Ben and Kate (Fox, Tuesdays, 8:30/7:30C) star Dakota Johnson and Recurring Guest Star Geoff Stults play a new couple on the freshman sitcom. Last week, they took a half hour to talk about the show with a group of journalists/bloggers.
Hi, guys. Thanks so much for doing the call. Geoff, can you kind of talk about what it was like coming into a cast that’s already in motion; the show’s already started?
Geoff Stults: Yes, hi. I hadn’t done that in a long time. It was really interesting. It felt like I was sleeping in somebody else’s house. It was fun. I think this was a wonderful switch for me to come and do a half-hour, first of all, and then also to do it with people that are really good and really better than me, so it was fun.
Dakota Johnson: Yes. I think it was really difficult for him. Be honest, Geoff. Be honest.
Stults : I already said that. Yes. It was kind of weird to join a cast that was up and running already. You kind of have to hit the ground running, so to speak, and try to stay with people that are very good at what they do. It’s been a blast. The whole experience has been fun for me, especially working with Dakota. I feel like I learn something new every day; mostly about life though, just about being a better person.
Johnson: I’m really wise and like a role model to him.
Stults: Yes. She for sure was my role model.
Is your character going to continue on the show? I know you’re listed for being in two episodes. I didn’t know.
Stults: I think I’ve done five or six so far.
Dakota, this is your first time that you’re the lead on a series. Can you talk about what that experience was like?
Johnson: It’s still pretty intense. I’ve never actually even been on television before. I’ve never done any sort of guest star on a television show, so I never knew what the schedule was like; the hours or the days or how quickly you work in television. To go from not knowing anything about it to carrying a television show was a really big, scary step for me, and also just because I want it to succeed and I want it to do well and I want to do good work.
On top of that, being the one who does everything for the show, it was a lot, and it’s a little crazy and scary, but it’s also really interesting and fun. I get to meet a lot of different people and learn a lot of different things and different aspects of this business. I’ve really enjoyed it. Aside from the part of it being incredibly exhausting, I’ve really enjoyed it.
Can you talk about what your favorite two Christmas movies are and why?
Johnson: A Christmas Story is my favorite Christmas movie because it’s really funny and amazing. Also, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the one with Jim Carrey, is probably one of my just all-time favorite movies; not just Christmas movies. I feel like I watch that movie at least three times a year. That’s really embarrassing. Don’t write ….
Could you both talk about the improv on the show? Was that tough getting used to, or have you experienced that before?
Stults: I’ll take that one over thanks, Dakota. I’ve never been on anything on television that that was allowed or encouraged, and both of those things happen on Ben and Kate. The first time it happened I was like, ‘Boy, these guys don’t know their lines.’ Then, I was like ‘Oh, right, they’re doing this on purpose.’ I think it’s a blast.
It’s so much fun to be able to have that kind of creative freedom for me. I’ve just never had that before. I usually have the scripts and a guy just standing right there saying ‘Don’t, nope, you’re not supposed to say that.’
Johnson: Yes. I think we’re really lucky on my show that they trust all of us enough to riff on each other, and they don’t feel like we’re wasting time. I feel like a lot of it is just say the words and do the thing and be your character, and then let’s move on because we have no time, but that’s not the case at all on this show. Each one of us personalizes our characters as much as we can, and we personalize the jokes and we come up with new jokes. Then we’ll riff on each other, and it makes you feel like you are being creative and you are giving to this project.
I think that’s what makes Ben and Kate a little different. We make it a little bit more real. We make it more human, and we have these human conversations and rapport with each other. I don’t know what it’s like to be on another kind of show, but I do feel like it’s a really special thing. I feel like I wouldn’t like it if it were the other way around.
Yes. Both of you play single parents on the show. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Johnson: Geoff gets his inspiration from me.
Stults: Yes, I do. All my inspiration in life pretty much comes from Dakota and all her single parenting skills in real life. I pretty much get it from the moms who bring their kids to set, and then I just see how they talk to their kids. Then I’m like okay, I better just emulate that. I can say that I have played a dad before on television. I just have never been a single dad and never had two different daughters. When they recast my daughter after the first episode I thought that was a little weird, but I guess that happens a lot.
Inspiration for a single parent? I think you just kind of do it. Dakota is really lucky that her daughter is the coolest, sweetest girl in the world. Every time I’m not on set with her, I miss her. She’s a blast. My daughter is fantastic as well; she’s just not around as much.
Johnson: …, Geoff.
Stults: Yes, inspiration scares me a little bit.
Johnson: You want me to answer that question as well?
Stults: Oh, yes.
Johnson: It’s a really weird thing for me because I am obviously not a single mom. I’ve never been a mom. I do have a dog, but that’s different. I feel like I don’t exactly know where my inspiration comes from, because I don’t think that there’s a way that you could be inspired to be a convincing parent.
