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Joey Lawrence

Grown Up on Camera

by Deborah Wagner

Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 5, 2010.  

When you think of Joey Lawrence, most people think ďWhoa!Ē  I know I do, thanks to the iconic catchphrase he made popular back in the 90ís while playing Joey Russo on the hit TV show Blossom

Before becoming a teenage heartthrob on Blossom, Joey spent his adolescent years doing guests spots on other popular sitcoms like Diffírent Strokes and Silver Spoons before landing his first recurring role on the 80ís hit Gimme a Break. 

Since Blossom ended in 1995, Joey has continued to act in films and made-for-TV movies, as well as in sitcoms including Brotherly Love (alongside his brothers Matt and Andy), Run of the House and Half & Half and the popular drama American Dreams.  He also danced his way into third place in 2006 on ABCís popular reality competition Dancing with the Stars. 

Now at 34, Joey Lawrence is all grown up and this father of two is back on TV in the ABC Familyís original series Melissa & Joey that airs Tuesday nights at 8/7 Central.  Starring beside his childhood friend Melissa Joan Hart Ė with whom he had also done the TV movie My Fake Fiancť Ė Joey portrays an unemployed commodities trader named Joe Longo who has turned live-in male nanny.  He also lends his singing talents to the show Ė a passion which he has been exploring since his 90s hit single ďNothing My Love Canít FixĒ Ė performing the opening theme song ďStuck with Me.Ē  Gaining popularity, Melissa & Joey has now been picked up for 20 episodes next season. 

Recently, we sat down with Joey to talk about growing up in front of the camera, family, his new role as a ďmannyĒ and our mutual love for a school called Abington Friends. 

I have two kids at Abington Friends School, where you graduated. 

Really?  Thatís so cool.  I loved that school.  How long have they been there? 

This is my daughterís first year. Sheís in kindergarten and my son is in third grade

No way.  Itís such a great school.  They have a great campus too.  The school store, I mean come on, the school store is awesome.  Itís like 200 years old, that thing.  And the meeting for worship house, it was just a great time.  I was actually there when they built the Mueller Auditorium.  I just have such great memories from my years there.    

So, my first question is by í94 when you actually graduated, you had already done Gimme A Break and you were working currently on Blossom.  How difficult was that Ė to travel across the country while working in LA and then come back here to Abington Friends for school? 

It wasnít difficult because it was just what I was used to.  I had been doing it ever since second grade.  First grade, really.  And 60% or 70% of my class were lifers so we were all there together since kindergarten.  It made it very easy.  There werenít new groups of kids that I had to deal with or that didnít know who I was.  They were there with me from the beginning so it never hit them overnight.  Therefore I was able to come back home and get right back into the groove of things and go on my cool country trips.  Great stuff.  It was really awesome. 

That is cool. 

Yes, itís was a really great time in my life.  It was incredible. 

I really liked you in American Dreams.  Would you like to do more of the dramatic roles or do you prefer comedy to drama? 

I like both.  I can do both, so itís just a matter of what makes sense at the right time.  This seemed like a good project and I was able to have a lot of creative control on this one.  I hadnít been involved in the half hour in a long time, so to come back to it this way was nice.  But yes, movies and drama and stuff like that I think is obviously in the future.  Itís all part of the journey and this is where I am at the moment. 

You and Melissa have known each other for quite some time.  How do you guys maintain chemistry onscreen?  Youíre friends in real life, but you have to have a spark onscreen too. 

Right.  Well, you know thatís why we get paid the big bucks there. [laughs]  Itís just all part of the job when you have to play certain characters.  There are areas that you have to tap into and youíve got to pull from personal things in your life and try to use those in your job.  I associate it to just putting myself into Joe Longoís world.  Heís attracted to her, therefore, I am as well as Joe Longo. 

You both also have younger kids.  Whatís it like raising tweens [on the show]? 

