Very few actors have been having the kind of run George Basil has been having. Not only is he starring in the new HBO series “Crashing,” which is produced by Judd Apatow and created/produced by Pete Holmes, but he is also starring in TWO other successful television series… “Wrecked” on TBS and “Flaked” on Netflix, which just recently wrapped filming its second season. It would be a whirlwind of professional chaos for most people, but Basil takes it all in stride, ecstatic to be working and elated for the opportunities that continue to present themselves.
We sat down with Basil to discuss his background in improv, working with the gods of comedy, and free plates of fresh fruit.
TrunkSpace: Can you start us off by giving us a little history about your background in improv and how that has played into other aspects of your career?
Basil: The background for me started when I moved from Austin, TX to New York and started studying at a place called The Magnet Theater, which is still there and still pumping. It was awesome, man. I always wanted to do stand-up. My entire life I have wanted to do stand-up. I watched it religiously as a kid… waiting for the wrestling shows to come on at night. I’d have to sit through some stand-up and little did I know that I was gaining inspiration with every comic.
TrunkSpace: Waiting up to watch “Saturday Night’s Main Event” and sitting through the stand-up that came before. We know it well.
Basil: Exactly! That’s it! It was awesome. I remember I actually saw Carrot Top’s first TV set and he was hilarious.
TrunkSpace: What’s cool about improv is that it’s always different for the performer. You’re not building out a set and performing the same material night after night.
Basil: Absolutely. And I think that’s what felt a little unchained for me. I have done stand-up now a handful of times, I’m not good at it, and I haven’t given the craft what it really deserves in terms of spending a lot of time writing and working jokes over, but, dude… getting up on stage with an infinity world behind you on a little black box theater stage… especially because you get to work alongside so many incredible and brilliant people. It makes it… not easy, but… for me, it was a lot more creatively sort of fluid, to just go up there and sort of fly around. And to answer your question, it totally translates on screen. Whether you’re working with a juggernaut like Judd (Apatow) who knows what the comedy is and then encourages you to like, mine that moment… the reality of what’s happening and pulling you back and if you go too zany, brainy and shit… or even just working a script and not improvising off of it, but knowing what it feels like to improvise that line, it meant everything. I mean, I don’t have any other training really to speak of. I’m largely unqualified to be an actor. (Laughter) Or anything else.
TrunkSpace: Having someone like Judd who understands comedy and knows what makes a mass audience laugh, it must be great to work in that kind of environment and know that you have the wiggle room.
Basil: Absolutely. And it’s radical in a sense that he, like I said, his precision is I guess what surprised me most because the honor is already there… I’m already honored. I’m already standing there with like, my mouth wide open. I just can’t believe that I get to do this. But then, the next thing is, his abilities are remarkable. So your next thing is like, I’m wowed by the fact that I just said, say 15 lines of dialogue, and Pete (Holmes) just said another 15 lines of dialogue, and what Judd heard were these three lines, somewhere in the middle, and he wanted those lines to sort of be emphasized or be agitated or he wanted to do something… he massages them… and then he gives them back to you. And then he’s like, “Now go!” And it was just insane. It was awesome. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: And we noticed that late last year he tweeted out that you were on fire in “Crashing,” which has got to be high praise.
Basil: Dude… I thanked him for it. I saw him last night because the premiere here in LA happened and we talked about that day. It was the last day of filming… everybody’s last day. It was the last scene of the entire season. And it’s just like… I can’t even describe that kind of honor. I don’t have Twitter, but somebody sent it to me and I was just like, “WHAT?!?!” (Laughter) I just screen grabbed and sent it to my parents who freaked out. It was joyful.
TrunkSpace: “Crashing” premiered last Sunday. Do you go into a new show like this with any nerves, at least in terms of hoping it finds an audience?
Basil: I think what I’ve learned to do… I’ve been in LA now for about five years and I’ve been trying my hand at this acting thing, both commercially and everything in-between… with like web shows or CollegeHumor or Funny or Die… all of these different things for so long, that I think the best muscle I’ve really been able to bolster has been this ability to like, once it’s done… whether it’s an audition that I get or I don’t get, whether it’s a show that I feel good about or I don’t… all of us are so hard on ourselves. What I try to do is just, once it’s out, man… not try to forget it, but I try to pull myself away from it a little bit and not take things too personally. No one’s been mean. (Laughter) I would drive myself batty if I didn’t do that. You can imagine going into an audition and then getting a call back and then feeling good about the call back and thinking about it… just like endlessly. I guess it’s why I still have a full head of hair.
