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Zach Knighton of 'Happy Endings' on Chicago show, marriage equality
TELEVISION
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2012-03-21

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Zach Knighton is front and center every Wednesday on the ABC ensemble comedy Happy Endings—and the show's title couldn't be more apt.

After being on several pilots and the promising ABC show FlashForward, Knighton seems to have found his groove with Happy Endings, a series set in Chicago that revolves around a group of six friends, including a gay character who—gasp!—lives like a slob.

Knighton talked with Windy City Times about his own acting background, his show, reality TV and marriage equality.

Windy City Times: I was looking at your background, and we have something in common: You went to high school in Virginia Beach, and I went to school in [ nearby ] Chesapeake.

Zach Knighton: Oh, cool. That's awesome!

WCT: So how'd you end up in L.A.?

Zach Knighton: I went to an acting high school—Governors School [ for the Arts ] in Norfolk. I went to [ another ] high school as well, but this was a conservatory setting. I went to VCU [ Virginia Commonwealth University ] in college, and then I started my career in New York.

I came to L.A. My first series, Life on a Stick, was cancelled really quickly. So now I've been out here about six, seven years.

WCT: Happy Endings is one of the few shows that makes me laugh out loud. I also like the fact that it's set in Chicago and you see items like Chicago Cubs caps and tins of Garrett Popcorn. Are you a Cubs fan in real life?

Zach Knighton: I actually am. I'm one, interestingly enough, because of one player: Ryne Sandberg. I grew up a Cubs fan; I've been to more Cubs games at Wrigley than I have Dodgers, Yankees or Mets games. It's awesome that the show's set in Chicago. I've been pitching to everyone that we need to do a Cubs episode.

WCT: Something else that's pretty fun is that one of the characters is gay [ Max ] —but he's no stereotype.

Zach Knighton: Yeah. I love everyone but I'm particularly a big fan of Max because I have a lot of gay friends, but he's not stereotypically gay. They like to pretend sometimes, though. However, what I think we do [ on the show ] is represent that world in a much more natural way than most television shows do, and I know the gay community appreciates that. I know my gay friends appreciate it. I'm like, "How did it take so long to have a television show with a gay character who doesn't dress like RuPaul?"

WCT: No offense to RuPaul...

Zach Knighton: Oh, no. I love RuPaul. It's just that there are all kinds of people; there are flamboyant straight people. Adam Pally [ who plays Max ] has brought such great life to that character. I love what he does on that show.

WCT: I just saw the episode "Max's Beard" [ where Max comes out to his parents ] again—and you kiss Max, too.

Zach Knighton: I've kissed everyone on that show, except Damon [ Wayans Jr. ] . I recently had an episode where everyone had a sex dream about me, so I got to make out with everyone from the show; that was pretty funny.

WCT: Speaking of Damon, his father [ comic actor Damon Wayans ] has been on the show, right?

Zach Knighton: Yes, he was on last season. It was pretty cool; Damon Wayans Sr. was iconic for me. In Living Color was one of my favorite shows when I was a teenager. Just having him on was like working with a legend—and, of course, he was perfect as Damon Jr.'s dad.

WCT: You were also in [ the gay-themed film ] The Mudge Boy, which is a pretty heavy drama.

Zach Knighton: That was a big movie. It won several awards, and did really well in the gay community. That was one of my first movies when I just started in New York. I was about 21 or so. I haven't seen that movie in years; it'd be interesting to go back and take a look at it.

WCT: So which is tougher to do: comedy or drama?

Zach Knighton: They're really two different beasts. Comedy is definitely, I feel, way more technical; there's so much timing with setting up jokes. If I had to say that one was more difficult, I'd say comedy. But just in general, you can't lie in front of the camera—and in comedy, you have to be really honest.

WCT: The chemistry among the Happy Endings cast is pretty undeniable. What do you attribute it to?

Zach Knighton: It really is undeniable. I think the show came at the right time for everybody. This was my ninth pilot and my third series; I never had a show go to a second season. I was coming off of FlashForward, and ABC offered me this show. I mean, the writing was on the wall. I'd been down this road and I wasn't sure I was going to continue in this business.

I can't speak for the rest [ of the cast ] , but it seems like we were in that mindset. We really came together and tried to make the best thing we could without any promotion. They put us on the spring, burning us off two episodes at a time. It was really destined for failure. The fact that people discovered the show is kind of a small miracle, really.

WCT: You mentioned FlashForward. To me, that show started with such promise. Do you have any idea what happened?

Zach Knighton: I think the pilot was amazing. I think maybe they focused too much on the couple during the second and third episodes—too much on the cheating thing instead of the adventure and the sci-fi. [ Also, ] creatively there was some tension between the creator and the network; when that happens, things start to fall apart. It's no secret that the creator left halfway through the first season.

I had a great ride, though. I liked the character I played and I had a nice arc that season. It did a lot for me, professionally. People still come up to me about that show, which is a great feeling. A guy came up to me on the plane yesterday and said it's still his favorite show ever. But [ Happy Endings ] is a ride, and a whole lot of fun.

WCT: You also said you weren't sure you'd stay an actor. What career would you have, alternatively?

Zach Knighton: I've got a great love of the ocean. I've always thought that I'd be working at some sort of marine conservancy. All of my classes were, like, oceanography. I'm an avid surfer, and I just love water. I have a sailboat, and I'm a licensed captain. I still may do the marine thing; if I get a good seven or eight years with [ this show, ] who knows?

But I also like directing. If I stick around L.A., I'd love to direct. I'm going to start lobbying to direct episodes of this show. I feel like I'm evolving toward being behind the camera.

WCT: What about directing appeals to you?

Zach Knighton: I love the idea of putting the whole picture together and telling a story. I love the technical aspects and the multitasking, as well as being collaborative with the crew and the actors. I just did this webisode for the show; I directed one of those, and that was a really fun experience.

WCT: It seems that over the years, the definition of "celebrity" has changed, thanks [ largely ] to reality shows. Now, it seems anyone can be famous. Do you watch reality shows?

Zach Knighton: Honestly, I think they're contributing to the downfall of our society. I've got a little daughter, and the idea of her emulating these people on TV who get famous with sex tapes... I don't even know why half of them are famous. I'm sure they're perfectly nice people. I just think these shows are contributing to the end of our society, culturally speaking. People would prefer to watch [ these shows ] instead of going to the Met [ Metropolitan Museum of Art ] and checking out some art. That's a sign that we're in trouble, culturally.

WCT: Is there anything you wanted to add?

Zach Knighton: I can say—to you guys, especially—that I'm a big advocate for marriage equality. It's a really important time in our society right now, and vote. I'm preaching to the choir right here, but I think we're on the precipice of letting the dark side win. When my friends are told they can't love the way I love my wife, it angers me.

Happy Endings airs on ABC Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. CT. See www.abc.com for more information.


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