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Theo James, Ricky Martin and the Comedy Actor Roundtable

Theo James, Ricky Martin and the Comedy Actor Roundtable

“I thought of it,” says Kelsey Grammer. At the top of THR’s Comedy Actor Emmy Roundtable, he’d been asked to recall the funniest feedback he’s ever received. It took him half an hour, but the answer found him: “I was in my 40s, and somebody said, ‘You are the worst boyfriend I’ve ever had!’ ” The Frasier star, now pretending to cry, is met with a burst of laughter. What started with a little trepidation — “This is my first roundtable,” confessed Palm Royale’s Ricky Martin, who was joined at The Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica by John Goodman (The Conners and The Righteous Gemstones), Grammer, Theo James (The Gentlemen), Anthony Mackie (Twisted Metal) and Bowen Yang (Saturday Night Live) — soon shifted to dueling war stories of drunken fans and lessons learned from a combined 180 years in entertainment.

What’s the funniest or strangest feedback you’ve ever read or heard about yourself?

ANTHONY MACKIE I shaved my head for a movie and was told that my head was too perfectly round — that I looked like the brown ball on the pool table. Well, first of all, that’s a compliment, sir! But I’ve never shaved my head again.

BOWEN YANG That’s our loss.

KELSEY GRAMMER I did a production of Othello years ago at the Winter Garden in New York. Christopher Plummer did Iago. James Earl Jones did Othello. I played Cassio. The review basically said, “And Kelsey Grammer was just fine as Cassio.”

YANG You would’ve been a great Desdemona.

THEO JAMES I got told I look like Justin Bieber. Since then, everything I wear, I try to look 50 and above — terrified that I will resemble the Biebs.

GRAMMER He’s a nice-looking kid.

JAMES I know, but it was when he was about 12.

MACKIE You’re like Bieber on HGH.

RICKY MARTIN They were talking about me in an article once and put a picture of Enrique Iglesias. That happens.

JOHN GOODMAN I had a woman tell me how much she admired my work on Cheers the other day. 

YANG Mine probably was “That guy’s got an underbite.”

MACKIE I bet it was a dentist.

Hollywood does like to put people in lanes. Are there types of parts you’ve played and just can’t do again — like, an immediate no? 

YANG I’m amazed that the assistant trope is still so present in Hollywood. For someone like me, with an effeminate voice, they’re still out there. It’s fine. But if you think about it, you go, “Oh, is it just an ornamental thing? Are we just ornamental people in society?” I can’t think too hard about it. I spiral.

MACKIE I [played] every criminal, every drug dealer, every rapper, every bad boy. I was like, “I went to Juilliard! Stop it. I’m not on The Wire.” I auditioned and didn’t get The Wire. Every Black dude was on The Wire except me. So that was my thing. After that, I put my foot down. I was like, “No gangsta hood dudes.” 

What role did you audition for on The Wire?

MACKIE Marlo. Because I lived in New York at the time, all of those dudes were my friends, and Jamie Hector got the role. It got to the point where it was a joke between him and me. I would go around and people would ask me for pictures — and I would take pictures as him. [To Martin] It was just like you with Enrique. I was the most famous actor on The Wire who wasn’t on The Wire.

Bowen, you recently said that you scammed your way through Hollywood. How so? 

YANG That’s just my self-deprecating way of being like, “Oh, I don’t really know how I figure into this.” I have my safe haven at SNL, where I get to just write whatever I want for myself. There’s a little anxiety around leaving the nest and being at the whim of other people. There’s a power loss. 

JAMES How did you get SNL, just auditioning?

YANG Auditioning. Lorne [Michaels] brought me on as a writer for one season, then he put me in the cast. He said, “This was always my plan. If I were to throw you out there without a paddle, it would’ve set you up for failure.” 

MARTIN I think you’re awesome.

MACKIE Fucking Ricky Martin told you you’re awesome. 

GOODMAN Thanks, Enrique. (Laughter.)

Bowen Yang Styled by Michael Fisher.
R Swiader shirt, pants; COS tank; Dunton Ellerkamp jewelry; Doc Martens shoes. Grooming by Christine Nelli.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

Looking back on all your careers, when was the time that you felt you took your biggest risk?

GOODMAN Hosting Saturday Night Live.

MARTIN That was a risk?

GOODMAN The first time, I was scared to death. I didn’t think I could do it. I thought I’d die once I opened the door for the monologue. But it turned out to be the most fun I’ve ever had.

YANG And you were such a mainstay. People were clearly so happy that you were coming back.

What were you afraid of, John?

GOODMAN Oh, just stinking on ice, not being funny, being fat on camera. Because I admired the show so much, I was afraid of getting kicked out of the studio before the hour and a half was up. But it worked out. Everybody took care of me. It was scary, but so rewarding.

