Josh Thomas on Not Wanting to Act Anymore

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“It’s just a really gorgeous sweater,” is what Josh Thomas says when I ask him about the vibrantly-colored sweater he’s wearing on Zoom, which for some inexplicable reason is somehow a perfect line to introduce the creator and star of Freeform’s Everything’s Gonna Be Okay: Somehow simultaneously self-confident and self-effacing, and undeniably sweet either way.

Thomas first broke out as a unique voice in the television space with the charming Australian comedy series Please Like Me, a quasi-autobiographical comedy about a young man (played by Thomas) navigating life and love which became an international success and Emmy nominee. That show ran four seasons, leading Thomas to Freeform and a new story about a young man (also played by Thomas), whose issues with life and love include becoming a parent to his half-sisters, following the death of their father.

Season 1 of the show centered largely on Nicholas adapting to his new role in life, with an intimate focus on how his sister Matilda’s (Kayla Cromer) autism affected her journey through adolescence. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay Season 2, premiering Thursday, continues that storyline with the added complication of a pesky pandemic, requiring everyone to quarantine at home. COVID-19, as Thomas explains, did disrupt the writers’ original plans for Season 2, but when they started writing it in May it did lead to one upside: Getting to tell stories about characters trapped together at home, something Thomas relished getting to do.

Another highlight for this season: Bringing in new guest stars Richard Kind (who auditioned!) and Maria Bamford to play the parents of Matilda’s best friend. Below, Thomas goes into adding their characters, why he felt it was important to include the pandemic in the season, and why he doesn’t plan to star in any future TV shows he might make.

Collider: How much of the show is done at this point?

JOSH THOMAS: I am on Episodes 8, 9, and 10, so we will picture lock 8 this week, and then 9 and 10 next week. That’s pretty much the end for me — there’s sound mixes and stuff, but that’s easy.

You don’t need to approve every moment of those?

THOMAS: I mean, I go to them and I watch them and stuff, but they… Something like once a week, and then… I mean, how much can you fuck up a sound mix, really? How far can you turn the birds up, turn the birds down? Is that the right ringtone? It’s not rocket science.

MAEVE PRESS, JOSH THOMAS

Image via Freeform

Of course. I mean, you aren’t having car chases every week, it’s really a show about people talking, and I think what you just said about sound mixing kind of reflects that.

THOMAS: Yeah, it’s not Lost, do you know what I mean? No one’s tuning in really to find out what happens next, you just want to be hanging out with these characters that hopefully people like. I don’t really think it feels like we’ve changed that much season to season. It’s just over time people shift, and grow up, and things change. But there aren’t cliffhangers — you’re never trying to figure out who did something.

Season 1 does have kind of a cliffhanger to it, just in terms of Matilda making her decision to not go to Juilliard after all. In ending the season on that moment, were you thinking about how that would kick off for Season 2?

THOMAS: Well, of course, we had a plan for that, but then the show’s set in COVID now. It changed the plans for the character’s life, and it changed our Season 2 story plan. We had to figure out where that left all our characters. I guess it would have been so devastating that she had to stay home, but also everybody has to stay home. It kind of dilutes that story a little bit, so that had sent the show in a whole new direction to what we’ve planned — I think a better direction. I don’t think our original plan was that good.

Do you mind if I ask what the original plan was?

THOMAS: There were a lot of storylines that involved like going off to college, and stuff, which… People are going to college online, I didn’t know if that’s going to be visually interesting storytelling. I don’t know how much drama those online classes hold, and also I just didn’t really feel like we could shoot college scenes safely, so trying to figure out kind of smaller worlds for us to shoot safety was important.

If you had shot Season 2 in a non-pandemic world, would Matilda have still gone off to Juilliard, or found some way to go to college?

THOMAS: It’s weird, I don’t think I want to tell you. But I can’t figure out why, because we did this whole different story…

Is part of it that you might go back to that stuff for a third season?

