While his resumé is full of dramatic fare like The West Wing, Behind the Candelabra and early roles in The Outsiders and St. Elmo’s Fire, Rob Lowe has always had comedic muscles. See Wayne’s World, the Austin Powers flicks, Parks and Recreation, Californication and those DirecTV ads.
Currently voicing dim-bulb cop Dazzle Novak in the Comedy Central cartoon Moonbeam City, Lowe stars in the new Fox comedy The Grinder (Tuesdays, 8:30/7:30c, beginning this week) as actor Dean Sanderson, famous for playing a hotshot TV lawyer called “The Grinder.” When his show is canceled, he moves home to Boise, Idaho thinking he can put his faux expertise to use with his father and brother (William Devane and Fred Savage), who actually passed the bar. “You really can’t argue with his logic,” says Lowe, who also executive produces the show. “It’s insane, but it kind of makes perfect sense.”
“When I would do talent shows in junior high, I wasn’t reading from Raging Bull. I was doing Bass-O-Matic from SNL.”
What grabbed you about The Grinder?
When I read this script, I had no sense of what it was going to be. I didn’t really know what to expect. And that was the very thing I really responded to. It wasn’t derivative. It was a tone I hadn’t seen before. It was challenging and edgy on one hand and really accessible on the other. I love that this occupied both worlds. It’s one son that can do no wrong in his father’s eyes and another that has to struggle for attention. It’s a theme all families have, and the Hollywood part is the spice that you haven’t seen in a family show. And I love the relationship between the brothers. They get each other. They have fun with each other. They give each other shit. You get the sense that they have each other’s backs and also have a really good sense of each other’s shortcomings.
There’s a parallel because you and your brother Chad are in the same business as well.
I relate to it because I’m his biggest fan and he’s mine. To be able to have sibling rivalry you also want to be able to have the love underneath it. I have that with my own brother and I bring it to the show.
Your dad is a lawyer in real life. Any influence there?
Yes, he’s a lawyer in Dayton. He looks a lot like William Devane. They’re both wildly handsome, exactly the same age, really outdoorsy and they both think I can do no wrong. It’s great. But I’m probably not smart enough to be an actual lawyer. “I only play them on television” is my default answer to that. My older son is going to law school next year, and my younger son is at Stanford.
What’s ahead? Will Dean eventually get a law degree?
We’re gonna milk him not having a degree as long as we can realistically do it in terms of the storytelling. And then, maybe he’ll be like JFK Jr. and fail the bar three times. We’ll go wherever the storytelling takes us.
What’s fun about going back to Ohio?
Going to Reds games, Cassano’s Pizza—all those little local things you revisit and half of them are exactly as you remember and half make you realize you can’t ever go home again. You never know which it’s going to be. We’re going to get into that on the show, the theme of, “Can you go home again?” It’s a theme that everybody, especially of a certain age, starts to think about.
You’ve had a lot of success in comedy in recent years. Was that the plan all along?
I came up in a time when the leading men were antiheroes, the guys that you wanted to emulate were Dustin Hoffman and folks like that so I was a little bit of an odd man out. But my favorite show growing up was Saturday Night Live. I was obsessed with it. I would watch every episode. I would recreate it for my parents when they woke up the next day. So, when I got to do SNL, it was a dream come true. My sensibility has always been in that area. When I would do talent shows in junior high, I wasn’t reading from Raging Bull. I was doing Bass-O-Matic from SNL.
Looking back, what career highlights stand out?
I learned a tremendous amount from The West Wing. I learned a lot from Parks and Recreation and Brothers & Sisters. I feel like everything has led to this, both in terms of what I know today and my ability to play a guy like The Grinder. I don’t know how many episodes of television I’ve done, but it’s a lot, and so it’s a perfect time for me to play a guy who’s done a lot of episodes of television.
What’s the key to longevity?
The ability to operate at the furthest edges of your range. It’s why we get into the business. There was a moment that I was playing JFK, Eddie Nero and Chris Trager all in the same month, and that’s the dream. Hopefully people don’t get tired of seeing you and run away.
What goals do you set going forward?
I launched a skin care line for men, which is fun. It’ll be in Nordstrom’s in the fall. It took me six years to develop, all the best labs. I love acting and producing but with each year there’s less and less that’s new for me. To find new things to do in an actual business is fun.
How do you stay in such good shape?
I’m just outdoors all the time. It’s surfing, it’s hiking. I’m doing something every day, and not for any aesthetic health benefit. It’s just that if I don’t I make life for everyone around me really miserable.
Hard to believe you’re 51. How did you handle turning 50?
I loved it. My 40th was harder—50, I felt a good sense of satisfaction. I thought, it’s a half-century. I feel better in every way than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m really grateful and I enjoyed it. I thought it was great. 50 is the new 20.
Photo by Justin Stephens/Fox
Join thousands of men and women who are dressing up for a good cause. Go formal with Made Man and Career Gear on Friday, October 9th to help empower men in need with resources, training and suits they can use to rejoin the workforce. Because for every photo posted to Instagram or Twitter and tagged #FormalFriday, we’ll donate a dollar to Career Gear. Learn more at mademan.com/formal-friday.