From Grey's Anatomy to Sweet Magnolias: How Justin Bruening likes to play the nice guy
Netflix's new romantic hit Sweet Magnolias features a heartthrob from Grey's Anatomy who never really captured the hearts of all its female fans (April and Jackson 4-eva!). But that's okay, Justin Bruening got the girl in the end — just like he does (or does he?) in Magnolias, an adaptation of the popular Sherryl Woods book series of the same name.
Here, the actor best known for his recurring role as paramedic Matthew Taylor, who eventually marries April (Sarah Drew) on Grey's, talks about playing Cal Maddox, the handsome baseball coach who falls hard for a divorcée (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) on Magnolias. The 10-episode series also stars Brooke Elliott and Heather Headley as Maddie's best pals Dana Sue and Helen, Chris Klein as Maddie's ex Bill, and Jamie Lynn Spears as Bill's new (and pregnant) wife Noreen.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Sweet Magnolias come about for you?
JUSTIN BRUENING: This is a new division for Netflix. It varies on who you ask, but it's like the friends, family, nicer division. I came on very early in the process. They gave me the first two scripts. When you watch the first two episodes, I'm not really in it that much. The way my agent presented it to me was like, 'Look, it's 10 episodes and you're done.' I was like, "Oh cool. He dies somewhere in that 10 episodes." That's how I took it. I'm an idiot. So I start reading the book and realized this character is awesome. He's truly a great guy. I was like, I need to take my wife out on a date. Then I flip to the end and was like, huh, I'm still alive. What was going on?
Didn't they tell you that you would be a romantic lead?
Well, that's the thing. I just went off of the first two scripts.
What is Cal's backstory?
He came to the town of Serenity to start over. He wanted a new life, and this [romance] was not part of the plan. There's a moment where he and Maddie have this spark. He basically says, "I can't ignore this." There's something between them, but it's a catch-22. He's trying to navigate the drama with their family without making it worse. But at the same time he knows there's something there and it's something he hasn't felt before. It's an interesting relationship when it comes to her kids. That's the whole core of this show, how our decisions as adults affect the children. .
So this is your first series role after being on Grey's Anatomy. Are you getting typecast as the really nice guy or what?
I know, it's tough. I have to go murder a bunch of people in my next project. Look at Christian Bale in American Psycho! He was a great-looking guy and he was insane! I hope I get to play those types of characters. But it's not a bad thing to be the nice guy.
You played Tad Martin's son, Jamie, on All My Children. Was he a good guy?
Well they called him the white knight! He was another good guy. I remember one time somebody got murdered. I can't remember who it was. And they suspected Jamie! I was like, oh come on. No one is going to buy this. This is cute. I actually went to jail.
Sweet Magnolias is a romantic drama. Can we expect the inevitable shirtless scene with Cal?
By episode 3. We got it out of the way. There's also a scene where Maddie does a drive-by and I'm changing my shirt in the driveway. It's like an '80s montage shot, like Phoebe Cates coming out of a pool. Just wait until episode 8. Somebody compared this to a Hallmark movie. I said, "Uh, you won't ever see episode 8 on Hallmark." I've done Hallmark movies. I don't remember ever having to do anything like that. My wife [actress Alexa Havins, from Torchwood] thinks Cal is allergic to clothes. I have a billion pet names now, by the way. She'll be like, "Mr. Unicorn man-candy, can you take the trash out for me?"
What's the feedback been like so far?
It's been fun and positive. And with everything that's going on in the world, it's like popcorn television, an awesome distraction. It's light. It's funny. It's good mixture of everything.
Do you still hear from fans about Grey's?
It's funny, the show has such a wide-reaching fan base. I got stopped at a grocery store recently. They can't place where they recognize me from. I'll say, "Well, it's probably Grey's," and then they'll get wide-eyed and ask, "Who are you?" I'll say Matthew. And they're like, "Oh yeah, we love you… but to be honest, we want Jackson and April together." I take it as a compliment. I did my job. My purpose the first time was to get Jackson and April back together, and my purpose the second time was to give April the happy ending she truly deserved.
You realize it will likely be Japril forever for most fans though, right?
Oh, totally. I know where I stand, all right. I guess there was some Mapril people. There's a lot of sympathy for my character because he is so nice. In their minds, Matthew did all the right things. But an attraction is an attraction. You can't fight that. I'm more than happy to take the back burner to Japril. That's the love story. It's Romeo and Juliet. Two people that shouldn't be together want to be together, and that's completely fine, even though I'm married to her now. So technically, I won.
Sweet Magnolias is currently streaming on Netflix.