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ACTOR NATHAN KRESS ON SEASON 2 OF “iCARLY,” FATHERHOOD, AND HIS NEW OUTLOOK ON LIFE

Nathan Kress. Courtesy of Bobby Quillard.

Watching Nathan Kress as Freddie Benson all grown up on iCarly, the Paramount+ revival of the Nickelodeon sitcom of the same name from a decade earlier, should be a somewhat surreal experience for someone who grew up watching the show. But in all honesty, watching Freddie, along with the familiar faces of Miranda Cosgrove as the titular Carly Shay and Jerry Trainor as her wacky older brother Spencer, feels just as fresh and enjoyable as it does nostalgic. 

In the sea of TV revivals and reboots on the market in 2022, very few have made quite the commercial and critical splash as iCarly, a continuation rather than a reboot of the beloved Nickelodeon comedy. And for good reason, too. Rather than recycling the same gags and storylines of the original show, iCarly squarely aims its sights on the audience that grew up alongside it, and adjusts its content to match. The decision to give the show a more “mature” attitude was one star Nathan Kress made sure to emphasize was deliberate, noting that the goal was to keep the spirit and tone of the original alive, while adjusting the storylines to those more relatable to the young adults who were once the same age as the characters on the original program. It is a strategy that is remarkably absent from so many revivals today, and one that has paid off remarkably.

Now a producer and director for the show, we sat down with Nathan Kress to talk all things iCarly, as well as his newfound fatherhood and parenting podcast, Radio Active Dads. Read the full interview below.

First of all, congratulations on season two of iCarly just coming out!

Thank you!

I am not ashamed to admit when the first one came out I binged the whole thing in a day.

All right! That’s how we like it!

That’s the new era we live in. Revivals are such a tricky thing because it’s basically impossible to please everyone, especially fans of such a beloved show that so many people grew up with, but iCarly has totally hit it out of the park, commercially and critically. What do you think has made iCarly stand out amongst the sea of revivals out there?

Well thank you, I appreciate you saying that. And for one, I’ll just say off the top, I appreciate you using the word “revival,” because so many people want to call it a reboot, which I just don’t believe that it is. I think the term reboot kind of has a connotation that you’re just sort of unearthing something and wiping the dust off and trying to plug in some sort of new shtick or hook, and hope that you can just market this exact same concept to the next generation. But I think what’s different about our show is that we weren’t focusing on the next generation. We were focusing on the members of our generation, and taking our audience from 2007, growing alongside them and meeting them where they are in 2021. 

As far as I’m aware, no one’s really tried to take a kid’s show and then retool it into an adult show for that same audience that were kids back in the day. So for us, it was very frightening because there was no blueprint for this. There was no roadmap. We didn’t know anything about how to do this. All we could really do was just try to fall back on what we knew about our characters and what we knew about the iCarly universe and take our best stab at what our audience would want to see them doing now.

I think that the whole point was having this kind of collaborative relationship between me and Miranda [Cosgrove]and Jerry [Trainor] – people from the original show – working together with these new writers who had no participation at all in the original. And because of that, they had a completely new and fresh, independent voice to lend to the show. And I think that that was really important, it was kind of the embodiment of taking the old and the new and putting it into this thing. And it was terrifying at first, we had no idea if people were going to like it, because the internet loves to poop on everything. It’s practically a sport to just be negative and hate everything that’s a sequel or a reboot just because nothing will ever beat the original. But I think that is the key thing. We weren’t trying to beat the original. We were just trying to continue on and tell a new story with characters that you already knew. So when people say “it’s not the same,” I go, “great! Wasn’t supposed to be.” We’re trying to have new characters, new people, new experiences, you can’t relate it really to the old show, except for, you know, the broad strokes of the universe, the characters, and just the general feel of fun and hijinks, and being a little bit more over the top compared to your average adult sitcom, right?

Going back to before the first season even aired, did Freddie turn out the way you thought he would have? 

No… you know, it’s funny because that’s always one of the interview questions that you get on a carpet or whatever; people who know you and know your character after the show is over just say, “so what do you think Freddie’s doing right now?” My vision for Freddie was a lot happier than what actually ended up happening. Freddie has been through a lot of life in this decade that we haven’t seen him: getting married and divorced twice, having an adopted stepdaughter who he loves very much, but who does not really seem to share those feelings back in his direction… and all of these failed startups and these ventures that he tried to go on that just all have fallen flat on their face. He’s broke and living with his mother, which is even worse than how it was the last time you saw him when he was a little boy. So now he’s rebuilding kind of from the ground up. At first I was kind of bummed about that, but then very quickly realized that’s great because it gives them a place to go. It gives him a runway, it gives him something, it makes him relatable to people who have fallen on not-great times in the last two years, you know, with the way that the world has changed.