MARTIN I would let everybody know I’m a mess. “I’m super nervous. Help me here!”

YANG I think [the staff] appreciates that. That’s what they want to hear. If the host is feeling uneasy about anything, let’s help them out.

GOODMAN A lot of help, like 13 times.

JAMES Fuck me! You’ve done it 13 times? 

GOODMAN Yeah, in the old days. I was still scared, but it felt like coming home again. We still had stage managers from the first days of the show. Gena’s still there?

YANG She’s still there. Gena Rositano is the stage manager at SNL. I’ve told her she’s one of the people I’m going to see flash before my eyes when I die. That is someone who cares for you so much. Kelsey, did you have a good experience hosting?

GRAMMER I had a great time. I loved the immediacy. Their fingers were on the pulse. Ike Turner had just remarried. It was in the news that morning, and Adam Sandler, sitting at the table read, said, “Yeah, he was just looking for a new sparring partner.” I was like, “Son of a bitch.” 

GOODMAN Did they use that?

GRAMMER Oh no, but these guys are in the game like I never was. And you’re right about that nervous thing. I’ve never been a stand-up guy because I was too scared of it. 

Goodman wears his own clothes.
Grooming by Ericka Verrett.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

Kelsey, you’re playing a character you originated in the 1980s. What could you get away with then that you can’t now? 

GRAMMER Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything you couldn’t get away with and you can’t get away with now. I always tried to keep the level of the comedy above a certain quality. It was never my thing to go scatological or to diminish anybody. So I’d never really been cursed by, “Oh, that was inappropriate.” The only thing I ever felt foolish about was trying to do a James Mason impression on SNL. It sort of went well, but it was still rather embarrassing. We were doing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with Phil Hartman just going crazy. He just made me giggle.

GOODMAN Was he Kirk Douglas?

GRAMMER Yeah. What a funny man.

Kelsey Grammer wears his own clothes.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

Anthony, you started out working with these massive filmmakers — Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, Clint Eastwood. Then you became a Marvel guy. Where do you feel most comfortable? 

MACKIE My biggest risk, the saddest moment of my career, I did this show [Apple TV+’s Solos] where it was 40 pages of dialogue — just me talking to me. I was like, “I want to see if I still got it!” If I’m going to fail, I want to go down with guns blazing. I honestly did some of the best work I feel I’ve done in my 40 years of acting … and nobody saw it. But it’s that thing of me constantly trying to challenge myself, that sports background I had of eagerly trying to show not only people, but yourself, your ability. And it really put things in perspective for me.

JAMES I played against myself [in The Time Traveler’s Wife]. And similar to you, I put everything in it — some of my best work. I didn’t watch the show before the premiere because, at the time, everyone was like, “Fuck yeah! This is fucking awesome!” I’m feeling pretty good about this! I remember going down to the bar before the premiere and I looked to my phone. It was The New York Times and I thought, “Oh God. Oh God. I think I’ll have another drink.” Then I had to show up to the thing, which had been fucking destroyed.

YANG Do you guys feel that it’s a little bit better to play opposite yourself because there are fewer variables?

MACKIE It’s the hardest. Acting is like tennis. When you hit the ball across the net, you need somebody to hit it back.

GRAMMER It’s like looking at yourself, going, “I’m not getting anything.”

JAMES “You’re shit, man!” It’s tricky.

Anthony Mackie Styled by Chloe Takayanagi. Sandro jacket; Mr Porter polo; Citizens of Humanity pants; Piaget watch; Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers. Grooming by Diane Schmidtke.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

What’s on everyone’s bucket list? Theo, I’ve heard you want to play Henry VIII, which seems very against type.

JAMES I’ve always been fascinated by him. He became maniacal, obese, covered in boils and a terrible dictator — but he didn’t start that way. It’s the idea of seeing someone evolve to that and what power does. Britain, at that time, is interesting.

Ricky, you’ve been working in entertainment since you were 12. What do you still want to try?

MARTIN I’d love to do film. I think that’s what I’m getting ready for, knock on wood, but it’s my dream. And I need to go back to Broadway. That’s something I really want to do.

Tell me about a time when you most wanted to walk off a job.

JAMES Oh, quite a few times.

YANG Is this a people-pleasing thing? I’ve very rarely had that thought because I’m just like, “I need to stay in line.” I think I’m a little too wet behind the ear. And that’s not me brandishing that. I feel I haven’t earned, even internally, that desire to bubble up.

MARTIN I left a tour. I was exhausted. I was sad. I was depressed. I was not happy with what I was doing. I had been working nonstop, 200 shows in two years.

GRAMMER Jesus Christ.

MARTIN I was in Australia, and we still had two more weeks to go. We had to go to Argentina to do the finale, and then everybody was going home. I was like, “I’m not going to survive. If we go to Argentina, I’m going to collapse. I need to go home now. Please listen to me.” I was begging my managers. Everybody [was like], “You’re crazy. We’re almost there. Come on!” I said, “No, you don’t understand. If we don’t go back home now, this is going to get ugly.” I went back home, and it was the best decision I ever made.

