Emmys

Eye on Emmy: Danny Pudi on the Art of Abed and Community's Award Hopes: 'We'll Never Give Up'

If you’re the type who adores Community and treasures your collection of past Comic-Con badges, you’ve probably been a fan of Danny Pudi for some time now. The rest of the world may not be as familiar with the 33-year-old Chicago native, but that’s likely to change soon. Three seasons of playing Abed Nadir, the innovative NBC comedy’s emotionally stunted pop culture fiend, has put Pudi at the forefront of the cult hit. And whether or not the Community crew brings home Emmy gold this year, Pudi good-naturedly tells TVLine he’ll continue to enjoy being part of a series “that has such purpose and meaning.”

TVLINE | Abed is one of the most unique characters on TV. How much of Abed is your creation? And how much was creator Dan Harmon’s?
I auditioned for Abed about four times and I was excited about this role because it felt so fresh. I was in a work session early on and [the executive producers] said, ‘Just do whatever you want.’ I remember pulling out some lip balm — not because I thought it would be perfect for Abed, but because I was nervous and needed some comfort [Laughs] — and they went, ‘We love that!’ It felt natural to speak at a clipped, fast pattern, and the more I did it, the more things started to make sense.

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TVLINE | Was there anything you attempted to do but decided it wasn’t ‘Abed’ enough?
The first time Abed was trying to connect with the group, the monologue had him breaking down about his DVD collection melting in the sun… I was actually crying in the scene and having an outwardly emotional display. We never used that [take]… and I’m glad we didn’t. It was more fun for us to play with the idea of him being vague and introspective.

TVLINE | One of the great things about Abed is that he often gets to break character and play someone vastly different. Do you relish those moments?
I do look forward to them, because he gets to act out things that may not be part of his nature — like [when he was Star Wars‘] Han Solo. At the same time, the hard part is riding that line where it’s still Abed being Han Solo. Abed doesn’t just take on characters; it’s usually for a reason… Those weeks on set I’m pretty nervous because I really want to perfect it and make sure I’m not just doing a goofy impersonation. I want to make sure it’s Abed being the best Han Solo he can be. [Laughs]

TVLINE | Sounds like a lot of work.
The responsibility of getting a Dan Harmon script that is so rich and full of good stuff requires all the focus you have even if just for a little moment, like when Abed had to be [Mad Men’s] Don Draper in Season 1. Between every take, I was behind a wall with my tape recorder listening to Don Draper’s voice and making sure that I was in that mode.

TVLINE | This was a heavier, darker season for you in that it delved into Abed’s version of emotions.
It was heavier. This the first time Abed’s made these types of close-knit relationships, and this season we really explored what it would be like if you pulled that away from him or shook it up. Maybe he’s not changing, but you can see that he’s still very affected by what’s going on around him.

TVLINE | Talk a little about how the Abed-Troy bromance developed.
Initially [the producers] saw Troy and [Chevy Chase’s] Pierce as being weird buddies, but things changed. Donald [Glover, who plays Troy] and I just got each other and it fit. [The Season 1 episode-ending rap] “La Biblioteca” spawned from an interview the two of us did. Dan Harmon saw it, spun it into a Spanish rap and put it at the end of the show. From then on we were doing a tag at the end of every episode — which was awesome because my secret desire to be on Saturday Night Live as a kid is fulfilled in 30-second spots each week. We get to have our own sketch show, almost.

RELATED | Community Shake-Up: Dan Harmon Replaced as Showrunner

TVLINE | While always a critical darling, Community has never garnered much love during awards season. That said, are you all still optimistic?
Do I think we deserve some Emmys? Of course! [Laughs] This show deserves a ton of Emmys. Will it get them? I don’t know. We’ll never give up, but we’re very much aware that we might not get acknowledged – and that’s OK. Still, I’ll be really happy if we do.

This story first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season including deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.