One of the best things about a neighborhood bar is the people that go there on a regular basis. That is the case with the TBS hit series Sullivan & Son which recently wrapped its third season. One of the bar patrons is Melanie Sutton played by the talented Valerie Azlynn. Melanie is a paramedic who is the little sister to all the guys in the bar and maybe much more with bar owner Steve Sullivan.
Valerie Azylnn has established herself as an actress to keep an eye on. At the age of 17, she moved from Connecticut to New York to study acting. There she built an impressive resume in the theater and singing with an opera company. This led her to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television.
Valerie has starred in hit television series such as Castle, Rules of Engagement and The Big Bang Theory. On the big screen she has been in films such as Tropic Thunder, Surrogates and The Last Hurrah. She recently finished the film Dark Awakening with veteran actor Lance Henriksen.
Valerie was kind enough to sit down with the Pop Culture Principle to talk about her work on Sullivan & Son, working with veteran actor Lance Henriksen and her advice to up and coming actors in Hollywood.
Pop Culture Principle – Sullivan & Son recently wrapped its third season. How does it feel having three seasons of a series under your belt?
Valerie Azlynn – It’s an amazing feeling! I’m really proud of the show and it’s come so far since the pilot. All the tools where there in the pilot; it’s just very cool to see it progress. Some part of me always envisioned the storyline of Steve and my character getting together, but all the other stuff that has happened along the way, it’s been so cool to see what the writers have come up with each season. It’s been a really cool experience to be on a show for three years because you get to become close friends with the people on the show and get to know them and their families. It’s awesome as an actor to have somewhat of a steady job that you can consider the people you work with your co-workers. You don’t really get that all the time unless you are on a series or a movie that shoots for a long time. It has been a really cool experience.
Pop Culture Principle – You have had 3 seasons to develop your character Melanie. How is she different now compared to the first season?
Valerie Azlynn – I think season one she was really more of a tomboy. She really couldn’t find her footing, especially in dating. She’s a bit of a bad decision maker when it comes to romance. What was interesting is that the pilot was so different then almost how she has developed over the years. When you first meet her, she’s a tough person, but the audience has had the chance to see her more vulnerable side. She’s very self-deprecating and a bit of a goofball. It has been a really fun experience, especially this last season because you really get to see her dorky side which is really cool.
Pop Culture Principle – In what ways are you like your character Melanie?
Valerie Azlynn – Over the years, she becomes a lot more like me and I don’t know if that was intentional by the writers. I noticed the dorky thing and the fact that she’s not smooth or the sexpot. She’s just this nerdy friend. I feel like they are writing to that because they know that’s how I am. I like that she has gone down that road and I do find that very similar to myself. I’m definitely a nerd in the best sense of the word.
Pop Culture Principle – Now that Steve and Melanie have started to see each other, how will that change the dynamic of the bar?
Valerie Azlynn – We saw a little twinge of what may happen at the end of the season finale. I really don’t know, but I am interested to find out as well. I am curious to see what happens between Melanie and Ok Cha because I feel like that dynamic is an interesting one. It doesn’t seem like she’s into the idea of it whereas Dan Lauria’s character Jack is all for the relationship. I wonder if that will cause problems for them in their marriage and relationship and I am also wondering how Steve and Melanie will interact with Vivian and Ken Jeong. I am dying to see a double date with those characters. They have sort of established over the years that my character doesn’t really like Ken. She’s a paramedic and he’s a doctor and he looks down on her.
When it comes to the guys, I don’t know. It’s been a game changer and I hope their dating doesn’t ruin everything. I hope it doesn’t and I hope they stay together. I am right there with the audience wondering what is going to happen. The good thing is that Steve and Melanie have a good, strong friendship, so I think no matter what they will always honor the friendship. For the guys, it’s going to be weird because they treat Melanie like a little sister.
Pop Culture Principle – Many of the cast are involved with stand up. How much fun do you have on set and is it hard to keep a straight face sometimes?
Valerie Azlynn – It’s really hard because the guys are just off the hook. It’s interesting, because since we shoot live audience, there is this great dynamic because they are stand up comics. They want to get up in front of the audience and perform. Our studio audience warm up guy is this really talented comedian named Gary Cannon and Gary goes on tour with them all the time. They just pick on each other back and forth and as the years have gone on; the guys at any given moment will run up, jump into the audience, take the make from Gary and do stand up. We are so interactive that there is really no line for us. Those guys are always on tour and they are very comfortable being on stage. In the beginning, I think because it was a TV series, they didn’t think they could jump that line and now, man do they jump it!
