Last month, I sat down with some of the cast of ABC’s newest comedy, The Real O’Neals. I’ve been lucky enough to interview the cast of quite a few television shows and, for certain, the cast of The Real O’Neals feels much more like a family than television actors just there to do their job. Their interaction is fun to watch and we had such a great time interviewing them.
Mary Hollis Inboden plays the ditzy but hilarious Aunt Jodi. Matt Shively plays Jimmy, the jock brother that is more supportive of his family than any teen I know.
“I came in commenting on like how nice Matt looked today,” Mary told us, “and he was like, “There’s like, 35 women upstairs. Of course I look great today.“
I noticed for the first time the dimples that pop when Shively smiles. In person, he looks far different from his character who sports slicked back hair and an often confused look.
“That’s my fault,” Shively said about his character’s now signature slick look.
“Why don’t you go ahead and tell ’em,” Mary smiles, so now we’re curious about the story behind the 1950s-like hairstyle.
“When I auditioned for it,” Shively said, “I had just turned 25 so I was having a quarter-life crisis. I thought I looked hip with slicked back hair. And, uh, watching it back I’m was like, ‘No it’s terrible.’ I spent the whole first season trying to get them to change it. Honestly it’s cool ’cause outside of the show I look like a regular human being and not like a turtle.“
“It will change season two,” he laughs. Though I’m a latecomer as a viewer, the show has quickly become one of my favorites, so this statement makes me excited to hear whether there will be a season two. I can’t imagine, as an actor, how tough it must be to wait for word on whether or not you’ll have a job each day.
The hairstyle, we all agree, is ironic since on the show, he has an aunt (Mary) who is a hairdresser and a brother who’s gay who Matt says “would definitely give me a makeover after telling me my hair’s terrible.“
Since Mary spends some of her time in character in a salon on set, she said, “I would practice on this dummy and I got really ready. I was, like, practicing the flip and I kind of had it down. And our director Chris came into that episode. We got all situated in the salon. They had an extra for me with a hair extensions and I went to go do the flip and it just went… It was the lightest touch. But they were like, “Get the scissors out of her hand right now.“
Matt laughs, “Plastic rubber tips on ’em now!“
“So it was that day it was decided,” Mary said, “that Aunt Jodi is a colorist. Not a hair stylist.“
One thing the cast loves doing together is karaoke. When Matt and Mary shared this fact with us, all I could think was – where is the nearest karaoke bar and what time does it open?
“Before we filmed one episode we all went out the night before,” Matt shared with us. Of course, what happens in the karaoke bar apparently doesn’t stay there so Matt told us about an existing photo of he and Noah, who plays his brother, Kenny.
“It’s an amazing picture of me and Noah, and [Mary] got on top of a chair and we were in a bar and she’s doing karaoke and she’s on top of this chair and we were very worried for her ’cause it was slippery. So it’s like, we’re both standing behind her, we both had one arm up and we were just…“
Mary interrupts, “I’d had a couple of drinks. And all you hear is Martha Plimpton (who plays mom Eileen) from the audience – cause Martha loves karaoke too – and you just hear her from the back of the house over all of this loud music go, “Flank her! Somebody, flank her!”“
This story is just one example of how well the cast meshes and why they seem more like a family than a TV show cast.
“The coolest thing about this show,” Matt said, “I haven’t done a lot of stuff but I’ve done enough to where I’ve worked with plenty of people; first of all there’s not one weak link in the cast. Usually you have one person you work with where you’re like, “Hmm, they’re not, this is, they’re hard to work with,” or something. I’ve never worked with such easy people,” he said.
Matt said what he loves about his character is that he’s not the stereotypical jock with an ego. “He’s the exact opposite,” Matt said, “and I don’t think that’s really ever been focused on, especially on network television. He’s fully supportive and he has his brother’s back. That’s the one thing I’ve gotten the biggest reply on is people being like, “I wish I had a brother like Jimmy.“
“I thought the script was so hilarious,” Mary said, “and I really, really loved the message of, you know, kind of having a gay kid but being more about the family.“
One theme that I’m used to when it comes to television shows where the central character is gay is that they’re often a victim of bullying or, one the other end of the spectrum, their coming out is made to look like it was the easiest thing they’ve ever done. This, admittedly, is why I was hesitant to watch The Real O’Neals. I didn’t want it to be all laughs with no heart, and I didn’t want to see horrific, tear-inducing bullying.
“What was your resistance initially?” Noah Galvin asked me. Noah plays Kenny on the show; a teen who has told his very Catholic, very seemingly perfect family he’s gay.
I relayed my initial concerns to Noah, as well as to Jay Ferguson who plays Pat O’Neal, the patriarch of the O’Neal family.
“Yeah. I had hoped that our show is like a big force, a driving force, in normalizing gay adolescence,” Noah said. “Some gay dodgeball. Let’s normalize gay dodgeball, right? I mean, that’s exactly what the world needs,” he laughed, the subject turning a little lighter.
Noah continued, “One of my big dreams for the show is to certainly win over people that may have thought that they wouldn’t like the show or respond to the show.“
“You know, my whole family on both sides is deep south Southern Baptist raised in church,” Jay added. “So I know a lot of them had some… they definitely would not have been watching if I weren’t on it. To the hearts and minds that have already been changed …you can really change hearts with laughter and I’m firm believer in that philosophy. And, also self-deprecating humor is fantastic,” he said.
“I think a lot of people feared that our show was, like, bashing or alienating or humiliating; even the Catholic church in particular,” Noah said. “My dad’s Catholic. He goes to church literally every morning. He loves our show.“
Ladies, if you were growing up during the 80s, you might remember Jay Ferguson from the cover of a Teen Beat magazine or as Ponyboy from the TV series The Outsiders. We asked him what it’s like going from teen heartthrob to playing a dad.
“It has been very surreal,” Jay said. “I will be honest and say that it didn’t even occur to me, the similarities, you know, and experience I had as a kid on a show and played a son. Actually we have an A-D on our show, it was like our first week of shooting and I saw this guy and he looks familiar to me and I didn’t know why. I went up and introduced myself and he said, “Yeah, you know, I was, the second A-D on Evening Shade.” And I said, “Oh, wow, that’s right. Of course.” So he was a second A-D on the show where I played the son. Now he’s the first A-D on the show where I play the dad and like 25 years separated the two gigs,” Jay told us.
Is it possible that Noah now will become the newest heartthrob or teen dream? It’s very possible because, sitting next to him at a small table, his personality takes over the room, his charm is in his smile, and his politeness is enough to make any mom proud. Playing a gay teen, and being gay in real life certainly comes with its responsibilities.
“The audition process for me was, like, two months,” Noah said. “It was really grueling and I fought for this job really, really hard. So when people are like, “How did it come to you?” I’m like, “Well, I worked my ass off for it.” It’s not really something that I had any decision in. Once I got it, I got it. And I think the decision for me then was like choosing to come out and be an openly gay person playing this gay character.“
“I get messages on the daily from kids who are struggling or, you know, it’s hard,” Noah said. “It’s something I’m learning how to navigate right now, you know. I don’t have any interest in being like, this spokesperson, poster child for anything. But I also wanna be able to extend myself. To a certain extent I have a responsibility that I need to uphold.”
On set, Jay has gone from teen heartthrob to the show’s jokester. “It’s just me very quietly running up behind them and screaming as loud as I can while I grab their shoulders and shake them,” Jay Ferguson admits, saying he tries to get his fellow cast members to break character. “I have this little sound that I do that makes it sound like there a, a bee flying by your ear. And so that’s one of my favorite things to do.”