PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Eric Petersen, Co-Starring With Kirstie Alley in TV Land's "Kirstie"

By Carey Purcell
23 Dec 2013

Petersen with Kirstie Alley
Photo by Brian Doben

How did you develop the role of Arlo?

EP: I feel like in theatre I've played so many interesting characters, offbeat characters — and ogres, pirates, stuff like that — William Barfée was a really weird kid.... This role is actually probably the closest to myself as anything I've ever played. Just because he's more a regular guy, a salt-of-the-earth guy, he's got a good outlook on life, which is how I think that I am. He comes into this world of Kirstie, Michael and Rhea, who are all very large personalities — both the actors and the characters they're playing.

He's from New Jersey, he's from a small town, he works at a donut shop, he doesn't have huge aspirations in life. He just wants to be a good person and be nice to people. And so when he gets exposed to this world of show business and NYC nightlife, it's very eye-opening to him.

You've done a combination of stage and TV acting. Can you tell me a little bit about the differences in your technique for each of them?

EP: I was definitely trained in theatre. That's what I studied in college and that's where most of my learning just through doing has been in theatre. A lot of times on a TV set I'm like, "Oh, God, I hope I do the right thing, say the right thing." I find at the core of it has to be honesty and truth and being natural. And while there are obviously technical switches that you have to make, and I look at some of my earlier TV stuff and am like, "That was very theatre-y." As I've been doing more TV, you learn the nuances you can take with a camera that you can't necessarily take with a huge stage. It was also a big change for me — while I did Peter and the Starcatcher in the middle — going from Shrek to TV. Shrek was so big, and because you're wearing all that makeup, you had to do everything twice as big as you normally would.

What's interesting is that when we do "Kirstie," we're taping in front of a live studio audience, so it has a feeling of being like a stage show. But you can't get tricked into feeling like, "Oh, it's theatre. Let's play to this audience here!" Even though there's 150 people who are watching it, who are very excited, you really have to play more to the camera, because that's obviously where the majority of the audience is going to be viewing it from. It definitely took some getting used to, but I think I'm figuring it out.

You're working with some amazingly funny people on this show. Have there been any good improvisations on the set when they've lived up to their giant reputations in comedy?

E: In regards to my co-stars being these huge personalities, they totally live up to the billing — yes and no. Yes, they do because their talent is just so undeniable. When you see Kirstie, she just knows how to work an audience so well. She's so great at being vulnerable and honest. And Rhea is so funny with how she can give you a look out of the side of her eye — so snarky — and can comment on something so well. But also at the same time she has such vulnerability as well, and we really connected on that. And Michael's just a genius. I consider myself a pretty funny actor, and I do physical comedy — I enjoy that stuff — and then when I see him do stuff, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, you're so funny. And you think of things outside the box." And he's so physical. I don't know how old he is exactly, and he's falling all over the ground, falling over couches, tripping... It's amazing.

They live up to it in that respect, but what's amazing is all three of them are just people. They're three actors who have accepted me as a fourth actor in our troupe of actors, trying to do a funny show. I feel so honored to be a part of that.