I think thatís where the comedy comes from because these people are barely in their 30s themselves, and they have 16-year-olds running around.  So, itís really more of an uncle/aunt type relationship or an older sibling type of relationship.  Weíre trying to create some kind of normalcy for these teenagers with their parents either in jail or on the run.  Yet at the same time when youíre 16-years-old youíre kind of baked.  Youíre who youíre going to be.  Itís just a matter of the final toppings on the sundae there.   I think that we feel that responsibility to hopefully at least set a good example for them.  Itís tough, being in our 30s, but weíre sort of on the young end of that, so I think that weíre still kids at heart and probably act like big kids at times.  Itís a tough job.  I wouldnít know what itís like other than the fact that my youngest sibling, Andy, is 12 years younger than me.  So growing up I was really more like an uncle to him than I was a brother because I took care of him and he looked up to me that way much more so than Matt, for instance.  Matt and I are only three years apart, so you have all the much more the normal sibling stuff. 

I wonder if you could talk about just how this project got started.  I would assume your chemistry in My Fake Fiancť led to this? 

Yes, I think so.  My Fake Fiancť was something that we did together and we had a good time.  There were intangible things that happened and I think that in the comedy world we just have this sort of innate timing that really works well.  You never know why two people work well together in a certain genre or a certain type.  I donít know if it would be the same in drama, but certainly in the comedy world we just worked well.  We had never worked with each other or anything like that.  We had known each other, but when we were doing the movie I think that we felt that Ė and I know the network, they were watching the dailies and stuff and they were feeling that.  Then one thing led to another and before the movie was over we were all thinking this might work to do a half hour comedy or something like that.  And a year and a half later here we are.  But definitely I think the initial idea came from My Fake Fiancť and that whole experience. 

How different is it being the executive producer on a series like this?  What does that exactly mean?  Do you have more say into your character and how the show goes? 

Itís awesome.  You canít be fired at all, which is great.  [laughs]  No, it does allow you a lot more creative control over how the show turns out at the end of the day.  In this particular medium I have a lot of experience, so itís not just like an actor grabbing at some power; itís that I know as much as anybody does in this particular medium just because Iíve had so many years of experience.  I think that it just helps when youíre not feeling great about something or if you have an idea about something that theyíve got to take it seriously.  Itís not like an actor for hire.  Itís a part of the team.  If I was going to jump back into this world Ė to the half hour comedy world Ė I wanted to be a big part of the team rather than an actor for hire. 

With the teenage characters on the show, how involved are you in choosing some of their storylines and saying, you know what, I donít want to go too dark with them and I donít want to make them seem like theyíre growing up too fast?  As a parent of young kids do you feel like a role model for the younger audience that is watching? 

Weíre on the edgier side, so weíre not going to sugarcoat it, but at the same time itís not the Disney Channel.  Itís not for eight-year-olds.  I would say minimum would be thirteen, just because of the content of the show.  Itís a young adult comedy with teenagers, so it certainly wouldnít be for six-year-olds, seven-year-olds, or eight-year-olds.  It probably wouldnít hurt them to watch it, but itís not for them.  In terms of the teenage stuff, we try to handle it responsibly but part of the comedy is that Melís character is not responsible and that Iím there to shed some light on responsibility.  Thatís where some of the comedy comes from.  So there are moments when there is not the right example set, but I think by the end of the half hour somehow you get a sense of either what should have happened or what will happen the next time.  Theyíre not really parents and I think theyíre both less developed in that area than I am in my personal life and Melissa is in her personal life, because we are young parents and they arenít. 

Why did you decide to keep your first name for your characters on the show? 

Honestly, that was an ABC Family decision.  They were emphatic and very passionate about that.  Initially, believe it or not, the character names were Jack and Annie.  But they did their marketing research and the brilliant minds over there in the ABC Family said, ďLook, there are a lot of channels and a lot of choices, and we believe in this show and we want to make sure that people know what it is and we want to be able to cut through.  And we really think that if we use your names, that that will be a no-brainer, people will know what this is and instantly there will recognizability for it.Ē  We couldnít disagree, even though I think Melissa and I were both sort of like, eh, at the beginning.  But they gave us some examples and they said look, if you look back at some of the shows that have done this and itís worked, to name a few, they said thereís Cosby and Roseanne and Seinfeld and Mary Tyler Moore, and after that you just kind of go, okay.  But it was really for name recognition and marketing and so far itís really worked.  I think they know a thing or two over there. 

