Could Underground and Wet Hot American Summer Make Chris Meloni an Emmy Two-fer?

Damian Holbrook
Underground, CHRIS MELONI
WGN America

When it comes to range, Chris Meloni is kind of the man. He's done cookie-cutter sitcoms, the darkest of prison dramas, the special victim-iest of Law & Orders, cult comedies on screens big and small and even at one point, The Equalizer. Now, thanks to a pair of polar-opposite performances—Underground's devious slave catcher August Pullman and the demented canned vegetable-obsessed, fridge-lovin' Gene on Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp—Meloni could wind up on Emmy ballots in both the comedy and drama categories. Not bad for a guy who was also once voted "Best Butt on TV."

You’ve been very busy lately.
Doesn’t feel that way, but it does seem that way. I’m kind of like Tarzan, from one vine to another. [Laughs]

So let’s first talk about Underground, because that was probably your meatiest character since Oz.
I felt it was, too. But he was in good company. I felt that every character that the Underground head writers put down to paper were equally complex and meaty. But yeah my character, that’s what drew me to him.

Underground, Season 1, Episode 101

Stabler on Law & Order: SVU was flawed but August was so hard to figure out. Was he a good guy, a baddie or just a very, very smart businessman?
Yeah, I think the difference is that with Stabler, you knew right or wrong was on his moral compass. August Pullman—and this is where you get a little uncomfortable with the guy or intrigued by the guy, hopefully—he’s a man searching for a moral compass that he knows resides somewhere inside him.

The time period allowed you to do things most of your previous roles didn't entail.
I know. My days were complete with riding horses, doing knife-throwing and shooting targets. So that was fantastic!

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You filmed down in Louisiana. That heat and humidity is unforgiving.
Well, I’ll say this, the food is unforgiving because I gained 10 pounds. But boy was it good! Let me tell you I’m a big fan of alligator, I love alligator. [Laughs] The humidity was rough but every time you’d be in a scene and you’re sweating, I just felt almost as if sweat was part of the character. The whole atmosphere helped you understand, in a very small but helpful way, what it was like during that time. What the conditions were. I mean, can you imagine living down there without air conditioning?

When do you start working on the next season of Wet Hot American Summer?
I believe, thank God, that it will be an October-November-December kind of deal. It's nice.

That’s a little cold to be filming a summer-camp show.
Thank God they’re doing it in California this time around.

The new season is set 10 years after Camp Firewood. Have they given you any idea of what the characters have been up to in the last decade?
No, but I hope my guy is, I don’t know, I see him as a politician or something like that.

See and I was thinking Gene was probably institutionalized.
Well, I think it’s pretty close to the same thing, right? [Laugs]

Wet Hot American Summer Gene Jonas

 

With these two shows in the same year, you are in the rare position to be nominated in both comedy and drama categories.
How fun is that?!

When that’s presented to you, how do you get your head around that?
What do I think? I think the same way I thought when I was doing Oz and SVU at the same time. Shooting the shows, they would overlap, so it becomes almost ethereal and I'd walk around in this daze going, ‘Man this is just the best thing ever.’ You accept these things, I don’t know, by reflecting on all of your good luck, the steps you took to get where you are, the people that surround you. You know, it’s a lovely time to reflect because you’re being presented with so much of this bounty. So it’s nice.

You basically began your TV career on the Fox sitcom The Fanelli Boys and now…
How about that? You start as a big dumb Italian Brooklyn kid, a Guido type kid, and then 30 years later you’re playing a Southern guy out of Georgia in 1857?! [Laughs]

That's the weirdness of Hollywood.
I love it.

Do you have a preference? Comedy or drama?
No, they’re different. Obviously they’re different forms of expression. I think in that expressing, it becomes meditative and a different way of exploring who you are, what’s inside of you. I mean, both are always an absolute luxury, but it’s very refreshing and nurturing to me and for me.

Oh, and congratulations on booking a role in Amy Schumer's next movie!
Oh, that’s fantastic.

Where the hell do you plan on finding the time to do this?
You’re making me feel good today! [Laughs]

OK, then I will also add that you seem to have stopped aging.
[Laughs] No, you should see…there’s a portrait of me in my attic that looks horrible.

So what is going on with the Amy Schumer movie? Because that’s a big deal.
It’s a big deal, yeah. I recognize that. It's a funny script and what I appreciated so much about it is that it wasn’t just ‘Amy Schumer, she’s hot, it’ll be fun’ and all that. The script was tight and strong and every character…I was laughing at every character—who they were and their behavior and how they engaged with Amy. And Goldie Hawn? Her lines are priceless as well. So that made me feel good. I think we’re shooting in July in an exotic location, which never hurts. So, yeah.

How exotic are we talking?
Think tropical.

Oh, nice.
Yeah. And that’s all I can tell you I think. [Laughs]

You realize that you you were probably one of the first people to really inspire a very disturbing level of fan fiction, right?
Oh what, with Keller [from Oz]?

With Keller and then with SVU's Stabler.
I’ve never read it, but from the Twittersphere, I can only venture to guess what it's like.

It's terrifying.
Oh, really? Well now I’m intrigued.

It will change your worldview, trust me. You will look at people in a completely different light. It is dark, dark stuff.
OK, wait, wait…are restraints involved?

Oh, you have no idea. German dungeon porn doesn’t touch this stuff. I can only imagine what your fan letters are like sometimes.
Well, I’ve had special ones, I’m not going to disagree with that. But you can always be assured of an immediate reaction whenever you put German and porn together! I’ve gotten fan mail from refrigerators because of Wet Hot.

Stop, that is amazing. Have you considered that you might have to make two Emmy speeches?
[Laughing]. No. Oh my God, that is so funny.

You should probably frontload everyone you have to thank in the first one, just in case...
Oh, you’re right! I think that’s going to be my my Emmy campaign. "Vote for me twice, because you’ll only have to hear one long speech!" [Laughs]

There you go.
Chris Meloni: Emmy two-fer!