NEW YORK — When Bill Lawrence was developing his new Apple TV+ comedy “Shrinking,” he introduced one character in the pilot script as a “Harrison Ford-type” — but never dreamed he would get the real deal.
Although the showrunner has had comedy success working with big names and executive-producing hits like “Scrubs,” “Cougar Town” and “Ted Lasso,” nabbing a huge movie star like Ford seemed unrealistic. But he decided to take a shot and send Ford the script.
He was gobsmacked when the “Indiana Jones” actor liked the story and eventually agreed to play the part of a tough therapist who works with star Jason Segel in a mental health practice.
“If he had not shown up on set, I would not have been shocked,” Lawrence told the Associated Press in a recent interview. “But he showed up. He’s lovely, he’s inspiring. He’s 80 years old and still challenging himself.”
For “Shrinking” — which starts streaming Friday — Lawrence teamed with Segel and writer Brett Goldstein (also Roy Kent in “Ted Lasso”) to help create and write the show. They had the lofty goal of making a comedy about grief, set it in an office shared by therapists and starring Segel, Ford, Jessica Williams, and Christa Miller.
Segel plays a character whose wife dies suddenly, leaving the father of a teen daughter lost and willing to ignore his ethics to start telling his patients what he really thinks. Ford’s character is a curmudgeonly colleague and mentor who delivers zingers with restrained glee.
Lawrence calls working with Ford a “career highlight,” and says there’s only one downside.
“Everybody’s terrified of â€¦ telling him to do anything,” Lawrence said with a laugh. “But he’s so much fun to work with. Every scene gets ruined — at least one take — by me or one of the actors in the middle of it going ‘It’s Harrison Ford!’ It’s crazy.”
Goldstein â€” who isn’t acting in this show but serves as another executive producer â€” describes Ford as “dream casting” and says they still don’t know how they got him.
“He really loved the scripts and related to a lot of the aspects of the character,” Goldstein said. “We talked to him a lot about character, and it was so easy that â€¦ I feel like I should have had to complete a series of Herculean tasks to get him, you know what I mean?”
Segel appreciated how Ford “breaks through the awe really quickly so that you can get down to work.”
“One of the things that’s really cool about Harrison Ford is that he considers himself a tradesman, like a craftsman. He was a carpenter and now he’s an actor,” Segel said. “His job is to come in and build these scenes and you’re his partner in that.”
Williams — who plays another therapist — shares witty banter with Ford in many scenes and says it was “surreal” to work with the acting legend she watched in movies as a kid. She says it took about a week to remain present and get used to his face staring at her.
“He is delightful, charming, nice, giving. And he’s magic to watch, honestly.” Williams said. “You just watch him do some takes and … he’s got the glimmer in his eye. He’s got the thing. And it’s really inspiring to see someone that’s like over 80 hitting his marks and staying so sharp while also, you know, really caring about the work.”
Goldstein agrees that Ford never made the cast feel like he needed special treatment.
“He’s as wonderful and amazing as ever,” Goldstein said. “But he’s also a very generous actor and he is part of this ensemble. It’s not like he takes over. He fits into this world. He plays the character, he disappears into it. He’s a brilliant actor.”
Williams says working on the show was fun because of the cast chemistry, and the license to ad lib at times to make scenes funnier felt “very fulfilling.”
One of the secrets to a successful show, especially in comedy — according to Lawrence — is if the cast gets along and is friendly, even outside of the show: “We try to put together groups of people that have similar voices and that interact really well,” Lawrence said.
“If you see a lack of chemistry behind the camera, even when the cameras aren’t rolling,” he said, “if it’s a show about a family or a dysfunctional family or people who are supposed to care about each other, it won’t work.”