An Interview with ‘Galavant’ Executive Producers and Star Joshua Sasse
Disclosure: Disney sponsored travel, accommodations and activities during my stay in Los Angeles. Thoughts are my own.
One of the perks of traveling to Los Angeles a few weeks ago for the BIG HERO 6 premiere, was getting a look at the new “Galavant”, starring Joshua Sasse, as well as interviewing Joshua and Executive Producer Dan Fogelman, as well as a video chat with Alan Menken (composer) & Glenn Slater (lyricist).
You can read the entire interview below!
Dan: How are you, Glenn?
Glenn: Hey. How’s it going?
Dan: Good. Can you see? There’s so many people in the room here. Can you see?
Glenn: I know. I know.
Dan: Yeah. I’m sure Josh would happily take pictures as well if that’s at all of interest. We start in January, the show. It’s crazy what we have coming up on the show. In 8 episodes, we have John Stamos is in the first week playing a rival knight to Josh’s character. Hugh Bonneville, who’s the lead on Downton Abbey, Ricky Gervais, Weird Al Yankovich plays a monk and did a song, Rutger Hauer. They’re all squeezed into the first 8 episodes, We’re shooting on pirate ships out in the middle of the ocean and in monasteries in the oldest castles in all of England, and Josh just got back from shooting, from finishing up.
Where did this whole concept come from?
Dan: I did the movie with Glenn and Alan, Tangled. If you have kids, you’ve probably watched it. I was working on this Princess Bride type idea and then I did another show a couple of years ago, the last two years, called the Neighbors, and Alan came with Glenn and we did a little musical episode and Alan got an Emmy nomination for it. It was a show that wasn’t getting a ton of attention, but we really liked it and were proud of it. Alan came and then we got an Emmy nomination for it.
While we were recording that song, I was like, “We should figure out something to do.” I had this script, but I hadn’t finished it. I was like, “Oh, maybe we can turn it into a musical.” Then, Alan wrote the initial song and it all just spiraled from there.
Alan: Alan and Glenn together.
Dan: Alan and Glenn. Sorry, sorry. That’s Alan. Glenn, you’ll be happy to know …
Alan: Hi, guys.
Dan: Yeah, so that’s how it happened. Alan and Glenn have written upwards of … I don’t know, 30 or 40 songs, Al?
Alan: We’ve written about 24 songs, but with reprises it’s about 33 musical moments.
Dan: In 8 episodes.
Glenn: Boy are our arms tired. That’s just the ones that ended up in the show. There were a bunch that were thrown out. Quite a bit.
Dan: The episode you just saw, the pilot, in some ways has the least amount of music of the episodes. It just gets more and more and more and more. It’s really different.
How does the music-making process work? Do you write the music first and then add the lyrics or is it more collaborative than that?
Alan: Really what we do is we give ourselves the assignment first, which we do in collaboration with Dan and the writers. We had a nice sit down with all of them in May and early June, and we went through all the episodes and mapped out what Dan called the Bible, and then began mapping out song moments, and then episode by episode, we would revisit those and discuss them. Glenn and I would sit down together. More often than not, it was music first, but really it was Glenn and me in the room together saying, “What kind of song is it? What’s the style of it? Who sings it? What do we need it to do?”
Glenn: We’d spend most of the process in the room together, just batting back and forth ideas. Then, once we’ve settled on a musical idea, then I’ll go off to my corner of the room and spend the next 2 or 3 days filling in all the lyrics. Then, I come back to Alan and we shape everything until it fits the script.
Dan: It was really a …
Alan: Then we cut it in half.
Dan: Then I tell Alan it’s too long.
Alan: Dan says it’s too long. We cut it down.
Dan: Really, it was a seamless process. You guys do this a lot, I’m sure, so the production issues that go on in this show versus any other half hour show on network television are insurmountably different. The show costs the same amount as those other shows for the most part as well. We have to be on point. We have to know what the songs are.
We have a DropBox that Alan and Glenn use for us and all the writers and producers are on it. When you’re in the midst of it, almost every other day, they’re giving us a new song, sending in a new song. It would be like Christmas morning every day because your DropBox would ding and then all the writers and producers would start emailing and be like, “Did you hear the last song? It’s so good.” Then, we’d all listen and everybody would be racing into my office.
Alan: I got to tell you, Dan. I spoke to a lot of people. There are other shows that have been musicals, that will remain unnamed, by other composers I know, who will remain unnamed. It’s a little like hell for them, but our experience was so great, and partly great because Dan, all the writers and especially Dan, is such a nice guy. It’s incredibly. He could tell you to cut a song in half nicer than anyone.
