Paulo Costanzo is Evan Lawson in the new USA Network original series ROYAL PAINS, which premieres on Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 10/9c, immediately following the hit series BURN NOTICE (at its new time, 9/8c). Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Paulo to chat about his new show and it was one of the wildest rides I’ve been on in a very long time! Thank you Paulo for making this interview one to remember!
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Paulo Costanzo: I play Evan Lawson, who is an accountant, who’s a very colorful, kind of a charming, charismatic, adventurous, slightly over the top brother to Hank Lawson, who kind of likes to take life by the horns. And he’s very opportunistic, but with a good heart. And manages to stick his foot in his mouth most of his life, but somehow also manages to stumble upon success throughout the course of the show.
EM: Jeez! Well, you say he’s over the top, and you clearly get a lot of chances to kind of have really big facial reactions and really big movements. So, like, you have to make sure that you don’t make it—
PC: I like to think of it as just good acting. We don’t say “facial expressions,” we don’t say, because you get to pretend like you’re entertaining. Go on.
EM: No, I just— like, do you have to make sure that you don’t take it too far that the character becomes obnoxious or unreal?
PC: I mean, the beauty of this show, I mean, you would say, like, the tone of it is not— we don’t really get too serious a lot of the time. I mean, enough to actually, like, you know, make it have real stakes and whatnot. Especially in a medical show, you have to, like, you know, really be afraid that someone’s going to die and whatnot. But specifically my character gets more of the physical comedy and more of, like, the comic relief, as it were. But yeah, I try not to actually, like, scream my lines and, like, do somersaults and cartwheels in the middle of things.
EM: That’s for next season.
PC: Yeah, that’s next.
EM: I was going to say, in what way specifically is your character more than just an opportunistic—
PC: Okay, so that’s a good question.
PC: As the season progresses, the first season, the first episode obviously is a lot of character development and just getting people squared away as to what they’re doing. But as the show has progressed— we’re on episode 5 now— I don’t get to read the script, so I have no idea where it’s going to go. But so far, my character specifically has deepened, like, so, so, so much.
PC: He’s already, like, way more fleshed out. And a real guy, like, he’s a real guy. And there’s a lot more than meets the eye to my character and to his past, which I can’t say a lot about. But there’s definitely…it’s not all happy, jokey fun in Evan’s past. That’s all I’ll say.
EM: That’s it?
PC: As well as the relationship between Hank and Evan also deepens and deepens and deepens, and it’s a chasm that I can’t wait to spelunk.
EM: Well, you talk about that, it seems that there’s…
PC: I said “spelunk,” yes, I did.
EM: There’d be the obvious sort of sibling rivalry, that it seems like he’s always been the golden son and your character has been more, you know, the sidekick. Is there resentment because of that between the two characters? Or…
PC: I don’t think so, I don’t think it’s resentment. I mean, we have a pretty healthy brotherly relationship. There’s definitely competition. I don’t know about necessarily “resentment.” But yeah, there’s, like, that healthy sense of “he is the golden boy and I’m always the accountant,” which is also why this opportunity to take him to the Hamptons and, you know, push him to do this concierge doctor thing is Evan’s chance to shine and actually be important on an equal level as Hank, or so he’d like to think.
EM: So it’s as much a fish out of water story for Evan as it is for Hank?
PC: Yes, though Evan just tries to cover it all the time and fails miserably, as you will see.
EM: Speaking of the Hamptons…
PC: Good one.
EM: How did you enjoy filming on Long Island?
PC: In the Hamptons? “Speaking of the Hamptons, how did you enjoy filming in places that are not the Hamptons?”
PC: It’s true, though, it’s true. I mean, I’m, you know, I grew up as a fairly poor kid in, you know, Toronto, Canada. I don’t think I owned any new clothes until I was, like, 15 or something. They were all second-hand and forged from paper. But, you know, I’ve watched MTV Cribs a couple times, like, it’s pretty crazy. It’s like, you know, like the rappers who have, like, the, you know, like the big screen tvs. Like things are made of marble and waterfalls in their living rooms. But the other day, we— in the script— because I don’t think about this stuff, but in the script it said, like, you know, “they show up at a mansion and there’s, like, a hot tub in the basement.” And I’m like, okay, a hot tub in the basement, that’s not so crazy. That’s pretty crazy.
