Reno Wilson Interview: 'Mike & Molly' Star on His Breakout Role as Carl
Actor and voice artist Reno Wilson is known by audiences these days as Officer Carlton “Carl” McMillan, Mike’s (Billy Gardell) fast-talking partner and best friend on the hit CBS show Mike & Molly. The series also stars Melissa McCarthy who took home an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2011.
Born Roy Wilson on January 20, 1970, the comedian’s first television role was on the legendary NBC sitcom The Cosby Show where he had a recurring role, portraying Howard, during Seasons 5 and 6 of the series.
“I think we’re learning this second season so much more about Carl. In the beginning, it just appeared he was one of those single guys who was just out there full of machismo and male bravado and bustin’ his friend’s balls. But, once he met Christina, we got to see a more sensitive side.”
Wilson’s most recent film roles were that of Orlando in Crank: High Voltage (2009), as the voices of Frenzy, Mudflap and Brains in the Transformers film series, and the voice of Sazh Katzroy in Final Fantasy XIII. The versatile artist also appeared on television in Prison Break, Scrubs, Heist, Las Vegas, Blind Justice, Touched by an Angel, NYPD Blue, Cybill, Martin, Coach, and currently is the voice of Killer Bee in the anime Naruto Shippuden.
On March 24, 2012, CBS renewed Mike & Molly for a third season.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Reno, how is your day going?
Reno Wilson: My son just didn’t want to go to school this morning. How can he have an attitude at 7:30 in the morning? We have a ten-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, and they were just battling this morning. Sometimes, I look at my wife and go, “What the hell were we thinking? Why did we think this was a good idea?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thanks for speaking with me on such a hectic morning (laughs).
Reno Wilson: Are you kidding me? It is my absolute pleasure. Now, where are you? I hear your regionalism. It is a southern state (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It is Birmingham, Alabama.
Reno Wilson: Oh, okay. That’s interesting because my father’s family is from Birmingham. I’ve never been there. My dad died when I was four years old. He was a blues organist and singer. His family is from Birmingham. This summer may be my Alex Haley Roots summer, so I’m taking the family to my mom’s side, which is the West Indies Antigua, and then I want to get to my dad’s side, which is Birmingham.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have my phone number. We’ll be glad to show you around the area.
Reno Wilson: I got it, and I will take you up on that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There must be a story behind the name Reno.
Reno Wilson: My first name is Roy. Reno is my middle name, and my dad gave me that name. I have three older sisters. My mom had me when she was 41 and, obviously, they were trying for a boy. She finally had one, and mom said dad ran up and down the hallway, screaming, “We finally did it!”
My dad said that he always wanted to name his son Reno. I don’t know if that means he went to Reno and gambled on the name or what. But, he passed away, so I don’t really know why he named me that. My family always called me Reno. When I moved to Los Angeles, I decided to only use that as my professional name as a tribute to my dad and because it sounds cool (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Very cool. I’m a huge fan of Mike & Molly, and I think you’re hilarious.
Reno Wilson: Oh, thank you so much. I think the love is palpable. We really love each other and enjoy being with each other, and I think you can feel that when you watch the show.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You and Billy were friends before Mike & Molly. Is that how you got the role?
Reno Wilson: Actually, it would probably be the reverse. I’ve known Billy for about eight years. We did a show called Heist together on NBC, and we played partners on that show. We played detectives and did about seven episodes. While we were on Heist, everyone would always say, “Gosh, you guys are so great together. You need your own show!”
We ended up doing an episode of Las Vegas, and we played best friends who won a lottery. We went to the casino in Las Vegas, and the whole episode was about us playing a $2 million game of tag. So, we were just smacking the shit out of each other the whole episode. Everybody on that set said, “You guys need your own show!” So, fast forward to two years ago. It was pilot season, and I got the script for Mike & Molly. I read the first ten pages, Melissa, and I stopped and said, “Holy crap!” I picked up the phone and called Billy. I think he was in Cincinnati. I asked him, “Have you read Mike & Molly?” He didn’t know what I was talking about.
