Stephen Rannazzisi Talks Fantasy Football, Season 2 of 'The League'
Stephen Rannazzisi grew up on Long Island a Giants fan. He found the theatre after his high school girlfriend talked him into auditioning for the school play. Now more than 15 years later, he's found the best of both worlds. Steve stars as "Kevin" in the FX series, "The League," a show that follows five guys who are trying to juggle family, work, friendship and their unhealthy obsession with fantasy football.
The second season of "The League" kicked off last Thursday and can be seen every Thursday night at 10:30 PM ET on FX. FanHouse spoke with Steve about the new season, fantasy football, Ashton Kutcher and, of course, Shiva blasts. The interview is below but there's more: want a chance for a free copy of "The League" Season 1? All you have to do is friend us on Facebook and we'll pick a winner next week.
Ryan Wilson: Steve, thanks for taking time. I'm sure you have better things to do than talk to me about fantasy football.
Steve Rannazzisi: Not at all, man. How are you doing, bro?
Ryan: Good, good. I'll be honest, I missed the first season of "The League" when it originally aired and I watched it this week -- in like three hours -- and it's now like my favorite show. It's fantastic.
Steve: Thank you, man. I really appreciate that.
Ryan: It's just one of those shows that feels very believable and it doesn't feel contrived at all -- you can relate to the characters.
Steve: Yeah, you're like, "I know that guy." You know who these people are, you have friends who are like this.
Ryan: Right. Even though the women on there are so unbelievably attractive you'd be lucky to find them in one town much less a group of friends -- and they also play fantasy football. That aside, the writing is fantastic and everyone does a great job of making it feel real. But I wanted to talk to you about Season 2, which just started on Sept. 16, and about how you got to where you are now in your career. So you're from New York and you were a Theatre major in college, let me ask you: were you into sports growing up or was acting something that you always wanted to do?
Steve: No, I was a big sports guy growing up and in my junior year in high school I started dating a girl who was big into theatre and she was like, "You know what, why don't you come audition for this play?" I and figured it was a good way to hang out with her. So on a dare, I auditioned for this play and I got a role in it. And I sorta liked it, I got bit by the bug a little bit and started doing it more and more. And then when I graduated, I went to college. I really I didn't know what I wanted to do but I knew I liked [theatre] and it you could major in it, so I knew I'd start there. And as it turned out I just loved doing it.
Ryan: So did you grow up a Jets or Giants fan?
Steve: I'm a Giants fan.
Ryan: Okay, so you didn't have to experience what Jets fans went through against the Ravens in Week 1 and you've actually had the thrill of actually seeing the Giants win the Super Bowl recently.
Steve: Exactly. We've had recent success -- it hasn't been 40 years since we tasted the sweet success of the Super Bowl.
Ryan: Relating that to "The League," I know actors always want to work but was this series something you especially wanted to do because it relates to sports?
Steve: Yeah, there was no script -- it was an outline and an improv audition and I kind of do well with those. So I went in and actually read for Ruxin and I did well. After the audition I was on my way back to my car and the casting director came out and said that they wanted me to come back and read for the part of Kevin. So I went back in and improvised the Kevin scene. Two weeks later, the five [actors] got together and we improvised some scenes together.
They ended up making me an offer at which point I was crazy enough to turn down ... twice. Not because of money or anything like that. I was up for this movie "Going the Distance", and if I had gotten that I wouldn't have done "The League." But I ended up not getting the role in "Going the Distance," and I was like, oh, I'll do "The League" now. And thank god I dodged that bullet because, holy cow, I'd be kicking myself right now.
Ryan: I don't want this to sound too cliched, but I think a lot of the success of "The League" -- and you mentioned the audition was unscripted -- it sort of reminded me of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," especially the moments that made you cringe.
Steve: I understand what you're saying -- the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" comes from Jeff Schaffer. He was hired at 23 out of Harvard by Larry David to write on "Seinfeld." When Larry left the show Jeff took over as head writer on "Seinfeld". And from Day 1 he's been executive producer and writer over at "Curb Your Enthusiasm." So he's been working with Larry for 17 years and, you know, he comes from that style of loosely scripted, here's the situation, talk-like-a-normal-person-talks kind of world. And the freedom that we have is fantastic.
Ryan: I'm sure you get this all the time now but are you and the other cast members sports fans too? And are you guys all in a fantasy league in real life?
