If you never heard the name Ike Barinholtz, you need to search the Interwebs and check him out. Ike got his first big break on the MADtv as an actor and writer. He’s since been on shows like The League, Eastbound and Down, and Drunk History.
You might have seen him most recently play the role of Morgan Tookers from the hit show The Mindy Project, starring the show’s creator Mindy Kaling (to the right, with Ike). The show’s second season premieres Sept. 17 on Fox. Ike sat down with me to answer some questions about the show and what to expect from James Franco, who guest stars on the series. Recently Ike finished up his work on the film Neighbors opposite Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, so I picked his brain on that as well.
James Franco guest stars on The Mindy Project this season. What was it like to have him on the show?
James Franco is a man of many hobbies and talents. He’s an actor, a writer, director and producer. He’s an artist, a teacher and a student. He’s a mechanic. He runs craft service tables on film sets. That’s actually how we got him on the show. He was making protein shakes for some of our crew. We saw him and we were like, ‘You should join us.’ He was like, ‘okay.’ So he joined us for two episodes and it just worked out.
So if he gets an Emmy for his time on the show, he can give the nod to protein shakes, right?
Absolutely. He should thank protein shakes first and foremost.
What will your character, Morgan, get into on this season of The Mindy Project?
So this season early on we’re going to have a big Mindy/Morgan episode. He’s helping her get over a break-up. He does this by trying to seduce her by taking off his clothes. She humiliates him. So of course there is a lawsuit involved. After that he does what Morgan does best. He gets into people’s affairs. He ruins their lives for a brief moment in time. Then buys it back by being a nice guy in the end. He’s like a bull in a china shop.
You’re also a writer on the show. Is it tough to do both– write and act?
Actually it’s not. It takes a lot of time. A lot times when you’re acting you’re improvising anyway. So that’s like writing. It’s fun. You really get into the character and the other characters. You’re there on set and it becomes a fun way to spend your time. You’re pitching jokes for these great actors that we have on the show. Every month and a half or so you go off for a week to write an episode, which I think is the most fun. You get to work from home, which is super cool because you can wear your underwear. I wear briefs in the house and my wife tells me that it’s disgusting. I think if I wrote with pants on the scripts would be less funny.
You mentioned ad-libbing or improving on certain takes. Some writers aren’t fans of that.
Well, I think it depends on the show. If you go on an Aaron Sorkin show or Mad Men and you just start improvising you’ll probably get a phone call and be escorted off the lot. On our show, once we shoot it the way it was written a couple of times, we’ll improv. Mindy is a very, very, great improviser and I have a bit of background in that. So once we shot it the way we wanted to, we play around a bit. Sometimes we’ll discover things that are just kind of different and new. That ends up on the show sometimes.
I’m guessing it’s always stressful until you hear the show is getting picked up for another season. Does that ever cross your mind when you’re filming a season?
Yeah, I had about four minutes lead time before the rest of the crew found out. That was simply because I was in Mindy’s office when she got the call. So I was not privy to any extra information. If I was I would have used it to torture other people. I would be like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to get picked up. I think you might have to sell the house.’ Then 10 minutes later be like, ‘I’m just messing with ya.’
I think once we did get picked up it really alleviated a lot of pressure from us. A lot of shows they make you wait until the season is over. Since we knew we were coming back we could kind of cliff hang some stuff. We could write toward a natural end to the season. We didn’t have to say goodbye to anyone. We were really fortunate that Fox put a lot of faith in us early on.
You also wrapped up with filming the movie Neighbors. Can you tell me a bit about your character?
This movie is going to be out of control. I play Jimmy Blevins, who is kind of Seth Rogen’s best friend. Seth is married to Rose Byrne. You know when you have friends that are couples who are friends with other couples and then that couple brakes up and gets a divorce? You have to choose who you hang out with then from that couple. They [Seth and Rose] have chosen my ex-wife. Because I work with Seth’s character in the movie, he has to hang out with me a lot. When this fraternity moves in next door, at first I’m kind of excited about it. Some events transpire and it turns into all-out war. It’s a bloody war. A lot of people die. There is mass carnage in the movie. It’s pretty bloody stuff.
So it goes from a comedy to Game of Thrones?
Right away. It literally goes from a scene where you will see a bunch of guy’s penises and then goes right into the “Red Wedding.” So it’s going to be pretty hardcore stuff.
Zac Efron plays a frat guy who goes to war with Seth Rogen. For me it’s hard to think of someone from High School Musical playing a tough guy. How was his performance?
He was amazing, man. We needed a guy who’s the opposite of Seth. Seth made a good point. There’s a scene where both Seth and Zac both have their shirts off. Seth looked at Zac and said, ‘See that’s the kind of body of a guy who doesn’t have to wake up to take a shit.’ We wanted the antithesis of Seth. We got that in Zac. So it really worked out. He was great in the film.
You were on MADtv as well. How did working on that show get you prepared for your future projects?
It was definitely my first break. I had just signed a deal with Morton’s steakhouse to bus tables for the next five years. (Laughs) But MADtv made me a better offer so I took that. It was great. I had a great time. I worked with a lot of my friends. I did some really funny sketches– and some not so funny sketches. It really taught me how to be on TV. It taught me the basics and it gave me a lot of confidence. It prepped me at a young age for the highs and the lows. It’s good to do sketch comedy when you’re young.
You also became a father this year. Has fatherhood changed you at all?
It has made me look a lot worse. It has taken the small carry-on bags under my eyes into fully checked luggage. It has allowed me to give up on working out. My love handles have become obsession handles. But in all seriousness it does rearrange your priorities. All of a sudden with a little baby you don’t really care so much about not getting that audition or being stuck in traffic. It mellows you out a little bit and makes you happier.
Not sure if you traveled with your daughter yet, but isn’t it crazy how much stuff you need to bring for one small baby?
Let me tell you something, brother. We just flew to Martha’s Vineyard with her. I traveled to Europe for months at a time and carried less stuff. We were carrying two giant suitcases, two carry-ons and two diaper bags. We also took the actual stroller in a giant red bag so it doesn’t fall apart. By the time I get on the plane I look like Robocop. I was holding 50 pieces of gear. Just covered in sweat. And like you said– it’s all for a 15 pound baby with 185 pounds of gear. I want to travel light like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back on the Dagobah system when he’s got Yoda on his back. That’s all I want and it never works that way.
I know you grew up in Chicago. Can you list in order your most favorite to least favorite sports teams from Chicago?
That’s a tough question. Now. Today. I’m going to say Bears, Bulls, Cubs, Blackhawks, Sox and is the Sting still a team? Oh wait it’s the Power. So then the Power, and I don’t know– are the Blitz still around? The arena football team? No, I guess not. But yeah I would say that’s the correct order.
How do you like the Bears chances this year?
I think our coach looks like a serial killer from the 60’s, but I like him. I say that they’re going to go 9-7. They’ll be clamoring for the Wild Card.
Catch Ike on two of The Mindy Project, which premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 17 on Fox. Or, you can watch the first episode early here.