For Lucas Neff, who plays a clueless but well-meaning young dad on Fox's Raising Hope, life changed practically in the blink of an eye. One moment, he was scrubbing toilets to eke out a living. The next, he's a TV star. "About a year before Raising Hope, I was in rehearsals for a play for which I was being paid $500 total for three months' work," Neff recalls. "So I was taking up cleaning houses as a side gig." Life is a lot sweeter now as Jimmy Chance on a white-trash sitcom that somehow manages to be consistently endearing. "When you're elbow-deep in someone else's toilet," Neff says, "it's hard not to go upwards from there. It's been an incredible, magic carpet ride." Raising Hope airs at 8 p.m. CT Tuesdays.
How much experience before this show did you have handling or mishandling a baby?
"I would say I have, before this show, pretty much zero experience. I'm a lot like Jimmy. I'm learning everything on the fly. Of course, unlike Jimmy, I've got the parents of the babies there, on set, the whole time. There's a crew of people also there to ensure the safety of the babies. There's actually a surprising amount of people on set who are either recent parents or about to become parents. So there's a real familial vibe to the set. Everybody has advice and there's a real affection and concern for the babies, 24/7."
What are some of the bigger challenges involved in acting with babies?
"There's been a fair amount of vomit on me. One of them, in particular, really likes to break wind mid-scene. It's just unbelievable how loud they are. I mean, unbelievable. This tiny little thing."
Has the experience given you a case of baby fever? Has it made you want to become a real dad?
"I would like to have kids. To be honest, working with the babies has been one of the best parts of this job. I can't wait until I'm established enough in life that that's a safe thing to do. But not any time soon."
What's it like behind the scenes on Raising Hope? Is there a lot of cutting up and laughter?
"There's a fair amount of that. But they're all focused professionals. Garret Dillahunt [who plays Burt, Jimmy's dad] likes to give me charley horses and punch me right before we start scenes. One day Greg Garcia [the show's creator and executive producer] lay in front of a door that I was supposed to try and run through. So I slammed into it. It didn't budge at all. I'm the little brother to the entire set. There's just a lot of ripping on me, pretty much by everyone, all the time."
Do you have a most memorable moment from the show, one that made you think, 'Wow, can you believe I'm actually doing this?"
"There have been a lot of memorable moments. I had one day of only working with Cloris Leachman [who plays Maw Maw, Jimmy's senile grandmother]. It was the episode where she was lying sprawled, dressed only in a nightgown, and I was rubbing moisturizer into her feet while the rest of the crew howled with laughter from another room. That was seared into my memory."
Cloris will do anything for a laugh, won't she? Like running around topless in the pilot episode?
"You do realize that none of that was scripted, right? That's all Cloris. She's fearless, utterly fearless."
What's the most important lesson you have learned from your more-experienced costars?
"One of the main things Martha Plimpton [who plays Virginia, Jimmy's mom] was talking to me about was, in an actor's life, you never 'arrive' anywhere. You never reach a plateau where you're like, 'This is it. I've made it.' You're always mid-journey. You're always beginning another journey and embarking on something new. So the important thing is, since we never know whether it's going to succeed or how people are going to take to it or what's going to happen, just enjoy as much of it as possible. That's the attitude I'm trying to take with this. I'm just having a great time. That's what I'm going to try to do for the whole of it."