Shooting Star: A Chat with Joey Lawrence

By , Contributor

JSquared Photography

Actor, producer, director, singer and songwriter Joey Lawrence

It was over 30 years ago that a youngster named Joey Lawrence first stepped into the entertainment spotlight and never looked back. Fast-forward to today, where that little boy is all grown up and not only a seasoned actor with dozens of feature film and TV credits to his name, but also a producer, director, and singer/songwriter. Currently, Lawrence is starring alongside Melissa Joan Hart in the hit ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey, on which he also serves as an executive producer. This particular job came about as a result of a prior project that he had worked on with Hart.

“Melissa and I had done a TV movie called My Fake Fiancé,” says Lawrence. “It did really well rating-wise for the network and they wanted to develop a TV series using the two of us. We subsequently shot the pilot for Melissa & Joey, which turned out great. One thing led to another and it got picked up as a series. So that’s how that happened. I didn’t have to audition or anything; this part was developed for me, which was terrific.”

In Melissa & Joey, the actor plays Joe Longo, a former commodities trader searching for a job after having gone bankrupt following a Ponzi scheme. When the niece and nephew of a local politician, Mel Burke (Melissa Joan Hart), lose their parents, they move in with her, but Mel finds it tough juggling her new responsibilities as a parent with her personal and professional lives. The solution to that is Joe, who she hires as the family’s new male nanny. Not surprisingly, this leads to further complications, only of the comedic nature. For Lawrence, starting work on the series was like wading back into familiar waters.

“This was a medium that I hadn’t been a part of for almost ten years,” he explains. “I had done American Dreams and other dramas, so it was not only cool to come back to comedy but also be an executive producer on the show and have a great deal of creative control as opposed to just being an actor for hire.

“So it felt good to at least have a little bit more of an opinion in the outcome of how the actual show turned out on a daily basis. With any TV series it’s a matter of trying to find the right balance. When you’re working with a network there are a number of cooks in the kitchen, so sometimes it can be difficult to bring to fruition exactly what you intended. However, we worked very hard and had a fantastic group of writers. As a result, the network pretty much gave us the freedom to kind of push the limits and have a lot of fun.

“Our show is a lot ‘racier’ than anything that the network execs had allowed on their network before in terms of comedy, but the viewers have continued to show up in droves, which had a great deal to do with why our season two pickup was the largest order that ABC Family and ABC proper had ever given a TV series. We got 30 episodes, which is unheard of for our second pickup. Season two premiered on May 30, and hopefully we’ll be back shooting season three before the end of the year. At least that’s what I hear the plan is as of now, so that’s good.”

While male nannies are not new to TV landscape, Lawrence has tried to make his character somewhat different from other small screen hunky domestics. “Joe is a nice guy,” says Lawrence, “but if a girl asked him if she looked fat in a dress, he’d probably say, ‘Yes, in that dress you do.’ Where most guys would get slapped in the face, there’s something kind of charming about the fact that he would be that honest by saying, ‘Look, I’ve seen dresses that you look so much better in.’ Some other guys would say, ‘No, you look amazing and I love you so much.’ Joe is the type who will ‘hit’ you between the eyes, and I like that sort of irreverent, brutally honest guy’s guy.”

How would the actor describe his character’s relationship with his employer? “It’s a love/hate relationship,” he notes. “I think everyone else knows that Mel and Joe are right for one another, but they don’t. It’s that classic sort of Sam and Diane relationship from [the TV series] Cheers, you know? It’s that in a nutshell. As for how that relationship will grow, it will grow the way these things grow. If we have the time to play it, the two of them will start to feel that connection, although they’ll continue to fight it, which viewers will see coming up in season two. In the third season they’ll go back and forth and in totally opposite directions and then, hopefully, end up somewhere in the middle.”

Having made his professional debut in a Cracker Jack TV commercial, the actor was just five years old when he next appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and sang “Give My Regards to Broadway.” Following guest spots on Diff’rent Strokes and Silver Spoons, he booked the regular role of Joey Donovan on the hit NBC sitcom Gimme a Break! Lawrence worked on that series from 1983 until it ended in 1987. His next big break came a few years later when he was cast in the co-starring role of Joey Russo on another popular NBC sitcom Blossom.

“That was a great time in my life,” enthuses Lawrence. “It was a wonderful six-and-a-half years, and being one of the most popular teens on the planet was very neat. Even when I was involved in the middle of it, I was still able to step back and think, ‘Wow, this is pretty amazing.’ I look fondly back on that time and it was all part of the journey that led to where I am today.”

Run of the House, Half & Half and CSI: NY are among Lawrence’s other TV credits. In 2006 the actor appeared on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and a year later he starred in the Broadway hit Chicago. Besides acting, he also has a love of music. In 1993, Lawrence released his self-titled debut album, which was produced by Terry Lupton, Ian Prince, and Teddy Riley. Lawrence co-wrote several songs on the album, including the international hit single “Nothin’ My Love Can’t Fix.” In 2011 he released the brand new single, “Rolled,” and is currently putting together his third album.

“Music has been a big part of my life and I always try to work on it, even when I’m not being paid to,” he says. “We’re working on a new batch of songs at the moment and also talking about touring, which I’m probably going to do at some point next year.”

In addition to Melissa & Joey, Lawrence has a new Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie coming out in December called Hitched for the Holidays. He recently sold a script to Disney with the producers of Wedding Crashers called Mr. Everything, which the actor will co-produce and star in, and his production company, JL Veritas, is developing a new half-hour musical comedy for the Nickelodeon network. Having worked in the business for most of his life, Lawrence is looking forward to many more years of gainful employment and is grateful for all the opportunities he has had so far in his career.

“It’s been a long haul, and the fact that I’m still able to do this [act] 31 years later feels pretty great to me,” says the actor

Please note, all Melissa & Joey photos copyright of ABC Family, while all shots of Joey Lawrence courtesy/copyright of JSquared Photography..

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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