Actor Jerry O’Connell, now starring in “Carter” on WGN America, has been making audiences laugh since his breakout role at age 11 in the 1987 Rob Reiner classic “Stand By Me.” At the time, O’Connell’s father told him the little indie film would never be released, the actor tells SalonTV.
“Carter,” a comedic take on the classic detective show, premiered this week on WGN America, and airs Tuesdays 10 p.m. ET. “It’s been a lot of fun to make,” O’Connell told SalonTV. “It’s about a guy who plays a cop on a pretty cheesy television show in Hollywood, a guy who takes himself a little too seriously, who has a chip on his shoulder. He moves back to his hometown where he thinks because he plays a cop on TV, he can tell the police how to do their job.”
O’Connell joined “Salon Talks” to look back on his nostalgic New York City roots — we went to grammar school together, actually — and how his role on the new series “Carter” has informed his parenting a bit and changed how he views himself. He also opens up about his wife Rebecca Romijn’s crazy love for pet adoption and their obsession with “Real Housewives” shows on Bravo, which has led O’Connell to his next project, a highlight show called “Bravo’s Play by Play” which O’Connell calls “ a ‘SportsCenter’ for Bravo highlights.”
Our transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Watch the full interview with Jerry O'Connell
Salon Talks to the "Carter" star about "Real Housewives" and more
Do they still call it grammar school?
It’s elementary school, grammar school. Did you learn good grammar? Is your children learning?
Right. My children are way smarter than I was.
Mine as well.
They read voraciously, my children.
Which is shocking, because I mean, I don't know if I should say this on Salon, but a lot of their lives are those tablets these days.
It's okay, you can admit it. All parents… No, there will be no tech shaming.
Right. No, but I mean, they just love those tablets. They're just in them all the time, it's crazy.
You have nine-year old girls, right?
Nine-year old twins with your wife Rebecca, and you're in LA now, but you grew up in New York City, obviously with me. Let's take it back to OG New York, to the original raves, pizza on 11th Street, we went to PS 41. You were saying earlier that you miss New York. Can you share some memories of sort of old New York and what you remember from [then]?
Yeah. I mean, I do have to say, I think raising kids in New York is just so great, it's so special. It's like, as I got older and as I went to college and I traveled, nothing ever intimidated me growing up in New York.
Right, because our New York, . . . it was like, Times Square was coin shops and –
Yeah. But even . . . I mean, even now I just think you'll never find a city or a place that will intimidate you after you've done New York. I mean, it's just such a great education, and I think also as a kid getting a train pass and just having to ride the subway, it's just like you learn to grow up fast and I don't think that's a bad thing.
No, it's not a bad thing, although to imagine my 10-year old daughter and perhaps your nine-year old girls getting on the New York City subway by themselves, it's . . . I couldn't even –
I would never allow it. I mean it's bananas. My parents, I mean, I guess it's too late to report them, because the statute of limitations has worn out, but I'm pretty sure I had a set of keys at the age of eight. My kids are older than that now and I would never allow it. I wouldn't dare give them a set of keys.
I went to Times Square by myself. I was maybe 14, it was like 11 o'clock at night.
It's bananas, but I mean, I sometimes worry that I'm not doing my kids justice, because I just . . . in LA I drive them everywhere. I drop them off. I pick them up. They don't know what the world is like.
They'll get there, they have time.
They don't know not to make eye contact with people and not to –
They know not to talk to strangers.
Well, no. I mean, I learned at an early age don’t talk to anyone.
Just keep moving, head down, go.
Exactly. Right. It’s like a shark, don't stop. All right. We first saw you die on the screen. Well, also it's a sad fact from our school a boy was abducted, not from the school . . .
You remember that? That message was actually not a joke. We first saw you on the screen as a child actor in commercials and then in "Stand by Me," so you were prepared for that stardom that came from the film and the notoriety of the blueberry pie eating scene?
