This is part of a sponsored collaboration with Disney. I received an all-expense paid trip from Disney so that I could gather and share this information about Imaginary Mary (one gals imaginary friend) on ABC. However, the experiences and opinions are always 100% my own as this post is written by me in its entirety.
Growing up did you have an imaginary friend? You know, someone that was there for you at all the right times, but no one else could see them. Imaginary Mary is the perfect comedy for anyone that had an imaginary friend growing up. But can you imagine what life would be like if your imaginary friend returned during your adulthood?
Imaginary Mary The Imaginary Friend
I sat down for a Q&A with Jenna Elfman (“Alice”), Stephen Schneider (“Ben”), David Guarascio (Executive Producer) and Doug Robinson (Executive Producer) for an inside look into the world of having, and creating, an imaginary friend. I’m not usually that in tune with minor details but I totally noticed how often Alice changed her earrings in the show – I’m still wearing the same one’s I received as a Mother’s Day gift one year. But that’s the thing, for shows to really come out on top – it’s all about those minor details too, and the perfect characters.
Creating an imaginary friend…
When Doug Robinson met with short film Feast Academy Award winning animator Patrick Osborne, they tossed around some ideas for a television show. More specifically, Patrick mentioned that he’s always wanted to do a show about somebody who has an imaginary friend. Having worked with Adam Goldberg in the past, Doug brought him onto the project because as he said, “there’s no one in touch with his inner child more than Adam – so that’s the perfect guy.” Bringing on David Guarascio was a no-brainer as Doug, Adam and David had all worked together on the show The Goldbergs and a lot of this new show mirrors David’s life.
And the show really does mirror David’s life seeing as how he would tell these stories about his wife and the way she slowly started to get integrated into his life with his kids. Hence Imaginary Mary became about a divorced dad with three children who starts dating a single career woman – who had no plans for starting a family. And has no idea what to do with children, nor any experience with them.
Getting Jenna Elfman on-board for another network TV show wasn’t so simple
Jenna was opposed to doing yet another network show. In fact she told her agents not to even bring her any scripts for network shows, but they did anyway. So what changed her mind?
“And then I read it and went, oh, that’s just so interesting, I love that there’s the romantic part as the leading lady. Then there’s the fish out of water aspect with the kids because she just has no point of reference for dealing with children at all, and has no plan for it, and has a negative point of reference of child-rearing. And then she’s super accomplished; she’s a woman on her own. As an actor dealing with comedy, I have to now also deal with something that doesn’t exist but that I see (the imaginary friend), but that they don’t see, and do physical comedy. Like a fish out of water that’s a lot of balls to juggle. And everyone involved is so great, it was really hard to say no to. I just couldn’t find a reason not to do it.”
I felt like I can take that on, and it felt like the next new level of challenge for me. – Jenna Elfman
Welcoming new dad Stephen Schneider to the cast
Stephen Schneider was a welcoming addition to the cast. He likes to joke that nobody else would take the part, and even still he had to audition twenty times for the role. When the show was being cast he had just become a dad and had never played a father on TV. This role was going to be a “very cool challenge” for him – “the insanity of juggling three children.” Which made me chuckle just a bit because that’s the story of most of our lives right? Stephen wanted to make sure we could relate, “you guys know, kids are crazy and just one is a lot, but imagining having to deal with three?” Yes Stephen, we know, we really do know what it’s like!
“I though the writing was incredible. When I read it, I just thought it was really funny and it was grounded in a great way, yet it had this really different interesting element. It’s fun to be a part of something that’s new and this has never been done as a network comedy before where there’s an animated character.”
Some of these people can be absolute monsters that are also successful actors, but she has been just an absolute gem since day one, and so kind, and so open, and so easy to work with. – Stephen Schneider on working with Jenna Elfman
Bring CGI to network TV for the first time with Imaginary Mary
The character of Jenna’s imaginary friend Mary was designed by co-creator Patrick Osborne. They wanted something that was lovable-looking particularly because an important part of Mary’s character is that she’s not always saying the right thing so to speak, and Mary is a defender in a very important way of Alice’s independent streak. Mary is sort of like Alice’s feminist side, so to speak. They shows EP’s felt like they could get away with Mary saying more of what she shouldn’t say the cuter her imaginary friend Mary looked. Mary was redesigned a few times – and completely changed between the pilot and the series. Ultimately she was made rounder and cuter until it just worked.
Jenna had the help of Shawn Levy, director and EP, who would jump on a table and act out Mary, or jump up on a bar-stool. A lot of the energy of Mary is sort of baked into Shawn’s DNA, he brought so much energy to the character. The hardest part of creating Mary was finding her voice. It took a really long time, and the EP’s read a lot of people, listened to a lot of people blind, and when they listened to Rachel Dratch, they didn’t know it was Rachel – it was then that all came together.
