BWW Interviews - Catching Up With Kevin Chamberlin of Disney Channel's JESSIE
Broadway veteran and fan favorite Kevin Chamberlin is currently starring in the Disney Channel original comedy series JESSIE. In the sitcom, a small town girl embarks on the adventure of a lifetime when she accepts a job as a nanny and moves in with the wealthy Ross family of New York City. Guiding her moral compass is Chamberlin's 'Bertram', the family's cranky but secretly big-hearted Butler.
Chamberlin most recently appeared on Broadway in the role of 'Uncle Fester' in The Addams Family. The Tony-nominated actor's other Broadway credits include My Favorite Year, Chicago, Triumph of Love, Dirty Blonde, Seussical and The Ritz. He has also appeared in films such as "Die Hard with a Vengeance" and on TV in the NBC drama, "Heroes".
Whether taking pratfalls, being slathered in fruit salad or working with a cast of tween-aged kids, the busy actor tells BWW why he's loving every minute of being on the set of his Disney Channel program.
Can you tell us a little about your character 'Bertram.'
Bertram is one of those 'children-hating but really has a heart of gold' types who is a bit lazy. He's also sort of a cynic and the sarcastic wit of the show. He's a bit bumbling and as in most Disney Channel shows, you know, the adults usually get a lot of the physical gags put upon them. So I find myself each week either doing pratfalls or having some liquid poured on me. I've never done so many stunts before in my life! I've fallen from kitchen counters, I've been hit by paintballs, covered in fruit salad. You name it. It's a really fun show. The big difference between TV and theater is that you get to do a new play every week, so it's quite challenging but it keeps you fresh. There' s never any fear of getting stale in your performance.
'Bertram' follows a long line of sitcom butlers thoughout TV history. Did you base your character on any of them?
Yeah, I'm sort of Mr. French, Mr. Belvedere, Niles from The Nanny, a mixture of all three and then my only little spin. We actually have a catch phrase now for Bertram. He's so lazy he'll say, "I'd sign my name to that letter but the pen is so far away." He says things like that you know, he' s too lazy to get up and get a pen. Now all the kids, when they see me in the street or in the mall they'll go, "Bertram, oh it's too far!" (laughing) I use that line all the time and really the best part of this job is the kid fans. It's crazy how huge the show is. I didn't realize. Disney Channel was not on my radar before this. I don't have kids and now I see that it really is huge, it's worldwide. I was in Puerto Rico and got mobbed!
Speaking of kids, how is it working with such a young cast?
It has been just one of the most rewarding experiences. I also direct episodes and I've been helping them, teaching them about acting. And because they're too young to study, well let me back story this by saying that one of my big pet peeves is people who go, "Oh, well I can't do anything else so maybe I'll try acting." And it's really a slap in the face for someone who has a master's degree in acting. It's like, 'oh I'm going to try this now." It's a unique art form in that anyone can get up and be brilliant, whereas you can't sit down at a piano and play 'Rhapsody in Blue' without training, and I think theater really separates the men from the boys. And so I'm trying to instill in these kids the importance of learning the craft and learning how to direct yourself and learning the history of acting. Learning why are you doing what you're doing and who came before you. You know, a lot of these kids don't know the great television shows, 'Mary Tyler Moore' and 'All in the Family' and all those great shows and how the multi-camera sitcom format has grown over the years and what its origins are. We're next door to the original 'I Love Lucy' stage.
Can they even appreciate that?
Well a lot of them have never even seen an episode! So I think whatever art form you're in, whether TV, film or theater, you should know the history of who came before you and how the art form has changed or not changed and to learn from the greats. So when I'm directing, we have some short cut terms now for these kids who are 8, 9, 10 years old. We say, 'oh you gotta turn it from the "A" side of the joke" and they go, "oh yeah, now I gotta do the "B" side of the joke." The've come so far, so quick. And their sense of humor has grown so much, they've become really smart actors. And you can study as much as you want but in the end, the actual doing is what teaches you. We're now on episode 31 or 32 and they've come so far, just in the year and a half.
JESSIE is really unique in some ways for a Disney Channel show.
It is in the fact that our entire writing staff, they've written for everything from "Married With Children" to "The Simpsons" to the "Nanny" and they wanted to do a more adult show. The audience grew up with Debby Ryan on "Suite Life" (of Zack and Cody) and so they wanted to continue that audience into their later teen years. So we have one of the largest adult audiences of any Disney Channel show and of course I have a lot of fans, and friends and family who are always twittering me and emailing me saying that it's a guilty pleasure. They've never watched a show on the Disney Channel before and it's very addictive.