What’s better than owning a bar on TV? Owning one in real life. Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson—Mac and Deandra from FX’s breakout comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”—tell us about the show’s upcoming season, anticipating parenthood and their new Philly bar, Mac’s Tavern.
Interview by Christopher Staten
“It’s Always Sunny” is infamous for the outrageous situations the characters put themselves in. What sticks out in your mind about the upcoming season?
RM: I think the fact that one of our characters is pregnant was a really big hurdle to jump. Actually, I should say one of our actors is pregnant because that’s really what happened. Kaitlin was going to be seven-and-a-half months pregnant at the end of shooting, so we had to address it; there was really no way to hide it. That’s a really big deal for a TV show, to have one of its main cast members have a child. You have to deal with it in some way, shape or form and it obviously affects the chemistry of the show. That was probably the most outrageous thing this season.
KO: Filming pregnant wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It just ended up timing out kind of perfectly. We started shooting right when I started my second trimester so I was feeling really good right up to the very end, mostly until we went back to Philadelphia. I was almost eight months pregnant and it was just so hot! We shoot in two blocks, so the first block we hid the pregnancy just with clothes—I don’t carry around giant boxes the entire time. For the second block, Sweet Dee’s pregnant. It’s very exciting. There’s a whole “whodunit” episode, but I can’t tell you about any of it because I’ll ruin it. I don’t want to ruin it for you, it could be the greatest day of your life.
All of the characters’ personalities are a balance of extremes. What do you have to channel to pull that off?
RM: These characters are just your average American’s personality blown way out of proportion. So if a character is exceptionally aggressive, like my character is, it comes from an intense fear of rejection. All of these characters are insanely insecure, regardless of how they act.
KO: You know, I find the characters so sad and endearing. There’s a little bit of our characters in all of us so it’s just taking it to an extreme. I’m a perfectionist—I’m an actor—so I want to be funny and people to like me, but I’m not as insecure about it as Sweet Dee is. It’s just taking those qualities and heightening them a lot. I relate to the character a lot and that’s why I love her so much and don’t find her despicable and horrible. She’s just damaged and trying really hard, and all she wants is for these guys to like her and let her be part of the gang, which is just so stupid, she’s in her 30s. I feel that way about all of the characters. They’re just like little children trying to fit in.
Is there any hesitation to write Kaitlin’s character into embarrassing, belittling situations?
RM: I was working with her and writing for her for a few years before we started dating, so it’s not hard for me to think about her as a character instead of my wife. I can make that change very easily. I’ve always thought of her as one of, if not the most, talented and funny women on television, especially right now. She’s a pretty good sport and always does her own stunts, too.
Do you ever hold a grudge against Rob for all the insults thrown at Sweet Dee?
KO: No, the opposite! I think it’s hilarious when they write stuff like that. I’m grateful because it’s so funny to play that. They’re not quite as mean to me in real life as they are on the show. They’re actually quite sweet to me. Surprisingly, my husband actually likes me, so we do OK.
With a successful show, marriage and a child on the way, could either of you ever guessed how much you’d get back from “It’s Always Sunny”?
KO: No, not at all. I love this show and I love the character. It’s my favorite job I’ve ever had by far and it’s a pretty awesome situation. I fell in love with someone and now we have this cool house and we’re having a baby. The whole thing’s very exciting. We even played the “It’s Always Sunny” theme song at our wedding.
RM: It really is amazing, but I can believe it. I don’t think anybody goes into a situation and says, ‘Nothing will really come of this.’ My feeling, from the very beginning, was that this is really funny, I think the show really works, and I’m going to work as hard as I need to make sure other people understand that, and I’m not going to sleep for the next five years if I have to.
KO: Rob’s amazing, he’s really the best. I’m so proud of him personally as his wife, and I also love that I get to work with him every day. I really am in a dream situation. Hopefully something horribly tragic doesn’t happen to me soon because I’ve been really blessed and lucky leading up to this point.
Danny DeVito and his wife Rhea Pearlman have a famously successful Hollywood marriage. Do they ever give you tips on how to make it work?
RM: More by example than anything else, you just watch the way they interact. They have an amazing family with three kids. You see the way they try to spend as much time as possible together. I’m lucky enough to work with my wife so the crazy hours aren’t as difficult on the relationship. I think when people start to lose focus on their relationship is when they’re spending a great amount of time away from each other. Danny and Rhea just made sure that never happened.
KO: We ask them questions a lot because they really do have an awesome situation. I remember I went out to dinner with him, Rhea and their three kids one time really early on in the show. I vividly remember thinking ‘Oh my god, so you can have two careers going in Hollywood and have children who are really awesome, responsible and fun to be around.’ Their kids are amazing. Danny doesn’t go around passing out marriage and family advice—more like producing advice—but we do ask him, especially about raising kids and not having them be jerks in Los Angeles.
