Up for Air – an interview with Smothered co-star Mitch Hara
What do you get when you pair Mitch Hara and Jason Stuart as a hateful gay couple who can’t stand each other but can’t afford to get divorced? Smothered, a hysterical and slightly dark look into the journey of a couple and their search for a therapist who can help them save their doomed relationship.
I was not familiar with either actors’ work and only discovered them after seeing a promotion for Smothered on social media. As usual, when I come across someone fascinating, I reach out to connect, and to my surprise, Mitch personally responded, and we struck up a conversation.
Of course, I had to ask if he would do an interview, to which he quickly agreed!
Mitch, an actor, writer, and director, has an impressive background that includes numerous guest spots, including recurring roles on ER and writing for several sitcoms. In his first independent film, The Art of Dying he stared with Wings Hauser and then went on to work in films with Al Pacino, Patrick Swayze, and John Travolta, to name a few.
So, Mitch, let’s talk about Smothered. You and Jason are fantastic; I could believe that you were a dysfunctional married couple; in fact, I have probably met that couple. How did you Jason meet? Had you ever worked together before?
Thirty years ago, at a party at my house. I was loaded out of my mind, and I don’t remember. Taylor Negron brought him, he was wearing a bad blonde mullet wig and to hear him tell it, I scared the shit out of him. I was flying around my raving party with a “Jew-fro” and a black floor-length cape. And yes, shockingly, we have worked on each other’s projects thru the years.
Sounds like destiny or perhaps Karma depending on how you look at it, and I can absolutely picture him in a mullet wig. Where did the idea of Smothered come from?
Two places. One, I always wanted to do a Dog Day Afternoon thing where the couple wants to separate, but they can’t afford it, so they rob a bank. And then Jason and I had a big ass fight, and I wanted him to go away; then I had the idea the best part of our relationship is that we argue and it’s funny. So, I called him and said, “this is what we’re gonna do and you just need to shut up.” And the dynamic was born. He never shut up. And neither did I!
When was the filming of the series finished?
I have no concept of time. But maybe ten months ago? After the shooting was completed, we moved on to editing – which Adam Sandler (Happy Madison) peeps were helping us edit. They were very supportive. We shot Couch Therapy in their bungalow. They got crazy busy and went on tour with Adam. Luckily I found Robb Padget, who was a gift from the gods. We like to think of him as the 4th Musketeer! He really understands moments, humor, and storytelling—an amazing editor and person. Me, Jason, Terri, and Robb became a joyous quadruple.
The segments are short at about 5 minutes each. Curious, how long did they take to film?
We did two episodes a day. It was intense and amazingly creative. We rehearsed a lot before the day of the shoot, so we knew what we were emotionally going for in each scene. Of course, we left ourselves open for “happy accidents” – like episode #4, where my character decided in the middle of the fight to kiss Ralph/Jason hard. I think I bit his lip;) Jason was shocked but kept in character, was swept away, and wanted more. Randy/me broke from the kiss and wanted OUT; we just stayed in the scene. It’s my secret favorite episode. If anything, the camera and lighting took the longest. But we were going for great production values, so every set up was important. Hitoshi/DP & Terri Hanauer, our director, worked together to set up each episode with a different look and feel. Terri and I talked a lot about how each one would look. Each episode is claustrophobic in its own way, so we needed a creative way to give each set up a unique, original feel and look like episode 4, which was filmed totally hand-held. I love that.
The editing is excellent; I felt like I was a fly on the wall watching the whole thing play out. The series features a very eclectic group of guest stars. Had you worked with any of them before? How were they chosen for their roles?
We wanted a really diverse group of characters and actors. They are all friends of either me, Jason, or Terri’s. We made a pact that just because they are friends that wasn’t enough. They had to be the best for the part, and we all had to agree. And we mostly always did. If there were ever a question, two yeses would win. Ultimately, we wound up with an Asian woman, a little person, a 7-foot-tall trans woman, a black-lesbian-Jew, a plus-sized black man from Cats, an OCD gay man a fluid dog. Between Jason and me, we didn’t want any more “white” people. We just wanted our series to reflect how we wanted to see the world—populated by unique, multi-racial, culturally diverse people thriving together. And we cast them for their talent, not because of their race or gender assignment.
I love that it was such a diverse cast, and you and Jason were so intentional about that. I think they are perfectly matched for their roles. Not to put you on the spot, well perhaps, but do you have any favorite costars besides, of course, Jason?
