Wesley Taylor discusses new web series ‘It Could Be Worse’, future of ‘Smash’

Wesley Taylor

Wesley Taylor

Wesley Taylor has given us another reason to celebrate Fridays.

Following the success of Billy Green, Taylor has teamed up with Mitchell Jarvis to create a bitingly funny new web series titled It Could Be Worse.

Based on the life of Jacob Gordon, played by Taylor, the web series focuses on the fictional Broadway production of The Ice Queen and Gordon’s sordid personal life which includes divorcing parents, a crazy ex-boyfriend and a rocky relationship with a more-famous actor played by Adam Chanler-Berat.

In addition to writing and starring in the web series, Taylor is also a recurring star on the NBC musical drama series Smash.

While Broadway stars and fans buzz over Taylor’s new series, he opened up about where he finds inspiration for the dark comedy, how he casts some of Broadway’s brightest stars in cameo roles and his hopes for the future of Smash.

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Wesley Taylor

SDD: Where did the idea for It Could Be Worse come from?

WT: I wrote this pilot called Veronica which was based on Veronica Bailey, the Alison Fraser character that we have now in the script. In the web series, she doesn’t come in until about the end of the sixth episode but she is essentially the antagonist of the series. I originally wrote her into a pilot. It was all about her and my character, Jacob Gordon, was still the protagonist but it was very much about her. I was actually going to develop it like a teaser pitch where I raised a bunch of money, got three investors and producer friends I knew and then pitched it to a bunch of television networks. It was this long, long process that went about six months. It kept lagging. It was annoying because Mitch [Jarvis] and I wanted to get started. We had started writing all these scripts so we wanted to dive in and do at least a 15-minute section so we could have tangible material for a pitch meeting. So finally it kind of fell through, and while we were waiting, Mitch said, “Well, why don’t we start doing sketches again?” We were very creatively stifled. We wanted to be more in control of what we were doing. We had such a good time doing Billy Green and there was such a demand after that to do more. So we started doing sketches and the first sketch that we did was that bathroom scene at the casting office in the first episode. I called a bunch of my friends and we met at the network at 8a.m. and shot this thing. Mitch and I were editing the sketch, and we were kind of like, “This is the guy in the sketch. Let’s just flesh him out, and start doing a web series while we are waiting for this other thing to happen.” The other thing never happened, so we just continued the web series, and here we are.

SDD: I am so intrigued by your sarcasm and your wit. Billy Green and It Could Be Worse are just so spot on. Where do the ideas come from?

WT: Mitch and I are very dark people. We find the same things funny that everyone finds funny but we also find absurdity very funny. Portlandia was a big template for us. Even though Billy Green was a cartoon and It Could Be Worse was a dark comedy. Even with realism, you have Nancy Opel having three different young lovers, and my agent doing cocaine. The world is heightened in a way. That’s what makes me laugh and I’m attracted to that kind of comedy. Slightly off-kilter and obviously humiliation-based humor is my favorite sort of thing to watch. I think embarrassment is one of the most fascinating things of humanity.

SDD: How does somebody get involved with a cameo? Do you just ask your friends?

WT: It can be a little gross. I feel like a dirty, slimy producer, because I realize that people will watch our videos if they see their favorite little starlet up on the screen. It’s important for me to make sure that I’m being a good producer as well and making sure I get all of those fancy faces in there so that I can draw an audience. They are also my friends and they are also talented actors but it’s also very convenient. I always mention how lucky we are that we have a talent pool that’s so large that we work with such amazing high-profile people. Or even underground people, we try to exploit their talents. We just want to work with our friends. At the end of the day, we just want to play with our friends. It’s sort of amazing that people trust us so much to give us their time for free. The thing about it is, Mitch and I are a two-person crew. Many times if it’s a big shoot with tons of extras, we will make one of our friends assistant director or second assistant director but most of the time it’s a two-person job. We handle all of it ourselves which is the novelty of it, we hope. Wait, Samantha, where was I going with this?

SDD: I don’t know. Where were you going?

WT: Long story short, I think people just love hanging out and playing and they know it will be quick and easy and efficient. We work really fast so I think people appreciate that and we respect their time. We don’t set up the set or scene until we have everybody’s availability and conflicts. That’s what I’m doing all day is just on my phone emailing and texting for cameos and costars all while writing, producing, scouting locations and editing with Mitch. It’s a full-time job, but it’s worth it. We find it very rewarding.

SDD: Can you tease who’s coming up? I know Alex Wyse is going to be on the show, because I talked to him, but he wouldn’t tell me anything. Who’s going to be on it and who would you want to have guest star on it?

