Tricia O'Kelley (Bitter Party of Five)
'The Bitterest Pill Brings Redemption'
As you all may well know by now, Tricia O'Kelley is an American actress who has starred on various TV shows. Although she is widely best known for her portrayal of Marly Ehrhardt on the CBS sitcom 'The New Adventures of Old Christine.'
O'Kelley has also starred on 'Frasier', 'Two and a Half Men,' 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' 'Suddenly Susan,' and 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,' among others.
O'Kelley has also appeared in commercials for Sears, McDonald's and Budweiser and back in 2009 she starred in and executive produced the independent movie, 'Weather Girl.'
Right now though Tricia is starring in her own show, 'Bitter Party of Five.' A web series constructed from a failed NBC pilot season in 2012, it follows the same five actors involved in the 'Downwardly Mobile' pilot (Jason Antoon, Mary Birdsong, Greg Cromer, Romy Rosemont and Tricia) as they get together and decide to make their own web series: a low-budget talk show.
Bitter Party of Five:
Chatting recently with the oh-so-lovely lady herself Tricia O'Kelley, I first wondered if the real NBC actually passed on such a TV pilot called ‘Downwardly Mobile’ in 2012?! “Yes, all of that back story is absolutely true. The five of us were all cast on the Roseanne and John Goodman pilot for NBC called ‘Downwardly Mobile.’ So that’s where we all met. And we really quickly formed this bond. And it was kinda the pilot to get that year. Everybody just assumed it was going to get picked up. NBC not only needed a lot of content that year it was the big reunion with Roseanne and John. So when we got that we were thinking we were home free and that the show was going to go on for seven years. We’re gonna work together and it was going to be awesome.”
“And then it wasn’t picked up! And we were devastated. And at that point we were like about a month into our friendship and so we all agreed that we just still had to do something together. We just had to keep working together somehow. And that’s when we came up with the idea for the web series. And so yes, all of that stuff is true - we are very bitter that our big show didn’t happen.”
So you only filmed the pilot for ‘Downwardly Mobile’? “Yeah, we only filmed the pilot. So once all the pilots for that season are shot the networks go through the pilots that they’ve ordered that year and then decide what’s going to get picked up for a series.”
So where can that pilot be seen today? “On my DVD player,” she laughs. “I mean, nowhere really. It’s not available to the public. It’s kinda strange but it will never see the light of day.”
How did they tell you it wasn't going to be picked up? “Well, we weren’t really told anything. In the first episode of the web series we sit around the table and call NBC. That whole first episode of the web series is us getting on the phone to call NBC and find out when our show is going to start airing. As if we had no idea it wasn’t. And then we actually, on film call NBC and somehow get through to Bob Greenblatt’s office, who’s the Chairman of NBC and so on.”
“Now that’s only partially made up, because the phone call was fake in that we already knew we hadn’t been picked up. But we were never really told officially by anybody. We sort of read it in the trades and just heard it from our managers. So it’s not like we got a call from NBC or anyone behind the project to say this is what happened and this is why it didn’t go. So, to be honest, your guess is as good as mine! I‘m just choosing and wanting to believe that it had nothing to do with me,” she laughs.
Well, for my thinking it’s either a) the fault of the other four cast members, or b) that NBC are idiots! “Let’s just say it’s the other four, because NBC could still potentially get me a job some day! Whereas the other four idiots can’t! So let’s just blame it on them,” she giggles.
So was the title for the new web series, 'Bitter Party of Five' always that or were there other choices bandied about at the start? “Well, that’s a very good question. The first title was 'Passed Over.' And the idea was to be sitting around this round table and have this duel meaning. Like, we’d be having this Passover Dinner and we leave the door open and a celebrity joins us. And also, of course, the double meaning of we’ve been constantly passed over in our careers. But that didn’t stick for very long. I don’t honestly remember who came up with 'Bitter Party of Five,' although I think it might have been Mary Birdsong. But that’s the one we went with because it was very descriptive and on the nose.”
Did you not have any collective worries about the name in searches being too close to the old TV show ‘Party of Five’? “No not at all. There’s that saying ‘Bitter party of one,’ but no, not really. When we were first up on YouTube there would be a lot of links down below to ‘Party of Five’ clips and stuff. But we haven’t had any problems with people trying to find us at all. I think because it’s such a common phrase that it sticks.”
