Interview with Ken Baumann of "Secret Life of the American Teenager" on ABC Family - Primetime Article From The TV MegaSite

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By Krista

Ken Baumann

Interview with Ken Baumann of "Secret Life of the American Teenager" on ABC Family 5/23/13

ABC Familyís Q&A with Ken Baumann
The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Moderator: What was it like just ending the series with everyone because you guys have been together for so long?

K. Baumann: Difficult. Emotional. Lots of tears. I thought that I would be able to hold my composure together on the last day, the last day of filming, but I didnít, which was fine because everybody was sort of a wreck. It was just hard to know that youíre not going to see your family for the next few years, just because you get to know the people so well, the cast and crew.

Our show, I think, was a rarity in a few ways. Everybody got along, and I mean everybody, which was almost like surreal, like the Twilight Zone, and the hours were great. So people were happy to go to work. They didnít dread the 14 or 15-hour days. It was rough. That said, I think that also sort of shows in the final episode with a little extra emotion that I think the audience will definitely pick up on.

Moderator: Are you working on any new projects or shows coming up?

K. Baumann: I finished a project not long ago called ďCall Me CrazyĒ that aired on Lifetime. That was a blast and a really, I think, import movie. Itís five short films directed by five female directors and theyíre all about mental illness. I think the movie does a very good job of presenting mental illness in a way thatís not sensationalized and it attempts to really connect to the truth of the pain and difficulty of living in mental illness.

Beyond that, I just got my first novel published on May 14th. Itís called ďSolip.Ē Iíve been sort of doing the book promotions, reviews, book tour thing now. So that was very exciting for me.

Moderator: Would you say youíre happy with the way the series ended for your character?

K. Baumann: I think so. I think so. Jokingly, I think it wouldíve been great if Ben couldíve jumped out of a plane and died in a parachuting accident or been involved in another terrible arson or have become a fabled criminal, but none of that was in the card probably for budgetary concerns. But yes, I think so.

I think that the tone Ben ends on is very, very, very different from the tone he began in the pilot. I think the character arch was pretty huge. I think that more importantly where Ben ends up in the final episode it serves the sort of emotional arch of that final episode, which I think ultimately the finale episodeís got to function as an episode on its own. I think that it really does. I think itís one of the best in the series.

Moderator: Do you have a favorite moment from filming the show?

K. Baumann: Itís hard. Itís really hard. I have so many. The one I think back to the most was just the pilot and meeting everybody for the first time and not knowing everybody and how nervous everybody was and excitable and how brand new Daren was to the rhythms of the set, which was hilarious, and now heís like old pro.

I feel like the pilot I think about the most and that it just was that none of us had any idea that the show would become so successful and then run for five years. We all thought like at best we were going to put in another ten episodes and that was that. Yes, that to me I think was the thing that left the strongest impression.

Again, Iím like incredibly close friends with the entire cast and most of the crew. So it was an experience that I donít know Iíll be able to have again, working so closely with a group of people for so long.

Moderator: How do you think the fans are going to respond to the ending?

K. Baumann: Thatís a good question. I donít know to be honest. Iím very curious. I know that all I can speak to is how I responded to the ending, both in watching the last few scenes being filmed and reading the script, the final script. I think it is a very emotional ending and itís an ambiguous ending. I know that itís going to frustrate a lot of people. Iím very curious.

Regardless, I think that it is an appropriate ending. I think that it makes sense with the sort of arch of the entire show and I think thatóyes, itís just really emotional. It just felt right. It just felt right to me when I read the script and was there watching it be filmed.

Moderator: Do you think the fans are going to be expecting the ending or will they all be surprised with what happens?

K. Baumann: I donít know. Iíve seen a little bit of the teasers. I think their expectations could be on the money but I think that there is a bit of a surprise there at the end. Itís not such an explicit narrative surprise, but it is definitely emotionally surprising, I think.

Moderator: I feel like we have a lot to congratulate you on with the success of the show, of course, your book and sort of newly being married now. So congratulations and I hope youíre feeling well with your health as well.