THOMAS: Yeah, I think that I really do still want to see Matilda navigate college in some way. She couldn’t do that this year anyway, story-wise, and also we couldn’t even really touch on it that much, so I think hopefully next season, that would be cool and fun.

In general, I feel like this is becoming more and more a question, where some shows are making a choice to take place during the pandemic, and then there are shows that have been like, “We take place after the pandemic is resolved.” What led you to the decision of, we want to be set in the pandemic, we don’t want to take place in an alternate universe?

THOMAS: Well, I remember at the beginning, we all thought the pandemic was about to finish all the time. We all thought it was going to be this two-week lockdown. We had a conversation at the beginning — I really love the idea of locking characters in a house and keeping things small, that’s what I want to do all the time. But we were like, “Are people going to want to revisit this pandemic by the time it goes to air?” Because everyone sort of thought that it would be over.

That was kind of the hardest part for me. I didn’t really want to talk about it. We don’t really talk about it that much on this show. It’s where they’re living, but we try not to go on about it. I’m trying to figure out what I think an audience’s appetite would be before it was hard. But I really thought it gave us a good opportunity to [talk about] the things that were kind of nice about lockdown, all the time that people were spending together, and looking after each other, and trying to figure out how to make their tiny worlds nice and livable. I really was into that, and that’s what I wanted to do. I don’t know, I felt like ignoring the pandemic just felt like a weird lie. That’s what we’re living, that’s what the world is.

Of course. It’s funny, like you say, the question of how much are people going to want to talk about the pandemic. I don’t even like asking you questions about it in this context, just because I feel like we all know there’s a pandemic, it’s not like somebody’s got to remind us. Why bring it up again?

THOMAS: But we have to talk about it, because it’s so big. That’s the thing — whenever I see my friends, that’s all we ever talk about the whole day, it’s different pandemic things. As far as filming the season goes, it did affect our characters in a way that hopefully, you don’t feel that much, when you watch it. But it did change what they could do in this season a lot.

ADAM FAISON, JOSH THOMAS

Image via Freeform

Yeah, I like what you said about how it did lend itself to certain kinds of storytelling. A lot of writers have looked for ways to lock characters in a room and make them talk to each other.

THOMAS: Yeah, it’s great, I really love it. I’m always doing it, we did it last season a lot, and I did it on Please Like Me a lot. For me, it was super attractive, and I was excited about it, but it was hard.

In terms of the season’s storyline, I don’t want you to spoil anything big, but does it take place over a relatively compressed period of time? Or does it take place over the course of months?

THOMAS: I’m always really vague about time. I would never tell you what I think the timeline is. It’s always however long you think it is. Especially with this season, because as people decided to start going out and stuff, it was hard to gauge the timeline for that. Whatever you feel.

Sure. That’s actually a quality I really like about the show. Even in the first episode, you don’t have a strong idea of how much time has passed between your character learning the news about his father’s illness and then the actual funeral.

THOMAS: Yeah, Episode 3 is the one-year memorial of the dad [dying]. That’s a time marker, and I think that’s probably the only time marker in the season. I really try and avoid them. Sometimes you can have two weeks that are really intense, and you can have like three months where nothing happens. Writers’ rooms and network executives are always like, “How much time has passed?” I was like, “Why is that so important? It’s just the journey they went on, and it took the time it took.”

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Right. This season, of course, you have two incredible guest stars in Richard Kind and Maria Bamford. Were you thinking “let’s try to get some really well-known actors for these new characters,” or was it just they happened to be available?

THOMAS: Yeah, we wanted to get someone cool, we want to get someone well-known. I don’t know if we’re were planning on having both of them be well-known, but Richard Kind sent in a self-tape.

Richard Kind auditioned?

THOMAS: He sent in a self-tape. I was like, “Okay, sure. Yeah, you can join.”

Was he just a fan of the show?

THOMAS: We put out the casting call, and he just took it up like any normal actor would, and sent in a self-tape from behind his desk, reading his lines with, I don’t know, someone from his family, and sent it over.