I said, “Dude, this is our show. This is it.” I think he was set up to do a show somewhere else, but I said, “Get this script. Read it. It’s our show.” Fast forward to a couple of weeks later. I had auditioned once for Chuck Lorre and Mark Roberts, and then at the final audition, I walked in and there he was. We had gone through the whole process with all the other people in Hollywood, and they steamed it down to where it was just Billy and I. As they say, the rest is history. So, actually, he kind of owes it to me (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds like it was destiny.
Reno Wilson: It’s so rare that you get to work with one of your best friends, and then to have it be successful … we are constantly pinching ourselves before every show, going, “Can you believe this?”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The two of you have great chemistry.
Reno Wilson: Oh, yeah. We’d be busting each other’s balls even if the cameras weren’t on us.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Carl is kind of a complicated guy. Does he just need the love of a good woman?
Reno Wilson: I think we’re learning this second season so much more about Carl. In the beginning, it just appeared he was one of those single guys who was just out there full of machismo and male bravado and bustin’ his friend’s balls. But, once he met Christina, we got to see a more sensitive side. I mean, you see the kind of bromance between Mike and Carl, so we know that Carl has a soft side just by the way he cares about his best friend. But, with Christina, we (and he) got to see the kind of man he could be.
We got to learn about his abandonment issues with his parents leaving him when he was younger and why he has never connected with a woman. He finally gets somebody who makes him look at himself. I think that’s a pretty simple human feeling, just wanting to find somebody to connect with. She brings that out of him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Holly Robinson Peete as Christina compliments Carl very well.
Reno Wilson: I hit the jackpot with that one (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, and I was upset when she left The Talk.
Reno Wilson: Yeah, a ton of people were. But, she’s such a beautiful person, a professional, a great mom and wife. Our families play together. All of our families play together. She just fit right in like she had always been on the show. I’m really fortunate and thankful.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Carl regularly slams Mike with fat jokes. Do you ever hear from fans that don’t care for that banter?
Reno Wilson: Oddly enough, no. I think it’s because we love each other. He makes just as much fun of me about my stupid choices in women, the stupid things I do and the stupid advice I give him. But, I think when the teasing comes from somebody you love … it’s like your best friend. Only I can make fun of you. Nobody else can make fun of you. Only I can make these jokes with you because we have that love.
If anybody else makes fun of you, they need to watch out. One of my favorite things about Carl and Mike is that when Mike goes to Nana’s house, he is the prince. He gets pure, unabashed, unadulterated love, and Carl “gets it” at grandma’s house (laughs). Mike can do no wrong at grandma’s house. That’s my favorite.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I love that, too. I didn’t realize when I saw Cleo’s age that she …
Reno Wilson: Was only seven years older than me? Yes (laughs). But, when she throws on that wig, then it’s Carlton (in grandma’s voice). She says she’s channeling her mother when she does that. But, she’s so talented. I really think these are the best words on TV, and we have the best ensemble.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The season finale is May 14, and that will be the wedding.
Reno Wilson: We hope so (laughs). Let me tell you this, Melissa. We shot the two-part finale episode, and I swear, I’ve never been a part of something so funny. It is a classic sitcom episode for the ages. It feels like a classic James Burrows directed show. He has done Cheers, Friends, Will & Grace, but this episode will be up their with the best! We were crying at the table read from laughing so hard. When you get Molly’s family and Mike’s family together, it’s just not going to be right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mike’s father will show up for the wedding.
Reno Wilson: It just ain’t going to be right (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hopefully Carl won’t lose the ring. He just has to do something crazy.
Reno Wilson: Oh, I can’t even tell you what’s going to happen, but I guarantee you that you might want to be near a bathroom because you might pee in your pants. It’s so funny.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Reno, you learned comedy from Bill Cosby, a comic genius.