Your character on the show is a bit embarrassed by having the job as a nanny.  What are your feelings are about playing a male nanny. 

Look, every good dad and husband is part nanny.  Thatís part of the job, right?  You have kids.  I know that part of the domestic responsibilities; itís a 50/50 road there.  Iím doing laundry at home and cleaning up around the house and cooking meals, and thatís just the way it works.  But I think that for this guy in particular it would be a little tough to go from making millions of dollars and basically having life at your fingertips to living in a basement apartment and cooking meals.  It would be a transition, to say the least, and I think thatís where the comedy comes from for Joe Longo.  Thatís why heís obsessed with the fact that heís not actually working for her Ė heís working with her and heís freelance, so he thinks he can leave at any time he wants.  He probably could, but he wouldnít have anywhere to go.  So until he gets his feet back under him, thatís sort of the underlying theme.  Heís going to use this job until he can trade again, which is five years from now, because he struck up a deal with the Feds to avoid jail time, but he canít trade for five years.  So it would be tough, I think.  Not because of the job but just because of where you came from to where you were at the moment. 

What do you like best about your character, Joe Longo? 

What do I like best?  I like that heís a guyís guy.  I like that heís brutally honest.  I sort of wanted to create him as a throwback because I didnít think that this guy was on TV right now, this brutally honest kind of Bruce Willis from Moonlighting type guy who had a swagger and had a great heart.  Heís just the kind of guy that if a woman asked him if she looked good or not in a dress he would be perfectly honest and say, ďHonestly, that one doesnít look that great.Ē  Thatís the kind of guy that you think youíd hate, but at the end of the day I think youíd probably like him because heís not saying it for malicious reasons but heís saying it to be honest.  Whereas, most guys would go, ďNo, honey, you look fine, you look great, you look wonderful.Ē  But this guy would say it.  I just wanted that guy back on TV.  Heís a little politically incorrect.  Heís kind of a unique combination because heís very smart and made a lot of money and now heís taking this job that he feels heís really sucking it up for a minute until he gets his life back together.  Heís a complex guy and I didnít think that that guy was on TV, so thatís probably what I like best, that heís just brutally honest. 

The big question, whenever you do a romantic or a sexual tension sitcom, is do you put the couple together?  Have you guys and the writers figured that out yet? 

I think that this relationship is very similar to Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting.  Itís very similar to Ted Danson and Shelley Long/Kirstie Alley.  Itís those love to hate, hate to love things, and if you get these two people together that starts to signify the show wrapping itself up.  So youíve got to fight that for as long as you can, because if you give into that then it becomes syrupy and gives you cavities and then the comedy dies.  So it probably will happen, but hopefully we have an opportunity to be on for a while and it wonít happen for a while. 

What does it feel like for you to work in front of a live audience?  Do you find the energy is different having the immediate reaction from the fans? 

Yes, I think that with this particular medium, the half hour comedy, I prefer it in front of a live audience, or at least some sort of hybrid version of it, just because I feel that a lot gets lost when thereís no live audience at all.  It was really intended to be theater in a box.  I mean, thatís what half hour comedy on TV was intended to be.  As itís grown and changed I think that thereís a single camera format where you donít have any audience.  I think the live crowd keeps the show alive and moving along and keeps it bubbling under the surface, so to speak.  I like that energy being in this format.  Itís fun to watch and I think it makes you feel alive when you watch it.  It is a rush, because it really is like theater.  You get that great response when a joke works and you also donít get a great response when a joke doesnít work and you know and then you can change it, which is what we do.  I donít know; itís a great experience. 

