Hartford Courant from Hartford, Connecticut on October 19, 2014 · G3
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Hartford Courant from Hartford, Connecticut · G3

Hartford, Connecticut
Issue Date:
Sunday, October 19, 2014
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THE HARTFORD COURANT SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2014 G3 CURTAIN 3 COURANT.COM MOBILE.COURANT.COIVI L TELEVISION BEHIND THE SCENES SUCCESS STORY Trinity College Alum McCormack Makes His Own Work As Writer And Producer By ROGER CATLIN Special To The Courant When Will McCormack was attending Trinity College in the mid-1990s as a performing arts minor, "I was in every play I could be in there." A role model for the Plainfield, N. J., native was his older sister, Mary McCormack, a Trinity grad, who was by then starting her movie career that would bring her to starring roles in "The West Wing" and "In Plain Sight." (His other sister, Bridget Mary McCormack, a Michigan Supreme Court justice, also went to Trinity, returning to give the commencement address last year.) But Will McCormack, an actor-turned-producer who has a new show, "A to Z," this fall on NBC, says he learned a lot outside of the classrooms, and at the school's Cinestudio theater, which he calls "the best movie theatre in the United States." "I worked there for four years, and I saw every single movie they screened," says McCormack, 40. "And I didn't realize how valuable an education that was as a writer. Because once I started taking screenwriting classes, it just becomes so ingrained from watching thousands of films, it teaches you the structure." At the time, "a career in film didn't seem like something I could attain," he says. "Whereas I grew up next to New York City, and I spent my life going into New York City seeing plays, and I was a theater actor in school. Acting on the stage felt really natural to me and I liked it and I wasn't terrible at it." So after he graduated in 1996, he found a number of roles on and off Broadway. "Though I was doing pretty well," he says, "it was hard to make a life in the theater." He went out to Los Angeles for work and found a role in the 2001 film "American Outlaws" with Colin Farrell and Scott Caan, though he lied about being able to ride a horse. "I'm from New Jersey; I worked in a mall." But he figured it out and "suddenly film acting became more interesting to me and I did OK." But after landing roles as Dr. Melfi's son on "The Sopranos," and a recurring role in his sister's "In Plain Sight," he found himself in "some TV shows I didn't watch." Despite the episodes, pilots and occasional movies, McCormack says, "I knew I'd never have the career Colin Farrell had. I was working in stuff that was for me not very challenging. My career wasn't going as well as I wanted it to. So I turned to writing because I felt like I had more to say, and I started writing every day." It was kismet that he met his writing partner Rashida Jones a fairly well known actress (and daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton) who gained fame on TV's "Parks and Recreation" as Ann Perkins. "My sister was working with her on an indie film," he says (2000's "East of A"), "and she set us up on a date. She told me, 'this is going to be your girlfriend, your soul mate.' "We dated three weeks, we broke up and then we became best friends. We work together all the time. So we are soul mates, we just don't have to get divorced." Which was pretty much the theme of the movie they ended up writing and selling, 2012's "Celeste & Jesse Forever." Jones also starred in the movie opposite Andy Samberg, judged to have more box office draw. McCormack took a small role as a pot dealer and confidante named Skillz. "The role I played was perfect for me; it was a character role as a sidekick," he says. With all of his other chores producing the film, he says, "it was just a good fit." The movie was the start of a production company, Le Train Train, that got a deal with Warner Bros, to develop movies and TV show pilots. And he found his place in show business. "Instead of waiting around for someone to give you a job, you have to go and create work for yourself," McCormack says. "It took me awhile to figure that out for myself. Creating work for ourselves is the best thing we ever did." Staying In Reality In the first year they sold five scripts, though only one eventually got made, the romantic comedy "A to Z" that debuted this month on NBC. "We're very proud of the show and we hope it survives," he says. "We're off to a good start." Like their movie, it's a light romance that jA TRAE