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Bright "Sunny" Day: Q&A with "Philadelphia" Creator/Star Charlie Day

Is it always sunny in Philadelphia? I'm not entirely sure. But what I do know is that I can't get enough of FX's addictively zany comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I had the chance to catch up with Charlie Day, one of the three triple-threats (creator, star, and producer) on the surreal comedy, and asked him how much of Sunny is scripted, how he met co-stars/co-creators Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton, how much the original pilot of It's Always Sunny really cost, and just how one goes about making the disgusting (yet strangely appetizing) Grilled Charlie.

So sit back, grab your favorite microbrew at Paddy's, and find out the answers to these and other burning questions.

Q: I am wondering if you could speak about what the genesis was for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and also about how much of it is scripted versus improv, because it has a very loose feel to it. It feels like a lot of it is ad-libbed.

Charlie Day: Yes. I will speak to the second half of the question first. I think the ad-libbing style and the feel both come from the way we acted on the set and also from the style of acting that we have adopted for this particular show. But we actually heavily script every episode. They are about 35-page long script sometimes less, sometimes more. Then we usually shoot the scenes as scripted on the day. Once we feel comfortable with a take or two, we will start to get a little bit looser with the dialogue and deconstruct a little bit of what we wrote to see if there are different and funnier ways to say what we’d written. I would say at the end of they, about 20 percent stays in and the rest of it is the scripted version of the show.

But I think what is adding to the improv feel is the fact that we talk over each other a lot. Often times in filming, people say their line, they wait for a pause and they say the next line and that’s so it edits together smoothly. We don’t care so much for our editors; we make their lives hard, we just talk all over one another. We shoot with two cameras going constantly, so you can cut from one side to the other, and that overlapping isn’t a problem.

As for the genesis of [Sunny], it’s probably the same story that you have heard a bunch of times. Rob, Glenn, and I got together with some friends and some video cameras. We would go back and forth between Glenn’s apartment, my apartment, and walking around on the streets of Hollywood. We just pointed the camera at each other and shot a bunch of scenes.

We shot the cancer episode, or a version of it, and eventually, we came up with a product we were happy with. We shopped it around town and FX was the company that was most interested, and we were most excited about working with FX. It was a perfect marriage. That’s how it came to be.

Q: There has been a lot of speculation about how much it cost to actually shoot that original episode [of It's Always Sunny]. Could you put those rumors to bed?

Day: I’d say the answer is nothing; $200 or $85 was a sum to come up with, so everyone knows. But the truth is, we were borrowing the video camera from friends. If anything, we paid for the tape that goes in the video camera, but that really doesn’t cost very much. We edited the show on a laptop computer. Locations cost nothing, because it was my dingy apartment at the time, so there was no fee. It’s the same as your cousin Larry taking his Christmas videos and shoving them in your face. We were only a little bit more organized with them, so to speak.

Q: Obviously, you share a name with your character [on Sunny], but I’m wondering how much are you like Charlie, the screen Charlie?

Day: I’d like to think I am not like him at all, but I think, sadly, I’m more like him than I care to be. It’s funny. I really never thought the show would go this far, because it was a home video. I figured, Charlie is such a good name for the character; let’s stick with it.

The one good thing about keeping the character name is when people recognize me on the street, they are not yelling, “Hey, Ugly Betty!” They’re saying my name, which is nicer.

How much am I like him? Well, I have never gotten drunk and refereed a basketball game, but I have gotten drunk and I have played basketball, so there you go.

Q: How long have you known Glenn and Rob? How did you all get together?

Day: Rob and I first met interestingly enough years ago when we were both struggling actors in New York. We were both flown out by FOX, or whoever it was, to test for this pilot called Mather House. It was about college kids, so that will show you how young we were. We met actually on the plane and I think we were reading for the same role. We went there, tested for the show, and five minutes later, they just cancelled the whole idea.

Rob was very discouraged. I think it was his first time getting flown out and it was my second time getting flown out. The first time I was flown out, it was for something called Weird Henry, and the same exact thing happened to me. I was beginning to think, this is just what happens in television. They fly you across the country and then they send you home. That was sort of a bonding experience for us and we just stayed friends in New York after that. Then I moved to Los Angeles first. He moved second and we would get together and he would always talk about we should make something, we should do something on our own.

As for Glenn, I had seen him pretty much the same way, around New York in various auditions and I would say there is a young handsome guy that I can’t compete with. We were both actually testing for a FOX sitcom called That 80’s Show for different characters this time. Glenn gave me a ride back to the hotel and on the car ride there, he received a call from his agent telling him that he’d booked the gig and the agent also asked him if he wanted to tell me that I had not. It was very awkward for Glenn. I had a thick skin by this point in time, so it didn’t really bother me.

We all met through traumatic television experiences. We just stayed friends after that for the next four or five years before we started developing Sunny, and now we know each other probably a little too well.

Q: I am trying to make a Grilled Charlie [featured in the Season Two episode “The Gang Goes Jihad”]. How do I go about doing that?

Day: The answer goes back to what’s improv and what’s scripted. The concept of the Grilled Charlie was scripted, but the shouting at Frank about the ingredients was improv. Off the top of my head, I think I said, “Peanut butter on the outside, chocolate on the inside, cheese on the outside,” and I think butter was involved.

Q: Butter on the inside.

Day: Butter on the inside. I’m not sure how you would do that. I think you would get some bread and you would put some peanut butter on the outside and chocolate in between it. And you would butter it up and you would put cheese on it and you would just try and fry the whole thing. It sounds disgusting to me personally, but it you want to eat it, go for it.

Q: So you’ll pay for my hospital stay?

Day: I can’t guarantee it, but if you go to a hospital in Cuba, yes, I will pay.

The third season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs back-to-back on Thursday nights at 10 and 10:30 pm on FX.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the great interview! I'm ashamed to say that I didn't even know the show existed until recently. I saw a couple of the new episodes and was immediately hooked. I'm now making my way through the hilarious first season and am a huge fan!
Anonymous said…
Great interview as always. I had never watched SUNNY until I read your review a few weeks ago and have become hooked. I didn't know that the guys shot their own pilot which is really cool.

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