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The Loud House

Wingman Wednesday

Brian Stepanek

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The Nickelodeon animated series “The Loud House” was not created for adults, but those with children will understand just how rare it is when shows for kids can also be enjoyed by the parents seated alongside of them. Often we, the grey-haired and crow’s feeted, are the unintended eyes on a program, forced to not only watch something, but watch it over and over and over again. Thankfully, “The Loud House” plays like a sitcom from the 1980s, complete with a catchy opening theme song, making us quiet fans of the Loud family.

We recently sat down with cartoon patriarch and actor Brian Stepanek to discuss his character Lynn Loud Sr., why he loves being a voice actor, and the reason his 16-year-old self needs to chill out.

TrunkSpace: Those of us here with kids can attest to watching far more of “The Loud House” than was probably ever intended for adults, but that being said, it’s actually a show that we can enjoy with our children. There’s something nostalgic about it… almost like an ’80s sitcom. Have you found more adults taking to it, finding something in it themselves, than you would have ever expected to happen when you first signed on to be a voice of the series?
Stepanek: I haven’t spoken to many parents about the show but I completely see the nostalgia for adults. The show reminds me of Charlie Brown at times. These characters really like and support each other. I come from a large family and so the Loud family is very familiar to me in that regard.

TrunkSpace: Oftentimes we’ll hear actors say that a film or television series felt “special” while they were shooting, serving as a premonition of the success to come. Does animation have that same feel as well? Did you have any indication before its premiere that “The Loud House” would find an audience?
Stepanek: Sometimes. With animation, the actors are such a small part of the production process, it’s difficult to get a read on how the show will do. There are just too many decisions about the look and feel of the show that we aren’t privy to. But I will say the scripts are always fantastic. Lots of laughs and plenty of heart.

TrunkSpace: For the entire first season, your character’s face (as well as that of the mother’s) were concealed in creative and silly ways. What was the idea behind making the adults faceless (was it an homage to the classic “Peanuts” cartoon, which you mentioned above?) and why was it ultimately decided to reveal them later in the life of the series?
Stepanek: That is a question for the creators. I loved the reveal though.

TrunkSpace: Lynn Loud Sr. is the kind of father who thinks he’s the coolest dad in the world, but his kids may not necessarily agree. (Our kids can relate to that!) How did you go about finding him from a performance standpoint – both his voice and his personality?
Stepanek: I looked in the mirror. I have three kids that are pretty awesome. Lynn just loves his kids. That’s it. Every episode that is “Dad-centric” is always about Lynn loving his family. It all starts with that.

TrunkSpace: There’s a movie in the works. Can you give us any insight on what fans can expect from the Louds going cinematic in structure? Will it have a different feel than the series itself?
Stepanek: No idea. But I can’t wait.

TrunkSpace: Do you take a different approach to performance with voice acting than you do with on-camera work? Does it allow for a more heightened sense of reality when you’re working in animation?
Stepanek: I find it a lot more fun than on-camera. The writers let me have fun and improvise. The environment at Nickelodeon is fantastic. But as far as technique, I prepare the script exactly as I would an on-camera role.

TrunkSpace: You also star in the Nickelodeon series “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn,” and have spent a large portion of your career appearing in projects created for kid and teen audiences. Was that by design or did life put you on this path unexpectedly?
Stepanek: When I first got to LA I was doing a lot of dramatic guest star roles and then I booked a recurring character on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and my career shifted. The high stakes performance style in kids programming comes pretty naturally to me (I came from musical theater), so I’ve always had work in that genre. It wasn’t by design but it’s been fun.

TrunkSpace: If you could sit down and have a conversation with your 16-year-old self, would he be surprised by the trajectory of your career, and if so, why?
Stepanek: That kid didn’t know squat. The 16-year-old me would say, “Why don’t we have an Oscar yet?!” And I’d tell him, “I own a house in LA. I made it. Chill out and enjoy the ride. Life is short.”

Stepanek with the cast of “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn.”

TrunkSpace: You’re also writing and producing your own projects, including one that is currently in development called “My Substitute is an Alien.” Does writing scratch a separate aspect of your creative brain that acting can’t reach?
Stepanek: Yes. I have always wanted to have a larger role in the storytelling process. I have so much respect for writers. Writing does not come naturally to me but it is extremely satisfying when you finish a script. I’ve started directing television as well and love being involved in the big picture.

TrunkSpace: What is something within the industry that you have yet to accomplish in your career that you have your sights set on? If you could write your own future, what would it look like?
Stepanek: I just shot a movie called “Green Book” with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. If I could do projects like that for the rest of my career I’d be fine. And I’d like to be directing on a regular basis.

Did you hear that, 16-year-old me? Keep it simple!

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Wingman Wednesday

Alexa and Carlos PenaVega

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Photo: Carlos PenaVega, Alexa PenaVega Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

For all of those who made watching Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” an annual tradition, the holidays and dancing go as well together as ribbon and wreaths. In the new movie “Enchanted Christmas,” premiering Sunday on Hallmark Channel, real-life couple Alexa and Carlos PenaVega tap into that nearly 65-year-old classic to once again put festive frolicking into the spotlight, and warm the holiday-loving hearts of viewers in the process.

We recently sat down with the PenaVega pairing to discuss how their comfortableness with each other enhanced their onscreen chemistry, why they’d work together on every project if they could, and what makes Hallmark Channel the best in the business.