What are you most looking forward to as a parent?
RM: I’m really excited to show my child how wonderful the world can be.
KO: I’m looking forward to all of it. This is definitely something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time, but not until I was in the right place in my life. I’m also looking forward to not being hungover every weekend. That’s been great so far.
After your baby’s born, what’s the first alcoholic drink Kaitlin will reach for?
RM: She loves drinking wine, but trust me, she’s been known to slam back a couple of beers in her day. I think she’s probably ready to put down a bottle of white wine.
KO: I enjoy wine, I really do. They say Guinness is supposed to help bring your milk in, so I think it would be responsible to drink a whole bunch of Guinness as soon as the baby’s born. So, that I’m looking forward to.
Kaitlin, did you guilt Rob into sympathy prohibition?
KO: No way! [Before the pregnancy] when we went out I was the one drinking and he was the one driving and being responsible. It’s been kind of nice driving him around and watching him let loose a little bit, especially when we’re in Philadelphia. We stayed out at our bar very late many nights, it was very hot and I was very pregnant, but it was fun to watch him have so much fun.
RM: I’ve been indulging. She’s been really fantastic because we opened Mac’s Tavern, a bar in Philly, and we basically had 10 days of being there every day and night. She was really supportive of me and my hijinx while we were there. As soon as she pops this kid out she’s going to take a flight back to Philly and go to Mac’s Tavern for a pint.
What was the motivation behind opening Mac’s Tavern?
RM: The inspiration was a group of my friends I went to high school with. They were thinking about buying a bar and wanted to know if I was interested. It’s not something I’d actually thought about too much. I ran it by Kaitlin and she thought it sounded like a really good idea, so we were in.
What did you think when Rob pitched the idea?
KO: I was really excited about it. I’ve always wanted to either own a restaurant or a bar. It sounded really fun, and it was a pretty easy decision. I just wanted to make sure that the food was good and the women’s bathroom was really nice. Those were my two concerns.
What’s Mac’s Tavern like?
RM: It was an old neighborhood bar called Skinner’s, and it had a fairly decent crowd there consistently. We also wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like a Hollywood theme park either. So, we didn’t want to exploit too much of the television show aspect of it.
KO: It isn’t really that similar to the one on the show because the bar’s not a shit hole and hopefully it has patrons in it. It’s an Irish pub sports bar that’s comfortable and clean, but nothing too fancy. We watched the World Cup there and some Phillies games. It’s just a fun place to be and, again, the food is just amazing. I can’t drink so all I can look forward to is trying everything on the menu.
What does the rest of the cast think?
KO: They were very supportive and excited to get to Philadelphia and hang out.
RM: We had a big opening night while we were still shooting and it was a huge success, everyone seemed to dig it.
KO: Charlie [Day, “Always Sunny’s” Charlie Kelly] had to go back to work so he couldn’t stay for the opening, but Glenn [Howerton, the show’s Dennis] and Danny [DeVito, who plays Frank] came and were there the whole night.
If Mac’s Tavern adopted an “anything goes” policy for one night, like Paddy’s Pub did in season two, what would you like to see go down?
RM: [laughs] I really don’t know. I think the best thing about having a television show is that you get to live out any of your fantasies on screen and not run the risk of getting arrested for it. Maybe I’ll keep it at that.
KO: A night where men have to wear T-shirts and no pants, all night long, because that is a sexy look. Edgy and sexy, that’s what I’d do. A mandatory T-shirt-no-pants men’s night. Who wouldn’t want to go there for that? If you want to bring the ladies in, you know?
What are the chances of running into you at the bar?
KO:We’ll definitely be back there every time we’re in Philadelphia, which we are many times a year now because we shoot there and Rob’s whole family still lives there. I’ll drop the baby off somewhere else and go to the bar. That’s good parenting. •
On “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Rob McElehenney’s character, Mac, co-owns Paddy’s Pub with a few childhood friends. With the opening of Mac’s Tavern, fact parallels fiction: The writer, producer and star of the show opened the historic Old City pub with a group of high school buddies and his wife and co-star Kaitlin Olson. Patrons can expect a lot more than just occasional star-gazing: 17 taps and 99 bottles include regional and national favorites from the likes of Tröegs and Cigar City, while chefs Michael Suminski and Corey Nelson whip up homey comfort food like house-made soups, a range of chicken cutlet sandwiches and, in a nod to the show, four-cheese Mac’s Macs. “It feels like an upscale neighborhood Irish bar,” says McElehenney. “It’s a place to go if you want to have a liquid lunch, maybe with some food, but also a place to come at night where you don’t have to pay a $15 cover to get in.” 226 Market St., Philadelphia, 267.324.5507