Interview with Eli Henry of “Connecting…” on NBC by Suzanne 10/8/20
This was a really interesting interview. I watched the first 3 episodes of the show last night. What was very exciting was the way they’re filming this show remotely, over the iPhone. It makes it a fairly unique show.
Suzanne: Tell us how you got the role of Rufus.
Ely: Sure. Well, it came at a point in lockdown when I’d pretty much sacrificed myself to doing nothing. I’d accepted the fact that it was going to be a while before any work came up. Occasionally, there’d be some auditions for, you know, things shot traditionally on a set with everybody, and it kind of felt like fan fiction to me. I was kind of like, “Yeah, okay, sure, you’re gonna make this?”
Then, when I got this audition, it was cool, because they said [what] the plan was, how they’re planning on shooting it, and they wanted the audition to be unique and [to] make it your own. You know, usually it’s just in front of a blank wall with someone reading off to you, but this time, they encouraged you to do it where you would shoot it in your home. So, I am lucky enough to have this bizarre, detached garage office in my home, and it’s covered in wood paneling, and it looks like a conspiracy bunker. So, I went in there; I brought as much vitamin C cold medicine, all the masks. I had a face shield and just kind of put it all over the frame. It was nice to be able to have a place to vent all of my COVID frustrations, and, yeah, I’m glad that everyone at NBC agreed.
Suzanne: Great. So, when did the filming take place?
Ely: Well, we’re shooting episode eight. Actually, we’re finishing it tonight and tomorrow, but we started very quickly after I got hired, and we’ve been going for a while, I guess, a couple months now.
You know, [it] was a very, very quick turnaround audition. I got tested, maybe a week later, and I was hired the next day, and the day I was hired, they said, “Okay, tomorrow, you’re gonna do the workplace safety meeting on Zoom in the morning.” Then, it was like we hit the ground running. From that point on, it was non stop deliveries of props and equipment and all this stuff to me. It was like Santa Claus when he starts getting all the packages nonstop. It was just like that. It’s kind of amazing that we’ve reached the end of these first eight episodes now, because of how busy I’ve been.
Suzanne: So there’s eight episodes total?
Ely: So far; fingers crossed for more, but that’s where we’re at.
Suzanne: I’m a little confused. Was the show filmed virtually? I mean, in your home, or do they have a set for you to go to?
Ely: It was completely in our homes.
Ely: We all have gotten a crash course in technology. We filmed the show entirely on iPhone 11. So, the only people that I have ever seen in a work context from the show, are PAs would come at the end of the day and pick up my phone and drop off a new one. So, I have one phone on my desk, which I use as the camera, and another phone I use to control that phone. And then I’m on zoom on my computer with the cast and crew.
And that’s how we do it. I have a mic I plug into the phone; I have a mic I wear, and at the end of the day, we sanitize the phone, sanitize the sound card and give it to the PA, and it’s the whole process.
Suzanne: Wow, that’s amazing. So, they should be paying you to be a cameraman too, right?
Ely: You know, the decision of how much to pay me is above my pay grade.
Suzanne: It seems like they should at least put you in the union for like camera, sound, makeup, all the stuff you’re doing.
Ely: I mean, I am very sure, but at the same time, I don’t need to be paying those union fees.
Suzanne: Well, yeah. Well, if they paid you the same for all those.
Ely: You know what? I think I’d like to hire you to be rep.
Suzanne: Right. I feel bad though. I feel bad for the people who normally do those things, I hope they’re able to do something.
Ely: They’re actually still involved, because these are complex things that we are required to do, and they’re in unusual circumstances. We have an entire crew on Zoom who is there to walk us through everything. So, when they’re setting up cameras, setting up lights, we have our incredible crew, camera department, saying, you know, to change this, do that move there, makeup and hair on there, too. I’ll get a text saying, “Powder your forehead; fix your hair,” that kind of stuff. So, everyone’s still there.
Suzanne: Oh, that’s good.
Ely: It’s funny, because it’s a whole group of people who I’m sure would much rather be doing it themselves too. I’m not good at these things.
Suzanne: Well, they had to get, I guess, smart people on both sides to be able to [do it]. You had to learn a lot of stuff, and then they had to learn a lot of stuff and convey it to you. That’s amazing.
Ely: For sure. It’s incredible as to how different it is; you know, we’re on episode eight now from episode one. The setup time used to take a long time there was a whole thing, but then we’ve developed our own language of just memorizing settings and doing all these things. I’m sure everyone on the cast is now so much smarter or so much more technologically proficient than we were right before all of this.
