TONIGHT, Sons of Tucson premieres on the Fox Television network, airing from 9:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. EST/PST. In the show’s pilot episode, the Gunderson boys – Brandon (Matthew Levy), Gary (Frank Dolce) and Robby (Benjamin Stockham) - hire Ron Snuffkin (Tyler Labine) to pretend to be their father after their real father goes to prison. However, they soon discover that there’s more to their “fake” dad than meets the eye. Ron has to enroll his “sons” in school, convince Robby’s teacher to keep him in her class, sweet-talk the principal, locate mint-condition toy soldiers at his grandmother’s house and avoid a thug who wants his money.
Last Monday, series lead Tyler Labine (Invasion, Reaper) and executive producer Justin Berfield (Malcolm in the Middle) spent part of their day speaking with myself along with several other journalists about the series. What follows is an edited version of that Q & A. Enjoy!
Tyler, an actor once told me that one of the things he looks for in a good character is an interesting name. He said that if his character has an interesting or weird name, that he’s halfway home in figuring him out. With your character’s name being Ron Snuffkin, is there anything to that theory?
TYLER LABINE - Yes, absolutely, I agree. I wouldn’t say halfway home with a name, but it definitely inspires you to sort of delve into the character a little bit. With a name like Ron Snuffkin, immediately a few nicknames spring to mind, like “Snuffleupagus,” “Snuff’s Enough,” and “Can’t Get Enough Of The Snuff.” You just think in little nicknames, and it sort of lends itself to you figuring out the character as being a little bit neurotic. So it’s definitely a nice tab to grab onto in the beginning.
What was it about the show and its premise as well as the character that made you want to do it?
TL - Well, initially, it was obviously the writing and then the name as we just discussed, but the writing for the pilot was great, and it definitely grabbed me right away. As far as the character, it’s an amalgam of every sort of great slacker character I’ve ever played and loved to play but have never been able to flesh out and turn into a three-dimensional individual. These guys have taken that sort of character and put him right in the forefront and made him a real human being. I really appreciated that, so I grabbed onto that right away, too.
How did the kids on the show dole out the money? Ron negotiates a $400/week salary, or $350 depending on who’s paying, but how do they have the money?
JUSTIN BERFIELD - Well, we don’t really say for sure exactly how they have the money, but in our minds we sort of figured that they have a stack of cash somewhere in the house, and they disperse it for whatever needs they have.
TL - What I’ve always put together in my head is that the dad, when he was in jail for this white-collar crime and in an attempt to sort of keep his kids out of foster care or social services, was clever enough, or stupid enough, to leave his children exactly what Justin said, a big stack of cash so that they could stay out of trouble and go to their house in Paloma Ridge or Tucson.
Tyler, aside from the financial incentive, what else is it that attracts Ron into agreeing to the boys’ proposal and sticking with the situation for as long as he does?
TL - That’s a good question. Initially, I think the money is a big allure, but then I think it’s actually just the money. There’s nothing deeper about Ron wanting to join with these kids and help them out, and he thinks it’s going to be temporary as well. So it’s the allure of the money that keeps him there, but then there are times with Ron where I think this sort of reluctant paternal figure starts to take shape, and I think he begins to learn from the boys. He sort of feels needed by these children, which is something he’s never had in his life. Ron hasn’t felt that anybody has really needed him for anything. I think that could become a big draw for him, too, along with just needing a place to stay.
It seems like Robb [Benjamin Stockham], Gary [Frank Dolce] and Brandon [Matthew Levy] are pretty smart kids and they’re also quite young. What nuggets of knowledge will Ron try to instill in these boys in sort of a reciprocal relationship-type way?
TL - I don’t know. I think Ron is a bit of a dummy. Well, no, actually, he’s not a dummy. He just may not have the most sage words for these kids. I think this is sort of a reluctant responsibility. It’s this reluctant father figure thing that’s coming out of Ron that I don’t feel he even really knew he had. I don’t think he even recognizes when he is being quite responsible, and it’s hard to pick out moments that are actually responsible in the show because, like I said, it’s almost like the blind leading the blind. It’s basically them just trying to stay out of physical harm, so anything else that helps them out is sort of gravy, a bonus. I don’t think that Ron is capable or set to impart any wisdom on these children.
We have stealing money from kids, trying to con an old lady, etc. Where does Ron draw the line, or does he even want to sketch one?
JB - I don’t know if there’s really anywhere that Ron does draw the line.
TL - Yes, it’s definitely sad to say. Look at what he’s doing. The only thing that keeps him from being completely despicable is the fact that as you get to know Ron and the boys, you see that maybe there is something inside of Ron that’s awakening, that’s sort of enjoying this responsibility. However, as far as where does he draw the line with what he will and won’t do, I think as long as he’s not going to kill anyone or as long as no one is going to get really badly hurt, he’s up for it.