I went to HB Studios which is right here in the West Village. I went there on Sundays, they had like a youth acting class and I was pretty good at it. I was just pretty good at it always. I had done a little bit of commercial work here and there, my father worked in advertising, it was really more of like . . . I guess I was what they call background, like an extra in commercials. They had basically an open call for "Stand by Me" and I read once and they brought me back and mom was very cautious about it. She wasn't sure. A woman that my mom had worked with was scammed out of money for photos, my mother wasn't sure if it was a scam or an actual job. Then, my mom saw that Rob Reiner was going to be in the audition, my mother was like, “oh man that's . . . this is totally legit”.
I mean, I'm sorry, I'm babbling on about this, but there was a guy who lived on my block on 17th Street and his name was Blake Brocksmith and he was an actor. He had been in "The Flamingo Kid." My mom knew he was an actor and said to him, “hey, my son is going to screen test for this movie, will you go over the sides with him?” He really gave me tips, “when you go in there, you're going to have to fight with this character, don't talk to him before the audition, so you can really explode on him.” He just gave me tips like a guy would give a kid tips.
I got the role, we went to go make the movie. It was so much fun making it. I finished it, I was going back to school, I was going to junior high right here in Chelsea, New York, and my father said, "Listen, don't tell anybody you were in a movie, because that movie will never come out. They make these movies all the time, it's an independent movie, trust me, it won't even be released. That's it, you did it, it was fun, you move on with your life." I was really like, “Oh, that's such a bummer that nobody will see that movie. I had so much fun making it, I really wanted people to see it.” Then it came out. Man, I remember it came out and I was eating at Hunan Royal on 12th and 6th Avenue.
Yes, I remember that.
The guy, Chinese restaurant across the street from Charley Mom's, and I heard a couple next to me talking about "Stand by Me" and what a good movie it was. I was sitting there with my parents and I was like, “oh my God,” like not only did this movie come out, but they’re talking about it. I was sitting there with my dad and I wanted to be like, “You jerk, I could have been telling people this whole time about this movie.” But I'm not kidding you, since I heard that conversation at Hunan Royal it's been almost like what I'm known for, it’s like you're the guy in "Stand by Me."
I didn't call you Verne.
You did not call me Verne. A guy downstairs did, “Hey Verne, hey fat kid. . .”
People, right, still do?
That's amazing. Well, that blueberry pie eating scene, I still throw up in my mouth a little bit when I see that.
Yeah it's a gross one.
It's horrifying. After that your life changed a lot. Obviously, there’s been many things up. My husband is a big fan of Minnesota Public Radio and he asked his friends on the internet from there, what should we ask Jerry today, and they're like, “Dude, tell him we love 'Joe's Apartment,; even the though the cockroaches were so gross.”
I'm shocked it's still talked about. "Joe's Apartment" was a film I made and it was . . . actually I was going to NYU and once again they had a big open audition for that. It was my senior year of college so I was just getting back into the acting thing. It was about a guy who lives in an apartment who talks to all of his cockroaches. We shot it all in the East Village and that was when the East Village was really the East Village. It was super —
There were really cockroaches, if you're not from New York.
We used real life cockroaches, we collected them all in the subway system and everywhere.
Shut up. Is that true?
That's an exaggeration —
— they were totally clean Hollywood roaches. They were really clean.
It was a really fun film and a very New York film.
It was a very New York film. Even though you're in LA now, so many people know you from these New York associations, but let's talk about Carter, an LA character.
I play Harley Carter. He plays a cop in a pretty cheesy television show in Hollywood. That's not "Carter," this is the fictional television show that he plays in. He’s a guy who just sort of takes himself a little seriously, probably has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder because he's not taken that seriously as an actor.
He moves back to his small hometown where he thinks because he plays a cop on TV he can tell the police how they should solve crimes. It's a lot like “Castle." For all you old school people out there, it's a lot like “Murder She Wrote.” Jessica Fletcher, shout out to you, dawg. It's a really fun show.
It’s fun to play the insecurity of a vain actor. Someone who's afraid of aging. Someone who's afraid of not looking cool. It's a fun role and I think it will do well.
There's a murder, we meet a bunch of suspects, it's going to end up being who you didn't think it was going to be. It's cute, we had a lot of fun making it. I believe they call it, a light procedural. They call it a blue sky procedural.
