This week's My Name Is Earl (Thursdays at 8 pm/ET, on NBC) isn't just super-sized, at 40 minutes long, and it doesn't just guest-star film vet Christian Slater. No, on top of all that, the outing presents Earl, Joy, et al, like you've never seen them before, when a visit to an earthy commune sends Randy trippin' into a foam-animated alternate Earliverse. Ethan Suplee, who plays Earl's bro, offered TVGuide.com a sneak peek.
TVGuide.com: What was your reaction when you first heard about this "foamation" technique they'd be using for the Nov. 16 episode?
Ethan Suplee: [Series creator] Greg Garcia had actually talked to me about it around the beginning of last season. I was so excited that I kept asking him about it — "When are we going to do it? When are we going to do it?" — and he finally said, "Look, we don't even have the story yet, and it would take much longer to make this episode...."
TVGuide.com: I was going to say, they must have had to start the animation process long before you did the live-action scenes.
Suplee: I had the script for this episode before we started shooting this season. [The process] didn't wind up taking a whole year, but it was much longer than for a normal episode.
TVGuide.com: This wasn't one of those CGI/green-screen things where they "map" you with ping-pong balls, right?
Suplee: No, nothing like that. [Laughs] They just took pictures of us, and then basically made the characters as much like us as they could.
TVGuide.com: When did you first see the results?
Suplee: Garcia sent me an e-mail with, like, a two- or three-second clip of Randy staring into a mirror, seeing [his animated self]. It was awesome.
TVGuide.com: How does "foam Randy" differ from real Randy?
Suplee: He has incredibly tiny forearms. But other than that, it's very accurate. I remember seeing him and thinking, "God, I've got to hit the weights," because my arms looked so small.
TVGuide.com: Then again, foam weights probably don't weigh that much. Which other characters get animated?
Suplee: Earl, Joy, Darnell and Catalina are all foamation in the episode. Randy encounters all of them.
TVGuide.com: It could be argued that Joy and Catalina look like they are made of foam in every episode.
Suplee: Exactly. This will just be an incredibly exaggerated version of them.
TVGuide.com: Is Christian Slater one of those celebrity Earl fans who wanted in on the fun?
Suplee: Yeah, and it was mind-boggling, because he was the nicest guy ever. And then at some point during shooting he started to reference other episodes — "Oh, yeah, this is like when you did... blah-blah-blah." Me and Jason [Lee] were totally stunned. You figure maybe the guy has seen the show and is going to [guest-star] because it's not crap, and most of TV is crap. But for it to turn out that he can reference the show is amazing.
TVGuide.com: What are some of the culture shocks Randy is hit with at this eco-friendly commune?
Suplee: There's a nudist, which is really terrifying to Randy. It's the kind of nudist that is really, really scary. And they don't eat any animals. They just eat stuff that they grow themselves, which is a big bummer. Randy winds up eating something he shouldn't have eaten.
TVGuide.com: Are we done with Randy's little love-story arc, or are we still in the middle of it?
Suplee: They started to drop some hints about it, and there was an episode where I was dating [guest star] Amy Sedaris. Now we're waiting to see what's going to happen with Randy's love life. Nothing has been fully decided about it, but in the episodes we're shooting now, we're definitely exploring those avenues.
TVGuide.com: How hard was it shooting the episode where Randy was hanging in the water tower?
Suplee: Oh, that was a nightmare. That was right around when Jason got the chicken pox, so we had shot a couple of days of that, took two and a half weeks off for him to heal, and the first day back we were hanging in the water tower. We wound up hanging there for a few hours. [Between] scenes they would come in and stick a ladder under our feet, but that didn't help a whole lot.
TVGuide.com: A coworker of mine asks: Do you make up the little things that Randy says to Earl before he goes to sleep?
Suplee: It's all scripted. They have a game with the writers where they spend a whole day writing [end-of-show] tags to pick from. Greg then goes through the stack and says, "Here's the one we're going to shoot."
TVGuide.com: So far this season we have seen the likes of Roseanne Barr, Burt Reynolds, Jenny McCarthy and Amy Sedaris pass through Camden County. Have you exhausted your supply of guest stars? Or are there others to look forward to?
Suplee: I believe we're going to have John Leguizamo on the show [filming] next week, but that's not in stone. And after that, I don't know, because we're down for Thanksgiving.
TVGuide.com: Yikes — Leguizamo isn't playing Randy's new love interest, is he?
Suplee: [Laughs] No. But that would be a very interesting story line! He is not playing someone who Earl had wronged, but someone who is trying to wrong Earl. And Earl is trying to persuade him over to the side of good.
For an additional sneak peek at the animated Earl, pick up the Nov. 13 issue of TV Guide.
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