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Exclusive: Tim Allen is The Last Man Standing on FOX, talks Baxter and ‘doing the best he can’

Tim Allen's Mike Baxter is back in a big way on FOX and the 7th season of Last Man Standing
Tim Allen’s Mike Baxter is back in a big way on FOX with the 7th season of Last Man Standing.  Pic credit: Tim Allen

Tim Allen’s popular series, Last Man Standing, has moved from ABC to FOX and debuts Friday night. The series took a year off as the switcheroo from ABC to FOX was finalized, and fans who voiced their displeasure at the initial cancellation were already treated to a free preview of the first episode via a Twitter screening that was offered for the loyal viewership.

A veteran comic, bestselling book author, and actor, Allen excels at playing the patriarch, the jovial cut-up, and the misunderstood everyman. His voice has forever been cemented in our minds as the iconic Pixar character, Buzz Lightyear, a role he is reprising in Disney’s “Toy Story 4” set for release in 2019. He is constantly touring the country performing stand up as well.

Most fans fell in love with his character, “Tim the tool man,” on the hugely successful sitcom, Home Improvement. For the show, Tim earned a Golden Globe Award, an Emmy nomination, and he was honored with the People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Male Performer in a Television Series” for eight years in a row.

His popularity leaped from TV to film easily, with hit films like The Santa Clause, Toy Story, Jungle 2 Jungle, For Richer or Poorer, Toy Story 2, Galaxy Quest, Big Trouble, Wild Hogs, Christmas with the Kranks and many more.

We spoke to Allen this week ahead of the big premiere to talk about what is on his mind and how he interprets Mike Baxter, his character on Last Man Standing.

Monsters and Critics: You pick great TV wives. Nancy Travis, when did she first come on your radar as an actor?

Nancy Travis is Vanessa, Baxter's pun-loving wife Pic credit: FOX
Nancy Travis is Vanessa, Baxter’s pun-loving wife. Pic credit: FOX

Tim Allen: Internal Affairs with Andy Garcia and she played Andy Garcia’s wife. It was terribly violent and adult themed. I joke with her because I happen to know Andy Garcia and remembered that movie. There were dramatic scenes between the two of them and I asked her, “How do you get to those places?”

It was funny when she first came in to read I thought [that] her skill set was too much for us.  I don’t want to say too good for us because the show is wonderful, but it just like wow. You got somebody with a lot of skillset. But on the other hand Pat Richardson in Home Improvement, I felt the same way [about her].

She was a really skilled actor, same as Nancy and comedy is just another part of a real actor’s range. To them, it’s just another emotion. To me, of course, it’s the centerpiece of what I do so I, the serious stuff is very challenging for me.

M&C: At the recent TCAs and right out of the gate, you were hit over the head with the Trump question. You basically replied to the very first question that Baxter was a Centrist and whatever was good for his business was good for the state of Colorado and any policies that he does, he’s going to go with it. How did you feel that day?

Tim Allen: You know what? It’s kind of life imitates art. I’ve said this several times. What I think, Tim Allen, my speculation is of very little use to anybody because it’s speculation.

It’s like a fortune teller and I’m a comedian. If you’re asking me to make jokes it takes me awhile to come up with some stuff and right now it’s a very volatile … it’s uncomfortable making jokes if people go ‘oh, that’s just out of,’ no, that’s not funny because sometimes it’s too soon.

And that word ‘too soon’ used to be a nomenclature, every comic said, “Oh, too soon?” But that’s our job. That’s what we do. That’s what I love to do is make jokes.

Right now, they’re interviewing us about characters we play and the characters we play are really the dominion of the writers. I’ve told several interviewers, “you’re interviewing me as though I’m Mike Baxter.”

It gets into this weird, surreal world. You don’t interview Bryan Cranston as a meth dealer as though he [his Breaking Bad character] knows about the drug business. It’s very difficult and I said, my personal stuff, if you’re asking me about it it’s going to come off and I’m going to end up swearing or doing my Vegas [act].

I tour, I’ve been doing comedy for 30 years and I highlight differences between behavior. That’s what I like to do. I’m observational humor but I love the way people say one thing, do another. Our parents, or being raised by strong women and what it was always like to be [talking about], about men and women. I’ve always, that’s really been my focal point. Sometimes it’s political because the sexes are literally a microcosm or a macrocosm of political parties.

The way women think and the way men think.

It’s unbelievable that there are moments and we get together for a lot of different reasons… but that’s where my comedy is. When I get up there and people ask … I get, sometimes [and] this stuff is funny only around comedians because we can’t say it to the public, because the public right now is too tender and too divided.

