Lucas Neff breaks out on 'Raising Hope' and laughs a little along the way
Keeping a straight face is not an easy job for TV comedy newcomer Lucas Neff.
But it beats cleaning toilets.
Before the almost-25-year-old Chicago actor was hired to play the noble and perpetually confused Jimmy Chance on Fox's "Raising Hope," he was performing in storefront theater and occasional commercials and cleaning houses to make ends meet. Then he answered a nationwide casting call last fall and, using 10 pages from the pilot script, taped his audition for creator Greg Garcia ("My Name Is Earl"). What Neff didn't know is that he was the executive producer's first choice from that very first tape, even though the young actor still had to go through all of the audition hoops that actors endure during pilot season, Garcia told reporters during a conference call on Friday.
"I had just scrubbed my first few toilets when I got a chance to audition for this," Neff said Friday during a phone interview. "I was just one of hundreds. I went on tape for it in Chicago, and luckily for me, Greg Garcia actually watched the tape and he liked what I did and he had me fly out in October 2009. I tested, and luckily enough, got the job. I've been having the time of my life."
Now, if only he could stop laughing when Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt deliver their lines or Cloris Leachman ... well, anything she does is pretty funny. Plimpton ("The Goonies," "Parenthood") plays his mom (yes, she was a teenager when she had him), Dillahunt ("The Terminator") plays his father and Leachman is the senile Maw Maw in a bra.
"Working with Martha and Garret, it’s so hard for me not to laugh," Neff said. "They’re both so incredibly funny. That’s my goal every day — to try to be as professional as possible and keep a straight face. But that’s one of the great things about the job. We all have such a good time doing it. It’s a blessing. I’m so grateful and fortunate."
"Oh, she’s ridiculous," Neff said. "She’s other-worldly. She’s utterly fearless. She is dedicated to making the show as funny as it can be."
When he finally got to read the first script, Neff says, he fell for the show because "it has really good values at its core. It’s a very sweet-hearted, kind show, and it places family first and doing the right thing first. You don’t see a lot of that in TV or movies. We celebrate a lot of fancy heroes and fancy criminals and infidelity and, generally, just a lot of bad behavior. It’s nice to be part of a show that celebrates decency and being good to one another."
The Halloween episode, aptly titled "Happy Halloween," which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday, is an example of how the show effectively combines the absurd and sentimental. (No spoilers here, but hugging is key and Neff refers to the mess as "the most awful endearing thing ever!")
"We’re a bunch of whack jobs and loonies," Neff said. "But even this crazy family of nut balls really cares about one another and I think it’s really refreshing to be a part of that and then see it as an audience member. There’s injustice and consequences and bad things happen. But at the end of the day, we still care about one another and we still try to do the right thing. We take this huge, huge, wacky scenic tour in every episode. We never take the shortest path and it’s just fun to be a part of something that’s so surprising and sweet."
In addition to controlling his laughter, Neff says, his biggest challenge is to work on his craft every single day.
"I’m a young actor and I haven’t learned everything there is about acting," he said. "So I’ve been placed in a wonderful situation where I’m working with incredible actors, with a really good script, so every day I take an opportunity to improve a little bit while I have a lot of fun."
Fans of "Raising Hope" will have double the fun Tuesday: Fox is airing a second original episode, "Family Secrets," at 9:30 p.m.
--Maria Elena Fernandez
Video: Lucas Neff teases the Halloween episode of "Raising Hope," which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. Credit: Fox
Fox's "Raising Hope" is the fall's first freshman TV show to earn a full-season order