Multi-Hyphenate Don Lake on Suiting Up for Netflix's 'Space Force' | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Multi-Hyphenate Don Lake on Suiting Up for Netflix’s ‘Space Force’

Space Force has a team of all-star directors – Dee Rees of Mudbound, Paul King of the Paddingtons, Tom Marshall, Daina Reed, Jeffrey Blitz, David Rogers. They all have prestigious resumes. Rees and King appear to be the most established feature film directors among the directorial lineup. And this is very much a series with a big-budget feel. What was it like working with them?

Wonderful, because you’re in such good hands. And also, Paul and Dee were great in coming up to me and whispering a little something like, “Make a little comment.” Paul would come up and say, “Say this when he walks by you.” Or he’d tell me, “It could be a little Brad moment here.” And that’s all you need. That’s a green light. I think it’s show three or four, and they think I’m the spy, and it was Dee who yelled out from where she was behind the monitor. She yelled out, “The Bloomin’ Onion.” We played a lot with all of that, but the Bloomin’ Onion still stayed in. But we had a lot of fun with, “Get your reservation,” and all that stuff. Man, we played and she was letting us go. She was feeding us stuff from the wings at the monitor, and yet, at the same time, getting what she needed. And she had a big job. She had the big fight on the crater.


And that was a lot because it looks like a movie, and you still get seven days to shoot it. She got a lot done. It was a lot to cover. She’s very talented. Same with Paul. And David Rogers is big. My goodness, I believe he edited all of The Office, so he always knew exactly what he wanted. He could see it in his head, and he was fun. They were all great to work with. They were all tremendous.

I wanted to talk a bit about your work with Christopher Guest. Do you have a favorite Guest moment or story, or are there too many?

I was lucky to do movies with him, and also, we did quite a few commercials together. And of course I love doing the movies, and that’s a great group as well – and those are people, too, who are also very generous with their laughter and sharing stories – but the neat thing on a commercial set was it was just me and Chris, usually. Or there might be one other person on the cast. But the thing with Chris is he would have all of the advertising people in another room. They wouldn’t be on the set. So he created total freedom. And he would let you go. He would just let you go, and then they would edit things together. They’d go in with one spot and you’d come out with five or six. I just remember that was such a gift to just let you play. He would just let you play.

And there was one Chris Guest film, Almost Heroes. And that was so fun. And I remember Chris Farley [and I] were doing the scene – and of course, Chris is Second City, so there’s a shorthand we have with each other – and I remember him saying just before a take and whispering to me, “Let’s not have any dead air or he’s going to yell, ‘Cut.'” And so I was like, “Yeah. All right. All right. So we just need to leave out your pause. Don’t pause, just keep the stuff going back and forth and Chris won’t yell, ‘Cut.'” And so I remember having that kind of fun game of cat and mouse with Farley and Chris Guest. The other thing is when you get a belly laugh to Chris Guest, it’s like a, “Ha!” It’s just the one, “Ha,” and that’s a belly laugh to him. That’s what you live for. Hearing that on the other side of the monitor; hearing that simple, “Ha!” Or the other thing I remember you would love to hear is just him going, “Wow.” He’d just kind of throw it away like Jack Benny. “Wow.” And you’d live for that. But that helped me tremendously, my work being associated with him and those people and those movies, for sure.

While we’re on the topic of Guest and your work with him, I was so delighted to see Fred Willard in Space Force. Although you don’t share scenes with him in this series, you’ve obviously acted with him before. Do you have any stories about Fred over the years, on or off set? Maybe something he said or a funny bit that was left on the cutting room floor?

Oh my gosh. Fred’s brilliant. Fred’s just brilliant. I’ve always been a fan of his, and he just has that great look. And he’s a handsome guy for a comedian. What I loved about him, always, was that he plays it so well where he’s a guy who can be a little wheely, but you love him. And I remember seeing him for the first time – he looked great – he’s in a tuxedo. And then my eyes went to his shoes, and just before they got to his shoes I see a pair of bright red socks. And it was like, “Oh, yeah. See, he’s just a little off. He’s just a little crazy inside.” And he would improvise things and pull things out of mid-air. Sometimes it’s so fun to say something that has nothing to do with anything. And I can’t even begin to touch on how brilliant Fred was, and such a nice man, too.

I did a presentation once, which is a thing that’s not quite a pilot – it’s about 12 minutes, and it was something I’d written. And you want to sell it so we had to shoot it. And usually when you shoot it you call in favors or you do it for much less money. But I spoke to Fred about if he could come in and play this very key role, and he did. And I was always so touched by that – that he would help me out. He didn’t need to do this. And we shot it at my home and he drove out himself. And he was, of course, a pro, and so good. And it was a serious role. The show was funny, but it was very endearing what he was doing. And when I told him that, I said, “Look. We’re not really going for the jokes with your character. This is a heartfelt thing between the daughter and son, and he’s trying to get back into her life.” And Fred was so good. He was so good. It reminded me, in that aspect, of John Candy, who I absolutely loved, who was so honest and truthful when he did a dramatic role that it really connected with people. And I was sorry that the project that he helped me out on didn’t go, but I was eternally grateful for him doing that. I never forgot it. Such a nice man and a comedian’s comedian, and people just adored him. And rightly so. He was very, very funny.

Thank you for sharing that. As a producer, a writer, and an actor, which do you prefer?

It’s all about telling a story. When you’re writing and producing, it’s nice to know you don’t have to memorize lines, although you kind of know them so well in your head that you’ve got them memorized, but you’re just thinking on a different range. When you’re producing, now you’ve got this overview that you’re responsible for, and how all of the characters relate and how all the characters are going to go on some arc of evolving. You don’t have to worry about that when you’re acting. You take care of your business.

When we were at Second City, we were always writing the things you did anyway. You’d improvise them, and then you’d workshop them. Scenes that you improvised that you liked in the improv set, you would mark and say, “Okay. When it comes time to put up a show, let’s go back and look at that.” And then you’d workshop it, and then you’d hone it. And then you’d pretty much [say], “Okay. That’s a set piece. And now we’ll put that in the first two acts that are material we worked on from an improv set.” So you’re always writing and performing. That’s why so many Second City people write and act, because you’ve just been doing it your whole life if you started when you were in your early- to mid-20s. So you definitely use different muscles; as a producer, you gotta deal with networks, and you don’t have to do that as an actor. I’d like to say it’s a little more playful, but then you can think of lines for different characters when you’re writing, which can give you a lot of joy. Because then you’ve got a bunch of marionettes. And [you] watch them have fun with that. And that’s really gratifying too.

I just enjoy characters of a story. I enjoy it all. I’m just always grateful for the work, no matter what it is. But I think it was The Second City that made it possible to think of writing as well, and not just acting. That taught us to do both if the opportunity arises.

Looking forward, is there anything exciting on the horizon for you?

Whenever the sun’s going to come up, so to speak, we look forward to, hopefully, doing a second season of Space Force. And we were eager to jump into it, but I don’t know what’s going to happen now, as far as when everything will get back into production. Everything’s hit the pause button until they can figure out a safe way to get back to work, which, of course, we all want. I’ve been lucky. There’s always something coming up, but hopefully it’ll be the second season of Space Force.

Space Force was released on Netflix on May 29, 2020.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

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