INSIDE WITH: LONNY ROSS – BY: KEITH HUANG
By his own admission, actor Lonny Ross says his alter ego, Josh Girard of NBC’s 30 Rock, is not so different from himself: “We are both dudes who do weird voices, make funny faces and enjoy wearing hoodies.” But stripped to their cores, Lonny and Josh are simply two young actors-slash-writers who appear on a popular weekly-televised comedy.
Perhaps more coincidental is that roughly seven years ago, Ross worked behind-the-scenes for Sex and the City at the Silvercup Studios, the same soundstage in Queens where much of 30 Rock is shot. A native of Wantagh, N.Y. (“The Gateway to Jones Beach”), Ross also spent a number of years as a production assistant for Late Night With Conan O’Brien, followed by a few roles in comedy flicks “College Road Trip” and “Good Luck Chuck.”
The Apiary recently snagged Ross for a hot minute to ask him about getting booked for the show, his celebrity-impersonation skills and what it’s like to make Tina Fey laugh.
The Wikipedia entry for Josh Girard is twice as long as the entry for Lonny Ross. What do you make of that?
Tina and I were talking during one of the first episodes we ever shot about who would be more popular in the real world, Josh Girard from TGS with Tracy Jordan, or Lonny Ross from 30 Rock. Because essentially, we are both actors on comedy shows. But being that 30 Rock is on in primetime, and TGS would be on Friday night, we assumed it would be Lonny Ross … but perhaps that is not the case. And Wikipedia would know, too. After all, they are the most trusted and well respected faux encyclopedia on the net.
Maybe it’s because Josh is an easy character to relate with — most of us want nothing more than to avoid our boss’s glare. Are there elements to Josh’s character that are your own creations?
Well, I was the one who decided that he be devilishly handsome. So I take credit for that. I think when Tina was casting for the show, I just really fit the profile of what she was looking for in the character — energetic, young actor who could be believed as being a cast member on a sketch comedy show. But I really did go into the audition just being myself. So in that case, I guess there aren’t many differences — we are both dudes who do weird voices, make funny faces, and enjoy wearing hoodies. I do, however, like to be believe I’m not as dimwitted as Josh. I guess I’m not because Josh might not know what the word “dimwitted” means.
True. We have heard that everyone is pretty faithful to the scripts but are allowed to filter lines through the characters, if that makes sense.
As far as the performance of the material goes, I can bring my own thing to it because Tina and the writers are very open to the actors’ interpretation of it. Unless you’re completely missing the rhythm or the timing of a joke in your delivery, you’ll get a note on it. Alec is the master of making funny things funnier. I think that can be attributed to his confidence and his knowledge of himself and his ability. I really admire that. Alec, Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer, and Scott Adsit all have a history with Tina where it’s natural for her to write to their voice. With the other actors it’s been a learn-as-you-go process.
Speaking of Tracy and Alec, you’ve done impersonations of both. Who’s more difficult to impersonate: Alec, Tracy or Jay Leno?
Alec is tough because I’m barely man enough to capture even half of his manliness. Dean Edwards does the best impression of Tracy hands down, so I withdraw from that one. So I’d say Jay is the easier of the three, and a little more fun for me because I don’t have to work with him and see him all the time, so I don’t feel bad for trying to do it.
You once said that your production jobs from 2001 to 2006 had very little to do with getting cast on 30 Rock. Do the big breaks come when opportunity intersects with preparation?
Definitely. No question. I had about a day to prepare for my first 30 Rock audition. Learn the script, and think of some impressions I could improvise. But if I hadn’t been prepared for an opportunity for something like that to happen, I would’ve gotten really nervous and tanked it. The fact was, I had been working on characters and voices, and writing comedy, whether I had an outlet for it or not. Then I got an outlet for it, and I was very comfortable.
What’s on your comedy radar these days? New York-based or otherwise?
As far as Internet content, and where I can get a quick comedy fix, the Apiary is a good place to find links, and being from New York I am naturally drawn to the stuff being made here: Jake and Amir, Variety Shac shorts, AdamWade.com, Chris Deluca’s blog, Jeff Mac’s Manslations, PeteHolmes.com, Michael Showalter Showalter, Wainy Days, Human Giant… To name a few. I’m sure I could think of more. There are always new things to discover if you take the time. Kinda weed out the ones you want to come back to and the ones you don’t.
And when’s the last time you made Tina Fey laugh? Is that hard to do?
Hmm. It is the ultimate comedy challenge to get a belly laugh out of Mrs. Fey, so if I make a snarky comment that gets a chuckle from her, I’m very proud of myself. My main concern is she’s happy with my performance and hopefully she’s laughing when she’s watching the footage. She’s also the type of person where it’s really intimidating to try and trade quips, cause she’s incredibly quick witted. One thing that’s really fun when you work on a loose set such as 30 Rock is that you can kind of mess with your fellow actors when they are on camera delivering lines to you while you are off camera, to try and get them to break.
One time I was shooting my close-up for a scene, and off-camera Tina tried to mess me up by telling me I looked like Illeana Douglas if she did the stage version of Boys Don’t Cry.
Naturally, I had no comeback.