Tim Allen on Directing ‘Last Man Standing’ & What’s Next for the Baxters
In the episode, Vanessa (Nancy Travis) takes the first steps in her campaign for position with the State Assembly. Turning to Mike (Allen) and Carol (Tisha Campbell) for advice, she’ll be torn about which direction to take.
There’s “a fight between Carol and [Mike] about… which authentic personality do we want to bring out,” Allen says of Vanessa’s campaign strategy. “I know my wife, but also Carol’s doing it as an educator. She’s principal at the school, and she has a different idea of what’s important. And it was really a wonderful thing for Nancy Travis, to be herself.”
The comedian, who has been portraying Mike Baxter for eight seasons, spoke more about what’s to come on the show, his approach to directing, and having fun on set. Plus, get an exclusive sneak peek at the episode with a special clip below.
You direct this week’s episode, how did that come about? Were you looking to take on that role or was it an opportunity that was presented to you?
Tim Allen: I went to film school and I just love all of the technical parts of filmmaking, television, and movie anything. If I could direct my stand-up, I would do that too. [I wanted to] direct [an episode] to give me an idea, as the performer, of ways I can assist and express myself better. And it’s always a great way to get aligned with the terrific job that the writers and production people do. They give me a lot of help.
The show tapes in front of a live audience. What sort of challenges do you face when directing in those conditions?
I’m a smart-ass performer. As soon as there’s a crowd there — even the crew is my crowd — I’m playing music and dancing around. I’m a very different person when I direct. I really love doing the whole thing.
So is it just as fun as acting or is it more serious work?
It’s much more serious, because I have a bunch to think about that I don’t as an actor. To me, I like to direct the edit, because I love editing. So I have to make sure I’m getting the right shots and all the pickup pieces. But my [director of photography] and the [assistant director] really do so much of the work, especially because they fill in. Because I don’t do it for a living, like the other directors, I really rely on the AD and the DP to help me out.
What makes now a perfect time to explore Vanessa’s political ambitions?
It’s really just an organic process, especially when you get involved in your school system, and this is how you get involved in your school system. And then we become everything we’ve kind of been frightened of. “Oh my God, look — we’ve become politicians!”
From a director’s perspective, who breaks the easiest in a scene? Or is everyone a pro at this point?
This group — I’m grateful for every day of it. We love what we’re doing so much. We love this show. That’s the family that we’ve established. Going into eight years, it’s still amazing to all of us that this feels fresh every day. I encourage playfulness, to the detriment of my professionalism because every now and then you get the writers going, “Have you read the script?”
Because I’m a comedian, I’m joking around because of course I do memorize my lines. So I’m not a good example for everybody, because I like cutting up all during the day. It’s great to do this. But these guys are consummate professionals and know when to bear down. And when I’m directing it — because I’m not farting around — it went really well.
What can viewers expect down the pike? Has there been chatter about future seasons?
I said my goal is always to be linear in the actual world of the Baxters, and the girls have all moved out. I’m fairly certain we’re going to get Kaitlyn Dever for some episodes to discuss where she is in the Air Force. We put her in the academy and that’s close to a nine or 10 year commitment. So you don’t come home from [often]. I don’t want to give too much away, but her story in the Air Force is going to get quite fun, and sad because she’s away and I really love her being there. But we’re going to deal with that.
We’re going to deal with the babies and set this up for a much larger Baxter clan as if it continued. And I always think, in the back of my head — and I hope the studio and the network agrees — that should we get to the point when the Baxters can say goodbye [that we will]. Right now I’ve got an indication that that’s on the horizon… whenever works for them. On my bucket list is that they let the Baxters slide away from television. It’d be lovely to go into the 10 years and then say, “Goodnight, everybody.”
After years of being on air, what elements are key to keeping Last Man Standing‘s tone while also serving up fresh storylines to viewers?
It’s based in reality, like write a dramatic story, and then tip it off with comedy beats. Don’t write just joke, joke, joke. We do have shows that are really just a comedy, and that’s just a sitcom. I love that. But very often it’s about something, and Kevin Abbott’s team puts together stories that mean something, and it always gives you something neat to chew on. It’s very important to me that it has some basis in reality.
Last Man Standing, Thursdays, 8/7c, Fox