Famed character actor Stephen Root’s newest project, the Freeform animated series Praise Petey, is very much a comedy. However, the actor has moved back and forth quite a bit between genres, though as he tells it, “it’s not so much a difference between comedy and drama. It’s a different take on good writing. I’ll always go back to that, and I’ll always go back to how much we support the writer’s strike because we’re standing there with our mouths hanging open without writers. And not electronic writers, real writers with real human emotions.”
Speaking to Consequence prior to the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike, Root explains that when it comes to taking on new projects, “it’s not about so much the drama or comedy as it is about a piece of human condition that you’re interested in hearing about, and something that makes you interested in the character, which is the whole reason to do it. If you’re not interested in what this character’s going to do, you’re gonna turn off the show. So it’s more about if the story is interesting enough and are the characters interesting enough — whether it’s drama or comedy, or a nice mix like you have in many shows these days.”
Praise Petey focuses on the titular Petey (Annie Murphy), a New York City gal whose life gets upended when her father (Root) dies and she finds out that her inheritance includes a small Southern town… where her father had successfully created a cult that now looks to Petey for leadership.
“Rarely do I get to do something as well-written as, say, King of the Hill or something like that,” says Root, adding that “at this point in my life, writing is everything and the writing is great on this show. That’s what attracted me to it, when they said ‘Would you be interested in doing this guy?'”
He also said yes because of the cast: “I’m a huge fan of everybody that’s been in the show — Annie Murphy is one, John Cho is so funny. Amy Hill, who I worked with on King of the Hill, is so funny. Paget Brewster, everything that comes out of her mouth is funny.”
Because Petey’s father is dead as the series begins, Root’s character doesn’t have many scenes with the rest of the cast, mostly appearing in the form of taped messages to his daughter, guiding her through the particulars of running a cult. “I don’t mind the fact that I don’t necessarily get to interact with most of the people on the show,” says Root, “but I do intrinsically, just being there and saying what I have to say. So it’s okay. Plus I get to see ’em at table reads.”