The indie-film vet and master of sarcasm answers EW Online's questions

By Josh Wolk
Updated April 07, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Whether he’s playing a nightclub manager in ”The Last Days of Disco” or a directionless college grad in ”Kicking and Screaming,” you can count on one constant from Chris Eigeman’s performances: His character will be dripping in sarcasm and perpetually peeved. His trademark scowl has found a perfect home in the new ABC sitcom ”It’s like, you know…” Eigeman, 34, plays a New York writer who’s just moved to L.A. and is stuck in a constant state of condescension over the flighty ways of his West Coast friends. EW Online caught up with Eigeman as he was adjusting to the stellar reviews and ratings of ”It’s like” (the third episode of which airs tonight at 8:30).

Do you like the schedule of working on a TV series?
I really love the straightforward workaday life of it. I really love showing up at work at 10 a.m., trying to make it funny until 3 p.m., and then going home. It’s like comedy bankers’ hours.

How did you get the show?
I had written a pilot for NBC two years ago (with ”Kicking and Screaming” writer-director Noah Baumbach) that they bought but never made. Then I read (”It’s like” creator) Peter Mehlman’s brilliant script. Having walked the path of trying to write a pilot and not succeeded very well, I was willing to follow him to the end of the comedic universe.

What happened to your own pilot?
You’re a servant to so many masters, and it’s very hard to make anything funny. I had a very misguided notion of what ”network notes” were. I thought they were well-meant suggestions, perhaps urgently meant, but just suggestions nonetheless. And actually, they’re demands. You have to do them, or you will not be paid.

You’re a New Yorker who plays a transplanted New Yorker who hates L.A. Does that reflect your thoughts on the city?
I genuinely don’t like Los Angeles. L.A. is this little petri dish of lack of morality. If you take a perfectly well-adjusted normal person of any age from anywhere in the country and stick them in L.A., within about a week I do believe that a lot of their values and morals will start to degrade. Suddenly you’re like, ”Let’s go to the Ivy and see if we can spot a star eating dinner!” Which is childish and stupid and you shouldn’t do it. I’m 34, I should know better, but after a little while, I’m like, ”C’mon, maybe Jim Carrey will be there.” And that’s not healthy.

What’s it like being a midseason replacement?
You’re in this weird position where you’re hiding your talents under a bushel. We shot the show over six months last fall, and no one knew what the show was. I’m sure there were people who thought I was lying to them when I said I was doing this show, because they had no idea where the hell I was. They just thought maybe I was in a really deep depression, and I wasn’t really showing up much around town anymore.

Were you nervous when the show premiered?
I think we were certainly tested on the first night with the war. (NATO began bombing the Balkans that day.) As you begin to bomb another country, that’s not on the pamphlet for how to have a great opening night. And in the end we did really really well, which is scary in and of itself.

Did you read the reviews on the show?
The big national publications were really nice to us, but I also took some huge hits that were just fantastic to read. One person called me ”Woody Allen without the sense of humor.” What the hell does that mean? The one I loved was a Baltimore paper that called me a crushing bore. And to me, that’s like saying I can fly. Because I’m many things, but I am not a crushing bore.

Well, critics must agree that nobody plays ”peevish” like you.
I’ve cornered the market on churlishness. My character is usually this George Bernard Shaw refugee who’s very well-spoken, but who you kind of wish would die. Which was never really my career path. That was something I’d always tried to avoid. But in reality, I seem to be very lucky and blessed to play characters who tend to be the writer’s alter ego. Certainly for Whit Stillman (writer-director of ”Metropolitan,” ”Barcelona,” and ”Disco”) I do that. I play the evil Whit in his movies. Writers have a really churlish and spiteful side, and I get to embody that.

Do you ever want to do something completely different, like one of those Billy Bob Thornton-type mentally impaired guys?
I’d love to play the tragically mentally deranged killer in a small town who disembowels with a clothespin. I just think that people get a little itchy and scratchy about acting, and they don’t like to see too much of it. If you define acting by who you are and who you’re pretending to be and the distance between those two, I try to close up that distance as much as possible. Of course that leads to a lot of people being like, ”So really you only do one thing”…which I can translate into a compliment if I have to. Hopefully the opportunities will come when I get to disembowel the elderly with a clothespin in some movie, but that ain’t right now.