My very, very close liberal friends. we have a great time with it because we love each other and finally moved on.  And somebody says, “You take this too lightly.” Because it is lightly. As I said in one of the episodes, the character says to Jordan Matheson, Ryan’s character, I said, “Sometimes it’s your guy, sometimes it’s other people’s guy.”

Whether this guy voted for Trump or not is really of no consequence. Whoever is going to help his [Mike Baxter] family. It’s just like I said when people asked me.

[Right now] I’m personally trying to plant trees around Los Angeles. Nothing the President’s doing is helping or hurting that. What’s hurting that is local paperwork in a state that’s really run by Progressives. I don’t know what it is about the environmental stuff. I’m trying to plant trees and it’s just been a nightmare.

I look at the homeless population downtown [Los Angeles], and doing what I can to engage it.  I don’t want to be a mouthpiece. What can I actually do?

It’s a complicated process just like politics. I love the word resistance,  it sounds like something in Vietnam or something when people … [that] they’re part of the resistance. I want to make a joke… but these people are taking it very seriously.

The difference is that Mike Baxter, they’re able to filter it through a group of liberal writers and some conservatively bent writers to get a statement that it’s not neutral.  We do not want the guy neutral. He [Baxter] has a point of view but it is an educated point of view. It’s not like Archie Bunker…although I used that analogy a lot.

It’s like Archie Bunker that went to U of M and has a degree in marketing. So he’s [Baxter] bright. He’s traveled the world.

There’s nothing more dangerous than an educated centrist or conservative who makes sense.

That’s why I think if there’s any blowback [it is because] sometimes the stuff he says makes sense.

M&C: Dovetailing off what you just said. Is it a dangerous time to be a comedian and speak your mind?

Tim Allen: Yes, other than Will Rogers, a political satirist, comedy’s never really been about politics.

It’s deeper than that. It’s about emotional responses to things. The guys that I like anyway.

My dream comedian has always been Richard Pryor. He never did stuff about politics but it was about the undercurrent of human behavior. That’s all this is and how stupid it is. That’s what comics do. When we venture into the politics it gets personal because then it’s this person opinion. I exaggerate to clarify.

I tell my kids all the time, you don’t have five aunts. No, I exaggerate. I’m combining aunts that I’ve had and mother-in-laws into different characters to highlight … I’m exaggerating. There’s no women in my life that shoot guns at me. I mean, I’ve come up with these bits that I have tough women in my life. I’ve had women that I did not understand. Grandmas and aunts that loved but it exaggerate. When you start exaggerating politics … I’ve said, right now that the, somebody wrote it and I agree. Comedy is about a surprise. There’s no surprise in comedy right now.

You know what you’re going to get constantly on late night shows. That’s it. It’s going to be couched humor or it’s going to be outright snarkiness, whatever it is, but it’s not a surprise. I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it. It’s just not interesting. I think of the guys that I like. I mean, Eddie Izzard did some political stuff…about what the Soviet Union and the British did when they planted flags in the ground.

He said, “That was a time when you just planted a flag and that whole area now becomes England.” And the local populations go, “We should get a flag.” I love that. It’s a big, huge view and sometimes it sounds like we don’t care. Yes, we care, of course. But this moves on.

We’re stuck right here. People are stuck. This will go away. It was one Superbowl. We’ll move on. You do something else. Some people that didn’t like it, [they say] “No, this is worse than it’s ever been.” It’s only worse than it’s ever been because you’re saying it is.

It isn’t worse than it’s ever been. It isn’t a Constitutional crisis or whatever people … or at least I don’t think so. It’s still not affecting the local homeless in my community, it’s not fixing the streets here. None of that stuff’s helping. I’m paying more taxes than I did last year so it certainly isn’t this the rich are getting richer thing. It’s not my experience.

There’s practical things that I could still make jokes about, men and woman, but right now that is a really weird firewall. Women say things privately that they wouldn’t ever agree with publicly. The women that I’m around are very accomplished, strong, powerful people.

The sexual assault, there’s nothing funny about it. There’s nothing interesting about it. There’s nothing about it that is defensible. Nothing. The way men and women respond to each other has always been some sort of a dynamic battle.

M&C: Baxter’s relationship with Boyd. How that’s kind of growing, and you’re not just the last man standing. You’re last man standing with a sidekick, it seems. Talk about that if you would.

Tim Allen: The previous [actor who played] Boyd wanted to stay in school. This is not where he wanted to be. When they said they aged him up a couple years and now this is Baxter who’s never really had a boy. He’s literally invested heavily in his girls and they’re … [and] having girls myself, they’re a blessing of every kind for a man to raise daughters I believe.

I miss having a boy…because of the daughters basically for a while all I am is a locating beam for [their] mom. It’s generally, “Where’s Mom?” They see me, “Where’s Mom?”

