Mae Whitman and Landon Pigg talk Parenthood, Arrested Development and Austin
At just 24, actress Mae Whitman has quite the acting resume. Having played the daughter of George Clooney (One Fine Day), Sandra Bullock (Hope Floats) and even the President of the United States (Independence Day), Whitman proved at an early age she could act alongside the best of the best.
Throughout her career she’s been on the big screen, the small screen and even in cartoons, voicing Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender as well as Tinker Bell in the Disney Fairies franchise.
Mae Whitman and Landon Pigg played a lovely set alongside Jason Ritter at the ATX TV Festival.
Arguably, her most notable roles have come from the critically acclaimed and cult favorite, Arrested Development, where she portrayed “bland” Ann Veal, and the severely underrated Parenthood, where she plays Amber Holt.
Recently, she seems to also have tapped into her music side, no doubt inspired by her talented musician boyfriend, Landon Pigg. Pigg previously starred in Drew Barrymore’s Whip It, and has had his music featured on Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill and more. His song, “Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop,” was used in a popular AT&T commercial in 2007.
The pair played a lovely set alongside her co-star Jason Ritter at the ATX TV Festival during the reception. We were lucky enough to spend some time with Whitman and Pigg, at the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Bar, where we discussed Austin, their musical aspirations, Parenthood, Arrested Development and their obsession with Chopped.
Welcome to Austin! Is this your first time here and what have you done so far?
Mae Whitman: Thanks! Definitely not. Austin is the best, I love it here so much and I’m so excited to be here! Our friend Sean who’s a musician named Har Mar Superstar, just finished a tour here, so we went to Sidebar with him and it was really good.
Very cool. I want to take a moment to talk about the Girl on TV Music Video you guys did for Parenthood. I know you [Landon] covered the song and the cast filmed the music video. How exactly did the concept come about?
MW: I think it started with that was one of my favorite songs when I was that age — the “LFO” age — I was always like “it’s cheesy and whatever,” but there’s something in it that’s actually really good. I played it for Sarah Ramos and Miles Heizer and Sarah started saying how it reminded her of Parenthood and they both started coming up with ideas. Sarah mapped it all out and we knew Landon, of course, had to cover it and we kind of went for it. It was hard to get all the footage and stuff, but it came out really well.
So it was more of an independent production and not necessarily a network backed promo.
Landon Pigg: It was actually the opposite of that. We had to jump through a lot of hoops to shoot all of the footage. [Mae] would have to pull cast members off of set in between takes to shoot the footage.
MW: But NBC was really cool about it…they really loved it and we went to them after we shot it. That’s the great thing about NBC, they like our Parenthood family so much that they want all the extra stuff. So any difficulties that we might have had…once we had that finished product they really liked it.
Yeah, I think that’s really cool that you guys did something like that. I don’t think a lot of shows necessarily take the time to shoot things on their own for their show so it just proves how much you all care about the show.
"I think one thing that’s cool is that this is a really formative time for girls — for everybody — but this age is really an interesting age to capture and follow."
MW: Yeah, it seems like NBC is really into creative new ideas and stuff, it’s not like a rigid template — at this point they want to have young people do creative, different stuff and we’re grateful, so we hope we can do more.
Landon, you have had a lot of music featured on television, have you ever thought about exploring that more — perhaps becoming a music supervisor for a television series?
LP: Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever thought about that. Just now.
MW: That’s a good idea!
Well, I figure since your music route is not as traditional — you’ve gotten a lot of success and experience from having your music featured on television shows and commercials. Is that fair to say?
LP: That is very fair to say and it’s been great. Lately, I’ve been focusing on just the creative side and trying to hone what type of song I want to write for the future. What it means to be a songwriter to me right now, so there are a lot of deep, weird questions that I’m going through so that puts other business endeavors a little out of focus but for the future that could be great. Thanks for bringing that up.
MW: Yeah, great idea.
No problem. Mae, as Amber, you’ve gone through so much during the past three seasons on Parenthood. What do you make of Amber’s character progression?
MW: I think one thing that’s cool is that this is a really formative time for girls — for everybody — but this age is really an interesting age to capture and follow. The transition of being a teenage girl to being a woman, it’s that weird thing of finishing school and having to figure out what you want to do with your life. There’s so much misplaced anger and I think one thing that’s been cool is that we’ve seen her relationship with Sarah develop so much. It started out rocky and tense and as Amber sort of leveled out and started understanding what her emotions were about, they became really close and bonded.
Amber is still going to be making mistakes, but I think this is a phase that everyone goes through to an extent so it’s nice to watch her balance out during such an important time in her life.
Right, and I think what’s great is that it’s been done pretty realistically. Do you have any insight on what’s next for Amber?
MW: I think so too. They’re really interested in that. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, but I would say one thing I know is that I think that music is going to start to play a bigger part in Amber’s life. For me, I felt there was a real connection with Amber and music and I really like what it alludes to with her dad.
