What was your initial reaction when you heard ‘The Comeback’ was going to return to HBO?
Well, I thought it was amazing -- delightful and amazing. I did a little research, and I don’t think that’s ever happened in the history of television. Ten years being off and the original cast came back. I thought, this is great! Hooray for HBO for doing that.
During those years, had you thought of Mickey much?
I never really thought of Mickey at all, to tell you the truth, in those intervening years. It’s like when you do a play -- no matter how long the run is, you leave it when the run is over. Very often in theater, you never see those people again. So I was thrilled that this was coming back and I was going to be there.
How was the experience the second time around?
First of all, as I started getting the scripts, I kept thinking, boy, this is a lot better than the first 13 episodes -- it's more layered. When we got back together, it was like we had never been away. We were like kids coming back to a drama camp.
The opening scene of the season finds Mickey and Valerie going through clips of her old projects. Has he been with her through all those years?
You have to remember: During those nine years when she was off-camera or not doing a show, Mickey was still there every day practically. Every time she had an event, he did her hair. He did her hair for all those student films -- whatever she had to have done, he was there. He was like part of the family. When he walks through the bedroom, Mark looks up and says, “Hi, Mickey.”
It was especially fun to see Mickey in the Cherish Your Hair commercial.
One of the fun things about that commercial was, I had bought a red, double-breasted blazer. My personal joke was that I could park cars at any hotel in LA! Then I bought a pair of matching red pants, and even though you can’t see it in the infomercial, I also bought a pair of red shoes. I took all that up with me to shoot the show, just in case they might need it or whatever. I asked [co-creator] Michael Patrick King if wardrobe had ever shown him the red jacket, and his eyes got really big and he said, “I had a dream last night that in the infomercial, Mickey was in a red suit, but I didn’t know where we could find one in two days.” I told him, “Michael, I brought one with me.” That’s the thing about this show, I think, it’s been touched by magic.
In episode 7, “Valerie Faces the Critics,” Mickey scares Valerie when she can’t get ahold of him -- she thinks something terrible may have happened. What’s going on with his cancer illness?
I love that storyline because I think it shows an entirely different and unexpected side of Valerie. Whenever she turns around, Mickey is right there. She turns around and he’s not there! She knows that he’s ill, but he’s like, “Don’t worry about it!”
Why is Mickey so nonchalant about being sick?
I think Mickey probably feels there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s doing what they tell him to do and whatever is going to be is going to be. There’s no sense obsessing about it. That’s the approach [as an actor] I took anyway.
Valerie does like to keep sensitive things off camera, if possible.
When Warren Beatty was dating Madonna, he said something to the effect of her not feeling alive unless there was a camera there. And I think that’s kind of the way that Valerie is. She’s become so accustomed to all of this. She feels like an arm or a leg has been cut off if there isn’t a camera. On the other hand, Mickey is not like that. Mickey is not a performer. If I may be so bold to talk about my performance, but I think Mickey is a sweet, caring, funny, supportive, loyal friend to her. He’s incredibly protective.
He’s Valerie’s best friend.
I would think so, too. If Mickey were straight, he’d be in love with her. He just loves her.
In an earlier moment this season, Mickey tells Valerie how good she is in ‘Seeing Red.’ Do you think he didn’t realize that until now?
Absolutely. Let’s face it: Sitcoms are usually just whipped cream. It’s a revelation to him. She’s never been asked, that he’s seen, to do anything more than skate on the surface. When they’re watching on the laptop, he's flabbergasted at how well she can act. That’s a very big compliment, especially coming from someone who’s been with her longer than she has been with Mark. The relationship between Mickey and Valerie is longer than her relationship with her husband.
What did you make of the whole situation between Mickey and the trick?
The script reads that Mickey is naked in bed. I said to Michael, “You know, I really hate it in movies when people are supposed to be naked, but it’s just artfully arranged bed clothing. I think that’s more titillating than just showing the nakedness.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with nakedness. I said, “If you want, I’ll lie on my stomach.” When the boy comes out of the bathroom, Mickey’s comment is, “Oh, this is awkward.” Only because Mickey never saw himself as being such a flamer. Mickey is just being Mickey. Valerie isn’t upset that he’s having sex. She’s upset that his health might not be good. That’s her empathy there. Then he says, considering all the cancer stuff, “I just wanted to have a little fun.” I think that really says so much about their relationship.
Do you have a favorite scene from the second season?
Well, I do, and I refer to it as my nude scene that we just talked about. I mean, if you knew where I came from: I was in a religious order for 10 years. I had a vow of chastity for 10 years. I came from a good, repressed Catholic background. I don’t know where I found the courage or the hutzpah to do that. I thought: Good for you at 74 years old! What the hell do you have to lose?
So I said, “I’ll do it. I will not roll over unless you get me the prosthesis from ‘Boogie Nights.’ Then I’ll roll over.” At his age, with cancer, he can still have a sexual life. That’s my favorite thing, simply because it shows personally my own courage in committing myself to the part.
What do fans say to you when they approach you out in the world? What’s their reaction?
First of all, I’m always amazed that they recognize me. When I was at a bistro in Santa Monica before this season even aired, someone came out of the restaurant and then they came back, he said, “Excuse me, I never do this, weren’t you on ‘The Comeback’? That show changed my life.” People love the show and they love Mickey. There aren’t too many overweight, over-aged gay men that are real people on television.