Sam Lloyd interview – “I want it to look bad, I want to look horrible”

 
 

Before accepting his Honorary Fellowship of the L&H, Sam Lloyd sat down with Laura Bell to talk about acting in diapers, a cappella and taking on 37 characters in a one man show

“There’s a picture of me in my debut as one of the mice in the Pied Piper at three-years-old. I was supposed to be the baby rat, so I had to wear diapers over my black tights. I had just gotten off diapers in real life and I was insulted that I had to wear diapers, on stage, in front of people. And in spite of that, I still became an actor.”

The first thing you need to know about Sam Lloyd is that he’s absolutely nothing like the character of Ted Buckland; the bumbling, inept, and massively depressed lawyer we all know and pity from Scrubs. Born in Vermont in 1963, Lloyd was indoctrinated into the world of performance at a very early age by his parents, who were both actors at a professional theatre called The Weston Playhouse.

They met at summer theatre in New York, where his father was on Broadway as an understudy for Walter Mathau. The Lloyd patriarch was also responsible for securing a debut role for his younger brother, Christopher, who would later go on to star as Doc in the Back to the Future trilogy.

Now, Sam is in Ireland to perform Fully Committed, a one-man stage show for which he was first cast by the theatre his parents belonged to. It’s almost as if he’s come full circle; though, as with everything on Lloyd’s resumé, there’s a comedic twist.

Fully Committed sees Lloyd play no less than 37 distinct roles: as a wannabe actor working as a maître d’ at a pretentious New York restaurant and as everyone who calls for a reservation. He imitates the restaurant’s evil chef, his own agent, and various guests, including Naomi Campbell’s assistant, Bryce. He hasn’t gotten any smart phones thrown at him so far, but acknowledges that Ms. Campbell “hasn’t seen it yet.”

The sheer volume of work that went into Lloyd’s preparation was truly immense. “The trick of it is that you have to sustain these characters, you know? So if you can do a funny voice, that’s great. But can you do it for an hour and a half? Some of the voices came easy to me, and then some were not easy, and you have to be careful because you can’t have two of the voices close to each other. It’s like a puzzle.”

The play, and namely Lloyd’s performance in it, received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival earlier this year. His reprisal of the role therefore comes as no surprise. “Once you learn this show, you’re crazy if you don’t do it again. So, I mean, it’s perfectly named, because any actor that does it should be fully committed.”

It’s a credit to Lloyd that the triumph of Fully Committed at Fringe is a follow up to the huge success of his a cappella troupe, The Blanks, the previous year. The group, popularised on Scrubs as The Worthless Peons, or sometimes just known as Ted’s Band, have enjoyed a string of sold out shows throughout the UK and Ireland.

Like many all-male a cappella groups, as you might imagine, The Blanks had a slow start, forming when three of the four members met at Syracuse University, but failing to move beyond the house party circuit. “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it does it make a sound? We were like the tree in the forest,” Lloyd says good-naturedly.

The group landed their big break when Bill Lawrence, the creator of Scrubs, allowed them to perform at the season one cast and crew Christmas party. “We sang our famous version of the John Williams’ ‘Superman March’, with original lyrics by Paul from the group. They thought it was so ridiculous they put us on the show.” Unfortunately, the show runners couldn’t get the rights to the Superman track and so The Blanks recorded the ‘Underdog’ theme instead.

The Worthless Peons eventually became a core element of the Scrubs microcosm, but perhaps luckily. The infrastructure of the show’s production, namely that everything was done in a rush, never allowed The Blanks to become overproduced or subject to too much outside influence.

Lending further authenticity to the quartet, their musical numbers were very often sung live on set instead of being pre-recorded in the studio. For montages where the song would form the background of the action, the process was haphazard. “We’d go down to the sound department and they’d kind of like, literally, rigged up a tent around a microphone, and they’d say, ‘OK, you guys have a half hour to lay this down and then we gotta shoot the scene.’”

