Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Interview: Catching Up with Eric Mabius

Eric Mabius has put in his time on shows like “Party of Five,” “The O.C.” and “Popular,” moving on to co-starring roles on “Eyes” and “The L Word” before landing the role for which he is perhaps most famous (for now), that of playboy Daniel Meade on “Ugly Betty.” But now Eric wants to show his fans another side, that of the shy, slightly geeky Harold White in the Hallmark Channel original movie “How to Fall in Love,” which premieres Saturday night, July 21 at 9/8c. (Also, head to the Hallmark Channel’s Facebook fan page an hour earlier at 8/9c for a live, one-hour Q-and-A with Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, co-authors of “The Rules,” where they’ll give advice on dating and falling in love.)

When I spoke with Eric recently, he told me how much fun it was to play this against-type role and working with Brooke D’Orsay and Kathy Najimy. He also told me all about his new, the Sundance Film Festival hit “Price Check” with indie queen Parker Posey, as well as a few other projects.

Daytime Dial: I loved watching you as Harold — geeky, shy and not at all like Daniel Meade. Was playing a character like this one of the things that made you want to do this movie?

Eric Mabius: Definitely, that’s part of the reason why I said yes to the project. I am excited because people will be like, “Yeah, Daniel, the playboy from ‘Ugly Betty’ is going to play a geek.” But I think we all have our own inner geek, and it doesn’t take that much to bring it out.

I know we all may have seen a movie about the guy who’s geeky and needs direction in life, a sort of ugly duckling story. I felt like Bart Fisher had written something that was quirky enough and that I could spin it a little bit differently and still be real, just kind of drown it in reality. It may seem like an unlikely occurrence, Harold getting dating lessons from the woman who caused his dysfunction in the first place, but it’s entirely in the realm of possibility. I believe it especially because I fell in love with someone from high school, and I have two sons with her. It definitely was close to home for me. I didn’t date my wife in high school, but she was definitely by far the coolest woman there. She was definitely the most beautiful, but she also marched to the beat of her own drummer. I was in New Orleans 10 years after high school, and my friend played matchmaker with us, and that’s kind of how we got together.

DD: Do you have any awkward high-school stories to rival Harold’s homecoming dance experience?

EM: I don’t have very many of those stories because I moved around a lot. So I knew how to negotiate awkward situations because I had to learn how to adapt very early on. I chose the position of being more of a loner, and from that position it always kept people guessing, which had a certain amount of power. I was an athlete in high school as well, so I used to travel and compete and train with the Junior National Luge team, and I got to see the world. Also, I went to the prom with a friend of mine to avoid all of those potentially awkward moments. I had a little bit of foresight.

DD: I think this is a really good story to let people know that there is life after high school — much more — and what happens to you then isn’t the be-all, end-all of your life.

EM: I think that when you’ve only lived 17 years, you don’t have, you haven’t had a full canon of experiences, so every moment that you have here feels like the last moment in the world, because you’ve only had a handful of whatever those moments are. Your first love, your first dance, your first intensely awkward moments. And they’re supposed to be intense because it’s the first time we’re experiencing a lot of those things.

You do have to follow your heart, otherwise you’re living a false life. Maybe I’m naive or maybe I’m idealistic, but I fell in love with someone from high school, which is insane. If someone told me that I was going to marry someone from high school, I would tell him he needs to have his head checked. But you need to remain open to anything, because you never know where lightning’s going to strike, where you’re going to fall in love. You fall in love in the most unlikely times and places. People try to be very calculated about affairs of the heart, but it’s never going to work. You’ll end up with a sterile relationship, I’d think.

DD: I loved Brooke D’Orsay in “How to Fall in Love” — her character was just so adorable, and I loved your chemistry with her. How was she to work with?

EM: You’re correct — she’s absolutely adorable. So much fun and just so sweet. Oddly enough, as personality types, our own personalities as actors were the opposite of the characters we were playing. I think I’m a fairly calm, even person, and she’s slightly more neurotic, so as people we kind of balance each other out. It was fun because of the characters we were playing; we were kind of doing the opposite. When you’re thrown together in a situation like that to try to manufacture that attraction, you never know if it’s going to work. Fortunately, Brooke is just so sweet and gracious and honest, and that’s why I loved working with her. She doesn’t hide much, which makes it easy and a lot more fun to play.

DD: And Kathy Najimy was just wonderful, and so hilarious!

EM: She absolutely is, and I was so happy to see her again. She was so good on “Ugly Betty,” and she’s just like this ball of lightning. She’s got so much energy, and she’s always on — she’s another person who comes to play, and you’d better bring your A game. She’s a delight, and she’s just a quality woman.

DD: Tell me about your feature film that you did with Parker Posey, “Price Check.”

EM: Oh my god, you’re going to laugh your ass off. I think IFC bought the film. It’s a dark comedy centering on this guy I play (Pete Cozy), who gives up his dreams of being a music A&R guy. He moves to the suburbs of Long Island and accepts a marketing job at a small chain of grocery stores. He has a wife and a child, and is trying to pursue the “American Dream.” Parker Posey’s character, Susan, is put in charge of this section of grocery stores. Nobody in the office cares about his job. They’re basically just punching the clock and biding their time. Susan comes in and shakes everyone’s universe up. She is so quintessential Parker Posey. She is brilliant, and she’s so funny. It’s a lot of fun.

DD: You’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of strong female leads … Vanessa Williams from “Ugly Betty” comes to mind. And it’s so nice to know that in real life she is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever interviewed.

EM: I just saw Vanessa last week. She was being honored by the Covenant House for all of her charity work for them, and she invited us to her table. She just grows more beautiful and graceful with time. In the six or seven years I’ve known her, I have to say she is one of my favorite people in the world, and she is just one of the classiest women I know — next to, of course, my mother and my wife — but she’s just infinitely gracious and kind and giving. I don’t see that very often in any kind of business, but you certainly see it a lot less in entertainment — she’s a rare gem.

DD: What about the new USA series “Political Animals”?

EM: I’m really excited about it — excited about guest-starring on it. You have to keep an eye out for that show. Separate of me having to do anything with it, just the writing and acting in it alone is just out of this world. It stars Sigourney Weaver as the secretary of state, and it also has Ellen Burstyn and Carla Gugino. It’s just unreal. It’s a political drama, and another show for me with strong female role models. It’s just so good.