ABC has been on a streak with hit comedies. Tonight premieres their next. Imaginary Mary Starring Jenna Elfman and Stephen Schneider brings some new comic relief to Tuesday nights.
Imaginary Mary Starring Jenna Elfman
Meet Alice played by Jenna Elfman. When she was a child she created an imaginary friend, Mary. There are flashback scenes that show Alice drawing Mary and the relationship they share. Now all grown up and not a huge fan of kids, Alice meets Ben, a divorced dad of three played by Stephen Schneider. They start dating which sets her anxieties into overdrive. This turn of events has Mary back in Jenna’s life giving her advice that is probably not always the best, but it sure is humorous.
Jenna Elfman and Stephen Schneider along with creator David Guarascio and Producer Doug Robinson
Where Imaginary Mary came from and how each of got attached to the project?
Doug: I had a meeting with an animator named Patrick Osborne who one the Academy Award for a short film called Feast. He was just doing his victory tour and we were sitting down talking. I asked if he had any ideas that he wanted do on television. And he said, “I’ve always wanted to do a show about somebody who has an imaginary friend.”
I produced the Goldbergs with Adam Goldberg, and there’s no one in touch with his inner child more than Adam, so I was like that’s the perfect guy. But Adam is busy running a show. So he said,” I know the exact story that we should do.”
David was a writer on The Goldbergs, and we’ve both known him for a long time, and a lot of this mirrors David’s life, so we brought David in, and that’s sort of where it all came together.
David: So then a divorced dad with kids; started dating, just like Alice, a single career woman who really did not plan to have family in her life. I was just too damned charming, basically, so broke through all that.
Adam and I had worked together previously, and I would just tell these stories about my wife, what she did to slowly get integrated into life with my kids. We just thought it’d be a great idea for a TV show. So that’s sort of where it came from.
Jenna: And then they sent it to me. And I had said to my agents, I’m not doing another network show. Don’t even bring it to me. I’d just become so frustrated with my experiences in the last several years with network television. But it hadn’t been on ABC. I hadn’t been on ABC since Dharma and Greg. ABC’s actually doing well with their comedies and so then this came to me, a network show, that actually films in Vancouver, Canada. I was like, GUYS!!
David: It’s everything you don’t want.
Jenna: Everything I don’t want.
Doug: “I’ll take it!”
We all laugh.
Jenna: And then I read it and thought, “Oh, that’s just so interesting because I love that there’s, the romantic part as the leading lady, and then there’s, like, the fish out of water aspect with the kids. She just has no point of reference for dealing with children at all. She had no plan for it and has a negative point of reference of childrearing. And then she’s super accomplished. A woman on her own, which I liked. And then as an actor, I have to now also deal with something that doesn’t exist but that I see, but that they don’t see. Then do physical comedy, and fish out of water, and it was just like, oh my god, that’s, like, a lot of balls to juggle.
And I felt like, “I can take that on.” It felt like the next new level of challenge for me. Everyone involved is so great. I just couldn’t find a reason not to do it.
David: And we had Shawn Levy directing which was, was a huge plus. He was great.
Doug: Then we got stuck with Stephen, [AUDIENCE LAUGHS].
Stephen: Nobody else would take the part, and I still had to audition twenty times for the role. I had just become a dad myself, and I’ve never played a father on TV. And…
Jenna: You do it so well.
Stephen: I do but in real life, I’m terrible.
David: That’s fine by us. As long as it’s working on screen is all we care about.
Stephen: Thank you. It was a very cool challenge to be able to have the insanity of juggling three children. I mean, you guys know, like, kids are crazy. Just one is a lot, but imagining, like, having to deal with three? I thought it would be a fun experience to get me to get a vasectomy, (laughing) That’s where I’m going after this.
David: And then I also just think for us, it was really important that they have great chemistry. We felt like there was a romantic comedy also played while we’re doing a family show because we just felt like it’s something you don’t see as much, and that’s just something that they just sort of like clicked together in a way that was organic.
Stephen: First of all, I though the writing was incredible. When I read it, I just thought it was really funny. It was grounded in a great way, yet it had this different interesting element, and it’s fun to be a part of something that’s new. This has never been done as a network comedy before where there’s an animated character.
But then when we did a chemistry read where I come in, and basically, we see how awkward I am or not…
I didn’t even know what I was getting into with her because I’d never met her before, and you never know. Some of these people can be absolute monsters that are also successful actors, but Jenna is just an absolute gem. Since day one, so kind, open, and easy to work with.
