Tom Cavanagh is such a naturally
likable guy that sometimes you take his craft as an actor for
granted. Best known for a four-year run as the title character in
the cult-fave series Ed, Cavanagh has continued popping up in
smart and funny TV roles like the criminally short-lived music-biz
series Love Monkey and playing the recurring role of Zach Braff’s brother on Scrubs.
His latest gig is an extended arc
this season on the popular USA Network series Royal Pains.
Cavanagh is playing Jack O’Malley, a golf pro friend of Hank (Mark
Feuerstein) who has contracted a serious case of lupus. As his
condition deteriorates, Jack refuses to take his medical care
seriously, leading to a life-or-death race for time in Wednesday’s
upcoming episode. In the physically
demanding arc, Cavanagh gets ample chance to show the range of his
We were recently fortunate to join
in on a conference call with some other media outlets in which
Cavanagh discussed his arc on Royal Pains, the possibility of
a video release of Ed and the fun of pranking Mark
First I have to say I was a big
fan of Ed and I
wanted to tell you we haven't given up on getting the series on DVD.
Listen, you shouldn't give up,
because if you give up it's all over. It's all over. There's going
to be no momentum and no impetus for them to get that going. Here's
what my understanding is… it's a really weird thing because
apparently this call is supposed to be about Royal Pains… but
the Ed DVD is a music right thing because the Letterman
Company used so much great music that the stars were basically just
giving to them – because they were Letterman. Music rights in
perpetuity are a little more complicated than that. But apparently
this thing is moving along and so we're all hopeful that one day
Ed will be on DVD. Thank you for your first Royal Pains
All right well moving onto
Royal Pains then. I don't
There you go. You're getting a
long exhale from the Royal Pains executives right now. Okay
You're probably right. I don't
want to spoil for anyone that hasn't seen this week's ep so I'll try
to phrase my question this way: going into the start of the role,
did producers already know the entire storyline for Jack? Did they
tell you at the beginning what to expect or were you surprised?
At the very beginning, I was
filming a movie in Vancouver. Michael Rauch – who's an executive
producer on the show, the show runner – [he] and I we go way back.
We're old friends. We had had a great time. It was Michael Rauch's
directorial debut, a season prior and he wrote the part of Jack
O'Malley – the rogue, swashbuckling, semi-good looking golfer – with
me in mind. We had such a good time we thought well it would be
great if we could have a worthy storyline. So when he called me we
both knew the arc that the storyline would take – harrowing but fun
arc – and we were both on board with the arc from the very
beginning. In other words, I could have just said “yes.”
Fair enough. Thank you.
Actors like to talk, actors like
If you just said yes, there'd be
Exactly right. You're exactly
Do you find this part more
challenging playing him being sick? How do you prepare for that?
That's a great question. First
off, on a larger scale Royal Pains obviously deals with that
every week in one fashion or another. There's a pathway and a
protocol set up for how Royal Pains does it. So for the actor
it's that much easier because they're used to the subject matter.
Obviously not the specifics of… for example, with me the lupus… but
they have pathlines and protocols set up. They have an on-set
doctor. They have the answers already for you; they're already
prepared. I had a number of questions about it. There's an on-set
medic standing by. Brad [Bernstein, from USA Network] would have a
better set description, but essentially we got a doctor, an in-house
doctor. I could ask him anything about symptoms, about how I would
be reacting because you do want to get it right. You always hear
that about “researching a role” and it's a small part on a very
successful show, but even so you still want to get it right. So, I
had many questions. I did a lot of looking up the subject, just to
make sure that we get it exactly right. Then the challenge is to try
and if you know what it's supposed to be, and it’s supposed to feel
like and all that, the biggest challenge for this specific
character, Jack O'Malley who's a bit of a… he's in denial. He's a
“things are fine” kind of guy and I'm kind of that way as well. So
the idea that I thought was the biggest challenge was to play him
not showing his sickness, while being sick. I don't know that I got
it right all the time but that was what I was trying to convey.
You did well. What's just been
your favorite moment in general working on the show?
