Tyler Labine has always seemed like the guy that everyone sort of rallies behind, but shockingly, we hadn’t ever interviewed him at Brief Take, though he certainly gets mentioned a lot (!) in our interviews.
We spoke to the talented New Amsterdam actor on the phone just after he had completed a workout and he shared a little bit of insight into the world of his character Dr. Iggy Frome from the hit NBC and Global series. Oh yeah, we couldn’t help but sneak in a question about one of our favourites growing up, Breaker High, and the genial Labine made sure to take it in stride.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our oh so Canadian chat with the kind Tyler Labine.
Brief Take: I have to tell you that everyone that I’ve interviewed who has worked with you before has raved about you. Why do you think that is?
Tyler Labine: Well, as I’m Canadian, it must be my “joie de vivre” [laughs] I don’t know, I don’t know! It’s nice to hear that people appreciate what I’m doing, but honestly, I think that if you’re aware of it, then that’s the end of the game, the show’s over. So I don’t know, what I think that what I consistently try to do as an actor is that I really enjoy myself and I try to constantly be on the lookout for discovery and learning new things, and as a result, I feel like I’ll never be bored or stagnate. Plus, you know, I’m always trying to get people to like me so I try extra hard.
BT: I interviewed Anupam Kher recently and asked about his work with Ryan and he made sure to mention working with you. As I know that they’ve got a bromance, what type of role do you play?
TL: I don’t know. Anupam and I are really close as well, so whenever you bring up being friends with Ryan, I get jealous. The show is very diverse and I think people talk a lot about the show’s diversity. And it’s diverse for very obvious reasons, but it’s also like behind-the-scenes, you could not find a more diverse cast in terms of where we all come from – our views on the world and politics and what parts of the world which we come from and the types of music that we like, the types of food that we like. Everybody is so different on this show, but I think that the one common thread is that we’re all very curious. Everyone in the cast is curious and that thing that I was talking about with discovery is very true across the board. Everybody on the show is there because they are curious: they want to know more about each other and about the craft and about the world, and I think that it really translates into the show. We couldn’t be on a better show, a better format for us doesn’t exist, I don’t think, than New Amsterdam. Because that’s what the show is all about, you know?
BT: Tell me what it was like to have actor-directors like Lucy Liu and Ryan Eggold direct the show?
TL: It’s cool, man. It’s a funny thing, obviously we have some mainstays like Michael Slovis, who is one of our executive producers and producer-directors who directs the lion’s share of the episodes. But we had Lucy Liu direct an episode and it was a great episode. We have directors like Darnell Martin, who comes from the indie film world, and she brings that sensibility to the show. But again, I feel like the common theme is that everyone who comes there and who they hire, they don’t come because they want to make a cookie cutter medical drama, you know? Our show is not a procedural. It’s not common in this era that a show is so emotionally wrought and has such a fresh feel in a genre that, in my opinion, that’s usually not…and I don’t watch medical dramas, they’re finding directors familiar with other genres. We have a lot of comedy directors like Don Scardino, who was also an actor, to come in and direct and he directed many of the 30 Rock episodes. We have people come in who have all different skill sets as directors and I don’t think any of them are there because they’re on the circuit. I think it’s cool and adds a little extra flavour because these directors are all bringing something a little different.
BT: What’s been going on with Iggy lately?
TL: Iggy really starts really becoming undone, trying to figure out what is wrong with him and also he starts coping with his own…let’s call it “depression”, in potentially very harmful ways to himself. With things like this burgeoning eating disorder and things that are happening at home and him not being there for his family and his kids and all kinds of stuff. So we’re really just taking him apart, and it’s been really challenging and fun.
BT: Tell me about working with your husband on the show, Mike Doyle.
TL: We met and right away I thought they had cast a very handsome fellow as my husband – I thought that Iggy married up, so that was good. [laughs] I’m also a fan of his, which is funny, because I had watched him on Oz and in a bunch of stuff and I have buddies who went to Juilliard with him and he was a bit of a rock star at Juilliard. Everyone was like “Oh there’s Mike Doyle”. So I had an impression of him going into it, which is funny because it’s not how he is at all. He’s just a very present, giving and lovely actor and human being. I, myself, am not gay, but playing a homosexual on tv is tricky territory. You don’t want to overstep and you really want the community to feel like you’re being an ambassador and an ally and you’re safe choice to play a member of the community. So with Mike, he was just there for me. He really helped me with any questions that I had and for any concerns that I had he was also there for me as an ally as well. He really made me feel very welcome and safe and I’ve really been able to explore some stuff. I want more, I want more stuff with Mike, which I know they intend to do, but I think ‘spinoff’! Let’s get Iggy a private practice and make our house the hub.
BT: I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a series be renewed for three seasons all at once. Is it time for the gloves to come off, like we can do whatever we want now? And what is it like for you to be part of the NBC Family?
