Our long national wait for the next new Cougar Town is almost over. The show returns with two episodes this week — one tonight after Dancing With the Stars, and one in its regular Wednesday time slot. Tonight’s episode has Bobby (Brian Van Holt) and Laurie (Busy Philipps) partnering for a business venture to bring “Penny Can” to the masses. Viewers will be able to dial a working phone number for details on how to purchase their own “Bobby Cobb Official Competition Penny Can” — and for a chance to speak to a member of the cast or one of the creators. (According to ABC, the cast and co-creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel will take turns carrying a cell phone connected to the number for at least a few weeks and answer it when they can.) We talked to Josh Hopkins recently, and though he couldn’t tell us when his first shift was, he was already thinking up ways to entertain callers. “Maybe I could sing a song. Maybe I could leave outgoing messages on answering machines with a ‘Penny can!'”
Something Hopkins did know the answer to: How Lou Diamond Phillips cameos as himself on Cougar Town‘s May 4 episode. “Apparently Grayson and Lou Diamond Phillips have a bit of a past together. Grayson, you find out, at some point, used to do some jewelry-making. Bizarre. I don’t know,” he laughs. “And Lou Diamond really liked the jewelry for some reason.” He’ll also guest on the May 18 episode.
“How cool is that to all the sudden have Lou Diamond, who I’ve been watching in movies since I was young, be on set? Really, that took my breath away,” Hopkins says. “He couldn’t have been nicer, but I was just too embarrassed to start saying, ‘Remember that one time when you were singing ‘La Bamba’? And then in Young Guns…‘”
Looking ahead to the special hour-long May 25 season finale, the Cul-de-Sac Crew travels to Hawaii to bring Travis home after he quits college. (Yes, Hopkins really wrote the song he sings. “And I had to learn the ukulele to write it. I’m a genius. I’m like Prince.”) Producers have teased that an issue comes out that could force Jules and Grayson to question whether they should be together. SPOILER ALERT! “Grayson really wants kids, and Jules has Travis and she’s feeling pretty good about things — she might be done,” Hopkins says. “I would imagine it’s gonna be a bit of an ongoing issue in season 3.”
Having the man be the one asking for a baby is a nice change. But then Cougar Town has never been afraid to break the mold when it comes to Grayson and Jules’ relationship. “That storyline in television has become cliché where we expect to see a lot of tension, but oh, they hate each other and they stay way, and then in the third season they kiss, and then in the fifth season, they get married!” Hopkins says. “To avoid that, [producers] very smartly got these two together. It’s such a bizarre show, but they’re really tackling this one story line in a very adult way — more so than what you’d see on most television shows. They’re two adults that ARE together and they’re working out the problems of being in a relationship, rather than working out the problems of almost kissing and almost being the one to take the first step. It’s really an adult story line in a very childish show.” (Speaking of childish … Another tease: Neighbor Tom was not invited to go to Hawaii, “but I’m not saying that he won’t sometimes maybe sorta be there,” Hopkins says. “That’s my favorite thing in the entire episode.”)
As for what Hopkins will be doing on his hiatus from filming the series, that’s easy: Promoting his new movie Lebanon, PA, which opens in New York and Philadelphia on April 29 before expanding to other select cities. He stars as Will, a charming 35-year-old Philadelphia ad man who heads to Lebanon to bury his father. There, he forms an unexpected friendship with CJ (Rachel Kitson), his newly pregnant 17-year-old cousin, and becomes interested in CJ’s married teacher (Samantha Mathis). “With my character, it’s almost a coming-of-age story in his late 30s. He’s a guy who is just now sort of waking up and wants to define who and what he is,” Hopkins says. “One of the things that really attracted me was that so many times you see characters who are kind of a cad or bad guy with a heart of gold deep down. This guy is externally nice, and inside, he’s a little bit hollow. He’s got a deep part of his spirit and soul to fill and he realizes that on this trip.”
It’s another nice change for the actor who admits he’s played a lot of “heart-of-gold charming cads.” He also appreciated writer/director Ben Hickernell’s subtle touch. “There is a divide in the country right now. It’s a crevice that is growing, and [the film] does get into those iffy gray areas pretty well. It’s distinctly American in that way, and the fact that it’s a small independent movie means it can impact the subject matter in a way that a big movie couldn’t. If you are a staunch liberal or a Tea Party guy, you’re probably gonna think it chooses some sort of side, but I don’t think it does,” he says. “I think it’s unique in the fact that it does tell a story that could be a hot-button topic for a lot of people, and it does it with such subtlety. It’s just kind of beautiful.” Watch the trailer below.