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Cory Michael Smith in Olive Kitteridge. Photo courtesy of Jojo Whilden/HBO.

13 Questions for Cory Michael Smith, Star of Gotham

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Cory Michael Smith in Olive Kitteridge. Photo courtesy of Jojo Whilden/HBO.

These days, Cory Michael Smith spends most of his time playing Edward Nygma, future Riddler on Fox's Batman prequel, Gotham. But on Sunday, he takes on a much different role: In the second part of HBO's four-part miniseries Olive Kitteridge, which spans a quarter-century in a Maine community, Smith plays the grown up version of Kevin Coulson—and, like his costar John Gallagher, Jr., he didn’t have any scenes with Bill Murray. In fact, Smith didn't even get to meet Murray—which was particularly sad for the actor, who counts What About Bob? as one of his favorite movies ever. "The end is so weird! It’s so odd, but fantastic," Smith says. "I hope I get to meet him—I need to talk to Bill Murray about What About Bob's impact on my life.” We sat down with the actor a few days before Halloween to chat about acting with Frances McDormand, playing the future Riddler, and horrible Halloween costumes.

How did your role in Olive Kitteridge come about?

I found out about it in June 2013. They were casting here in New York, and I was initially sent sides for [another character], but my managers wanted me to be seen for Kevin. At that point, the only film thing I’d done was [the horror short] Dog Food, and that wasn’t out. I had nothing to show of me on camera. I read both of the sides, and I was like ‘I only want to go in for Kevin.’ I really fell in love with that role because he’s so tormented—he spent his whole childhood taking care of his [mentally ill] mother and then becomes her. There’s not a lot of light in his life, but he’s not violent to other people. I was just interested in someone who’s that much of a pacifist and has had that much damage to him, because people can respond to that stuff in different ways, and to not be abusive was interesting.

Did you read the book the miniseries is based on before you auditioned?
Not before I auditioned, but afterward, I read the whole thing. Kevin is the second chapter, and it’s only up to the point where he jumps into the water, so everything after that was created by Jane Anderson, who adapted it [for TV]. But reading it was actually very helpful, emotionally, because there’s a lot in the book that’s not voiced—how he drove overnight from New York, and just the idea that he hasn’t slept at all. I was like, ‘Please make me look sweaty and exhausted.’ I wanted to play him absolutely exhausted. So that information is always helpful, and that wasn’t really talked about [in the script]. If you have the time to read it, it’s really stunning.

Your character has mental health issues. Did you do any research into that?

Jojo Whilden/HBO

I did, a lot—into the differentiation between hallucinations and schizophrenia, depression versus bipolarity, and trying to find the line of him not having control over himself, but having him not be dangerous for someone to be around. So understanding mental health to such a degree, and navigating his behavior to a certain degree, that that behavior made sense, which I thought was very delicate. I didn’t talk to any actual psychiatrists, but I looked at things online. And I have people in my life who are bipolar, and they’re at varying degrees. I wanted to stay in the depression and not really touch the bipolar thing because I didn’t want him to be aggressive to other people. So all the times that he starts to get agitated, I tried to tamp down and hold on to myself. There were two people in my life that I was paying attention to and trying to emulate in that performance—I find them to be slightly dangerous because they’re so quiet, and you can tell a lot is going on in their minds.

You appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s on Broadway, and I’m curious, what’s more intimidating: Working with incredible actors like Frances McDormand, or doing a show on Broadway?
The former. Yeah, I think so. Olive Kitteridge is the only thing that I’ve done on camera where we had a day of rehearsal before we shot, and I’m so glad that that happened, because I was so nervous. It felt like a dreamland because I was exactly where I dreamed of being, and I was trying to rehearse Kevin but I couldn’t because I couldn’t get out of having a Cory moment. Like, “This is real, this is happening. That’s Frances McDormand, and this is me, and we’re acting together!” I just couldn’t stop that, and so the first day of filming would have been super unproductive because I’m supposed to be incredibly depressed and I couldn’t stop smiling. And Frances is so incredible and naturally funny, and I kept laughing at stuff that she was doing. It was horrible! I was a totally unprofessional actor during that rehearsal. I just couldn’t contain myself and my excitement.