Jenna, how much of you is in Alice?
Jenna: I’m quirky. I never think I’m quirky, and then my husband is always pointing it out but not in a bad way. I’m not sure who’s quirkier though because it’s like the pot calling the kettle black. I never know if I’m quirky or if he’s just weird. I don’t know; crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. I don’t know. I’m, I guess I’m quirky.
Stephen: Yeah, but you’re also, in terms of the character, you’re a super successful, you know, independent woman. And at the same time, you’re juggling…
Doug: And you’re a mom.
David: And you are- you identify with it personally.
Jenna: Yeah. I thought it was fun to play. She’s super not a mom and has no idea what she’s doing. I mean, as much as us mothers do know what we’re doing, we feel like we have no idea what we’re doing. We also feel like, I got this, you know, depending on the day and depending on how much sleep your kid had, or sugar they had the day before. I thought it was fun because I had a conversation with myself about how am I gonna play someone who doesn’t know anything about this when I’ve been doing this for nine and a half years in real life.
And I went, well, my character has the “me-ness” like me, me, me, me, me down. She’s a high operating level of being and only. As a mother, you lose all that. That’s the whole thing. It’s like you make that sacrifice as a woman when you have children. Our eternal struggles just like have a flippin’ Sunday on the couch which we never get to have, or go to bed at seven when you’re really tired.
It never gets to happen. So, I was like, oh, that? I’m just gonna, like, go full forward into luxuriating in the selfishness of being me as a girl. It’s like a vacation in a way playing this role, because she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything. You know, she’s got time, and sleep, and money, and so much “me” time in her life.
I just sort of did that, and the more selfish you’re being, when the kids come in with all their problems, you’re just like, what? You know, and I just sort of use that to hook into that.
Being a mom, how do you balance it all?
Jenna: I don’t. I had a learning curve when we first starting filming because I didn’t expect those days to be that way, and it’s not like I had all this downtime either. We only had ten minutes between takes; between setups. Making my choices; learning my lines for the day, and then the next day, the next day, and the next, and trying to make sure I’m well rested. I could not eat sugar. It was like a race car, like, needs, like, the highest- the best kind of gasoline.
And, and in my life, I can’t do the perfect diet.I have no interest in doing that to myself. I used to do it and I can’t do it anymore. I’m like, I wanna enjoy my pizza and my ice cream. But I couldn’t survive; I couldn’t remember lines with no sleep;
Saturdays, I would just wanna face plant, but I had to be a mom. I would just bring them into bed with me for the five hours of the day and stay in bed. Then I’ve gotta get out and do stuff, and then I had to learn my lines for the next week. And so it was challenging. That was super intense. So I don’t always do it great. I have to keep it together and not be cranky with them, and then sometimes I’m cranky, and then I feel horrible.
It’s like every day is like the little sliders on the equalizing board, you know? And you’ve gotta, like, just try to keep it all above the make/break mark, but sometimes they crash.
David: Which is the key to the whole show which is learning to like what you can’t control and that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Stephen: I think anybody that works in this industry often sacrifices a tremendous amount of time over an extended period. My wife who is in Vancouver with our daughter. She’s like the unsung hero for me because she was with my daughter all day long- had no friends; was literally walking up to people on the street being like, you have a baby. I have a kid, too.
What are you hoping the audience takes away from the show?
Jenna: Laughter, joy, and entertainment. To feel better about the lives they’re living. That’s all. Personally, I just wanna make people have relief, you know? Like, we’re all in this together. We know how hard it is. Like, life’s freakin’ hard. I want people to watch the show. Me sitting here listening to you guys laugh and react, that’s everything to me. That’s why I do it, because it removes you from the stresses of life for that moment. And in those moments, you rehabilitate a little more life juice to go on, and that’s all I want to do for people.
TUNE IN TONIGHT — ABC’S ‘IMAGINARY MARY’
“The Mom Seal” – When Ben asks Alice to help him with her first mom-like task to pick up Bunny from dance class, Mary quickly discovers the simplest parental tasks are fraught with difficulty. Afterwards, Ben is disappointed when Alice tells him she can’t help with the kids anymore, but things change when Andy enlists Alice’s help to overcome his fear of taking a driving test, on the season premiere of “Imaginary Mary,” TUESDAY, APRIL 4 (9:30–10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network.
*I was invited by Disney/ABC to attend a special press trip to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own.