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Interview

Sam Lloyd: A Talent for Pain

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Sam Lloyd is the rare actor you can both laugh with and laugh at—and he doesn't mind. As the hapless, increasingly suicidal hospital attorney Ted Buckland on NBC's delightfully warped comedy Scrubs, Lloyd even makes depression funny. His Ted is that rare creation; a Mr. Cellophane who stands out, a walking demonstration of schadenfreude who we wish ill merely because it's so much fun to watch his reactions. His tragedy is our entertainment, and even an out-of-nowhere line such as "I wish I were dead" (in response to a completely unrelated statement) earns guffaws. "It is very dark stuff on occasion," Lloyd acknowledges, saying the character has always been pained but became actively dangerous to himself in the series' second season. "But I have to say, it's a lot of fun for me." It's fun for the audience as well, who revels in Ted's every mishap, from being constantly displaced from his office to "falling" off the roof of the hospital.

The role of Ted was written specifically for Lloyd by Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, who had first seen him on an episode of Seinfeld as a subway rider obsessed with TV Guide and Elaine. Lloyd also appeared on Lawrence's previous show Spin City, and was even up for a regular role that he says he lost "through the bungling of my agents." Still, Lloyd guest-starred on the show a couple of times and was thrilled when Lawrence called him for Scrubs duty. "It was fantastic; I didn't even have to audition for it," he recalls. "And it turned into a recurring part."

From the beginning, Lloyd had no vanity in his comedy. In the first scene Ted ever appeared in, the actor went out of his way to look uncomfortable, awkwardly talking to a group of interns about medical malpractice. "That was the day I went in and said, 'Okay, give me some flop sweat. I want to be really sweaty for this,'" he notes. "It was the kind of thing where my mother saw it, and I asked her what she thought, and she said, 'You didn't look well, Sam.'" Lloyd admits it can be difficult to fight an actor's natural instinct to look good on-camera. "I'm the only guy on the show that looks worse when I get out of makeup," he cracks. "They put a pasty base on me and, depending on the amount of stress in the scene, they put more or less sweat on. I look horrible."

Lloyd generally appears in half the episodes of a season, but is still not under contract with Scrubs. This oversight on the part of the show offers one advantage: It frees the actor up to play a recurring role on yet another hit series, Desperate Housewives. Lloyd finally gets to play doctor, as therapist to uptight Rex and Bree Van De Kamp (Steven Culp and Marcia Cross). Though Lloyd has appeared in only four episodes, he is recognized just as much for his role as Dr. Goldfine as for his dozens of appearances on Scrubs. "I would say it's just about 50-50," he muses. "Desperate Housewives worked out beautifully. I went out for that before it began airing, and no one had any idea it was going to turn into what it did." Though Dr. Goldfine hasn't been seen in a few weeks, the recent death of Rex should ensure more therapy for Bree. "That's what I thought," Lloyd says with a laugh. "One of my first reactions was, 'Oh boy, Rex is gone, she's going to need somebody to talk to!'"

Lloyd seems to have been destined for theatrics: Not only is he the nephew of actor Christopher Lloyd (Taxi, Back to the Future) but both of his parents were performers. Lloyd was raised in Westin, Vt., where his parents met doing summer theatre in the 1950s and settled down. "My dad was the first in the family to really pursue it, and my uncle got started after that," says Lloyd. "In fact, my uncle did his first full play at the Westin Playhouse because my dad put in a good word for him to the producer." Lloyd grew up watching his father perform plays and his mother direct children's theatre, and he made his first stage appearance at age 9 as a pickpocket and an orphan in a production of Oliver.

After studying musical theatre at Syracuse University, Lloyd made the move to Los Angeles to pursue acting in October 1985. Although people might assume doors opened to him because of his famous relation, this wasn't necessarily the case for Lloyd. "What he did, which was very generous, when I first came out here, was he put me up for, like, six months," says Lloyd. "And he got me my first interview with an agent. That was all I could ask." And how did that interview go? "It didn't work out," he admits. "It's actually pretty funny. I was very green and no tape or anything, and I went in and did a scene and she was less than blown away. She didn't like me, and I couldn't blame her, really."

Lloyd ended up doing just fine, eventually landing guest spots on shows such as Night Court before getting his big break as a series regular on a show called City. The sitcom starred Valerie Harper and was created by current It-boy Paul Haggis, writer-director of Crash. "I played a sleazy jerk named Lance Armstrong," Lloyd recalls. "That was the year I started to make a living off acting." The show didn't last the season, but Lloyd was soon popping up regularly on everything from Mad About You to The Drew Carey Show. He appeared a lot in comedy programs, but says the abundance of sitcoms wasn't intentional. "I was open to anything, but comedy was what I really loved," he says. "I try to think of myself as both comedic and dramatic." He cites his two appearances on The West Wing, in which he played a man obsessed with UFOs, as an example of a role that allowed him to combine both genres, noting, "I think what helped me get Desperate Housewives is the fact that [creator] Marc Cherry had seen me on The West Wing. I think he probably thought, 'He can do comedy and straight stuff, so he'd probably be a good fit for this show.'"

When not alternating between popular shows, Lloyd is constantly taking on outside projects. He's long been involved with an a cappella group called The Blanks (www.theblankswebsite.com) that has made several memorable appearances on Scrubs, in which the group was referred to as "Ted's Band" a.k.a. "The Worthless Peons." This summer, he will play bass in a Beatles cover band called The Butties (www.thebutties.com), which he's been involved with since 1983. Lloyd has also been making short films over the years and appeared in two Sundance shorts, Spelling Bee and Cry for Help. The actor credits his outside interests with helping him through the lean years, as well. "When I first got out here, I was taking acting classes at The Loft and also got involved with The Groundlings, where I did the Sunday Show," he recalls. "So even when I was getting down and things weren't going well, I had outlets that I was doing well in that helped keep me going. It kept me from getting too down and thinking about giving it up."

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