Ethan Embry Does Not Want to Be the Old Dude at the Rave

Ethan Embry in Grace and Frankie
Melissa Moseley/Netflix
Ethan Embry

Ethan Embry is in a hotel room in Las Vegas, attempting to illustrate, verbally, the futility of career comparisons based on age. “Ryan Gosling is, like, 34. I’m going to be 38 in two weeks,” he begins. His fiancée interrupts him. “Wait, I’m going to be 37? How old am I?”

Embry is now 37. The actor’s days as the everyman love interest in teen-aimed movies (Empire Records, Say Anything) have given way to more adult fare. He’s about to head back to work on Season 2 of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, on which he plays Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston’s son Coyote (long story), a recovering addict in love with the married daughter of his parents’ best friends (played by Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen), and he called us up for a rather discursive chat.

What are you doing in Vegas?

My fiancée is doing stuff for the tourism board, so I figured I’d come out. Do a little work, see some shows, dance like a fool. The cool thing is, you go to a club here in Vegas, and there’s, on the light side, 20,000 people. It’s good for that, though it’s not something I’d do more than once a year. Although I’m curious now, because I haven’t been since I’ve been sober. There are certain substances that make you feel like the bass becomes a warm blanket, so I wonder how it’ll be without that. So we’re about to see tonight if I’m too old for a massive rave. Being “the old dude at the rave” is no good.

Does the thought of temptation worry you, since you’ve been sober for years now?

It’s not the club scene that worries me. I’m not saying I’m immune to any future temptations, but the party lifestyle? Not a temptation to me.

How did you get involved with Grace and Frankie?

When you get the audition, you just get this one-sheet, and it says the studio, the time, the character’s name, a quick bit about the character, and then who’s involved. That paragraph of who was involved was just… [laughs] it was crazy. I was in Arizona for a baseball tournament with my son when I got the audition, actually, and it was one of those things where you just do whatever you can to make it happen. I did the math: I could drive to LA and do the meeting and, if I got in there first and split, could get back in time to catch my son’s game at night.

What are some of the other projects you’ve done whatever you can just for an audition?

Well, for the Coen brothers, there have been two very memorable audition processes. No—three! I got pretty close on Inside Llewyn Davis. Not the lead, it was… I actually don’t know who ended up getting it, because I haven’t seen it. It’s one of those things where it’s just going to hurt. And I don’t want to hold it against the person who ended up succeeding, because they deserve it, and it’s awesome! And I’m not going to do that to myself or the relationship I might be able to have with the person who got it. There was something in No Country for Old Men, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? But I’ve gotten to meet them, and they’re such cool dudes.

Aside from getting to work with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, was being on a streaming platform an incentive?

I love the Netflix, Amazon, “new media” model. I think it’ll be really interesting, actually, to see what the broadcast networks do in the next five or 10 years. Whether they also become a subscription-based internet service.

Although, people do love their TV.

They love their Judge Judy. I have it on right now, actually. I don’t ever watch it at home, but it’s on here, and it’s like I’m not alone in my room right now. It’s on, and Quicken Loans is selling me stuff, and it’s comforting. [Laughs]

Daytime TV commercials are really something else.

Like The General! Or… The only way people know the town I grew up in—Bellflower, California—exists is from a daytime car dealership commercial with a bouncing ball as part of the song. [Singing] “91 Freeway, Exit Lakewood, Bellflower!”

You actually spend most of your scenes in Grace and Frankie with June Diane Raphael, Brooklyn Decker, and Baron Vaughn, who plays your adopted brother.

June is so beautifully dry. She’s not mean! She’s just dry. You know, Baron actually did some stand-up when we were in the middle of the season—he’s a stand-up comedian. I thought it was incredibly brave to invite the entire staff of writers to something like that. These are some of the most successful comedic writers in town, and you’re inviting them to a 32-minute set that you wrote. Pretty ballsy. But he slayed it. One of the funniest stand-up sets I’ve seen live in a really long time.

Would you ever do stand-up?

Oh no no no no no. You have to write it. I can deliver material, but I am terrified to write it. Anything that involves just me is a scary predicament. I’m so used to the collaborative elements of things: TV, film… By the time I get to it, 20 other people have been involved. So, me, by myself? Scary.