GOODMAN How much did it cost you?

MARTIN It was a lot of money. But it was my health. And this is not only two years, this was a decade of not being able to say no. “Yes, let’s do it. Yes, yes!” The people-pleasing … That last show, I was angry. I was not enjoying the music. I was not happy with the applause. Every stadium was full, and I was just sad. So, I went back home, and we’re still here. 

GOODMAN It was smart, Ricky. Ballsy.

YANG And if you’re numb to all that stimulus in the arena, if that’s doing nothing for you, it’s a huge red flag.

Ricky Martin Styled by Douglas VanLaningham. Bottega Veneta shirt, pants and boots; David Yurman jewelry. Grooming by Amber Amos.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

Has anyone else had that moment where they’re like, “I’m doing this for me now”?

JAMES Kids helped that for me. You’re selling a product — yourself, in some ways — especially when you’re starting out. But having kids, you realize that some of it doesn’t matter. Because when I was a young actor, I was rather hungry. I’d jump from job to job and fucking all that stuff. But I don’t want to take our kids out of school just because [a job] seems sexy at the time. Obviously stopping taking all the Class A drugs helped as well. I’m joking. 

MACKIE My kids changed a lot for me, dude. Now, as they get older and I’m working so much, it’s a dangerous negotiation. My dad dropped out of school in eighth grade. My mom went to a Negro-appointed high school. I left home with $435. So, I want to give my kids the opportunity of leaving home with the advantage that all my [Juilliard] classmates had when I got to school. I had a classmate who backpacked across Europe for a year after high school. I was like, “How the hell? That’s a thing?” Coming from New Orleans, every day was an idea of, how are you going to eat?

MARTIN It’s a struggle.

MACKIE Looking at my kids, I’m like, I never want them to experience the struggle. I want them to know what it takes that the regular American man experiences trying to put a meal on the table, but I don’t want them to have the struggle. You’re going to have to fight for it, especially with all this Marvel shit. I have four boys. I tell my boys, I’m like, “Yo, I’m the coolest mother … I’m the dad everybody wants.” And my sons don’t watch Marvel movies. They have no idea. I’ll FaceTime Sebastian [Stan]. I’m like, “Yo, man. Say what’s up to my son.” And my son’s like, “Hey?” They don’t [care]. To them, I’m Dad.

JAMES That’s great.

MACKIE That’s what I’ve been working so hard toward. But what is that cutoff point when you decide to coach soccer as opposed to filling the coffers for their future?

GRAMMER Nice to do a little of both if you can. But, look, coffers are a good thing.

JAMES Do you think living in New Orleans helped as well? 

MACKIE Yeah, they’re out of touch completely with the business. All of their friends’ parents are working-class people. It’s not, “Well, me and Jamie Foxx’s son are hanging out on a yacht.” No, my boy is a plumber. And when our kids get together, they are just regular little kids. 

For the dads, what is the best — or most humbling — professional feedback that you’ve gotten from your children?

MACKIE “You saw my movie?” “No!”

MARTIN “Last night was better, Dad.”

GRAMMER That’s how it goes, son. Some days are better than others. My kids are most thrilled about voiceovers. I’m playing a toilet bowl on The Patrick Star Show next week. They’re thrilled.

YANG That’s going to be big for you.

Bowen, I’ve heard you say that you loosened your grip on SNL this season. What does that look like?

YANG I think I threw out any preconceived notions that I had about myself because I was absorbing other people’s expectations. I was playing a lot of campy, loud, broad characters for a while. It’s a sketch show. There’s room for that. It celebrates that more than anything else. But we were talking about Sylvester Stallone — a purely loving tribute — and I was like, “I think I’ve got a Sly.” I’m not going to do it here, but, at the table read, I think people were like, “I didn’t know you could do that.” People are locked into an idea of what any of us as performers can do. Letting go this season has meant building from scratch again. I never thought I’d have that reset. It’s not comfort. I think if you’re comfortable at any place, if you’re comfortable at SNL, then that’s probably not a good sign.

Theo James Styled by Mary-Anna Kearney. Zegna jacket, sweater, shoes; Connolly pants; Omega watch; London Sock Company socks. Grooming by Nadia Altinas.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

Theo, you went straight from White Lotus to The Gentlemen. Did that experience open any doors that you previously felt were closed to you?

JAMES One hundred percent, it definitely opened doors. I love playing that character. He represented Americana to me in its best — and the problems with it. He’s charming but quite calculating. So with The Gentlemen, I wanted to do the opposite — which is very British and a twat. 

GRAMMER And that’s the right pronunciation.

Any particularly weird fan interactions you all want to share?