This is going to sound weird, but: I see you every day because our offices are near the Bryant Park subway, and Gotham posters are everywhere. Is it weird to see your face all over the place?

Michael Lavine/FOX/© 2014 Fox Broadcasting Co

When it was first happening, of course it was strange. I started to get paranoid. The first time I saw it, I was coming from my friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side and I went into the subway to go downtown. I turned the corner and it was right there. This chihuahua-like yelp came out of my mouth, and I kind of tripped over myself. I wanted to take a picture of it! But there were people on the platform, so I slyly took my phone out, but this guy kept looking at me! [Laughs] That same poster was the first poster of my face that I saw vandalized. It was just a silver pen right over my forehead. I had no idea what it said—I couldn’t tell. I was kind of looking forward to it—once they were up, I was like, I want to see the best defacement. Not that I should be encouraging that.

The cool thing now is that people who are traveling will send me pictures from other countries. My old roommate sent me a picture—she was like, “My dad sent this to me, he’s in London,” and it was my face in a Tube station. A friend sent one from Paris. What’s weird is they change the font in certain countries. There has to be research that goes into it. When it plays in the UK, the lettering is more bubbly. It’s not dissimilar from our cars—here they’re sleek and long and sexy, and you go over there and everything is bubbly and round and happy. All the cars are so rounded and soft. Their horns are these friendly honks, just like, “coming through!”

I read somewhere that your Mom loves Batman. Does that mean she’s rooting against you in Gotham?
Yes! She’s always rooting against me! [Laughs] No, both of my parents love the ‘60s series, but especially my mom. They were little kids then, and that was a real family show, Batman. For her, she’s enraptured by the idea of how universal and international this project is, so she got really excited [when I got the part].

Forensic science is one of my favorite things—I watch a lot of Investigation Discovery and Forensic Files—and in Gotham, Edward Nygma is a forensic scientist. Is there an advisor on set to help you with that stuff?
Forensic Files in amazing! I love it! There were marathons happening all the time in college. That show, because it’s always on at night, was always better than any scary movie I could put on, because it was real. That stuff really happened. And sometimes things would happen on a college campus, and I’d be in my dorm room watching it…

Our police science world on Gotham is such that—it’s not CSI. We’re not spending an entire episode focusing on this thing in the body; we don't have to know all of the medical stuff. When [the writers] create something, I don’t know what they use, but that’s all investigated. It’s basically, this is the information that’s necessary to understand what’s happening, and then moving on.

I do look at Wikipedia. And if there’s ever anything specific, like, moments where I’m testing out explosive stuff, it’s like, OK, would I wear gloves, will I be wearing an apron? He’s supposed to be brilliant, so we have to be careful about those moments. We have people who oversee that and write that into the script for me.

You’re playing someone who is eventually going to become a villain. Which raises the question: Which superhero would you be?
I’m gonna go with—just as a props to my man Jim Carrey—I’m gonna call Ace Ventura a superhero. A real-life superhero. Does that count?

I think so—his powers of deduction are uncanny! Obviously, Halloween is coming up, which leads to my next question: What, in your opinion, is the best candy?
Two things that I don’t necessarily indulge in: Candy and Halloween. I grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, in the early ‘90s, and hospitals and doctor’s offices offered to x-ray candy. I was 7 or 8. The day after Halloween, my brother and I were sorting all of our candy, and my mom asked if she could have a piece of my gum. She put the gum in her mouth, bit down, and there was a shard of metal in it! And that was the end of Halloween for my brother and I. Our parents started bribing us to not go trick or treating. They said, "We’ll buy you candy, you tell us what you want." They bribed us with gifts if we would not go out and take candy from strangers. So I would dress up, but I would hand candy out.

