“Honestly, it has no message and no meaning,” said Jake Johnson, with a laugh, talking to Hey Fandom! about his new Netflix adult animated series Hoops. Johnson described it as the opposite of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in which he provided the voice of the multiverse’s washed-up Spidey alter-ego, Peter B. Parker, a film which means so much to so many.
“I was talking to my wife about it earlier, I think both are valuable. And I think in entertainment, having something that could reach and inspire, and help people, is awesome. And then I also think a quarter pounder with cheese is awesome. It’s really not great for you, and there’s really nothing to brag about. You just kind of eat it in the dark. And Hoops feels like one of those shows for me where it was really fun to do, and I hope people get a lot of laughs — and that’s good too.”
In Hoops, Johnson plays a crude, irredeemable, foul-mouthed high-school basketball coach who is hellbent on taking his talentless team into the big leagues for his own selfish reasons. So where did the idea come from? It was created by Ben Hoffman, a friend of Johnson’s.
“He honed in on this joke of what makes this show funny,” Johnson told Hey Fandom! “Then we did a pilot presentation four years ago, where he’s a vulgar, kind of funny, self-deprecating little man, the coach who I play, and we wanted to put him in front of a bunch of kids and see what happened. And so, Hoops was born.”
Bouncing Off Other Actors
Johnson pushed for an executive producer credit on the series, and that was mainly because – as evidenced working with Shameik Moore in Spider-Verse – he prefers to voice record in the same room as the other actors on animated projects. He wanted to make sure that could happen on Hoops.
“As an EP, what I could really push for is, in the booth, I wanted to record with other actors,” he explained. “Rather than record alone, it was really important to me to do it with as many people as we could and to be able to improvise, and to get loose, and to have a big say in who was cast. So who I get to act with means a lot to me — and how I get to act means a lot to me.”
For Johnson, bouncing off other actors in the room brings a different dynamic to animation – and makes the whole thing a more enjoyable process.
“it’s so much fun to work with another actor, and me personally as an actor, if I’m just reading the lines, I’m fine,” he said. “But if I can act opposite somebody and feel their energy and bounce off it, I feel like I’m way better and I like to make other people better. I like when somebody’s really funny in a scene. I don’t have that ego thing where I have to be the funny one. So if I can set somebody up — Cleo King, for example, who plays the principal. I think she is hard funny in this show. And I always wanted to be at her recordings because I wanted to see her go off. She calls it ‘letting it rip’. I would always say, ‘Cleo let that rip go’ because when she got going, not only is it funny for me as the first audience member, but then I [also] get to improvise and respond to her. So, in the pilot, there’s this whole run about Denzel Washington and what she would like Denzel to do to her. All of that was improvised. The scene was over. And then she just starts going and she and I are fighting and she’s saying this stuff that is disgusting and hard funny. That for me is one of the main reasons I do it. I like to act with actors.”
Bringing in the New Girl Cast
Often, they’re actors that he already knows, which explains why several of his former New Girl castmates are also involved in Hoops, which includes guest appearances by Max Greenfield, Damon Wayans Jr. and Hannah Simone.
“I like working with the same people over and over if I can,” he said. “Chemistry really matters to me. There are certain actors who are unbelievably talented. And then you get on set with them or you’re in the booth with them and there’s nothing there. It’s the same as being on a date where, on paper, this should work, but it’s just not there between us. And so when I know it’s there, between me and somebody else, if they’re near a role, I always push for the people that I know. So for Damon Wayans Jr’s role, there was a part for a guy who was my rival, who could beat me at everything, who was a better coach than me, who my dad liked more than me. So, for me, I’m like, Damon would be really funny, as well as Damon and I both really know Rob Riggle [who is also in the series] because we all did Let’s Be Cops together, and the three of us ended up hanging out all the time. So I know the bits that we could all do if we’re in the booth together … we already naturally know where to go without having to explain anything so we can start improvising right away and goofing around.”
Hoops premieres August 21, 2020 on Netflix.
Click here to see what Jake Johnson told us about the Into the Spider-Verse sequel, Jurassic World: Dominion, and Stumptown. You can watch our full Hey Fandom! conversation with Jake below.