TrunkSpace: So much of the success of Hallmark Channel holiday films relies on the chemistry of the two leads at the center of the story. Do you feel like you had a leg up on that because of the actual chemistry that exists between the two of you?
Alexa PenaVega: I have to say that Carlos and I are the goofiest, dorkiest public couple out there. (Laughter) But it’s really fun and entertaining to watch, so I think it really does help. There are little quirks that you just can’t write into a script that happen naturally when you’re married, and we were able to add that to the project.

TrunkSpace: From what we’re told, things can move pretty quickly on one of these films – you get the job and you’re shooting before you know it. Again, having the existing relationship must have allowed you to really hit the ground running.
Alexa PenaVega: 100 percent!
Carlos PenaVega: And Hallmark is amazing. Unlike most other projects, they’re really flexible with the script, which really led to Alexa and I…
Alexa PenaVega: We were able to explore.
Carlos PenaVega: It really led to, because of our relationship as a real married couple, bringing things to the screen and to life that you normally probably couldn’t get.

TrunkSpace: How did it all come together? Was one of you cast first and then the other brought in?
Alexa PenaVega: It was actually Hallmark. They knew how much we’d been wanting to shoot a film together, and we actually had a film set up last year, “Destination Wedding,” and unfortunately Carlos’ shooting schedule didn’t allow it so he had to drop out. But, when this one came up, they were like, “We think this is great, the timing is right, and you both will be able to dance.” And I love dancing!

So, they really presented it to us and were really looking for a project for us to do together. And we couldn’t be happier because our goal… if we could make it happen, every project we could do would be together for the rest of our lives.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the dancing side of “Enchanted Christmas,” which seems like a great throwback to classic holiday films like “Whit Christmas,” something we don’t see much of anymore.
Alexa PenaVega: I totally agree. And you know, we shot this in Utah and everybody was so friendly and it blows my mind how much Hallmark movies just nail that Christmas holiday spirit – they have it down. And I think the script was special. Rick Garman did such a good job with it and more than anything, we had a director, Terry Cunningham, who just wanted that chemistry to be right there, up front. He’s like, “Look we have the script, the script is already good, but what you guys can bring to it will just transform it into a very beautiful project.”

This is my favorite Hallmark project that I’ve done thus far.

TrunkSpace: Because of that extra element of dance that was layered into your performance, did you have more time to shoot this than you normally would?
Alexa PenaVega: No, we wish. (Laughter)
Carlos PenaVega: (Laughter) Not really, no. We had about a week of rehearsals in the middle of filming.
Alexa PenaVega: For about eight dances.
Carlos PenaVega: Thankfully the magic of TV…
Alexa PenaVega: Editing!
Carlos PenaVega: You can have different angles that you can edit and it all looks great. (Laughter)

Photo: Carlos PenaVega, Alexa PenaVega Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

TrunkSpace: So in terms of your characters, what did they offer you from a performance standpoint that you have yet to tackle with previous projects?
Carlos PenaVega: Definitely the dancing, for sure.
Alexa PenaVega: Yeah, we never had to put that into a project.
Carlos PenaVega: It was interesting. Alexa and I had never been on sets where… the call sheet is like one, two, three, four… we’d never been the one and two. So as actors, normally the one and two set the tone for the entire production. They’re the ones in every day. So as an actor, it was really interesting coming in, in that position, where it was like, “Hey, you know what, I’m setting the tone with my wife,” which was really cool. She said it to me… “It’s the best experience I ever had working on a project.”
Alexa PenaVega: Yeah. Ever, really.
Carlos PenaVega: It was cool to come in and kind of just, I don’t want to say run the set, but we set the tone from day one.
Alexa PenaVega: We both had experiences where we worked with other people who really… it takes one rotten egg in the bunch to kill the whole vibe on set. So, to be working with my husband… it did not feel like work. We had fun every day.
Carlos PenaVega: She said it in one sentence. I said it in three. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Christmas is for spending time with family and building memories. Here you two are, shooting a Christmas movie as a family and building memories in an entirely different way. It almost sounds poetic.
Carlos PenaVega: Yeah. I like Christmas. Alexa LOVES Christmas! And Hallmark is amazing about families. Ocean was on set every day and the experience of just having him…
Alexa PenaVega: That’s our little boy.
Carlos PenaVega: Just the experience of having our family there and then having a good time… I think yes, that’s gonna to stay with us forever. But what’s amazing about film is that it also lasts forever. We’re always going to be able to go back and watch this. Our kids are going to go back and watch this.
Alexa PenaVega: Yeah, and we also worked with a team that I would love to work with again and again. Terry Cunningham and our producing team, they are incredible. It was unreal. Normally when producers come on set, people are like, “Oh boy, the producer’s here! Here we go!” Ours, her name was Cindy Bond, was so kind and loving to everyone, but also got work done, worked super hard, and nobody had to yell. Nobody ever had to get angry. It was just a pleasant experience for everybody.

They genuinely care. It’s not like these productions where it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna slap this together and we gotta go.” They genuinely care about the happiness and quality that they’re putting out there and it shows. It really does show.
Carlos PenaVega: We haven’t had the craziest careers for years and years, but we’ve worked for some really big studios and companies, and I will say, Hallmark is my favorite. It’s Alexa’s favorite. They care about their talent. They care about their movies.

Enchanted Christmas” airs Sunday on Hallmark Channel.

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