Are there any personality traits in real life that have been infused into the characters? 

Youíve got to put a little bit of yourself into all the characters that you portray.  There are some similarities, but Iíd say there are more things Ė especially in Joe Longo Ė that are not similar to me, but thatís what I enjoy.  I enjoy playing that because thatís not the guy that I am essentially.  But I do like the fact that heís honest.  I think we share that in common. 

Talking about families, both you and Melissa have young children and Iím just wondering how hard it is right now to balance the series and your families. 

Thatís really the challenge of any young parent with any job really.  Iím not any different than any guy whoís an upstart lawyer or an investment banker or a construction worker or a teacher or anything like that.  The toughest challenge in life is to balance being the best parent you can be and also succeeding as much as you can.  Knowing that youíre doing it for your family, knowing that youíre doing it for college funds and to hopefully allow you and your wife to be able to spend your later years in somewhat of financial comfort.  Thatís what itís all about.  But that balance is probably the toughest thing in life, really, because itís about switching gears constantly.  You come home from a long day of work and thereís a lot of things on your mind and the normal stresses and anxieties and responsibilities of your work, and then bang, you walk through the door and itís diaper changing and Phineas and Ferb and story time and bath time, and itís just, wow.  So itís not easy, but challenges are something that I feel are exciting and that I want to conquer, and this is certainly I think one of the largest ones that any person will ever have, really. 

Are you going to use your musical talents on Melissa & Joey? 

Yes, I actually did write the theme song for this.  In the opening titles, the way they do it nowadays sort of the theme song as a whole has kind of disappeared, which is unfortunate, they donít play the whole thing.  But at the end of the show if you listen out for it and itís like this, ďI guess youíre stuck with me,Ē right, and that is part of a full song which will be up on iTunes and itís a really cute little folky-pop thing.  Then we totally did a full remix, a brand new version of it, which will be on my record which comes out early next year, which is really exciting.  The recordís great.  I would not have gone down that road again if I didnít really think it was awesome, and it is exciting working with Matthew Gerard and a bunch of great guys on this thing.  Itís a pop record that I think people are going to be happy with.  Itís really exciting stuff.  Anyway, the total remix version is we did this reggae sort of dance version of this song and we flipped it up on its head and I re-did the vocal and everything and it sounds really sick.  So that will be on the record too. 

You and Melissa both have a really large fan base that goes back a long way and so I was hoping that you could talk about who the fans are for the show and what audience youíre expecting, new fans, old fans, and just the response so far.

The response so far has been great.  I think our fans are people that have grown up with us and then thereís a younger growing fan base thatís grown up with the reruns of the shows.  Thatís whatís so great.  I know that when Brotherly Love went over to the Disney Channel, although my fans at the time were probably 19, 20 years old, it went over there and became the number one show on that channel for four or five years, and it was exposed to a bunch of 8-year-olds and 10-year-olds who are now 17 and 18.  So even though probably my core audience is 25 to 35 or something like that, there are all these 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds, and 17-year-olds that know very well who I am and who Matt and Andy are just because of that success.  I know it was the same with Melissa with Sabrina being on reruns everywhere and stuff like that.  Thatís what makes it very unique.  When youíre blessed enough to do this kind of work for a long time and yet still are young, you are exposed to a bunch of different ages, and they will start to follow you if youíre lucky.  Weíve both been very lucky in that regard.  Iíd say the age range is probably anywhere from 12 to 49, which is what made it enticing to the network. 

You said that youíve been in the business for a long time.  What do you attribute your success to, anything in particular? 

