Rob McElhenney co-created and stars in Mythic Quest—the Apple TV+ comedy series set in the dysfunctional workplace of a fictional gaming company, playing the visionary, if narcissistic, idea man behind the titular online roleplaying game. When he isn’t making hit shows like MQ or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, McElhenney is busy raising two sons with wife Kaitlin Olson, his Sunny co-star. And he recently took a side job—buying a Welsh soccer club with his pal Ryan Reynolds. FX just announced plans to air a docuseries on McElhenney and Reynolds’s football venture.
DEADLINE: Congratulations on the documentary series. That sounds exciting. So, you’re going to have cameras in your face even more than usual. I guess.
ROB MCELHENNEY: We already have. We’ve been shooting for about three months. It’s so uncomfortable to have cameras around. I don’t have any right now, which I’m grateful for. The doc crews tell me, “What? You’re an actor. You should be used to it.” And I’m just not. There’s such a big difference between walking onto a stage and knowing where the camera is at all times and also knowing I have control over what goes into the show. And this one, I might not. So, it’s a little bit disconcerting, that’s for sure.
DEADLINE: Do you feel like you’ve somehow slipped into an episode of Ted Lasso?
MCELHENNEY: Oh, good lord… We have our own thing going on.
DEADLINE: Mythic Quest is a very funny and fast-paced show, and then you can hit with episodes that are surprisingly poignant and that plumb interesting depths.
MCELHENNEY: That’s what’s been so much fun for me personally, because I’ve been doing the same show for a long time [It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia]. And it’s a show I love doing, and it’s a show that has a very specific tone. And we play with it a little bit here and there. But there are just certain things that are anathema to an episode of Sunny that we really dive head first into on Mythic Quest. And I think the central reason for that is because we’re creating real human beings. Whereas in the other show [Sunny], those characters are not actually real human beings. And if they were, they shouldn’t have a television show made about them. They’re essentially sketches of the id. They’re animated characters, live-action cartoon characters, the way we think about them. Whereas in Mythic Quest, we wanted to present real human beings and their trials and tribulations, certainly through the prism of a comedy, but still something that resonated as wholly human and true to the human condition.
DEADLINE: You’re not necessarily a big gamer yourself, I understand. What about that world captured you as something to mine as a workplace comedy?
MCELHENNEY: I realized having toured the studios of [gaming company] Ubisoft in Montreal it’s pretty much like a television show. It just reminded me so much of the experience that I have been living through for the last 15 years, and I just knew I had a lot of experience in the field, and I could draw from that. There are just so many similarities, people all stuck together from different departments, all working for a common goal. And each one of them recognizing that in this collaboration, that every moving part was truly important. And that is true in television, and that is true in the gaming industry. And I thought there’s just so much comedy that can be mined from those character dynamics. And then also I think there’s just a lot of pathos, because everybody is truly passionate about what they’re trying to do, and they truly love what they’re making, while at the same time they’re probably sacrificing something in their personal life to do so. And I thought, “Wow, that just seems like a really rich environment for a comedy.”
DEADLINE: You have two young sons. I’m going to take a wild guess that they’re into gaming.
MCELHENNEY: They are, yes. I wonder if there’s a human being under the age of 10 who’s been exposed to the games who isn’t into video games. It’s something that they enjoy and it’s something I enjoy doing with them, so that’s been a lot of fun.
DEADLINE: Do they give you notes on the series then?
MCELHENNEY: I will only allow them to watch parts of episodes. Certainly, they have never seen Sunny. Well, that’s not true. They’ve seen parts of Sunny as well. They’re very much aware of Sunny, but I’ll never let them watch an entire episode at the ages that they’re at right now. But Mythic Quest is more of a family-friendly show, so I’m able to show them large sequences of Mythic Quest. I think they’ve seen a couple of episodes all the way through.
DEADLINE: One Mythic Quest actor that stands out because of his long career and Oscar pedigree is F. Murray Abraham. In season 2 you got two more Oscar winners to join you, Anthony Hopkins and William Hurt. How were you able initially to get F. Murray to come aboard?
MCELHENNEY: Well, look, what I know about actors, being one myself, is that if you send them good material, they respond. We were very proud of that first episode when we sent it to Murray, and we’re certainly proud of any of the scripts that we write. So when I send it to a fellow actor, regardless of how many awards they’ve won, I’m at least pretty confident that we’ve done a good job in conveying the story we’d like to convey. And it might not line up with what they’re interested in doing, but that we’ve done our end. And then we make them an offer they can’t refuse.
In the first season, Murray just crushes. I mean, he comes in, and he kills every scene comedically. But when we approached the second season we thought, Well, it is kind of a waste to have an actor of his pedigree and ability and not get into what makes him tick, what makes this character tick, especially someone that is clearly as problematic as “C.W. Longbottom” is. That’s why we wrote those series of episodes this year, starting with Backstory and then Peter, which is that we wanted to tell the story of C.W. as a young man and as an older man. And we wanted Murray to shine, which he does.