But we get there and Andrew Lenchewski, the writer and creator of the show is like, “Hey Paulo, have you seen the [set] in the basement yet?” I was like, “No, why, is it— ?” “Trust me, come here. He’ll be back.” And I was like, “All right.” We go downstairs. We walk into a bar that looks as if I’m walking down, like, 6th Street and I walk into a bar. I’m like, “Whoa, this is kind of weird, crazy.” And he’s like, “Yeah, look to your right.” And I look to my right, and there are 10-foot in diameter giant, like, pillars, like this big, made of plexiglass from floor to ceiling, with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tropical fish with, like, coral in the middle of it. And there’s fish— and there’s four of them. And they’re interconnected by these— this is in his house.
There were 60-inch plasmas on every single wall. There’s like a tanning lamp with two, like, really expensive looking, like, leather chairs, you know, for tanning. And this guy shows up out of nowhere and he’s like, “Hey man, how ya doin’ man?” I’m like, “I’m not bad, what’s going on?” He said, “Yeah, I take care of the house.” I’m like, “Really? Well this is crazy.” “Yeah man, I just got out of my scuba gear, man. I had to clean the tanks.” I’m like—
EM: [laughs] Scuba gear.
PC: “You got into scuba gear?”
PC: And I just pictured this guy [makes bubble noises]. And, like, it was big enough to fit a scuba diver in there. And then, of course, we walk in, there’s a full, like, indoor—excuse me for a second.
But so we walk in, there’s a full pool inside. The hot tub’s there. There’s another 60-inch in the pool area. So I’m like all— my mind is blown. I’m like, “This is insane.” Like, I’ve never seen anything like this on tv or anywhere, like, this is insane. And then I ask someone, I was like, “So this guy lives here?” He’s like, “No, no, this is, like, he uses it about three times a year. This is, like, his tertiary house.” And I’m like, “I don’t even know anybody who uses the word “tertiary” let alone, like, has a “tertiary house.”
EM: It’s like they built this crazy set and somebody owns this.
PC: He owns it and doesn’t use it! And, like, all— there’s not even, like, toiletries around. It’s just like…In fact, the guy who owns the house is the man who developed and – he’s the guy who invented the technology that allows us to scan bar codes. That’s his job, so he gets, like – he gets money for every time. But, okay, this story’s not over. So then the scuba guy is, like, “Hey man, you wanna check out the filtration room?” And I was like, “Okay.” And I walk in, and it was as if I walked into the rear, like, engine room of a ship. It was a full [engine noises] like, big things. I was, like, “This is crazy.” And then he’s, like, “Yeah, man. You been in that room yet?” And I’m like, “This keeps going? What the hell could there possibly be?” And there’s a door and I walk in, and it’s the most beautiful, privately owned movie theatre that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a full-blown, with a big huge— it’s gorgeous. And everyone’s like, “Yeah, man, too bad we can’t see it in action.” And of course, I’m me, so I’m like, “Yeah, too bad we can’t see it in action . . .” “Too bad we can’t see it in action.” I find this big, like, touch pad, I’m like, trying to press all the buttons. And then I go— it’s like “doo doo doo doo doo doo — Welcome to your home movie.” Then it was like [beeping noises] and there’s all these like, you know, background people just waiting and sitting on the reclinable leather chairs with like, you know, drink holders. And like [beeping noises], the lights slowly and [suddenly] go down.
And up comes Forest Gump, right at the scene where he’s in Vietnam. And, like, the tracer bullets are firing over his head. And I’m— and it’s loud, it’s like [exploding noises]. And I’m like, “Oh my God, this is what I’ve been— this is like the apex of my life to this point.” And the director, Jace Alexander, runs in, he goes, “What the hell is going on— whoa . . . whoa . . .” Cut to 15 minutes later, he’s just like, “Yeah, that’s— oh my God, Zemeckis, man. He was on the top of his game. I hope I direct a movie like this sometime.” “Oh, we’re ready to go.” “Okay, cool. Turn it down, don’t turn it off though, guys. Watch this, oh my God, this part’s so great.” And he leaves. And so for the rest of the night, we would come in intermittently and watch Forest Gump, in the middle of the night, in a house owned by the bar code guy. Not to mention— I will add this as a side note— in the back there was a 40-foot long two-storey grotto with two bars, including a wet bar, a hot tub room, three bathrooms, and at the very pinnacle— this was the last thing I saw in the house— a waterslide that went through the entire grotto piece of rock, out through a waterfall, into the gigantic pool.
EM: So, are you impressed by these kinds of things, or do you find it excessive?