The stress of the arrangement certainly didn’t end there, however, with weekends during shooting being entirely dominated by assembling the track. “They would write the script the week before, but they wouldn’t get clearance on the songs until the Friday afternoon, and we’re shooting Monday.

“So when we finally got it, Paul [Perry] would spend 24 hours arranging it. And then by Saturday night he would call up our answering machines and leave our parts on our message machines. Oh my god, it was so stressful, but a blast.”

That the quartet could put together such accomplished musical numbers in 72 hours is a testament to the talent of each of the members. In fact, Lloyd’s involvement in Scrubs can be credited with bringing The Blanks member Paul Perry, who plays Randall the accountant on screen, to the music department where he, alongside other projects, wrote and composed a number of pieces for the episode My Musical, including the Emmy Award nominated ‘Guy Love’.

That the song lost to The Lonely Island’s ‘Dick in a Box’, is something Lloyd admits the band don’t talk about. Their current success is a far cry from their pre-television repertoire of “about three songs.”

The character of Ted is definitely lightened by his involvement in the a cappella group. As a grown, single man who lives with his mother, often feels suicidal, and is unarguably the loser of Sacred Heart Hospital, upon the introduction of the unfortunately named Peons, the only way to go for Ted was up.

It’s important to acknowledge, he says, that this assertion disregards the episode in which he competes against Dr. Kelso’s dog, Baxter, and loses. Regardless, Lloyd acknowledges that at times it was difficult to feel good about playing a character who is constantly being put down by everyone else on the show. “I was able to keep a sense of humour about it, but after a while, you know, I was ready to be happy again. Because he’s always sad, and everyone’s always treating him like crap.

“I’m wearing suits that don’t fit, and bad makeup, and sweat, and I look horrible, I feel horrible. People are telling me I’m horrible. So yeah, after a while it got kinda tiring.”

Ever self-deprecating and honest, Lloyd doesn’t fail to confess the large part he played in the characterisation of Ted, a move that should have been predictable considering a previous role of his as an Elaine obsessive on Seinfeld.

“Part of it was my fault. The first day that we shot the pilot, I’m getting my wardrobe fit, and I’m like, I don’t want it to fit, I want it to look bad, I want to look horrible, make it too big, this and that. Going into makeup, I’m like ‘make me pale’; I want sweat on my face.”

Despite the image of a sweaty, pale depressive sticking with him both on and off the set for the best part of a decade, he happily admits that ultimately, “It was a blast. And you know, at the end of the day it was all for the fun, so it was great.” In this manner, Lloyd has surely been both the architect of his own downfall and of his own success, by adopting a persona so beloved by fans.

A true character actor, his assumption of the role of the unfortunate has been unrelenting over more than forty years; beginning in 1966 with that fateful turn as a diaper-clad rodent in The Pied Piper and still going strong as a very lonely receptionist. “It goes way back,” he exclaims. “I suffered for my art.”

Would Lloyd return from the world of theatre and film a tenth season of Scrubs? “If everyone was on board,” he says, acknowledging that the fragmented nature of the ninth and final season was a bit “weird.”

The cast and crew absolutely had the type of boisterous fun that any fan would hope for, and Lloyd looks fondly back on the pranks played back and forth between the actors and writers, noting in particular that the screenwriters would surprise John C. McGinley, who played Dr. Perry Cox, with long monologues to memorise in a very short amount of time, just to see if he could do it.

He usually could, Lloyd notes, reflecting on the perks of working with a talented cast. For now, however, he seems perfectly content with his role(s) in Fully Committed, a challenge he wholeheartedly welcomes. “I’ve done three handers, I’ve done two handers, and when I got this part I was like ‘how much harder can it be than doing a two man show?’”

Mathematically, that would be 18 times as hard, but one gets the sense that’s just part of the fun for Lloyd. “I always knew I was gonna be an actor. I mean, I don’t even remember when I knew, I just always knew.”

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