TL: I mean, I love NBC. I’ve had a number of NBC projects that unfortunately didn’t go that far, but I think that NBC is a really fantastic network. Historically speaking, they’ve really reached, they’ve gone to some other places that basic cable stations and especially network tv have not gone, and I’m proud of their shows and they’re a cool network, but network tv just isn’t that cool any more. NBC is doing so much to compete and I know that they have plans with The Peacock and their own streaming platform, I feel like this three season pickup maybe has something to do with that a little bit. But I also think that it’s such a huge boost of confidence for us and a show of confidence from them. Like we were floored! None of us had any idea that was coming! Hanging out at the TCA’s and talking with Lisa Katz (co-president of Scripted Programming at NBC) and Tracey Pakosta, they’ve just been loving it, and one thing that I think my BS meter is pretty good, after 14 tv series, you can just tell when there is lip service being paid and nobody actually means anything and you can tell when people actually like the show, like these are the co-presidents at the network and they’re naming every little detail from their favourite storyline from the last episode. You can see the excitement when they’re talking about the characters and what stuff is coming up next and they’re fans, they’re fans of the show and that makes all the difference, I think. The numbers are good, so that’s a plus, but I think that they genuinely like the show and what we’re doing. There’s more foresight there than just for ratings, you know? So it’s been really cool. And the gloves are, well, I wouldn’t say they’re off, but we’re definitely feeling like, especially David Schulner is like: “well, I’ve done it my way up until now and they’re asking me ‘what else you’ve got? Do more'”, so I think he’s just going to really pile it on.
BT: What about the New AmsterJam playlist? Was that your idea?
TL: So Emily Quarto, who does publicity for the show, and I are constantly talking about music and I was always posting things about Spotify links and my favourite artists and whatnot, and she said “you should do a playlist for the show”, and I said “yeah, I’d love to do that”. I came up with the name New AmsterJam, well it was New Jamsterdam originally, and then I changed it to New AmsterJam, and she went to the NBC publicity department and said “would you endorse an official New Amsterdam playlist if Tyler curated it?”, and they’re like: “Yeah! Of course”, and that was that. So it was sort of a collaborative effort but I love it. I’m such an audiophile, music is just everything to me. And I put one of my own songs on there, which was a hidden incentive and agenda of mine, but I love it, I love the weekly jam. And then at the end of the season, the 22 songs of the playlist, I open it up and I make it collaborative and public, so people can add songs that they felt like reminded them of the show. Hopefully by the end of it the whole thing will have a massive New Amsterdam playlist that goes on for days.
BT: What’s been your favourite moment of the show?
TL: Another personal little element here is I’ve been sober for just over two years now. Janet Montgomery and I did an episode last season, 1-13 where Iggy has to assess her for whether she’s okay to operate as a physician still because of her addiction to Adderall. We have a very difficult psych evaluation in my office, just the two of us. That episode, and working with Janet on that episode, was just so fun as an actor and so personally engaging. Janet and I are both coming at life from a similar angle and that episode meant a lot to me. The idea of showing people that it’s okay to be fucked up and sometimes the hardest thing to do is to ask for help when you need it, and I had just gone through that myself. At that time I was only about a year sober, so it just meant a lot to me. And I think it was some of the best, most realistic moment that Iggy has portrayed as a helpful and present therapist on the show.
BT: On a completely different note, Drake wore a Breaker High sweater during the Raptors playoff run. Do you have one of those?
TL: I don’t have one of those. I ask the same question: “Where do I get a Breaker High hoodie?”. He must have had it made! Or someone gave it to him as a joke or I don’t know. Someone has to have gotten that made because there’s no Breaker High merch out there. I don’t know, man. I put it on social media, I said “Hey, Champagne Papi, who’s your favourite character?” and kind of listed off everybody from the show, and he never commented back. But that’s ok, he’s got things to do. But man, that was funny, that was a neat little moment realizing that for the Canadian zeitgeist that is Breaker High.
BT: Which of your previous projects sort of led you into this one?
TL: I’ve aged a lot in the last five years, from 36 to 41, and it’s less about the projects and more about where I was personally. I had a show called Deadbeat on Hulu for three years where I basically took every single thing I’ve ever wanted to do, playing a sidekick schlubby character. Everything I ever wanted to do I poured into that show and they let me do anything I wanted on Hulu and it was really fun. But we finished the show and I was like “I don’t want to do that any more. I don’t have that in me anymore. I feel too old.” I’m not a star, obviously. I had this weird shift in myself, a paradigm shift. And then work dried up. [laughs] I almost didn’t work for a year, I couldn’t get a job. And then Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency approached me and asked me to come do seven episodes of season two. And again, it was kind of a goofy character but it was a chance to try something very different for me, I was definitely playing my age, playing a goofy stoner dude that was a small town sheriff and it was really fun. That and then I went and did Escape Room in South Africa playing an older character as well, letting myself feel all my greys, and just sort of making peace with the fact that maybe that my bread and butter as a funny fat guy on tv, those days were over. Then out of the blue, this show comes along, right when I just made peace with the fact that I was okay with not playing a young, silly type of character any more, that I was ready to start playing age appropriate and hopefully more impactful roles, along comes the most impactful role of my career. The timing could not have been more perfect. I was ready, I was really looking for something like this, and the fact that they took a chance on me, who was predominantly just a comedy actor, really blew my mind. They were trusting me and I needed someone to trust me at that point. So it’s been, I hate using this term, but it’s been really magical. The whole thing from start to finish has been a really unbelievable journey. Well not the finish, because we’re not finished yet, but start to present, it’s been a magical journey.
New Amsterdam airs on Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC and Global TV