PC: Not really, no. To be honest, when I shook the guy’s hand – I don’t know his name – but I shook his hand. And he gave me this look like, “How ya doin’,” like the subtext was like, “I could own you in five minutes, like…” I mean, yeah, the excess of it is pretty ridiculous because, again, I come from a really, like, poor, like, you know, I was raised kind of with a single mom and, like, you know, she worked in, like, a welfare office for a large part of my childhood. And, like, seeing it, to me, is ridic – the fact that no one uses it kind of pissed me off a little bit. I’m like, “Can I use it sometimes?”
PC: Someone should be appreciating this. I mean, the diver guys was like, “Sometimes I watch Forest Gump, man.” “My whole day is watching, man. In between scuba sessions, I’ll watch that shit.”
EM: Hank is like a one-woman guy, while you’re, like— kind of come off as, like, a woman chaser in the, you know, pilot. I’m, like, wondering— and this seems to be, like, you may be interested in his new assistant. Is there anything going to develop between you and the assistant? Or, like, are you going to have, like, any type of relationship?
PC: Well the way that I sum Evan and Divya’s relationship up is that we’re kind of like Han Solo and Princess Leia, in that she’s kind of like royalty, and I’m kind of the scoundrel. And though we hate each other and constantly are at odds, you know what happened with them. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t know if that happens yet, but I’m hoping something happens.
EM: How did working with USA and their whole characters welcome, kind of, like – how has that been compared to other shows you’ve been on?
PC: I have no idea. “Characters welcome,” I just don’t even know what that means? What does that mean? Like, human beings are okay on our show. They’ll exist. I don’t know what that means. I kind of…I can’t…I basically show up to set and I’m like “characters welcome, characters welcome, characters welcome.”
EM: It’s just, their track record at least for the shows that have been really successful, like, they are much like yours in that, you know, there’s some truth or honesty to it. But at the same time, the characters are really quirky. And you guys seem to have some freedom…
EM: …to, you know, not just be so straight-laced, and play it like a normal medical show.
PC: I do.
EM: Or a normal drama.
PC: I definitely do.
EM: Except for your character, obviously.
PC: All I can say is, I’m welcome.
EM: All right. I had a really bad question, so never mind.
PC: It wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t that – it was pretty bad.
EM: How has it been different filming on Long Island? You’re filming at so many different locations. You’ve been out in the Hamptons and Suffolk County, Nassau Country. How has that been different to the whole L.A. experience?
PC: Oh God, Jesus. Lord have mer – the way I see it is L.A. – [laughs] I don’t want to diss it though, it’s my home. I have to go back there. I love L.A. I’m an east coaster, you know, I’m brought up in Toronto where it’s very much like, kind of a miniature New York in that there’s a subway and you’re surrounded by people a lot and, you know, you bump into people and you have interactions and you communicate and la la la.
Whereas in L.A., you wake up going, “Ahhhh.” In your car, in your car, in your car, in your car. At your friend’s house. “Hey, I see— that’s one person.” And I’m at the, you know, the gas station. It’s like, “Oh there’s a guy, he’s about 10 feet away.” And back in your car, in your car. And you get home, it’s like, “Oh, there’s my girl.” And you’re asleep. And literally, that’s three people that you’ve been in contact with in an entire day.
So there’s such a lack of stimulation that you find yourself— at least I do, sometimes— it’s been so long, that when someone actually strikes up a conversation, you’re like, “Uh, yes, uh, so yes, I do enjoy the Dodgers. I think they’re a good team.” “I personally enjoy the Toronto Blue Jays. Have you heard of the Blue— it’s another team.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, in Canada, just because they’re my home t— oh, you have to go. Oh, you don’t, okay, cool.” “No, no, no, actually yeah, oh no, I do have to go.” “So, okay great, it’s been really— ” This is, like, the postman.
PC: He’s like, “All right.” I’m like already in my house. “Okay, cool, I’m just going to go back and— .” “Okay.” [closing door noise] Whereas in New York, you’re just like, “I like getting to the point where I’m, like, desensitized to it, and I just kind of walk around. And if someone starts up a conversation, it’s like [imitates New York accent]. I find, like, the New York accent is very, like, conducive to quick interactions, because you just, like, find yourself, you know, like, “Oh yeah, well whateva, it doesn’t even matta, okay, bye. 16, 17 buys a sampler. I love different kinds of barbecue,” and you leave. Because that’s how New Yorkers talk. Does that answer any semblance of your question?
EM: I really hope they can transcribe that accent.
EM: That was almost flawless.
PC: They can’t.
PC: “I love different kinds of barbecue,” no, on a transcript that won’t work. That’ll make me sound like I’m on acid. This side of the room hasn’t said anything.
EM: When you all auditioned for the show, I originally heard that your character was supposed to be [inaudible].