Well, I have to say, Jason – our chemistry is insane. We create this magic relationship and dynamic that you can’t fake. It’s like a sense of humor. You either have it, or you don’t. Favorites? They were all amazing in their own way. It’s so funny the public has their own favorites. Some people can’t stop talking about #1 with Hellen Hung “everyone hates you” more peeps LOVE #2 couch therapy “Fu#K Barbra Streisand” with Pancho Moller (and we almost cut the whole thing) – others love “your inner child is dead” with Erika Ervin from American Horror story. She’s the 7-foot-tall child psychiatrist. Me, I secretly loved working with Delila in “nothing more than Feelings” and Clent Bowers in the IRS scene “you are less than nothing.” Seriously, there were dynamics in each episode that I loved! Moments, a bit of writing, a brilliant accident. In some insane way, Jason and I reacted at the moment. So, all of them for being who they were and selflessly giving us their best.
You are right; each segment is unique. I absolutely love the title of #2 Fu#k Barbra Streisand”; I wonder if she has watched? Were you surprised when it got picked up by Amazon?
It took three months, but we love them, and they support our voice! And Babs, Jason (Gould) and the hubby should watch it together. They’d feel better about themselves and their relationship.
I have been telling everyone about it and can’t wait to see more. It is hard to believe that you have such a long list of credits given your tender age. There was a time, not so long ago when being “out” could severely limit or even end a career in Hollywood. Did you ever have that concern for your own career; dos that fear still exist?
Jason would jump all over this question. He feels very deeply about this issue. I’m more like yes, yes, yes, yes, yes it did, it’s still around, we’re making progress, are we done? No. Are more people brave and busting through walls daily? Hell yes. Are we bringing our own chairs to the table? fuck yeh. We are getting more and more inclusive and depicted in all the bright colors of humanity. Yes, baby, yes. But if I’m not invited, I print my own invite and kick down the door. “Hey! The love and light just entered the building!”
I try and focus on what I want to create, what I have to say, what I want to illustrate in my art, life and voice. There is nothing sacred to me. Everything is part of my creative paint box. Yes, the shit exists. Does it stop me? fuck no. For me; everything is “yes.” Even “no” is a slow yes. I will not wait for someone else to give me permission to create.
When you look back, are you ever surprised at how far we have come? When I was growing up, the only representation we had were the stereotypes of gay men. Now there is so much diversity and expression of the LGBTQ+ community.
Oh, hell, yes! I have always been “different” artistically and my view of the world and my unique voice was always alarming even before I realized my response to the world was radically different. And now the current Reich wants to drag the world back to the 1950s! I won’t goose-step, so don’t ask me.
I have never heard that term before, goose-step, but please don’t. There is so much on the line, and I appreciate your going there. Do you think that those who have a public platform in entertainment have a responsibility to speak up?
Of course! But I do invite the extremists, racists, alt-right, separatists, hatemongers to get on the right meds.
With everything we are faced with, is the LGBTQ+ community doing enough socially and politically?
I think so – bar setting the current Reich on fire. Seriously, I’m not judging what anyone else is doing. Ryan Murphy, Sony, Amazon, Netflix, Poptv, and more are supporting unique voices and inclusion. And only ones I can really hold accountable are Mitch Hara and Jason Stuart. And we are representing! Smothered – our hysterical, shocking, and touching series – is not only entertainment; it’s a celebration of diversity. We create what I want to see. I create from a very personal place full of fun, baggage, trauma, bullying, abuse, and power. My one-man show Mutant Olive is a celebration of how I got here. And I am the love and the light. So, yes, yes, yes, and there’s always more arts can do. We creatives have a powerful platform and voice. I am happy to use mine.
Well, I, for one, am glad that you are using your voice and, at the same time, turning out some great work! This year has been like no other we have seen. How has the pandemic changed things for you?
Oh please. What’s changed for me? A gay privileged gypsy white boy? Let’s focus on the positives: Smotherd is going viral. We are bringing light and joy in the darkness. It’s a crazy creative time for me. We’re doing a lot of PR for the series: zoom interviews, morning shows, live radio shows, a lot of fun. We’re also pitching Smothered to studios to create a 30-minute version. Truthfully, I’m inspired every day to write something about something. To get out of my head or another episode or some crazy insight I have. I also ride my bike 1.5 hours a day, so I don’t kill anyone. Also, auditions are picking up so a shit load of self-tapes. One of the biggest changes – I work at Sony, and I’m surrounded by 100’s of creative peeps, and in person, I kiss and hug all of them. I miss that. My people are affectionate.
What are you working on now, anything you can share?
We have three seasons of Smothered already mapped out. I finished a screenplay – It Will Always Be Lunch – amazing, hysterical, touching, beautiful (a gay Aunty Mame with a 10-year-old kid with Asperger’s). I also just finished a pilot about a grief group called Onion which we’re going to shoot end of November!
I know I have already said it, but you are wonderful, and I am so grateful and appreciative that you made a personal connection when I reached out and agreed to do this interview. You are both talented and very genuine, which is sometimes rare. I can’t wait to see more from you and Jason.