A big ask: Mike White
You co-created ‘Enlightened’ with your co-star Laura Dern. How did the premise of the show come about?
It was kind of a blend. Laura wanted to do something about an average person who had a lot of frustration with the state of politics and wanted to get involved with some kind of political activism. For me I was more interested in writing about somebody who was on some sort of spiritual seeking, self-help experience – something I had gone through myself. The themes are similar in a sense that both of us wanted to deal with someone who’s fumbling their way through, trying to make positive change both in their personal life and in the bigger stage – politics, work, corporations and all that. We kind of blended the two ideas and that’s how ‘Enlightened’ came to be.
Is it challenging to be an actor when you’re also thinking about the other elements of production?
Sometimes it is complicated when you’re acting and you have to be running the show as well. But I find that it helps the writing in a way because you kind of see the world from the ground’s eye, you’re inside it. For me, I really like throwing myself into something and trying to give it everything I have. Having to wear these multiple hats can be stressful, but it can also make for a much more satisfying experience creatively.
Tell us about your character, Tyler.
I think Tyler is somebody who people just kind of don’t see, they look through. He hopes that Amy sees him because they share a desk together and he has a crush on her. Over the course of the season she isn’t interested in him romantically and that’s kind of a heartbreaking realisation for him. At that point he gets a little bit more edgy as far as how he feels about her and how much work of hers he’s had to do because he’s helping her through her job.
Do you think viewers might start liking you more than Amy?
[Laughs] It’s possible. For me I’ve always written characters that are dimensional in a way that sometimes they’re likeable and sometimes they’re not; I don’t feel likeability is my goal when I’m creating a character. I think Amy is the most interesting but you try to orchestrate a chorus of characters so that they all have a different voice in that blend of voices. For Amy who is very strident and extroverted and pushy, it makes sense to put her working with somebody who’s introverted and soft – I like that the gender roles are reversed. Usually it’s the guy who is the more extroverted and takes charge and the woman is more his help mate.
You’ve collaborated with Jack Black for ‘School of Rock’ and ‘Nacho Libre’ and also ‘Orange County’. Is there any chance that we’ll see him on the show in future?
I love Jack and I would love to work with him on the show. We’re about to start shooting the second season and I don’t think Jack will be coming on for it, but he’s a fan of the show and so maybe if there’s a third season, it’ll be funny to have Jack show up.
Which do you like most – acting, writing or directing?
For me I’m a writer first and foremost, I’ll always write. Directing, producing or acting really is just an outgrowth from wanting to tell the story I’ve written. I don’t think I’ll ever be an actor who goes on auditions and tries to make that the focus of my career. But I do enjoy it because sometimes it’s frustrating to be a writer and you work hard on something and then everybody else gets to go and make it while you get sent back to the caves to keep writing. Syarifah Syazana
Mike White stars alongside Laura Dern in 'Enlightened', every Mon, 10.30pm on HBO (Ch 411).