PC: So yes, okay. So I went in originally for the show, you know, I read the script. I liked it. I was, like, okay, I can do— you know, it’s one of those— you audition for a lot of things, and sometimes it takes a lot of time and work for you to figure out what to do. And then you’re like, okay, and you commit, and then you do it. Whereas with this one, I read and I’m, like, “Okay, yeah, I know how to do it. I can just do— I can access that part easy.” And I just walked in, and I did it, walked out. They’re like, “Great, we want to bring you back for a chemistry read with the guy who got the lead part.” I’m like, “Okay, cool. All right, great.”
I walk in, and I look at Mark. And, as a man who doesn’t really hold my subtext in very much, I was just like, “So, you’re me, and I’m you?” And he’s like, “Yeah, that’s kind of weird.” I’m like, “I feel that if you and I got too close together, our Jew-fros would actually…
…magnetize and go shooooomp, and like, that would be a problem in filming. And he goes, “I know. Let’s try it.” And Mark and I went— after a second of meeting, and we literally went shooooomp, “Yeah, this is going to be a problem, guys.” And then thus began, like, Mark and I’s relationship as people. But when it came to the screen test, walking in was certain. I’m like, “I better really kill this, because if I don’t, like, I know they’re going to have to rewrite it.”
So, like, not only did I have to be really good, but I had to know that I was, like, so good that they’d have to rewrite the entire show. When I walked out, I was like, “All right, well that’s that. I’m not going to— ” you know. And then I got the call. They’re like, “Guess what?” I’m like, “You’re going to rewrite the show, he’s my brother?” And he’s like, “Yeah, how did you know that?” I’m like, “I don’t know, wild guess.” Which, incidentally, or which ultimately, has actually changed the entire course of the show.
And now the entire show’s crux, really, is our relationship as brothers. And it’s added an entirely— I mean, to me, it’s such a blessing for me, obviously. But I think it’s really been a blessing to the whole show, because now you’ve got all this backstory that’s unearthing itself slowly. And we don’t know what happened with their parents, and we don’t know what happened with their childhoods. And—
EM: So you and Mark had a really tough time tapping into that brotherly chemistry, huh?
PC: Yeah. No, we instantly, we inst— we have a very brotherly relationship. It’s really hilarious. We bicker like brothers, we have, like, moments of love and then moments of, like, “Well you do whatever you want.” “Well I’ll do whatever—p” “Well, fine.” “Okay, fine.” “Well, fine.” “Okay.” “I love you.” “Well I hate you, but I also love you too.” “Okay, fine, then let’s just do this.”
EM: Does that happen with you a lot in what you’re doing, or is it just this thing, meeting Mark? Whenever you do projects, do you just “gel” with the people immediately? Or is this just something special?
PC: No. It depends. I find myself, I do end up having a similar relationship with the person as the character would with his or her character. Usually, just because I tend to get obsessive with my work and I— it’s just— it’s not even conscious. It just kind of happens. But there’s odd exceptions. But yeah, that does happen. That’s a good question. Your mohawk stares into my soul.
EM: If you had your dream guest star, thinking with the whole Hamptons theme, who would a really amazing guest star be?
PC: Bette Midler. I’m just kidding.
PC: No, that would be cool. Oh man, my dream guest star? I don’t know. Hamptons? Jerry Seinfeld.
EM: Oooh, good one.
PC: That would be my dream guest star. I’ve always wanted to play Jerry Seinfeld’s son, actually, because he’s the only person who anyone ever says I look like, in my entire— ever in my life. So yes, I think he should be our dad.
PC: He could kind of pass as our father, kind of.
EM: Yeah, he could.
PC: Interesting. Interesting, Brad.
EM: Make that happen.
PC: He’s like— he’s one of my idols. I think he’s amazing. I think he’s really cool. I think he’s awesome. I’m going to do this until another question comes.
EM: There’s so many shows, you know, like all you see are these rich people spending their money. And it’s, like—
EM: Why do you think there’s such a fascination with these people?
PC: Well right now, obviously economically, people don’t want to be watching shows about poor people. I mean, they can— look, I mean, they can, you know, they can identify with poor people with, like, things— people in poverty and strife. But as with any depression or whatever you want to call it, any economic, you know, drop, there’s— you find what’s successful is booze and escapist entertainment. And that’s exactly what this is. I think it’s— and I think that USA, you know, is very intelligent. And I think that— you know, obviously they’re not going to start off by saying, “We need a show that’s the opposite of depressing. Let’s go. But they found Andrew Lenchewski, they found the script. They said, “This is really good, it’s light enough to be, you know, easy to watch, and escapist.” But at the same time it has, you know, it has medical elements, which is always riveting to watch someone going into cardiac arrest and have some guy in MacGyver-like fashion, you know, grab a tube from the ceiling and intubate him and, like, fix him. But, yeah, the money is something people want to watch, because they’re like, “Oh, that’s— in that universe, people are happy. And maybe I can live vicariously through them for an hour.”