Reno Wilson: You are absolutely right! That was my first television job and what an auspicious way to get into the industry! I was going to a conservatory for acting, he pulled me out of school, and I ended up doing two seasons (recurring) on The Cosby Show playing Howard who was Theo’s best friend in college. I’m a TV kid, so I grew up watching a whole lot of sitcoms, but to be in front of Bill Cosby and make him laugh … I used to sit in his office, and he would talk to me about timing and breaking my script down. He’s responsible for my career.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Bill Cosby hand picked you for the role.
Reno Wilson: He did. I auditioned, but he gave me that first gig. I was wet behind the ears and completely green. I remember every conversation I ever had with that man. I’m filled with gratitude that I got to start with Bill Cosby. Now, I’m working with some other masters of the game – Chuck Lorre, Mark Roberts and Jim Burrows. That’s like Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Talk about television royalty.
Reno Wilson: It’s the top of the food chain right here.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You mentioned that your dad was a pianist. Your mom was a singer. I guess you were always ready for a show business career!
Reno Wilson: Yeah. Our whole family is very musical and very talented. We all grew up doing plays and shows, seeing my mom go to auditions and watching her sing at the Metropolitan Opera. We always thought it was The Jacksons, The Osmonds and us (laughs). Like, “Doesn’t everybody have a drum set in their living room?” I come from an entertaining family.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Where were you born?
Reno Wilson: I was born and bred in Brooklyn, New York. I went to a performing arts high school and graduated with Jennifer Aniston, the most famous of our class.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve done quite a bit of voice work for video games. Are you a gamer?
Reno Wilson: I’ve always done a lot of voices, and I love cartoons and all that stuff. So, I was fortunate enough to get a voice over agent and start booking some jobs. It’s a very small world to get into, so if you can get that work you’re very thankful.
I used to play a lot of video games, but now that I’m a dad, I don’t have the time and I don’t want to anymore. But, I love watching people play video games, and I love doing the voices for them. My kids play the games. When they’re playing games, I get to go do something like take a nap (laughs). But, I used to be a gamer back in the day.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is the status on Bolden, the Louis Armstrong film?
Reno Wilson: You know what? That’s a great question. The interesting thing about that movie is that I have been working on a one-man show about Louis Armstrong for about eight years, and then I got the script for Bolden. I said, “Wow, this never happens!” The Louis Armstrong character is in the script and I’m, at this point, one of the strong authorities on his life. I’ve been studying it so much. I think he has been editing the film for about three years.
I’ve seen parts of it, and it is a beautiful movie. I hope it comes out, but I honestly don’t know when it will. However, I have pulled out my show again. The show is called “Pops,” and it’s a one-man show about the life of Louis Armstrong, so it’ll be something live that you can see. I’m playing the horn and all of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you be traveling with the show?
Reno Wilson: Because we do Mike & Molly nine months out of the year, I’d be happy to do it eight weeks someplace, hopefully in Vegas.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Or Reno (laughs).
Reno Wilson: Or Reno! I like that idea. That’s a good idea.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me something about yourself that people would be surprised to know.
Reno Wilson: I’m a classically trained pianist. I have perfect pitch, and I’ve been playing piano since I was four years old. That’s kind of my hobby.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Something you like to do when you’re not working?
Reno Wilson: Yeah. My kids are studying piano and singing, and my wife plays guitar, so we’re keeping that tradition going. We’re at the house playing drums, guitar, piano and recording. My wife’s a recording engineer. That’s what I like to do. I like to play music when I’m not working.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Anything else coming up for you during the show’s hiatus?
Reno Wilson: I’m reading some scripts and would love to do a movie, so we’ll see if we can make something happen. I’ll be playing the horn this summer as well, keeping my chops up.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m thrilled Mike & Molly has been renewed for a third season.
Reno Wilson: Me, too. Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be doing it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thanks for talking to me. Maybe your day will get a little better.
Reno Wilson: Thank you, Melissa. He’s in school now, and I’m drinking my coffee and talking to you. All is well.
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