Q&A: Tom Arnold runs down latest experiences
Tom Arnold’s recent credits includes roles as diverse as a pornographer on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, the pizza-making friend of Sean Bean’s ex-con in indie-film Any Day, and a casino host who becomes an advisor to a Las Vegas-based professional basketball team in Yahoo! Screen’s original series Sin City Saints. With fatherhood and successful diet and exercise regimens positively impacting his life, Arnold is enjoying what could be the most satisfying phase of what has become an extensive acting resume. He recently spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen.
You’ve portrayed characters from many, many different professions during the latest arc of your career. Have you liked being a pornographer, working with a pro ball team or making pizzas the most?
I’ve liked them all. You’re right, I’ve done a lot of things, but it’s really about who I’m working with. Whatever the role is, if I’m working with people who I think are good or better than me, then it doesn’t really matter what the job is. I will say this: To make pizzas, I had to make pizzas. I didn’t have to learn to make pornography, unfortunately. I just faked that, but I did spend a day learning how to make pizzas.
Just a day?
It took a day. I’ve had a little experience. I’ve had restaurants in the past and I’ve eaten a lot of pizzas. I did eat a lot of pizzas that day, trust me, because a lot of them were mistakes. It was a day for me and Sean Bean to bond. That’s really what it was about, to get to know each other.
So you and Sean Bean made pizzas together.
We spent the day making pizzas together, trying to see what made him tick and how we could work side by side a little bit. It was probably a really good idea.
Now that you mention it, you definitely seem like pals. I just saw the movie. You guys seemed to have an unmistakable bond.
My goal with that was … you know, I really wanted to work with him because I thought he was interesting, and I (have) worked with several guys that I thought were interesting from the U.K., whether it be Steve Coogan or Hugh Grant or Stephen Rea. So I thought, “This will be interesting, and we’ll bond a little bit.” I also thought my character, because the movie itself had a lot of sadness, my character’s going to be so excited he’s going to be kind of in love with this guy. He meets this guy; he thinks this guy’s going to be awesome. He wants to be his friend, and my character doesn’t have any real friends, apparently, so he’s fascinated by this guy, and that’s kind of a fun way to play stuff where you really like the other guy. Whether it be True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger or a movie like this where you’re like, “I like this guy, so I’m going to play that.” That’s easier to do. And then of course when you have fights with the guy, it makes it more personal, like sort of sadder to me. It’s like fighting with your wife, you know? It’s not fun.
Did you film Any Day before Sin City Saints?
I did Any Day first. There is a connection, though. Kate Walsh, who plays my girlfriend in Any Day, her boyfriend wrote Sin City Saints.
Is that Bryan Gordon?
Chris Case. Bryan Gordon is the director. He’s amazing, but Chris Case wrote it, so there’s a little bit of a connection there. Chris Case also did a show I was on called Legit with Jim Jefferies. It’s not 100 percent why things worked out, but I’d like to think doing one might lead to something else. And then we all end up living in Vegas all fall.
Who is Kevin Freeman, the casino host you portray on Sin City Saints?
He’s a guy that … in the old days in Vegas you had these guys, and they’re a little Robert De Niro-esque. Things were different in the good old days, as people say. Now, this young guy, tech billionaire, buys a basketball team, doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He’s not from Vegas, and I become his instant best friend/fixer. He tries to help him. It’s a little sillier than in the old days when the fixers, at least what people portray onscreen, there’s a little more … there’s a lot of violence. I’m sure any professional sports franchise has a guy like this, but in Vegas it’s special. There’s a history there, and if you aren’t from Vegas you don’t understand stuff perhaps. It’s my job to help guide his way through Vegas.
Now a fixer would be asked to chase a wayward team mascot across the desert.
Right. And that’s a real good way to get a fungal lung infection, I will tell you from experience. What I like about the character that Andrew Santino plays is he’s the guy that buys the team but he doesn’t want to play on the team. His dream is to be the mascot. He’s like “Oh, that’ll be fun,” where guys like Mark Cuban, in the back of their mind, they’re like, “Well, I probably couldn’t play” at one point. There’s several owners that would like to play. They go warm up with the guys and stuff, and that’s weird. But this guy says, “I’d like to be the mascot for a day,” and it results in big trouble, and then we just gotta get him out of it one way or another.
You definitely do a lot of running, at least in that first episode. Would that have been possible before your weight loss?
It would have been a lot harder. I’ve always worked out, but I’ve always eaten so much. Once I had my child two years ago, I realized “Oh, you can’t be super fat and super old and be a good dad. I’m super old for a dad, for a first-time dad, 54, so I said, “I just gotta get in shape.” Living in Vegas, the great thing … we lived at Caesars (Palace) and they had that great gym. All we did was film. We filmed at The Orleans, so we were in Caesars then we’d go at five in the morning to film all day. We’d walk by these people having so much fun that it became depressing to go down to the gym. They have a beautiful gym there, but I had to bring the gym equipment up (to Arnold’s room) because every day we were reminded there’s a lot of people having fun and we’re going to work. It can kind of get to you, and Vegas is such a great place to gain weight, too. It’s a great place to gain weight. They have so much good food there now. So it was a balancing act the whole time. I noticed I was doing more and more cardio because I wanted to eat more and more food. In the old days, the food in Vegas was the buffets, or whatever, but now they have all these great restaurants. You’re like, “I have to go to that restaurant because I’m in Vegas.” But when you’re in Vegas for two months you can gain a lot of weight. I think that was the most dangerous thing for me. Maybe in the old days there would have been, “I can lose all my money,” but the main thing is I have to be careful because I can gain a lot of weight in Vegas.