I think it was important that we don’t show up in this like iCarly universe and suddenly everything’s glossy and everyone has these incredible jobs. There were different versions of Freddie at the beginning, where I think one of them was that he did become a super successful tech guy and he bought the Bushwell; he bought the whole building. And I think that where he ended up was so much better because, I like being on the bottom of the totem pole because you have so much more travel at that point. You have a way more satisfying runway for the remainder of the show. And that’s really already starting in the second season. It’s hitting bumps, but he’s getting there. He’s on his way. 

Nathan Kress. Courtesy of Bobby Quillard.

When the revival version of the character was being created, did you have any sort of input there?

Not really. As far as the overall concept – at the beginning, I wasn’t producing the show – they wanted my input because they wanted to make sure that they weren’t doing anything that was totally inauthentic. And I, aside from my initial shock, ultimately really liked what they were doing with Freddie and with his take. So no notes from me. I thought that that was fun, and kind of flipping what you might expect on its head, because Freddie was so fastidious and talented, and it seemed like he was just starting to venture out into this amazing tech world. You would just assume that he’d be one of those little 14-going-on-40 people who would create some industry-disrupting website or whatever. And he would be that young billionaire guy; but no, we already took that sort of expected trope and flipped that upside down. 

I think that was kind of the goal: was do things that were maybe a little bit unexpected and that you wouldn’t necessarily see when you think reboot and you can almost imagine in your head where those characters would end up just with that sort of reboot formula. We wanted to try to kind of stray away from that. So them, with their fresh perspective, giving Freddie that new direction, that was great to me. 

It’s funny, it was maybe jarring the first time to hear a character swear, but then you get over it remarkably quickly and you realize like, “oh, they’re just our age.”

Yeah, exactly. I remember Miranda breaking the internet in the first season with a relatively mild line and everyone went “Oh my gosh! iCarly’s swearing now! 

“You’ve got to switch upon a bitch.” 

Yeah, that’s the one! So, yeah, people have potty mouths in this season as well, and it will continue on. I definitely hope that people don’t have their takeaway be that this is just iCarly but with language and alcohol. I hope that they’re able to see the situations that we’re in. What might confuse people and make people think it is too similar to the original is just because there is so much hijinks. It is so much larger than life, and we absolutely take it too far. It’s not really grounded in reality, but the situations that we’re finding ourselves in we’re trying to frame around what people in their twenties and thirties would be going through. And they’re different things than what kids in their early tweens and teens are going through.

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♬ Material Girl – Madonna

In an interview you did around the time that the first season was airing, you said that you hoped that the show would act as “group therapy” for people in their twenties that grew up through the internet age. Do you think you’ve accomplished that with the first season going into the second one?

I mean, based on the feedback, I think that the amount of people that were saying that they related to something as simple as just quitting your job – you know, like Harper having a dead-end job at Skybucks and just needing to get out – or you know, dealing with your parents, dealing with paying the rent. There’s so many things that we tried to work into the story that people in this generation can relate to. And I think we did it, but I’m hoping that also it’s something aspirational as well to show that, with a little bit of chutzpah and a good core friend group around you, you can get through and accomplish a lot, and that it’s not all so bad. 

And a lot of it kind of depends on your perspective too. That was one of the things that I appreciated so much about Freddie was he had all these horrible things happen to him, but he’s even more of a hopeless romantic now, and he lets things roll off of his back even more than he used to – well, except in very triggering situations, like in an [upcoming] episode where Josh Peck makes his first appearance. Freddie does not handle that well at all. But in general, he’s become kind of a stronger person, and in the second season you’ll actually see him kind of grow a little bit more of a backbone.

So I hope that it was relatable and aspirational to people to show that adversity and, the sitcom challenges that we’re dealing with, where we’re growing and developing, and changing and perpetually staying on track to being better, stronger people. 

It’s great to hear how Freddie’s going to develop over the season. Is there anything else you can clue us into on the rest of season 2 as it’s airing? 

Oh, man. I mean, I think the very obvious “Creddie” thread will be very prevalent. It started out pretty strong there…

You’re giving the people what they want.

Yeah, from the beginning, we’ve been paying attention to what the fans would be interested in and giving them what they want, and that’s kind of one of those things. Whether or not that ends up becoming the endgame thing, that hasn’t been decided. We don’t know if that’s happening or not. We at least want to keep that question, that relationship, alive, because that was such a driving force in the original show. We would be remiss if we didn’t make that at least a question for these characters to have to answer. So that’s definitely an overarching thing that people will be experiencing in various storylines and episodes, and, you know… Freddie getting jealous of who Carly is interacting with a little bit with Josh Peck’s character – not in a romantic way, but just that there’s another man in her life who’s kind of horning in on his space a little bit. And then also there’s this girlfriend character for Feddie, and how that relates to Carly, where she’s never really seen him like this, in what seems to be a good relationship. It’s bringing up questions in her that she’s going to have to answer sooner rather than later.

