Glenn Howerton didn’t think he’d be playing another asshole. But the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star somehow just couldn’t say no to the role of Jack Griffin, the acerbic lead on NBC’s A.P. Bio who lands a gig as a high school biology teacher but has zero intention of teaching anyone biology.
The new comedy series, created by Saturday Night Live alum Mike O'Brien and counting Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers as executive producers, arrives almost a full year after the season 12 finale of Always Sunny, which saw Dennis (Howerton) walking away from Paddy’s in favor of fatherhood. The episode spurred plenty of questions from fans worried that this meant Howerton was done with his flagship character.
“It’s hard when you’ve been on a show for 12 years for people to see you as anything other than that guy,” Howerton says during a sit-down with Playboy. But his decision to take the lead of a new show was spurred in part by his desire to get back to surprising viewers as an actor: “I could give a fuck about being famous. … But I want to be respected.”
Although he has trouble giving a direct answer, Howerton opens up about his internal debate regarding whether to return as Dennis on Always Sunny, and why the decision requires so much consideration. He also discussed his mixed feelings about not serving as an A.P. Bio executive producer, a title he holds on Always Sunny.
There are definite similarities between Jack and Dennis. Were you deliberately looking for a role that felt on-brand?
If I’m being totally honest, what I was looking for outside of Sunny was stuff that was completely off-brand. I like to stretch myself as an actor—I want to do more dramatic material. But this script hit my desk, and it felt like my sensibility. Then, the whole Seth and Lorne of it all, I was like, “I can’t say no to this.” Even though there were some similatities to the two characters, and I’m potentially in danger of typecasting myself by saying yes to it, I just couldn’t say no. It’s successful material, as far as I’m concerned. Because I don’t have to work, right? I want to—I like working. But this one surprised me. It’s not what I thought I’d do.
“I struggle sometimes because … I started as a classically trained, theatre actor. All I ever wanted to be was a really, really good actor.”
You’re not an executive producer on A.P. Bio. Is that liberating, in a way?
Both liberating and tough. I’m used to being in charge, so if things aren’t going the way I want them to go, I can’t change it. That being said, I am a producer on the show, but I’m not an executive producer. Mike O'Brien is very much the showrunner, but he has a tremendous amount of respect for my background and my comedy brain. So I gave him lots of notes on scripts, I gave him lots of notes on cuts. What I liked about him was, if he thought what I was telling him was better than what was already there, he would change it. He had no ego about it. But if he disagreed with me, he also stood his ground.
How hands-on are Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers?
Most of Lorne’s work is pretty much behind-the-scenes. Lorne’s main role is certainly in the beginning, helping the showrunner and the writer to navigate the first script and the world and the characters. And then I think he’s there to champion the show with the studio and the network. Seth is somebody that Mike relied on heavily to get his take on scripts. Seth would pitch jokes—I know he was there when Mike needed him.
Now that we’re a bit removed from the previous season of Sunny, is it a relief to not be in the day-to-day of it, or do you start to miss it?
Both. It’s a relief to not be in the day-to-day. We started writing season 12 this time two years ago—I haven’t done anything Sunny-related in a year and a half, and it has been really nice. There was always that ticking clock: “Got to go back to Sunny.” But yes, after a year, I definitely find myself missing it. Regardless of other things that I want to do, there’s no denying the show just resonates with people.
And the fact that it really resonates with people, and it still really resonates with me and Charlie [Day] and Rob [McElhenney] and Kaitlin [Olson] and Danny [DeVito], you really start to realize that those things coming together don’t happen very often where people behind something get to make exactly what they want to make, and people like it and consume it, and I can make a living doing it. That’s extraordinarly rare. It’s just tough to give that up—and I’m not giving it up. Whether I come back to the show as an actor or not is a purely creative decision because I have the time to do it—we just have to decide [what to do].
“I doubt you will have seen the last of Dennis … I’m trying very hard to let the creative dictate what happens.”
When you make a decision to branch out from Always Sunny with A.P. Bio, is there a sense that you are trying a shape a legacy that includes a wider breadth of work? Or do you just get ready for new challenges after 12 seasons as one character?
I struggle sometimes because my goals—I mean, I started as a classically trained, theatre actor. All I ever wanted to be was a really, really good actor. For whatever reason, I ended up in television, and then we ended up making Sunny, and all of a sudden I became a writer and a producer, and it made me realize I always wanted to have more control over the product itself. But somewhere deep down inside …
I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on Sunny—I think we’ve created something wholly original there. But there’s also a part of me that just wants to be an actor—a really good actor. And I want to surprise people. I do want to show people my range as an actor. And I don’t know if I’ll have that chance or not, but I’m going to try. It’s hard when you’ve been on a show for 12 years for people to see you as anything other than that guy. That’s OK—I understand that. That’s my cross to bear, and it’s not a bad one. I just have to do the work.
I didn’t get in this business to become famous. I could give a fuck about being famous. I could give a fuck about celebrity. Money’s always great because it’s a tool. But I want to be respected, I want to do good work. All the other stuff is fucking bullshit. It comes with the territory, though. I’m OK with it, I get it. I understand it, and I understand its purpose. But I would love for people to look at my body of work and go, “That guy did good work. He did good work.”
In a perfect world for you, do we see Dennis in season 13?
[Long pause] Uh, that’s a tough question to answer. I just can’t answer that. I doubt you will have seen the last of Dennis, whether it’s in season 13 or 14. I’m not sure because we [haven’t started the writers room]. That’s a conversation that we’ve already started having, me and Rob and Charlie. For me, the creative—the story and what we want to do with these characters moving forward—takes precedence over what I personally want. We want to stretch ourselves creatively—we want to continue to stretch our characters creatively, and that may mean trying to figure out how to write a season where he’s not there, and watching the characters deal with that, or half a season where he’s not there. We just haven’t decided yet. I’m trying very hard to let the creative dictate what happens.
A.P. Bio airs Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.