Having watched one of the episodes, I was wondering how much of the show is improvised? “All of it. It’s all improvised! The only thing we do as a group is we meet the day before the shoot and go over our potential questions. So Greg will read all his ideas for questions and we’ll veto a few and say yeah, those two are the best. And we then discuss cold reads where we talk about doing certain scenes from movies with the guest that week. And that’s all. We don’t see the cold reads. We don’t know how the guests are going to react to any of the questions. They don’t know what’s going to be asked of them. So in that respect it is all improvised.”
“And then sometimes there will be times when we just break, we’ll laugh and we just won’t be able to get through the questions. Or the guest will laugh in response to the question and set us off. So we just go back and do it again. It’s just totally improvised.”
Watching the episode with Kaitlin Olson it’s obvious that your character has a catty side to her! Indeed, much like your character Marly in ‘New Adventures of Old Christine’! So, how much of the catty nature is character driven as opposed to the real you?! “OK, that’s a great question, because I do tend to get cast as very Marly, as that type of character quite a bit. But really I don’t think I’m like that in real life … but Gooooood I love playing that character! I love playing characters like that, yes. I don’t think I’m like that normally though. I think I’m quite pleasant and agreeable,” she gently laughs.
“You could ask the other four idiots that I do the web series with,” she begins to crack up, “as we shall forever now in this interview refer to them as the other four idiots, and ask them if I’m actually that way in real life. But I think they’d say no. I think it’s just all a character that I really enjoy playing.”
Is that real alcohol in the glasses and cups?! “With me and Greg, yes! I am drinking wine from 9.00 am through to like 4.00 pm. I’m trying to drink it slowly, but yes, that is wine in my glass. And Greg is drinking scotch,” she laughs. “But we’re both really just sipping it and trying to make it last all day. Mary is drinking a Milk-tini with a cookie garnish, Romy is usually drinking Coke Zero and Jason is usually drinking water!”
“And our guests, for the most part, we ask them beforehand what their beverage of choice is and we’ll either have those ingredients on us or whatever. And about half of them will join in and the other half will just opt for water.”
And where is 'Bitter Party of Five' actually filmed? “At my house,” she laughs. “It was kind of the perfect table in the perfect room. So we just do it here.”
Even though you’re still filming, how many episodes are allotted for the first season? “The first season we have about four more set to release. Tony Hale from ’Veep’ is being released this week and then we have Alfred Molina. And then we have Missi Pyle and Martin Short, believe it or not. And then we’ll be regrouping and getting ready to shoot more for season two.”
Is it the kind of thing that as it’s a web series that you control the fact that it can’t be cancelled gives you a larger relaxed comfort zone to work within? “It’s like for the first time in our lives we have total control as actors. It’s kind of awesome.”
And even if one of the four idiots decides to leave you can just bring in a replacement and keep the train rollin’! “We keep ribbing Jason that we’re gonna replace him with Tony Shalhoub,” she laughs. “So if he can’t make a meeting or if he’s just too busy to show up we’re like Hey, Tony Shalhoub's on the speed dial! In fact, I know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows him so I could get him real quick.”
“We’re gonna keep doing it so long as it stays fun. We would love to stop having to pay for it out of our pockets. And we’re now on Blip TV ( www.Blip.TV) and they are going to be releasing our episodes before you can see them anywhere else. And they are fantastic. Really behind the show and really passionate about it. And so we’re doing a lot of brainstorming with them about how to expand our audience and about how to get the word out that we’re here. A lot of people just don’t know that we are. And eventually we’d like to find a way to actually make money doing this. But we’re having a good time, that’s for sure."
Have you ever worked on a show, filmed pilot episodes only to find out it wasn’t ever picked up? “We all have. There’s a season, a pilot season in Hollywood and it’s usually from January through mid-April and that’s basically when every single actor is running around desperately trying to get a job,” she laughs. “It’s a really rough time, but hopefully you get one. I’ve gotten many that haven’t then gotten picked up and a few that have. It’s more likely that your pilot is not going to get picked up. The odds are against you, because there are a lot of pilots and only a few slots to fill.”
“Just because you land the pilot doesn’t mean it’s gonna get picked up. And even if it gets picked up it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going with it. There’s a lot of recasting that gets done in the summer. And just because it gets picked up and you get picked up with it too, doesn’t mean it’s going to last more than two or three episodes. There’s a lot of hurdles you have to clear before you’re on an ’Old Christine’ for five years. That’s just pennies from Heaven, you know. It‘s so rare.”