And you’re recognizable enough to where the chef would want to comp you a tasting menu.
They are very, very nice. Even after that, they made special arrangements to send food up to my room. That’s the great thing about (Vegas). There’s a lot of rules and stuff but once you’re in there and you know some people, and you’re nice to some people, they take good care of you. One day I had one hour, and I wanted to get some sun on my disgusting body, and I went out there … I think you have to pay $500 so sit on a chair or a cabana, or whatever. It was crazy. There was nothing available in the sun except those, and so I walked back —got kinda kicked out of there—and one of the people with the hotel came up and said, “Listen, you can sit there. Call me before you go out there and we’ll take care of this.” You do have to know people. You can’t just go, because there’s a lot of rules, but once you know people, once people know you’re a good guy, you’re contributing to the economy of the hotel, they take really good care of you.
What did you do in Vegas when you had breaks from filming? Did you have a wrap party?
We went out a couple of times, but it was always at two in the morning, and Malin Akerman, who is a single mother, has her kid there. So when she would say, “Tonight I have a nanny." Two in the morning, we’re going out. We’re shooting at six in the morning, we’re going out at two. When she’s a mom, she’s a mom, and (when) she decides to party, it’s time to party. She was the leader: “This is what we’re doing.” So we went out to a lot of places, but we didn’t do it every night. When you’re filming these 14-hour days, you spend a lot of time looking out your window and going, “Those people are having so much fun.” But it’s also nice because you at least know that downstairs, there’s a lot going on. It’s kind of this perfect world where you’re up in this beautiful suite and it’s quiet, but if you really want to see people all you gotta do is get on the elevator and there’s a lot of people. It’s the best of both worlds.
I explain Vegas to people by relating what Woody Allen said about never leaving Manhattan because he knows he can always get Chinese food in the middle of the night. Even if he never orders takeout at 3 a.m., it’s still there.
What I also discovered, too, after filming in the desert is that it’s so beautiful outside of the Strip. The Strip’s so lit up and it’s so cool, but real people who really live there, they don’t live on the Strip. They get to live in these houses were the sun comes up over the mountains, then down, and it’s so beautiful that we decided next time, if we come back, we’re going to do it that way. Even in the days we filmed out in the desert, we were just stunned. You forget how much natural beauty is two miles away.
How did you get involved in the series?
I really like Chris Cage. He came over and started talking to me about the series. It came together very quick. Yahoo green lit it, and then it came together very quick. Then it was like, “OK, we’re going to start in Vegas in a week.” The table read happened in Vegas. Sometimes things take too long, and sometimes it happens instantly. Some of the best things I’ve done have happened at the last minute, and this happened instantly. We had to have a lot of trust because we’d be filming three or four different shows at the same time, out of order. Let’s say the shoot was in the desert. All these scenes that took place in the desert had to be shot that day, or whatever location we had. So I didn’t know what was going on a lot of times. I would ask the director to explain it. I developed a relationship with Andrew right away. He’s a very funny guy. I really like him. So we added a bunch of lines, added a bunch of character stuff. The great thing about living in Vegas together is we all had to bond. We felt like we had to look out for each other. It definitely made it more real for me because Vegas, if you’re running hard, it will make you tired. You can get crabby, but it was the way to do it.
Did you create your own backstory for your character?
We talked about that. When I first came on, my character didn’t say much. He didn’t have as much; he wasn’t involved as much. I always look for moments. I don’t have to have 1,000 lines or anything. Bryan Gordon shoots everything. I was really surprised how much shooting they did for a show that was on Yahoo! Screen. First of all, I’m from the old generation of just TV. I wasn’t even sure how people could watch the show. I kept saying “Are people going to watch this on their watches? Why are we trying to hard? Why are there so many cameras? Why is it so lit up?” And then when we saw it at SXSW (South by Southwest) and it was beautiful on the big screen. When you get with other actors, of course they have their ideas, but Chris Case and Michael Tollin, the other producer, and Bryan Gordon were always open to “Hey, what about this other idea.” I always feel like “I’ll do it their way,” of course, and then what if? I think once you understand the other characters and your character, they sort of bond. Then stuff just comes naturally.
Were you aware about Community going to Yahoo when you started this?