EM: But the show also shows both sides of it. It shows the, you know, crazy rich people with the scuba diver who cleans their fish tank, but also the scuba diver who cleans the fish tank. I mean, is that sort of the pull that gets Hank in to begin with? That there’s genuinely people there who need help in addition—
PC: The reason why we as viewers can live vicariously through it is because the main characters of the show are not rich. They are these people walking in who are going, whoa. Like me. Like, you know, I’m the poor kid, I mean, literally, in this experience. I’m a poor kid getting to experience all this wealth and insanity, and I’m, like, blown away by it every day. It’s kind of the same with this show. It’s like, hopefully the viewers will feel the same way as we feel. And sometimes yeah, sometimes it’s not like, “Oh yeah, rich is great!” Sometimes it’s like, “This is fuckin’ weird that these people are this rich and this extravagant.”
EM: Well in the first episode, the kid with the haemophilia whose, you know, father can’t be bothered to come visit him all summer.
EM: You know? He’s got enough money to go buy a new Ferrari, but—
PC: And his son is unhappy.
PC: So, yeah.
EM: Does Evan actually start getting involved with, like, all the medical stuff? Because in the first episode, you know, he makes a note to himself to become a doctor. Does that— happen?
PC: It hasn’t—
EM: Does he do anything—
PC: It hasn’t happened as of yet. There is— Brad, can I talk about little things that don’t give away large plot points?
PC: There— he also— that’s like an ongoing thing, that he’s constantly giving notes to self. Another scene where he says “note to self” is when he has to drive— because he doesn’t have a car, because we don’t have enough money yet and Hank has the only Saab car, he has this crappy little car. So I have to drive across town to meet Divya, and I have a golf cart. And I smash into this children’s, like— I smash into a tricycle and it goes “errrrrrrr!” And I get out, I’m like, “Note to self: get a car. Okay, good.”
PC: Like, I don’t know if being a doctor is necessarily his— his goal in life.
EM: So we won’t see him help Hank do any of his—
PC: You never know what’s going to happen, but I highly doubt it.
EM: Can you tell us about your favorite scene that you’ve shot, or will it give too much away?
PC: That’s a good one. I don’t know. Yesterday I got to fly in a helicopter, that was pretty cool. I actually get to be in a helicopter. I didn’t have to be, like, it was a scene where we all fly in a helicopter. But this was a wider shot where the thing actually takes off. And Don Scardino, who directs, like, the bulk of 30 Rock episodes is, like, “Hey Paulo, you wanna go in the helicopter?” I’m like, “Do I wanna go in the heli— yes!” He’s like, “Go on.” I’m like— I ran in there, and they got the engine started up. And Carol Flint, who’s the writer of this episode, who wrote on, like, the first five seasons of ER, she wrote for two years on West Wing, she’s incredible— did you just burp?
EM: No, I went, “Oooh,”
PC: Really? She’s amazing, like, she’s— the things she’s done is just incredible. She worked on China Beach years ago, so she’s like, “I’ve been in tons of choppers. It’ll just be fun, a real bonding experience.” I’m like, “Okay, cool.” My first time in a chopper. I am horrified of heights, by the way. So I’m, like, looking out the window and it’s cool. And then they start to lift up, I’m like “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Okay, oh, God, oh.” And she— I don’t remember it, but she says I turned into, like, a little girl.
PC: I was, like, “Okay, okay, oh, stop it.” And all he did was take off. And then he had to turn. So I think this guy knew it was my first time and he was like, “Yeah, I’m going to impress the actor.” Schwoooo! And it was literally like— it was, like, 90 degrees. We were, like, ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga, and I was just— it was too much for me. I was, like, shaking. It was like, “Ahh, no, no!” When we got to the ground I was like, “Okay, great.” And I had post-traumatic stress for about five hours. But I’m glad I did it, and it’s another one of those things that I can call my mom and say, “Hey, guess what mom? Remember the aquarium tanks? Yeah, and today I flew in a helicopter.” Which is also a highlight of my day, is calling my mom and telling her the escapades that [related] to that day.
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Interview by Tiffany N. D’Emidio