TrunkSpace: Well, it has to be hard NOT to take it personally. You’re putting yourself out there to strangers who ultimately decide your fate on any given project.
Basil: And it’s so personal because you’re not only putting yourself out there creatively and doing your job and doing your best, but you know, I walk into a room and I’m like, “Oh, hello… how is everybody? How’s it going?” You give them that personal side too and if they don’t give you the job, you’re just like, “Oh man, I must have really looked like a total idiot.” (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Auditioning must be another area where your improv training can be used to your advantage?
Basil: You would think universally, but it’s sometimes not. Sometimes you walk into a room and they’re not there. They’re not warmed up. They don’t really necessarily want to talk… they’re kind of just trying to get through it. It’s not their fault and it doesn’t mean that they’re bad artists, but, dude, I’ve been in rooms where I’m just WAY overboard and people are like, “When is he, A.) going to shut up and B.) take a breath and just like, get out of here.” (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Does it help in terms of where you land in an audition? Do you hope to be one of the first ones in the room, one of the middles ones, or one of the last ones?
Basil: Thankfully I haven’t gotten any superstitions about where to go. I walk in, I’ll talk to people that I guess are competitively auditioning for my role or their role or whatever. I don’t not talk to people. I smile. I just want to be as nice and open as possible, whereas other people are just very professionally closed off.
I had an experience where… I did a Bud Light campaign a couple of years ago.
TrunkSpace: The Mayor of Whatever.
Basil: There you go! (Laughter) The Mayor of Whatever! A whole hell of a lot of fun. Just a great experience all around. But for that… I went in and it was a room full of people, a lot of whom I knew from the comedy world out in LA. Essentially it felt like they had already found their guy. They had a dude in there and you could hear the laughter from outside and all of us were just looking at each other like, “Damn, this guy’s killing it.” He was destroying it! And then he came out and he was like, “Alright, guys… good luck.” And he was really, really sweet and gentle. And then they stopped him… like someone popped out and was like, “No, no, no… come back in here.” So he goes back in and he’s in there for like another half hour and all of us were like, “Well, we should just leave. This guy’s got the job.” So the next time he came out he was holding like, a little plate of cantaloupe and pineapple and shit. (Laughter) We were like, “You’re eating with them! You’ve got the job!” And then, you know, I went in next. (Laughter) So, it’s hard to say. Like, what am I not willing to follow? It’s all about… if you’re fearless going into the room, it’ll work in your favor, only in the sense that you’re fearless. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get the job. It doesn’t mean they’re going to admire or envy you. It doesn’t mean any of those things. It’s just what you have to be, and thankfully I was that day because I was damn sure with one foot out the door. (Laughter) My parking meter was expiring and I was ready to get out of there. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Did you get a plate of pineapple?
Basil: I didn’t get shit! (Laughter) He ate all the pineapple! (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: When you do something like The Mayor of Whatever and in a way become a brand ambassador, do you then feel like you have to distance yourself from it when you’re looking towards the future of your acting career? Is it something where you worry about pigeonholing yourself into that type of brand ambassador persona?
Basil: I guess so. I didn’t have the luxury of worrying about being pigeonholed. We shot a lot of those. They were all a lot of fun. You’re totally right, in some cases for some people’s careers, once you do a certain amount you don’t want to be known only as this one thing because the whole foundation of what we do for a living is that you don’t know who I am at any given point and I can surprise you, hopefully, with some new stuff. It’s probably a concern for a lot of folks, but, dude, I honestly was so happy to work and I didn’t let that necessarily color my enthusiasm. And then other cool stuff was happening at the same time. Like, I got to go to New York and screen test for “Saturday Night Live” while that whole Anheuser-Busch thing was happening, so it doesn’t minimize how cool that job is. That job is feeding my daughter and making life comfortable.
TrunkSpace: And it was a cool character too. There was a fun element to it.
Basil: Totally. And it revolved around a really cool event. They went and had this really sort of sensational city thing that happened and it was a cool festival vibe. So yeah, I was really lucky. And that’s what it keeps coming down to… the gratitude for the things I get to do is just ridiculous. It’s off the charts.