Suzanne: Right. Well, it makes sense; you have shortcuts now.
Suzanne: You and your cast mates really seem like you’ve been good friends a long time. Did you do any type of pre tape bonding to make that happen?
Ely: You know, we didn’t, really, before we got started. I think the minute we got hired, Parvesh [Cheena] started a Whatsapp group chat for us and gave us a place to all communicate, and we reached out to each other on social media, found out who of us have mutual friends, people in common.
I think it was just kind of an interesting thing, where I remember I was saying when we first started, I had resigned myself to not meeting anybody new for months. I’m very much an extrovert. I very much like to socialize. So, I was kind of accepting of the fact that I wasn’t going to meet anybody. So, then we all got this chance to get to know a whole new group of people, and I think we all just jumped at it. It’s such a loving, wonderful group, and based on the nature of the show and how different it is and, well, how new it is, I think we were all perfectly willing to just dive in headfirst. We check in with each other often; the group text is is chaotic and frequent. We’ve had Zoom hangs outside of recording to just chat and catch up, and there have been a couple socially distanced gatherings outdoors. I’ve gone over to Jill [Knox] and Keith [Powell]’s place; they’ve got a huge backyard. I went over with my girlfriend; we sat far away, but that was even, you know, a month after we started.
So, it is kind of amazing to see that we actually made this chemistry without having spent much time together.
Suzanne: Yeah, good. I’m glad you guys were able to get together and be friends in real life.
Ely: Yeah, for sure.
Suzanne: Had you met any of the cast or crew previously?
Ely: No, I had not. I mean, I think I’d auditioned for something Martin [Gero] had created, a show called La Complex. I’d auditioned for that when I was living in Canada. Brendan Gall, Martin Gero, and I are all Canadian. So, he remembered me from that, but that was maybe ten years ago. Then, I’ve had mutual friends with some of the other cast and friends with one of the writers, Carl Tart, who is going to be on the show later.
So, it was one of those things where when we had that first Zoom workplace meeting, and, you know, the whole crew’s on Zoom. I remember just looking through trying to figure out who everyone was, seeing my friend Carl and sending him a message on Instagram and just trying to pick out who might be in the cast. It was very interesting, kind of Where’s Waldo situation.
Suzanne: When you do the Zoom thing, it has to be on the phone, right? You can’t have like a big computer screen.
Ely: I have a desktop computer, so my setup is different. Every one of the actors has a bit of a different setup, and I’m fortunate that I’m always in this bunker, so my angle is basically the same. So, I can have my tripod in front of my big desktop computer, and I have the zoom on there, so that makes it easier in terms of seeing the actors. When we actually do the scenes, we’re doing it straight to the to the lens of the camera, but we do one rehearsal before we actually record, where we just look at the computer screen, so we know what each other is doing. Because otherwise, we’re just kind of winging it.
Suzanne: Yeah, that’s a lot of people to try to see on a little phone, or even a big phone.
Ely: It can certainly be overwhelming.
Suzanne: Aside from the obvious things, what was the biggest challenge you faced during filming?
Ely: I think the technology was a challenge in its own sense of, of course, we could have expected that these things are not designed to be doing what we’re doing with them, but we’ve all found a way. I think it’s certainly a challenge to know what to do with yourself with all this going on.
I think beyond the actual show and filming the show, it’s an incredible experience and an incredible thing to be on an NBC sitcom. It’s definitely the dream for an actor to wind up in this situation, yet at the same time, we’re still on lockdown. We’re still in our homes; we’re still not going out. Things are still closed; there’s still a pandemic. There’s still a social justice movement going on. So, it’s definitely bizarre and challenging to accept that this is happening at the same time as, you know, I finish shooting and then I’m still in my house.
I drove to go see the billboard that we had on the Sunset Strip, but then back to my house. I got the premiere tonight, but I’m still in my house. iI’s hard to wrap your mind around, I think.
Suzanne: Right. Well, at least you have a good commute, though.
Ely: Yes, my commutes great. Fortunately, I’m very rarely late.
Suzanne: And no more LA traffic, so that’s good.
Ely: Yes, exactly.
Suzanne: What was the best thing about playing this character?
Ely: You know, I think that, for me, playing Rufus has been a lot of fun, because we’re not entirely dissimilar. I’m not as crazy as he is. I’m not as out there, but I certainly take this virus a little bit more seriously than a lot of people I know. So, getting some of the pandemic aggression out in a funny way was very nice for me.
