Single Parents star Taran Killam on singing Moana and wanting to go to Disneyland
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Taran Killam is getting down to funny business once again.
The Saturday Night Live alum is headlining his first sitcom in ABC’s Single Parents, alongside fellow TV veterans Leighton Meester and Brad Garrett. Killam stars as Will, a single dad who’s made his child his entire world to the detriment of his own social life, romantic prospects, and even his ability to function as a regular adult.
Following his departure from SNL, the actor directed his own film, Killing Gunther; did a stint in Hamilton on Broadway as King George III, and guest-starred on New Girl before deciding to return to a series regular role on the small screen. Killam plays Will’s extreme love for his kid for laughs, but he says it was the show’s heart that really attracted him to the project. “Laughing is wonderful and great, and I love to do it as often as possible,” he tells EW. “But our show really succeeds at tugging at the heartstrings.”
Before the series debuts this Wednesday, EW called up Killam to get the details on what made this project the one, what it’s like working with Meester and Garrett, why it’s fun to play the same person every week, and how he hopes to take advantage of ABC’s Disney ties. (Hint: it involves the Happiest Place on Earth.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you first got the script for Single Parents, what appealed to you about the project?
TARAN KILLAM: I was really excited about the idea of doing a family show. I love [series creators] Liz Meriwether and J.J. Philbin and [producer] Katherine Pope, whom I had worked with on New Girl. As soon as I read the script, what was really impressive was the amount of heart in the show.
You guest-starred on New Girl. What about your experience working with Liz and J.J. made you eager to jump back in with them on a bigger scale?
Shared sensibilities and tone and humor. Just the way that Liz and J.J. run a show. The environment outside of the creative content was so enjoyable and such a pleasant place to show up and go to work every day. Hopefully, if the show succeeds and connects to an audience, it will last for a long time. Enjoying the people you’re going to be spending time with is incredibly important, so that definitely got my attention, just the idea of getting to work with them again. Especially over a longer period of time.
The script turned out so good, and it’s such a great array of characters. In a TV show, you’re also looking for a diverse cast in [terms of] gender, age, race. This is such a really smart, organic, believable scenario to bring people who might not have much in common [together]. Because their children are in class together, they’re in each other’s lives on a daily basis, and that was something I certainly have experienced and an idea worth exploring.
When you left Saturday Night Live, there was a lot of talk that we’d immediately see you in a TV pilot, but a few years have passed. What was that journey like, and why do you think this is one that stuck?
I was always really excited to come back to Los Angeles because it’s where I was born and where I grew up. A lot of my journey from SNL to this show was about logistics of time and space more than creative opportunities. I got to do Hamilton for three months. Opportunities came up that were incredibly exciting to me and challenging and ultimately rewarding. So it wasn’t really until this last fall that I had the opportunity to sit down and read things that might be a good fit.
The reason this show is the right fit is because of the different elements. I already spoke about J.J. and Liz, but once they told me Brad Garrett was considering it and Leighton Meester wanted to come on board, it was making for such a strong team. You always hope to be surrounding yourself with professionals and people that are more talented than yourself, and I definitely feel that I had that opportunity with this show.
You and Leighton and Brad are all TV veterans — do you all turn to each other for advice? For instance, Brad has done a lot of straightforward sitcom work, which I imagine is different from your experience on a sketch show.
A hundred percent. There is an immediate sort of kinship and shorthand that comes with having worked in the industry as long as any of us have, but then there’s sort of an equal admiration and respect. What’s fun about being on a TV show with people that you like is you get to tell stories: “What’s Ray [Romano] really like? What’s Peter Boyle like?” Leighton had worked with Andy Samberg and Adam Sandler in That’s My Boy, and I had seen an early screening of that when the movie came out. I thought she was so funny in it and never had the chance to tell her, so now that I’m working with her, that was sort of my icebreaker. She and I have become fast friends. It’s been nice. It helps for bonding when you can swap horror stories.
I will say, particularly among the three of us, what was heartening and sort of the first indicator to me that this show could work and could be really something special was that all three of us were incredibly grateful to be doing this. There was no cynicism. Nobody’s doing it by the numbers. We all genuinely were drawn to the project and appreciated the script and the characters, and just are really excited and grateful to be working with each other every day. You know these people are incredibly talented and incredibly capable, but the fact that we’re all still excited is a really wonderful thing to experience every day.
Do you feel there’s a lot of crossover between being part of the SNL ensemble and an ensemble comedy like this?
