Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.
“My dad is giving out nominations for best daughter. That’s probably what I’ll get nominated for this year,” jokes Casey Wilson. Not if we have anything to say about it. As unlucky-in-love but optimistic Penny on ABC’s Happy Endings, Wilson embodies the concept of total commitment — whether the role requires her to wear pajoveralls (or flowy Angela Bassett pants), perform a defensive monologue about having taken a “whore’s bath,” or stage both a sing fight and a “Torn” duet with Penny’s mother (guest star Megan Mullally) at a boat show. “We choreographed the dance moves to ‘Torn’ together, and for that alone, I feel she deserves an Emmy nomination,” Wilson says. “That was the most fun I had all season, just being so happy to work with her.” Watch a clip below as Wilson takes us inside their collaboration.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: “Torn” is the perfect song. Was there any other one considered?
CASEY WILSON: The song it was gonna be was “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree. When we got it that week, I thought well, it doesn’t get any better than this. “You Gotta Be” is simply the finest song I’ve ever heard. It’s just you gotta be so many different things. And then right before [we shot the episode], we couldn’t get it, and Leila Strachan, who wrote the episode, was like, “Okay, I’ve got to break some news to you. We don’t gotta be. We don’t have ‘You Gotta Be.'” It was a really tough moment, a tough pill to swallow. And then she was like, “But we do have ‘Torn.’”
Had you already done any choreography for “You Gotta Be”?
[Laughs] No, but I was driving around in the car singing “You Gotta Be.” But “Torn,” I used to love that song. I loved it really seriously and angstily when I was younger. I thought that was just the song of my youth. Someone gets it. Megan and I got to go to a recording studio and record it, which I cannot even describe how crazy that was. Her husband, Nick Offerman, came, which was nice for her, because she had a support system. Meanwhile, I now have to perform in front of a Broadway singer and one of the funniest comedians of our time in a 5 x 5 room. He was in the recording studio with us. And it was like 12:30 at night. And, I’m not a singer. [Laughs]
Oh, you are.
I’m a singer in that I took singing lessons and I did The Sound of Music in high school. But I remember when I got to college, I thought maybe I have a musical theater bone in my body. And then I roomed next door to Kristen Bell at NYU, and then I met a singer. [Laughs] I realized you can sing, you’re not a singer. There’s a difference.
Before we get back to the recording studio, who did you play in The Sound of Music?
I played Maria. It was the highlight of my career. I was so excited because they used real kids from the elementary school to play the Von Trapp kids, and we got them in the right height order. Basically, we were like, we’ll cast anyone if they can go in descending order when they call them down the stairs. To me, that was a win.
Okay, so now you’re in a recording studio with Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman.
They never used this, but we did a riff for about four minutes of just her saying over and over again “Momma’s torn. I’m torn,” and I was like, “Why are you torn?” This went on forever, trying to figure out why she was torn. It was so crazy.
What did Nick contribute to the recording process?
Constant support. He brought coffees, and he kept saying, “That sounds great.” And I was just wondering, “Where’s my Nick?” Truly, they are America’s cutest, most supportive couple. The two of them deserve an Emmy nomination for their relationship. Literally, they hold hands all the time. They talk in the cutest baby voices. My boyfriend and I and the two of them went to see Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard, and they’re snuggled under a blanket like two snugglebugs. I don’t mean to sound so shocked. But they’ve been together for a while, and they just have such a love for each other.
How long did it take you and Megan to choreograph the “Torn” performance?
We did it in the makeup trailer for about an hour. And then we went to the stage, and while they were lighting and everything, we worked on it for two or three hours. We just kept running it over and over. They had, like, crane shots. It was so ridiculous that it was being shot like a music video, and it’s the two of us singing “Torn.”
Also wonderfully ridiculous: the sing fight you and Megan have because Penny’s mother insists Penny sing her angry thoughts to spare her vocal chords.
Originally, Megan and I thought it would be funny to sing in really wildly different styles and never mention that we have these wildly different singing styles. She wanted to sing kind of like a gospel singer [Laughs], and I was a little bit like an annoying Broadway-belter. It was like midnight on a Tuesday, and we were delirious. But then, [Laughs] the creators kinda came out and they were like, “Wow, this is all insane and funny, but we think it should be slightly more grounded.” Megan and I, if left to our own devices, would have made it completely insane on top of what is already an insane concept. That’s what’s been great about the show is that the creators always pull you back down to earth. They at least campaign for things to be grounded in what is already a very heightened show — which I need. So they said, “Actually, let’s just see if we can try to play it real,” and then once we did that, it was funnier to me to play it as a very impassioned, serious sing fight that is their method of communication. We were laughing so hard. We kept having to start again because it was just so stupid. The scene opened where I had to stand off-camera while she is fully engaged and dancing to “Torn” by herself, as though she’s rehearsing. I just kept having to walk in and turn around because it’s so stupid.
Another memorable fight from season 2 was in the episode “Cocktail & Dreams,” when Dave turns his truck into a speakeasy, serves old-fashioned cocktails, and Penny thinks he’s asking her if she took a “whore’s bath.” If you do get an Emmy nomination, I hope they use that monologue as the clip on the broadcast.
I love the writing of that scene, that she goes on a feminist rant about how she’s allowed to sleep with someone but ultimately, he’s just offering her a drink called a Whore’s Bath. One funny thing is, our creator David Caspe went to dinner with myself and a good girlfriend of mine from Ohio when she was in town, and she was saying at the table that in Ohio, her and her friends refer to a vagina as a “hush.” David was like, that is so hysterical and strange, we have to put it in the show. So, one of Penny’s lines is, “Did I rub some dryer sheets on my pits and splash some water on my hush in the bathroom of an Au Bon Pain?” It just makes me laugh so hard that my friend from high school got a shout out and is basically a television writer now. [Laughs]