Itís the intangible, really.  But thereís no rhyme or reason for it and thereís certainly no progression that you can follow, other than just try to work hard.  Iíve always tried to work hard.  I try to live right and make as many right choices as I can.  Nobodyís perfect by any means, but I think that we all know right and wrong and the goal in life, as my grandfather told me, is to try to make as many of the right decisions as you possibly can.  I was from a generation that was about the work.  There were young people even in my generation growing up that messed up, that had problems with drugs and run-ins with the law and stuff, but it was about the work.  They didnít go into it wanting to be famous for anything other than doing great work or being in big movies or TV shows.  Today if thereís been any change at all, itís that a lot of young people are coming in to this to be famous Ė like famous to be famous, not famous because of the work.  For us, it was just about doing the work you loved to do.  The fame thing was like, wow, a cherry on top and it was a cool thing but you always kept perspective on it.  Whereas, today gosh, so many of these young people are just famous for a sex tape or famous for something else crazy or getting arrested or drug overdoses, you know, itís horrible.  Part of the reason why Iíve been able to stick around for a long time is just because, well, number one, Iíve been lucky and I have great, incredible fans out there that grew up with me, because Iíve been able to do this from 5-years old to 34-years-old already.  And Iím just sort of beginning really, I feel, because as a leading man this is when it begins, at 30 really.  So itís kind of cool.  Then keeping my nose clean and trying to live right and making it about the work instead of about my personal life, and trying to keep as much of that private.  Even though Iím a public person you try to keep as much of that private and try to keep it classy.  I think that itís worked so far. 

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and re-do it? 

There were certain movies that I did not do during the whole Blossom run and stuff, just because I didnít want to get burned out doing the whole teen thing.  I was fortunate that when I was a young teenager I was playing the age that I was.  It wasnít one of those things where I was like some of these other actors and stuff that were 25 playing 16, so that was the good thing about it.  But you pass on some of these roles and they end up turning out to be huge hit movies.  I donít know whether Iíd re-do it, but it makes you think twice, like maybe I should have.  At the same point in time I didnít want to burn myself out as a teenager and not have any sort of career later in life, because I think there are two ways you can go with that.  You can either get over-exposed and then never work again, make a lot of money but never work again, or you can pace yourself and say, you know what, I believe that I can do this for the rest of my life and I think the prime area of a career, for a male especially, really doesnít even begin until youíre in your middle thirties.  Then if youíre lucky enough and if you choose wisely and you work hard enough probably 35-60 is really the career that you want.  If you look at all the great leading men, you look at Tom Hanks and Michael Douglas and John Travolta, Bruce Willis, George Clooney, these guys.  I mean, George Clooney didnít even start ER until he was 35 or 36 years old.  So thatís what I was thinking.  I was trying to keep my eye on the bigger picture.  But there were a couple of those movies that ended up being huge hit movies that probably wouldnít have hurt, and thatís the way the cookie crumbles.  I try not to have any regrets about anything, just because I believe that the way it went down is the way it was supposed to go down.  You have to believe that otherwise youíll drive yourself crazy. 

I know in the past youíve worked with your brothers in a lot of different projects.  Is there any chance one of them would guest star in the future?  Would you be interested in that? 

Sure.  I love those guys.  Theyíre so talented.  Yes.  Weíre already starting to throw around some ideas, cool ways to have Matt and Andy on the show in some regard.  As a matter of fact, itís a very good chance that Matt at some point will be on the show very shortly, and Andrew will as well, but I think the role for Matt will probably come up first. 

I know youíre still involved with film other than TV and I was wondering if there are any upcoming projects or things youíre working on that you could talk about? 

As I mentioned, weíve got the new record coming out next year, which is exciting.  I was able to work with Matthew Gerard on the whole thing, and I donít know if you know who he is, but you can Google him.  Heís just a prolific producer and has had 30 number one hit songs - one that Kelly Clarkson did, Jesse McCartneyÖ itís just incredible what heís been able to do to.  Miley Cyrus and all that stuff.  We just started working and itís turned into this amazing thing.  In terms of films, Iím always working on that.  Thatís just a process that I really wanted to take my time and not rush it.  Thatís why even as a teenager I passed on a lot of those movie roles because I wanted to do them later when I felt like as a man that Iíd be able to do the roles that I wanted to do.  Weíre getting there.  Iím going to be doing a movie next year called Havana Heat, which is this big action Miami Vice thing, sort of in the line of The Expendables.  Wesley Snipes is in it and weíre working with a bunch of great other guys.  Theyíre closing their deals right now so I canít really talk about them, but weíre going to put together sort of a dream team of amazing action guys and Iím going to play this cop that is sort of in the middle of it all.  Itís about a drug lord that goes from the United States down to Cuba and me and my team follow him.  Itís really exciting.  Itís really cool.  Weíre going to start shooting that probably early next year, as soon as Iím done with hopefully the first full season of the show and before I start the second season. 

