Eliza Coupe, Adam Pally, Casey Wilson featured in Emmy Magazine story
Emmy Issue No. 3, 2012
A Far Cry
by John Griffiths
photographs by Brakha X2
In ABC's Happy Endings, three guys and three gals in the same buddy circle keep the jokes coming. But the key to success for this bright and scrappy show -- whose ratings have risen consistently since its spring 2011 premiere -- may be just how un-Friendsy it is. The stars are laughing all the way to season three.
Many sitcoms have blatantly and vainly aimed to assume the mantle of Friends. But Happy Endings isn't just another TV tennis-ball cannon of whimsical flashbacks, rapid-fire banter and zany pop culture references (though where else can Brent Musberger guest as himself and get a laugh?). It's a quiet nonconformist whose characters include an interracial married duo and a gay dude -- no fuss, no muss.
Gaffe-prone guy stalker Penny (Casey Wilson). Spacey boutique owner Alex (Elisha Cuthbert). Feisty condo president Jane (Eliza Coupe). Punchy exec Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.). Determined slug Max (Adam Pally). Earnest food-truck owner Dave (Zachary Knighton). For all their nuttiness, this Chicago six is a believably, lovably intertwined bunch who are hard to quit after just a couple of episodes.
The stars have also formed their own special brand of friendship and clowning around. After a long stretch of filming this past season, Wilson recalls with a chuckle, "Adam went around with a bullhorn and said, 'I love you all. But I want to murder you, I want to murder you, I want to murder you....'"
"I'll do anything for a laugh," Wilson says -- and she's not just sayin'.
As Happy's beau-hopping Penny Hartz, she has ricocheted off walls and tripped over guys with the aplomb of Lucille Ball and Joanne Worley.
Wilson is a walking surprise party in real life, too. Back in 2008, during her two-season stint on Saturday Night Live, she stumped for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. On a stop in Indiana, she reports, "I got one of the Secret Service guys to drive me to Dairy Queen and got Blizzards for Bill and Hillary."
Her parents, both political consultants, nurtured that gumption. Growing up in Alexandria, Virginia, Wilson was the James Cameron of her neighborhood, directing her friends in plays on a stage built in her backyard.
"I was a weird mix of bossy and shy and sensitive," she recalls -- with a bit of Penny's tilt-of-head wistfulness. In high school, she was class president. Played basketball. Essayed Maria in The Sound of Music. And finagled a summer at Yale's school of drama ("That changed my whole life").
After studying theater at NYU, life in the Big Apple was a montage of taking Stella Adler classes, honing her timing at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade and goofing up orders at a pancake house -- until she hit it big cowriting the Anne Hathaway flick Bride Wars.
She's still dabbling in films (check out the upcoming comedy The Guilt Trip), but is thrilled to have a TV alter ego who is "optimistic like I am." Unlike Penny, though, "I have a boyfriend!"
Castmate confidential: "Eliza has the best fashion sense -- and tattoos."
Perusing Pally's IMDB page, two things stand out.
One: his unorthodox profile pic shows him beaming alongside Shaquille O'Neal ("It's a long story," he says). And, two: his credits include a lot of unnamed roles, like Irate Student and Young Hollywood Douchebag.
"That's how I got my start!" Pally says, with thanks-for-noticing glee. "It's easy playing those roles. I hate authority."
That bravado has helped make his Happy guy, proudly loutish limo driver Max Blum, one of the most well-rounded gay characters in screen history -- and admirable feat, considering Pally is straight.
The New York City native was born to perform. His dad, Steven, acted and modeled; his mom Caryn was "bitingly funny" -- and together they traveled the Borscht Belt with a lounge act when Pally was a kid ("Embarrassing").
In high school, his shtick as the "morning announcements nerd" was so funny, his classmates crowned him "Hollywood Hopeful" -- even though the self-confessed "stoner" didn't appear in a single play.
After flailing at the University of Arizona for a couple of years, he decided to take comedy seriously. He headed back to New York City, pushed his way into the Upright Citizens Brigade -- and the rest is hysterical.
All funny aside, he hopes to pass on to Cole -- his infant son with wife Daniella -- "a sense of calm. I tend not to take life too seriously." For fun, he plays basketball, hits Vegas and avoids pizza. "I am one knee injury away from 400 pounds."
Castmate confidential: "I could say Casey's the most beautiful person in the world, and she would be like, 'What the f--k, I'm not smart?!'"
As a tomboy in Mayberry-esque Plymouth, New Hampshire, Coupe liked to ski, play ice hockey and impersonate Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura "the whole time." Typically inordinate teen angst ensued ("I felt really different than everyone else"), but her parents -- pop's a salesman, mom's an educator -- got her vibe.
"When I was nine, my dad tried to call Lorne Michaels to get me on Saturday Night Live. He didn't know Lorne Michaels," recalls Coupe, who -- like her Endings alter ego, Jane Kerkovich-Williams -- is a ball of snappy chatter.
With her "definitely type-A" verve, she excelled in local plays, then studied theater at Cal Arts outside L.A. (where, in a production of Brecht's Baal, she played "a woodcutter in a fat suit, lederhosen and a papier-mache baby head"). Back in New York, she waitressed until a one-woman show at the Upright Citizens Brigade wowed the sitcom cognoscenti. A big gig followed in HBO's 12 Miles of Bad Road (cut short by the writers' strike), as well as a recurring role in Scrubs, capped by a regular role in the series' last season.
Now, as Jane, she gets to play hilariously cuddly-wuddly with her TV hubby Wayans and spar with faux-sis Cuthbert in Serbian (their characters' ancestral language). Not, however, before she centers her mile-a-minute self via yoga, meditation and journaling ("I get up every day at 4 a.m. and light candles").
Also keeping her sane: her husband, noted acting coach and sculptor Randall Whittinghill. "He's helped me change my whole outlook."
Castmate confidential: "Zachary's Michael Caine is pretty brilliant."