Enter Stanley, Brooks Ashmanskas’ character in the new Netflix sitcom Uncoupled. Within five minutes of the series, he’s described by his friends as a “very successful art dealer, but less successful homo." While this type may seem familiar, Stanley just might surprise you.
“When [the audience] first meets Stanley, they think they know exactly who the character is. They think Stanley is the wise-cracking best friend who is not lucky in love and therefore has opinions about love, but he is also always supportive and there for the main character,” says Ashmanskas.
“You think he fits into that niche, which I am used to, but then by the second or third episode, it starts to shift a little bit. He is not just that. That is true of all the characters.”
Hitting the streamer July 29, Uncoupled features an all-star cast led by Neil Patrick Harris in his sitcom return after the 2014 wrap of How I Met Your Mother. The series centers on real estate agent Michael Lawson (Harris) and the aftermath when his partner of 17 years unexpectedly moves out, leaving the New Yorker to pick up the pieces and navigate being a single, gay man in his mid-forties. Here’s where Stanley steps in. As Michael's best friend, he offers him a shoulder to cry on...while also keeping it real.
“I know Stanley as a character, and I know a lot of people who are like Stanley," Ashmanskas says, sharing that the role came naturally to him. “I do not feel that my job as an actor is to be an archaeologist all the time. I felt prepared by my own life to play Stanley. My job was to be open to doing the research in the moment, if that makes sense.”
He continues, “I needed to find out who this guy is, right now—not so much what he has been through or what he is going to go through because we do not know those things. It is more about who this guy is to Neil Patrick Harris' character, right now. He is his support group. He is the one who has to tell him the ugly truth. He is the one who wants to lighten things up and tell him to knock it off.”
The show’s location in New York City was key to setting the scene for the performer. Ashmanskas built his career on the stage, making his Broadway debut as a replacement in the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying before going on to star in productions of The Producers, Gypsy, Promises, Promises, and most recently, in the original cast of The Prom. “My career has mostly been in theatre, I have done little [tv] blips along the way—I am an old person, I have had opportunities just by chance—but this was the first time I have ever had a recurring role,” he says.
Despite his newness to the sitcom genre, the series knew exactly how to make Ashmanskas feel at home: by channeling the buzz of the Big Apple. "It was nice to see so many New York faces,” says Ashmanskas, specifically mentioning Harris and André De Shields (who will soon be seen in the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman). “It takes away the need to pretend that we are in New York. We were in New York shooting, and we have all these New York faces. It made it easy, and in my experience, these familiar faces always deliver in a great way.”
He emphasizes the importance of New York City in the storyline—something that the Uncoupled co-creator Darren Star is known for, given his previous work creating the iconic NYC franchise Sex and the City. “It is certainly like another character in the story,” Ashmanskas says. “New York is a one-of-a-kind place, and therefore, needs to be represented in the correct fashion.”
The Broadway veteran's great time on set isn't all chalked up to the glitz and glamor of the Big City and being surrounded by his peers. A lot of it comes down to the high-quality of the material and the expertise of those around him. “I am not just trying to give compliments to people who are above me, because I could care less, but they really made me feel welcome on the set. The script was so good, and they were rightly confident in it."
He continued, “I thought I would be more nervous because of the lights and the cameras. It became not a worry at all because of the people I was working with. Jeffrey [Richman] and Darren [Star] treated me with respect immediately.”
Giving a nod to the show's leading man, Ashmanskas says, “I really appreciated working with people like Neil, who have done this their whole lives. He was helpful to me throughout the entire filming of this, and I loved it. I really did.”