K. Baumann: I am. Iím in total remission. I feel great now thank you.

Moderator: With the finale coming up, of course I wanted to find out what do you hope that fans really take away from just watching the series for so long in general? What do you really hope that they just take away from watching?

K. Baumann: Thatís a good question. When I think about the TV shows that I admire the most or that I was most sucked into, especially when I was younger, I think that the thing that was most important to me was feeling inspired by such a large story and the privilege of wrapping yourself up in this fictive world and the life of these characters that have been so laboriously painted by the writers and the cast and crew and directors and wardrobe designers and everything.

I also think that with a show like Secret Life the stories from its fans and viewers that have always excited me the most where when people told me that the show really helped them feel more comfortable in their bodies, like more comfortable just with their experiences that theyíve had to deal with, be it being a teen mother or dealing with sort of romantic mishaps in high school or getting married early or losing a parent.

That always was nice because that, to me, proved what fiction and literature and television can do, what stories can do, which is just make someone feel less alone and give someone an opportunity to be empathetic or feel like theyíve been empathized with.

And then the other thing that I think excited me the most that I heard from viewers was the idea that the show made them or encouraged them to talk with their parents and talk about sex and drugs and rock and roll. And just to be honest with them. So I think that those two things were really heartwarming to me and surprised me.

I watch a lot of TV that just helps me turn my brain off and sometimes I forget what TV or what long-form narratives can really do to people. And I felt like those were two really inarguably good things that came from this show.

Moderator: After getting to play such a deep and heartwarming character is there anything that you learned about yourself from playing him for so many years?

K. Baumann: Thatís a good question. I think that I learned to be less neurotic, because Ben is such a nut. I think, yes, I think I learned how to just calm down a little bit. It was good. Ben sort of provided me a model of how not to be in the later years of the show, which I think is incredibly valuable.

And it was also just nice to be sort of like a spoiled rich kid, but like fast and witty and charming and a smart-aleck. All that stuff was fun. It was fun to play. And like I said, at the very least I got to work on something for five years straight and build it a little bit more every day, obviously with all of the guidance in the world from the writers. So that was nice.

Moderator: How have you and the cast changed throughout the five years because there have been so many marriages and so much that has happened to you guys in your personal lives?

K. Baumann: Yes, there has been an incredible amount of change. Itís hard. As I said earlier, when Iím thinking back to the pilot it almost feels like alien territory being that young with everybody and trying to recall how everybody behaved before everybody sort of grew up. But everybody did grow up. We were all still pretty young and doe eyed.

Again, I probably wonít get that experience again because even if I hop onto another thing that runs a decade I will have started it as an ďadultĒ and will end as an adult or as I still thought that. Most of us, Shai and me especially, were just teenagers. It was really nice.

It was basically like going to high school but you actually learned from doing the job that pays you money and everybody is incredibly nice and people care about you. It was like some weird inverse dream world of high school. Everybody was celebrated and financially supported to be creative and all goof off and make this thing together. I guess thatís how I think about it sometimes.

Moderator: And if you could write Benís future, what would it be?

K. Baumann: Well I think in keeping with my five-year long theme of making up ridiculous stuff when asked this question Iíll continue with that. I think that the character Ben will become an oil tycoon and create the worldís first peanut butter museum and then go on to marry Cindy Crawford. I think sheís married, but obviously that doesnít matter. So I think thatís Benís future. I feel it. I feel it really strongly.

Moderator: What kind of projects do you have lined up now that the series is over?

K. Baumann: Right now I am gainfully unemployed and Iím writing a lot. I think thereís an unsung narrative to the actorsí lives that in between jobs youíre looking for work. Youíre meeting people and going on auditions and thatís where I am right now, which is fine.

I think that is a time that not only helps you get other side projects done, but like I said, itís allowed me to focus on my book that just came out and write a lot and sort of own up and try to work hard enough to be able to call myself a writer without feeling like a liar.

But itís also allowed me to sort of have a little down time and think about what I want to do next, what kind of project and where I want to end up or whom I want to work with. So thereís nothing in the pipeline at the moment beyond writing projects, but itís not at all a problem lately. Iím looking forward to stumbling into the next piece of work.