WT: I think I want to keep some of that a surprise to keep it exciting. That’s one of the things that’s so alluring about the show is that we keep surprising our viewers with their favorite stars. There are those tiny moments where maybe you will see them again and maybe you won’t. I think I want to keep that a secret, actually, unless we post it. We use social media to kind of tease you guys. There are some big stars coming up but I don’t want to give that away because I want people to continue tuning in. I want everyone but I especially want people who reach out to me.I got an email from Michael Urie asking to play. I get stopped in the street. It’s a beautiful thing. We are very, very lucky that people are excited about what we are doing that they’ll stop and say, “Hey, any time you need someone,” so we like to go after those people. The people who want to play, who ask if they can. Then, all of our friends, we want to take care of. I want to get Nathan [Lane] back in there, although he’s busy doing a play at Lincoln Center, no big. I want to get Bernadette [Peters], I want to get everyone. I have no shame, that’s the problem, because I’ll ask everyone. A lot of the time they make fun of me for my fearlessness but you’ve just got to do it sometimes to get what you want.

SDD: I think Krysta [Rodriguez] should be on the show, because she hasn’t been on it yet.

WT: I know I have to get her too but she’s always back and forth from New York to L.A., it’s hard to try and keep track.

SDD: How many episodes do you think there’s going to be?

WT: There is going to be 15 episodes. That is the full story that we have in our heads. After fifteen episodes, if people are buzzing about it in high quantities, then we’ll talk about maybe a second season and writing about the world after our story was originally finished. As of right now, though, it’s a 15 episode thing. Mitch has said plenty of times to people that what he recognizes in British television is that it can tell a whole story in one or two seasons. So. That’s where our heads are right now.

SDD: Do you have any ideas brewing for your next venture?

WT: This is so consuming right now that I feel like if I start entertaining other ideas of a web series or a web project my head will explode or I will be cheating on myself. I feel like my first responsibility is to put my mind with this story; how we are going to tell the story and execute it. That’s what I’m thinking about. You have to realize, we also have our acting careers. So, there’s plenty of auditions and negotiations that are happening outside the world of our ever-consuming web series that we work on every single day. Thank God Smash just wrapped because that was very time-consuming as well. When you’re doing readings and concerts and all these things that you want to develop because you’re invested in your career. It could be the next huge thing, and they get in the way of our work, and mine and Mitch’s availability and our costars availability. So, it’s challenging, but we do it.

SDD: I want to change gears and talk about Smash a little bit. Obviously with Andy [Mientus], Jeremy [Jordan], and Krysta [Rodriguez], there’s been a bit of a shift since last season. Can you talk about how the dynamic has changed?

WT: The dynamic totally shifts but that definitely happens when you clean house. All the writers are new. The tone changes because we have all-new wardrobe and hair and make-up. A lot of the camera crew stayed the same but it wasn’t just the cast that changed, it was across the board. There’s no way to deny the fact that it’s very, very different. In a lot of ways, I miss stuff from last year. And in a lot of ways, I think things improved from last year. I like a lot of things this year, and I sure love being with my friends and my peers. Obviously, Krysta, Jeremy, and Andy I knew before the season, so that’s fun. Not that I get to spend too much time with them because we are in different sides of the story. The great thing about Smash is I knew everyone before we began work. Other than maybe Angelica [Huston] and even Debra [Messing], everyone came from theatre. It’s a great vibe, and everyone has lots of fun. I don’t think it’s bad, I don’t think it’s worse, I think the word is different.

SDD: I have to ask this for our Smash writer, who is wonderful. Did you see your storyline with Andy evolving into something, because five seconds into the scene where your characters meet, we were like, “Oh my God, there’s going to be something,” and Josh [Safran] says there’s not. Is that something you and Andy have ever discussed?

WT: Of course. When I flirt with him for the first time I just assumed that’s where it was going but Josh had different ideas. It was confirmed when he wrote that scene where I kind of just take him down and tell him he’s a bad writer. I can’t talk too much about what happens but I feel like you’ve heard from Josh that Andy and I aren’t an item on the show. It would have been fun.

SDD: What do you think of the future of Smash, that’s a big topic right now?

WT: Of course I want it to run for years and years. Not just for my sake but I think it’s great for New York City because it glorifies the city. It has involved so many stage actors. It’s just such a good thing for the city that I find it sad when people in the community don’t support it like they should. I mean, we’ve all made fun of whatever, but this is something we should all be supporting. I think it’s such a special, unique brand of a show. We’ve never really had an hour long drama about Broadway on public broadcast television, and if it goes away, I don’t know how long it will take before that happens again. I think it’s this beautiful little piece. Whatever you think about the show, I think it’s a sweet wonderful little thing. Not little, very expensive, but you get my drift. I hope it runs long. It looks a little grim for us. You have to keep your perspective. Someone tweeted the other day that there are more people who see the show, even though it has some lower ratings, than those who have seen Wicked, The Lion King, and Jersey Boys combined the whole year. So, it’s all about perspective. By television standards, it’s really poor, but you’ve got to keep looking at the positive side of things.

A second part of my interview with Wesley will be published soon; stay tuned! 

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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