But getting back to the task at hand I really wanted to know if Jenna ever finds herself talking to Mary outside of work?
And once again she proves why she’s got this comedy act down pact – “No, because my kids are always talking to me. I can’t even hear my own thoughts, like, it’s just Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama…” So fortunately she isn’t looking too crazy outside of work. “They’ve got a great improv comedy actress to do my lines with me, and she actually helps me learn my lines too, so I find myself talking to her, but that’s to learn my lines. There’s not a lot of spare time in my life when I’m filming this show because we’re doing sixteen hour days.”
Jenna on being a working mother…
“I’ll be up at 3:30 in the morning to get to work at 5:00, and then do a fifteen/sixteen hour day, and sometimes come home, and then if the were up late I’d have to put them to bed. I had a learning curve when we first starting filming because I didn’t expect those days to be that way, and it’s not like I had all this downtime either. We only had like ten minutes between takes; between setups and I was like making my choices; learning my lines for the day, and then the next day, the next day, and the next and trying to make sure I’m well rested and I really saw I could not eat sugar. It was like a race car needs the best kind of gasoline. And in my life I can’t do the perfect diet – I have no interest in doing that to myself. I used to do it- I can’t do it anymore. I wanna enjoy my pizza and my ice cream. But I couldn’t survive; I couldn’t remember lines with no sleep. On Saturdays I would just wanna face plant, and I had to be a mom, and so I would just sort of bring them into bed with me for the five hours of the day and stay in bed. Then I’m like I’ve gotta get out and do stuff, and then I had to learn my lines for the next week. And so it was really challenging. That was super intense. So I don’t always do it great, I’m tired, and then I have to keep it together and not be cranky with them, and then sometimes I’m cranky, and then I feel horrible, and then I go take a nap if I can – I mean it’s the thing we all do.” YES JENNA IT IS! “It’s just like constant, it’s like everyday is like the little sliders on the equalizing board. And you’ve gotta just try to keep it all above the make/break mark, but sometimes they go.” Which David says is really the key to the whole show “Sort of learning what you can’t control, and that it doesn’t have to be perfect.”
What can audiences walk away with…especially those in similar situations?
With David drawing inspiration from his own life he imparted some words of wisdom. “I think in today’s day and age, when you get divorced, you really try and do it the best you possibly can. For Alice to have this other woman in the picture who is also co-parenting with him, it’s just another thing for Alice to be dealing with which is a really difficult part of life for step-parents. It’s kind of the, “it takes a village”, that you just try and I guess we are now more evolved than many years ago. Even though you go through a marriage split the family tries to stay together as much as possible. This is something we do explore as we go forward with the show. Alice doesn’t know the politics of and how to conduct herself with the politics of a marriage, and the politics of a divorce, and then the politics of two parents raising children that are divorced – so it will be a learning process that people can draw from.”
She’ll be a bit of a bull in the china shop on how to handle the kids, and the ex-wife, and the relationship. – Jenna Elfman on her character Alice.
Jenna wants to give the audience laughter, and joy, and entertainment, and help them feel better about the lives they’re living. She just wants to give people a little bit of relief from the struggles of daily life. She just wants people to watch the show and enjoy some laughter in their lives – that’s everything to her. “That’s why I do it because it removes you from the stresses of life for that moment. And in those moments you rehabilitate a little more life juice to go on, and that’s all I want to do for people.”
About Imaginary Mary
Alice (Jenna Elfman, Dharma and Greg, Friends with Benefits, EDtv) is a fiercely independent career woman whose life is turned upside-down when she meets the love of her life–a divorced father with three kids. This triggers even more upheaval when the slightly unhinged imaginary friend she created as a child suddenly reappears to help her navigate the transition from single girl to a woman ready for a family.
The series stars Jenna Elfman as Alice, Stephen Schneider as Ben, Rachel Dratch as the imaginary friend Mary (VO), Nicholas Coombe as Andy, Matreya Scarrwener as Dora and Erica Tremblay as Bunny.
In tonight’s Season Premiere episode of ABC’s Imaginary Mary titled “The Mom Seal”, Alice is on mom duty for the first time. When Ben asks Alice to help him with her first mom-like task to pick up Bunny from dance class, Mary quickly discovers the simplest parental tasks are fraught with difficulty. Afterwards, Ben is disappointed when Alice tells him she can’t help with the kids anymore, but things change when Andy enlists Alice’s help to overcome his fear of taking a driving test.
Did you catch the special preview episode last week of Imaginary Mary? Did you have an imaginary friend growing up? Tweet at me tonight while you’re watching Imaginary Mary on ABC at 9:30pm EST to let me know your thoughts and how this imaginary friend stacks up!
Join the conversation online with #ImaginaryMary
Photography by ABC/Sergei Bachlakov, ABC/Bob D’Amico, and Coralie Hughes Seright/LoveBugsAndPostcard.com