The last time I saw Cedric Yarboough, he was dressed as a Reno police officer. The cast of Reno 911 gave a press conference in character for their movie Reno 911!: Miami. In their defense, they broke as soon as it was over. It wasn’t a Borat situation. For Speechless he did not show up in character.
When I saw Yarbrough at the ABC party for the Television Critics Association this summer, we spoke about his role on Speechless. He plays the caretaker JJ (Micah Fowler) chooses to assist him, against his mother (Minnie Driver)’s wishes. Speechless airs Wednesday nights at 8:30 on ABC.
When you got the script for Speechless, were you able to meet Micah first?
I was the first one cast before everyone. So it was just the script came in and they liked what I did. We talked about the character and me not being the omniscient, omnipotent knowing of all aids. Scott [Silveri] loved that idea of me making a lo of mistakes. And then what was great was I was able to help a little bit with the casting, with reading with other actors and seeing if it worked. Minnie Driver came in and killed it. Micah, they found him. Micah was in New Jersey at the time. It all just kind of gelled.
Were there other candidates for JJ?
No, not that I knew of. I think they loved Micah from the start.
What is it like doing scenes with Micah?
It’s amazing because I’m hoping our real relationship translates to screen. I like that kid a lot. He is fantastic. He’s a really good little actor and I think he’s got a really amazing future ahead of him. I’m hoping that the fun that we have off camera shows that Kenneth genuinely would do anything for him and vice versa.
It was inspiring to see Micah on stage here. Is it inspiring to watch him work?
Yeah, it’s amazing because working as an actor, we have long, long, long hours, long tedious hours. We have our own aches and pains and things that we go through. He’s going through it as well and also other things as well. So it’s about patience. It’s about trying to get to the funniest story we can and also the most genuine story. He’s doing great.
He’s not actually speechless so do you discuss scene work with him like any other actor?
When we did the pilot, definitely about what each person needed in the scene. How are you doing? Are you all right? You hanging in there, buddy? Yeah, we’re good. At one point during the pilot, I wasn’t feeling very well. I was pretty sick so he was taking care of me. I learned a long time ago doing Reno 911, and that show was such an ensemble show, with us improvising the entire time, but we took care of each other. We said really awful things to each other on that show but the genuine love and care that we really genuinely liked each other also I thought showed we were having a lot of fun together on that show. This, I hope that translates too.
You can tell you thrive in an ensemble, but would you do a leading vehicle?
I would if it was the right project. I’ve been rather selective in my career with what I like and what I think is going to work and what I think audiences are going to buy me doing. It’s hard, especially with American audiences, you can’t just walk in the living room, “Here I am. I’m doing this now.” When I’ve only seen you do certain things. So it’s baby steps. We’ll see if a role comes to my desk that I like and that I think people are going to actually buy me doing, I wouldn’t have any problems doing something like that.
What’s coming up in the first season of Speechless?
We find out a little bit more about Minnie’s distrust for my character. We’re still battling. She knows I know nothing about this. She has been his caregiver for 16 years. All of a sudden this stranger is supposed to take her place? That’s a little difficult for her to handle. So while I’m trying to maintain my job, she’s also trying to get me out of it. I’ll leave it at that. I won’t tell you too much but it’s that. We try to figure out maybe this guy should stick around, or maybe not. The second episode is just as funny, if not funnier than our pilot. A couple of the other ones that we’ve already talked about, I’m like, “This is great” because I love that the show is funny first. It’s funny. We make the show very funny and then around the third or fourth act, we might get a little tearful. We might catch it in the heart a little bit but we want to make sure the show is funny.
You know what other show does that is Bojack Horseman. They get deep.
Yes, they do.
Do you get to make suggestions for what you want Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface to do?
I don’t make any suggestions. I’m just a mere vessel on that show. They do let me improvise a little bit here and there and they let me do other voices, other animals while I’m in that. In any given episode, I might be a slug. I might be a turtle which is fun, to also do other voiceover work but my main character is Meow Meow Fuzzyface. That’s such a fun show. The animation is cool. The animals look great and some of the messages on it are so out there and fun. I’m glad to be a part of that show. I had a scene with Angela Bassett in our episodes. Those were fun. That’s another thing about that show. It’s got a great cast. All kinds of people do that show. It’s a lot of fun.