Fan Fest Exclusive Interview with Tiya Sircar of new ABC comedy ‘Alex, Inc.’
Find out how a podcast becomes the fifth member of a family in Alex, Inc. when Fan Fest talks to Tiya Sircar about her lead role in the new comedy on ABC.
Tiya Sircar is no newcomer to television, but she is starring in a new comedy called Alex, Inc. We had the opportunity to talk with Tiya about playing wife, mom and career woman in the new series premiering March 28th on ABC.
Tiya’s character Rooni Schuman is married to Alex Schuman played by Zach Braff. While working and raising two young kids, the Schumans embark on a new journey when Alex decides to make a dramatic career change.
Rooni somewhat reluctantly agrees when husband Alex wants to leave his steady job and start his own podcast company instead. While there is some understandable hesitation on Rooni’s part, she is also one of Alex’s biggest supporters in the new endeavor.
The show’s premise is based on the real life career change of Alex Blumberg, creator of the popular StartUp podcast and so much more. Tiya shared that actual dialogue from the StartUp podcast makes it’s way into the series.
Let’s talk podcasts
The first question I have for you, Tiya, is whether or not you yourself listen to podcasts.
Tiya: You know, I am actually sort of new to podcasts. And the podcasts that I find myself drawn to are true crime podcasts like Serial and S-Town. Those are the ones I find myself gravitating towards, and then also This American Life and a bunch of the NPR ones. I like those as well.
Fantastic. So it definitely wasn’t a new concept to you?
Tiya: I have friends who live their lives by listening to podcasts and I am not one of those people. But the podcasts that I have been turned on to, I have basically binged listened to. So I guess I am like, a prime candidate. I would be a person that would binge listen to podcasts, I just haven’t quite gotten there yet.
I am also curious about how much influence or direction comes from the StartUp podcast by Alex Blumberg. I understand it’s modeled after that experience. Do you get a lot of input from it on the show?
Tiya: It is, yes. And we did. I mean, our pilot episode is basically. If you’ve listened to StartUp, the podcast, whole scenes and certain sentences and dialogue come verbatim from the podcast. But then as the series progresses through the season, we kind of diverge from it.
Our story’s obviously based on the podcast and their real lives and dynamic between Rooni and Alex. But as we go through the story, we take some liberties and exercise some creative license. But the story is very much based on what really happened in their lives starting up Gimlet Media.
A special kind of comedy
I imagine it takes a special kind of skill, I would think, to play Rooni in contrast to Alex. Zach Braff’s character Alex is more of an over the top comedic type role and you’re kind of a foil to that, even though you have your own zingers and so forth. Is it challenging to be that more reserved pairing with a comedy actor?
Tiya: I don’t know if it’s challenging, but it is a very specific kind of skillset, you know? Like sometimes in my career I’ve gotten to be the one with the joke or the button on the end of the scene. And, in this case, in the dynamic between the two of these characters, Rooni is sort of the more practical one, the one with her feet firmly on the ground, while her husband Alex is a little bit more of a dreamer and he’s got his head in the clouds. She’s the one that’s always kind of reining him in.
And of course it’s Zach, so he’s always hilarious and every line he delivers is so, so funny. So, you know, the challenge is staying in character when he’s off doing the ridiculous things he does.
But yeah, just the dynamic of our characters kind of lends itself to her being a little bit more of the straight man and him being a little more of the goofy one with the crazy lines.
So, is there any improvisation in filming so far that actually goes into the final edit?
Tiya: I think we kind of strike a balance. We aren’t totally beholden to the lines necessarily. And the writers and our showrunner, Matt Tarses, are super open to it if we want to play around with the lines, if we want to add something, or if we don’t feel comfortable with something. So I think we all feel very comfortable having an open dialogue about that stuff.
But I feel like the writing is so smart and so funny, I don’t necessarily feel the need to improv a lot. But it’s Zach and you know he’s always coming up with new jokes and new ideas. And between Matt and Zach on set every day, there are often lots of rewrites to jokes and to entire scenes even. So yeah, we are kept on our toes. And so there is a good amount of improv and also just, you know, while we’re shooting a scene, if we think surely there’s a funnier joke here. Everyone’s brainstorming together and coming up with something that’s tighter and funnier and works better. It’s kind of an ever-evolving process.
It sounds like it’s a great product to start with, but there’s definitely a collaborative spirit.
