Toonzone Interviews Michael Gross & Meredith Baxter on Returning to "Dan Vs."
Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter are probably best known as the parents to Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton on the classic 1980’s sitcom Family Ties. Gross is also well-known for his role as Burt Gummer in the Tremors series of movies, and animation fans may have caught his name as Lloyd Ventris in the “See No Evil” episode of Batman the Animated Series or as Warren McGinnis, father to Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond.
Meredith Baxter’s first big TV role was in the series Family, for which she garnered two Emmy nominations. After Family Ties ended, Baxter began producing and starring in TV films, earning another Emmy nomination for her role in A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story. Baxter also created a line of skin-care products called Meredith Baxter Simple Works, which raised funds for her breast cancer research foundation.
Toonzone News was able to speak with Gross and Baxter via e-mail about their recurring roles as Elise’s parents on the Hub Network show Dan Vs.
TOONZONE NEWS: How did you two get the original call to be Elise’s parents in Dan Vs.? I assume the two of you were approached for the job rather than having to audition?
MICHAEL GROSS: Yes, the original call came from our producer, Jay Fukuto, at Film Roman. Jay had known both Meredith and myself at Paramount, as he was the liaison between the studio and our independent producer, Ubu Productions. Jay and I have kept in touch over the years, and we were having lunch one day when I happened to mention that Meredith and I were planning to do a play reading together. This must have spurred his imagination, because Jay came back to me shortly thereafter saying that he had pitched the idea of Meredith and myself playing the parents on Dan Vs., and that the Hub Network was very interested. That’s the way I remember it happening.
TZN: It’s obviously a moot point now, but was it ever an option for one to do it without the other? Or were they really trying to get the both of you together for these roles?
MICHAEL GROSS: I think it was always Jay’s intention to have the three of us—himself, Meredith and me—working together again. It was to be a reunion, of sorts.
MEREDITH BAXTER: Working with another actor was never discussed. I knew that Michael was doing it, so I wanted to do it, too!
TZN: Since your episode was relatively late in the season, were either of you aware of or watching the show when you were beginning work on the show as Elise’s parents?
MICHAEL GROSS: I had neither seen nor been aware of the show before Jay brought up the idea, and I don’t believe Meredith knew of it either.
MEREDITH BAXTER: I’m not a TV watcher at all so I’d never seen the show.
TZN: Is there anyone or anything specific that you were influenced by or inspired by when you were coming up with the characters of these parents?
MEREDITH BAXTER: I just worked off what was on the page. the writing was pretty sharp so I didn’t have to work very hard.
MICHAEL GROSS: One of the things that I found fun about the character was his disdain for his son-in-law, and for his friend, Dan. I thought it a great deal of fun, and reminiscent of Steven Keaton’s dislike of his daughter Mallory’s boyfriend, Nick, on Family Ties. Comic disdain is ripe with possibilities.
TZN: Michael, you’ve done a bit of voice acting in the past, for Batman the Animated Series and Batman Beyond. How did you end up on those shows, and is there any specific reason why you never did more voice-over roles than those?
MICHAEL GROSS: I did not audition for either of those series, but merely got the call. I played Terry McGinnis’ father, and I suppose that had a lot to do with the fact that I was already a prominent father-figure on television at the time. Frankly, although the overall material was fun, I found the character itself a trifle dull, dispensing all that fatherly advice. I would rather have played a more outrageous character: a villain, a madman, perhaps one of Batman’s antagonists. There is no specific reason I have not done more voice-over work. Live-action kept me busy, so I never pursued it. That being said, I find it a great deal of fun, and wish I could do more.
TZN: Meredith, is this is your first voice-over acting role? Were there any surprises for you stepping into the booth and doing a voice-over role as opposed to an on-camera one?
MEREDITH BAXTER: I have done voice over before, so there were no surprises this time.
TZN: Both of you have long acting resumes. How did your prior acting experiences affect how you approach voice acting?
MEREDITH BAXTER: Listening has always been an important part of acting for me: paying close attention to what is being said around me. Because one can’t use visuals in voice over, listening, voice tone, tension, and variation is even more important.
MICHAEL GROSS: All of what I have done before influences my work, but I find that being behind the microphone is more liberating, in that I don’t have to be concerned with the physical. I don’t have to be concerned with “looks.” The acting is focused on the verbal, the sound, and I enjoy that emphasis. I have always loved listening to the radio and radio plays.
TZN: Sometimes, writers or directors will alter their vision of a character after a recording session based on what the actors are doing in the booth. Did you feel that happened for either of you when you were recording for Dan Vs.?
MICHAEL GROSS: I don’t know that it happened here. In any case, I am not aware of it. They seemed to have a pretty clear direction of the character from the beginning, but I remembering commenting to them that I enjoyed the father’s snide comical remarks to his son-in-law and Dan.
MEREDITH BAXTER: Without having had a discussion with the writers I wouldn’t know. The last episode we did was much more involving for the parents and we did take on more pivotal roles, but I have no reason to think that would last.
TZN: Was it always planned that you two would come back for this second episode? Or was it something that just came up later?
MICHAEL GROSS: None of that was planned. I think everyone wanted to see how the writing, how the characters, worked out. I think Jay Fukuto, Meredith and myself were all hoping we would continue, and I am delighted it happened.
MEREDITH BAXTER: As far as I know it was always planned.
TZN: When we spoke with Curtis Armstrong, he mentioned that you guys had done your records separately from the main cast. Was that true of both episodes that you’ve done, or were you able to record the show with any other cast members for this second episode?
MICHAEL GROSS: We have done our recording sessions apart from the main cast in every case. It’s very common, as you know, to do so, and it simply has a lot to do with logistics and scheduling—the inability to get everyone in the same studio at the same time.
MEREDITH BAXTER: Perhaps they know how snobbish and elitist we are and are trying to shield the rest of the cast.
MEREDITH BAXTER: I felt we were more aggressively present, with stronger points of view than before. I’d like to see more allusions to the secret backgrounds of both Elise Sr. and Elise Jr. I think that would be fun to explore.
MICHAEL GROSS: I think I simply felt more confident. I knew we had been accepted, knew we had passed the test—and that was reassuring.
TZN: What else are the two of you working on now?
MEREDITH BAXTER: I’m basically involved in book tour activities for my book, (Untied, a Memoir of Family, Fame and Floundering). Traveling to do the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago this weekend.
MICHAEL GROSS: Various things: I will be a part of the eight season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which premieres again in July, and I will be in a film shooting in Oklahoma later this summer. I enjoy the variety.
Toonzone News would like to thank Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross for taking the time to speak with us, and to Crystal Williams of the Hub PR team for setting it up. Dan Vs. The Family Camping Trip will premiere on the Hub on Saturday, June 4, 2011, at 8:00 PM (Eastern). Check out the Hubworld Dan Vs. website for more details.