That's such a nice name. I love that name. I know it's fictional and hopefully it will always be fictional for you, but having one of those TMZ epic meltdowns is every actor’s nightmare.
The television show, "Carter" — on WGN America Tuesday at 10 — it starts off with me having a meltdown on TMZ. It's sort of fun to play those things. TMZ is out there. I got interviewed by them today, they're —
They asked you to do like a recap of that scene?
It’s a kind of thing you’re into, right?
No. It's funny, because it's a topical show. They ask you current event questions. It's such a crazy business model that they have, they just hang out outside of airports and places that they know. I mean, like in my case, me, a C-list celebrity coming into a place, and they ask me sort of topical questions.
You really hope you read some erudite publication this morning?
You bumble along.
I don’t know it happened.
No, I need to be all caught up for the TMZ people.
You got to be caught up. Were you a fan of detective series at all before doing this show? Is that a thing?
Yeah, I mean, of course the "Law and Order," I love all of them. I mean, a real guilty pleasure of mine is “Monk.” I love that Tony Shalhoub.
Why are you so guilty? You're the second person I've interviewed in the past year who adores Tony Shalhoub. Bassem Youssef was the other one, you know Bassem?
He did a whole monologue to Tony Shalhoub and said that he was hurt that Tony didn't call.
He loves Tony Shalhoub.
Well, first of all, I loved him in "The Band's Visit," I think it's on Broadway right now, it won [a Tony] for best musical and a bunch of things. Tony Shalhoub won a Tony for it.
Big night, but I love that "Monk." It's so funny and that's exactly what Carter is, it's Monk except instead of a guy suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, it's a guy who suffers from thinking he's a huge Hollywood TV cop and he thinks he can tell the police how to solve crimes.
There's probably some classic psychological terminology for that, but I don't know what it is.
Let's talk a little bit about fatherhood and parenthood. It's a journey. You have twin daughters as we said earlier and as a dad in Hollywood it's a little more serious, how is #MeToo impacting you, especially in how you’ll approach conversations with your girls when they're older?
It is really interesting. I mean, my kids are nine, we have explained to them what the whole #MeToo, #TimesUp movement is. They're at that age. We watch the news in our house and they see what's going on. It's funny. My kids are at that age and they got it.
This is the era that they're growing up in and I think it's a really good thing, I'm really happy for the world that my daughters are going to grow up in. It's great. I think, I'm really excited for my kids to grow up in this world, in this world that's more awoke. It's a good time to be a parent.
Have you explained it to your kids?
I have explained it to my daughter. My son is a little young and I don't know that it would resonate with him, but he knows to raise a good man you have to teach him respect of women and all people, and manners and compassion and empathy. He gets that piece of it, that you always treat girls especially with respect and your body is your own and those sorts of things.
Did you not feel it was powerful to explain it to your daughter?
It was, absolutely. She understands. I mean, she's bright as I'm sure your girls are. As you said they're smarter than us.
Mine are not that bright, let’s —
You just told me they're smarter than you at the top.
I'm kidding, that's my joke that they’re —
You like your dogs better you've said. You have so many dogs. You and your wife, I think. Rebecca is an ambassador for Hallmark Channel.
We have four dogs. My wife loves… it’s probably not –
I loved Phil. I have to say, look, I had a cat named Phil. As a kid, I loved Phil.
We have a dog named Phil, we're not those people who have an Instagram page for our dogs, but —
But, US Weekly —
The dogs are heavily featured on my wife's Instagram. My wife does have an adopting problem. We’re probably legally not allowed to have four dogs. I'm sure we need some sort of kennel license or some sort of veterinary licenses to have four dogs, I'm sure it's like hoarding at this point. We're one of those weird A&E show couples, but my wife just has the real adopting —
She's bringing them home.
It’s really . . . it's crazy.
You talk to Howard Stern about it, I think Beth is like that too.
Beth has a lot of kittens.
She has a lot of cats.
I think they are fully licensed and they're allowed to do it.
It's a thing to bring all those things. All right.
