Multi-Hyphenate Don Lake on Suiting Up for Netflix’s ‘Space Force’
An alumnus of The Second City in the 1980s in Toronto and Los Angeles (one of the most prominent and influential comedy theaters in the world) actor, writer, and producer Don Lake honed his improvisational acting skills among other soon-to-be giants of the industry, eventually joining filmmaker Christopher Guest’s comedy “troupe,” if you will, starring in seven of his nine narrative feature films (Waiting for Guffman, Almost Heroes, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, Family Tree, and Mascots), as well as several of his commercials. The Second City’s prestige of talent begets a difficulty level of which only the most formidable can ride – Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Harold Ramis, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Fred Willard, Alan Arkin, Alan Alda, Ed Asner, Jerry Stiller, Elaine May, Dan Aykroyd, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Mike Myers, Bob Odenkirk, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bonnie Hunt, Tim Meadows, Stephen Colbert, Richard Kind, Jane Lynch, Amber Ruffin, Sam Richardson, and Tim Robinson, are among the many other talented Second City alumni.
Lake’s latest role as Brad Gregory, General Naird’s (Steve Carell) loyal, one-star general secretary in Netflix’s wildly entertaining Space Force, is his largest yet. A passive pushover, Brad carries an endearing aloofness to him, with Lake delivering some of Space Force‘s funniest lines with ease. For Lake, working with Greg Daniels (The Office) and co-creator Carell, a fellow Second City alumnus was a dream. Other Second City and Guest alumni, Willard and Lynch, also appear in the series as Naird’s father and the Chief of Naval Operations, respectively.
Fresh off of Space Force‘s May 29, 2020 season one release, I spoke with Lake about his role in the series, the magnetic chemistry and mutual respect among the all-star cast, his roots at The Second City and his career with Guest, reflecting on his time with Willard, the age of binge watching versus the weekly water cooler TV of entertainment past, and more.
I loved Space Force. I finished it in a day.
Is that right? That’s great. When you watch them, what do you watch – three or four, and then take a break, and then go back and watch another three or four, and then hunker down with the final [episodes]?
Yeah. But my breaks probably aren’t as long as other people’s; I’ll fix a meal and then go right back to it.
It’s such a different way than when I grew up, being able to watch television. The fact that you can watch a whole season in a day – some people sit there for five hours and finish them all off. Back in my day, when I was young, you got to see one episode, then you had to wait a week. Right?
Right. And there was the buildup and anticipation for the next week’s episode.
Right. And people would talk around the water cooler at work – it used to be our social media, so to speak. And that’s where they’d talk about, “Well, what do you think’s going to happen next week? Oh, I like this character.” So they’d talk it up for a week, and then you’d heavily anticipate the next episode coming out. But now, you don’t get that as much because – I’m as guilty as the next person – you just watch as many as you can. You don’t have to wait anymore. It’s fantastic but it’s different. Because you go through them, and then you either watch them again or you wait until they’re in production and they come back.
And then you’re like, “Uh oh, I might’ve watched that too fast, and now I’v got to wait.”
You’ve got to wait a year for it to come back. I’ve always been a fan of Peaky Blinders. And we watch it, and then, “Okay. I gotta wait a year now for six more.” But I’m glad you liked Space Force.
It balances sincerity and satire very well, making great use of its talented cast and crew.How did this project find you?
I had an audition set up with Greg Daniels. And I was out of town at the beginning – I was in Atlanta shooting, and this came up – and it was like, “I’ll be back next week. Please let me come in.” So they waited for me, which I appreciated. And so I auditioned for Greg, and then they had me back a week [or] two weeks later, I auditioned with Steve [Carell], and got the part, which I was thrilled – just thrilled.
Greg Daniels really is a genius. He really is so gifted and talented. And so many layers to his writing and his imagination, and so I really wanted to work with him. I had gotten a chance to work with [Steve] on a short-lived series for NBC many years ago called Watching Ellie with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. So I knew working with him was a dream, and, of course, I’m a huge fan. So when I heard Greg Daniels and Steve Carell, it was like, “Oh, yeah!” And they were so nice.
In stepping into the shoes of a more substantial character such as Brad, do you prepare any differently than you have with smaller roles in the past?
No. Not really. You try to be authentic and you try to service the humor that’s in there. And if anything, you think of, if you were to elaborate on him, ways to let that personality and my personality show through, because that’s what helps make you unique to that role. So in preparation, it’s just bring your A-game, because everybody brought their A-game. That’s why it was so fun on that set. Everybody was in the moment, prepared, ready to improvise if you want to, but the script is there and everybody delivered everything so well. But preparation is just know the story, know your lines, be in the moment so you’re ready to play if somebody wants to. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, really, so nothing different. I kind of hoped that there was something I was doing up to this point was the reason they wanted to see me.
I did all the Christopher Guest films with that group. And so I always know that people, when I come in, are open if I want to improvise a little bit. And they also know that I respect the script and I’m not just going to go off on these wild, irresponsible tangents. I’m going to stick to story, stick to character, and if you need me to improvise a little, I’m happy to do that. And everybody’s always open to it, usually. So you get to play a little. And you do it knowing that, most likely, it’s not going to end up, but it’s fun to entertain the crew and your castmates.
I’m sure. The character of Brad is the charmingly oblivious glue that holds Space Force together. “Major sleepover energy” is one of my favorite lines.
Oh, that’s great. That’s great.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.