Ken Marino is trying to get closer to Casey Wilson using only his eyes. As part of a scene for Marry Me — their new comedy about the long engagement between levelheaded Jake (Marino) and excitable Annie (Wilson) after a botched proposal — Marino engages her in something resembling a staring contest, but far more intimate and awkward.
Casey Wilson Mmm, this open-eye cuddle is nice…
Ken Marino Right? I love it too. Supposedly after 15 minutes you lose all sense of self.
Wilson How many minutes has it been?
Marino [Checking watch without losing eye contact] Closing in on…a minute.
Just a few feet away here on L.A.’s Paramount lot stands David Caspe, Wilson’s husband and the creator of the show, which is loosely based on their own marriage. He watches the moment with a smile. Perhaps because it’s drawing laughs on the set. Or maybe it’s because he’s already lived a version of it. ”David is not very emotional, so I made him try the open-eye cuddle,” says Wilson, who learned the exercise in an acting class. ”He couldn’t do it for even five seconds.” Says Caspe: ”I told her anything she needs me to do, I’ll just write it in and Ken will do it for me, and then I don’t have to do it. It’s perfect.”
This fall’s most buzzed-about new comedy positions Wilson and Marino as a TV couple to watch. But there’s another notable pair at the heart of this operation: Wilson and Caspe, who’ve been joined at the hip ever since Happy Endings, the ABC sitcom that she starred on and he created. And for the past three years, they’ve been joined at the lip. They are a charming, finish-each-other’s-punchlines, opposites-attract couple. She’s the queen of grand gestures. He’d rather not make a big deal out of it, if that’s cool. And together, they’re hoping they can convert relationship comedy, including some of their own, into ratings.
An artist-turned-writer, Caspe, 35, met Wilson, 33 — an Upright Citizens Brigade vet who did two seasons on SNL — when she auditioned for Happy in 2010. Some, but not Caspe, would say they were fated to cross paths. ”We did live on the same street in New York at the same time, which Casey thinks is some huge spiritual-universe thing,” says Caspe. ”I find it just to be a mild coincidence.”
Still, when Wilson let Caspe know that she wanted to turn their business relationship into a romantic one, he told her he’d rather keep things professional. She didn’t take that so well…
Wilson I counteracted that with what I think any woman would do when you hear a no: I rented out a movie theater on Valentine’s Day to screen Annie Hall. And he canceled on me that night.
David Caspe I didn’t even know it was Valentine’s Day.
Wilson Then we didn’t speak for three months.
Caspe I didn’t know that we weren’t speaking.
Wilson He didn’t know we weren’t speaking.
Inevitably, the wall came down on their relationship — and then on their show. Happy was canceled in May 2013. While Caspe was thinking about ways to pop the question to Wilson — and recalling a story about a friend who had planned an elaborate proposal only to get in a fight with his girlfriend during the horseback-riding portion — inspiration struck. ”I just came up with the idea of ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if someone had family and friends hiding, and during the proposal they got in a huge fight and she didn’t know they were there?”’ says Caspe. When he ran the concept of the show by Wilson, she liked it so much, she asked if she could star on it. NBC bought in, and Caspe pursued Marino, 45, who’d appeared as a love interest for Wilson on Happy. ”It wasn’t really ‘Could he play me?”’ says Caspe. ”It was more like ‘I want someone way funnier than me.”’
He wanted something funnier than a straight romantic comedy, too. ”The show is not about planning a wedding. It’s a show about a couple and their friends,” says Caspe. ”I really like Bridesmaids and Annie Hall, and also Eastbound & Down and 30 Rock. From a tone standpoint, I’m hoping we can combine all those together.” Eastbound vet Marino agrees. ”There has to be a sweetness to it, but you have to cut that saccharine with jokes that are subversive,” he says. ”We’re aiming to find that balance. And if all else fails, have plenty of fart jokes.”
Marry Me deals with the challenges of pairing up, such as when Annie feels so boxed in after Jake moves in that she slowly transitions to living out of her car. Complicating their lives are Jake’s friend/new divorcé Gil (John Gemberling), Annie’s BFFs Denna (Sarah Wright Olsen) and Kay (Tymberlee Hill), and Annie’s altar-bound gay dads, both named Kevin (Tim Meadows and Dan Bucatinsky).
Meanwhile, Caspe and Wilson, who live in Los Angeles with what she calls a ”humongous blazer hanger/jewelry holder, a.k.a. treadmill,” are navigating their own coupling with humor — even when they disagree on a joke. ”I can prey on his insecurities as a writer, and he can prey on my insecurities as an actress,” notes Wilson. ”So one of us will probably fold on our own idea pretty quick if met with adversity.”
The end. Wait, we forgot to tell you how their engagement went! Caspe tried to plan a surprise proposal, for which he says Wilson showed up in full hair and makeup (”I did not get my makeup professionally done. I took my time with it,” she counters) and invited their families. But when the big moment came to pop the question…
Wilson He had nothing.
Caspe ”I love you. Will you marry me?”
Wilson I mean, nothing.
Caspe I got up, we kissed, and she made a joke: ”Is that it?” So I got back down to try to say more, but I still had nothing the second time.
Wilson But then we were just like, ”Eh, we’re good. We’re engaged!”