Dan: It’s not fun to tell Alan Menken and Glenn Slater to cut a song in half.
Alan: They’re great to work with. It really is. Actually, honestly, it’s been a joy doing this. I hope we get to continue doing it.
Glenn: When we started, the idea of writing three songs an episode sounded like this insurmountable difficulty, but once we got going, the rapport between the music team and the writing team was so smooth that it just became a well-oiled machine. We just started cranking things out and feeding off of each other. It was really a great experience.
Dan: I was just showing Josh a glimpse of this one song, deep into the season, because Josh is just getting back to town and hadn’t seen a lot yet. He came by the edit bay and there’s a song towards the end of the season, the stories are colliding, and it’s a love song between Josh and another character. Alan and Glenn wrote this song and it is so magically … “Love is strange … “
Alan: “Love is strange.”
Dan: You get goosebumps watching it. The two of them are circling and the cameras are sweeping.
Josh: It’s wild, because for us, when we’re filming, we arrived in England and then we get to …
Alan: Oh , Josh is there.
Josh: We get the same DropBox and so we haven’t heard any of the music. We’ve got the sheet music that they send us. We’ve got the scripts and the words are there. We all had Alan and Glenn over Skype and then they came over. Then you realize how collaborative it is, because we’re sitting there with Alan and Glenn and the rest of whoever’s singing with us and the production team. We can see the number being that long and we know that it has to be that long. It’s pretty surreal to be trimming a song with Alan Menken. Alan’s amazing, and he does and is very receptive to everything, all your quirks or your …
Dan: These guys, they all sing, so everyone in the cast really sings. So much of what we do, it can feel a little fakey when people are doing crazy movements and dancing and then they’re singing full voice with no hard breathing.
Josh: They had us running on a treadmill while we sang.
Dan: A lot of the singing we use in the show is a lot of live performance stuff. Josh can really … He and Mallory, our evil queen, do a full tango later in the season. It’s amazing. I watched them. I was out in England during that. We mix and match with some prerecorded stuff to make it feel good and then as well some live stuff to make it feel real. They’re singing as they’re dancing. They’re singing in full Broadway voice. It’s pretty incredible to watch it when they’re doing it like 80 takes and he’s all sweating. They’re really talented.
Alan: Part of the process is, we’ll send out a demo, which is the blueprint. First, the demo will be for approval and then when they say, “Yes, we want to do it.” I have a musical director who’s been working on everything of mine since Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas, a guy named Michael Kosarin. Kos will listen to what I did and say, “Okay, now for this character, let’s move into this key and then modulate there,” and then we’ll redo the demo, send it to them so they’ll have something to rehearse with, and then Kos actually goes over and coproduces it. It’s been invaluable to have him involved as well.
There’s a lot of fun adult moments and jokes. Is that giving it a later time slot and is it something we’re going to get to keep in every episode, because I really liked that.
Dan: Yeah. I’ve written a bunch of children’s animated films, so I wrote the movies like Cars and Tangled and Bolt, if you have kids some of these you probably watch on a loop, and then I stopped doing those. Alan, Glenn and I did Tangled together. Then, I got more into live action stuff. I worked on the movie Crazy Stupid Love. With the Pixar movies, you try and make adult humor that adults can watch but hopefully nothing that crosses the line into where it’s uncomfortable for a 10-year-old to be watching. We push the envelope in a lot of places, but I don’t think it’s anywhere where it will be concerning. We actually have a line in the pilot, the opening pilot. I don’t know what version you guys just saw, right at the top in the opening lyric. Glenn, what was the original lyric?
Dan: Was the word nymphomania in the opening song?
Glenn: No, it’s out.
Dan: It was in there. Then there was at the end of the first scene, there was a final line there saying, “We’re going to do it. We’re going to do it. We’re going to do it,” he’s saying, and it’s the funny scene at the opening of the show. Then, he stops at the door and, in the original cut we had, “and by doing it, I mean sex.” It was a big laugh, but it felt like for people …
I don’t have kids, but all my friends do and I have to start soon. My friends were like, “That’s on the line for me.” It’s so right there in the face, it’s not hidden, so we changed it to, “I mean, we’re going to open some gifts, but then we’re going to do it.” It’s actually to me equally funny a joke. We try and ride the wave right there and then never push it too far.
Alan: I find the envelope, actually for kids, the line is not particularly distinct. It’s for the parents in protecting the kids. When we did Little Shop of Horrors, I thought it was going to be terrifying for kids and it ended up being something that they flocked to.