I think it’s also nice, because he genuinely cares about his friends. I think there are people that can be angry, and certainly I spoke about it with Brendan and Martin about not making him too grading and angry, but he’s somebody who genuinely cares. When he gets mad, it’s because he’s worried about his friend, and that was nice.
Suzanne: Actually, that’s one of the things I like about this show is the people seem very real, and you know, your character could have gone too far. You don’t want to be one of those sitcoms, where you’re like, “Oh, I hate that person. Why are they using that person so much?”
Ely: Right, exactly.
That drives me away from sitcoms, sometimes.
What do you think audiences will like most about the show?
Ely: I’m hoping that audiences enjoy seeing people who are going through what they have gone through and are still going through. From my perspective, I think we’re seeing a lot of people in the country and in the world wanting this to be done. They want the virus, the pandemic, to be over, and they want to kind of think of it as out of sight out of mind. But I know that there’re so so many more of us who are still taking it seriously, still being careful, so we can take care of our friends and our neighbors and our family and, you know, keeping people from getting sick and doing what we can to protect everyone else. I think it’ll be really nice for them to see people doing that, too and still having a good time being together and still being connected. I think that that’s gonna be wonderful. But also, the people that don’t do that stuff, they can laugh at us for whatever reason they deem necessary. Something for everyone.
Suzanne: That’s right.
And what had you been doing to pass the time, as it were, during the pandemic before this?
Ely: Well, before I got the show, I definitely went through all the phases. I think we all did. I was baking. I really got to a point where I was really nailing this Julia Child sandwich bread, a white sandwich bread recipe, and I got that down – a lot of butter. That was good; I was doing that.
My girlfriend and I were doing a lot of movie marathons. Early on the pandemic, we watched all the Harry Potter movies, watched a lot of TV, but, interestingly enough, it took until yesterday to do our first puzzle. We bought 1000 piece puzzle we just started. I don’t know how it took us this long, well, at least what I didn’t know until we started. Then, I was like, “Right, hat’s why we didn’t do this.” We had missing pieces or dropped the puzzle on the ground; it’s a whole thing. But it’s been it’s gonna be a challenge, and that’s my next project, is getting this puzzle built.
Suzanne: Wow. I have a friend who likes puzzles, and she was having trouble finding puzzles at the beginning of this. I think, eventually, they were more available.
…It’s like the toilet paper. You couldn’t get it for a while, because people were hoarding it, but then now you can get it.
Ely: Exactly. I live near a small independent board game and comic book shop. I went there to get the puzzle, and the guy that runs place was like, “You know, I wouldn’t say we’re recession proof, but certainly for this, whenever when everyone’s stuck at home and they need entertainment, we’re in a good spot. I can imagine that everyone was selling out of puzzles.
Suzanne: Right, and probably the comic books too.
Ely: Yeah, exactly.
Suzanne: So, do you have any other projects coming up, or that you’ve been working towards, or were working towards, before the pandemic?
Ely: Nothing that I can really speak to right now. There’s always stuff kind of up in the air, and I think with the pandemic, it put a lot of a pause on a lot of things, and I think we’re just kind of waiting it out.
But I write stuff, and I think that the best stuff I was doing before the pandemic, that I’d like to do more of eventually, is a friend of mine runs a home alone film challenge that he started at the beginning of all this, where you’d have one weekend to write, direct, edit, and star in a movie by yourself at home. So, in a way, it prepared me very well for this, because we use the same app that we’re using to shoot the show on. So, I made a few little films, and it got my creative juices flowing in a really nice way. So, hopefully more stuff like that in the future.
Here is the audio version of it.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie of http://www.scifivision.com
Ely Henry plays Rufus on the new NBC comedy “Connecting…”
Henry, who has been a professional actor since 2003, started his career in Toronto working on films such as “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and “Mean Girls,” as well as TV shows and specials, including “Skins” and “I, Martin Short, Goes Home.”
Since moving to Los Angeles in 2012, he has had recurring roles on “Suburgatory” and “Twisted,” and guest-starring roles on “The Middle,” “Good Luck Charlie” and “Superstore.”
Henry had leading roles in the superhero comedy film “Zeroes” and the indie drama “Some Freaks,” from executive producer Neil LaBute. He also had a leading role in the animated film “Smallfoot” with LeBron James, Channing Tatum, Gina Rodriguez and Danny DeVito.
Henry also had a recurring role on Showtime’s “Roadies,” created by Oscar winner Cameron Crowe and executive produced by J.J. Abrams.
Proofread and Edited by Brenda