Whether he’s reminding us on every single episode of Scandal that he’s the Attorney General of the United States or livening things up on reruns of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing and Sports Night, Joshua Malina leaves a mark. But the actor has also been known to drop the mic in other arenas: He’s a fast, funny, wickedly sharp voice in the Twitterverse—so much so that he’s been blocked by Chris Brown, Russell Crowe and John Cusack. And in the great Hollywood tradition of everyone from John Barrymore and Alfred Hitchcock to Channing Tatum, George Clooney and Aziz Ansari, Malina is one hell of a practical joker.
With Scandal launching the second half of its fifth season this week, it’s a good time to learn some Malina pro-tips on executing unforgettable pranks, being brutally (and hilariosly) honest on Twitter, and dealing with all that backlash.
We dig Scandal, but things can get so convoluted that we sometimes wish every episode would begin with a recap of the entire series, the way the narrator does on Jane the Virgin.
If someone did that, I would recommend my dad for the job. He is my go-to guy, the keeper of information about Scandal. I will frequently get the new scripts and realize I have no idea what’s going on. I’ll ask him and he’ll say, “That was from the middle of the season. Remember?” I just go to him when I need the information. I don’t even attempt to retain it in my head.
Could Joshua Malina ever be considered scandal-prone?
I’m a real rule-follower. The closest thing to a scandal was that I was involved a few years back in a situation about a fire station close to where I live and they were considering the possibility of housing some low-level criminals there. I spoke up at meetings like, “Forget this. No way.” When I got accused by many of being a NIMBY – you know, a Not In My Back Yard guy — my response was, “Yes, that’s me exactly. I didn’t realize there was a shorter way of saying ‘Not in my back yard.’ For the record, I don’t care if they’re in your back yard.” It worked out very well because those low-level criminals did not wind up in my back yard.
You’ve earned a rep among your fellow actors on Scandal as quite the prankster. What are some of your favorite stunts?
Hollywood has this tradition of pranks because there’s a lot of waiting around, a lot of needing to ward off ennui. I’m always looking to liven things up. Last year, with the collusion of Jimmy Kimmel’s writing staff, I told everyone on Scandal that I wanted them to help me make a surprise happy birthday video for Jimmy for his show. His writers and I worked really hard coming up with what I would ask castmates to say to Jimmy, knowing that we could edit them later to make fun of everybody. I wondered whether I could pull off such a huge endeavor because I had to interview every single person on my iPhone. Anyway, it turns if your practical joke involves a bunch of actors and a camera, it’s not too hard to get the show ponies talking on your iPhone.
The way the footage was shown on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, you had Tony Goldwyn saying, “I smell like weiner,” Scott Foley saying, “I’m the worst thing about the show,” Darby Stanchfield saying, “Guillermo Diaz sat on his big balls, again,” and Katie Lowes saying, “Hey Jimmy, OK, the truth is that I just took Ecstasy.” So how did that go over with your Scandal costars?
From my point of view, it was a tremendous success. Success in pranksterdom is measured by how angry people get, how close you are to losing your job, or to ending dear friendships. Certain people were fully, legitimately irked. It led to a fallow year, prank-wise. I’ve slowly tried to rebuild trust and confidence and I probably will never regain the trust I need to pull off something big. But I still have plans.
How did your vegan costar Bellamy Young respond to hearing herself edited to say, “I’m an unbearable vegan”?
She wasn’t thrilled about it. In a series of emails in which I tried to coax everyone into not hating me, she said she found the whole thing “heartbreaking.” I thought, “Wow, I’ve actually disappointed her as a person,” when, actually, I’d like everyone to lower their expectations of me as a person.
Do your prefer punking those who really get it or punking the humor-deficient?
I have a reputation, earned or not, for playing so hard that people on Scandal, anyway, don’t seem to want to do much in response. They don’t want to get into an escalating war, although I wouldn’t mind a little give and take. I’m happy for people to come back at me.
Who has come back at you?