GOODMAN I was doing The Front Page on Broadway, and, during previews, a troupe of four or five people came in to the second row. Then they went to the first row and started telling me how much they loved me. At one point, they had drinks on the stage and shit like that. That was pretty weird.

JAMES I was at a bar, just having a glass of wine, whatever, and a girl goes, “Excuse me.” And I was like, “Oh God, here you go.” “Your fly is undone. Also, loved the show.” But in a cutting way! I was like, “Do you?” I’m very confused about this whole interaction. 

MARTIN Something similar on Broadway as well. I was doing Evita, and she was dying in my arms. It was that final moment, final breath, and from the last row of the audience … “Ricky, I love you!” She resurrected and she went back to death.

MACKIE I was in Vancouver, shooting Altered Carbon, and I see this young lady across the bar. The way she was acting, I thought she was special needs. So I tell the bartender, “Yo, tell her to come over and say hello.” She makes her way around the bar and everybody in the restaurant’s like, “He’s so nice.” So she’s like, “Can we take a picture?” I was like, “Well, give me your phone. If you’re discreet, I can take a picture.” So I take the picture, she looks at it and she pukes from here all the way down to my shoes. This is after two dozen oysters, a lobster — 

MARTIN Horrible.

MACKIE She runs out of the restaurant, the waiter comes and scoops me up, takes me back to the oyster wash-off, hoses me down on the —

YANG Shucking table!?

MACKIE They take my clothes. He goes across the street to T.J. Maxx and gets me some sweatpants and a graffiti T-shirt, and I come back out and this woman is like, “I’m sorry, can I take a picture?”

YANG Same lady?

MACKIE No!

JAMES But the original, she was just completely fucked? 

MACKIE She was so gone. So I asked the [other] woman, “Yo, I was just trying to be nice to your special needs friend.” She was like, “Special needs? That’s my boss.”

What’s the inevitable question that you’re asked that you just never want to hear again?

GOODMAN “Cock size?” (Laughter.)

MARTIN What did he say?

GRAMMER Cock size! I thought you said “cap size.”

MACKIE He was so ready, the slingshot was pulled back.

GRAMMER Honestly, the most difficult one to answer is, “How do I get an acting career?” I say, “Well, act.”

MACKIE Mine is, “Can I take a picture?” Because of the Kardashians, we’re put in this reality where we’re looked at as tools, as vessels, as opposed to artists. There’s been several experiences where people have taken pictures with me and used them for ways that I don’t deem right. 

JAMES It is interesting, the melding of actors and celebrities. I have no interest in that other part. It’s the job. It’s what I do. 

MACKIE I have people tell me all the time, “Well, this is what you signed up for.” That’s crazy! That’s like telling a girl that because she put on a cute dress and went to a bar, she signed up for me to harass her all night. In this day and age, we’ve learned that we have to respect everyone’s “no.” If I tell you “no,” there’s a reason for that, but it usually ends with me getting in a fight.

MARTIN “Ricky, are you gay?” Are you kidding me? You don’t know by now? Oh my God. Move on.

GOODMAN Are you sure?

MARTIN It’s a wrap!

YANG I wish people would ask me that.

JAMES It probably doesn’t happen with you guys, but it’s like, “Where do I know you from?” Then they expect you to reel out your CV. And they’re like, “No, never heard of that.” Tough shit! 

YANG For me, not to make it about work again, but it is always people asking, “What is the week like at SNL?” It’s such a long answer.

JAMES I asked that question!

YANG It’s like [Kelsey] gives people that advice about acting. It’s not what they want to hear! “I’m about to give you such a boring, dry breakdown of what my week is like …” You feel you’ve disappointed them. Oh well.

To end things on a very serious note, what is the most frequently used emoji on your phone?

MACKIE (To Yang) You better not say “eggplant.”

YANG No, I’m not an eggplant guy. I’m a cucumber guy. 

JAMES More of a realistic shape.

YANG It’s more phallic. [I think] the upside-down smiley face conveys so much.

GOODMAN I mostly just use it with my wife. It’s just the heart one.

MACKIE Come on, I’m single!

JAMES Fuck knows. The kind of face, you know like [grimaces]. That face because I’m often cringing myself and other people around me out.

MARTIN High five, feet and peach. (Laughter.)

JAMES We know where your predilections lie.

MACKIE Cucumber, cucumber, cucumber, cucumber!

MARTIN Cucumber, peach, cucumber, peach!

MACKIE There’s a face, I call it the “You bullshitting?” face when you look at somebody and you go [contorts brow and mouth]. There’s no emoji for that, so I usually do the side-eye face.

GRAMMER I refuse to use them. I find it diminishes our ability to communicate. 

JAMES Fuck, you should have gone first. We all degraded ourselves.

MACKIE Is it because your last name is Grammer? 

This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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