PATTON NBC NBC'S NEW romantic comedy, "A to Z," stars Ben Feldman as Andrew Lofland, and Cristin Milioti as Zelda Vasco. CHRIS HASTON I NBC WILL MCCORMACK, top row on the right, and writing partner Rashida Jones, top left, are executive producers of "A to Z." Also pictured are executive producer Ben Queen, top row middle, and bottom row left to right: actors Christina Kirk, Henry Zebrowski, Ben Feldman, Cristin Milioti and Lenora Crichlow. "YOU HAVE TO go and create work for yourself," Trinity College alum Will McCormack says of writing and producing. remains rooted in reality. "Warner Bros, hired us because they loved 'Celeste and Jesse Forever' and they said 'we want to bring your sensibility to television' and we said OK let's try," McCormack says. "If that's the case, they want shows to be grounded, they want them to be drawn from real life. We told them there's probably never going to be any aliens." Our whole edict is that life is funny enough, and sad enough and strange enough and beautiful enough that if we can just capture that, then let's make that kind of television," McCormack says. "And that's the type of show we're trying to develop." The idea of the show, from former Pixar writer Ben Queen, was about a young couple, Andrew and Zelda, whose every stage of relationship is associated with a letter of the alphabet. The premiere episode was titled "A is for Acquaintances"; the second "B is for Big Glory" and so on. Casting was a big part of the development. "All love stories rest on the leads, and if they work the show works, and if they don't, the show won't work, no matter how good the writing is," McCormack says. First hired was Cristin Milioti, best known for being the eventual mother in "How I Met Your Mother." "She's very vast, and very funny," McCormack says. "We were having trouble finding the right Andrew for her. We kept looking and kept looking." Finally they found Ben Feldman, known for his role as Michael Ginsberg, a young copywriter on "Mad Men" whose career was abruptly (and somewhat violently) ended with some actual madness. "Once they read together, we all knew that was Andrew and Zelda," he says. While the first few episodes have run, the team is well into the season up to "H is for Hostile Takeover," which Jones and McCormack just wrote. "It moves really fast," he says. "You write an episode in a week, and we're used to writing movies or cable pilots in a year." "A to Z" is one of a handful of new romantic comedies on network TV this fall, it turns out. "I had no idea" of the others, McCormack says of programs like "Marry Me," "Selfie," and "Manhattan Love Story." "Things seem to work in bunches like that," he says. "Something happens in the atmosphere that draws a certain kind of story. ... There's romance in the air or something." "I don't mind," he says of the competition. "I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it could be a good thing." Indeed, two other romantic comedies are among the five other shows Le Train Train has sold for next fall's TV season. The first of them "Peter and Wendy" from writer Marisa Coughlan will coincide with the network's live presentation of the musical "Peter Pan" Dec. 4. The other, from 01 Parker, writer of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," is about love blooming in a Seattle bookstore. One that isn't a romance is being developed for HBO: "Claws," from writer Eliot Laurence, about a nail salon in Palmetto, Fla., that's a front for the mob. At some point, McCormack says it would be fun to have a cameo in one of their shows or upcoming films. "I think I'll return to acting at some point," he says. "I have to be honest, it doesn't mean the same things to me when I was younger. "When I was at acting at Trinity and did these plays, it kind of saved my life. I felt like I had a purpose. I felt like I wasn't terrible at something for the first time in my life," McCormack says. "It really gave my life meaning and it meant everything to me. "I have to say now, having written movies, and sold TV shows, and been a part of that part of the process, it's just been a more creatively fulfilling part of life. "But I think it will be fun to return to it. There's less pressure for me to succeed now. I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody as an actor. Maybe I could just go back to it for the reason I started it, which was pure unmitigated joy." "A TO Z" airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC, locally on WVIT, Channel 30. FEATURING A ROOTSY FOLK ROCK SCORE CIRCUS is WIHTER BEGINS THURSDAY

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