Chances are you’ve seen Ian Gomez, even if you don’t realize it. The veteran character actor has had regular or recurring roles on sitcoms The Drew Carey Show, Norm, Jake in Progress and Rita Rocks, and is still probably best known for playing flamboyant coffee-shop manager Javier on the college drama Felicity. Along the way, he’s guest-starred on everything from Melrose Place to According to Jim.
These days Gomez is playing Andy Torres, affable husband to the bossy Ellie (Christa Miller) and neighbor to newly divorced mom Jules (Courteney Cox), on ABC’s Cougar Town. Just ahead of Cougar Town’s midseason return, Gomez chatted about his role on the show, the craft of working on sitcoms, and the advantage of being “that guy.”
What first drew you to the role of Andy on Cougar Town?
I knew about [Cougar Town co-creator] Bill Lawrence, and I had met him a few times. He’s married to Christa Miller, and Christa Miller and I worked together on The Drew Carey Show. So I was around when they met, and I had met him a few times. And so I was excited to read it, and then I read it and it was laugh-out-loud funny. And the character was kind of something I felt that I could do well. During pilot season, you read a lot of stuff, and you go out on a lot of auditions, and sometimes it’s just like you can’t even tell the difference between some of these pilots. And this one was one I really wanted. Others, it’s like, “Yeah, sure, I want to work,” and you do the audition and just kind of forget about it.
Was the husband and father character someone you identified with right away?
I’ve played kind of the hen-pecked husband, but this was different; there was more of an edge to it. Usually the hen-pecked husband is kind of a sexless blob, but this guy—they have a really good relationship on the show, and I was like, “Wow, okay, this is different.” And being a father—it’s all very familiar to me.
You’ve done a lot of neighbor/best friend roles. Do you think you have a certain best-friend quality?
I’ve been described as a nonthreatening male, and sometimes I guess that can be an insult, but for the most part I think it’s a compliment that people see me as someone who can be their best friend or America’s best friend—America’s next door neighbor.
How do you approach a role like this where your job is to sort of support the lead character?
I’ve heard—I didn’t really realize this, but some people have said that I’m the comedy relief on a comedy show, which is kind of an odd thing, I guess. It gives me a little more permission to be a little wackier, maybe a little broader than most on the show. I come in and it’s usually I don’t have the exposition to get out; I have something funny to do, or something physical to do, and then I’m in and I’m out. That’s fun to play.
Do you have to adjust your style and approach from multi-camera shows to a single-camera show like this?
A little bit. On multi-camera shows, I find sometimes the writing can be a little unnatural, where the rhythm of it is somewhat bizarre. Audiences come in on Friday or whatever, and they’re kind of trained to laugh at—there’s kind of a rhythm, and sometimes that kind of goofs up what you’ve been rehearsing all week. And then you don’t have that many shots. I like the immediacy of doing single-camera, where you get the script, you rehearse by yourself, and then you come and you have a couple of camera rehearsals, and then you just do it. Some people say, “Well, there’s no instant gratification. You don’t get feedback.” Well, you have all these crew members who are jaded, and if you can get them to laugh or go, “Hey, that was really good,” you know you’re doing something really great. So I prefer single-camera, I guess if I had to choose.
Do you hope to headline your own sitcom eventually?
Oh, absolutely. I love supporting people. I come from an improv background. One of the first things I learned was when you’re onstage with somebody, your job is to make the other person look good. It’s not about you showboating or anything like that. That, in turn, makes everything look good, and then you look good. So everyone looks good. It doesn’t do you any good to make yourself look good and then the other person looks crappy, and then all of a sudden the whole thing has gone crappy. So I enjoy being the supporting guy. I think there’s a lot of pressure being leading-man material. But I will take that. I will actually take that and run with it. That would be great.
What role do people most recognize you for?
Felicity seems to be [the one]. I think the people who watched Felicity—it didn’t have a tremendous audience, but the people who watched it were very dedicated. Those are normally the people who come up to me and know me right away. But then there’s the people who go, “I know you from something. What do I know you from?” And then you have to go through your entire resumé. But then those people usually recognize me from The Drew Carey Show. And now Cougar Town, a lot of people are watching that. They’re very nice to me and say wonderful things about the show, and it’s pretty cool.
Is it flattering to be the guy that people recognize and don’t know why, or is that irritating?
No, it’s not irritating. That’s actually kind of the career I wanted, where it was like that working-actor character guy who, you know—“I’ve seen this guy in so many things. What’s his name, and where do I know him from?” They can’t really pick it out. And I get that a lot, and that’s kind of, “Okay, I’ve achieved that goal. Now what? What do I want next?” So that’s not annoying at all.