Steve: I think I was the biggest sports fan. I know (Nick) Kroll is a pretty big sports fan, the other guys really weren't as much. As for the second question, last year when we got the show I was like, we should probably do a league with just us because of everyone on the show, Jeff Schaffer and I were the only ones who had played fantasy football before. So we started an eight-man league with the six people on the show -- the five guys, the girl who plays my wife, and the creators Jeff and Jackie (Schaffer).
So we played last year and believe it or not, the girl who plays my wife, Katie Aselton, read a book or two and she won the whole thing.
Ryan: Of course she did.
Steve: Yeah. So life imitating art. She whipped our asses. But that's how a lot of the guys learned about the ins and outs of fantasy football.
Ryan: How do you keep things relevant during the NFL season because things happen so quickly with injuries or trades?
Steve: Last year was a lot easier because we started shooting later and we were almost in sync with the season. This year we started a lot earlier, which is great because we had more prep time, but it was tougher because we were making guesses in the middle of summer when we were talking about players. If we say a name of a player we always do a take with the camera showing the person's back so later on if we needed to we can dub in a name. Like we had used Ryan Grant and now unfortunately he's out for the season. And we'll have to go back and put in another player's name.
Ryan: Chad Ochocinco was in the first episode of Season 2. I had a chance to talk to him a few weeks ago because he was promoting his new show with Terrell Owens. He was unbelievably engaging, and during his appearance on "The League" he seemed like he more than held his own as an actor.
Steve: Oh absolutely. He shot with us in Vegas for the week and he was great. Very funny, very engaging, great sense of humor. We could mess with him and he wouldn't care -- he'd come right back at us -- very natural, not nervous at all. He was the perfect guy to have kick off our second season. Probably the best person we could ask for because people know him, he's very personable, he's a good-looking guy, he's charming, it worked out well.
Ryan: I heard you say in a previous interview that you got your break on "Punk'd" and that Ashton Kutcher was a great boss to have, easy to work for, and despite the Michael Kelso image he portrayed on "That 70s Show," he's actually a really smart guy and he knows what he's doing. Did you know that he's a huge fantasy football guy?
Steve: Yeah, I did know that. I think he had a blog or a show or something.
Ryan: I think he does a fantasy football show on Ustream.
Steve: Right. He's a big Bears guy, I think he's from Iowa.
Ryan: I was wondering if he ever gave you input into the show or if there were even any plans to have him make a guest appearance.
Steve: That's actually a great idea to get him on the show--
Ryan: So does that mean I can get an executive producer credit?
Steve: Of course, you'll get a producer credit. But that's how we do it. If we have a role we think someone's right for -- we're friends with a lot of these people that we bring in. (Paul) Scheer and Kroll and myself all run in the same circles so if we have a role -- like Rob Heubel did an episode, Bobby Lee did an episode last year and he's a good friend of mine, Thomas Lennon. If we have something we call up a friend of ours they come in and do it and it's great.
Ryan: Are you at the point now where you're walking down the street and people are coming up asking for fantasy football advice?
Steve: It's less advice and more that people kinda know who you are now. It's either huge fans of the show -- "Hey, I love the show, love your character" -- or it's "Hey, do I know you? Did we go to high school together?" And my favorite one is -- and this happens all the time at airports -- "Hey, are you famous?" No one asks Morgan Freeman if they went to high school with him. He's famous. Clint Eastwood is famous. I just happen to be a guy you see once in a while on television.
Ryan: How do you answer the "Are you famous?" question?
Steve: I've done it before where I've been like, "Think about what you just said." I'm not famous, no. If you have to ask I'm obviously not famous.
Ryan: Are you at the point where people are coming up to you and yelling "Shiva" as loud as they can in your face?
Steve: Not in my face but I have gotten Shiva-blasted which was kind of interesting. I was at Sundance this year for the film festival. I was at a bar and I was going across the street to a movie. So I left the bar, I tipped the bartender, walked out, got about halfway across the street and this guy walks out of the bar and he says "Kevin!" It was very late so I was like the only person on the street and I turned around and he goes, "Shivakamini Somarkandarkram!" I just got Shiva-blasted in the middle of Park City? It was awesome.
Ryan: Very awesome. Okay, that's all I got. I really appreciate you giving me a few minutes and I wish you the best of luck with "The League" this season.
Steve: Well, enjoy the rest of the season. I think you're really, really going to like it -- the show just gets better and better each week. And I appreciate you taking the time to interview me.
Remember, you can catch "The League" every Thursday at 10:30 PM ET on FX, and if you want a chance to win a free copy of Season 1, just friend us on Facebook.