Glenn Howerton may play a deceptive and downright sleazy character in Dennis Reynolds on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but the actor who also serves as executive producer and writer for the series which recently moved to newly minted cable channel FXX for its ninth season can also turn on some legitimate charm in Hollywood when he wants to. Howerton spoke with reporters in advance of this Wednesday's new episode – titled "Mac And Dennis Buy A Timeshare" – and over the course of the conversation, the actor revealed how the show's producers roped in Game of Thrones' award-winning show runners to their warped world, how he's come tantalizing close to taking part in superhero films and why, despite their best efforts, the show may never win an Emmy award.
The allure of working with the gang at Paddy's Pub continues to draw a wide swath of pop culture names to the show in Season 9, and Howerton explained some of the highlights appearing in the coming weeks. "This week, Rowdy Roddy Piper – the famous WWF/WWE wrestler – is coming back, and I'm really excited about that episode," he said. "Then the week after that, we've actually got Sean William Scott in an episode who was super fun, and we've also got Josh Grobin doing an episode the week after that. We've also got a lot of the recurring cast coming back – the McPoyles, Artemis, the Waitress and Mary Lynn Rajskub from 24 will be back."
Of course, for many fans of the show's cynical take on society, the big guest star news comes behind the camera as this year, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss join the Sunny team to pen the ominously titled episode "Flowers For Charlie."
"I can promise you it wasn't calculated on our part in terms of getting more attention. It was not a publicity stunt at all," Howerton explained. "I think Rob [McElhenney] and Kaitlin [Olson] just met David Benioff and his wife at a couple of parties, and they became casual acquaintances and friends. They both expressed mutual love of each other's shows. They're huge Game of Thrones fans and were very shocked, surprised and pleased to hear that both D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are the biggest Sunny fans on the planet, which seems very strange.
"I think they just floated the idea that they had an idea for an episode and really wanted to write one. We thought, 'Let's see if that can work.' It's really the only time where someone from outside our organization has successfully written an episode, I'll put it that way. We brought them in and gave them a shot. We actually invited them into the room and broke the episode with them, and they went off to write a draft – and I was incredibly shocked that they even had the time to do it. They came back with a great episode, and of course, we had to do what we always do which includes a couple of rewrites, but really not that many. It was pretty solid."
Despite the high powered friendship that comes the show's way, a major topic of conversation during the call was the Emmy Awards, where Sunny nabbed its first nomination this year...in the category of “Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series of a Variety Program.” The cult-favorite series continues to get the cold shoulder in the coveted comedy category, which promoted the producers to write last week's "The Gang Tries Desperately To Win An Award." And while that episode's not too subtle implication that the Emmys snub not only their series but also repeatedly passed over acclaimed HBO drama The Wire due to its proliferation of black cast members probably won't win Sunny an award next year, the actor was stumped at why they've been ignored up to this point.
"I'm the wrong person to ask," he said, laughing. "I don't know. Last week, we did an entire episode that was essentially about that, and I'm not entirely certain [why we don't get nominated.] I have plenty of theories, and I'm happy to spout them for you. I think first impressions are huge in this business, and we started as a very small show and looked so low budget. FX wasn't known for comedies, and I don't think people paid attention to us. We didn't have Danny [DeVito] on the show, and it took a few years for it to grow its audience. I think that first impression of a low budget, 'We don't need to pay attention to this' idea of a cable comedy kind of stuck.
"It seems like the Emmys in general really love cable dramas, but they don't seem to love cable comedies. I could be wrong. I don't pay that close of attention to it, but I wish I knew," Howerton continued, noting that while there were some Emmy-winning shows he thinks are terribly unfunny, the perpetual winner of the current era, "Modern Family," isn't one of them. "Because I work in comedy, I actually don't enjoy watching most comedies because it's hard for me to not analyze it and break it down structurally – to be overly critical of it not for any other reason than it's my job. But the episodes I have seen of 'Modern Family' I've really enjoyed. I think it's a great show, and I think it's very, very difficult to consistently make a funny show on a network, A) because you have more restrictions, and B) because you have to do more episodes per year. I'm always very impressed by the fact that I've never watched an episode of that show where I wasn't laughing consistently from start to finish."
