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Donald Faison on Season 4 of The Exes, Zach Braff, and His Clueless Braces

Photo: MJ Kim/Getty Images

To many people, Donald Faison will always be either Murray from Clueless or Turk from Scrubs, the madcap medical comedy that permanently established Faison and Zach Braff as forever BFFs. (Continuing to keep their BFF reputation alive: the photos Faison and Braff  frequently post on Instagram.) Of course, Faison has played other parts during his career, including his current one on TV’s The Exes, as divorced sports agent and lady-killer Phil Chase. But even in that role, the specters of Murray and Turk sometimes appear.

A prime example can be found in The Exes’ fourth-season premiere, which airs tonight at 10:30 ET on TV Land and features a flashback to Phil’s high-school days, complete with a sly Clueless reference and the image of Faison with a mouth full of Murray-style braces. In a phone conversation with Vulture earlier this week, Faison discussed that moment and the fact that his bestie Braff may pop up in an episode later this season, which would mark the second Turk and JD reunion in Exes history. (The first one took place in season two, when Braff played tennis player Chuck Feeney, an in-the-closet client of Phil’s.)

Donald. Faison.
That is my name. Don’t wear it out.

I’m just joking, I’m just joking. Wear it out. Say it as much as you want. Tell all your friends!

A couple of months ago, TV Land announced its plans to add 12 more episodes to the fourth season of The Exes, for a total of 24. This is a time during the fall season when some shows are already being canceled, so it must feel great to be on a show where they’re adding and not taking away.
It’s always great to be on a network that really supports your show. Because the network is a smaller network, or — yeah, I guess you could say it’s a smaller network. Everybody’s really close there. So even if you’re an actor on a show, you still feel like you’re part of the TV Land family.

When you’re on, like, NBC, or — I don’t want to call out any names. But when you’re on bigger networks, they just want to find something that sticks and aren’t really necessarily, trying to develop anything. On TV Land, they’ve developed The Exes. They’ve developed it to where it is right now, along with the writers and producers and the creator of the show, Mark Reisman. You don’t get that on most networks. Most networks are like, ah, it didn’t work. So you know what? That’s it.

We didn’t have the best ratings when we started, but the people on the network liked the show, one. Two: They saw that there was more to the show than what we did the first part of the first season. You know, it’s always great to be on a show that the network is behind. And it sucks to be canceled. That’s real talk.

The Exes is a more traditional, multi-camera sitcom, and Scrubs was not that. It was a single-camera show. You’ve been on The Exes for four seasons, but when you first started doing it, did it take some time to adjust?
It wasn’t the easiest transition. But after the pilot and after I saw what it was like, I loosened up a lot faster than I imagined I would. When I first started, I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to do this. But then when you get the reaction from the audience, and it’s instant, and you start feeling the beats, and you start feeling the timing, and you start feeling the rhythm of the way the show moves, or of the jokes, or the way the audience is feeling that night; it makes it easier to come to work because you know you’re putting up a show every week. There’s something really cool about that. Whereas, when you do single-camera, you do a bunch of shows before you see the actual lineup of how the show’s going to be, you know what I mean?

When I was doing Scrubs, we would do three episodes and then come back. And then do three more episodes, and then the season would start, and you wouldn’t be able to see how the show was until it aired. With The Exes, you can pretty much tell because it’s instant. You start at the beginning, and you finish the show in front of an audience. So it’s like doing a play.

In the past, your performances have often involved characters in committed relationships. On Scrubs, you were in a relationship, and in Clueless, you were, too. In this, you’re kind of a player. Has that been liberating and fun?
I love it. I tell all the guest-stars on the show, like, when we’re on the set — on the stage, that is — I’m going to be flirty. But the minute we step off of the stage and we’re now standing in video village and everything like that, don’t try to be flirty there. Because I don’t play that. When working, it’s acceptable. When not working, cut it out.

I love it. I’m still waiting for Jessica Alba to do the show.

Is she going to?
No. But it would be great if she did, wouldn’t it? For my character, at least. It would be great if we could get somebody like Halle Berry on the show. You know, my character’s a playa — why not have Halle Berry? You know what I’m sayin’? It worked for Eddie Murphy. How come it can’t work for Phil Chase on the show?

Are you bringing these ideas to the attention of the writers?
I’m bringing it to you, and you’re going to bring it to the attention of the writers by posting it in your article. That’s how we’re gonna do this. Okay? [Laughs.]

That’s a good strategy. Now, in your real life, you are very much a family man—
I am very much a family man.