With a boy it’s, they hang with you and they like to do what you’re doing. I’ve never had that and I came from all boys but I didn’t have my father for quite a while. So I kind of have an emotional gap in me for that sort of thing.

It’s kind of fun for me, Tim Allen, to play that and have a little surrogate son.

But now, for Baxter it’s going to be very interesting to watch him do this because boys mature in a very, I think a slower rate than girls do.

They’ll have to deal with tendencies boys have for, not violence, but aggression and competitiveness. It’s different than girls, believe me. My girls are very competitive so I don’t know, whenever people say that, my girls don’t give up. That’s how they are. Between all the stupid stuff I’ve had to do in between dumb games that I would do if they were boys to stuff that they do with more girl stuff, they’re very competitive.

But I’m saying boys tend to have a difficult time expressing emotion and it’s the reverse of my girls. They have no trouble with that to an advanced degree I might add.

But that’s where I think Baxter is going to have fun with this. It’s that he [Boyd] is being raised by two, if you will, progressive parents.

And we get to highlight what the benefits of progressive parents are an openness and an exchange between stuff, and a detriment where they’re not allowed to even experience aggressive tendencies or tendencies that are socially unacceptable. And boys will do that.

I think that’s where Baxter’s going to come in very handy.

M&C: There is an authentic dialogue you have with Hector Elizondo’s character, Ed, and with Jonathan’s Chuck and your character. Those are important scenes, and they’re good scenes, and they’re well done. Do you massage the scripts to you comedic ear and your mind’s liking?

Tim Allen: Yes. Yes, definitely. Hector…he’s a journeyman. Done this work with some of the best. We really enjoy the timing between the two of us. We really work well, he’s a veteran and I mean, deep veteran actor. He appreciates acting, but also really is enjoying the comedy that I can bring to this where we pause and do that stuff.

Jon Adams, same way. He’s like a guy that we didn’t expect, our different backgrounds, our different heritages, we didn’t expect … nor the writers that he and I would connect the way we did.

So it’s two guys that really don’t want to be best friends for a variety of reasons ARE best friends. So that’s a real interesting dynamic. I dislike him face to face, but really admire him and respect him and Mike Baxter, his work ethic, his background, his military, all that stuff that we’ve developed. Baxter really, really respects this guy.

I love the three of us because we’re completely different people, but in an unspecified sense we’re men’s men.

Men, you get them by themselves … I literally like that we’re … one of my favorite episodes is where at work I would not allow the women to play softball with us because they slow us down.

It was misogynistic but in a weird sense it just makes sense. You don’t want women playing contact sports with men.

My kid did it with basketball and the guy’s were just pushing her around and I don’t like it. They’re bigger than you and they’re going to get aggressive and then everybody’s going to have to slow down because you’re going to be falling down a lot and I don’t like it.

And so in the Last Man Standing or at the Outdoor Man I didn’t want it. Cut to I’ve the football team was saying they didn’t want Eve to be the field goal kicker. But not in my world. No one’s going to tell my daughters they can’t do something!

I love the fact that he’s [Baxter] completely conflicted. At work he doesn’t want the women but don’t tell me my [Baxter] women can’t compete with boys. I love that when they put me [Baxter] in that position where he’s totally … life isn’t a bunch of simple choices.

We’ve simplified everything these days. It’s not that way. I know conservative people that are pro-choice, I know liberal people that are pro-life. It’s just the way it is. Travel this country, 44 cities and concerts. We’re a bigger, broader, more tolerant, much more diverse thought process than here in California.

M&C: I love the girl that plays Eve and your relationship with her. She and Baxter are a tribe of two, although Mike is funnier. Want to talk about her a little bit and any guest stars?

Tim Allen: Yeah, I can’t give you guest stars because those deals are pending of who will get on. I wish I could even, I can’t even tease it because I’m too superstitious.

Eve is … it’s funny as her life grows as Nancy and I said the other day they were little girls. It’s hard to believe. The way we do this show we feel like it’s day to day and then you look back and we’re going into seven years we’ve been on this show. They were little girls. I’ve watched her grow and she’s into that … she’s really in an intense stage of her life becoming a woman, personally.

She’s an intense, wonderful kid for her family but I see just like boys go through that adolescence and now Kaitlyn’s past all that and she’s a very desirable actress.

The fact that she decided to come back and even guest star and I think she’s going to do quite a few we’re going to have her. It worked out that her character which I was even worried about before we got put off is she’s going to the Air Force Academy. I told the writers, “She doesn’t just come home on the weekends.”

And they said, “Yeah.” And I go, “No, it’s the military.” How are we going to … it was so weird. Now that we’re back after a year and what, three months it would be just about time that she’s done her first year and I think the Air Force is accommodating us where she would be able to come home on leave now and then.