Any answer to that would sound
extremely like a cliché, I have to say. But the truth is this about
Royal Pains – this is a flashpoint, rare divulgence about
Royal Pains – these guys are great. By the way “these guys are
great” is a terrible copy for you, but it's actually true. Michael
Rauch, the guy that runs the show and Andrew [Lenchewski], who also
runs the show, these guys are phenomenal human beings. Not
phenomenal human beings as it applies to the entertainment industry
but phenomenal human beings. If any of you who are listening to this
have interviewed Mark Feuerstein, and I believe many of you have,
you know what kind of guy Mark Feuerstein is. He's jet-engine
enthusiastic. He's a wonderful human being. He's a great father, a
great family man. He's extremely talented and he's a phenomenal
leader for the show. The rest of the cast and the crew are again
many people that I've worked with over the years, they're also
phenomenal. So going to do Royal Pains – and this is actually
one of the barometers – if you talk to a crew member around New York
City, many of them are trying to get on the show because they know
the vibe that the show has. Many times crew members don't really
care that much about the subject matter of a show, but they do care
about what the workplace is like and the workplace at Royal Pains is
phenomenal. I think sometimes, not always but sometimes, there's a
bit of an ephemeral translation to what happens onscreen. I think in
the case of Royal Pains that might be true.
Can you talk about how Jack's
condition impacts the love triangle with Jill, Jack and Hank as his
I can. Well it's interesting
because I think all three of those people have on one side of the
ledger things they would like to have happen and on the other side
of the ledger, things they are actually happening that impede what
they'd like happen. You know, in the case of Jill, she's talking
about moving up to Uruguay. Jack's side of the ledger is a little
less complicated. I think there's some moral goodness to Jack but I
think he'd be quite happy to just seduce Jill (laughs) and
have things go that way. I don't think for Jack having a little bit
of lupus is an impediment to his romantic endeavors – which is the
most PG way I can put it. As for Hank, Hank is a GOOD MAN in capital
letters. So if the moment doesn't feel right for Jill, then I think
the moment isn't right for Hank. I think as far as Jack and Hank are
concerned, Jack has kind of been a little bit up front about it.
He's like, “Look am I cutting your grass?” Hank's like, “No you're
not cutting my grass.” He's like, “Good, I'm not cutting your
grass.” Put that in print.
How do you think the presence of
Jack raises the stakes for the show as whole now that it's into its
I think any time you have a
character that you've been allowed to get to know a little bit…
They've had Jack on for a few episodes now and so it's not just a
simple guest appearance where somebody gets a hacking cough and then
we have to figure out what's wrong him. The writers and the show
runners have taken time to invest something of Jack's personality
into the story and as such I think that is the main thing that
raises the stake for what eventually happens to Jack. From my own
personal philosophy, in terms of playing a character, I've always
felt the more a character makes you laugh, the more you're going to
care about him. I think they've at least tried to make Jack
appealing in some ways. That's a dangerous line I'm treading here
because it sounds self-complimentary and that's not what I mean to
be. I just think the writing is such that Jack's a bit of a rogue
and he's written as likeable and so you don't want likeable people
to have bad things happen to them. At least I don't.
I've got to say I really enjoyed
your chemistry with Mark and with Jill, I think it's really been
spot on. I know that's probably not the easiest thing in the word
when you come in as a guest star, so what's sort of the key to than
onscreen successful chemistry for you?
Well, that's a great question. I'm
trying to get the right answer. Part of it is, I know Feuerstein
through osmosis, through shows we both did at NBC and mutual
friends. I know he's a good guy so that actually makes it easy when
you know the guy and you like the guy and you get to act with the
guy. I didn't know Jill but she's a wonderful person and that helps.
Largely the biggest part of the question, something like that is
when you guest star on a show, the show is either welcoming or they
are not. When it is unwelcoming, you're just doing your job. You're
a gun for hire. When it's welcoming, it makes it that much more fun.
It doesn't mean you're necessarily going to have a better
performance but you're going to enjoy yourself that much more. Rare
is the set that's more welcoming than the Royal Pains set.
That's not for me because I know people, if you were to make this
call any number of people who have guest acted on the show, I would
bet they would tell you the exact same thing.
What can you tell us about this
week’s episode? What are you most proud about this particular
One of the most fun things about
this episode for me – and also I do a small bit of directing here
and there – was while we were out on the boat. There's an adage to
directing and one of the adages is never shoot on boat. (laughs)
Never shoot boat scenes. Never shoot children. Never shoot animals.
When I say shoot, I mean with a camera. I was really interested;
most of the episode takes place on a boat. Not most of the episode;
most of Jack and Jill's storyline – that's right I said Jack and
Jill – takes place on a boat. And it was just masterfully directed.
We had two boats out there, one of them it actually belonged to a
crew member. Filmmaking sometimes gets a little bit easier when you
take away some of the elements that are otherwise deemed necessary.
