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Exclusive Interview with Liv and Maddie’s Joey Bragg

You might think Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie is about a set of twins getting through high school. And Joey Bragg is okay with that. He knows that in the hearts of the fans, he’s number one.

Photo Credit: Isaac Sterling
Photo Credit: Isaac Sterling

In reality, Bragg loves his co-stars and the work they do together. The Rooney bunch is as loving, silly and close off-screen as they are on-screen. But the Rooney’s aren’t just the family of six that audiences see on-screen. Team Rooney is made up of scores of writers, directors, producers and more. They support each other’s work and ambitions.

I had the chance to chat with Joey over the phone about Liv and Maddie‘s most recent reveal, what he’s looking forward to in season four and what’s next for him once the show ends.

Last Sunday we saw “Choose-A-Rooney” and we know that Maddie chose Diggie over Josh.

Yeah, right, isn’t that sucky. (laughs)

So we know how you feel about it, I assume you picked Josh’s side.

Oh yeah, I wanted Josh. I was a Mosh fan.

But Joey, the character, I think he was a Diggie fan don’t you?

Yeah, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to play. Honestly. (laughs). That was something that was really difficult for me every day of filming.

How so?

Just to leave Josh, who’s Lucas [Adams], and go hug Ryan [McCartan]. It was bittersweet because that’s the end of Josh’s character, and maybe the end of Diggie, I don’t know.

The end of Josh’s character…hang on, I’ve seen some pictures where he’s back on set, so I think you might be trying to pull my leg here.

He may or may not come back in an episode of season 4, as my best friend. And we may or may not shoot an action movie. But I’m not saying any of that. That is all speculation, wink wink, hint hint. 

In the upcoming episode, Friend-A-Rooney, it looks like Joey’s going to be helping Josh get his confidence back a bit. Is that going to change any dynamics on set? I mean, Joey and Diggie, they’re Jiggie! They’re a bromance!

Yeah! We had a bromance. I think that a bromance is a very strong relationship you can have with somebody. But about the fourth time they leave for Australia or Tundrabania, and come back, and then leave again and come back…I think the trust gets a little bit depleted every time you leave and come back. So I don’t know, maybe Joey’s looking for something a little bit more concrete, maybe something he doesn’t have to wait for.

So what are you most excited for in season four?

Oh, I think the episode that I just filmed is probably going to be the one I’m most excited for. Josh may or may not come back. (laughs). If you’ve seen the ad for this next episode, I don’t know if it’s revealed, I play Jax Von Hapsburg.

Yeah, it looks pretty funny!

Oh yeah. Well, Jax Von Hapsburg makes a triumphant return with his best friend Max Van Pluto, who is Josh’s character. Me and Lucas are best friends in real life, and we get to legitimately just pretend to be in an action movie, which we legitimately do in our spare time anyway. So, we’re pretty great at it and it’s pretty enjoyable for both of us.

Can we expect a spin-off show on that? I kind of want one now.

I mean, I want one too but it’s not really up to me nor you. I think if we were to get a Jax Von Hapsburg/Max Van Pluto spin-off, I think it would be on a network like FX or AMC, because I want it to get action-y. So I’m going to give the head of AMC a call and see what he wants to do with it, and I’ll touch base with you!

Now, I’m curious, how much of Joey Rooney is actually Joey Bragg? How much of a character are you playing?

I always say that it’s like an exaggerated version of myself, Joey Rooney. Over four seasons, we’ve just kind of blended into a beautiful mix of the both of us. (laughs). So much has bled over. Because, initially in the originally Liv and Maddie pilot, it was a pilot called Bits and Pieces. I played a character named Sticky. It was the first thing where I’ve ever gotten a bigger character, that was like a part of the family instead of just the friend or the goofy, comic relief. And it was just kind of perfect. It was very similar to me and I played it, and I booked it and we did the pilot. And then when Liv and Maddie came up, the character was just everything that wasn’t like me, like the nerdy awkward…I always say I’m more, and the show would’ve described it as, confidently awkward. (laughs). Which is like, I’m not embarrassed of my awkwardness, I just kind of embrace it. And I think that changed from my original character of Sticky to Joey, which I really liked. Because then I get to play it like I would play any real situation. But I mean, the love of cats bled over into Liv and Maddie obviously. That’s all my character talks about and that’s all I talk about in real life too.