Moderator: Would you rather go into another sitcom or are you looking to break into movies? What kind of acting are you looking to go into?

K. Baumann: Thatís hard. I donít find myself thinking in terms of what kind of thing I want to do. Generally I think about what kind of people I want to work with. Although I will say I do love the idea of sort of the six months schedule of the feature film where you just do it for a little while and then youíre free again.

But at the same time I had a great experience on TV and the idea of working with people for years and years and getting to know them and really working deeply on a project, that sounds pretty good too. But for the most part I just focus on people, the people I want to work with, actors, writers, directors, producers, and companies. But again, Iím pretty open right now. Iím looking forward to meeting a new group of folks.

Moderator: How was being on Secret Life changed your life?

K. Baumann: In every way possible Iíd say. Just at sort of the very basic level of giving me someplace to go every day, well not every day but close to every weekday for eight months at a time. It gave me a job. It paid for the roof over my head and my food. It allowed me to buy a house and live in the neighborhood that I want to live in.

It gave me a huge list of people to fill my wedding with. It introduced me to hundreds of people that I now call my friends and some of them are practically family. It allowed me to pay for the health insurance that paid for my hospital bills when I got sick.

Itís endless. It radically changed my life. Both with time and money it let me start my publishing company, Sator Press. So yes, I think that it changed my life in every way.

Moderator: About your publishing company, are you working on any new books right now or just the one that just came out?

K. Baumann: With my publishing company, the last one I published was called ďConfessions from a Dark Wood.Ē That came out late last year. ďSolip,Ē the novel I wrote, I didnít publish. I got published by another company called Tyrant Books. Right now for my press, Sator Press, I am looking at submissions. Iím in the reading process now.

Moderator: Are you writing anything right now to get published?

K. Baumann: I am. Iím working on edits for a second novel thatís coming out late this year called ďSay, Cut, Map.Ē Thatís coming out from a small publishing company called Blue Square Press. And then Iím working on like a mystery book project that I canít talk about yet but I will be able to talk about soon and Iím very excited about it.

Moderator: Iím a big fan of the show and as a fan I wanted to know if you could share your favorite behind-the-scene moment with us?

K. Baumann: Honestly, I would say that it all sort of boils down to a bunch of people sitting on cast chairs, not working, waiting to work and just kind of chewing the cud. Thatís a Texas expression, just sort of talking. I think that that was it.

We had tons of times that were fun or sort of exotic like me and Shai and Daren and Greg and Francia and Megan all went to New York for Press. That was a blast. And me and Greg and Daren, of course, had I think one too many drinks at the bar, which is a big surprise there.

The exotic stuff was great but ultimately the stuff that I think Iíll remember the most will be just hanging out, waiting to work and all just talking. Talking and making each other laugh, cracking jokes, showing each other the stupid YouTube video of the day. That was great.

Moderator: Do you remember what it was about the character at the beginning that made you want to play him?

K. Baumann: I remember when I read the sides for the first audition I remember being attracted by sort of the Ferris Bueller vibe that I was picking up of this kid whoís just too smart for his own good and fast and witty and kind of like a wheeler-dealer. So that was what initially attracted me.

I just thought like, okay, anything even close to Ferris Bueller and a young kid thatís sort of scheming in school; that was immediately attractive to me. I think Ferris Buellerís Day Off is a masterpiece and one of my favorite movies, if not my favorite movie. Yes, so I think that that was what attracted me at first.

Moderator: On the last day of set did you guys get to pick your favorite prop or something that was your favorite memory or something like that?

K. Baumann: I think that a few things were stolen off the books but I donít remember stealing anything. However, all the cast was given the option to go through their wardrobe and basically like buy everything at half off, which was pretty rad. I ended up buying a few sweaters and a few shirts that I thought were great and very comfortable.

But no, for the most part now when most shows wrap up the prop department and everybody likes to keep all their goods because most of the stuff is rented anyway from other studios. Itís hard to steal too much, but I do have some clothes that are hanging in my closet that will always remind me of work.

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