'What I like about Kenny and Brett's relationship is that Brett, to be reductive, is a bad boy and Kenny is very much an altar boy,' Galvin says
Credit: ABC/John Fleenor

Spoiler Alert! Plot details from Tuesday’s episode of The Real O’Neals lie ahead…

The Real O’Neals had itself a very merry Christmas episode on Tuesday. “The Real Christmas” featured a heated choir competition that put Kenny (Noah Galvin) at odds with his mother and choir director, Eileen (Martha Plimpton), and new member, Brett (Sean Grandillo). Essentially, Eileen kicks Kenny out of the solo position, to be replaced by Brett. This leads to Kenny trying to sabotage the new guy, but it turns out he isn’t so bad after all. In fact, Brett has feelings for Kenny, which he reveals at episode’s end — and seals it with a kiss. Here to unpack it all is Galvin himself, speaking to the new romance, how that will develop from here, and much more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Kenny and Eileen participate in a Christmas choir competition and things really escalate. Can you talk about the fun of playing those heated choir scenes?

NOAH GALVIN: I think it’s said in the pilot episode and then repeated a few times throughout the series that Kenny is very much Eileen’s favorite and I think that favoritism comes from him being the most similar to her. They have similar levels, similar competitive spirits as well, so I think when put in a room together with a competition hanging over them, they go ham, as the kids would say. It’s always fun to play duplicity, and Kenny and Eileen, they’re very good at putting up a front and then revealing their true intentions later. It’s an exciting time, and getting to play with Martha like that is always so satisfying.

To expand on the front that they’re putting up, do you mean that they’re in this competition that’s supposed to be about Christmas spirit, but it’s actually very much about winning?

Yes, exactly. I think there is the facade. The facade of the Christmas concert is then broken down and what’s revealed is that Kenny and Eileen are really just bloodthirsty and need to win, in order to prove that they are indeed better than the Protestants.

Turning to Brett, he and Kenny don’t get off to a smooth start, but he does admit feelings for Kenny in the end and they kiss. Do you like them as a couple, do you think they work well together, and what do you think is in store for them in the future?

When Kenny first meets Brett, it starts out pretty adversarial, but I think [it’s like] the cliché of little boys not knowing how to express their feelings for little girls and that coming out in their expression of those feelings. A boy might pick on a girl or make fun of her and really deep down all he wants to do is kiss her, and I think that is sort of what happens with Kenny and Brett. I think Brett has feelings for Kenny that he doesn’t know how to express and doesn’t think he can express because even though he says he’s not necessarily closeted, he doesn’t like to flaunt his homosexuality and so once those feelings are finally out in the open and on the table, I think he is able to relax into himself and they’re able to overcome all the nasties that came before the kiss.

It’s Kenny’s first real passionate kiss with somebody that he eventually will have feelings for and I think the moment that they do kiss he sort of has his first ‘a-ha’ moment of love or the beginnings of. What I like about Kenny and Brett’s relationship is that Brett, to be reductive, is a bad boy and Kenny is very much an altar boy. I like the way Brett brings out a more outgoing, experimental side of Kenny and Kenny brings a sweet side out of Brett. I like how that developed and I like how that affects their relationship. Once they get more and more comfortable with each other, it’s fun to see that dynamic in play.

You see that experimental side to Kenny in the final choir performance. What was your experience shooting that like, and how much influence would you say Brett had in shaping this different take on a Christmas classic?

Originally the song was going to be Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and our production reached out to Mariah Carey and her people never got back to us, never responded. At the last minute, they were like, ‘We’re not going to be able to get the song cleared,’ so our music supervisor Julie Houlihan had to, in a matter of like two days, come up with a new idea.

She came up with a really smart idea of mashing up “O Holy Night” and Sia and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Greatest.” I thought it was so smart because, again, it shows the wonderful differences between Kenny and Brett. Then when you mash something up together, it’s two separate things that become one harmonious, beautiful thing, and I’d like to think that’s sort of emblematic of Kenny and Brett’s relationship. It’s crazy; it was so fun. We got to record the vocals separately and then when you film it you’re lip syncing to your own voice. It was amazing. I feel it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being on Glee.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how surprised do you think the Episcopalians were to see that performance?

I give it a strong 9.5. I think they’d expect nothing less from the Catholics.

Will there be more of that down the line, more choir performances?

Maybe not choir performances, but there may or may not be a few more musical numbers this season.

Another aspect to the feuding is Jimmy as Eileen’s spy, with his terrible British accent. What do you think of his storyline and the fun that he adds to the show this week?

I think Matt Shively is one of the funniest humans in the world. Day one, Matt was the only person in our whole cast that came in with an exact, specific, clear idea of who his character was and it has not budged since. A lot of times that can be a downfall, but in this case, it was perfect from the moment he opened his mouth and it’s still perfect.

I think our writers have picked up on that and they, out of anyone, found it. From day one, Matt and the writers were on the same page. Writing for Matt’s character was very clear, and so an episode like this where Matt sort of is on his own and just gets to play is always incredibly entertaining, incredibly satisfying — especially the tag. I think the tag is one of my favorite moments in the entire episode.

Separate from that, there’s the sex talk between Pat and Shannon. Sex talks are almost always awkward, but especially so with Pat and Shannon. What do you think of the awkwardness there, and how that all played out? Shannon, she’s not your average teenage girl…

No, she’s wise and knowing. I think when you pit a character like Pat against a character like Shannon hilarity ensues. Pat being a naturally simple guy and Shanon being as intelligent as she is, it’s a dichotomy that just tickles me.

By episode’s end, would you say that the family — Kenny and Eileen in particular — get their holiday spirit back?

Yes, definitely. I think holiday spirit can mean many things and I think holiday spirit is just sort of your state of happiness during the holidays. You could say the same thing about spring spirit or summer spirit. I think everybody in the family finds joy in something at the end of that episode, be it love for Kenny, budding romance for Kenny; or the Episcopalians losing, the idea of pseudo winning for Eileen; or having a tender moment with your dad or daughter for Shannon and Pat; and then aunt Jodi is able to raise Allison up and lift her spirits and she’s able to find joy in that, and vice versa for Allison.

Beyond this episode, what’s ahead for Kenny? You touched on where Kenny and Brett will go next, but what else can we expect him to face in the rest of the season?

For the majority of the rest of the season, he is in this relationship, so we explore how Kenny’s relationship with his boyfriend affects the other relationships in the family — how it affects his relationship with his dad, how it affects his very close relationship with his brother. We tackle that a little bit, the effects that a new romance can have on relationships with family members. Our finale, it’s being rewritten right now, but we did a table read of it. Parenting a gay child is something we’re going to tackle this season and I’m excited for people to see that, how Martha’s character deals with another parent who’s going through the same process.

To piggyback on what I was saying, the thing we’re also going to get to see is so much of this experience has been just about the family and it’s been all the episodes with the siblings and Kenny finally has a friend, but we rarely see them interact alone. It’s always with a family member or in the house, and within the Kenny-Brett relationship, this is the first time that we see Kenny interacting with the world outside of his family and relating to the world alongside a stranger that he’s building a new connection with, in which he is his most vulnerable because he doesn’t have the protection of his family members around. I’m excited for people to see that.

The Real O’Neals airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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