
What’s been the funniest or the most memorable moment on the show for each of you so far since you're started shooting?
King: Tough question. I did so often, I don't know I think maybe I'm easy to please. I couldn't think of one specific day I haven't been smiling.
Bartha: Yes, every day is such a joy, and the shows keep on getting better and better. The writing is amazing and the people we're working with, all of the cast and the crew also are top-notch. It's very hard to pick one moment. It feels like of the most ideal experience. So it's a hard question.
Rannells: I do think a special mention needs to go out to Bebe Wood though because that little girl, she I think routinely surprises and delights all of us on that set with what she does on the show and then also she's such a unique and lovely, lovely little girl. She's so much fun to have around.
King: Andrew is not just exaggerating. She's extraordinary as a woman. Like she took me out for sushi when we first arrived ... It was quite awkward watching a 10-year-old girl pay for my meal. But she's constantly surprising us, so I'd say possibly Ryan is hilarious he's a very, very funny, sassy, wonderful person to watch on set as well.
If you could star in any of Ryan Murphy’s other shows that are on-air or off-the-air, which one would you pick and why?
Rannells: I would pick “The New Normal.”
King: Me too.
Rannells: If we could do two, I would go “American Horror Story.” I was a huge fan of that first season.
King: Oh, for sure. “American Horror,” simply because we got to go on the sets and have a look around the other day and I've never seen anything like it in my life. And I'd like to hang out there and see what that would be like for a long time.
Bartha: I was a big “Nip/Tuck” fan, I would probably say.
“The New Normal” cast includes Ellen Barkin, who is an iconic long-time actress, particularly of films. And then in the other spectrum you have NeNe Leakes who is best known for “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Can you talk a little bit about the both of them and how they're working in the show?
Bartha: She's just a lovely lady and she's hilarious so it's really a lot of fun to be around her. And actually we are shooting someone just asked what our favorite moment on set or something was. And we were shooting this great episode that's going to come out - the third episode and we were all doing a table scene. And NeNe and Ellen were sitting next to each other.
And Andrew and I, we were sitting next to each other and across the table and I think we just spent about a good hour just sitting in silence watching those two ladies interact with each other. It was just so much fun and I'm sure that's going to happen more and more in the show. You get a little of it in the pilot but there's just such ballsy, funny, fearless women and it's really fantastic experience to see them on set. And NeNe, yes, she's kind of new at the acting thing, but she's obviously a natural and she her sassiness takes her a long way.
King: I love, actually I love NeNe. Obviously, in front of the camera she's so fun to watch that as Justin said, she is just such a life force. She is so fun to be around and I've had some really funny conversations and lunches and meetings. And kind of seen this lost British girl and taking her under her wing recently and she's just been wonderful, a lot of advice about men, about life, about clothes, about L.A., so I love NeNe. She's amazing.
Were you a fan of NeNe Leakes in “The Real Housewives”?
King: I had never even heard of the show. I didn't know about the show. To be fair though, I didn't know who Donald Trump was when I met him either. So it doesn't mean anything, right? I've been playing massive catch up. You should see me like going through channels now and reading.
It's like People magazine and just going through everything I can. I am an American. But yes I didn't know about the show. Since I met her crew and I know about her now but I find I'm watching because she's quite extraordinary in it.
Bartha: I had never seen “The Real Housewives” show either. I never heard of her. But when you're on set with her — my brother was a big fan of hers — you really understand why she has a big following. She's such a ball of positive energy and so funny and personable and real. So I guess that's why they did “The Real Housewives.”
King: Yes, I really look up to NeNe. She's brilliant.
Bartha: That's because she's seven feet tall.
King: She's massive, that's the other reason I love her. She is so tall and she still wears heels bigger than my leg. She's so tall it's wonderful. I'm sick of being the tall one. I'm so glad she's here. Twice my height.
Bartha: Yes, sometimes when I have scenes with her some of the crew mistakes it for a “Lord of the Rings” shoot.
Justin you have been doing a whole lot of films. Was it a big decision to make the leap into television?
Bartha: No, not at all. All of , I was just doing theatre in New York. So it's not about whether it's done at theatre or TV. For me it's just what the best project is and this is something that from the second I read it, I hadn't read anything so beautiful and funny in many years.
And I said this in an interview the other day, personally for my taste a lot of young actors especially kind of wax poetic about this like 1970's American movies and we wish that movies could be like the movies of the ‘70s. And, for my taste, I think television now is entering that kind of heyday of what American movies were in the ‘70s. So I really actually was looking for something to do to be a part of this flux of amazing series.
For more info: "The New Normal" website