All those cat shirts, do you really have those?

Oh yeah, ohhh yeah. That was not something the writers came up with, that was something they were forced to do when I came to work in cat shirts every day.

You’ve been playing this character now, for four seasons. I know once you get into a character you get to know him, how do you keep Joey Rooney fresh and growing, for yourself and for viewers?

Well, I think if you watch the show, a lot of the characters, especially Parker does a lot of growing up. In the fourth season, he’s pretty much a high schooler at this point, so he gets to really, kind of physically grow up as a character. But I think with Joey Rooney, it’s a lot of things that, over the course of the show, if it happened to someone in real life, it would force them to grow up really quickly. Like being humiliated in front of the entire school because his rocket chair crashed, or going on countless dates that never ever end up well. I think by the end of this fourth season you get to see…I embrace the more awkwardness, and I don’t try to mask it as much with Joey Rooney.

In the fourth season especially, I don’t stray away from doing the embarrassing – filming an action movie or getting in a chair with balloons to see Andy Grammer. It gets more outrageous because the surprises have to be bigger and bigger. So I think that I grow in the fact that I don’t hide as much from doing the crazy things. I do the crazy thing and just hope it works out. Especially this fourth season. First episode, fourth season, there’s a pretty crazy thing that you will go “That’s not going to work” and then it works, and then it runs for about ten episodes. 

Outside of Joey, who’s your favorite character on the show and why?

I think probably Parker, just because you get to see, especially in the fourth season…it’s so hard to talk to someone who hasn’t seen or known anything that’s happened in the fourth season. Because it’s just so different, it’s like a different show. He gets to go from the diabolical little brother that you kind of see at karate class sometimes, to now he is the one at the school and he’s the one trying to be cool and wants the girl, and it’s just kind of come full circle. He’s taken my place as the awkward kid at school that wants a girlfriend, or maybe doesn’t know if he wants a girlfriend, but wants to fix his problems. I just think he has some great character development, that really really lent for an exciting character during the fourth season. It’s a kid everyone can relate to, and he plays it so well, that I think you’ll have a hard time not relating to it.

Good, I’m excited!

Yeah, it’s funny. It really is. He’s adorable too. I love him.

My favorite thing with Parker is his literal growth spurt. In “Scoop-A-Rooney,” Carter Hastings came back and Parker is now twice his size. He has shot up like a foot and a half.

Right? Isn’t it insane? And his jaw line. His jaw line is so, so sharp. He looks like a little superhero man.

And you literally got to watch it happen.

Yeah! Even when we were on hiatus I got to sit by his cryogenic re-freezing chamber and physically watch him grow, like a time-lapse.

You guys have had some pretty impressive guest stars on the show, from all walks of life. You had Patty Duke, Erik Estrada is coming up, you had Dwight Howard, how has your experience with Disney and those stars, shaped you as an actor?

Liv and Maddie has been the biggest job I’ve ever had, acting-wise, and I’ve learned so much, not even from the guest stars. We’ve had great guest stars, but also the writers of our show, and the show-runners, and the producers, and the directors we have. There’s just a certain energy that we have on set. Everybody says, “Not every set is like this, this is probably the best that you’ll ever work on” just to let us know that it’s all downhill from here. (laughs). But, so much of the writers offer so much help, because I want to be a writer when I’m done with this, and there’s just so many shows where you couldn’t go from being an actor on a show to the writers room and having them read your pilot. There’s just such a camaraderie on our set, I feel like everybody does their part to help everybody out as much as they can. And I feel like that’s why we’re so successful, and that’s why the ball is still rolling. We all honestly love where we work and love who we work with that it’s such a positive energy that I feel. That’s the best part of it.

You’ve been with Audrey Whitby for three years in July, what kind of influence has she had on you?

Oh, all. Every influence. I could not…I would not be anywhere if I wasn’t with her. It’s so easy to get into such a good place in this business, and just feel content and wait for the next thing to come, and have the show wrap and hope that you get another pilot or hope you book a movie that then makes your career the best. If you think of it that way, it’s a pipe dream. With her, she’s so motivated, and knows what she wants and feels like it’s inevitable, she has such a drive that I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t with her. Like I wake up in the morning and think “I should write” and then I get up and have trouble motivating myself because it’s my day off. But then she’s the one saying “No you should write, you’ll feel so much better about yourself if you write” and then I do and I do feel so much better about myself.