I understand why people like Halloween, but what it is for other people is what I do on a daily basis. It’s like a worse version of high school theater, to me. So I’ve gone out on occasion, but I usually stay home.

Before that, did you have a Halloween costume you were very proud of?
I dressed up as Zorro, but no one knew I was Zorro. All these adults kept saying, “Are you Cary Grant?” I was so young and I had no idea who Cary Grant was! It must have been a horrible costume, because I don’t know that Cary Grant has ever looked like Zorro.

If you could switch places with one person for a day, who would it be?
There’s so many potentially fascinating people … I think I would be Bear Grylls. But not with my mentality or knowledge, with his. It’s not like I can just be in his body—I need to know all the things that he does. That would be amazing. Because when it comes to survival, I would die so quickly. I’d be such a goner—I grew up in the suburbs and now I live in New York City! You know what I mean?

Totally. I recently got a juicer, and I’m obsessed with it. What’s one thing you’re obsessed with right now?
Where I’m living right now, there’s a Steinway grand piano in my living room. I’m a pianist—I studied jazz piano in college. My great problem in New York is I haven’t had a good piano here. So now there’s a Steinway grand in my living room, and that’s my obsession right now. I have a baby grand at my parents' place in Ohio, but I’m not bringing it here until I have a permanent place.

I watched your horror short, Dog Food, which leads to my final question: Cats or dogs?

I have to say dogs, because every now and then I’ll have an allergic reaction to cats. I can’t find a pattern. When I was young, my cousin had Maine coon cats—which are like tiny lions—but those cats drove me and my brother insane. And then some dogs … it’s like copious amounts of hair or oils or whatever, I just can’t do it. Growing up, we had a bichon frise named Chip. And right now, I live with a cocker spaniel. He’s 12 years old, his name is Sammie, and actually, he’s contractually the Coppertone dog. So I live with a bigger star than myself! [Laughs] But personality-wise, I get along with cats more. I’m pretty independent. And in the winter, you don’t have to go outside to walk cats three or four times a day!

Olive Kitteridge airs Sunday, November 2 and Monday, November 3 on HBO.

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10 Far-Out Facts About Futurama
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In 1999, Matt Groening followed-up the monumental success of The Simpsons with an idea for a sci-fi comedy that he’d been tinkering around with for years. With influences ranging from groundbreaking sci-fi movies like Blade Runner to shows like The Jetsons and pulpy ‘50s comics like Weird Science, Futurama proved to be yet another winner for the cartoonist. Characters like Fry, Bender, and Leela quickly became fan favorites, rivaling Homer, Marge, and the rest of Springfield for quotability. The show was also a hit with the critics, winning plenty of Annie and Emmy Awards along the way.

Never a ratings juggernaut to a larger audience, the show only lasted four seasons on Fox before being cancelled in 2003. Neither the production staff nor the series’ loyal fan base would give up on Futurama, though, and the series was revived for an additional three seasons on Comedy Central from 2008 through 2013. Here are 10 things you might not know about Futurama

1. THE SHOW’S NAME COMES FROM AN EXHIBIT AT THE 1939 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR.

Though Matt Groening’s Futurama takes a comedic look at what the future might hold for us, the name is based on a very real-world version of the world of tomorrow. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Queens, GM built a mammoth attraction called Futurama, which was a scale-model city showing off the predicted wonders of 1960.

The model was the brainchild of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes and his team of hundreds of artists and builders. It spanned an impressive 35,000 square feet, and gave audiences a glimpse at what a city might look like in the next 20 years, with the highlight being a monolithic utopia peppered with mountainous skyscrapers and a web of superhighways for futuristic GM cars to travel on. Visitors would sit in chairs that moved on a conveyer belt around the model, showing off all the wonders they could look forward to.

To pay homage to its namesake, the first thing Fry hears when he’s defrosted in the future during the pilot episode is the bellowing sound of a lab worker proclaiming “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow,” which was one of the heavily advertised themes of the fair.

