Wrapped in a white robe and surrounded by clouds of rising steam, Jeremy Sisto keeps adjusting his underwear. He's filming a scene in the sauna of the Chatswin Country Club, where his Suburgatory character, George, so desperately wants to fit in, but the director isn't happy with how Sisto's boxers keep peeking out. "The steam room — where all the secrets happen," Sisto says with a laugh.
It's no secret the ABC comedy is one of the fall's biggest breakouts, and his on-screen daughter, Jane Levy, is quick to credit Sisto for its success. "Jeremy just has this presence," she says. "He's a presence-sucking monster — and he's also pretty funny."
Having tackled his share of dramatic roles in the past, the actor was ready for something lighter. "It's always a little scary because senses of humor vary so much," admits the 37-year-old. "But [I'm in] a unique position on this show because I get to ground it to a degree. So I try to play everything with a certain sense of reality."
That reality isn't a far reach. Growing up in Chicago, Sisto had a taste of the suburban life. "There was a period in high school when, for some reason, I decided that suburbanites were my enemies or my rivals in a way," says Sisto. But it wasn't all bad. "The first girl I kissed was a suburbanite," he says. "I was nervous, but she was really cool and kind of hard core. It rocked my world!"
At its heart, Suburgatory is about father-daughter relationships, an aspect that drew real-life father Sisto to the role. "Some of George's more prominent sides — be they positive or negative — come from a desire to really do well, in particular, by his daughter," says Sisto. "If I feel my child is being deprived of anything that could affect her progress as a person, then I become extremely neurotic and douse the situation with as much help as humanly possible."
One experience he's looking forward to sharing with his own daughter is introducing her to his old roles, including his iconic character, Elton, in 1995's Clueless. "It's a rare chance to be able to see your parent as a young person," says Sisto. "She will probably make fun of me."
Characters like Elton and George allow Sisto to explore a facet of acting he's eager to perfect: "So much comedy comes out of an earnest, deeply rooted need for one thing or another, trying to get it and caring so much that you lose your sense of self-awareness." Sisto pauses as he's called for another scene, throws his arms in the air and laughs. "I don't know where the f--- comedy comes from!" he exclaims, running back to set half-naked, bathrobe billowing in the wind.
Suburgatory airs Wednesdays at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.