She wrote this pilot with me, and we finished, and even if nothing happens to anything we’ve created, it’s still such good practice and such good motivation to know that there is someone else there with me 100 percent of the day and still believes in me. Because you can fool yourself that it’s just you sometimes. But it feels so much better when there’s someone else also cheering you on.

That’s so sweet. So you guys wrote a pilot, are we going to potentially see that? Are you pitching it to people? Because that’s a great duo.

It’s really early. (laughs). Like a really, really early project that we’re working on. There’s some other stuff in the pipeline, like she booked a show right now so it’ll probably be postponed until she’s done with her show. But, it would be the perfect thing for us. It’s a pilot about our lives, which would write itself if we really needed it to. It’s too long right now, I need to cut it down. It’s just one of those things, it would be great. I think me and her on a show about what would happen if your high school sweetheart, the one you always thought you were going to end up with, was actually the one you end up with and you just started your lives together really early, in a world where everybody’s jaded and over it…I think it’s a fun little aspect of this career that we’ve chosen, and a very unique point of view.

So that sounds more in the far off future, what do you think is next for you in the near future, after Liv and Maddie? A return to stand up?

I still do stand up a little. I just filmed a stand up special for this show called Uproarious for Fuse. I want to get into that more. It’s kind of hard to do more stand up when I’m filming the show, just because I never know where I’m going to be and I’ve got to do so many meetings at night, so it’s kind of put on the back burner. Not completely, like I still go out as much as I can, it’s just not nearly as much as I would like to if I wasn’t working. So yeah! I think once Liv and Maddie is over I’ll dive back into that, trying the more creative aspect of it all, who knows. I never know what’s going to come up. I could book the next Star Wars and then I could work that for forever, you just kind of have no idea in this business. As an actor, you’re always looking for a job, no matter what you’re working on or how much money you have in the bank.

Well, that’s not terrifying at all.

(laughs). No, not at all! That’s why I’m not the kind of person to sit around and wait for a job to fall in my lap. I’ve got to feel like I’m working toward something. So that’s why I’m writing a pilot or writing a movie, I’m just trying to feel like I’m working toward my goal.

What are you going to miss most about Liv and Maddie when it ends?

The people. We spent four years, locked inside of a giant windowless box, with the same people. You really get to know them and I love every single person I work with. When they say that it’s a family, like every sitcom says, “Oh, we’re a family,” but they’re liars. They’re not really a family, they just say that for ratings. But we are legitimately a family. (laughs). Seriously, we just connect with each other. Even on hiatuses, we hang out and go play soccer. I woke up at five in the morning to drive to Agoura Hills, where Tenzing lives, to play soccer with him in the morning. I wouldn’t do that for any of my friends or any of my real family. But he wanted me to do that, and he can’t drive, so I did that. And that’s something that I really cherish, knowing he would do the same for me if the roles were reversed. That’s something that you don’t find that often. 

Last question, can you give me a piece of 100 percent genuine Joey Bragg wisdom?

I have two mottos that I live by. My dad said to me when I was a little kid, “you can get anywhere with confidence and a clipboard.” And that was just a stupid thing, and he probably didn’t think twice about it. But it really meant a lot to me, because you realize that it’s you. Just carry yourself with confidence and you don’t second guess yourself and other people won’t second guess you either.

Another thing he said was “nobody can tell the difference between fake confidence and real confidence.” (laughs). That also stuck with me because most of my confidence, at least in the earlier part of my life was completely feigned. But nobody knew, so they were just like “look at Joey, that confident little fat, Jewish kid!” And now…(laughs)

Confidence, as you give yourself degrading comments!

Yeah, exactly! (laughs) But that really stuck with me, because confidence is something that, I feel, as long as you’re confident about what you do, or confident that you are putting out a good product, I think that’s really all it takes. Even watching TV or listening to the radio, you’ll go “that song sucks” or “the writing in this is lazy” or the show doesn’t have a good story arc. But, most of the time, those people that got there aren’t any better than you at writing, they’re just more confident. They just waited a long time. I think that confidence plays a bigger role in a lot of things than a lot of people give it credit for.

 

Liv and Maddie‘s newest episode, “Friend-A-Rooney” airs Sunday, May 22nd at 9 p.m. Season four is set to premiere in 2016.

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