I wanted to ask about the recasting process; Justin, was that difficult? Did you change a whole lot about the pilot?
JB - We actually didn’t change too much with the pilot when we had to re-shoot because of the recasting. It was just a decision that we made to go a different direction with some of the characters, but the pilot really remains the same. We punched up some scenes that we were fortunate enough to be able to do because we were re-shooting, but nothing much really changed.
What were you looking for in an oldest son [character]?
JB - We needed one of the older kids to be the complete opposite of Gary, whereas Gary is the driven, hard-edged type of kid, Matthew Levy’s character of Brandon just sort of goes along with the flow. He’s like a lover, not a fighter. He’s a very trusting kid.
Is that how Matthew struck you in real life, or is he just doing a great acting job?
JB - He’s a fantastic actor. Matthew sort of resembles me. I remember how I was when I was a child actor. Matthew is constantly asking questions. He’s very curious about the whole process, and he’s always hanging out with the crew, talking with them, seeing what they do, and asking questions. In that sense I guess he’s very similar to Brandon.
Has he surprised you in any way?
JB - I’m not surprised. Just based on the casting process and talking to him throughout the whole audition process, he’s a very professional, smart kid. We couldn’t be happier with him.
Tyler, what were some of your experiences shooting the pilot, and also what were some of the [acting] challenges for you first stepping into this role?
TL - Shooting the pilot was amazing. It was so much fun. it was one of those instances where you get so much more out of the process than you expected. I learned a ton from working with these kids, including one very invaluable lesson of how to stop being such a thinking-in-my-head actor when working with children. I was my refresher course. It was sort of just doing it; someone just pushes you in and you swim, unjaded and not so hypercritical of yourself. As a result, you find yourself having genuine fun and really getting sort of authentic performances out of them. It’s infectious, and it was really a blast to do with those kids. That was sort of my favorite thing about the pilot.
Justin, from a creative standpoint, what maybe have you enjoyed so far working on Sons of Tucson?
JB - I think I just enjoyed it because for so long, just purely being in front of the camera, you never get to see the whole process of developing an idea for a script all the way through to filming it. And for me, especially from the pilot, where back in 2008 we were developing this little inkling of an idea and then selling it, it’s been an eye-opening experience for me. I’m just so excited to be part of something from the very beginning. I love the whole [creative] process.
How did the idea of this show come about?
JB - The idea came fro our creators, Tommy Dewey and Greg Bratman. They brought this idea to us way back when, and we just sort of developed it from an idea to scripts. Finally, we took it to Fox because I had some relationships there, obviously, and they purchased it from us. It was exciting. It was like our first scripted show that we sold as a company at J2, and we couldn’t be happier with the people we’re working with and the two guys that wrote the series.
If you could compare Sons of Tucson to a sitcom or other show from the past, which would you pick?
JB - Visually and maybe in its tone, everyone is going to compare it to Malcolm in the Middle, but I think storywise you can’t really compare it to any show that’s been out there. It’s a truly unique concept and we’re excited that Fox and everyone else involved has a vision to see this through because on the face of it, it is kind of crazy. It’s kind of out there, but they were behind it from day one. It’s not really a concept that comes up too much in the show, and it sort of naturally waves its way into every script, so if four episodes in, someone starts to watch, they’re not going to be lost. It’s really easy to catch up on it.
Tyler, you have a lot of fans out there who are Science Fiction fans because of the shows you’ve been on before. Anything you’d like to say to them?
TL - Yes, don’t expect any time traveling or demons in this show. It’s a little more straightforward than that, but like Justin said, the concept of the show, this high concept or whatever, it’s a running theme in the program, but, again, you don’t need to know exactly what’s going on. It becomes more about just the relationship between this guy and these children than the actual sort of hook, I guess. It’s an easy show to just jump into.
For Tyler and Justin, what was it like on the first day of the set with the kids, and then the last day of the pilot?
JB - I think for us behind-the-camera guys, the first day is the most stressful of all because everything you’ve worked for comes down to this one moment, and it all begins right then and there. And the last day, our situation is different because we had a chance to shoot the pilot, and then we got to redo it after some recasting, so I guess the first pilot when we ended it was sort of like a breath of fresh air. We thought we’d finished. Everything went well and according to plan. From there, we went into editing, so it really didn’t end for us until two months later.
TL - For me it was excitement to start, and then when we finished it was elation. When we initially shot the pilot, I couldn’t believe what we did in just eight days with a very ambitious script and working with children. There were a number of potential pitfalls, but we seemed to jump over all of them and had a really good time doing it.
As noted above, photo by Mike Yarish and copyright of Fox Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!