Also, because they are in that stand up world, they are very close with other comics. We always have at least four friends of either one of the guys hanging out or in the background. The background on the show is almost as fascinating as the lead characters of the show. Steve will give those guys a chance as well to get in front of the audience and do stand-up as well.
Pop Culture Principle – Are you allowed any room for improvisation or do you stick strictly to the script?
Valerie Azlynn – I would say pretty much we stick to the script. Every now and then we may add a line or two. Because of the way we shoot, it takes us a week to prep for our tape night. We rehearse every day; we do a table read, come back the next day and we go into rehearsals. We then do producer run throughs and network run throughs. In that process, many times people will have ideas and Steve is cool and will write those ideas down or tell the director. Maybe it will work and be incorporated into the story or maybe not. I would say predominately, everything is on the page and every once in a while I’ll play around a little bit, but not too much. I think it happens more with single cam because they can go back and edit it, but since our show is live audience, it’s based on timing. So, you don’t want to step on anyone’s performance.
Pop Culture Principle – What is it like getting that automatic feedback from a live audience?
Valerie Azlynn – Absolutely invaluable and incredible! I can’t thank people who come to our tapings enough because sometimes they are very long nights. We do two in a day and the first one is like an hour. They use that to get a feel for what the audience likes and doesn’t like. Our writers go and rewrite during lunch time and we will get all new sides and come back out and do all new lines for the second audience. We usually do three takes of a scene, so they are there a little longer. The feedback from them is incredible! It’s invaluable to know if something is funny or not and I feel like that is why the show works so well because they take their time and really do appreciate what the people give them. Its cable, so the show gets to do more and sometimes people don’t get that, but when they do it just goes off the chart with laughter which is great.
Pop Culture Principle – What do you think separates Sullivan & Son from all other comedies on television today?
Valerie Azlynn – I really love this show. I feel that it’s really different. There have been a couple of bar comedies since Cheers and the only one that I can think of off the top of my head is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I think for us it’s this weird mix of having a family involved, which is like an Everybody Loves Raymond kind of vibe mashed up with a little bit of Seinfeld with the guys and my character. It’s just so different than anything else that is on right now. We have such a rare dynamic and I think part of that is because we have some great veterans on the show. I use the word veteran to mean that they have done some amazing work over their careers. Christine Ebersole has won two Tonys, Brian wrote Caddyshack and Dan Lauria was the dad in the Wonder Years and so on. We have these great grounded characters, added with this standup mix added with Vivian and I who are this other generation of actors. It just kind of came together in the perfect formula. It just really works and there is nothing like it on television right now.
Pop Culture Principle – The cast of Sullivan & Son all live tweet each episode with the fans. As an actor, how fun is it for you to get that instant feedback from the fans?
Valerie Azlynn – I was never on Twitter before the show and really had no desire to join. Since the show, it just became really cool to just talk to people who enjoy the show as much as you do. For us, we are all really proud of the show and generally enjoy working with each other. We also enjoy live tweeting together and we take it very seriously. We can be shooting an episode and as soon as the cameras go down, we jump on our phone and start live tweeting with everyone. We love that people enjoy the show and we love hearing what people like and seeing them quoting lines. It’s become this whole universe of happiness on Tuesday nights. The guys are live tweeting on the road and they do it between their sets. I was on a set once doing a reshoot and realized it was 7pm and had to jump on my phone to live tweet. I was generally sad when the season was over and we weren’t live tweeting with the fans. We’ve gotten to know people over the years and we look forward to seeing a lot of the same names come up. No one is ever mean or weird and we just got lucky to have fans who truly appreciate the show just as much as we do. We can’t thank the fans enough!
Pop Culture Principle – You recently finished a film called Dark Awakening. Can you tell us what the film is about?
Valerie Azlynn – It’s super intense! Absolutely un-Melanie like because it’s a total drama, horror movie. It was a complete change for me because although I’ve played a mother before in a movie before, but this one is very different because of the circumstances the mother in this film is dealing with. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s basically about a married couple that has to return to the husband’s childhood home because his mother has passed away. The things that happen from that point on completely change their lives forever. This character for my purposes was absolutely terrifying because most of the experiences are happening to my character and her son. When you make a horror film, it’s not as scary as watching it because you see people getting ready and so on, but there are moments that will take your breath away. It was a very cool experience and an emotional rollercoaster. I love the challenge of doing something completely different and that is my favorite part of doing this for a living. Nobody is ever the same and each character has its own thing. This was a really intense shoot, especially for me. I loved the payoff at the end.
