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Justin Kirk on the Weeds Backlash, Uncle Andy’s ‘Classic’ Masturbation Monologue, and Missing Toes

He can romance his teenage nephew’s girlfriend, fall in love with his dead brother’s wife, teach a tween uncomfortable lessons about self-pleasuring with a microwaved banana peel, horn in on his sister-in-law’s drug-dealing business, and still serve as the moral center of the family — if the family in question happens to be on the lam, and mom is in the slammer. Andy Botwin is quite possibly television’s favorite stoner uncle thanks to the soulful wit (and glassy puppy-dog eyes) of actor Justin Kirk. And tonight marks the season-seven premiere of Weeds (10 p.m.), which opens three years after Nancy took the fall for a murder committed by her son Shane. Andy, Doug, and the kids have embarked on a new life in Denmark, while Nancy is about to be sprung from jail in New York and moved to a Washington Heights halfway house. Vulture talked with Kirk about Uncle Andy's "classic" masturbation monologue and how he defends the show from critics.

I watched the new episode earlier today and was thinking about the time I interviewed Alexander Gould [who plays Shane] when he was really young, and into golf and conservative talk radio. My, how far we’ve come.
That’s right. Well, that still may remain, I don’t know. He’s developing a real sort of James Dean–y vibe that I think is coming off quite nicely as Shane this season.

He’s got a faux-hawk with the sideburns.
That does not last. But it’s fun for a couple of episodes. He looks like he’s in Supergrass with that look, right?

It just blows my mind to see this sweet little innocent face and to know that his character’s got a murder rap; he’s in the family business; he was de-virginized in a ménage à trois when he was, what, 13?
I was by his side for almost all of it.

Is Uncle Andy’s “famous” masturbation monologue to blame?
Ah, the now classic — at least a YouTube classic. I do wonder if he ever peruses that online himself and if he can remember it. I don’t know, I don’t know.

So the show has taken some pretty crazy directions in the past few years.
Yeah, they can’t stop. And I’m a huge supporter of that, because as a viewer or a fan of something that goes on for a long time, whether it’s a band or a television show, I would hope that they’re going to go into overtime to keep me interested. Mix it up, you know. So, I like that we change it up all the time.

When the series started, it was darker, skewing more toward dramedy.
It’s funny, I hear people say the opposite as well. Like, “Oh we used to be light and funny and now it’s this dark show.” I have no clue what the tone has become, and that’s my favorite part of Weeds, how far we veer tonally, within the same episode even, from very dark stuff to silly broad comedy.

The comedy has definitely gotten broader. It started with a suburban satire and Nancy … she was easier to relate to, and now —
I think that’s true. The stakes have been upped every year and whenever I hear, “It’s not as realistic anymore” — well, first of all, how many stories are there that are unique stories? So when one says the idea that Nancy Botwin went off and married the Mexican mayor and a drug kingpin, and the realism sort of ceased — well, that’s someone’s story. Somebody went and married a Mexican mayor drug kingpin in the real world, you know? When I’m watching television or a movie, I like to see stories that are extraordinary. I don’t need it be something that is, “Well this makes more sense to me because I can see this happening to me, or this happened to me.”

That’s true. I don’t think anybody is asking Tina Fey and Robert Carlock for a reality check on 30 Rock.
Yeah, well I think that’s a situation of a different tone, too, and maybe what traps us, in that we do have certain glimpses of realism laid against things like dogs biting off my toes and stuff. It’s so frustrating, because we’ll shoot a scene and it’s now been so long that I’ll forget that I cannot be barefoot on Weeds. And if we do, I have to go to camera and say, “Listen, make sure you’re cutting me at the knees, or it costs like ten grand to green-screen out two of my toes.” We need an episode where they grow back like a starfish.

I know that the show kind of lost some people in changing up the tone a bit once it left Agrestic-slash-Majestic, and had the Botwins and Doug going on the lam.
I think that’s par for the course, as they say, if you have longevity.

Do fans talk to you about this stuff?
Yeah. I love when someone at the gas station comes up to me and says, “Why aren’t you still in Agrestic, man?” [Laughs.] It’s certainly anyone’s prerogative to say, “I liked something more when it was this” or blah blah. But there’s a kind of laziness as a consumer of entertainment, I think, to wish that something was repeating itself and doing the same thing. But to each their own, and I do it all the time. I’ve dropped television shows as a viewer. I’m glad we’re still here; I think that we still make interesting product and that’s all that we could do.

When Andy was first introduced, he seems on the surface totally amoral, giving hot gifts to the kids like stolen two-way pagers, having online sex with —
Right away I’m going to challenge the idea that these are amoral acts. I often hear about my first episode, when I’m pretending to be Silas and jerking off with his deaf girlfriend. Um, I maintain to this day that, sure, Andy got, you know, something out of it — but the end result was him warming her up for Silas.

You were a fluffer.
[Laughs.] I was a fluffer! I’ve always seen everything that Andy does as positive and filled with love for the world. Now, if he happens to get his rocks off in the meantime …

Hey, the rest of that sentence was me asking you if you thought Andy is the moral center of the family. Because I think Andy is a better mom than Nancy. I love Uncle Andy. In terms of the show’s future: I’ve been hearing conflicting reports that this might be the last season.
Um, they haven’t said anything to us, but they never do until we get started. We usually get renewed one year at a time. I think that people want to — and by people I mean the people who make the show happen, not our producers, but the network and studio — I think they want to go a little bit more. Mostly, I’m pretty sure that when we come to an end, we’ll be told before we write it, so we can write to the end of the show. So I would guess that when it’s the last season that will be announced, “Oh, Weeds renewed for this season, it will be the last.” Of course, you know, what do I know? Nothing!

Photo: Showtime