I like that it’s scary for Sarah to watch Amber to get into music because that’s the same exact path that she took and she wanted something different for Amber. So I think that’s something that could be really interesting to explore.
Speaking of music, I know that you both played at the reception. Mae, was that a back and forth with the writers that you were interested in exploring more of your music side?
MW: Definitely. I think it was sort of a thing where it came out that I played and sang a little, and they were like “Oh we want to use that.” I don’t think it was ever originally written in or anything, but I think it provides a nice thing for Amber because it’s so vulnerable for her and you don’t get to see her very vulnerable all the time. So, I think that’s just something that came out of that and it’s just so perfect because my boyfriend here is my favorite musician in the world and they love him and they love all his music and stuff so whenever there’s music [the writers] always ask if he has a song for Amber.
Landon, I know you had a spot on Parenthood, do you have any desire to explore acting further?
LP: Yeah. Each different creative thing, whether drawing, acting or singing, it all comes from a similar well-spring and there’s something that feels so good about getting something inside of you out for other people to hear. I don’t know what that is, but I think everyone feels that no matter what they do. So that being said, I would love to include it all.
"Each different creative thing, whether drawing, acting or singing, it all comes from a similar well-spring and there’s something that feels so good about getting something inside of you out for other people to hear."
Awesome. I’m going to switch gears and talk about Arrested Development for a bit. Are you allowed to say if you have any involvement with the new season?
MW: You know, I don’t know yet for sure. I talked to Mitch Hurwitz about it a while ago and he made it seem like for sure. From my perspective, it’s like, if he wasn’t, I would go wherever they were shooting and just stand in the background until security drove me away. (Laughs.)
All those people are my friends and it’s my favorite TV show so there’s no way that I would not be involved in that way. I’ll be there whether he wants me or not!
Nice! When you were shooting it, did you ever have a moment where you realized it was something different or that it would be so beloved?
MW: You know, I remember my best friend Alia, who played Maeby — when I went to audition for it, she was telling me that it was really weird and it’s like improv, but not and I don’t know — so I think for the first season we were a little like “What? What is this?,” since it’s so quick and subtle, but as it started rolling through and we realized what was happening… reading the scripts it’s just undeniably funny and everybody on it is just so funny so you kind of knew, that whatever it turned out to be, it was going to be something funny.
But I don’t think we understood what it was going to be until like the second season and then we were like this is really cool.
So this may be a bit of a psychological question, but since you were just a teenager when you were playing such a bland character, did that ever have any effect on you personally or were you able to divorce yourself from the character?
MW: That’s a good question, you know, one thing that’s funny that not everyone knows is that I was wearing a fat suit on the show. It started out as a full fat suit and then we decided it would be really funny if it was just huge hips. My whole life I’ve been more of a character actor, if you will. I’ve never been the one that’s the for sure leading lady and everything, but I really like that a lot.
I think if you’re going to be an actress, it gets unpleasant. I mean, every audition, you have people who are like “Well, she’s not pretty enough for this or she’s not skinny enough for this.” You get it a lot and it does get inside your head for sure but I think if you have a solid base and you are confident and comfortable with yourself and you know that you’re amazing and beautiful — I’ve got the only guy I could ever want [to] like me so I guess I can’t be that bad or bland.
Ultimately, I think it’s actually really cool because I feel more like a chameleon that can squeeze into… if I needed to play the super hot girl, I feel like I could squeeze into that role as well, so that’s what I love about being a character actor. I did an episode of Cold Case where I played the hot girl that everyone wanted and I was like this is awesome! (Laughs.)
"I’ve got the only guy I could ever want [to] like me so I guess I can’t be that bad or bland. "
Finally, since we’re at a television festival, I have to know what kind of TV y’all have been watching lately.
MW: Great question! Chopped. Chopped! Chopped!
LP: Yeah, I have to say that we don’t watch too much TV — she started something recently, but for us, a tradition has become watching Chopped, the cooking show. I never thought that I would be someone that would be waiting for the next episode, especially with something like Chopped, but I gave it a couple of episodes and it’s great!
MW: Yeah we can’t get enough.
LP: And now she’s cooking more and we’re both even more interested in “Okay, how can we express ourselves in the culinary way too?”
MW: And we fell in love with all the judges and we’re obsessed with them. We’re going to New York in a couple days soon and we’re like “Chopped Eating Tour!” And I just started Breaking Bad and it’s unbelievable. I remember watching the Emmys and thinking “ugh, Bryan Cranston again? Like why is this guy winning?” And then I watched the show and was like “Give this guy every award ever!”
That’s exactly how I felt too. I recently burned through the show and was amazed with Bryan Cranston.
MW: Oh my god. It’s so good!
Landon, you haven’t gotten into it yet?
LP: I’ve seen one and a half episodes, and it looks great and I love watching that guy, but the show for me right now — I just don’t like watching something that serious — it’s really dark, you know? I would rather not be in that state, right now, that’s all.
MW: That’s true. I also love Dexter, I haven’t seen the last season, but I’m friends with Jennifer and Michael and I think that they’re so talented and so cool.