I wanted to know what your favorite memory is or what you loved best about working on Blossom? 

Thereís not one specific memory, just kind of a really great, warm feeling about the whole thing, because that was a tremendous time in my life.  There was a period of time there where as a 16-year-old, I was probably the most successful one in the world, so itís not something that you plan but you certainly canít beat that.  It was just so great to be on a big hit show like that and to be so successful personally and yet still have all my friends.  Since I was in high school and all those great things, you get your prom and you get your school trips.  I flew back every three weeks to Abington Friends and then got to experience all that stuff and graduated from there.  It was just a wonderful time.  You look back on that and you say, wow, man, it was crazy how simple and just awesome it was, because as you get older life gets complicated, you know. 

I read that you sold a script to ABC Family for a movie called Mr. Everything.  Can you tell us about it? 

Yes.  Itís a movie that Iím doing with the producer of the Wedding Crashers, which is great.  Itís a really funny movie, kind of like Doc Hollywood meets Sweet Home Alabama.  We hope to be shooting it sometime next year, in between hopefully season one and two of this show.  But itís a really funny, romantic comedy that I think will work well for them.  It would have made a great feature too.  But I think that with the success of My Fake Fiancť we thought why not let ABC Family kind of give another crack at it, and they were excited about it and got a great team, and weíre going to make a good one.  So Iím looking forward to that. 

You mentioned that you liked working in front of the live studio audience with the comedy.  When you worked in Chicago were you bitten by the theater bug at all?  Do you want to do more stage work? 

I would do that.  That is a ton of work.  Iíve got mad props for those stage actors that do it 50 weeks out of the year, because itís just tremendously draining because every day you wake up and basically itís a countdown to the show.  Especially a musical like that, you have to be in perfect voice and you have to sleep and you need your rest, and you wake up and just prepare for the show.  Itís eight shows a week.  Itís unbelievable.  I did it for four months and it kicked my butt.  It was a great experience, but boy, it was like, wow.  I happen to love that particular musical and I love the character and they let me do a Frank Sinatra thing with them and I loved it, so that was why I did that. 

Youíre really active on Twitter and Iím wondering how youíre finding that and how you find time for that. 

Well, itís hard to find time for it, actually.  I was sort of pushed into it.  All my friends are like, oh man, youíve got to be on Twitter.  Iím like a techno-idiot actually, but I was able to master my iPhone and Twitter.  Itís kind of cool.  Itís crazy; itís like crazy and cool at the same time.  Itís crazy that you are communicating with your fans, and thatís kind of cool and you get that instant feedback.  But then itís part of your job now, because if you donít do it there are a lot of people that are doing it and developing that kind of relationship I think is important. 

I also noticed that Melissa is active on Twitter and has more followers than you, and Iím wondering if thereís any rivalry there? 

Well, she started a long time before me.  I just began the thing like five, six weeks ago, maybe seven weeks ago, and Iím getting my feet wet.  I havenít announced that Iím on Twitter as much as I should because I keep forgetting to do it, like when Iím on Regis and stuff.  But weíre working on it.  Yes, sheís got more than me.  Bastard!  No, itís fine, itís cool.  I didnít expect to have more than 200, so I was like hey, Iíve got 8,000, itís pretty cool.  Iím sure it will grow the more that I talk about it and stuff.  I just have to do a better job of letting people know that Iím on it.  Thatís really my job.

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