Comic-Con 2014

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara Discuss 'Mercy'

The prominent actors talk about their guest-starring stint on the new NBC drama.
Mercy has turned out to be one of NBC's new first-year successes, airing on Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET, and the series is about to get two big guest stars in an upcoming episode. Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara both guest star as husband and wife (which they are in real life as well) in a brand new episode that airs on Wednesday, November 4 at 8 PM ET on NBC. Stiller and Meara both held a conference call to discuss their involvement in the new series, and here's what they had to say.

What made you want to be a part of the show?

Anne Meara: Because they asked us to be on it. We're very happy to be on the show. We heard about it, we saw a couple of the episodes and you know, the nice - one of the nicest thing about it was that we live in Manhattan and Mercy, this show, is taped in Secaucus, New Jersey so it's on the East Coast.

Jerry Stiller: And (Pisaque).

Anne Meara: What?

Jerry Stiller: (Pisaque), (Pisaque).

Anne Meara: Secaucus and (Pisaque), sorry, sorry you're right baby.

Jerry Stiller: Yes I went to (Pisaque) after...

Anne Meara: I know...

Jerry Stiller: ...you died.

Anne Meara: Well you had one more scene than I did.

Jerry Stiller: You didn't die, no, you lived didn't you on the show?

Anne Meara: I did not die in the show; what's the matter with you?

Jerry Stiller: Just, I'm trying to recall - I thought you died, I went into the chapel...

Anne Meara: You know when I died? When we both died in Cleveland when we played there when we were young.

Jerry Stiller: Now you're going back into - and we did some good work too somewhere else.

Anne Meara: Yes we did great work.

I was wondering what you found challenging about the role?

Anne Meara: Challenging? Listen, at our age getting up in the morning is a challenge. No, I didn't find anything challenging, you know why because everyone there knows what they're doing. And the actors are good; they're young and they're really good. And it was a pleasure to work with them. And who was the guy - what was his name the director, Jerry, Larry?

Jerry Stiller: Larry (Trilling), was his name.

Anne Meara: He was hot stuff; we loved him.

Jerry Stiller: And what is challenging in some way is the fact that you can get up and get doing what you have to do and go through the material which you've already gone through in your real life and just have to recall it. Everything that we were doing in that show that took place in that hospital we've all been experienced in some way. And now...

Anne Meara: No, I never had a stroke; what's the matter with you?

Jerry Stiller: I'm not talking - about people we know, people who are around us, people - relatives and friends who have gone and so the challenge is to bring back all of that stuff in a way that is meaningful to the audience and the people understand it and not to clown around with it and to make it real.

Anne Meara: We didn't clown around with it, we made it real. But I want to tell you they had great caterers there too. I loved lunch.

Did they come to you all and ask you to be in the show as a package deal or did they come to one of you and then the other kind of tagged along or what?

Anne Meara: I don't know. Jerry, did they come to you first or what?

Jerry Stiller: But they came to you first.

Anne Meara: Well you're the hottest one; you're the more visible.

Jerry Stiller: Well they came to both of us at the same time.

Anne Meara: I think they wanted us both to do it, you know, married couple plays married couple. What a stretch, you know.

Jerry Stiller: I'm trying to - who else could they have gotten, I mean, God...

Anne Meara: You mean everybody else is dead.

Can you tell the story about how you all met and teamed up?

Anne Meara: Oh sure. We met in an agent's office. In real life we're married - what are we married - 56 years, yeah, 1953 we were married.

How do you feel in the roles you played; it's serious, it's very real to a couple like the both of who married a long time, aging together, facing health issues. My biggest question is does it put any fear that, you know, or reality in your lives, what can happen to a couple that maybe you never think about?

Jerry Stiller: Let me put it this way the answer to that question is very simply, we've died many times on stage. And there's nothing worse than dying in front of an audience so that anything you're going to experience later on has really been - we've already dress rehearsal-ed all this stuff so there's actually no fear or trepidation about it except that we've been there, we know what is happening and we also have been around people - close family, friends, go through stuff and we've watched all of this so we replicate it. But actors are funny, I would say for myself that I look at it as a kind of a chance to go another step in my life. If I can go a little deeper by finding the essence of what's happening when people are not doing too well in their life right now that...

Anne Meara: I act much simpler than Jerry; he does a whole back story, I don't do any of that crap.

Jerry Stiller: The biggest thing - what I'm dealing with right now is when we think about health issues today you have to think about what's going on in terms of dealing with this stuff, in terms of the government taking care of people who are not doing too well or have problems with insurance and stuff of that nature. And fighting for really a chance to have something as close to - I hate to use the word single pair - but single pair is the answer.

Anne Meara: I don't hesitate to use it - but the only people the government is taking care of are the senators and the congressmen; they get a free healthcare for the rest of their lives.