In this case we had a very small crew, a splinter crew. We couldn't
run around and set up lights because we were out on a boat. It was
amazing how quickly we filmed and how much fun it was. We were out
off Montauk Point out in Long Island and all the things it was
supposed to be (chuckles) in terms of negative things… it was
not. It was truly fun to shoot. Also, it contributed I think a
little bit to… in Jack's storyline he's getting more and more
isolated because of the sickness. Of course, they're out on a boat,
the clock’s ticking, all those kinds of metaphors work for the
storyline. It was really an enjoyable shoot.
All right. Thanks Tom. And for
what's it worth Ed
is my favorite show of all time.
Ah, bless your heart. More Ed
plugs, thank you, I appreciate it. I'm very partial to that show
I will continue to gush over
Ed as well. I'll continue that line of commentary.
You know you're just infuriating
the USA Network right now right?
I guess I'll never be asked
another call for liking
I'm sure you will. They're very
What do you think it is about
Royal Pains that
captivates so many viewers?
Wow, that is a great question. I
can try and come up with an answer and it would just be that. It
would be conjecture on my part. I honestly don't know. I don't know
that I'm the guy to ask about why a show is popular and why it
isn't. My friend Julie Bowen, who was on Ed, was talking
about saddling up to start this show Modern Family and she
was hoping it would stick. We were having discussions about it and
never in our discussions ever was there an inkling that it would
become the biggest show on the planet, the biggest comedy on the
planet. They would just be dominating award shows year after year,
that within a number of episodes she'd be nominated for an Emmy. All
these kinds of things I just don't know. Michael Rauch was actually,
we were both working out in L.A. and we were sharing a house.
Michael Rauch runs the Royal Pains show and we were sharing a
house. I was working on Trust Me, he was writing for Royal
Pains. It hadn't aired yet and we would be discussing the
prospects for the show. I don't think we ever looked at each other
and went, “Well this will be the number one show on cable, hands
down.” (laughs) I don’t think you ever really know. Or at
least, I should say, I don't really know. I don't know what the
public is going to respond to. I know why I like Royal Pains.
I know that, but I don’t know why that makes it the most popular
show. I think a lot of times a show runs into its time, and when
that happens there's a lovely confluence of a number of factors
coming together and it becomes a successful show. I will say this,
one thing about that is that the idea that a cable network will stay
with a show has a lot to do with it. In past years shows that would
have smaller ratings on a major network might have been treated the
way occasionally a cable show would treat a show and allow it time
to grow, you know, your Seinfelds, your Cheers, your
Friends and then it becomes a popular show. That's not the
same landscape nowadays but I will say that I'm happy for Royal
Pains and I hope they have years and years of success.
What have been some of your
favorite things to shoot on
Well I mentioned the boat. The
boat stuff was great. I have a great time any time I shoot a scene
with Mark because there's a lot of joking around. There's a lot of
tomfoolery, no pun intended. Hanky panky, no pun intended. There's
no hanky panky – that was pun intended. We just have a lot of fun,
you know? Both of us, when it comes to acting work, proceed from
gratitude. So it's nice to find a guy who thinks of it the same way
I do. We really enjoy our scenes.
I was hearing Mark say that you're
quite a practical joker. So did you get him with anything and if so,
Oh man, when haven't I got him? If
you watch closely in last week's episode there’s a scene where, hell
I don't know I… yes might as well, it's fine because it's already
aired… but there's a scene where Reshma, who plays Divya, has taken
Jack's, the character I play, urine sample. We did rehearsal after
rehearsal where I hand her the cup. The cup is completely room
temperature, everything is fine. Then we shot the thing, I filled it
up with steaming hot apple juice like fresh out of the body. As they
shot the scene I walked up and we always did in rehearsal, I handed
it to her and if you watch the scene carefully we have to keep
cutting away from Reshma because all she's doing it trying not to
laugh. So that was one. Also at a restaurant Mark and I were out and
there was a bunch of Danish people, although he didn't know they
were Danish, at a table next to ours. They were all attractive young
ladies, or at least a lot of them were. I said, “These people will
not stop looking over at you, you've got to go say hi.” So Mark
walked over to the table and leaned in and said, “So you like
yourselves a little Royal Pains?” (chuckles) They of
course had no idea who he was at, which point he goes, “Cavanagh!”
Anyway so those are a couple of the ones that I can probably mention
on the conference call. There's plenty others but we'll have to wait
until we talk one-one one about it.
Also Mark directed an episode.
What was he like to work with as a director?
