Based on the graphic novel from Grant Morrison, the Syfy series Happy! follows Nick Sax (played with pitch-perfect mad genius style by Christopher Meloni), an alcoholic, corrupt ex-cop turned hitman who happens upon a tiny and relentlessly optimistic imaginary blue winged horse named Happy (voiced with undying positivity by Patton Oswalt). They are an unlikely pair forced to team up to solve a mystery, but having to work together might not change either of them for the better.
During this interview with Collider, actors Christopher Meloni and Patton Oswalt talked about what attracted them to this wild and crazy series, the very tricky tone, figuring out their characters and the dynamic between them, that Episode 7 will be the test for whether audiences will stick with things, having moments that look like they smell bad, and how even though you’ll get answers by the end of the season, they might not give you the sense of satisfaction that you’re looking for.
Collider: This series is crazy and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV before. When you read it, did you realized just what you were getting into?
PATTON OSWALT: I was a fan of the graphic novel. I’m a big Grant Morrison fan, so I remember how fucked up the graphic novel is. When I read the script, I went, “Oh, they’re going all the way with this. This is just the pilot. If this is what they’re doing in the pilot, then I’m very excited.” When I read the physical descriptions for what Chris was going to get put through, I was like, “I hope Chris knows what he signed on for. I hope he’s watched the Crank films and knows what’s about to happen.”
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: I did. I understood that it came from a graphic novel, but I wasn’t quite sure of the world and the tone. I know they were saying that Syfy wants to rebrand and they really want to go for it, but if I had a dime for every time I heard that. The way that the business is and the way television has evolved, you absolutely must put up or shut up, and I think they did. Actually, I had to have two phone calls with Brian Taylor, the guy who adapted it and directed [the pilot], who also directed Crank. I said, “What is the tone? What is this world?” And he said, “I have no idea!” I said, “I love your honesty. I’m in!” I’m just glad he wasn’t trying to sell me some horseshit.
OSWALT: There really isn’t a precedent for this. You can describe it in terms of other genres, but no one has ever mashed these things together, ever. Who would?! Why would you do that?! Why would you drag what’s basically an adorable Disney character to an early Martin Scorsese/Abel Ferrara film?! Why would you do that to them?! It’s Abel Ferrara when he hasn’t showered in a week. It’s that kind of feeling.
Chris, how did you find this character?
MELONI: I don’t know what this says about me, but I knew him, instinctively. I don’t know exactly what that means.
OSWALT: I’m a little worried. Wait a minute! That’s a weird answer!
OSWALT: There’s also a lot of scenes where he doesn’t have dialogue and he is reacting to eight levels of insanity coming at him.MELONI: I was very confident, from the beginning. I don’t know why. I read the script and I knew where things didn’t mesh with me. I felt very comfortable rewriting a lot of lines, some of which stuck and some of which did not, and that was fine. That also proved to me that it was a very collaborative effort with Brian Taylor. But I remember doing the screen test and I came out in my get-up, and the room stopped. Everyone knew, and I knew that they knew. It was a nice big check-mark affirmation that we’d got this guy. I’m getting goosebumps remembering that moment.
There’s such an interesting contrast between your characters.
OSWALT: Happy is un-ironic and gleefully optimistic.
How do you gauge that balance?
OSWALT: What really, really helped were that all of my voice-over sessions were with Chris on Skype. He wasn’t just filling in the lines, as I read them. I had this very negative, poisonous, damaged person coming at me, and the only way to match it was to crack up the optimism to this almost manic level. And then, when I went in later to do ADR and re-record lines, I could actually see the scenes and see this world, and I felt like I had to crank up the optimism as an armor. This show looks like it smells bad, and I mean that as a compliment. They should give out scratch cards for some of the episodes ‘cause there are moments that look like they smell bad and like Happy is trying to keep that smell away.
MELONI: By Episode 8, I’d put on my coat and be like, “Holy cow, guys! Thank god, we’re towards the end!” I was literally Nick Sax, from head to toe. We shot in August and September, and September was actually very hot in New York. I stank like a high school wrestler’s locker.
OSWALT: That coat and the scarf looked like they stink. They did not look like they smelled good.
Nick Sax is murderous, uncaring, rude and unpleasant to be around. Should we still find ourselves liking him anyway, or should we worry about ourselves, if we do?
MELONI: No, because I think that’s part of the process and part of the evolution. Part of the philosophy behind the show is, what happens when light meets dark, or when aggressive optimism meets dark hopelessness that’s devoid of any sense of good and meaning? What happens when they collide? They infect each other and affect each other. That’s the evolution. Happy spiral into a little darker journey. We find these two characters playing against type.
OSWALT: Nick Sax is hatefully dark, at the beginning, and I’m hatefully bright. We balance each other out, a little bit.
Will these two come to like working with each other, at all?
OSWALT: I’m not gonna tell you where it goes. It does go somewhere. Episode 7 is where we’re gonna find out how much people like this show. The place they end up, they get there in such a weird, unique way that I don’t want to spoil people on what the answer is, or the process in them getting there.
MELONI: It’s a never-ending journey.
OSWALT: Nick Sax is a guy who’s basically decided to commit suicide, but he keeps failing upward. Death doesn’t take. He almost has this manic glow, wondering if maybe he can’t die. That’s really interesting, to see how far you can take a character’s darkness.
MELONI: If you’re a person who’s comfortable in the “what the fuck” moment, you’re gonna enjoy the ride.
OSWALT: There’s no half-measures on this show. Scene to scene, there are no half-measures.
When the pilot was so crazy, did you want to make sure that it wasn’t just a one-time thing and that the series would be consistently crazy?
MELONI: Well, I cheated. I was in the writers’ room. It was amazing! I’ve never been in a writers’ room. I’ve never been in a creative space like that, where there were no wrong answers. You can just throw it against the wall and maybe it will fall, but you can try again later. Stick with the show because you just won’t believe it.
OSWALT: Just when you think they’ve reached the craziest point, they’ll make another turn. I think Brian thinks this is all normal, which makes it even more fucked up. That’s just how his brain works.
By the end of the season, will we have any answers about how Happy exists and why he’s here?
MELONI: My opinion is that you’ll have answers, but they’ll be different for everyone. It will leave you going, “What now?!”
OSWALT: You’ll go, “Was this just a one-off?” You will have all the answers, but just like the main characters, you’ll still be a little bit confused. You’re given some pretty stark answers, at the end, and they’re not satisfying. You’ll be like, “I just found out everything, and that doesn’t help me, at all! It’s more fucked up than I thought it was!” As you’ll see. Happy is not completely unaffected by the real world. Stuff does affect him that he doesn’t want to have affect him. He’s not the same character, at the end, but neither is Nick Sax.
Watch HAPPY ! trailer :