As nephew and uncle, Champions stars J.J. Totah and Andy Favreau are hitting the gym and breaking out as fresh, exciting new faces on the series. For this week’s Must List, EW rounded the two actors up to discuss their knockout performances, what their newfound fame is like, and who they dream of joining the show, should they get picked up for a second season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You two are really sharing this breakout moment together. What’s that like?
J.J. TOTAH: We’re being thrown into the show with so many exciting storylines and things we get to do.
ANDY FAVREAU: When you’re trying to break out, you’ll take any show that you can get. You just want to be lucky enough to get one that gets picked up. The thing we’re still so in awe of is that we were able to have that show be one that’s created by Mindy Kaling and Charlie Grandy — these two people that have done The Office and The Mindy Project. To be on a show where the writing is so good and so funny is such an added bonus that we kind of both feel like we’ve hit the lottery there.
Andy, your character, Matthew, is a dumb jock, and J.J., Michael is a total drama queen. What’s the key to playing them?
FAVREAU: It’s really fun to play this guy because he is a little dim, but his character is just constantly seeing the best in people. He’s a glass-completely-full kind of guy. He’s just very earnest. You don’t play him dumb; you play him very earnest and heartfelt. That’s what makes Matthew so lovable. He’s putting it all out there to make this new family dynamic work.
TOTAH: The key is to be absolutely fearless and to mean everything you say. Michael is very meticulous, and he knows what he wants and how to get there. It helps me as an actor to always be on top of my stuff. I break down my scenes ahead of time because Michael is breaking down his life like a scene. It definitely makes it a little bit more of a challenge. Michael always knows what’s happening and is always trying to get what he wants. Just being completely fearless and being 100% on top of everything and always knowing who’s in charge, because it’s obviously Michael.
The emotional core of the show is the family dynamic between the two brothers and their nephew. Do you draw upon your own families?
TOTAH: My family has a lot of strong personalities, and I can pull from that and take it in to my character, Michael, and [his father] because they’re completely opposite people. My sister, brother, and I are 180 degrees different. Having a conversation with them, you have to tread lightly.
FAVREAU: My character, Matthew, has the energy and innocence of a small child, so if I’m drawing upon experiences in my own life with my own brother, I’m going back 20 years. Stuff like bickering back and forth or being really petulant is something I did 20 years ago, not today.
Andy, would you consider switching places with your brother, Pod Save America host Jon Favreau?
FAVREAU: That would be crazy. They do a fun podcast, the live Lovett or Leave It podcast, on Friday. They have comedians on there and they keep it light and funny, so maybe I could go on that sometime. I leave the politics to my brother, but I don’t know, maybe Jon will want to cross over into the acting world. He does all these live shows now, so he’s kind of used to an audience.
J.J., do you think this show could facilitate a greater conversation about gay teens?
TOTAH: We’re not doing the show to show Michael’s struggle of being gay. We’re not trying to ask for tolerance or even acceptance, because Michael’s family is accepting. We handle Michael being gay in like 45 seconds in the pilot, so if anything, we just want people to get used to this social norm that exists outside of television, which is gay people exist. This is reality, people are gay, and we just included a character that is gay. Hopefully people include more characters that represent people in the real world.
What’s something fun coming up for both your characters on the show?
TOTAH: Vince [Anders Holm] isn’t used to being around a lot of gay people, so when he has to give Michael the talk — “the birds and the bees” — it’s a little awkward for him because he knows what his dad told him, but it wouldn’t necessarily apply to someone like Michael because Michael likes boys and Vince likes girls. It’s Vince being like, “How do I do this and not make it absolutely weird for both of us?”
FAVREAU: On the topic of Matthew sort of being a little dim, and really trying to work as hard as he can to not be that way, we’re going to see Matthew try and work harder at his education and maybe even go back to school. We’re going to see something like that happen, which ends up being very funny.
Champions takes place in a gym. Do you like to work out?
FAVREAU: I personally consider it part of the job. I work out to stay in shape because I want to look right for the roles that I want to play. And that’s hard work. It sucks. It’s also a huge stress relief from the day-to-day grind of this business. It’s great to try and get there four or five times a week, and mix it up.
TOTAH: I like to be gym-adjacent. I am an avid SoulCycler, so I feel like I get some credit for that. I just don’t like the idea of people looking at each other while they sweat.
Who are your dream guest stars?
FAVREAU: I want to get some sports players on the show. I want to get some people playing their real selves on the show. Since we work at a gym, can we get Tom Brady on the show? I’m a Boston fan. That would be a dream guest star to me. To get a hero of mine on the show would be amazing — just playing himself and walking into the gym.
TOTAH: Kerry Washington!