Josh: A lot of the things that are tongue in cheek, that happens, which is great. You don’t end up sitting there with kids and being bored yourself, which is the worst.
Glenn: I have two boys myself. One is 12 and one of them is 9. I road test everything on them. The 12-year-old is very proud to get some of the references and they’re the ones that go right over the head of the 9-year-old.
Dan: Glenn does a really great job with the lyric, which is the most dangerous part, because that’s the part where kids are going to lock in. I’m seeing it happen already. Anyone who works on the show that has kids, the kids are all singing the songs already. It’s fun. We have Ricky Gervais is coming into this season later and he plays a magician named Xanax. He’s like, “I’m telling you, Xanax can help anything. If you’re stressed out, we’ve got to get Xanax in your life.” The kids are never going to get it, but it’s a fun wink for the adults. Stuff like that, and Glenn’s always really great about it in the lyric. What else?
In your role, when you prepared, did you do musicals before? Or was this the first …
Josh: Yeah, I had. As an actor, you do have to, in England anyway, have a fair amount of strings to your bow to get anywhere because it’s quite a tough crowd. I’ve done some stuff in the West End in England and I’ve been doing bits and pieces here and there. I got conned into this.
Josh: I didn’t realize it was a musical, and I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” They said, “Oh, by the way, for the audition, they want you to sing. Just sing something for Alan.” “I don’t know who … Alan? What do you mean?” They’re like, “Oh, Alan Menken’s going to do the music.” “What are you talking about? I can’t sing for Alan Menken. I’m going to die.” I had done enough. They’re an incredible team to work with in terms of making sure that you don’t fall on your feet.
How can I say it? When you sing a song, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter if it’s Happy Birthday or a Frank Sinatra number, the song has a flow. One of the reason that I think Alan’s music is so magical is because of the way it builds and the key change and then another key change and another key change, but he also does three tempo changes. Thank you so much, Alan.
Alan: All in 45 seconds.
Josh: It’s very hard to sing. It’s incredibly hard, while you’re doing a tango or something.
Alan: I’m sorry, but you do great. You do fantastic.
Josh: They really walk you through it. It doesn’t matter. Even if I hadn’t sung before, as long as you’ve got a voice, they made it a pleasure, which is really something to say, because often hard music to sing is one of the hardest things because you’re putting yourself out there. You’re like, “Who would sing for other people?” It’s very baring. It’s amazing that the songs are that hard and they make it a real pleasure to sing.
Alan: Thank you, Josh. Thank you, Josh.
Dan: We’re auditioning. We got this show and we’re like, “I don’t know. I think this could be really special.” I don’t know what’s about to happen with this show, but I feel like it’s very unique and it just gets bigger and bigger and better and better as the season goes on. I felt like I had it, but it’s all relying on finding this guy. I’m sitting here in my little crappy office here at Disney and then one day, Josh walks in.
You feel like you’re being practically joked upon because Josh walks in and you’re like, “Can you sing?” He’s like, “A little, yeah. I can sing.” Then, he goes and auditions and does this big boom … What did you do? I forgot what you sang for Alan. Alan, do you remember?
Alan: He sang something from Into the Woods?
Dan: Into the Woods, Into the Woods. He’s really singing. I was like, “This is happening. We’re going to make this TV show.” All of a sudden, it was just so instantly clear.
Josh: That was next door actually.
Dan: Yeah. It was right literally in that room next door.
Josh: Yeah. No pressure.
Alan, what is your process? How is it different writing for TV versus film? Do you have a different process?
Alan: First of all, it was great that we had the opportunity to work with Dan on Tangled before we did this because we beat the heck out of him on that one, because it was a musical. I thought we were being incredibly difficult. Personally, I thought that the last thing Dan Fogelman would ever want to do in his life was another musical, but we really did go through the trenches on that one. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that film, but trying to figure out the story, figure out where the songs go and how you support the songs with dialogue, etc.
By the time we got to this, we had developed a pretty good shorthand. It was, I would say, essentially a three-way collaboration between Dan and Glenn and me in terms of the vocabulary of the songs, what we want the songs to say, where we want the songs to go and it was very much like a regular musical. It’s just that it’s shorter and more economical. The truth is, the best musicals are very economical.
When you look at Little Shop of Horrors, if you open the script, you cannot get to a page where there isn’t a lyric and a scene, and a lyric and a scene. It’s very, very tight. This form is actually quite akin to that. It’s pretty comfortable.
