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Jumping right smack in the middle of a successful sitcom is a huge challenge, but for Amber Tamblyn, she has hit the ground running on the CBS comedy TWO AND A HALF MEN. In a press interview at the Warner Bros. Mondo International Press Tour, Amber candidly shared some of the challenges, her advice for her character, and how hard it is to keep a straight face working with her illustrious co-stars.
What is it like to slip into such an iconic show so late in the game, especially when you have to take on such a powerful role?
AMBER: There’s something really enjoyable about coming into a well‑oiled machine, especially for someone like me who’s been doing this for 20 years. So often you do a pilot, and there’s a lot of people on that pilot that it’s their first show, and maybe it’s even a director ‑‑ it’s their first time — then you don’t even know if that pilot is going to get on the air. Then even if it gets on the air, you don’t know if that show is going to survive. You just don’t know. There’s so many variables. It’s really quite wonderful to just sort of slip into something that feels like full steam ahead. That’s really nice.
How much improvisation is allowed on this show? I mean, how much do you guys play off each other?
AMBER: Not at all. Off screen, yes. We have a great time. But it’s pretty much verbatim, which is ironic because the writers, in between scenes, come in and chop everything up and cut out jokes and bring in new jokes, and you have to just remember it right on the spot. And they roll again, and you just shoot it again with the new jokes in place. So it’s been a very interesting exercise for me and a very interesting experience to do that. Very challenging. It’s gotten a little easier, but, sometimes you’ll have a scene ‑‑ and these are not short scenes, these are not drama scenes, these are, eight, nine, ten pages long sometimes — and throughout that whole thing, they can just change this and change this and change this. And then it’s, “Jon, you’re going to not say this now. And, Ashton, cut your next four lines. And then, Amber, you say this. And then right after that, Jon, you say this.” And then you have a quick moment to rehearse that. Meanwhile there’s 400 people in an audience screaming, and there’s a guy getting them all excited, doing jokes and magic tricks and stuff. So you’re trying to block out that noise and remember these new lines. But the good news about that is that if you fail, if you forget something, the audience goes wild. They love it. They like to see you mess up. They just like to see it because you don’t ever get to see that. It really is breaking the fourth wall. For people who watch TV and film and theater, you never get to see that. So it’s a treat.
Did you know that when you got in, or it was surprise?
AMBER: I knew a little bit about it. I don’t think I quite knew the extent. I did seven years on a soap opera when I was a kid. So I remember my first week, Chuck sat down next to me and said, “So, you excited? You know, this is” ‑‑ “you ever done anything like this before?” And I said, “Oh, yeah. I did seven years on a soap opera.” And he just cut right in, and he’s like, “This is nothing like a soap opera.” And he was so right. Just because there’s similar stages and multicamera, and you go through a whole scene. There’s not setups. But it’s nothing like a soap opera at all.
Who is your character, in your eyes? Who is Jenny?
AMBER: Jenny is somebody without a moral compass at all, which is very fun to play as an actor. She’s someone who has not figured out yet what she likes or dislikes, which is very interesting. She likes everything. She doesn’t know what she dislikes yet. She doesn’t know what offends her, what upsets her, what hurts her. She is truly a sort of childish adult, somebody who just never really grew up. She might end up having to do that at some point. You never know. But right now it’s very fun to play somebody who doesn’t have those parameters; who’s still trying to figure out what those parameters are.
On the opposite, you had to grow up fast since you worked pretty early. So was it out of left field or refreshing to play a character like this?
AMBER: That’s a really interesting question. I suppose so, yeah. I think it’s interesting. I’ve certainly never played a character like this one before. But it is interesting. I mean, I have definitely lived a great life as well, personally and privately. So I don’t feel like I had to necessarily grow up so fast. But certainly I don’t live like Jenny. Yeah, that would be crazy.
Coming into the show as Charlie Harper’s daughter, have you gone back and watched his character over the seasons before?
AMBER: I have not. I saw one episode that was rerunning because it was on TV while we were rehearsing, and I was waiting between scenes. And I was like, “Oh, cool.” But I had never really seen it before. I also don’t watch a lot of TV. I grew up watching MISTER ROGERS and shows on PBS. I like documentaries. So I’ve only really gotten into a lot of TV stuff in the last maybe two or three years.
If you were to give your character Jenny some advice, what kind of advice would you want to give her?
AMBER: Oh, boy. Wear protection.
She’d likely actually know that already.
AMBER: Would she? I have no idea. Yeah, wear protection — and don’t have sex with animals. That would be my advice for Jenny. I don’t even know if for either of those, she’s done them or not. I’m just saying in general. There’s no way to know. (Laughs)
Do you laugh a lot or crack up a lot on set?
AMBER: Yes. Jon Cryer makes me laugh the hardest when he interrupts his own joke and starts laughing. It’s sort of infectious. Jon’s got the best laugh. His mouth spreads open and eats his whole head. He laughs with his whole body and his whole face. And sometimes he won’t even be able to get the whole joke out before he just breaks into laughter and our mouths will start to tremble. It’s sometimes really, really hard. The audience loves it because you just have to try to get through the joke about prostates or boobs. That’s what we talk about on our show. Yeah. One or the other, in some form.
Do you watch TV shows on DVDs or Blu‑rays or digital?
AMBER: Yeah, I watch on digital. And then sometimes, like if there’s a show that’s come out that I missed that I never saw ‑‑ for instance, THE WIRE — I watched that. I’ll watch them back to back, or on Netflix or Apple TV, something like that.
What’s the good thing about watching like that, several episodes in a row?
AMBER: I don’t know if there is anything good about it. I know people are so high on it. I enjoy it, but it’s sort of the idea that you can get anything at the touch of a button all at once. And there’s no time in between to process it and talk about it at dinner parties and wonder what’s going to happen the next week. I’m sort of old‑school in that way. I enjoyed the last several episodes of “Breaking Bad” that everybody was watching, sort of like in a countdown. That was really fun because you get to go to dinner or meet somebody or whoever you were spending time with and talk about it. So I’m sort of like “eh” about it.
Are you someone that goes online to see what people have to say about the show or about you?
AMBER: Yeah. I read pretty much everything. I am not of the mind that that’s super bad for you. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I know that when people hate it, there’s nothing I can do to change them or change that. But I think it’s kind of your responsibility as an actor to keep your finger on the temperature of how people feel about it, because it’s your job — it’s your character. I don’t take anything personally, except for when someone is making fun of my teeth or my ears. Then I write them personally – like all of a sudden the dark side comes out. (Laughs)
To see all new episodes, TWO AND A HALF MEN airs Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.