By now you’ve met Claire and Jake and their houseguest Cooper James. Jake (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Claire (Amber Stevens West) were just having a normal life when Jake’s client, rock star Cooper James (Felix Mallard) needed a place to stay. Now he’s turned their world upside down.
They’re all still Happy Together though, in the CBS sitcom of the same name. We spoke with Stevens West over the summer, in mid-pregnancy, about her latest sitcom, and the legacy of her previous role on The Carmichael Show. Happy Together airs Monday nights on CBS.
Do you have new respect for all of the sitcom actors who’ve hidden pregnancies on their shoes?
Amber Stevens West: “Absolutely. It’s a strange thing to have to think about. You’re trying to remember your lines and your blocking and all that stuff, but you also have to remember you’re working your angles and make sure you hold the folder hiding things appropriately. It’s been an interesting ride, but I like it. It’s fun and I’m glad it’s not forever.”
Is it a relief to not have to be dealing with heavy themes and issues in every episode like The Carmichael Show?
Amber Stevens West: “I don’t know that I feel like it’s a relief because I genuinely did love doing that. I loved talking about those subjects and I thought that that show was really smart, but it was hard to keep up with. Those writers worked really hard into late nights to really try to figure out what the voice was of every character. It was a difficult show in that sense but worth every struggle.
This is a much lighter environment which is kind of nice too because in real life I turn on the news every single day and I watch what’s happening in the world and I get stressed out. So, it’s nice that we have a departure from that and we can just watch this couple have a lovely relationship with each other and get into funny situations together and play with each other. It’s nice timing for me, being pregnant and being in that environment has been really positive.”
If you had to have a rock star living in your attic, who would it be?
Amber Stevens West: “Do I have to have a rock star in my attic? Oh, goodness. My first choice is no one lives in my attic because I don’t want anyone at my house. I’m such a hostess that I feel like anyone aside from immediate family, I have to entertain at all times. So, I would never be at ease having anybody in my house, even if it’s like my very best friend.
In a hypothetical way, I would love to have Emma Stone. She can live there. She seems fun. Oh, you said rock star. I was just thinking famous person. Let’s say Rihanna. I think she’s probably got a really glamorous, fun lifestyle and I would love to see what she’s up to all the time, and I could borrow her clothes.”
What was it like to go from being the young couple on Carmichael to playing the older couple who stay in and go to bed early?
Amber Stevens West: “It’s refreshing. The pressure is off to be so cool. I’m done with that. Actually, that was one of my favorite things about the script when I read it when it was sent over. It was so nice to just be normal and just be myself and not have to try to live up to whatever other people think, like a box that I’m supposed to fit in, because I’ve played that a lot. And that can be fun, too, but it’s nice to play my age, and honestly, I relate a lot to this character. I’m also only three and a half years into my marriage, and I still am obsessed and have so much fun with my husband, who is my best friend, and we’re really stupid and goofy together, and I get to do all that stuff on this show. So, I was relieved to get to just loosen it up a little and not have to be perfect.”
Do you ever have that in real life when you’re around young Hollywood types who want to party?
Amber Stevens West: “I do feel old. Yes. I was saying this earlier. I thought I was still young and cool until I met Felix, and then I realized, no. I’m old now, and I don’t know what’s going on and what’s cool anymore, what music is interesting and what videos you’re supposed to be watching on the Internet. But it’s fun. In real life I feel like I get to stay a little bit current and young because I get to hang out with Felix all day. I also relate to that. The voicemail thing I grew up with. My family’s land line, we had jingles. My dad wrote jingles, and my sister and I sang them. So, I relate on so many levels.”
Do Claire and Jake have a healthy relationship?
Amber Stevens West: “Well, I think what’s most refreshing about it is they are a couple that truly loves each other and get along, and they are like best friends. So they are very silly and weird together and enjoy all the same things and have a lot of fun memories to share because they’ve been together since college, and I think that there’s a lot of people out there who can relate to that, that met their partner when they were young and still enjoy each other’s company and then have a lot of fun together.”
What does Claire do besides love her husband and play with the human Labrador?
Amber Stevens West: “She is a designer. She designs restaurants and bars. So, she does have a career, which is nice too. It’s a working household, two people who work, and both contribute to the household. So, yeah, I guess I relate to her on that level too. My husband and I both work, and it’s fun.”
How does Cooper fit into this family?
Amber Stevens West: “The joke is that he’s like a human Labrador retriever, so it’s like having just a sweet, sweet puppy in your house and just makes you happy and smile every day, so he’s a great roommate.”
If your child wants to go into acting will you let them?
Amber Stevens West: “Oh, honestly, I’ve always had a really, really wonderful experience being an actor. I’ve never been caught up in any of the dark side of things that people talk about, and the drama. I’ve worked in a lot of television with a lot of really happy, fun people and grateful people so it would be hard for me to say, ‘Don’t go into this business.’ I think in the same way, my father did the same thing because his experience was really positive. So, they encouraged me to just go after it and see what happens. I would like for her to do something else, but hey, both her parents are actors, so we’ll see.”
If The Carmichael Show were still on, could you imagine what you’d be talking about?
Amber Stevens West: “Oh my God, every single day there’s something new to talk about. Honestly, what was great about that show though is that we wanted it to be an evergreen show. It never totally did the topic of the week because we filmed a month ahead of time before it was airing. So, we couldn’t be so on the hot topic of what’s going on. I’m sure we would have talked a little bit about North Korea or something. I’m sure that would come up.”
And #MeToo happened since Carmichael?
Amber Stevens West: “Oh yes, absolutely. That kind of stuff was already addressed a little bit. That show could have totally still been on, but they’re off making Rel so I’m excited for them.”