Masi Oka & Nate Torrence—Get Smart, Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control—6/25/08

Separately, they're best known as Hiro from NBC's hit series Heroes and Dylan Killington from NBC's departed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Together, they're Bruce and Lloyd, from Get Smart and their very own direct-to-video movie Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out Of Control. I speak of course of Masi Oka and Nate Torrence, who spoke to me a few hours before an appearance at the Apple Store in downtown San Francisco. We chatted in the offices of Terry Hines & Associates.

Groucho: G3 in the house!

Nate Torrence: Wooo! Yeaah!

Masi Oka: Yeah!

G: Geeky gadget guys?

MO: Geeky gadget guys.

NT: That's a Masi—

MO: G3!

G: (Laughs.) It's a trademark.

NT: A Masi trademark.

MO: And Apple just came up with a G3 iPhone, too.

NT: We're working it all in—that's all, that's behind the scenes.

MO: (Laughs.)

G: Now are you guys into gadgets in real life, or are you all thumbs?

NT: I am a little bit. I did some graphic design and video editing before, but I definitely can't hang, like, with Lloyd. Not as good as Lloyd.

MO: (Laughs.) I'm a big gadget guy. I do like a lot of my gadgets, so.

G: Very good. I read from the junket press conference that this movie was going to be more of a behind-the-scenes DVD extra at some point, and then it evolved into a feature. How exactly did it come about?

NT: I'm still completely—I have no idea the full process of what it went through. I know that it had several heads. (Laughs.) You know? As we were going through it. But yeah, it went from—I think, because we didn't have a script immediately, but they knew they wanted to do it with our characters. They knew they wanted to do some sort of spin-off. And when we started [Get Smart], they were; they were covering us a lot on set with, like, EPK—you know, with just camera work. And then the script started coming—the script came out, what? Two months, maybe, after we finished Get Smart.

MO: Yeah.

NT: And I know when we booked it was going to be "Oh, you'll film both at the same time," so whatever happened in there—Twilight Zone stuff. We have no idea.

MO: (Makes an attempt at the Twilight Zone theme.)

NT: (Laughs.)

MO:Yeah, we were doing a lot of improv interviews. I remember B-roll stuff, like between our takes "Come out here! As your character, say something funny."

NT: Yeah, yeah.

MO: "Okay."

NT: (Laughs.) Pimp it out!

MO: Great. So we were doing, like, sixteen minutes of improv.

NT: Yeah, we just would play, forever, off set, between our takes.

MO: And that's why they had a script. (Laughs.)

NT: (Laughs.) Exactly. And then they realized, "Let's give them some words.

G: That's always conducive to comedy: "Say something funny."

NT: Exactly.

G: I love the analogy that this is to Get Smart what Rosencrantz and Guidenstern Are Dead is to Hamlet.

NT: Yeah.

G: Can you guys talk about developing the characters originally for Get Smart, and developing your rapport between you?

NT: Yeah! We were lucky, I think.

MO: Yeah, definitely.

NT: It was one of those things where we started auditioning pretty early together—we were paired up pretty early. And, I don't know: you audition with a lot of people, and you can tell when chemistry's there and chemistry's not there. And, honestly, from the first audition, it was like "Oh, that felt really smooth." We really held each other—

MO: Oh! (Mutters mockingly.)

NT: ...or helped each other. Literally! Just hugged each other the whole time. We held our own with one another. You know? And I think how we were approaching the characters was really fun. We would swap characters, back and forth—like he'd play Lloyd and I'd play Bruce. In the beginning.

G: Right, at the auditions.

NT: And yeah, I think how we were doing our energies [was] really working together, and kept with us.

G: What about the dynamic between the characters? How did that develop?

MO: I think we always knew that, you know, it's splitting Q into two parts. Bruce and Lloyd make up one gadget guy, in reality.  They're just two different parts of one person. So we—you know, I think there was a concerted effort to try and go—you know, one person could be a little bit this side, and one person this side, so we don't—we had—we wanted to make sure we did have two very different, distinct points of views and personalities, so that we don't step on each other and our jokes will stand out clearer. And that it would be easier to write for. Which is always an important thing.

NT: And I do remember, in the beginning, how it felt like Bruce was almost a boss figure to Lloyd, and then it did: it slowly kind of—I felt like there was this transition of "Oh, this works better when these guys are just best friends, and kind of working off each other like a married couple or something, rather than boss and sidekick or something like that. And so that was fun.

G: What you were saying, Masi, reminded me of a comment you made about how comedy is, if you really break it down, fundamentally scientific: you know, with the set up-punchline, relationships with lines that will result in something funny, and timing and all of that. But it's also something you can't really teach, right? There's this "feel" element, isn't there?

MO: There's definitely something that you can't teach, but a lot of it you can teach, I believe. And Second City talks about certain "tricks of the trade." You know what's going to be funny, what would work. You know, like repetition, heightening the stakes, just accepting "Yes, and..." There's a lot of rules, but I think instinctively there are just things that you can't really teach a person. And of course what's funny to some people [is] not funny to others, so—humor is very subjective. And I think it's hard to really teach something that's different to everybody in the world. So hopefully what's funny to you will be funny to others.

NT: (Laughs.)

MO: And you just go with it.

G: But even a fundamental like "Yes, and...", there's always—you know, the rules are made to be broken for an occasion of comedy—

MO: Exactly.

NT: Yeah. I think there's a level with comedy—there's what funny is, and there's ways to be funnier. You know? That's almost how you feel with rules and everything. It's like "Oh wow, this is how you can structure something to be funny." But then at the same time there's a certain energy that some people can't do, you know?