That’s the biggest point for me, is for it to be convincing, because I am very young. I think obviously people would look at me and look at the girl and be like, ‘No way is she the mom,’ but I wanted the relationship to be very honest and truthful. The biggest thing for me was making Maggie feel comfortable with me and acting like I’m her mom, because then that allows for it to be more relatable. I just feel that way with her. I love her so much, and I care about her so much. When she’s around I automatically go into mom mode. It’s a really weird feeling because I am only 23 years old, and I don’t want a kid.
Stults: Don’t put that part.
Dakota, some of your funniest moments on the show so far have been when your character is just kind of overwhelmed almost and can’t even speak and is just kind of searching for words; babbling for words. I’m curious, is that sort of a natural comedic go-to guide for you? Is that something that comes from you naturally, or what was the origin of that, which has become kind of a signature, sort of move for the character, I guess?
Johnson: First of all, I’m really glad that my signature move is stumbling for words. That happens to me in my real life sometimes. For me, that’s what makes Kate like a human person and makes her real. I want to see a young woman who doesn’t know how to handle herself in front of men and isn’t like a hot, sex symbol and doesn’t know what to say and isn’t really cool and isn’t sexy and cute and doesn’t know how to flirt with people.
I think that’s funny, and I think that that is Kate. I think that’s the character. It was definitely a choice and a constant characteristic of her that I’d like to keep continuing in the show, but I think it’s a sweet thing. I feel like I do that in my own life. I, often, have no idea what to say to people.
When you’re talking about not knowing how to flirt with people, or however that goes; I guess in a more conventional sitcom setup, your character and Nat’s character would not be brother and sister, right? They would be some sort of romantic couple, or at least a potential for that. Do you think, maybe, the way you guys have set it up, this actually frees you to go in all sorts of different directions because you’re not almost burdened with that base, sort of romantic setup, that would be so normal in a sitcom like this if it weren’t so, kind of, constructed cleverly as it is?
Johnson: Absolutely. That’s one of the top reasons why I was interested in doing this show, because it’s less about this romantic couple, and you see them go through these same fights and same highs and same lows and it gets a little bit boring. I was really interested in the fact that it was a brother and sister, which on one hand just brings an automatic sense of unconditional love and good times.
Also, it leaves room for each of us to have many different relationships, and you can see so many different sides of the characters. That was really important to me, because in my career I want to play different characters. I’d rather not play the same thing over and over again, so it’s really awesome to be on a television show where my character goes through so many different arcs even in just one season, instead of just like oh no, are they going to break up? You know? She’s experiencing everything, and each and every one of us are.
There’s a lot going on in each episode and throughout the entire season, so I think it’s so important. It’s fresh and it’s new, and it makes people kind of be like, oh my god, yes, I totally know someone like that—anyone in the entire show. I know someone like BJ. I know someone like Ben, or that reminds me of my relationship with my brother. That’s what matters to me. I want people to not just be like, oh no, that’s so sad, they’re breaking up. I want them to be like, yes, they’re siblings, and they rock.
Also, in terms of the breaking up, you can never really break up with your brother, right? You can go through all sorts of different things, but there’s still going to be a base connection there that you guys always can fall back on and sort of deal with at that level.
Johnson: Exactly. Also, it will probably make it harder for the network to ever take us off the show because they can’t just like break us up, you know?
Unless you guys have untold siblings that we haven’t heard about yet.
Johnson: Right, or if it just gets super weird like Big Love stuff.
Well, that would be an entirely different show.
Johnson: That would be incredibly inappropriate.
Geoff, after The Finder, do you feel you’re sort of starting over again? How do you see it coming into a show like this?
Stults: Creatively? Yes, starting over again. I look at The Finder as it’s not the first show I’ve got cancelled, and it won’t be the last. It’s just a totally different kind of show. Starting over in TV; that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this so much.
I wanted to be in the half-hour world again. I wanted to be able to be, just creatively, to do something like this, and for me I was thrilled to do it. In our careers, I feel like I’m lucky to have done that. That chapter has closed, and now I have moved on to this. I’ve enjoyed all of it.
Dakota was just kind of touching on it, but the things that they allow; the improv, and just the environment that supports creativity and playing around a little bit. I’ve never been in that world before, so that’s been great. That was actually a little bit intimidating at first. It was kind of like, oh god; we’re allowed to do this.
My character on the show, he’s more of a straight guy. He’s not necessarily the funny dude, so I’m not really searching to be the funny fellow in every scene, but kind of there, I believe, to set up the funnies for Ben and Kate and the rest of the cast. I’ve just really enjoyed it. I feel like I’m just lucky to have been a part of it.
Dakota, now that the show has seven episodes in, what do you like most about how Kate has evolved so far?
