On Mr. Mayor, comedian Mike Cabellon plays chief strategist Tommy Tomás to Ted Danson’s Neil Bremmer, a retired businessman who runs for mayor of Los Angeles and wins. Back for Season 2 starting March 15, the duo and a cast that includes Holly Hunter, Bobby Moynihan, Kyla Kenedy and Vella Lovell return for more City Hall shenanigans. Ahead of the premiere, LA Confidential chatted with Cabellon about the new season and why Mr. Mayor is actually not a political show.
Mr. Mayor Season 2 has just arrived. What can fans look forward to?
I think the thing that I'm most excited about for this new season is the arrival of new faces. I think that Season 1 is always fun because you're building a foundation with your core cast, but now we have so many amazing guest stars coming on this season that I'm so excited about. And I think a lot of them change the dynamic between a lot of the characters. I think that for Tommy specifically, he's a lot nicer this season. I think that in Season 1, he was a little catty, little mean to his coworkers, and that's a characteristic that'll never go away, but I think that he's more aligned with his coworkers now with the arrival of some new faces in the office.
Over the course of two seasons, what have you enjoyed about playing Tommy? I imagine playing not only a chief strategist, but one for a mayor in a city like Los Angeles in 2022 can be a pretty rich space to work in.
Oh, yeah, definitely. I think that I appreciate that Tommy is a smart character. I think he's very close to me and that we both tend to wear colored shirts and stand very strange and there are positives and negatives there, but I appreciate that Tommy is a smarter character. So often in comedy, it's it's always fun to play a dumb person, but to be able to go to work every day and inhabit someone who thinks he's better than everyone else, it's a very different kind of version of being the butt of the joke. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock do an amazing job of writing a cast of characters that are all very different from each other, but at the end of the day, are all very dumb in their own specific way. But I appreciate Tommy's specific brand of dumb.
I come from a comedy background and I think a lot about when you look at clowning, and not, like Ringling Brothers red-nose clown, but like the the art form of clowning, there's usually a high-status clown, a mid-status clown and a low-status clown. It's the same dynamic that the Three Stooges played all the time. There's always one person who thinks he's in charge, but is just as bad as the others. And I think that that's sort of the space that Tommy occupies.
How did you prepare to play a chief strategist?
When we were doing the pilot, a few of us went down to City Hall and we shadowed some people and that was a lot of fun. We sat in on a public hearing and that was illuminating in a way that it's like, “Oh, yeah, L.A. really does have some characters in it.” I think that meeting format has been skewered to death in every episode of Parks and Rec, but it really did feel like that. And getting to know the minutiae of how people within City Hall sort of operate at that level. And then I also did a little research for my role, specifically. I looked into what a chief strategist does and I found out that it is primarily a campaign role, meaning once the official is elected, they just move on to the next campaign. Maybe that's like a like a 10 levels deep kind of joke on the show is that Neil Bremer is such an incompetent mayor that he kept his campaign strategist on what he remained in office. There's a little bit of research, but also I didn't want the world to inform it too much because we're not really a political show. We were not leaning heavy into politics the way that maybe The West Wing did. It's the backdrop of politics, but we're not talking about a 24/7.
If it’s not a political show, then what would you say the show is about?
The show is about people trying their best. Our protagonist, our hero, is a guy who maybe got into politics for the wrong reasons, but genuinely does want the best for the city and is just trying to figure out the best way to go about that. And I think that all of the other characters are trying to help him do that in the way that they think is best. But of course there's no one right way to do anything, and so I think that that's where the source of a lot of conflict and comedy comes from.
Given this is your first series regular role, what's it like being on a sitcom with a sitcom legend like Ted Danson? Have you learned anything from him?
Can you imagine if I said no? It feels like winning the lottery like 10 times in a row. It feels impossible from a career trajectory perspective. I moved to L.A. in 2019 and this was one of the first things that I booked.
That doesn't happen. People move to L.A. and they're on the pilots circuit for years, and so I feel very fortunate to have gotten the job and then for that job to pretty much go straight to series.
And then to find out it's with Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Ted Danson, Holly Hunter, Bobby Moynihan, it was like, “Whoa!” I get to work with these legends. That's like another lottery won. And then to get on set and to find out that everyone is nice and humble and it's a pleasant place to be at work— it'd be very easy for someone like Ted Danson or Holly Hunter to never speak to me.The first day I was immediately disarmed because they are so humble and down to earth and kind and generous, so really it just feels like a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream.
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You wear multiple hats as an actor, writer, director and so forth. Do you prefer being in front of the camera or behind it?
I think that my number one love is performing. I think I'll never want to stop being in front of the camera. Acting is sort of a freelance job. For gigs, it might be a feast year, it might be a famine year, and so when I'm not shooting something, I can't sit around. I have too much neurotic energy to sit down and do nothing. I can't really relax, and so if I'm not doing anything, I feel like, “Well, I might as well pour my brain into a script.” So I think that's more where writing and directing comes in is filling in the gaps that acting leaves
It's nice to be able to live in a character for an extended amount of time because when you're doing a feature or even a live show, it's by definition a limited engagement. You're only in that character for a month or a few months. But with a TV show, you could technically go on forever. The cast of The Simpsons has been voicing those characters for 30, 40 years now, and so it's nice to be able to live with a character and revisit a character and check in with that character every so often. Season 1 wrapped and I never felt like I said goodbye to Tommy. I felt like, “I'll see you again later.” And now here we are. Hopefully if we get to Season 3, I'm looking forward to visiting him again in a year and finding out how he's grown.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Storm Santos