MO: Yeah, it's definitely a crutch.

NT: (Laughs.)

MO: You know, we can go back to. But rules are meant to be broken, in many ways.

G: You guys both went through Second City at various points, right?

NT: Yeah, I did. Not together. I studied in Chicago, Cleveland, and L.A. So, yeah, and then performed a little bit in Cleveland. Yeah.

G: And you?

MO: I was mostly L.A. I actually studied in San Francisco with a different troupe, but then I came down to L.A.

G: Is there something in particular from Second City for each of you that kind of echoes in your mind, that you always think "Oh yeah, there's that chestnut that I learned there."

NT: Yeah. It's funny: I owe a lot of anything that's worked for me, specifically in the commercial world—I came up though the commercial ranks—I owe all of that, really, to improv, that idea of always bringing something new to the table and being comfortable and confident in that idea. But then also there's this rule of—and Second City specifically teaches it—of always trying—the goal isn't for you to be funny; it's trying to make your partner look good. And trying to put that light on who you're working with. Specifically when you're making things up—you know, off the cuff? And that's always something that I think can just go through, that you always try to keep in mind. Or at least I'm trying. I don't know if I succeed all the time! But trying to always say, "Ohh! This will be better if the person I'm working with is looking just as good as I am." And trying to do that, you know? So that's something I try to keep, at least, close.

G: Anything stick out for you?

MO: No, definitely, you know, just making your partner look good. Each school has a very different thought, in terms of approaching improv. And especially with comedy, and when you're doing improv. You want to be funny: I mean, that's natural instinct of any actor. You want it to be your moment. But then just the idea that trust, that giving to someone and making the other person look good, is going to make the whole scene elevated and then just going to make you look better as well. And I think the focus on the partner is fundamental acting, you know? It's just: you listen. It's about—acting is reacting. So I think that's something that Second City kind of—just that really stuck to me. But it's also about making smart choices. You know, you could go for the cheap, easy laughs. Especially you could go blue in any time, and go [in a high-pitched voice:] "Cocks and balls!"

NT: (Laughs.)

MO: And it's, like, all of a sudden fine. But Second City always taught us that when you're on stage, when you have an opportunity to perform or do something, that is an opportunity to have an opinion. You know, be satirical or say something smart. And I think it really stuck to me that you have an opportunity to do something—let's keep the humor intelligent, as much as possible.

NT: Yeah. Playing a character to the highest of its intelligence is like one of their whole things. You can play a dumb character, but play that character to the highest of intelligence, of his situation. That's like one of the rules that they throw around.

G: I do have to ask Masi—of course, people want to know—

MO: Everyone dies! In the first episode.

NT: (Laughs.)

G: Can you tease a little bit about what's coming up for your character?

MO: Uhh, well, with Hiro—oh, uh, Bruce, Bruce gets a chance to—

NT: (Laughs.)

MO: No, okay. No, no, no. Hiro finds his arch-nemesis Daphne, who's kind of this speedster. Just as Batman gets his Joker, Hiro gets Daphne. For me, it's more like, you know, Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner, except she says more than "Meep meep."

G: I was going to ask about that character, actually: is she somewhat comic, because your character is somewhat of the comic element in the show?

MO: Yeah, it's going to be comic, but I think it's just the situation is going to be comic. Yeah. So—you'll see.

G: Yeah. Of course.

NT: (Laughs.)

G: I wanted to ask you, Nate, about doing Studio 60, which was a great show.

NT: Thanks.

G: What was it like doing a[n Aaron] Sorkin show? I was surprised that he went back to the air after the grind of West Wing, and how that fell out.

NT: Yeah, I think everybody was. Yeah, it was crazy. I mean, one: when that was first coming out, it was soo exciting just 'cause it was—it had a lot of heat in Hollywood. You know, everyone was trying to be a part of it, and just going through the audition process and stuff, it was pretty exciting. And even though, I mean, yeah, maybe the ratings weren't there, and it also was an expensive show to make. I mean, the truth is that cast was so deep, it just went on forever, as far as who was on the show. And so any memories I have is with complete respect. And to be, like, "Wow. I can't believe I got to work with those guys. [Producer-Director] Tommy Schlamme and Aaron were both amazing, like really—. I learned a lot on that stage.  (Laughs.)

G: I have to ask you guys about the characters on your respective shows that you've done: was there something that was maybe in the show bible, or something that you developed for your character, that we've never really gotten to see?

NT: Huh. As far as you mean like any project that I've—?

G: Or for Bruce or Lloyd. Bruce and Lloyd or Studio 60 or Heroes: was there something about one of your characters that you kind of worked it out on your own, or the show's creators did, but we haven't gotten to see it?

NT: (Belly laughs.) I think Lloyd needs to find love.

MO: (Laughs.)

NT: We need to see Lloyd with a girlfriend. (Laughs.) He'll change completely.

MO: It was definitely in the original incarnation.

NT: Yes.

MO: And it went away.

NT: Yeah, it went away in the rewrites, so that'd be something to look forward to.

G: And for you, Masi?

MO: Umm, not much. I mean, it's interesting, 'cause every character that gets written, you know, it changes. It definitely morphs into—depending on the actor and director and the chemistry you have with your partner—so I never really know what the writers have in mind. And hopefully we'll change their minds, or we'll come up with something else, and then we can come up with a collaboration. I know Tim Kring says, like especially with Hiro, it's definitely changed when I came in: you know, it was different from what he originally thought.

G: Yeah, responding to what the actor brings. Alright, I have to stop it.

NT: Awesome!

G: I wish we could talk more. Thanks very much, guys.

NT: Nice to meet you.

MO: Thank you.

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