The New Adventures of Old Christine:
What a beautiful segue into the next subject - your role as Marly in ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine.’ Being that it was one of my favorite ever US comedy shows, were you as surprised as I was when it got cancelled?! “It was a HUGE surprise and to be honest that was the first year that I think we all sort of able were to breathe a little bit. Because we thought we were actually safe. Because every year before that we were on the bubble. CBS just didn’t know what to do with us, didn’t know where to put us. We were the only-female centered show on their network really at the time. And they just never left us alone in one time slot where we could build an audience.”
“And so every single year there was the threat of cancellation, but that year we ha dbeen in that time slot for a while, we had built an audience, we were doing really well and we were finally confident that this year we were obviously getting a pick up - and then we didn’t,” she gently laughs. “It was really shocking and really sad too.”
I agree as the show was, even in season five still so fresh to watch “Well, Kari Lizer, who was our Creator and Executive Producer is a flippin’ genius. Such a good person, so fantastic and brilliant and funny and cool and we just had this great team of writers that kept it fresh all the time.”
“So we were all kinda devastated as we had all become this little family. And then we couldn’t even do a proper goodbye. So it was a big bummer and I still miss everybody.”
Do you stay in touch with anyone from the show? “Well, Alex Kapp Horner who played Lindsay on the show is literally on her way to my house right now! We see each other every single day. We talk to each other every single day. And on season two I ended up giving up my dressing room to just share a dressing room with her. Because I was always in there anyway. So we shared a dressing room for four years or so. It was just so magical from the very beginning for everybody. Everyone got along and there was no drama at all. We felt lucky all the time.”
“If I had one complaint at all during the run of the show is that we all wanted to work more,” she laughs. “We just wanted to be there more and film more episodes because it was great. And that would be, literally my only complaint. And it’s not really a complaint! I would pick up Alex every morning and we would car pool together, or she would pick me up. It was just fantastic. It really was the perfect job and we were just all very lucky.”
Do you ever sit down and watch reruns of ‘Old Christine’? “I actually do do that! I TiVo it and as I have so little time for TV because I’ve got two little kids. But sometimes when I’m just so tired and I just want to watch something that’s gonna make me happy and drift me off I’ll absolutely watch one or two episodes.”
“And what’s interesting is that I’ve forgotten some. We started shooting in 2005 so there are some earlier episodes that I’d completely forgotten! So I love that it’s in syndication and I love that people who maybe weren’t watching when it was on the air are now discovering it in syndication.”
“And you know what’s funny, I usually hate watching myself in anything … in anything. I can’t stand it and I usually have my face covered, but I live watching ‘Old Christine.’ I’m proud of it. I love watching me and Alex together and I could watch Julia Louis Dreffer quilt for 15 hours and be thoroughly entertained,” she laughs. “It’s true, because she’s just such a comedic genius.”
With the web series taking up most all your time, is there anything for TV that you’ve done recently or have upcoming? “Yes, I did do a drama. I just did a movie that will be premiering on Lifetime this weekend called ‘Missing At 17,’ which was terrifying! Not only because it was a heavy drama, but because it was about a mom who loses her daughter, thinks she in danger and goes searching for her. It’s kind of every mom’s nightmare.”
“In fact it was one of those things that I got the audition and my instinct was to pass because it scared me. Because it’s full of stuff that you really don’t want to think about as a mom. So I was like why would I want to go through all that as an actor. It just scared me. So, which is precisely at the end of the day why I took it. So, I did that and hey, pilot season is coming up,” she laughs, “So there you go!”
“But we are spending a lot of time on 'Bitter Party of Five' and really trying to make this into what we all think it can be. So that’s kind of been my, in terms of work, my priority.”
OK, and finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins! Do you have any love for them or even a story, perhaps?! “Wow, well, first of all I will say that is the strangest question that I’ve ever been asked,” she laughs broadly. “OK, so do I love penguins? Yes, I think they’re adorable. I especially think they’re adorable as my three-year old likes to pretends to be one and walks like one sometimes and it’s the cutest thing that I’ve ever seen in my life!”
“But, the first thing I ever did on stage was playing a penguin in a pre-school Christmas concert and I was so nervous that I pee’d in my penguin suit! So there, there’s my story,” she laughs, one last time.
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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