Jerry Stiller: They try to put a thing called socialized medicine like this but socialized medicine my foot. If you go to France and you get sick, if you go to Germany and you get sick, Denmark and Switzerland, if you have a problem with a hernia you can walk off the street and walk in and get your hernia fixed. Or anything of that nature and there's no big deal about. They've made so much of this country is really corrupted. I call it right now when they talk about the death tax and everything, I think, you know, in terms of dealing with this life they trickle down euthanasia, that's what we're talking about. And really we have to really deal with stuff. So when I do a role and Anne and I both are doing roles that take place in Mercy Hospital. So anywhere when we're doing stuff that takes place in a hospital it's so easy to kind of identify with what's happening outside. And in our own lives, you know, we're not spring chickens as they say so we go through life but actors never are supposed to talk about how bad they're doing or they're feeling bad or sick.

Anne Meara: No we're lucky, we're one of the lucky ones. There's an awful lot of people that are literally screwed from the healthcare. I mean, they don't even get to do - go to fake hospitals, we were in a fake hospital. We have fake diseases.

How do you feel playing serious versus the bantering that you're so used to doing with each other?

Anne Meara: Well the bantering is what we do talking to you here but, I mean, we loved our parts, we loved the words we had to say. And it was - we're actors, we've always been actors even when we did improvisational theater when we were young and sketch comedy. We were always actors. We acted for (Joe Pabb) doing Shakespeare in Central Park and down at the Public Theater. So just relating as two human beings who are at - toward the - closer to the third act of their lives not the first was very simple to do.

Jerry Stiller: But the banter for us was always serious. I mean, what came across as banter and funny to the audience was always something that came out of something that was really - really it was on our minds. And because we came from different points of view and came out funny. But so the idea of doing a serious role, you know, in a way it's a lot easier because there's no obligation to get a laugh.

Both of you in your careers have had regular roles on series as well as a lot of guest roles. At this point in your career would you want to do another regular role or is that, you know, just too demanding?

Jerry Stiller: I could do any roles right now. We are...

Anne Meara: I'd love to do a regular role on television.

Jerry Stiller: Because - look we're actors. And, you know,

Anne Meara: I'd love Jerry to do a regular role again because he would always get them to hire me too. Because I was sleeping with one of the stars I always got on that way.

Jerry Stiller: Well as I was saying I just did a very interesting role in a movie in England called Swinging with the Finkels. And it was a story about a husband and wife who they're very upscale and he's close to Cambridge and she's a fashion designer. And they have two friends and their sex life is kind of going down after 15 years. And they decide in a very positive way to save their marriage swinging. You know what the word swinging is?

Anne Meara: Yeah, Jerry, please.

Jerry Stiller: Okay so I played a psychologist - my wife and I - coming to England and our daughter, Mandy Moore, was going through this kind of oh I guess (unintelligible)...

Anne Meara: Why are you plugging the movie? We're talking about NBC and the show Mercy. What's the matter with you?

Jerry Stiller: Anyway they worked out their problems and the movie will probably arrive here...

Anne Meara: They don't care about Swinging with the Finkels, please.

Jerry Stiller: Anyway it all ties in because right after I did that somebody called and said to Anne and myself you've got a job on Mercy. So I think one job sometimes does help you get another job.

I wonder what advice would you give to people who are just breaking into the business to have the kind of longevity you've had or does it come down to luck?

Anne Meara: I would never presume to give anyone advice. I've lived to be an old lady and I think when people give advice they're full of it; they should shut the hell up.

Jerry Stiller: I'll give you my opinion...

Anne Meara: Oh yeah because you do, you just do that and you're wrong.

Jerry Stiller: I was about to.

Anne Meara: Yeah.

Jerry Stiller: But the answer to - my particular - and I think it's almost impossible to do is you have to love the work and not the glitz. And if you love the work it will take you to wherever it will take you whether it's stardom or to a place in your life that you never dreamed possible and it may change your career. You may become a psychologist or a (unintelligible). You say hey, this acting is nothing; it doesn't mean anything but if you love what you do in terms of theater you have to say to yourself when one thing doesn't work the next thing might work. If you have that kind of determination or if you have that kind of need I call it, almost...

Anne Meara: Well if somebody is looking for a given, something, you know, just the fact that you have to ask that question I would think you're not - it's not important for you to be in this business. You don't have to ask us that question or our advice. You don't need advice, you have strong desire, you'll pursue it, you'll study, you'll learn and you'll do it.

Jerry Stiller: I think it's a very good question.

Anne Meara: I don't.

Jerry Stiller: And I think you ought to just understand what the question was.

Anne Meara: Well that's what makes horse races. I disagree with you Jerry Stiller.

You can watch guest stars Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara when they appear on Mercy on Wednesday, Novemeber 4 at 8 PM ET on NBC.

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