DEADLINE: How much pressure are you getting from fans for Charlie Day—one of the co-creators of Mythic Quest and your co-star on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—to show up in an episode?
MCELHENNEY: We’ve heard it, and we’ve discussed it, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter. But I will be seeing Mr. Day tomorrow. And then I’ll see him again on Monday for our first day back in the writers’ room on Sunny.
DEADLINE: So, you are moving forward with the 15th season of Sunny.
MCELHENNEY: Yep. We start on Monday, in the room, and I just can’t wait. I miss these people dearly.
DEADLINE: Hopefully, at least one of them you do get to see now and again, Kaitlin Olson.
MCELHENNEY: The woman? Yes.
DEADLINE: Yes, the woman.
MCELHENNEY: My lovely spouse. I see her every single day, and I couldn’t be happier. I mean, truly, she and I have been working together since day one. And I just couldn’t imagine a better situation, a better scenario, a better partner through all of this, because she’s the one for me.
DEADLINE: I don’t think you or Kaitlin get enough credit for your comedic skills, because you make it look so easy. For Mythic Quest, how did you create your character to be able to play it so naturally?
MCELHENNEY: We wanted to create complex human beings that are not all good nor all bad. I feel like those are the most interesting characters to write and are the most interesting characters to play, because they’re true to being a human being… We want the characters to be people that you’re rooting for, or rooting against, or that represent something to you, and yet also feel as though you could recognize something of yourself in them, maybe your best attributes, maybe your worst attributes, but they felt as though they resonated as authentic human beings.
“Poppy Li” [played by Australian actress Charlotte Nicdao] is a character you really root for. And yet we also want to present that she’s not always such a great boss. In fact, she really struggles with the challenges of being a boss. And we want to present her as a version of a real person struggling with that. And sometimes that’s going to come across as nuanced or maybe not so in your face. And we hope the audience is going to pick up on that, and they clearly have.
DEADLINE: On the series, Charlotte speaks in her Australian accent. I think most producers of shows would be like, “All right, now, Australian actress, put on your American accent, and this is the role and fit into it.” But you really changed the role to suit the actor.
MCELHENNEY: We’ve done that a number of times, because I’ve just learned that lesson over and over again. If you find a mega-talent like that, you can’t shoehorn them into something that you had envisioned three months earlier when you were writing the script. If somebody like that walks into the audition room and you can just feel it, you can feel the chemistry, you can feel that she’s destined for something. And you want to harness that, and you don’t want to change it. I don’t want to change her. I don’t want to transmute what she can do into something that holds her back. So we worked in conjunction with one another to find what that character is, and we continue to explore it to this day. Hopefully, we’ll keep doing it.
DEADLINE: On the show we get to see your buff bod a number of times. How difficult is it to attend to your physical fitness so you can look your best, so to speak?
MCELHENNEY: It definitely works with the character and that’s the most important part of it… However, I’ll say, I do have the added benefit of feeling good. People ask me, “When do you fit in the workouts?” I will go out of my way to figure out a time in which I can work out because it gives me added amounts of energy and helps me sleep at night and helps me deal with stress and anxiety. And I find that when I don’t workout, or if I eat terrible foods that, big surprise, I feel terrible. And then I wonder why I feel terrible. And I look at what I put into my body. And I’m by no means a saint when it comes to food. I like to drink alcohol, and I’ll have a glass of bourbon every night. And yet I think I can work a lot of that stuff off because I’m able to exercise four or five times a week.
DEADLINE: Mythic Quest is all about backstory. You mentioned the episode where we learn about the origins of F. Murray Abraham’s character. There’s even an episode about the backstory of the building where you all work. I wanted to ask about your own backstory. You tweeted a video your two moms did for GLAAD that released around Mother’s Day, talking about their love story. I was curious about your reaction to your moms doing that.
MCELHENNEY: Aren’t they cute?
DEADLINE: They’re lovely.
MCELHENNEY: That video, it was really emotionally impactful for me, that’s for sure. Because of course I know their story—I lived it with them, or at least one aspect of it with them, but only seeing it through my own point of view. And regardless of how much I asked them about it or we talk about it, it’s still hard for me to truly understand the challenges that they faced. And, of course, I have a tremendous amount of empathy and compassion for what they had to go through, but I can’t truly understand or feel what that must’ve felt like. So any opportunity that I get to celebrate them and their love for each other and their love for their family I try to take advantage of.
DEADLINE: There are a bunch of key roles for women on Mythic Quest, and the show gets into the challenges facing women who work in the gaming industry. Does your experience being raised by two moms make you more sensitive to these issues than perhaps a typical guy might be?
MCELHENNEY: Possibly. It’s hard to say because I only know one experience, and that’s the one that I had growing up. Certainly, it shaped me into the person I am and a lot of the decisions that I make. I don’t know if I can point to it directly. I can say that what we try to do is to present an authentic experience and to make sure that we are presenting the gaming industry in an honest light. And all the things that we’re talking about on the show and all the things we’re exploring are what people are exploring in the gaming industry. So anything that you see in the show is definitely a product of that, first and foremost.