He's accompanied on his quest by a cast of working-class antiheroes, including a man-child brother (Ethan Suplee) and a venomous beauty of an ex-wife (Jaime Pressly). Earl is played by Jason Lee, who is also one of the show's executive producers. Taking a break from filming on "Alvin and the Chipmunks," Lee — in a rare clean-shaven moment — discussed Earl's fans, his own plans and trying to make television a cinematic experience. But first ...
Do you enjoy wearing that big mustache all season?
Being that it adds to the character immensely, I enjoy it while working. But in life it gets a little old. It's probably because I'm not allowed to shave that makes me want to get rid of it even more.
As one of the executive producers, how involved are you in the show's production?
Instead of just doing my job as an actor and leaving the rest up to everybody else, it's a very collaborative effort and, fortunately, [series creator and executive producer] Greg Garcia is open to my suggestions. I get episodes in advance and I give my notes. Being on the show has taught me to look around and notice what's going on. This has helped me grow in terms of being more focused and having a vested interest in the overall quality.
From the very beginning, the idea was to make it as cinematic as possible, and to break as many of the television formulas as we could, so with that came the idea of trying to make a little movie every week. And that means good writing, good cinematography, good direction, good actors — trying to bring film actors onto the show — and music. I pretty much have nothing to do with what goes on in the writers' room. That's Greg and our amazing stable of writers. I'm more interestedin casting.
The music is a big interest of mine, in terms of how appropriate music encourages the energy of the show. Our editors fortunately also have extremely good taste in music, so a lot of that comes from them.
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The show has branched out from the list this season. How did that come about?
That was the idea going into the second season. The first season it was all very isolated, episode to episode. And we started realizing at the end of Season 1 that we need to thread stories throughout Season 2, and not just make it about the list every episode, because if somebody misses an episode, they're not really missing much. So in Season 2 we had Joy's three strikes story going on, we had Randy and Catalina's story going on, and that definitely helped.
What's going to happen to Earl, now that he's off to prison?
I don't know how much I can say but it's definitely going to carry over into Season 3. We don't quite know what's going to happen but clearly things will change with Earl being in jail.
The show won four Emmys its first season [writing, directing for the pilot, casting and picture editing]. What are your hopes for the Emmys this year?
What's more interesting to me is whether people are watching the show and how it's affecting them. This is a cliché but without the audience there is no show, and there are no Emmy nominations. So that's key for me.
An Emmy is kind of a fun bonus, but I certainly don't think it makes or breaks our show. It's really the fans that come up to me on the street who want to talk about how their family watches the show every Thursday night. Hearing that obviously means more. 'This is a cliché but without the audience there is no show.... So that's key for me.'