Go Behind the Scenes of ABC’s New Show Imaginary Mary
Last month I had the opportunity to screen two episodes of ABC’s new show Imaginary Mary. I shared the trailer in my announcement post. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the show but a few minutes into the pilot we were laughing out loud. After the screening, we sat down with Jenna Elfman (“Alice”), Stephen Schneider (“Ben”) and Executive Producers David Guarascio & Doug Robinson.
I’ve never had an imaginary friend before, so this whole concept of the show as interesting to me. One of the first things we asked about was how did they come up with the show.
Doug R: I had a meeting with an animator named Patrick Osborne who won the Academy Award for a short film called Feast, and he was sort of just doing his victory tour. We were sitting down talking, and I said, do you have any ideas that you wanna do in television.
And he said, I’ve always wanted to do a show about somebody who has an imaginary friend. So I produced the Goldbergs with Adam Goldberg, and there’s no one in touch with his inner child more than Adam, so I was like that’s the perfect guy, and Adam is busy running a show. So he said, I know the exact story that we should do, and David was a writer on The Goldbergs, and we’ve both known him for a long time, and a lot of this mirrors David’s life, so we brought David in, and that’s sort of where, where it all came together.
David G: So then basically a divorced dad with kids; started dating a- just like Alice- a single career woman who really did not plan to have family in her life, and I was just too damned charming, basically, so broke through all that.
You’ll realize that as we continue to talk. Adam and I had worked together previously, and I would just tell these stories about my wife, what she sort of like did with sort of trying to slowly get integrated into life with my kids and, we just thought it’d be a great idea for a TV show. So that’s sort of where it came from.
Jenna and Stephen both shared how they became attached to the project once they were able to read the script and learn more about the show.
Jenna E: I had said to my agents, I’m not doing another network show. Don’t even bring it to me. Don’t bring any network shows, because I’d just become so frustrated with my experiences in the last several years with network television. But it hadn’t been on ABC. I hadn’t been on ABC since Dharma and Greg, so ABC’s, like, actually doing well with their comedies and then this came to me, a network show that actually films in Vancouver, Canada. I was like, GUYS!!
David G : It’s everything you don’t want.
Jenna E : Everything I don’t want. And then I read it and went that’s just so interesting because I love that there’s the romantic part as the leading lady, and then there’s, lik the fish out of water aspect with the kids because she just has no point of reference for dealing with children at all, and has no plan for it, and has a negative point of reference of childrearing.And then she’s super accomplished; she’s a woman on her own, which I liked, and then as, like, an actor dealing with comedy, I have to now also deal with something that doesn’t exist but that I see, but that they don’t see, and then do physical comedy, and fish out of water, and it was just like, OMG, that’s a lot of balls to juggle.
And I felt like I can take that on, and it felt like the next new level of challenge for me. And then everyone involved is so great, and I was like, it was really hard to say no to. I just couldn’t find a reason not to do it, so that’s how I came into it.
Stephen S : Nobody else would take the part, and I still had to audition twenty times for the role. But I had just become a dad myself, and I’ve never played a father on TV. And…
JE : You do it so well.
SS : I do- in real life, I’m terrible. Thank you. So it was, like, a very cool challenge to have- to be able to have the insanity of juggling three children. I mean and you guys know, kids are crazy and just one is a lot, but imagining, having to deal with three? I thought it would be a fun experience to basically get me to get a vasectomy. That’s where I’m going after this.
Jenna’s character is very quirky but so likable in the show. A few minutes in I was rooting for her to find her place with the family. We asked her how much of herself did she bring to the character.
Jenna E: I’m quirky. My husband would say so, I never think I’m quirky, and then he’s always pointing it out but not in a bad way. He’s just always, like, well I’m not sure who’s quirkier, though, like, because you know, someone’s calling- it’s like the pot calling the kettle black, like, I never know if I’m quirky or if he’s just weird and doesn’t know. I guess I’m quirky.
Stephen S: Yeah, but you’re also, in terms of the character, you’re a super successful, you know, independent woman…
Jenna E: Yeah. I thought it was fun to play something in terms of she’s super not a mom and has no idea what she’s doing, and I mean, as much as us mothers do know what we’re doing, we feel like we have no idea what we’re doing, and we also feel like, I got this, you know, depending on the day and depending on how much sleep your kid as had- or sugar they had the day before. I thought it was fun to, like, because I had a conversation with myself of like, okay, how am I gonna play someone who doesn’t know anything about this when I’ve been doing this for nine and a half years, like, in real life.