Man, my wife —
I think if you have the space, you have the love —
My wife is talking about bringing another dog in and I was like, we're [at] four now, and my wife wanted to go to five. and I was like, “Honey I can't stop you. Obviously you're going to do what you want to do. But when is this going end?”
Right. Maybe the girls are getting to an age they can help somewhat. What has parenthood taught you about life and love? I mean, it's such a transformational experience.
I would say it's… it's funny. Oh gosh, and I swear I'm not doing this on purpose, but I swear I’m not.
Whatever it is, he's not doing it on purpose.
OK. The character I play on "Carter" on WGN America Tuesday nights. I can't believe I just said that, I'm so embarrassed. I’m so embarrassed.
It’s all right. Easy. You're going to get a bonus, it's cool.
I do portray an actor who moves back to his small hometown and makes believe he's a cop and I get to play sort of this vain actor type. It's fun to play vanity because vanity is insecurity. It's fun to play insecurity. It's a fun emotion to play as an actor. It shows vulnerability. I enjoy playing that. That said, I can understand it, as an actor you . . . I don't want to say, there's an obsession with self. How do I look? Am I going to get this part? Why aren't they putting me in this role? I should have this role, not that person. I'm better than them, there's an obsession with self. When you have kids, at least in my case I've noticed, I'm not going to say that obsession with self is gone, but you don't want, at least I don't want my children to see me behaving like that. It's been good in not being so obsessed with myself. If that makes any sense. In my case, it's because I don't want to show that behavior to my kids. I don't want them to see that side. I don't want to set that as an example. That's been the best part I think.
You have become a lot less selfish too as a parent.
There's something kind of freeing about that.
There is, it's very good. I share your views. What was the best thing your kids have taught you lately? Did they teach you to floss? Not dental floss, the other floss.
My kids teach me about music.
I would never know that song, "KeKe do you love me? Do you need me?" [Drake's "In My Feelings."]
Can you do it?
I can barely do it, but they teach me like dances and stuff.
They taught me how to Whip and Nae Nae. I'm able to post that on my social media sites and I seem a lot younger and hipper than I actually am.
Well, everybody likes a cool dad. To that end, you're going to love that I dug up this polished turd.
In 2004 you had the dubious distinction of winning the Kids Choice Award for “Favorite Fart in a Movie.”
Favorite Fart in a Movie.
That movie was "Kangaroo Jack."
"Kangaroo Jack," yeah.
Your parents are so proud. Thank you Professional Children School.
What’s so funny is, it's like a lot of people say, I'm not recognized by any award shows are anything and they're wrong. I won the Kid's Choice Award for Best Fart in a movie. There was a scene in that film where I think my costar and I were farting in a scene and I got to say that year 2004, there were a lot of great farts that season. I don't think we deserve to win, I was shocked that we won, it was crazy. When we got up there I was like, "Oh my gosh, I want to thank the Kid's Choice Academy and this is" . . . I mean, it was a real shock. But to this day, I realized it's like something that is important and I can't . . . I have to . . . it's just so exciting.
Thank you for playing along. I appreciate it.
Actually, I didn't realize I had won that until an article somebody wrote that and I was like, I didn't even know I won that man, thank you.
It's amazing, they didn't ask you for a do over. What's next for you after "Carter"?
I'm going to have a show on Bravo, it's really fun. It's called “Bravo's Play by Play,” that's our new title, we're super excited about it. It's basically going to be a recap of everything that happened in the Bravo verse that week.
Is it you and Andy? Or is it you on your own?
It's going to be me and two other hosts, the three of us. It's going to be like a "SportsCenter" for Bravo highlights.
It's going to be most fun.
Yeah, it's going to be really fun. I watched all those Housewife shows.
Do you really?
Yeah, I love them.
My wife and I love them. You watch any of them?
I do not.
Oh man, you're missing out.
They are like, I mean, I get that it’s reality television, but I got to tell you, I think its real life. They're real life relationships and stuff and these characters, I've seen them. I've been watching them for over a decade. "The Real Housewives of Orange County" has been on for like 13 years.