When 11-year-old Harry Carter creates an app for geeky kids like him to talk to girls, it transforms the lives of his family in Milton Keynes. Brash American billionaire Trent Zebriski snaps up the HONC app for £10m, but how will the family cope with their newfound wealth? TV Choice speaks to American actor James Van Der Beek, best known for Dawson’s Creek, about the new comedy…
Why did the show appeal?
Well the pedigree of the people involved was fantastic, and because of the weird circle that I travel in, I’ve gotten to know a number of these billionaire tech entrepreneurs. They will tell you, if you talk to them, they’re a species that is particularly ripe for skewering into a comedy. So the idea of doing that felt like it was something I could bring to the table, and then to drop someone who’s like Trent, who’s shameless and calculated and has a huge agenda, in the middle of this very sweet, well intentioned family and dangling all this money in front of them. It seemed like a pretty fun premise.
Why does Trent Zebriski give the Carter family £10m?
The heart of the show is about the Carter family and there’s this young 11-year-old kid who develops this app called HONC, and an American millionaire buys it. He wants to make the app the next Facebook for kids.
How do the Carters cope with the sudden money and fame?
Well that’s the series, what happens when a good hearted family from Milton Keynes comes into £10m. Do they enjoy the money? Does it change how people react to them? Does it change their own dynamic?
Had you ever heard of Milton Keynes?
No, I had not ever I’ll be honest with you! That one had escaped my radar.
Is Carters Get Rich your first UK project?
Yes, it was, which sounds weird because I’ve been there so many times. I backpacked through when I was 19 and went to London and loved it. So I come back whenever I can, but yes it was so much fun to play an American and not have to worry about trying to do a British accent and this level of ridiculousness of American culture and expressions.
How did it compare to America?
The dressing room I had at Pinewood had crown moulding in it! That’s a first. And you couldn’t walk anywhere on your cell phone because if you went out anywhere in Pinewood studios you’d be tackled by eight Star Wars security guards immediately! So the phone had to stay in your pocket at all times that was a little different, being treated as if you were the paparazzi.
How long were you over here for?
I think eight days. They were very accommodating because I’d just had a kid in real life. I had a new baby at home so they were cool enough to wait for the baby to arrive and then they stacked most of my days consecutively so I could come in and shoot and then get back and help out my poor wife with the kids. But she knew how much I wanted to do it and so she was incredibly cool and let me come out and do it. But I was so tired for half of it that I think most of the character is probably my punch drunk jetlag.
When you were the same age as Harry is in this series, were you good at talking to girls or if there were an app like HONC would you have used it?
Oh God if there was an app when I was 11 it would have been like an alien landing in the middle of the earth. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 19 so the idea of a dating app when I was 11… I mean I grew up in the olden times! It would have been unfathomable.
You’re very active on Twitter but what’s your general view of social media and apps?
My personal view is that we’re neophytes when it comes to technology and how that affects our interactions with each other. I feel like as a species we’re just now learning what to do with it and subsequent generations will look at it and think, ‘Oh those poor people had no idea how to balance.’ Right now we’re like a four-year-old with a birthday cake in front of them and are just going to keep eating until we get sick, and I think that’s how we are with technology. We’ll figure it out, we’ll find a balance.
As a parent is that a concern of yours about how much leeway to give kids with technology?
Of course. How you balance technology and what you do with it is the question of the 21st century, especially in terms of raising kids. It’s what you do with it, how do you use it? So you raise kids and you hopefully give them the tools to make a decision but right now we really try to limit our kids’ screen time, but they’re really young.
I can’t let you go without asking about Dawson’s Creek.
You’d be fired!
How do you reflect on that time?
It’s what launched me into a career. I’d been working five years prior to that in theatre and never expected the success of it. When I do reflect on it it’s usually just in interviews, I’ll be honest, it’s not part of my day to day, but it’s kind of nice actually when people do ask because it does afford me the space to sit back and go, ‘Wow of all the pilots I could have booked when I was 20 years old I’m pretty lucky that it was that one.’ I was really lucky.
Was it a feeling that Dawson’s Creek could be the one, or was it just the one that you picked and it just happened to take off?
I really appreciate the use of the word ‘picked’ as if I had options! No I was auditioning for everything that came my way at that point in my life, and that was the one show that decided to cast me. I’d been auditioning for pilots for five years, and that was the first one I ever booked. Some of it was just dumb luck I suppose, and then in the subsequent years, from my point of view when I reflect upon it, that show taught me how to act in front of the camera, how to hit my mark, how to balance a 14, 16-hour work day, how to find my light. I learnt a lot of technical lessons on that which are invaluable that you really can only learn on your feet. I think that was the lasting impression for me that I’m grateful for.
Fast forward to Don’t Trust The B In Apartment 23 where you played a heightened version of yourself. What was that like?
I had started doing comedy, then my agent called and said, ‘There’s a show, it’s Nahnatchka Khan – who’s a comedic genius – and it’s Krysten Ritter, who is our generation’s Lucile Ball, and they just want to meet with you,’ and I was like, ‘What’s the catch?’ and he said, ‘Well! They want you to play a heightened version of yourself.’
At the time there wasn’t really an example of that going right in a series. I think Episodes had maybe just started around that time, so in my mind at least the jury was still out on whether that would work. There had been other examples of it not working in the past and so I went in and sat down with Nahnatchka Khan and Dave Hemingson who ran it, and I just thought if I’m going to do comedy these are the people I want to work with.
That very quickly got me over that precious idea of, ‘Well what are people going to think? Is this going to be the end of my career? Are people going to look down on me for this? Are people not going to take me seriously?’
I just threw all that out and said, ‘F*** it these people are funny, this who I want to work with so let’s do it.’
I worked at [improv comedy group] Upright Citizens Brigade for a little bit, I hosted awards shows, I just did whatever I could to get in front of an audience as me and see what worked, see what people felt was funny, and very quickly a series of observations came out of that. I worked with Nahnatchka to build a character and not just a one-note joke. It was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had.
Finally, you’re working on What Would Diplo Do? which you’re writing, producing and starring in. What else can you tell us about it?
Where do I start?! I had done a promotional video for Diplo for his tour. He would shudder if I said this but he is a musical genius, and so when I was asked to do it I said yes. And then we were asked if there was a possibility to turn it into a series and at first I said, ‘No, no, no this isn’t a series,’ but then I thought about it. I came in late at night and put some Diplo on in my head sets and I thought about it and it hit me, ‘Wow this is a series. What if you did musical genius sucks at life?’ and the seed of that idea just felt right for a series. So I’ve fleshed it out and went to Viceland, and Spike Jonze, and pitched this idea of parables about life told through the eyes of a clown. We kind of drill down on some very deep philosophical issues and then layer all the ridiculousness of the Electronic Dance Music world over the top of it and it’s been great, it’s been a lot of fun and Diplo is as game as I was before Apartment 23 to just completely take the p*** out of himself, and he’s been incredibly supportive and cool.
Sky 1, Friday