I don’t think I was aware at the very beginning but I’ve always been a fan of Community. I was happy about that. I like those guys a lot. I’ve always watched that show. That helps. This is a new thing. We’re the first original show for Yahoo. The fact that they picked up Community said they were serious about it, and they also picked up a show that Paul Feig directed (Other Space). Paul Feig, I have a history with him. He was on my show, The Jackie Thomas Show, as an actor. He’s a nice guy, and I know a lot of guys from that show. But it’s a different world when you’re on network TV. If you’re on a Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning you know how you did. This kind of stuff, they take a month, and they judge by different metrics. I think Yahoo is just learning, and sometimes its great to be with someone that’s new at it because they’re learning with you, and maybe you have a little more latitude, but it was definitely a pleasant experience and they were very good to us.
People will watch a show like this differently. It’s aimed at the binge-watching audience.
Right. That’s how I do it too for shows like that. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I watched that recently. Binge watching is a new thing for me, too, but I like it. I like the opportunity to be able to do that. Also, I noticed when we were filming, when the show was announced there were news reports in Las Vegas like, “They say it’s in Vegas, but they’ll probably build the exteriors here and then it’s in a soundstage in L.A.” Every second was in Vegas. We moved everybody up there. And Vegas has a good infrastructure of crew and people, too. We had some really good people in the crew that live in Vegas, and we felt very secure about that.
I can’t think of another series outside of scripted reality that did film everything here. I see CSI and I see them cut to an outdoor shot and I’m like, “That’s L.A. That’s not Vegas.” The local film community is very responsive to stuff like that.
They’re great. They’re very helpful with locations and making sure things go smooth. We had no issues. In some cities you have issues, but everybody cooperated, everybody was helping us. That’s why I hope we get to do it again.
I recognize The Orleans, but were there any other Vegas locations prominently used? I thought I recognized a few, like The Palms.
Yes, we also filmed in town a little bit now that I think about it. I can’t tell you exactly where everything was but we got around the town. Obviously, The Orleans was the center of our basketball operation there, but we got out and about and we had, I would say, 20 different locations around town, and not one time did we have people honking or trying to shut us down, asking for bribes. If you film in L.A., it is a nightmare. People start their lawnmowers on purpose. They’re like “Oh, we’re gonna bone these guys.” But I think Vegas is a town … first of all, it’s really a show business town. It really is. People forget, the people that actually work there are real people. The people that actually work, they don’t live on the Strip. They work real jobs, but they do support the business coming to the town. They care, and they seem to be more amenable to helping out, whereas somewhere like L.A. it’s all so disjointed and there’s no … people talk about Hollywood but very few things are filmed here. The movie business has left here. We’re trying to get it back, but I think people took it for granted for a long time and I think people are like, “We want it. If it shows Vegas in a fun way, we want it here.” And there’s a loyalty to Las Vegas that maybe a town like L.A. doesn’t have.
A lot of people don’t realize that. There’s a lot of hometown pride here. Once you’ve lived in Vegas two years, you feel compelled to enlighten people on what Vegas is really like.
Were the arena sequences done at the Orleans Arena?
Yes. And then there’re some shots of the future arena, which would be next season. Obviously we drew those up. But yeah, The Orleans did a really nice job and it’s shot right. It looks like a regular-sized NBA arena. We changed a bunch of stuff, intentionally added some stuff, but the idea being next season we would build … (in Episode 8) we were in an empty lot there, where we would build the new stadium there in Vegas if we were able to come back. I’ve done stand-up at The Orleans, and I like that place. The funny thing about filming at The Orleans though, on the floor, was that we didn’t block off … like we would be filming at the roulette table and people would just come up to me and start talking to me. We’d literally be filming and they couldn’t see the cameras. It was so funny to me. They’d come up and say “Hi” and the cameras would literally be five feet away from me. Every time that happened, I laughed so hard because usually they’re guys from the Midwest and people like my family, really nice people just having a great time. When my grandparents would go to Vegas, it was such a big thing. I grew up in Ottumwa, Iowa. Man, when they were going to Las Vegas they’d save their money—my grandfather worked at the meat-packing plant, my grandmother worked at the Coca-Cola bottling company—and they would drive out to Vegas and just have this amazing time, and come back with stuff for us. When you’re from a real small town and you don’t ever expect to get out of there, Las Vegas is like going to the freakin’ moon. I’m sure they played the penny slots and nickel slots back in the day, but man, once a year—and that’s how people do it, because they work really hard where I’m from. They’re factory workers that work real hard, but you go to Vegas once a year and have this experience and see a couple of shows, and that keeps ’em going for the rest of the year. That’s how my family was. I remember thinking to myself, “Boy, I need to get to Vegas one day. I have to get there.” I worked for a meat-packing plant for three years, and I did go to Vegas (laughs). Of course I was a crazy person, but it was so fun! We had so much fun! After work on a Friday night, me and four guys just got in our car and drove straight to Vegas from Iowa, and then we were back to work—and this is impossible—by Monday morning. And that was like super fun! We slept none, we had tons of fun, and then we’re back to work on the hog-kill floor telling everybody our great stories. If you’re from the Midwest, and you succeed, you get to go to Vegas once a year. That’s a fact.