2. THE THEME SONG WAS INSPIRED BY A TUNE CALLED “PSYCHE ROCK.”

Futurama’s main theme, composed by Christopher Tyng, bears a striking resemblance to the song “Psyché Rock" by French electronic artist Pierre Henry. The songs are so similar that the Futurama theme basically acts as a remix to Henry’s work. The song has also been remixed by Fatboy Slim, which is even closer to the Futurama version. 

3. GETTING THE SHOW ON THE AIR WAS A DIFFICULT PROCESS FOR MATT GROENING.

Though Matt Groening and the team over on The Simpsons have the freedom to mostly govern themselves, getting Futurama off the ground was a different story. When asked by Mother Jones in 1999 about getting the show on the air, Groening said, “It has been by far the worst experience of my grown-up life.”

He further explained that, “The second they ordered it, they completely freaked out and were afraid the show was too dark and mean-spirited, and thought they had made a huge mistake and that the only way they could address their anxieties was to try to make me as crazy as possible with their frustrations.”

Despite the battles with the network, Groening and his team didn’t cave, saying, “I resisted every step of the way. In one respect, I will take full blame for the show if it tanks, because I resisted every single bit of interference."

4. CO-CREATOR DAVID X. COHEN IS A MATH WHIZ.

When Groening was developing Futurama into a pitch, he had one key Simpsons writer in mind to collaborate with: David S. Cohen. Cohen (who is credited as David X. Cohen for Futurama) was known for some of the most popular Simpsons episodes of the mid-‘90s, including "Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie," "Lisa The Vegetarian," and "Much Apu About Nothing."

“After I assembled a few hundred pages of ideas, I got together with David Cohen, one of the writers and executive producers on The Simpsons, who is also a lover of science fiction and has a great knowledge of science and mathematics,” Groening told Mother Jones.

The emphasis on mathematics may sound odd, but it became a hallmark of the series. Dealing with sci-fi plots allowed Cohen to bring a certain authenticity to some of the more complex episodes; he was also able to sneak in all sorts of esoteric mathematical jokes for the like-minded viewers. This is similar to how math played a role on The Simpsons for years without ever becoming distracting to casual viewers. 

Cohen’s mathematical background goes far beyond the norm. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics, and from the University of California, Berkeley, with an M.S. in computer science. This knowledge gave way to plenty of in-jokes, including the creation of a numerical-based alien language and countless background gags that only the brainiest viewers would have a shot at deciphering.

5. ZAPP BRANNIGAN WAS GOING TO BE VOICED BY PHIL HARTMAN.

The character of Zapp Brannigan was originally written with actor Phil Hartman in mind for the voice, but he was tragically killed before he would have begun recording. The role then went to Billy West, who also voices Fry and Professor Farnsworth. In an interview with The New York Times, West says he based his Brannigan on disc jockeys from the ‘50s and ‘60s. There's also a bit of Hartman's signature, Troy McClure-esque sound in there. 

6. JOHN DIMAGGIO ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR PROFESSOR FARNSWORTH USING BENDER’S VOICE.

Figuring out what Bender would sound like wasn’t an easy task for the folks in charge of Futurama. Would it be a human voice, or something more synthesized like Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet? The crew auditioned dozens and dozens of voice actors in an attempt to find the perfect Bender, with no luck.

At the same time, voice actor John DiMaggio was auditioning for a role on the show against his agent’s wishes, who worried about both the money and contract being offered. At first he auditioned for the role of Professor Farnsworth, using a boorish, drunken voice he partially based on Slim Pickens. The voice didn’t work for the professor, but according to the DVD commentary for the show’s pilot, the producers asked him to try it out for Bender. The voice instantly clicked, leading to the creation of the show’s breakout character.

7. THE NIXON LIBRARY EVENTUALLY CAME AROUND TO HIS HEAD BEING IN A JAR.

Richard Nixon famously proclaimed that the media wouldn’t have him to “kick around anymore” back in 1962; little did he know the jabs would keep coming for decades in the real world, and centuries into the fictional future as a nightmarish version of the former president with his head preserved in a jar was proclaimed President of Earth in Futurama.