Tiya: Absolutely, yeah.
Family life with the Schumans
I am especially taken with the great chemistry that you have with the kids, Ben and Soraya (played by Elisha Henig and Audyssie James, respectively). It’s very believable. Did you have much time prepping with them and getting to know them before filming?
Tiya: No, but I’m so glad you feel that way! Well, they are so talented and just delightful so it’s not hard. And, by the way, they’re so good at their jobs. They are both so well-suited to their characters in real life that it just comes super naturally to them, their respective roles.
But, no, I don’t have any kids in real life and I am the youngest person in my family even, so I have not had a ton of experience with kids. So initially I was like, “Oh, how am I gonna do this?” And I was a little bit daunted by the idea that I was gonna be thrown into motherhood with a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old, not even like little bitty kids.
But they were so great. I don’t know what I was so worried about! I mean, we all fell into our roles kind of easily and right away. And yeah, it just felt very easy. I think it’s a testament to them and their creative ability and also their professionalism that it just felt easy and fun.
Well, it really works and it’s really sweet. And fun, too.
Tiya: Thanks! Good, good.
Would you say it’s safe to say that the whole family is part of the podcast? Is that a fair statement?
Tiya: Oh, I mean, intimately involved in the podcast, whether they like it or not! I mean, that’s kind of part of the fun. And that is actually very closely drawn, directly [even] from the real podcast. In StartUp, there are entire bits where his wife is like, “Can you please turn that thing off? Like I just wanna have a conversation with you. I don’t want it to be recorded. I don’t want it to be part of the podcast.”
But he is committed to doing this thing. And so we directly draw from that in our show, where there are moments where it is so inappropriate for Alex to be recording and yet, he’s recording because that’s what he’s doing, you know, that’s the goal.
And so, yeah, it proves to be funny at times. It also proves to be frustrating for some us, mainly Rooni, at times. But yes, the kids are part of it.
The podcast, it becomes part of their lives. It’s like a fifth member of the family. And so we see how each of these characters grapple with that differently.
Making their mark
There are a lot of great comedies on ABC. What makes Alex, Inc. different? What’s going to stand out for the viewers in your opinion?
Tiya: Well, a few things. I love the fact that our show is basically a family comedy intertwined with a workplace comedy and those two worlds overlap often with each other. There are moments where Alex feels like he is neglecting his family because he’s so tied up with his work and so he asks Michael Imperioli’s character and Hillary Matthews’ character to come and do family breakfast with them because he doesn’t want to compromise either his work or his family. And then that just does not work. And so I like that it’s not just a family comedy, it’s not just a workplace comedy, it’s both. And then we see how those worlds work together or not so much from time to time.
And then I also, I don’t know, I mean I could go on and on about the things that I like about our show. But two more things. One is that I feel like so often in film and on TV, we see young people just starting out, who are going to pursue a dream of theirs, which I think is wonderful. I mean, I did that myself, so that speaks to me personally. But I don’t often see people who are older and established in their careers, who have families and responsibilities, deciding that they have a calling in life and they are going to pursue it no matter what because that’s how they’ll feel most fulfilled. And so I love that there’s this overarching idea that it’s never too late to live your dream and pursue your passion. I love that.
And then, lastly, I would say, I just love that there’s a family that looks like ours on primetime network television. I’m Indian-American, I grew up in Texas, I was born there and raised there. And I loved movies and TV, I grew up watching both and there was no one that looked like me on either. And as I got older I became acutely aware of that fact. And so I just feel like there are so many families like ours, not necessarily specifically an Indian-American Jewish-American combination, but, you know, just a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic family with mixed kids. And I just love that we get to see a family like that on TV, because it’s so rare but it’s representative of so many families in America. I’ve already been hearing from so many people online and people on social media saying, “I’m so excited to watch a show with my kids with kids that look like them on TV!” And that’s really exciting to me. And I feel like that change is happening more and more and I just I feel really privileged to be a part of that change.
That’s awesome. It’s refreshing and it’s long overdue. But it’s also just fun to see more variety.
Tiya: I agree, I agree.
Alex, Inc. premieres on Wednesday, March 28th on ABC at 8:30/7:30 central. Be there to watch Rooni and the whole Schuman family set out on their new adventure in the world of podcasting.
Many thanks to Tiya Sircar for generously taking time to speak with Fan Fest.