In a comedy about a couple from New Yorker who move to a farm in Nebraska, the two are bound to meet some interesting characters as they start this new adventure. JT Neal stars as Jacob, the oh-so-adorable teenaged next door neighbor in ABC's Bless This Mess.
TV Insider chatted with Neal to find out just what kind of shenanigans happen behind the scenes. Plus, the 25-year-old opens up about how acting alongside Dax Shepard has made him an even better actor.
How was the audition process for Bless this Mess?
JT Neal: It was kind of a long process because I still do pre-reads. I had a pre-read with the casting director Steph Yankwitt. And from there it was maybe another week or so and I had a callback and I had to go in and read with Lake [Bell]. She was in the room with Steph and she was kind of improvising with me a little bit to see how I could respond to things. I guess probably another week went by and then I got the call that they were gonna test me for the show, which is really exciting for me because that's when it started to get more real. It’s down to me and like two other guys. And so I was so excited for that. And I went in super nervous but the test went well and everyone in there was so sweet and I was like, “Man, I really wanna be a part of this family and part of this show.”
So, when did you eventually find out you were cast?
Well, we shot the pilot last July. So that’s when I found out I was cast in the show. We found out that the show got picked up in December. So, I found out that I was cast in the show, I had my network test and I guess it was then maybe a week [later]. But I was at the gym and I was in the middle of a set and I got a call — it was on a Saturday! I got a call from my manager and my agent and they were like “Hey, where are you at right now?” And I was like, “Uh… I’m at the gym in the middle of a workout.” And they’re like, “OK, well step away. Don’t hurt yourself but you got the show.” And I had to leave. I started crying, I called my mom and she was crying. It was incredible.
What’s it like acting beside Dax Shepard, Lake Bell, and the rest of the cast?
It is very surreal. I would call my parents on the way home from work every day just in awe. Like, I don’t even know how I got here because I’m pretty sure one day they’re gonna wake up and be like, “Wait a second… this isn’t the guy we cast. How did he get in here?” I’m just around these masters and geniuses and it’s the best feeling in the world.
Have they been able to teach you anything or show you the ropes?
Yeah, there was this one scene at the very end [of the pilot episode] that I couldn’t get the line to save my life and Dax just kind of came over to me really confidentially, he didn’t make a big scene of it. He was just like, “Hey man, I noticed you were having kind of a hard time with this line, do you mind if I help you out a little bit?” And I was like “Please! Help me out.” Because I’m playing a character that he’s very familiar with. He’s played this kind of sweet, innocent character a lot in his career. So I was like ‘Yes, please. Whatever you can impart. Please tell me.” And he did and it ended up working a lot better. There’s just little moments like that where I’m learning every single day I’m constantly taking things in.
It must be so much fun being on set, I can't imagine the vibe is super serious right?
We’re very serious about our jobs and everybody’s very professional. But there is so much love and so much laughter on set. David Koechner and Dax knew each other before we started the show so they’re constantly doing bits with each other. So sometimes, Lennon [Parham] and I will just sit back and watch them do a whole scene and there’s not even a camera on them or anything. The whole set is just cracking up. It’s a miracle that we were able to accomplish what we accomplished. So much playing and joking and laughter. It’s amazing.
Do you have a favorite memory from shooting?
There was a day when my parents got to come to set. When we were shooting the finale for Season 1. They got to come to set which was really exciting. They haven't been on set with me since 2014, I guess? So, it’s been a while. They don’t get to get out as much as they used to. So, when I got to take them to set and introduce them to everybody it was such a big episode too. We had all of these great guest stars and it was so much fun to be able to get to share that with them because they supported me my whole career. To get to show them, “Hey this is what I’m doing, thank you for supporting me.” That was the best.
What about handling the live animals?
Well, animals are historically very easy to work with. I’m joking. They are so difficult all the time. How do you train chickens? I don’t know how they do it but it’s actually been really fun. Except, there was one week where I guess they had to push production like a whole two days. They had to shift the schedule around because the chickens got sick. And I’ve never been on a show where the schedule was dependent on the health of a chicken. But here we are.
I’m joking a little bit, they actually were very easy to work with. We work with a lot of cows. The cows just pretty much do whatever you want them to do. The handlers would say, “Wherever you lead them, that’s where they’re gonna go.” I feel like a lot of times they were hitting their marks better than I was.
That's amazing! What is it like working with your on-screen parents, David Koechner and Lennon Parham?
I learn so much just watching them. And you’ll notice that in the first few episodes, when they’re on I’m not. You can’t see my face. And that’s because I couldn’t stop laughing. I like to think I’m very professional on set, but when Lennon and David are in a scene together, it’s fireworks.
Do you have a dream storyline for Jacob?
In the show Dax’s character used to be a music journalist. So, I would love if Jacob had a storyline that was kinda similar to Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation, where he had this secret life as a saxophone player that nobody knew about. I would love it if Mike (Dax Shepard) just went to some live music thing in Lincoln and Jacob’s up there singing Brooks and Dunn. I think that would be so funny.
Bless This Mess, Tuesdays, 9:30/8:30c, ABC