Illeana Douglas talks about new Web series 'Sparhusen' (featuring Keanu Reeves)
by Kate Ward
Illeana Douglas and the Web go together about as well as the Swedish and meatballs. After all, the quirky actress has found a following online with her IKEA-set comedy series, Easy to Assemble, which starts its second season on My Damn Channel today. (Douglas plays a fictional version of herself who, fed up with showbiz, decides to work in an IKEA store.) And that’s not all: The actress is hard at work producing a spin-off Web series, Sparhusen, which follows a Swedish band that plays music for the big box store. Not only have we snagged a sneak peek of the series (premiering Oct. 8 — see exclusive video clip after the jump), but also a few minutes with its creator. Taking a break from her busy schedule, Douglas talks Assemble, her famous co-stars, and, of course, meatballs.
How did you come up with the idea?
I was always obsessed with supermarkets and I had written a show about going to work in a celebrity supermarket, because in L.A., a lot of celebrities go to supermarkets. And I thought [of] a funny concept: What if I went to work at a supermarket owned by a former Bollywood actor, but all these other actors already worked there? And it was this supermarket of the stars? And [I would play] a character based on myself. It’s based on a short movie [2004’s Supermarket] that I’d done with Jeff Goldblum. So it’s a concept that I’ve been always had been toying around with – this idea of somebody, me, that wants to be an artist, but doesn’t like the showbiz aspect of it. And wanted to create a character like Larry David where I could express these things.
So this had been on your mind for quite some time.
I started out as a stand-up comic. People would always say to me, “Have you ever tried doing stand-up?” And I would say, “It’s funny you say that,” because I started out as a stand-up and then I became an actor. I’m not sure how. Now that I’ve gotten older, I [don’t] like the scene of stand-up, but I always felt I had funny views that I could express. So I was trying to find a way à la Ricky Gervais or Larry David to transfer them, [and] because I live in Hollywood and I’m an actress, I thought that would be a funny realm to talk about. And then for a number of years I was trying to get pilots, not just like this, [but] a number of pilots. They weren’t getting on the air, and I was getting really frustrated by that, because people would stop me on the street and say, “When are you going to be on TV?” And then this thing called the Web came along. And I thought, “Well, this would be an interesting concept. What if you could get a brand?” I started out with different companies, like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I was working at your company?” And nobody really got it or thought it was funny. But then I got a call from IKEA saying, “Would you be interested in writing little 30-second things for us?” And I thought that would be something fun and cool to do. It started out as little dance numbers, lovers looking for bedding, and stuff like that. I’ve always been fascinated by shopping.
There is something inherently funny about IKEA.
Yeah. It’s such a fish-out-of-water experience. It’s got this Wizard of Oz quality. And then, when I heard IKEA [was interested], I thought, “Okay, now it has to be IKEA.” The ideas started organically pouring out of me. It was a complete experiment last year, and I threw everything into it that I possibly could. I got all my friends help me out and support me. And we did this thing, and it kind of took off, and we got our second season, and now we really feel like we’ve hit our stride this year, with a great story and a storyline.
How is it different working on the Web?
I’m trying to bring all my independent film cred to the web. It’s got to go beyond the little cat with a laser. It’s got to be a cinematic experience. Very, very soon, you’ll be able to watch [a web series] on your TV. On Demand will be looking at a site and say, “You know what? We like to carry that site On Demand.” That’s how I see it happening. With there basically being two types of entertainment in the sense that you have your traditional TV, and you have your pay channels, and then I think the third venue will be the Internet. [It’s] not so much as of a joke anymore. [It’s like] hey, if I take a pay cut, I’ll be able to do something I’ve been trying to do for years.
Some of your famous friends, like Justine Bateman and Ed Begley Jr., appear on the series. How did you reel them in?
I’ve been doing this for so long. And so I either know the people, or I’ve worked with them, or I’ve done a movie with them, or they’ve been at my house. I also have a list of people who are my really good friends that I’m like, “You’ve got to come on!” I’ve always been a huge movie fan myself, and when I’m meeting people as a writer, I just think, “God, I’d love to work with that person.” Or as an actor, I guess I see people that are so talented, and think they’ve been boxed in a certain way, and I want to show people how funny they are. I think everybody has that experience, where you meet someone, you’re like, “He’s the funniest guy I’ve ever met. Why isn’t he a huge star?”
Is there anyone you’re trying to court for the show?
I can say one person, who is James Woods, a good friend of mine. And he sings a mean version of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and is a person of immense talent. But he is very, very funny. One of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
And now the web series has a spin-off, Sparhusen, which follows a faux Swedish band.
It’s about this Swedish band, [the idea] goes back from being very influenced when we were doing the show, and wanting to write music. My friends Rob Mailhouse and Todd Spahr, who are also actors in the show, are musicians, and so I gave Rob the opportunity to come up with the music for the show the first year, and we started playing around with it, and [making] Swedish music. We were trying to create a Swedish pop sensibility. Sparhusen has had their ups and downs over the years. They’ve been in many plane crashes, but they’ve survived and they’re together.
Swedish pop is hot right now.
I know. It’s really strange. All of a sudden. Rob and Todd came up with the name and we just started talking in this Swedish accent. I guess also because we’re dealing with a lot of Swedes with IKEA. We just spent thousands of hours writing songs. I just thought it would be an interesting concept that all the songs were sort of Swedish. When you’re in IKEA, everything is Swedish. So why wouldn’t there also be only Swedish music piped in? But the band has an album coming out, The Best of Sparhusen.
You film in an actual IKEA. Do you get free meatballs?
I’m a vegetarian! They were kind enough to make for me vegetarian meatballs. So everything we’re doing has been with IKEA, [and we] lucked out that we’ve all become friends. It’s been a real playground for all of us. We’re constantly inspired by things that happen to them, or their philosophy, and it influences a lot of the work.