Johnson: This is what I’ve learned, you guys: in the first couple episodes of any show they’re sort of just setting up the story and getting everyone acquainted with these characters, so everyone is super high-energy and like very much so their character. For me, that was difficult at first, because I was like, why am I so high-energy at this moment and why are we repeating these things over and over again, and what’s happening?
Then now, even on the episode when Geoff came in, that was when we started to sort of get more creative and get funny and get weird and let our characters go and really riff on things and really get into it. I like seeing Kate with Geoff’s character, Will, because they’re sort of the same kind of person, and they deal with the same sort of difficulties being single parents and being very exhausted. I think that it kind of allows her to be a little bit more goofy and a little bit more funny, because normally she is the serious one. She’s the one that’s grounded, and I think Will allows her to sort of be silly and goofy, and you see a side of Kate that you haven’t really seen. That’s been fun.
Also, getting into a bit of trouble with Ben, I think, is really fun. I like seeing her sort of jump on the bandwagon instead of making everyone stop doing silly things. I think that her hair has gotten really wonderful.
Dakota, you mentioned it a little bit earlier, but I was wondering if I could get both of your thoughts on working with Maggie Elizabeth Jones?
Johnson: Yes, she is so talented and wise beyond her years and so incredibly intelligent and quick that it kind of freaks me out a little bit. She does not miss anything. She understands everything and is really good at her job.
Last week we were working on an episode where there were nine seven-year-old children, and everyone, I think, started to appreciate Maggie even more, because it was very hectic and difficult. Also, working with children can be really funny and fun just because kids are really funny. I can’t even say better things about her. She’s funny and she’s so smart. I love her so much. I’m like waxing poetic about this child. I love her so much.
She also has started to, sort of, become so comfortable with us and the crew that she’ll try new things and she’ll improv and she’ll say things a different way instead of just the way that she’s read the script and knows how to say them. Sometimes you’ll see children act and they say things a certain way every time, and it works completely, and that’s how they work. She started to get really creative, and I think that that’s so special and awesome. I think we got really lucky to have her.
Stults: Oh, you for sure got lucky. The one thing about her that blows my mind, all the things that Dakota just said, she’s hyper-smart. She gets irony, she understands everything that’s going on around her to the point where you think that this isn’t even a little girl, but then she also embraces life being a little girl. She embraces having fun. She’s not trying to be a grown-up. She really takes her job seriously; I know it’s kind of weird to say that about a little girl, but she does.
She works hard on it. She wants to do well, but she’s not like a little robot either. She’s still a little girl who’s having fun. She still has moments where she misses her friends back home in Atlanta. She’s so good at what she does that you often forget that she is still a little girl. I’ve been around, back on the days that I was on 7th Heaven and there were kids all over the place—
Johnson: Oh my god, Geoff, you were on 7th Heaven, I didn’t know that. Geoff, that’s amazing! Congratulations.
Stults: I think it was before you were born.
So I’ve seen a lot of kid actors and she blows them all away. When you guys got Maggie, you guys got very lucky. I always attribute that back to the parents. The parents are great people, and they get that this is a wonderful job and a wonderful opportunity, but they try hard to really protect her. Also, they do their best to keep her a little kid when she’s not working.
Do you guys watch the episodes as they air on TV, or is that something maybe you guys watch at a much later date?
Johnson: Normally I’m working when the episodes air so I don’t get to see them. I do have them on the DVR at home. I do watch them. I watch them when people say, ‘Oh, that episode was so funny, and I loved it’ because it’s weird for me that—well, you know what? I’ve actually watched most of them. It’s gotten less weird for me to see myself. I used to be really, really freaked out of watching myself, and I would have an existential crisis and be incredibly self-deprecating. Now, it’s become more of a thing of this is my job, and if I watch myself I can see what works and what doesn’t and what’s funny and where certain things happen. I started to, sort of, use it to my advantage.
Dakota, just wondering if your parents have been watching every week and if they’ve given you any feedback?
Johnson: My parents have been watching every week. They don’t really give me feedback. They wouldn’t ever call me and be like, hey, so, I think that this was not very funny, don’t ever do that again. They do watch it. They’re really happy for me and proud of me, and they really like the show, so I think they’ve started to just watch it because they enjoy it, not because they’re forced to because I’m their child. My mom will call me after and be very happy with the shows. They’re my parents, they like me a lot, so hopefully they like the show a lot.
Stults: Dakota, I’ve got a couple questions for you.
Johnson: Go ahead.
Stults: Speaking of parents, what do you think of my Will comb-over?
Johnson: I think it’s really wonderful. Thank you for asking.
Stults: Thank you, guys. Have a great day. Bye, Dakota.
Johnson: Bye, Geoff.
Photos by Jennifer Clasen/Courtesy Fox Television