John Rothman of One Mississippi talks to Awards Daily TV about the Amazon pilot process, where Bonkers the cat went, and why there’s no other Bill on TV.
No one loves Bill on Amazon’s One Mississippi more than John Rothman, who plays the prickly stepfather character to Tig (Tig Notaro).
“I have to tell you,” says Rothman in a phone interview, “I very much enjoy playing this guy.”
And why wouldn’t he? Bill is such a complicated character on the dramedy as a man attempting to deal with the death of his wife the only way he knows how: by sticking to his regularly scheduled programming, whether it’s keeping track of Bonkers the cat or everyday-at-7-a.m. bowel movements. He may seem like an antagonist to Tig, but really, he’s going through as much turmoil as his stepdaughter—he just doesn’t let on that he is.
“I have to sit on these normal reactions, and the guy is grieving for his wife, so a lot of it has to do with grief. You’re sitting on all that emotion, but it’s not like you’re not having it. And it finds its way out; it sneaks out even when you’re not trying. And I think that’s what gives the character complexity that people really responded to. People have said to me that [Bill’s] not a character you know from television. There isn’t another Bill on TV.”
And it’s true. You won’t see many Bills on TV, but you probably know one in real life.
Everyone Knows The Character of Bill in Real Life
When Bonkers goes missing, Bill is distraught, showing more emotion for the feline friend than his wife during the grieving process.
“He can have that emotional release with the cat. He obviously had a very intense relationship with Bonkers. There was a draft with an ending where you saw Bonkers in the window of someone else’s house—he had just moved away. Very dark, but funny. Poor Bill.”
Just as Bill suffers from deep-seated anxiety, Rothman experienced a bit of worry that audiences wouldn’t get a chance to know Bill, especially with the unique Amazon pilot process.
“It was a long wait to see if Amazon was going to pick it up, and then when they decided to pick it up, the writers went back to the writers’ room in like January , and we didn’t really start until April , for Season 1. So there was a very long time in between.”
Even though he felt some concern during the Amazon pickup process, Rothman wasn’t surprised when the series was greenlit for Season 1.
“You can tell when things are going well. I was not surprised at how good the pilot was because it felt like that when we were making it. The Amazon guys seemed very invested in it. The rumor seemed to be that it would get picked up. The odds were very good, but it’s show business. You never know what’s going to happen.”
During the waiting time, Rothman was able to take a part in Trevor Nunn’s production of Pericles in New York, in one of the few plays Nunn hadn’t directed yet in the Shakespeare canon and for the first time ever with an American cast. Thankfully, Rothman received special permission on the One Mississippi hiatus.
“Normally when you’re under contract, you have to get permission to do anything, and it was unclear. The theater in New York wouldn’t hire me without Amazon assuring them they wouldn’t take me away while the play was going on. Knowing that I was going back to playing Bill was wonderful.”
Who is Bill Based On?
Between Shakespeare and Bill, Rothman was stretching his range, going from speaking in iambic pentameter to playing a character based on a real-life person with real-life idiosyncrasies.
“What they were writing for Bill was based on what they saw in the pilot. Even though we had the strange circumstance where I’m actually playing Tig’s real stepfather, and Tig would say ‘Rick wouldn’t do that or wear that or say it that way.’ It was kind of a reality check. At one point, I thought about meeting him, but I decided that was probably not a good idea since I had invented this character myself.”
In the pilot (which Rothman calls one of the “best pilot scripts” he’d ever read), Tig describes her stepfather as someone with a temperament between room temperature and sleet, which is something Rothman couldn’t initially identify with.
“My wife said to me, ‘It’s called acting.’ You have to figure out what adjustments, how to do this guy.”
Later, Rothman learned that there might be some truth in his ability to capture this complicated character.
“I was at the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, which runs a series of conversations, and we showed Episode 6. One of my really good friends was there, and I was talking about how I didn’t really think I was like Bill and I had to figure out how to play him. And he said, ‘I hate to tell you, but you really are like Bill.’ And he’s right. It’s about using the parts of me that are Bill-like. Bill is very compulsive and orderly. He wants all of his ducks in a row, and he’s up against a world that won’t cooperate.”
Showing a Positive with Mental Illness
In one episode, Bill’s stepson Remy (Noah Harpster) tells Tig that Bill is “abnormal,” something Rothman sees as a positive.
“I think he has obsessive compulsive personality disorder, which is an extreme of wanting the world to be ordered. The order seeps into every part of his life. But the thing about people who have OCD is that they are very effective and successful, well-organized. They take care of things. The beautiful thing about Bill is his sense of responsibility. He’s responsible for everything. He’s like a straight arrow. It’s abnormal, but in a good way.”
Despite his nettlesome inclinations, there is a lot of good in Bill, and in the final episode of Season 1 of One Mississippi, audiences are treated to an important moment between Tig and Bill.
“The fact that Tig comes home at the end of the first season, and at the second season, she’s living at home, says a lot about Bill’s heart. They had a very tough past, and their ways of dealing with grief are so different.”
Good for Bill and good for Rothman as well.
“Everyone who has seen these six episodes has loved them. I’ve never gotten better reviews in my life. There’s so much out there. The beautiful thing about streaming is that someone who’s interested can just go right on and see it right away.”
Watch Season 1 of One Mississippi right now at Amazon Studios.