TrunkSpace: You’ve been on an awesome run, not only with the various series you’ve been starring in, but the outlets in which they’re released to audiences. Netflix, TBS, and HBO are all homes that creative people want to be in business with.
Basil: Yeah. It’s totally true. I can’t describe it. Judd would like… he would chastise me a little bit when we were shooting “Crashing.” (Laughter) “How many shows are you on?” (Laughter) One night Sarah Silverman was on set and Judd was like, “This is George Basil” and he introduced us. He was like, “He’s on six different shows.” (Laughter)
I’m so over the moon about it. And obviously I’m standing in front of these heroes of mine and I was at a loss for words. But, I can’t really describe how awesome everything has been because it has just been so cool. I get to work with this amazing cast on “Wrecked.” I get to work with Will Arnett, and he’s an amazing dude all around and a creative forced. And then Dave Sullivan who is on “Flaked” as well, and Ruth Kearney and all the people on that are awesome. And then I’m in New York all of a sudden shooting with, you know, the gods, and watching Artie Lange in a pizza shop. Dude, I was showing up to set every day. It didn’t matter if I was working or not. (Laughter) My daughter visited me in New York and that was the only time I was really like, “Let’s go do other stuff besides sitting on set and watching people work.” You can’t replicate that. There’s no substitute for watching Artie Lange sitting in a pizza shop on the lower east side, and Pete’s in there, and we’re all standing on the sidewalk at 1AM and it’s kind of chilly but it doesn’t matter because the city is warming you up… and listening to it. I had a pair of headphones on and I’m listening to the audio and it’s like, “This is it! This is the most cinematic moment I’ve ever experienced.” And it was like, “Oh wait, I’m actually a part of it too.”
TrunkSpace: Looking at all of those shows that you’re starring in right now, they all have two things in common. The first thing is that they’re all single word series titles, which is hard to achieve.
Basil: (Laughter) It’s really, really, really strange. And “Wrecked” and “Flaked” both in past tense.
TrunkSpace: And then the second thing they have in common is that you always have badass facial hair in them all!
Basil: Thanks, man! (Laughter) Thank you very much. I’m always in a state of beard flux where it’s massive and I’ll show up on set and they’re like, “No, that’s too big. We’ve got to whack that down.” I let them do whatever they want usually.
TrunkSpace: If “Crashing” becomes a massive hit and suddenly George Basil is the name everybody is talking about, do you think you’d be able to handle that kind of attention? Are you prepared for that kind of fame?
Basil: That’s a good question because I don’t know what it looks like. I live in my little house. I walk to my little coffee shop. I have my two dogs. Beyond that it’s family and a few friends, but if notoriety becomes somehow a part of that, I don’t know. I don’t know how I’d compartmentalize it. Again, I’d be elated. I’d be stoked that all of a sudden I have a career that’s worth you being kind enough to call me and want to talk or that’s worth someone reaching out and saying, “Hey, you might be really good at this murderer.” (Laughter) You know, I’m on board, man. I’m ready.
In a few days I’m going to shoot something with a friend for zero dollars and zero cents because I love the guy and I love his idea and it’s going to be fun. It may never see the light of the internet, but it doesn’t matter. The joy of it is from doing it, learning from it and then continuing. The opportunities are sort of independent of that and as much as I love them and want them to keep going, I think that fame and stuff like that will kind of go in that same box of like… this is happening. It’s not me, it’s this. And hopefully everything else stays in place.
Like yesterday, it was my first red carpet premiere last night and it was a lot of fun. I’ve never done one and all of a sudden I’m taking pictures and I’m saying hi to people and then drinking too much vodka. It… it was the best. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Free vodka, right?
Basil: Oh yeah, man. That was the other best! (Laughter)
I think it’s also a pretty interesting concept because it isn’t a reality. It is a reality that can be lived by a person and you can be adored and all this other shit, but like, in the end, man… the things that I already listed… where you lay your head, the people you want to eat with and have a laugh with and a walk around the neighborhood with… those are the only things that are really concrete. I’m absolutely positive that if I’m lucky enough for this to do great things and take off, it’ll change me… for sure. But, to what degree, I don’t know. I’m hoping I have a good enough head where I can logically stay pretty grounded.
TrunkSpace: Hopefully it will all culminate in receiving the plate of cantaloupe and pineapple at auditions!
Basil: (Laughter) That’s all I want, man! I just want fresh fruit!