What do you do when your partner of nearly 20 years unexpectedly walks out the door on you? It’s the life-shattering dilemma that Neil Patrick Harris takes on as New York City real estate Michael Lawson in Netflix’s new series, Uncoupled. As Michael grapples with losing who he thought was his soulmate and finding himself as a single gay man in his mid forties in NYC, he has plenty of support along the way, such as Billy, one of his best friends and the city’s alluring weatherman. Played by Emerson Brooks, Billy is one of New York’s most eligible bachelors— a role he proudly embraces with endless suitors and invites to the best parties.
Ahead of the series July 29 premiere, Brooks spoke with LA Confidential about his fanship of Sex and the City, telling a “human story” and the power of a feel-good show.
Before we dive into Uncoupled, can you tell us how you went from being in the Army to becoming an actor?
I grew up in a family that has an extremely long lineage of Army officers. My father was an officer in the United States Army. His father was, his father was, his father was and it goes back generations and generations, so while I never felt compelled to do it from a genealogical or historical standpoint, it just called to me. I loved that discipline and the excitement that came with the military experience. And I was good at it. I was good at army stuff. I was good at jumping out of airplanes. think I was good at leadership. I was good at taking orders. And so I think it created a real framework for my life, but it was soon after being commissioned as an officer and spending a few years in the military that I thought that this wasn't going to maybe not be lifelong.
I was honorably discharged due to a medical injury that I received while I was in the Army and I got a job with a huge engineering firm in Washington, DC. And while I was doing that and was able to be creative from an engineering standpoint, I still felt a little like there was more of a gap to bridge to fulfill myself creatively. And I looked at a local newspaper, I think it was like the Silver Spring Weekly, and I'm like, “I'm gonna find an ad for community theater. I'm just gonna go do local theater nowhere near my house or neighborhood in Washington, DC so no one can come and laugh at me,” because I'm sure it was comical, unintentionally. And I did that. So I went to the Silver Spring Playhouse. I auditioned for a couple of plays. I booked them, and that's where the chapter changed for me professionally.
For Uncoupled, one of the creators is Darren Star and, very broadly speaking, it's about a person navigating their love life and career in New York City with the support of their longtime best friends. With that in mind, Sex and the City comparisons are inevitable, but what limitations come with that comparison?
I won't say any limitations come from it as someone who has seen every single episode of Sex in the City. Now, I haven't seen a single episode of Sex in the City in years, since it went off. I didn't watch it on Netflix. I watched them the moment they came out on HBO.
I'm not afraid of the comparison at all. Definitely different issues, but at the end of the day, the story that Darren Star and Jeffrey Richman, who are co-creators, made is this story about real people, going through real things told with this backdrop of New York City as a character in an idealized and aspirational way.
We're talking about a mid-40-something gay man who's been dumped by his partner of like 16 years, unexpectedly, and is trying to figure out what this means for his life and his place in the world. We’re talking about something a lot of people can really relate to: a major change in the status quo of their life, an unexpected life change just when you thought everything was humming down the tracks. Well, that stops at this station now. We do it in a fun and funny way with an amazing cast.
Why is Billy crucial to Michael learning how to navigate the modern world of dating in New York City?
He offers a perspective. I think that's one of the beautiful things about the show. Because we’ve broken up how he sees the world, as he goes through his journey post-break-up, there's so many different avenues and perspectives and different routes you can take. And it's interesting watching him walk down those different paths.
All the people in his life, be it my character or Marcia Gay Harden’s character or Tisha Campbell's character or the amazingly hilarious Brooks Ashmanskas’ character, we offer him different paths and different perspectives and different views on how he should go about his life. And some of the comedy unfolds when he takes some of our questionable advice along the way. And then we offer some wisdom, some wise tidbits mixed in there, but that, again, is a metaphor for life.
Billy has a big epiphany in the last episode. How do you feel about the way his Season 1 storyline wraps up and what are your hopes for his future?
I truly hope there's a second season because we have so much more of this story to tell. I think what we could cover in the second season is absolutely creatively inspiring. I'd love for that to happen but nothing wraps up for Billy at the end of the first season. I think it's left as an emotional cliffhanger for him. Personal crossroads due to a series of events throughout the season lead him there. The arc of his character from an emotional standpoint is exciting and sometimes you don't often see outside of the main character in a show like this. There's not a lot of space for it. We have about a half an hour to to tell this story for each episode. And sometimes, just honestly, there's not a lot of space for everyone to have their emotional arc and somehow Darren and Jeffrey created a way that all of the main characters were able to have that transition and arc and come to a very different place in the final episode from where they started in the first.
Why does TV need a show like Uncoupled right now?
It's a human story. It's funny. It's aspirational. At the end of the day or in the middle of the day or on a 4-hour binge watching session on a Saturday night, I think I want to smile and have a good time and maybe there'll be a tear too. There'll be a lot of laughs. Listen, if you've seen Younger, if you've seen Beverly Hills, 90210, if you've seen a little little show called Emily in Paris, you’ve seen a little show called Sex in the City or a little show called Melrose Place, you have an idea of what may be coming your way with Uncoupled. I think it's one of those things that at the end of the day, your day is a little better because you took that journey with us. I like to think so. I know my day was.
Dramas get the big coverage, the heavy dramas, the really gut-wrenching stuff, but I think every now and then, particularly in these times, I think some of us just want to check out and feel good.
We need a balance!
I think and I hope this show offers that. And I mean that sincerely. I really hope it does. I think it's special.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: David Urbanke; Sarah Shatz/Netflix © 2022