As I mentioned before I’ve never had an imaginary friend before, I guess I would have imagined it would be a person, but Mary looks like a walking stuffed animal. Although I can’t say which animal exactly. She’s hilarious, so we asked if they find themselves talking to Mary outside of work.
Jenna E: No, because my kids are always talking to me. I can’t even hear my own thoughts, like, it’s just Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama… We have a great actress- because when I was doing this, I was like, okay, guys, like, I can’t just have some random script supervisor doing Mary’s lines off camera, like, [ROBOTIC] “uh, go see him; go to him,” like, I need kind of comedic presence; to have that energy and that rhythm.
And they’ve got a great improv comedy actress to my lines with me, and she actually helps me learn my lines, too, because she has some extra time, so I find myself talking to her, but that’s to learn my lines, There’s not a lot of spare time in my life when I’m filming this show because we’re doing sixteen hour days.
We asked about who came up with the design of the Mary since she has a unique look. You see Alice draw her in the pilot and then she appears in 3-D shortly after in the episode.
Doug R: Our co–creator, Patrick Osborne, who’s also an animator, he really came up with the design and sort of just worked with us about what she would look like, and he wanted to do something that was, loveable-looking particularly because, you know, an important part of Mary’s character is that she’s not always saying the right thing, so to speak, and she is a defender of, in a very important way, of Alice’s independent streak and her sort of like feminist side, so to speak.
So we felt like we could get away with Mary saying more of what she shouldn’t say if- the cuter she looked, really. So, um, he just wanted to make sure she sort of had that appeal was his big- she needs to be appealing. And so it was hard, like, we worked- we had a lot of different concepts and worked to- over time and shot a pilot with one aspect, and kept tweaking it until we finally came to this, this look here. So really it just came from his brain.
David G: We completely changed her between the pilot and the series. We redesigned her just because we found that certain things worked, and certain things didn’t work, and we sort of just made her rounder and cuter, and just kept, uh, he just kept refining her the whole time. It was great.
As a mother learning how to find a balance between blogging, travel, and taking care of my family, things can be rough. We asked Jenna how she balances her work and personal life.
Jenna E: I had a learning curve when we first starting filming because I didn’t expect those days to be that way, and it’s not like I had all this downtime either. We only had, like, ten minutes between takes; between setups and I was like, oh my god, making my choices; learning my lines for the day, and then the next day, the next day, and the next, like, and trying to make sure I’m well rested and I really saw I could not eat sugar.
And, and in my life, I can’t do the perfect diet and I have no interest in doing that to myself. I used to do it- I can’t do it anymore. I’m like, I wanna enjoy my pizza and my ice cream. But I couldn’t survive; I couldn’t remember lines with no sleep. On Saturdays I would just wanna face plant, and I had to be a mom, and so I would just sort of bring them into bed with me for the five hours of the day and stay in bed, and then I’m like, yeah, I’ve gotta get out and do stuff, and then I had to learn my lines for the next week. And so it was really challenging. That was super intense. So I don’t always do it great, I’m tired, and then I have to keep it together and not be cranky with them, and then sometimes I’m cranky, and then I feel horrible, and then I go take a nap if I can- I mean it’s the thing we all do.
We asked the group what were they hoping people take away from the show when they watch. I found it to be very funny, but also a look at a different kind of family.
Jenna E: Laughter, joy, entertainment, and feeling better about the lives they’re living. That’s all, personally, I just wanna make people have relief, you know? Like, we’re all in this together. We know how hard it is. Like, life’s freakin’ hard and, and I want people to watch the show and, like with you guys, that laughter- me sitting here listening to you guys laugh and react, that’s everything to me. That’s why I do it because it, it removes you from the stresses of life for that moment. And in those moments, you rehabilitate a little more life juice to go on, and that’s all I want to do for people.
About Imaginary Mary
The newest ABC comedy about a fiercely independent career woman (Jenna Elfman) whose life is turned upside-down when she meets the love of her life – a divorced father with three kids. This triggers even more upheaval when the slightly unhinged imaginary friend (voiced by Rachel Dratch) she created as a child suddenly reappears to help her navigate the transition from single girl to a woman ready for a family.
“Imaginary Mary” stars Jenna Elfman as Alice, Stephen Schneider as Ben, Rachel Dratch as Mary (VO), Nicholas Coombe as Andy, Matreya Scarrwener as Dora and Erica Tremblay as Bunny. “Imaginary Mary,” airs on Tuesdays at (9:30–10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network.