'Animal Practice': An interview with TV series star Justin Kirk
An interview with actor Justin Kirk, who grew up in Union, Mason County, and co-stars with Crystal the monkey in the NBC sitcom "Animal Practice."
Special to The Seattle Times
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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — When a show is called "Animal Practice" and there's a monkey in its promotions, it's an open question: Who's the second banana — the monkey, or the star?
Fortunately there's no competition between "Animal Practice" star Justin Kirk, who grew up in Union, Mason County, and his co-star, Crystal the monkey, who was featured prominently in ads for the new comedy series that previewed during NBC's Olympics coverage.
"She's pretty amazing," Kirk said of Crystal, who previously starred in "The Hangover Part II" and has a recurring role on "Community." "I don't think we really realized how amazing she was until that first day on set. She does a lot of stuff."
As for that adage about actors avoiding work with animals or children, Kirk, 43, has no concerns.
"The fun thing about being an actor is each job has its own special extras," he said. "We just happen to have a cool alligator in the corner on this one. It's pretty fun in that respect, and I'm learning every day."
Kirk, who was born in Salem, Ore., attended Hood Canal School on the Skokomish Indian Reservation. He got his first taste of acting at age 7.
"I hesitate to say because it sounds silly, but the first play I did was 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' by Brecht," Kirk said. "My stepfather at the time was a student at Evergreen State College, and for whatever reason I had already wanted to be an actor when word came down that they needed kids. The director's son was in it, and I was in it. That was my stage debut."
Around the time he turned 13, Kirk and his mother moved to Minneapolis, where he joined a children's theater company.
His mother, Samantha Horton, now lives in Olympia, as does his half-sister, Rachel Horton.
"I go back to Olympia for Christmas and occasionally drag Mom back out to that neck of the woods to point out things I remember," Kirk said. "It was very small-town living, and I wanted to go be an actor."
Before NBC's "Animal Practice," Kirk starred in the stage and screen versions of "Love! Valour! Compassion!" and the HBO miniseries "Angels in America," but he's probably best known for his role as the brother-in-law of pot-dealing mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) on the just-concluded Showtime comedy "Weeds."
"I used to say that pot took away from my rent, and now it pays it," Kirk said this summer at the Television Critics Association media tour.
After "Weeds," he wasn't planning to jump back into another TV series so soon. But Bob Greenblatt, Kirk's former Showtime boss, who now runs NBC Entertainment, called and asked him to star in "Animal Practice" as Dr. George Coleman, a veterinarian who loves animals but doesn't always get along with their owners.
"The writers came out to New York, saw the play I was doing and took me to lunch and did their pitch, and they said all the right things about what kind of show it could become," Kirk said. "That's the thing about a pilot: It's not like a movie or a play. You have to look down the road and say, 'What can this turn into?' I certainly would never have wanted to do another TV show right away unless it was something completely different, and this character was."
"Animal Practice" is clearly more family friendly than "Weeds," but Kirk said that doesn't change his job.
"I still swear the same amount on set, but less of it will probably make it into the show," Kirk said. "Like anything, it took two scenes back. ... I put on the lab coat and it's like, 'I better get down to business, and now we're cooking.' "
Just don't expect his "Animal Practice" role to influence his home life. He won't be acquiring any pets.
"Right before I did the pilot, I had been gone for six of seven months doing a movie in Europe. I love dogs and cats, but I don't want to be the guy who says, 'I'm going to Brussels for a while; can you take Poochie?' " Kirk said. "Or even worse, I could be the guy who takes Poochie to Brussels with him — then I'm really in trouble."
Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.