When we were on The West Wing together, Jenna Malone and I sent an enormous Valentine bouquet of roses from Brad [Whitford] to Jimmy Smits, who had recently joined the show, along with a suggestively romantic note from Brad to Jimmy that we’d written on engraved stationary I’d stolen from Brad’s trailer. We had it delivered to Jimmy on set and Brad knew instantly that I was involved. Jimmy really didn’t know what was going on. It was very awkward and Jimmy wanted to make it immediately clear to Brad that he was heterosexual. I think he said, “I got your bouquet. It’s nicer than the one I got my girl.” Six months later, I came into the makeup trailer and Jimmy was there and I told him what had happened. He was like, “You did that?” I went to shake his hand and he would not shake it, he was so mad.
And he avenged himself?
Ellen DeGeneres did a full-cast episode when West Wing was going off the air and, at the end of the show, she presented us with cakes with our characters’ faces on them. I saw Jimmy lean over to Richard Schiff and say, “I’ll give you $5,000 to smash that cake in Josh’s face.” I literally sprinted off the set in the other direction but they caught me and shoved the cake in my face. I believe that $5,000 went to somebody’s favorite charity. In the olden days, when we used such things as iPods, I erased all of the music from the iPod of one of The West Wing’s directors. At the same time, I changed his iPod’s language setting to Mandarin Chinese, which makes it very hard to get back to English unless you know Mandarin. In response, I was turning a corner on the set and he hosed me down with a fire extinguisher. I was like, “Let me just talk you through the difference between a prank and an assault. This is assault.”
How far back does your pranking go?
Before we were on The West Wing together, Bradley Whitford and I were in A Few Good Men on Broadway in 1989 and 1990. When Clark Gregg was in the show, he played the very sharp prosecuting attorney, and we would often fill the briefcase and files he used on stage with pornography. Surprise! Since then, Brad has tried to get me into the Emmy ‘In Memorium’ reel. Unfortunately for him, my relative lack of accomplishment makes it harder because he not only has to convince them that I’m dead; he also has to convince them that I’m worthy.
Has there ever been serious blowback?
I was spoken to by a couple of Scandal producers at one point. I might have abused someone’s ability to send emails from one person to another. That got me in hot water. I got called to speak to these two producers. I could tell it was more serious than their asking me in for coffee. I got a stern warning. Having been sternly warned, I thought, “I’ll take a break for awhile.” That means going back to putting sunscreen on the inside of Katie Lowes’ door handles.
You demonstrate a rapier wit on Twitter. Any tips for anyone looking to up his or her Twitter game?
Lower the bar. Don’t care too much about what people think of you. Dare to offend. Invite their scorn. Be candid. People think that saying what you really mean with jaw-dropping candor is kidding. Actually, at times, no – I really do mean that.
What are some of your favorite personal slams on the internet?
People will write horrible things about me — usually that I’m hideous. There’s a certain amphibious quality to my appearance that I’m very comfortable with. I look like a creature who might survive equally well on land or at sea. I’ll write back, “You’re right. I’m not handsome,” or “You’re right, maybe I’m not that good.” And there’s the love/hate thing among Scandal fans where one of the recurring themes is how few scenes I have. They see this as a way to mock me, which prompts me to say, “You do understand I get paid the same amount no matter how much or how little I have to do on the show?” I love Scandal fans, even when they hate me, because they’re obviously still watching the show and they’re helping send my kids to college and keeping me employed. I’ve reached a certain age. I’m employed – hey, come at me. I don’t take it too seriously.
Did recently turning 50 this month rock your world?
I always try to get a month’s worth of celebration out of my birthday. My wife calls it “Joshuary.” But I was at a store with my wife the day after my birthday and started to feel chest pain. I was like, “I’m 50 now. So I’m actually having a heart attack.” I’ve been exercising more by buying a Peloton bike. I really like it.
Those are the indoor home bikes with their own computer screens and on-demand cycling classes?
Right. And I’m very excited because Tony Goldwyn is considering getting one, too, which means that soon I could be taking remote spin classes while watching Tony sweat like mad taking the same class. Very exciting, right?