Oh what a taskmaster, I couldn't
stand him. Hah… He's great, he's great. I think it was his first, if
I'm not mistaken, his first time directing and it was nice for both
of us because I'd been there and could offer some stuff and he was
great. Mark is not impeded by pride and hubris, he's a very humble
man. The episode I believe was last week; it might have been the
week before. I think it was the week before. But I thought he did a
remarkably assured and competent job. People really liked working
with him and working for him. My belief is that, based on what he
ended up putting on screen, he'll be asked to do the same job many
Great. And while you were in the
Hamptons did you find any new foods for your podcast
[with former Ed co-star Michael Ian
Black] “Mike and Tom Eat Snacks”?
“Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.” There
are a couple of oyster things in there, I think. Yes, you know,
there are always snacks, there are always snacks. It's a big wide
world of snacks out there.
You talked a lot about how much
you loved working with cast. I haven't seen the episode, but if the
opportunity came up would you come back to work with them again?
Oh absolutely yes, absolutely.
Can you share just a little bit
about how your experience here on
Royal Pains has compared with
some of the other guest star roles, where would you rank it in that?
Well I wouldn't rank it. I think
that's a very dangerous path to go on, to go down. But it's been
like I say… not to beat a dead horse; it's just been wonderful. I
hope to do more of it. I really enjoy the people. Again it all comes
down to a lot of the times how the show is run and what the sets are
like. I remember I did a number of episodes of Scrubs. It was
a very similar experience. The person who runs the show Scrubs,
Bill Lawrence, just takes care of his people and just provides an
incredible atmosphere on the set. They're – like Royal Pains
– always extremely welcoming to people coming and guesting on the
show. Those sets when you get on them are just a boon. You just feel
so grateful, so lucky, to be able to as a guest, as a hired gun to
be in there like that, that is supportive and welcoming.
Did you enjoy the opportunity to
get to shoot on a show where there's a lot of location shooting?
Yes this show is a great show for
me. I live in New York and it's on a New York City doorstep
basically because of the shooting in the Hamptons. It shoots on
stages that I'm quite familiar with when it shoots its interiors.
Its locations are as you can tell from the show certainly glamorous.
(laughs) Not all shows are shot on a beach or in a beach town
so it's not a bad way to go at all.
You can't beat a free guest role
in the Hamptons right?
Since you're a guest star on the
show, did you come across any challenges establishing your character
that you don't normally experience like when you're working on
Yes, great question. When you're a
regular on a show, like with Royal Pains for example, a
perfect example would be Mark and Paulo and Jill and Divya, they
don't really have to worry too much about what the character is, you
know. They know who they are. It's like putting on a suit, an old
suit, a familiar suit, whatever you want to call it. With a guest
star, it's new. Not only is it new, you also have to understand its
place in the show. I don't think that those four really worry about
their place in the show. They know what the goal is and how the show
is and all that kind of stuff. A guest character knows a lot less,
so you have to pay attention. You have to listen to how things are
done and what the ideas are behind and the themes that you're trying
to serve and all that kind of stuff. Then you have to go out there
and do as good a job as you can. It is different, but it's a
challenge in a different way. For every actor once they call action,
you have to do as well as you can to serve the character and so the
job is different but the same.
Bromances have become like pretty
popular in TV and movies lately and your character and Hank have
some pretty good chemistry on the show. So what do you think the
appeal of a bromance is?
Well, I don't know that there's
any appeal to a bromance, to be honest with you. Just because, I
don’t know, that's one of the words that… are we a better society
for having invented it? [That’s] how I feel about that. But I will
say this, when two guys - I look at something like Swingers,
for example – when two guys get along as guys do, when the banter
and the repartee is witty and flows quickly and feels real, that I
think adds some nice flair, a nice touch to the screen. I've been
fortunate to have a couple of instances onscreen in TV shows where
I've been able to work with actors where the goal of the writers is
to try and create that. On Trust Me with Eric McCormack, the
writers were like, “Here's what the scene is and if there's anything
that just comes naturally…” And it would, every single time. A
perfect example of that was when Eric and I first started talking
and we'd been partners for seven years, it was written and I said,
“Look we've been partners for seven years” but instead of saying
seven years, I decided to throw out five to see what he would do.
And I said, “We've been partners for five years” and without missing
a beat he says, “Seven years” and I go, “Seven years.” It was just a
funny moment, because how can you guys not know? How can you be off
by two years with your best friend? That was the kind of thing that
would happen again and again. The writers loved it, they supported
it. They were like, “Any time that stuff comes up that feels real,
that's quick and funny and ahead of the curve and the audience isn't
waiting for you to get to the joke.” I think they've written stuff
like that. For example Jack Bernstein, Constance's episode, these
guys have written this kind of stuff and it's really, really fun to
play. One of the - I think there was a tiny little runner in the
last episode where we were trying to figure out whether the
nephrologist was a child TV star. That thing that just probably
women find so incredibly annoying, two grown males going back and
forth and bickering over a point going, “That's not her,” “That's
her,” “That's not her,” “That's definitely her,” “That's not her.”