Pop Culture Principle – Legendary actor Lance Henriksen is in the film. What was it like working with him?
Valerie Azlynn – He is such a treat to work with. I was so excited that I found out I was doing this project and the fact that he was doing it as well. I am a really big fan of his and was so excited to work with him. Just getting the opportunity to sit down and work out the character with him and to rehearse our scenes was amazing. He is just a fantastic actor to work with because he is very much invested and he is all about rehearsing. I like to rehearse before we shoot and some people don’t. I completely honor that as well because each actor’s process is different. Lance and I would just sit there and work out our stuff and work with the dialogue. The director was open to improv and building the suspense and we really had a thoroughly entertaining time working together. I hope I get to work with him again because he’s such a treat and an amazing talent. I feel so fortunate to have had that experience working with him. Lance is very present and very active on the set and he wants it to be the best movie that it can be.
Pop Culture Principle – You’ve made some great guest appearances on some popular shows. What was it like working on Rules of Engagement?
Valerie Azlynn – I love that show. It was such a great experience shooting that episode. It was a very cool role and I was so excited when I got it. Obviously, that cast is so talented. Patrick Warburton is just hilarious! That was another moment where it was hard to keep a straight face. They are just such a warm cast. We all went to lunch together and they were just so nice. Bianca was fantastic and I think she is hilarious as well. It was such a really good experience where you wish you were a regular on the series because it would be a lot of fun.
Pop Culture Principle – You also had a 3 episode run on Castle. What was it like working on that series?
Valerie Azlynn – I have friends on that show and again, it was another experience where you were around people that you wanted to be around. That was one of my favorite characters because it was something I had never done before and the fact it was a female character that gets to moonlight as a superhero was amazing. It was so cool just going to the wardrobe fitting and getting my costume. When I booked the role, there was no mention of her being a superhero. I just auditioned a couple of scenes that weren’t even ones that we ended up doing because they didn’t want to let anything out about the character. We just had fun and it was an amazing experience.
Pop Culture Principle – What advice would you give to up and coming actors who want to get in the business?
Valerie Azlynn – I think that fame and acting are very separate and I think there is a really interesting thing now because of Instagram and Twitter , people are really searching for that moment of fame sometimes; that’s not acting, that is a whole different thing. If you want that, then I would say do something that is more associated with that. Acting is building a craft and doing something that you love I am always curious to see who would still be doing this if they only made five dollars an hour, every day for the rest of their life. You want to always develop your craft because there’s not always going to be that TV show or fame and you need something that you still want to do. That’s one of the main reasons that I really love working with Dan Lauria because he is inspirational because he said don’t ever feel sorry for me if you see me as a waiter in a restaurant. I think he is obviously way beyond that now, but he said he will always have a pamphlet in his back pocket of a play that he is doing.
I hear a lot of people saying that they are doing everything they can and it’s not working out. I ask them are they doing plays, are you trying to put up plays. You will learn and become a better actor by always doing what you do and it has to be what you love. Doing it for the stardom and all that stuff, maybe it will work out for you, but I don’t know. I think you should be doing what you love. It’s the reason why the guys go out every weekend to do standup because it’s who they are as people. I do musical theater and sing and train every week. I am constantly working to see if I can do something else and develop more. You have to come in it for the right reasons. I came from a humble beginning, so I never expected very much; maybe that helps too. I want to do what I do and love what I do, that’s it. I hope to work with interesting people and do interesting characters for the rest of my life.
Pop Culture Principle – Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Valerie Azlynn – Right now, just going after some different roles and just getting back out there. Hopefully getting a cool arc on a show or something like that. I have Dark Awakening coming out and another movie that doesn’t have a real title yet. I think right now it’s called the Untitled Morgan Cranst project. It was an amazing experience and a totally different role. It’s more of a true independent film, really dark story. It’s a teenager dealing with his mom and his relationships with women. I play the mom in that film and also got to work with Lesley Ann Warren who is one of my favorites. I’m really proud of the film and the cast.
We would like to thank Valerie for taking time from her busy schedule to talk with us. If you are interested in learning more about Valerie and keeping up with her latest news and projects, you can follow her on Twitter @ValerieAzlynn.