Yeah, I think any entertainment industry job you take [is similar]. Obviously, the live aspect of SNL is very different from the single camera: set up the shot, shoot, change lighting — but we were also doing a lot of the pretaped stuff at the time I left SNL. They were doing three or four pretapes a week, so half of your schedule was dedicated to that kind of setup. What’s really exciting about the show, and something I have really never done in my career, is playing the same character. Being the same person week after week and seeing how that person evolves and grows and is challenging. It’s already been really fun.
We’ve read three scripts, and I’m like, “Oh my God, I still get to do this job. We’re referencing things that happened two weeks ago, I’m in a very similar costume and I’m not wearing a wig!” I’m so drawn to narrative comedy. I come from improv but particularly sketch comedy. I was never a stand-up and never strictly a joke teller, so I’ve always been very drawn to the story. It really is very, very exciting to me to see where this goes — to see who Will is when we first meet him in the pilot and see where he ends up eight, 10, 12 weeks from now.
You’re not a single parent, but do you find you can relate to Will’s predicament of having his life and identity subsumed by his kids?
Yeah, there’s a ton that I can draw on from my life. The challenges of being a single parent are something I could never fully grasp. Being a parent is hard no matter the circumstances. I’m so lucky to have a partner I love and respect to share it with [Killam is married to actress Cobie Smulders], so doing it on your own has just got to be exponentially more difficult. That’s why I think J.J. has found this demographic that’s never really been represented front-and-center this way but is a very common thing more and more.
Single parents are a very prominent presence now, and there are millions of people who are working their butts off and working their job and being a good parent and doing it on their own and still trying to have fun when they can, and hopefully, be lucky in love. There are certainly aspects about my life that I can draw from and appreciate because, ultimately, the show is just about families. The families of single parents aren’t the biological families they’re born into, they’re sort of the families they choose. It’s like putting together this community and this village.
Will has the mermaid bag — what’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever gone out with or had in your possession from your kids?
I think probably less in the diaper bag, more in the stroller department. At a certain point, you also take pride in the functionality and your handling of the object. We had this stroller that we would travel with, like Bumbee or some sort of name like that. I eventually got so good with it, it honestly felt akin to a cowboy drawing a gun how quickly I could get the thing in shape and then also deconstruct it for the plane. I felt very cool, even though I know from an outsider’s perspective I’m just a dopey dad struggling with some bright neon orange stroller.
You go on a pretty disastrous first date in the pilot. What’s your worst first-date story?
It wasn’t like a terrible date, it ended up being a wonderful dinner. But I was set up on a blind date from friends that I met at an improv class and when I showed up the woman was 25 years older than I was. I was 20 at the time, and she was in her mid-40s, and I was like, “Oh cool, hey, great, how old do you think I am?” And they’re like, “We figured thirtysomething,” and I was 21. It made me feel really bad about my genetics. I was like, “I must be aging terribly.” But the date itself ended up being lovely. But when I was 21, I wasn’t ready to settle down with a 45-year-old at that time.
You sing “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana, in a hilarious bit. Was that always in the script as written, or was there another song?
It was always in the script from the get-go. Obviously, having done Hamilton, I know Lin [-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the song] pretty well. J.J. and I were first introduced through Tommy Kail, who directed Hamilton. I’ve actually never asked J.J. if that had any role in choosing Moana, but I also know I’d like to read into the serendipity of, it’s the Lin-Manuel Miranda song, and I did Hamilton, and now I’m doing Moana. Also, Moana was literally the only soundtrack in any family minivan for a year and a half. It’s like Frozen had just fallen out of fashion and Moana took over, and this script was written right before Coco came out. It’s more of a carbon-dater than anything else.
You’re on ABC, which obviously has the benefits of being connected to Disney, which made something like that song a possibility. Do you foresee that partnership continuing in storylines?
I wonder if that made things easy. I don’t know if the synergy works like that. I got to go in and sit with the writers, and the first story I pitched was, “We gotta go to Disneyland! They always go to Disneyland, families and kids love Disneyland, we gotta go to Disneyland.” They were like, “We gotta figure out who these characters are first,” [and I’m like,] “I know who they are! They’re characters who go to Disneyland!” I do know that we have shot three episodes so far, and I sing in every one. But they’re not all Disney songs. We’ve got some standards; we’ve got some Alanis Morrisette coming up. We’ve got a real eclectic soundtrack, and I am always happy to get to a Disney show tune.
Single Parents premieres Sept. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.