Richard Kind fits — that’s a tone match with the other characters. We have him, and we’d already cast Maria. I just love Maria Bamford a lot. She’s so cool, and we wanted to expand the cast a little bit, but it couldn’t be people that come into the house. Drea’s parents felt like a really good decision. Plus I wanted Nicholas to have something with somebody else who has sort of done when he’s doing. Somebody who gets the challenges that he’s dealing with parenting [an autistic teen].

MARIA BAMFORD, RICHARD KIND

Image via Freeform

Richard Kind’s hair and beard in the show — is that his quarantine hair and beard? Did he just show up with it?

THOMAS: I get this day when they show me the hair and the makeup of the character for approval. They were like, “Are you happy to leave Richard’s hair like this? I was like, “Sure,” that’s all I know about it. He was happy to cut it. He just said like, “I think you’ll probably like it like this though,” and I said, “Yeah, I like it like that, sure.”

Yeah, I mean, I think one of the more interesting aspects of quarantine is just everyone’s quarantine hair.

THOMAS: I kept awful quarantine hair in the show. I’ve been in post-production now, just watching it on loop for two and a half months, and I thought that was very brave. That was a very brave choice, to just have that shit hair for 10 episodes. I really thought like, “Maybe I should have gone and got my hair done.”

In the United States, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is airing on Freeform, and then making its way to Hulu. What’s its international reach like?

THOMAS: It plays in Australia, on a place called Stan. I don’t think it’s aired in certain countries yet… It’s all these networks that you’ve never heard of in countries that I have heard of. I think it’ll start doing that.

Yeah, I mean, the reason I wanted to ask is I just know that Please Like Me ended up being a pretty big international hit.

THOMAS: Yeah, Please Like Me took off in all these unexpected countries. But not always from the legal service provider. I mean, in a lot of countries… The thing that was so interesting about Please Like Me going international was it plays in a lot of countries where it’s illegal to be gay, and that’s pretty intense. Then it gets bootlegged and sent to countries where they wouldn’t otherwise have queer content. Once this girl came up to me and she was like, “I do the translation for the pirated version of your show in China.” That’s cool.

To wrap things up — it feels like you’ve really established your voice as a TV creator. After Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, do think the next project after it would be, like, a sci-fi drama? Do you feel like you want to try different genres and different approaches, or are you really happy with what you’re doing right now?

THOMAS: I mean, I think these two shows have a really distinct voice because I’m standing in the middle of them. I’m a distinct kind of guy, I don’t think I’ll ever be in a show again. My next shows will be guided by whoever’s story that we’re telling, I would hope. So I’ve got some pitches on my desk that are a little bit different to these shows.

But you don’t see yourself acting in them?

THOMAS: No, I’ll never act again, I don’t think. I just don’t like people looking at me that much anymore. In my early twenties, I really wanted people to look at me all the time, and I don’t need them to. It doesn’t feel so important to me, and I don’t know, I feel like there’s probably other, prettier people that I could hire on my next shows to do it for me.

I don’t want to say anything one way or the other on that. But, I will say your drag scene in Season 1 is incredible.

THOMAS: Thank you. Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to put that out and then turn around to an interviewer and be like, “I don’t want anyone to look at me,” when you’ve put a lot of work here into getting people to stare at you.

It’s all in the service of great storytelling.

THOMAS: I’m not sure that drag performance was in the service of great storytelling.

It was a lot of fun, though.

THOMAS: It was fun though. Yeah, it’s very generous of you to say that, but I don’t think it was service of… I just wanted to do it.

There are worse reasons to do anything.

THOMAS: There are, yeah.

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay premieres Thursday, April 8 on Freeform. Season 1 is streaming now on Hulu.

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Liz Shannon Miller
(271 Articles Published)

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by Vulture, Variety, The AV Club, The Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of “X-Files” trivia. Follow her on Twitter at @lizlet.

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