Glenn: One of the huge benefits from a lyricists point of view of working on a TV show is that you have the benefit of the writers room. Dan has put together an unbelievably talented group of writers on this who are all brilliantly funny. Just getting this in the room with them and hearing the ideas flying around, getting on the phone when we hit a rough spot and having instantly 10, 12 or 15 possible ideas has been unbelievably helpful.
Josh: Which is the same as we’re working on set, in terms of questions or anything.
Alan: It’s good and it’s getting better.
Josh: Yeah. What’s amazing is it’s always changeable. It’s not a fixed event. It has that malleability which makes working so much easier. It’s not a fixed thing. It’s whatever you need or “Well, what’s good for you?”
Having Alan and Glenn, and everyone saying that, if a word’s not right or it doesn’t sound right or anything, that went all the way from hearing that from the writers room through to the studio when we record it, because we record everything before we film it. Then, when we’re filming it, we have an earpiece and we’re singing it live as well. It can change the whole way through, which is a very different thing.
Alan: One thing I’ve learned from working on musicals is one of the strongest characteristics you need to have is the absolute willingness to throw stuff out immediately. I don’t care. Don’t ever get emotionally attached to anything. Throw it out if you have to and do something else. Everybody in this process basically has that attitude. The basic assignment is what we all serve and if some particular part of it is not serving it, throw it out and start over.
Josh: One of the best moments for me is when we were recording in Bristol in England, it was really rainy. It was really intense and Alan had flown over and we were sitting there and we were midway between a couple of songs. We had recorded quite quickly on something. I don’t know what it was, and so we were ahead.
Alan came in and we were waiting for something to happen. He said, “Oh,” and he started playing something and I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Oh, it’s something that we deleted from Beauty and the Beast. Do you want to hear it?” “Uh-huh.” He started playing the most beautiful song that I can’t believe everyone doesn’t know. He was like, “Oh yeah. It just didn’t work. We left it out.”
Alan: That’s what you do.
Josh: It’s incredible because you just can’t believe it. You’re almost angry, like “What do you mean, you left it out?”
Alan: At the end of the day, it’s really about storytelling and about staying true to an artistic paradigm, a form, and the characters. It’s not about your individual work. It really isn’t.
This is something so different than what’s currently on TV right now. Were there any major hiccups in bringing it to TV?
Dan: They’ve been really supportive here. No, not really. You would think there would have been. There haven’t. A lot of times, on the current landscape of network television, it’s very difficult to do something that’s this different. The normal process would dictate that it would get screwed up in the course of … Even if somebody was willing enough to let you go forward with it, the process might get in the way and screwed up.
They left us alone and were very supportive. They gave us the resources we needed. We shot with an English crew in England, because everything you see in the show is 100% real. Every time there’s a castle in the background or anything, these are real castles. These are real. The costume designer is the costume designer who developed Downton Abbey. We have characters saying the weirdest, strangest things, but we did it with utmost seriousness. We shot in real locations. They’ve been really supportive here all along the way.
The common complaint, if there’s a complaint about network television, is that we continue to recycle the same things. I don’t love that complaint because I think it’s just when you do them really well, then my friend created the show Black-ish, which is doing really well right now. I think it’s a really good version of the family sitcom with a fresh spin on it. It’s like, you can do the same kind of thing and do it well, but if you’re going to be one of those people who complain that nothing’s different on network television, I think ABC embraced it and really allowed us to do our thing. They’ve been really supportive.
Dan: It’s the right place at Disney. The whole blanket of this company feels like it’s part of what allows this to exist. We’re going to be filling in where Once Upon a Time takes their break. It feels that it possible to do our comedic Game of Thrones on this network and probably on this network only. That’s our hope.
Alan: Disney’s lately rolling the dice with musicals a lot and it’s turning out really well, both on Broadway and in film. Really well. I think it’s time for this genre.
Dan: Alan just is doing Aladdin right now on Broadway, which is a giant. It’s his movie but then also the Broadway show is becoming a gigantic success as well.
Dan:I’m a big Monty Python fan. I’m trying to cut a little mock movie trailer for it right now. If you can picture the movie theater voice guy that does the promos being, “If you liked Princess Bride and Game of Thrones and Monty Python, you’re more likely to like this show than people who don’t.” You know what I mean? It feels like a fun … It just hasn’t been on TV ever, in American TV.
What we really explore with Josh’s character in the course of the series is, it’s about love and unrequited love and then finding it in a new place, and it’s about the return of the hero and all these themes that could happen in any landscape, but there’s something about this that it somehow is a part of our comedic landscape that doesn’t feel like it’s been able to be attacked on network TV yet.
Disclosure: Disney sponsored travel, accommodations and activities during my stay in Los Angeles. Thoughts are my own.