You know? Yet, for us, annoyingly so, I could have done that scene
for like 20 minutes. “It's her,” “It's not her,” “It's her,” “It’s
not,” “It is.” And I think we actually did a couple of times but
Mark did the directing and had to be the responsible director and
cut all our shameless stuff out. But shameless though it might be,
it's fun to do.
Jack is really such a great,
likeable character. He's sweet, funny, adorable and just genuinely a
nice guy. That's not really a new type of character for you, Ed.
Have you ever wanted to play the complete opposite, a darker role, a
bad guy or whatever?
Oh, yes. No, I've definitely done
that. Just I don't think I've done it for awhile. For years there, I
was nothing but the bad character. I had long hair and I played like
serial killers and escaped convicts. What was one movie, something
called Heart of the Storm? Yes, not to list credits, but I've
done plenty of that. I loved doing it. I did a play here in New York
recently where the character was just morally reprehensible. I think
every actor will tell you as I am telling you that it can really be
fun to play the villain. So I've enjoyed it when I get to play the
villain but I also enjoy it when something is well written. I feel
like the character on Royal Pains is well written. I felt the
character on Ed was well written. So be it nice guys or bad
guys, largely if they're well-written guys, they're going to be fun
What's coming up next for you? By
any chance are you looking around for a pilot for next season?
Yes I am. I'm looking at that and
I'm signed to direct a movie. That’s sort of where we are right now.
Movie and of course it's pilot season where actors trot out their
wares. I've also written two pilots and...
Oh neat. Well I'll keep my fingers
crossed because I think everybody misses seeing you regularly week
after week for more than just a few weeks at a time.
Well that's very generous of you,
I appreciate that. And hopefully yes, hopefully your lips, ears,
that will all happen.
So talking about directing and all
that, would you ever be interested in directing or writing for
Yes. Look, another one-word
All right, well that's okay. What
have you learned about yourself from working on
That I am not as good a golfer as
I thought I was.
Okay. It looks like another one
with quick answers.
I'm capable of being long winded,
as you can tell, but sometimes in the interest of comedy it's best
to go short.
That's okay. You told us some of
the pranks you played on Mark, is there anything he's ever gotten
Has Mark gotten me?
Yes. Or has he tried to and maybe
Well there was the time he took
off his shirt while we were walking a down a Brooklyn sidewalk
because Mark does an incredible, “How you doing?” kind of tough-guy,
New York-ese accent. He might seem like the kindest, greatest guy,
but he can also play the New York tough guy. But has he ever really
come in prank wise and returned the favor? No, because he's got to
up his game a little bit.
I was going to ask you about the
golf. You mentioned it didn't quite go as well as you'd hoped. But
what was it like trying to come off as professional? Was there a lot
of extra work that you put in or how was that experience like for
Well, I play a number of sports
and I hate it when I watch something of a sport that I play and the
guy is supposed to be good, or the girl is supposed to be good, and
then the camera outs them as being terrible. I just hate that,
because it takes me right out of the story. So in this instance I
didn't want to be that guy. So I took a lot of lessons. I took a lot
of coaching. but it's interesting the very first time I golfed I
really did knock one straight and true. It was on take one, with all
the crew watching, and all that kind of stuff. But Michael Rauch,
who's a very good friend of mine and who was directing the episode,
he knew that in the session prior when we were setting up the camera
I was on the driving range for about 40 minutes and I didn’t hit one
like that. I shanked everything. I left it short. I hooked it.
People are diving for their lives. Then we had four cameras running
and I thought, “Oh this is going to be really bad” and I just nailed
it, straight and true right over the camera and 100 plus.
(laughs) Rauch from behind the camera goes, “I don't think we
need another.” And the camera operators are like, “Don't you usually
take two?” He's like, “No, we're good.” Bless his heart for that
moment, because I wasn't going to improve on that. So what always
matters is what you have on film. So as long as they don't show all
the stuff that I'm duffing off camera then I'll be happy with the
Was it a pleasant experience, I
mean, do you think you'll go out and hit the links again or is it
just what we saw for the show?
No, no, no absolutely. I mean, one
of the great things with him being that character is we're shooting
on a great rolling green golf course, sun and blue sky. I mean, it's
like I say Royal Pains they do it right. Getting to play that
kind of guy, it's fantastic.
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