Josh Thomas plays Nicholas, a kind but scatterbrained millennial with no real responsibilities in life except for his endless amount of pet bugs. He’s nowhere ready to care for someone else but when his dad dies of cancer, he suddenly is forced to mature quickly and move halfway across the world to raise his two half-sisters.
As the creator, showrunner, and star of Eveything’s Gonna Be Okay, Josh Thomas is able to explore the coming-of-age genre in a lot of unexpected ways, discovering who you want to be in life all the while raising young adults yourself and queer dating. Then, there are his teenage sisters who are struggling with how to balance the mundane yet strange firsts of adolescent life while balancing grief with a comedic twist.
Taking the time to speak with Awards Daily, Josh Thomas talks about what it was like balancing so many different creative roles while injecting his own adolescent and immature experiences and failures into each of the characters – ceviche and all. Diving into the casting process, we discussed what it’s like finding the perfect cast and fine-tuning the script to fit their strengths, especially in the case of Kayla Cromer, the first autistic actress to play an autistic character in a leading role.
Awards Daily: Everything’s Gonna Be Okay tackles the themes of grief through the lens of a comedy, which is still a relatively unique approach. What inspired that choice?
Josh Thomas: We had to kill the dad so the premise could work! I know that’s not the most creatively inspiring answer…
I try to treat the audience how I treat my friends. If my friend were grieving, I would do everything I could to cheer them up. That’s my approach with this show and really any of my shows. Sad moments can often have humor and there is always a little bid of sadness in humor as well.
AD: When it comes to this show, you are wearing a lot of hats as the star, creator, producer, and writer. When creatives take on so many roles like this, I’ve noticed that audiences tend to conflate the person and the character. So I’m curious what audiences would be surprised to find out are the biggest differences between you and your character Nicholas?
JT: He’s in a situation I’ve never been in and I have no idea how I would act in that situation, but generally his POV is my POV. In terms of what is different? He’s actually super sweet. He takes on a lot and is generally focused. I feel like the characters I play are pretty much me, but better at making some sort of point.
AD: One of the most endearing aspects of the show is the relationship between Nicholas and his two teenage half-sisters played by Kayla Cromer and Maeve Press. What was it like working with the two of them and creating that relationship?
JT: They’re both great. They’re both really cool. Casting a teenage girl is not an activity I would recommend to people. It’s pretty brutal. These two girls I really like though. I always want actors who have something going on. Actors who are smart and have something interesting about them.
When Kayla came in for her audition, she had torn something in her foot at the beach, and she made a temporary tourniquet out of her shirt and went to the hospital all before her audition that day. She spent the audition teaching me how to make a tourniquet, and I was thrilled about that! Maeve is a teenager that does stand-up like her character in the show and has funny bones. She gets comedy.
For a comedy, you have to really hone in on the sense of humor of the actual actor so that’s what I was looking for. I find it rare to see a comedic performance where the actor doesn’t have a similar comedic sensibility to the role. It was important to me to find someone interesting and rewrite the role around them.
AD: Speaking of the teenage cast, you wrote some of the funniest, provocative, scenes that deal with young adulthood that I have never seen on television before. What was the reaction like from Freeform? Were they supportive?
JT: Freeform is really cool. Their pushback is usually more of a query, and I am great at having answers! There’s that three-page scene where Genevieve and her friends talk about buttholes. That was definitely a conversation when we sent that script through. In the past, I have always gotten notes that the girls I write are too crass, but I never got the note about my male characters. So I made the argument that girls talking about buttholes is good feminism. They should be allowed to be crass as well.
The thing that defines my years as a teenager was always making decisions and them going bad and then immediately thinking “Why did I do that?!” I would do the dumbest shit that would confound any sort of authority figure, whether that be family or a teacher. I really wanted to achieve that. These teenage girls really feel like me depending on what mood swing I’m on.
AD: I read that Kayla Cromer is the first autistic actor to play a lead autistic character on television. How did the character of Matilda come about? Did you always set out to write an autistic character or did you rewrite the role once you met Kayla?
JT: We definitely wanted the character to be autistic from the beginning. I think it is crazy that there are no female autistic leads on television. As far as I can tell, she is the first neuro-diverse actor in a leading role and that was important.
I am really drawn to autistic people. I have ADHD, so I consider myself autistic adjacent and neuro-diverse. Generally, I like people who are in this world that isn’t really made for them.
AD: Were you worried that you would run into stereotypes while in the writers’ room? How did you avoid that?
JT: What I was most worried about was that representation is important to people and any autistic girl watching this show will want to see themselves in this character, but autism is such a broad umbrella of people. I didn’t feel confident about covering the entire world of autism, but I felt confident that I could write Matilda. I felt like I knew her. That’s what I focused on and that’s how I think we got away with it.
There were elements that I worried about like Matilda’s skill with the piano. That is sort of a stereotype, the idea of an autistic genius is an overused trope. But she grew up in a privileged family, she’s driven, she wants a career in this—someone who has all of these aspects will be good at the piano. It made a lot of sense for her.
We also had these levels for the script. At the beginning, we did our research, and then I wrote the scripts. Afterwards we had these levels of checking the script. I wrote the scripts on a hunch and then it would go through our two consultants, another Disney consultant, and then our actor Kayla is helpful as well. In the end, it’s like all writing. You start with an empty page, and it is scary and you ask yourself “Am I going to fuck this up?” and then piece by piece you end up with something that is hopefully good.
AD: When Nicholas isn’t raising his two half-sisters, he is spending time with his new boyfriend Alex. I really responded strongly to this element of the show because it felt like a new take on a queer relationship that we don’t see a lot of. And then there was the ceviche fight in Mexico.
JT: That was real by the way.
AD: You did that? You’re going to have to tell me everything.
JT: I threw ceviche on my boyfriend’s head. I thought it would be funny and I thought I might as well try something new. He ended up getting really mad and felt like I wasn’t that sorry. I saw the love drain from his eyes, and we broke up a little while later.
I put it in my show because it’s a really good way of learning how to fight.
AD: Has your ex reached out to you regarding you including it in the show?
JT: He actually likes that I included it. I sent him a video message from the set to show him the bathtub. I think he liked it. He’s not that mad about it anymore?
AD: What was it like developing that on-screen relationship with your costar Adam Faison?
JT: I feel like my relationship with Adam on this show is the only real autobiographical element. I have the same feeling of the sheer agony and frustration of what it’s like to date me. Adam would definitely get mad at me if I poured ceviche on his head.
AD: Before Nicholas upended his life in Australia to move to America and take care of his family, he was an entomologist. We see that come to life in many ways throughout the show, both in the bugs crawling around the house and even the title of every episode. How did you decide to include that in the show?
JT: I actually hooked up with this boy and we were showering together. Mid-shower I found out he was leaving to go into the woods to study grasshoppers. I found that charming and really wanted to include it. I had some pet bugs for a while and I just like them. They’re often beautiful but people hate them. That’s something I really like. In the end, they’re in the show because I like them and it’s my show, so I got what I wanted dammit!
AD: Halfway through the season, Nicholas dresses in drag and performs. Was that your first time in drag?
JT: That was my first time in drag. Honestly, it’s sort of like the bugs and I just wanted to do it so I included it! I really liked it, but on set there isn’t much time to enjoy it. I was running around on set trying to do a million things. I really liked it though. I thought the crew would get handsy, but they were all well-mannered. I appreciated that.
The first season of “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” is available to stream on Hulu and with season two airing in 2021 on Freeform.