‘Community’ exclusive: Danny Pudi on season 4, new bosses, and the joy of Abed

On October 19, “Community” is going to be back on NBC with all-new episodes; but before we come to that spectacular date, why don’t we have some thoughts from a man whose character has become the heart and soul of the show? It’s hard to imagine Greendale without Danny Pudi’s Abed, who serves at times as the show’s greatest commentator as well as its biggest enigma.

During a chat with the actor this week, we had a chance to ask him all about working with a new regime, the “Inspector Spacetime” convention episode, and also how he wants to maintain the spirit that Abed has had over the first few years of the series. If you want to find out more about the new “Handle It” campaign Pudi is doing with Speed Stick, stay tuned until the tail end of the interview.

Cartermatt.com – So it’s been a pretty quiet summer for the show, not much has happened…

Danny Pudi (laughs) – I don’t know what we are going to have to talk about.

So how has the experience been filming so far?

We’re very familiar with never knowing if we are going to be back on the air, so we’re a little bit [used to] that now. This season was obviously different thanks to the switch from Dan Harmon to the [new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port]. It all happened while we were gone, so it was kind of like coming back and asking ‘what happened?’

At the same time, there’s not a lot of time to talk about what happened when we’re shooting our show, so we dived right back into it. For us, we were excited to be back because we don’t think any one of us would have told you from the beginning that we would be here for the fourth season doing this wacky show where the season premiere is a spoof on ‘The Hunger Games,’ and we’re also going to an ‘Inspector Spacetime’ convention. These are things I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about four seasons ago, and I think that’s why we are still hopeful and excited to be back.

So was there a time early on here where David and Moses locked the whole cast up in a room, and then tried to explain what some of their plans were for the season?

No, we really didn’t have that kind of meeting. The first time that we met was at Comic-Con, and it’s a pretty fitting place to meet your new co-workers, especially for our show  … After [the panel], they got in touch with us and wanted to meet with all of us individually just to kind of say ‘hi.’ I met with them a couple of weeks before we started production, and it wasn’t really a conversation like ‘here’s where we are going with your character.’ It was more of a ‘get to know you’ and to give us an idea of who they are as people first, just so that we’re all comfortable if we need to talk about anything.

That’s really all it was. Even with the writers and with Dan Harmon, we really didn’t have a lot of engagement with them in terms of our characters and our role and where we were going. I wasn’t too worried about that, mostly because that’s not really my job. My job is just to do the best with the role and hopefully stay true to Abed as a person. I’m hopeful that they are open to that, and I think they are.

So I know Tricia Helfer is going to be on the ‘Inspector Spacetime’ episode playing a character who is not the sort of person that you would expect to be at that sort of convention. What was your reaction to her coming on, and do you get to do a lot of work with her?

No, not really. There are some [scenes], but during the episode I’m more engaged with Matt Lucas, a really fantastic British comedian … I’m actually really grateful, since I would be an eighth-grader at a dance wondering what I would say to Tricia Helfer.

I know over the summer there were some reports questioning whether or not ‘Community’ was going to go meta again in the way that it did with ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’ or with Abed and Annie in the Dreamatorium. Is there anything else that ‘out there’ in the season so far?

So far, we haven’t reached anything even near the Dreamatorium episode, which in some ways I am kind of okay with. I think that was such an interesting peak inside Abed’s mind and super fun, but I think that episode works because we know Abed. We know his background, where comes from, his relationships with the study group. We’re all big fans of episodes where we go to crazy places, but I think they only work because we also do episodes that focus on the study group at the study table doing their thing.

… So far, most of the episodes have been pretty Greendale-centric, but there are moments within the episodes; there are definitely some moments within our Halloween episode that are in true ‘Community’ spirit.

I know you’re too humble to say it, but you really pretty much robbed of an Emmy nomination. Had that happened, were there any episodes that you were looking too submit?

I don’t know. I certainly try to look back at moments during the three seasons when I feel like I didn’t blow it. (Laughs.) Season 3, I think the Dreamatorium episode with Annie and I was probably the most challenging for me in terms of acting, preparation, and execution. I don’t know if we totally did what Dan Harmon and the writers wanted us to fully convey, but I felt good about what we did and enjoyed it.

Season 2, I still look back at the ‘My Dinner with Andre’ episode with Joel McHale. That was kind of my favorite episode, where I felt like I didn’t totally blow it. That is the one that I feel the best about, but I still look back at it and am like ‘uh, I maybe could have done a little better here or there.’

One last ‘Community’ question to throw in here. Since this is graduation, do you have any sort of endgame in your head for Abed, and do you think that there is still a possibility that a season 5 could happen?

I don’t know; there could very well be a season 5. The one magical thing that our show has done is that it has preserved the integrity of  all of our characters. Especially Abed. He is so near and dear to my heart; to play a character who is not taken for granted, and it’s so conflicting and he can be really difficult to work with at times, but at the same time so heroic. My hope is we don’t ever lose that. That spirit of ‘Community’ is something that we’ve had since the beginning and that makes me a fan of the show and a fan of the writers. My one hope is that we don’t do anything to make people feel bad for Abed. I just like the fact that these characters are all doing their own thing and we can root for them, but at the same time we can be challenged by them.

When it comes to Pudi’s new campaign with Speed Stick, fans have been submitting stories over the past several months using the hashtag #HandleIt, and a winner was chosen to make a video out of their idea using narration by Pudi himself. You can check out the winning entry below.

Thanks again to Danny for taking the time to talk with us, and you can check out even more scoop on Jeff Winger’s dad this season over at the link here.

Photo: NBC

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