With Billy West providing the jowly voice of the former Commander-in-Chief, Nixon became a villain for a whole new generation. And the Richard Nixon Library wasn’t very happy about it at first.

“[E]arly on in the show the network got a letter from the Richard Nixon Library saying they weren’t pleased with his portrayal and would we consider not doing it,” Cohen told WIRED.

But a few years later, things changed.

“We didn’t really stop, however, because we liked it, but the strange thing is that … a few years later we got another letter from the Nixon Library saying can we provide some materials because they’re going to do an exhibit about Nixon in popular culture and they’d like to include Futurama, so they came around.”

8. WRITER KEN KEELER INVENTED A NEW THEOREM JUST FOR THE SHOW.

In addition to Cohen, Futurama is staffed by a roster of Ivy League graduates with backgrounds in science and math. But while writing one episode, the staff had created a plot so complex that the crew soon found itself stumped.

The episode was “The Prisoner of Brenda” from the sixth season, and it involved a brain-switching machine that could swap the minds of any two people that stepped into it. There was only one problem: once used, the machine couldn’t be used twice to swap the same two minds back to normal. This means numerous pairs of other characters would have to use the machine in a roundabout plan to restore everyone’s mind to their proper body.

Though the idea sounded like a winner to the writers, Cohen recalled that they soon realized they had to create a mathematical explanation that could get everyone’s mind back. It was like a nightmarish SAT problem for the staff. That is until writer Ken Keeler, who has a PhD in mathematics, created a completely unique theorem that proved this plot was possible.

“Ken comes in the next morning with a stack of paper and he said, ‘I’ve got the proof,’ and he had proven that no matter how mixed up people’s brains are, if you bring in two new people who have not had their brains switched, then everybody can always get their original brain back, including those two new people,” Cohen told WIRED. “So I was very excited about this, because you rarely get to see science, let alone math, be the hero of a comedy episode of TV.”

In the episode, the mathematical heroes that solve the problem are none other than the Harlem Globetrotters, who are among Earth’s elite intellectuals in the 31st century.

9. THE SHOW’S USE OF FORESHADOWING IS INTENSE.

Futurama touts more than just science and math cred; the show is also one of the more intricately plotted animated series of the past 20 years. The show is notorious for leaving morsels of foreshadowing in episodes that pay off weeks, months, or even years down the road.

Plot points like Fry being his own grandfather and Leela’s mutant heritage were all hinted at before they became reality, but the most obscure piece of foreshadowing came right in the pilot episode. It happens right as Fry is leaning back in the chair that would “accidentally” topple over and send him into the cryogenic chamber, leaving him thawed out in the 31st century. For a brief moment, a shadow flashed across the screen with no explanation—at the time, it likely went unnoticed by many viewers.

Fast forward to the season 4 episode “The Why of Fry,” and we learn that the shadow belonged to Nibbler, who had traveled back in time to 1999 to push Fry into the chamber because he was the key to stopping an alien invasion in the 31st century. It's just one example of the type of intricate world-building that the writers of the show poured into every episode.

10. EACH EPISODE TOOK ABOUT A YEAR TO COMPLETE.

Every episode of Futurama is a labor of love, with each joke and frame of animation put under intense scrutiny. Because of this, there is a lot of work involved in the show—about a year’s worth for each episode.

“It's usually somewhere in the vicinity of a year from the beginning of a Futurama episode to the day when you can see it on TV,” David Cohen told The Atlantic.

This starts with a story idea, which is then assigned to a writer for an outline and first draft. From there, the first draft is dissected in the writers’ room on a “word-by-word, scene-by-scene basis.”

Then it’s recorded by the actors—like an old-timey radio show, according to Cohen—and then it’s given to the animators. That process involves animatics and final animation, which can take around six months to finalize. 

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The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
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Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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