If you haven't been watching ABC's Men in Trees (now airing Thursdays at 10 pm/ET, following Grey's Anatomy), you are missing out on meeting the quirky residents of Elmo, Alaska — one of them being local bartender/millionaire-inventor Ben, played by Abraham Benrubi. While this reporter has had a total crush on Benrubi since his days as a lovable bully on Parker Lewis Can't Lose, others will recognize him from his years as ER's Jerry. After copping to a longtime crush, TVGuide.com asked the actor about emerging from behind the desk at County General and stepping into a big romantic love triangle. Plus, what does the ER alum think about Trees' new time slot?
TVGuide.com: Why did you decide to make the move to Men in Trees?
I've been on ER, off and on, for 13 years, basically. When I read the script for Men in Trees, it was so charming and interesting that it made me want to try for it. I've always thought that Anne Heche was an admirable actress. It was a good group of people to be involved with, it is still in the Warner Bros' family, and there was no reason not to. You've got to keep moving forward as an actor. What I love about acting is that you get to be a bunch of different people. I don't want to be Jerry for 30 years, and the way ER is going, it could be 30 years. Men in Trees has been a big challenge for me as an actor and as a human, and it has been a lot of fun.
TVGuide.com: Are you anything like Ben?
I suppose that I am sort of the nice-guy, gentle-teddy-bear type, and I think Ben is, too. There is probably a bit of temper in there that maybe you've seen on the show a little bit — maybe not as big a temper as I have in real life — but there are definitely some similarities. There is always going to be a little bit of me in each character.
TVGuide.com: I'm totally loving Ben's nice house!
[Laughs] Ben's house is a mansion, perched up on a sheer hill with pine trees and a beautiful view out over the ocean, in sort of an exclusive community. It is pretty cool. It is sort of the American dream house. Well, the Canadian dream house, I should say. [Men in Trees films in Vancouver.] It is a nice place.
TVGuide.com: You are in the midst of this love triangle. Who would you like to see Ben end up with, Theresa or Sara?
He married Theresa, so that's the way to go. We don't want him to end up with the town hooker. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: What sort of fan response are you getting? Is it different now that you are playing a more romantic character?
I'm actually amazed at how many people have come up to me and have seen the new show and are enjoying it. Everybody is like, "It is so great to see you as a leading man and getting the girl and getting to do some serious work." It feels good for people to say that to you and to know that what I am doing is appreciated.
TVGuide.com: How does your girlfriend feel about you kissing these other actresses?
She's into it, actually. She likes to come to the set and watch, and then make fun of us afterwards. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: As long as she isn't offering you any tips.
But she did! Nicole made a big kissing box for the whole cast, putting gum and breath mints and dental floss and a book about kissing in it. So she definitely offered her own advice. She's a good one.
TVGuide.com: Might you ever return to ER?
Now that we are [airing] against ER, I don't know if I'll ever be back on ER or not. I guess it depends on the duration of Men in Trees and how we do. Luckily, they've been so good to me at ER over the years that I've been able to come and go pretty much as I please.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised how they ended last season, with Jerry getting hurt and then being shipped off to recuperate?
I wasn't surprised, really. The show has been on so long that they've killed off a lot of people. To be honest with you, I thought that maybe they were going to kill Jerry. I was surprised that they were able to save him.
TVGuide.com: You also manage to do some voice work on the animated series Robot Chicken. Are you doing any more?
Yeah, there is a super-secret Robot Chicken project. I don't know how much I can tell you, actually. But around the time of the Super Bowl, you can look for a new, heavy-duty, ultracool Robot Chicken thing. It has got something to do with Wars and Stars. It was super fun to do.
TVGuide.com: What is it like working with that group of guys? Is it insane?
It is awesome. They are really demented and weird. [Producer] Seth Green is a great director. The best part about getting Seth to direct you is that he does all the other voices that I'm responding to, so it is like being little kids playing with action figures, except that someone else is modeling the action figures later. I love working on Robot Chicken — it is such a treat. I've gotten to be Castro and a dragon and Darth Vader.... I don't really get to do those parts so much.
TVGuide.com: It is hard to find good Castro roles out there.
TVGuide.com: Men in Trees' Ben runs a bar. Do you have any bartending experience, or are you just fiddling around with the glasses?
There is a bit of fiddling, but I am actually owner of a brew pub in my hometown of Indianapolis, called Brugge Brasserie. I did a little bartending there on opening night, but I was promptly dismissed from behind the bar by our real bartender and sent out to talk to the crowd. I do that better than serving drinks.
TVGuide.com: Do you have a favorite drink?
I used to have a lot of favorite drinks, [but] I'm not such a big drinker anymore. I've always been a fan of rum and soda.
TVGuide.com: Though Men in Trees is now up against ER, are you excited about being in the post-Grey's Anatomy time slot?
Yeah! It is the cherry slot, coming on after Grey's Anatomy. Following something that successful is just a little bit intimidating, though, and I think there is a little bit of extra pressure that we have to live up to. I don’t think that anybody expects us to ever beat ER in the ratings, but I think we'll carry enough of Grey's Anatomy's audience for them to enjoy it. As long as people are watching and laughing and crying and having fun, that's all that matters. Friday night is tough for anybody. Some people watch TV on Friday nights, but not as many. We did well there, not earth-shaking [well], but we are still on.
TVGuide.com: Can you give us any hints about this week's new episode?
I can! It is such a mess; there are so many stories going on. Jack and Marin have reached a point in their relationship where Marin feels like she needs to go back to New York and get her stuff and see what is going on with the life she left behind. So the next two episodes are basically [about] Marin going to New York, meeting with the publisher of her book and coming back to Elmo — but it is not what everybody is going to expect. For Ben and Theresa, we wind up hosting an orphan Thanksgiving for all of the lonely boys in Elmo. The great part about that was that we had the Canadian Thanksgiving, which happens in mid-October, and then we shot two episodes of Thanksgiving, so I basically had Thanksgiving dinner for four weeks straight. And then this week's American Thanksgiving.... That's a lot of pumpkin pie.
TVGuide.com: Is Sara coming back to Elmo anytime soon?
Sara [played by Suleka Mathew] is coming back, and she'll stir up some trouble, for sure. The interesting thing about the show, at least for me, is that every time I feel like I know what is going to happen, in the next script there is a giant twist of plot that is completely unexpected. That's what makes the show compelling.
TVGuide.com: What sort of fun Canadian quirks have you come across, shooting in Vancouver?
Lots of things are different here than in America....
TVGuide.com: Canadians get made fun of a lot.
When you go to Canada, you see how nice it is and how everyone is so friendly and happy. The Americans are sort of envious of that laid-back, enjoyable lifestyle. One of the fun things about Canada is that they take their hockey very seriously, but there is another sport called curling — a team sport where they pitch this giant bowling ball down this ice bowling alley really slowly and a guy with a broom sweeps all the way down.
TVGuide.com: I saw a lot of that during the Olympics at weird hours of the day.
In Canada, it is on basically 24 hours a day. They have a channel that alternates between hockey and curling. It is entrancing — you can watch those guys go up and down the ice for hours.
Check out the latest TVGuide.com blog entry from Emily Bergl, aka Men in Trees' Annie.
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