In happier news, the actor expounded on a recent comment he made during a Reddit AMA where he jokingly confirmed that he would soon play The Riddler in a Batman movie. While his tongue was firmly in cheek then, Howerton revealed that he has come close to appearing on the superhero screen, and he's honestly interested in playing a more sinister costumed role.
"I did audition recently," he said. "Well, ten years ago I auditioned for the Superman reboot. That was about two years before it actually came out – the one with Brandon Routh. But that was before 'Sunny.' And then I auditioned recently for 'Guardians of the Galaxy' to play the role played by Chris Pratt. I know that the director of that movie was a big fan of 'Sunny,' and that's cool. But usually, they're already looking for some giant movie star to play those roles.
"I certainly don't have anything against doing something like that. I must admit, I really do enjoy playing bad guys and extremely evil people. That's why it's a lot of fun for me to play Dennis. The challenge is making Dennis likable even though he's such a despicable person. So I feel like playing someone like the Riddler is definitely in my wheelhouse."
Sunny finds itself in a comfortable wheelhouse on FXX as the cable network was essentially created to house the comedy brands of FX, where it ran for eight years. Asked whether the move caused the producers consternation, Howerton said, "I didn't really have a strong reaction at all. I wasn't disappointed or excited. It's odd. You'd think that there would have been a bigger reaction from all of us, but all three of us [who write and produce the show] were like, 'Okay, let's do it.' I guess I was mildly honored to be launching an entire new network, maybe slightly worried that it wouldn't work out but not that worried. All of us feel like our audience is the kind of audience that will find the show no matter where it is. Most savvy young TV watchers these days punch in the title of the show you want to watch, and your DVR finds it, and then you record it and watch it. It doesn't matter what fucking channel it's on.
"We were a little bit bummed that FXX, at least initially, was in less homes," he admitted. "That was a disappointment, I know, to the fans and disappointing to us as well. That was the only thing where we had a strong reaction to, but we're not really asked to consult on those decisions. We just took it in stride, and it certainly didn't affect what we were doing on the show. It's the same show."
Over the rest of Season 9, the series will continue to mine the so-called "comedy of cruelty" even as Howerton was at a loss to explain how exactly they've found the right balance in that tricky arena of comedy. "I don't totally know the answer other than to say that I think the reason it works is that none of our characters ever get away with their behavior at the end of the day. They're not celebrated, and they generally don't achieve their goals," he said. "I think it's become pretty clear to our audience that our behavior is ultimately self destructive. Even though the characters lash out at each other and other people, I think it's generally understood that it's to their own detriment."
Howerton pointed to his character's most infamous joke in explaining the idea as Dennis is known for taking advantage of "the implication" that he might endanger a woman in order to coerce her into sex. "I guess you could argue that having the conversation about the implication is pretty dark, but it's weird. I get a little defensive about that because in a way, as dark as it is, the character makes it clear that he wouldn't ever actually hurt these women. He just wants them to think that the possibility of them getting hurt is there so he can get his way. It's still dark. I'd say that's one of the darker things."
Overall, the writer/producer/stars who lead the show cook up their ideas dark or sunny constantly in order to feed the series after almost a decade on the air. "Sometimes they hit us when we're all together, but most of the time the seeds of those things hit us in the off season," Howerton said. "I know I'll get an idea for a storyline – even a B story or a C story – and I'll make a note of it in my phone. Then we get it all together in the writer's room. But mostly we save the act of sitting down and coming up with ideas for the actual room."
Viewers can catch up with the latest sick shenanigans of the gang at Paddy's this Wednesday night at 10:00 Eastern and Pacific when It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia airs on FXX.