In your pre-family, pre-married days, did you have any kind of go-to pickup lines when you were trying to meet ladies?
No. I wish I did. You know, to be honest with you, girls didn’t really start paying attention to me until after Clueless came out. Then, all of a sudden, it was different. And that’s the honest-to-goodness truth. I wasn’t very popular until that happened. I have zero pickup lines. My game, I guess you could say, is my work. I’ve been very lucky to be in very popular TV shows and stuff like that. I wish I could be like, she loves me for me!

I know my wife loves me for me. Hold on. I don’t want that to go any further. I know my wife loves me for me because she told me she does.

She’s invested enough, she’s got to be by now.
She’s got to. But before that, you know, I’m not sure how many dates I went on were because I was a charming, young, African-American playa or because I was in a popular television show and a popular movie.

That’s got to be a hard thing for an actor to gauge sometimes.
Nah, I love it. It’s fine. Whatever. Any actor that’s like, I hate the fact that I’m getting all of this attention is a liar. Especially when it’s from the opposite sex.

You’ve had a couple of your previous co-stars and friends on The Exes with you. Zach Braff was on. Last season Stacey Dash was on. Will any other co-stars from your past possibly pop up on The Exes?

I’d love to get them all on, to be honest with you. We’re one of those shows where we welcome people from our past projects. The network is kind of like the ghost of Christmas past. And I say that because it’s so familiar when you watch the shows. You watch Hot in Cleveland, you’re seeing a bunch of stars from some of your favorite shows, whether it be Frasier, The Golden Girls, One Day at a Time. Then, when you’re watching The Exes, you’re seeing actors from your favorite shows, whether it be Two and a Half Men, Scrubs, Third Rock, Seinfeld. It’s like that on our network.It’s always a reunion.

What are the odds of Zach Braff coming back to play Chuck Feeney again?
I think the odds are pretty high. We’ll see. Hopefully when we go back to work [on the second half of season four], he’s not too busy. He’s expressed interest. I’ve expressed interest. I know Mark had a great time working with him as well. There’s always a possibility. I think it’s about a 70-30 [chance], you know what I mean?

In the first episode of this season, your character tracks down someone he knew in high school online. Do you ever track down people from high school on Facebook?
Well, yeah, I’m friends with a lot of my high-school friends. It’s not hard to track them down. I went to the Professional Children’s School. So a lot of the people I went to school with are working in Hollywood right now, which is kind of cool. Facebook helped me find everyone else.

Who are some of your classmates out in Hollywood?
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jerry O’Connell — like, the list is ridiculous. There are a bunch of people that went to the Professional Children’s School. If you look it up, you see that, holy cow, it’s a lot of us out here.

You guys must have run into each other at auditions all the time.
Well, not at auditions. But like, at parties and stuff like that. That’s always a great icebreaker. I met Scarlett Johansson once, and she went to Professional Children’s School. I was like, holy cow, she’s so hot — wait a second, we went to the same high school. She might have been a lot younger than me, but she had to know some of my teachers. So it was a great way to introduce myself to somebody who I thought was one, a really good actress, and two, who I’d had dreams about.

You told me you didn’t have pickup lines. That’s one right there! “Oh, we went to high school together …”
That’s not a pickup line. That’s a freakin’ fact.

True. But it’s an entry into a conversation.
It definitely is an entry into a conversation. And trust me: I didn’t pick up anything.

Another thing in The Exes premiere is the flashback to Phil’s high-school days. He’s got the braces and the Kid ‘n Play haircut going on. What were you like in high school? What was your look?
Okay, so leave everything except the braces. And that was me in high school.

You had the Kid ‘n Play haircut?
I had the Kid ‘n Play haircut. A lot of people are like, wow, that’s really cool. It was very difficult to maintain that haircut, you know what I mean? Then I wore the baggy jeans with the bright-colored clothes and all of that stuff.

[But] I did not have braces. I never had braces in my life. When I look back at it now, I wish I did have braces, but I thought they would make me look like a geek. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have gotten braces.

So in Clueless, your braces are fake?
They’re fake because I had an extra tooth and they wanted to hide that because it kind of looked weird when I smiled. So they put braces on me.

An extra tooth?
What happened was, one of my teeth didn’t fall out. So because of that, I had an extra tooth.

That’s interesting.
It is interesting. It’s also really weird. It’s kind of weird when it’s, like, your second tooth next to your two biggest teeth, though. I didn’t think we were going to talk about dentistry today. But you never know what’s going to happen in life.

Donald Faison on Exes and His Clueless Braces