Lucas Neff knows he's a lucky guy.
A year ago Neff, who grew up in Andersonville, was just starting to do press for his first major TV role—in the Fox sitcom “Raising Hope.” He was new to Hollywood, to the hype, and to working with TV and film veterans such as Cloris Leachman, Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt.
“No matter what direction I turn there’s somebody really talented and awesome standing there,” Neff told me during a recent phone interview. “Yeah, I just kind of get to soak it in and enjoy it. I hope that it continues for at least another eight to 10 years.”
A 10-year run could be tough for the series, which returns at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 20 hoping to increase its audience.
Neff plays Jimmy Chance, the single father of baby Hope who lives with his quirky parents, Virginia and Burt (Plimpton and Dillahunt), and his grandmother, Maw-Maw (Leachman). The Fox comedy had a strong first season creatively, earning two Emmy nominations and critical praise for balancing outlandish comedy with heart-warming moments as the Chance clan strives to do right by Hope and each other.
Expect more wackiness in Season 2 when the family heads to Vegas, deals with a kidnapping and a case of mistaken intentions, all while watching baby Hope begin walking and talking. Neff promises many more misadventures this season.
In Tuesday's premiere, called “Prodigy,” 13-year-old YouTube sensation Greyson Chance will play Jimmy as a 15-year-old in flashback. So we can assume Jimmy was once musically talented?
"Look at you, Nancy Drew," Neff cracked. "It would seem that the evidence is aligning in that way, yes."
When asked if he would sing, Neff laughed and said, "You might hear something." But he is not a singer. "No one else has arrived at that conclusion yet, so I don't think I can either," he joked. "I listen to music. I can tell a good singer when I hear one, but that's probably it."
Before he was hired for the role by show creator Greg Garcia, the graduate of Whitney Young High School and the University of Illinois-Chicago had performed in plays at Collaboraction theater company, Steppenwolf Garage Theatre and Chicago Dramatists. He was considering cleaning houses to make a little cash before he got the call.
Now Neff has a season on a TV show under his belt, and the second is underway. “I haven't once worried about paying rent" since "Raising Hope" received its Season 2 order, he said. Now 25, he lives with actress Kelly O’Sullivan, whom he met in Chicago and moved to L.A. with when he was hired for “Raising Hope.” The two are now engaged.
He’s been enjoying many perks of success this past year. “Gas, I can fill the rest of the tank all the way up, which is great,” he quipped. “I eat regularly, if not too regularly. I bought more socks, which is great because I’m always losing socks. So it’s nice to get some more white ankle socks, real nice. Yeah, I got a Frisbee. That was fun.”
He's also learning more about acting, writing and how to have a good time on the job and not worry about things.
"This job is sort of like if you combine getting a Master's degree with [going to] a water park, you know? I’m learning, learning, slide, splash, fun," he said. "It’s pretty great."
WHAT ELSE CAN WE EXPECT THIS SEASON?
- Richard Dean Anderson will guest star as a man who thinks Jimmy is hitting on his 13-year-old daughter. “MacGyver did an episode, which was a blast,” Neff said. “That was a lot of fun. Those days were pretty cool. I was also a big ‘Stargate’ nerd.”
- Yo Gabba Gabba will appear in the second episode of the season. “Maybe I shouldn’t say that. We have some giant plush monsters on set this year. We’ll say that.”
- We’ve seen Cloris Leachman’s Maw-Maw character mostly in a state of hilarious dementia. But she will be more lucid in flashback scenes this season. “We’re doing a lot of flashbacks. One scene in particular with Cloris is just, I don’t want to say because it’s just so funny. But she’s got some good stuff coming up in Season 2.”
- Hope can walk, which means the twins who play her, Baylie and Rylie Cregut, can too: "They’re running around and ... they’re destroying stuff; it's great ... Mainly you rediscover how much fun stairs are. All they want to do is climb up and down. They get down to the bottom, they turn right around and like, 'Up again!' It’s really cute. Chasing after them I’ve learned to sort of do this nice squat run where I’m like squatting and sort of jogging along side of them to make sure they don’t like tumble head-first into one of the many spikes we lay out somewhere on set. One of the many bear traps that we just sort of leave open and covered with chocolate and peanut butter." (He was joking about the traps. I think.)
NEFF'S FAVE MOMENTS FROM SEASON 1
- "Drakkar Noir. That’s probably No. 1. It was just so ridiculous. It was so much fun to get in that get-up and play something a little different for Jimmy. It’s fun to dress up and play pretend. It’s the same as cops and robbers as a kid. It’s always fun to get to do something sort of wild and outlandish."
- "Frank’s commercial I thought was hilarious in the Howdy’s commercial-off. Creepy Frank’s commercial was one of my favorites."
- "The Alpaca spitting in Burt’s face I really personally enjoyed," he said. When asked if that's because Garret Dillahunt pulls pranks on Neff all the time, he said, "Absolutely. Any time Garrett gets a little slime on him I’m thrilled."
- "Any frame with the baby in it. Any frame of our television show that features Hope’s face I enjoy. That’s a favorite moment."
- "A fifth moment? I guess 'Who the hell moved my vagina?' That’s from the Christmas episode. It’s so wrong but it was just so funny." (That was Maw-Maw's line while looking at her bearded self in the Joseph costume.)
- "I really love all the big cast scenes. All the stuff where we get to Sabrina and Virginia and Burt and just seeing everybody work together is a lot of fun. There are some good actors on this show."