So we have her for those times and maybe during the holidays we’ll see her a little bit but we’ll stack up the writing so she’s there enough. I miss her. I miss that point of view because she’s … I’m not saying Boyd will take over that but now Boyd will be that … I can express that part of maleness to that kid where Eve and I connected on that level. Where she was more of a hunter, she was thoughtful in that area and she was more politically aligned, probably more rigid conservative if you will than Baxter even.

M&C: Your two daughters, have any of them expressed any interest in doing show business behind the scenes or in front of the camera? Writing, producing, anything?

Tim Allen: My older one Katherine went to USC and her curriculum was more on the entertainment side of things. She actually knows more about studio running than most executives…they didn’t go to USC which is a top notch university for that. She handles production. Did a little bit of internship on Last Man Standing when she got out of college and now she’s head of production for Boxing Cat which is my production company I’ve had for almost 30 years now.

So she’s in charge of that and she’s doing everything we do on the internet. Any content that I do privately her group does and now she’s branching out and she’s doing … inexplicably getting great content for car builders. She loves cars like I do so. The young one is just like Kate when Kate was young.

She saw all that I did so you kind of do what your dad does because they’re enamored with the attention. I told them it’s not what you think it is. I never did this [working in entertainment] to get the attention. I did this because I wanted to be on Johnny Carson. Which I did eventually get on Johnny Carson.

The rest of this was, I wasn’t aware of what losing anonymity would mean. I wouldn’t do it any differently. I’ve learned to live with it and it sounds like it’s not a handicap. It is some sort of a condition where you’re never yourself. No matter where I go I’m the persona people think I am and the person that I am is quite a bit more introverted than the character I play.

So the little one doesn’t understand all that. She’s on set a lot, she’s seen my movies and she’s been on movie sets. That’s what she says she wants to do but I think they do that because part of it’s like this world of internet where you get selfies and all that. I’m not sure that it’s authentic.

M&C: Your kids know you are Buzz Lightyear. That voice and of all the things in your creative CV that you’ve done, does that one … did they delight in that?

Tim Allen: I would say for my kids the one that’s messed with their minds enough and they’re more interested in is Santa Claus. When they were young, they had a very tough time watching those movies and then looking at me in the same room.

It was really uncomfortable trying to get through this without breaking the wall and telling them I’m just an actor. It was, so once a year I think that,when you get around the holidays Santa Claus becomes like … even the older one looks at me… like I somehow know more about Santa Claus than anybody else. It was startling.

Buzz Lightyear because it’s the voice, I’m never associated unless I do, I did a Disney, I do a lot of stuff for Disney with a figurine standing next to me. But he’s never allowed to talk and I’m never allowed to talk in costume or anything.

They structure it … I still think it’s weird to have me do the voice. I don’t do that voice. I did it years ago but I don’t do it anymore. I told people it’s not a good idea. To me have that voice come out of me next to kids. They don’t get this. It breaks the wall in the worst way.

I think that Mel Blanc that did all those Warner Brothers cartoons, he never did that voice. I believe I heard this, he never did that voice outside of the studio.

Yeah, you know, I get … the Buzz Lightyear is, in a conservative way, 20% me and 80% these brilliant writers and animators at Pixar.

A lot of that character, a good portion of it he doesn’t talk. And whenever he’s not talking it’s nothing to do with my soul or spirit in that voice. When he’s talking and then I can throw something at him. I appreciate that they give me any credit. I love being party to that group and I love the friendship I’ve established with [Tom] Hanks over this. All that is just more gold. I love that character and I love what it’s done. I love the stories.

M&C: I read a past interview of yours, and in it, you said you were 68% joyous, aiming for 70%. How is that standing today for you?

Tim Allen: It goes back and forth. Human beings … my brother and I, I’m a philosophy major…I have several people that I adore and we just keep questioning things. People ask me all the time, “Are you excited or happy?” I said, I do my best. It’s something I think I read, hope is the foundation of suffering.

I think it’s something like that, that Buddha said, “Joy is forever and it doesn’t have any end or beginning.” You kind of tap into the joy river every now and then. Happiness and sadness are a flip side of the same coin. I’m learning how to be joyous and free. Accept things as they are and be careful what you wish for.

I’m doing my best to stay out of my own way. That’s what it is. So I said, that’s where joy come from is when there’s a little silence in your heart and your mind to understand that this isn’t my show. As much as my life is dictated by me producing stuff that I … for everybody’s entertainment, at the end of the day this isn’t my show. I don’t know where I was before I was here. I don’t know exactly where I’m going after I’m done here and I don’t really know what I’m supposed to be doing here. I do the best I can.

Last Man Standing premieres Friday at 8/7c on FOX

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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