John Ross Bowie talks to Awards Daily about Season 3 of Speechless, checking off his acting Bucket List, and why The Conners aren’t the only working-class family on TV.
As an actor, John Ross Bowie tackles a joke the same way his Big Bang Theory character, Barry Kripke, might solve a physics problem.
“There’s almost a mathematical way to approach it,” says Bowie. “The joke’s intention is this, therefore this word has to be highlighted, I should probably take a pause here. I get very technical about that stuff. I love that. I really like just hashing that out with the writer on set and working with the director and finding out the best possible way to deliver a punchline.”
No stranger to making people laugh, Bowie’s comedy experience could be considered Ph.D. level, with a resume that includes roles on Emmy-winning comedies including Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 11-plus years on The Big Bang Theory, and mostly recently Jimmy DiMeo on ABC’s Speechless, which marks its Season 3 premiere Friday, October 5.
“I tend to do a lot more comic roles, because my resume would suggest that that is a comfort zone. Anytime I get to not worry about where the jokes land and sit down and play a character and really build a scene, it’s incredibly satisfying. I don’t have a preference [comedy or drama]. What’s interesting about Speechless is that it has pushed me in a couple of directions that I haven’t been able to go on TV before. There are some more heartfelt moments and serious father-son talks that I haven’t had an opportunity to do before in my career.”
Season 3 of Speechless
The third season of the ABC sitcom picks up just hours after the Season 2 finale, with the family trying to figure out where they are going to live.
“Season 3 picks up the next morning, which is striking because Mason Cook (who plays Ray DiMeo on the series) is about three inches taller than he was when we left him. The joke on set is that Ray got a really good night’s sleep.”
In order to figure out where to move to, the family does something drastic—or in this case fun for viewers—they go to London to beg Maya’s (Minnie Driver) father for money.
“We actually took production to London during the first week of August and shot a big chunk of two episodes there. It was great. I had been to London before, but I’d never worked on something this extravagant. We were shooting right in the middle of the city. We took over Trafalgar Square for a morning and shot right by the fountain. We were on top of one of those open-top tour buses going around the city. We shot in front of Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, and 10 Downing Street. We really got the most out of London that we could.”
But the highlight for Bowie was playing opposite his fictional father-in-law, played by guest star John Cleese, who also played Driver’s fictional father on Will & Grace.
“I think anyone who knows me or looks at me will say, ‘Ahh middle-aged out-of-shape white guy—he loves Monty Python.’ I can’t even call it a Bucket List moment because it was so far off of my Bucket List, but lo and behold, I got to work with John Cleese for a few days and it was magical. Just being around that timing and level of experience was pretty exciting.”
Inclusiveness in the Speechless Work Environment
The ABC sitcom follows the challenges a family faces, including finding the best options for their teenager with cerebral palsy, played by Micah Fowler, who lives with cerebral palsy in real life. Bowie says that while behind the scenes presents considerations unique from other projects he’s worked on, the show is a pretty typical work environment.
“Our location scouts have to make sure anywhere we go has certain accessibility, not just ramps and elevators, but doors have to be a certain width so we can get JJ’s electric chair through. There are a few extra things we have to look at before we use a space that a lot of other shows have a luxury of ignoring, but that’s all stuff that’s taken care of before the actors show up. It’s nothing I notice in the day-to-day. Micah is a pretty typical teenager who wants to talk about comic book movies and has very strong opinions on the Star Wars films, and I welcome that.”
Even though the series might be indirectly teaching America about tolerance, the show doesn’t set out to be preachy. In fact, the half-hour comedy is pretty broad in its encompassing theme that appeals to families of all kinds.
“The thing that drew me to the script, not having a child with a special needs myself, I very much related to the idea of doing whatever you can to get into a particular school district, creating as many opportunities for your children.”
On the Rise and Fall of Roseanne, Need for More Working-Class TV Families
When Speechless went on hiatus in March, Roseanne returned to record-breaking ratings, before the Tweet Heard Round the World got the series canceled, and it was rebooted without its namesake. Bowie wants to remind people that The Conners aren’t the only working-class family on television.
“The DiMeos live in a pretty crappy house and go to local public school, and my character works in baggage handling for an airline. So when people were up in arms that Roseanne was the only working-class sitcom on the network, I took umbrage to that. I think there absolutely needs to be more economic diversity on TV. Not every kitchen has to be gorgeous, stainless-steel marble countertops, aspirational ‘kitchen porn.’ The door to our stove is held on with a wire hanger apparatus, and if you look very carefully, there is a rat trap that travels to different parts of the living room depending on which episode we’re in. Respectfully, there are a lot of working-class TV options out there and Speechless is among them.”
Speechless returns for Season 3 Friday, October 5 on ABC.