So that’s a big part of it: more nostalgic hijinks and callbacks. There will be fire. I can guarantee that, because I directed it. So I know that it happened. I saw it with my own eyes. We get to see a new set – well, really an old set that’s been kind of revamped and revitalized: the Groovy Smoothie set is going to become something else. That’s another one of those kind of analogies of the new show: taking something that we used to have and putting a new, fresh, grown up spin on it. So that’ll be fun. We’re kind of introducing that as a new hangout location that actually sets up a whole new arc for a Spencer.

So everyone kind of has their thing that they’re working toward this season. And I think now that we’ve introduced the characters and where they’re at, we get the opportunity to really laser in on them as individuals and their individual courses that they take and where their lives are leading them, which I think is nice, now that we’ve had a chance to get a little bit more invested in their adult lives. 

Nathan Kress. Courtesy of Bobby Quillard.

You mentioned you directed an episode. You directed one last season, and evidently that went well because now you’re directing another and producing! How did you feel about directing an episode the second time around? Did you feel more confident or more prepared?

I did. You know, the challenge with that one was my first directing episode was also the one that Josh was in, and that was very intimidating for me because I love him and I have grown up watching him and I respect him so much. I felt a lot of moments of “what am I doing, talking to this guy? I wish I could be learning from him right now, not directing him.” So that was something that I kind of had to get over pretty quick, because you got to make the thing. So it was a little bit of a recalibration kind of in my mind, and luckily he’s one of the nicest people on planet Earth. So it was very easy to work with him. But yeah, the second time around, other than that, was a little bit easier. 

It was a little weird directing my peers that I’ve known since forever. Directing that first episode, it was strange telling any of them to do anything. But I think that was the upside is: I’ve seen them and watched them enough to know what they’re capable of, and what some of their best bits are. In that first episode that I directed, there’s a moment where we had an opportunity to do one of my favorite bits that Miranda ever did in the episode where we introduced Sam’s mom where she gets all claustrophobic in a closet and does this weird [imitates the original scene] noise. It wasn’t in the script, and that was where I – kind of as a director, but also as a producer – I was able to say: “you guys, if we’re going to put Carly in a claustrophobic space, one of the funniest things she ever did was this thing, and she nails it and does so well with it, and it’s so funny. We have to bring that back because that’s just one of those nostalgic things that the fans are going to remember too.” So I think that that has been kind of the overarching things.

One of the things that I’ve tried to make kind of my mission as a producer and director on the show is to try our best to incorporate things from the old show that don’t feel shoehorned in. That we’re not using it as a gag or a gimmick or a shtick to just make people keep watching, like, “hey kids, we’ll show you things from your past.” We have to make sure that if we’re doing it, it’s things that really make sense. And it just so happened that that was one of those things that made sense. 

There are references to the old show galore, but they never feel like they overstay their welcome. They’re just little Easter eggs and they put a smile on your face.

Yeah, and it’s like, it’s part of our life. We can reference things that happened when we were teenagers, because I, Nathan Kress, reference things that happened when I was a teenager! So we have a little bit of license to bring that stuff back, and that’s half the fun of bringing back those guest cast characters. I’ve always said it’s super fun to see where these regular cast members ended up after a decade, but it’s also really fun to see the weird twists and turns that some of our returning characters have made too. Like I never would’ve thought that the cool bad boy character would be selling fish food as a supplement for people, you know? It’s been fun to take our license and use this iCarly universe. Like, kids aren’t going to get MLMs. But people in their twenties are because half of their friends are selling them. So it was fun, that was just one of those examples of taking something old and reframing it and refreshing it in a way that would be maybe a little bit funnier to the adult audience.

The MLM episode for me, that was sort of the moment where I was like, “oh yeah, this is for me. This is for people who are my age now.” Moving on, just like Freddie, Nathan is a dad. How has being a dad influenced you as Freddie?

I was thrilled to find out that Freddie was a dad, because that was something that we could share in common. And granted with Freddie, it’s his stepdaughter, she’s 11 or 12. So she’s in a very different phase of being a child than my daughters at four and one, they’re dealing with a lot of different issues. However, I love it because it’s giving me a little bit of a head start. I feel like I’m getting a cheat sheet into what I can expect in the coming years, but that has been really great because I have identified so much with Freddie’s moments of being a dad and having those sit-down conversations and teachable moments and heart-to-heart connected scenes. Those are some of my favorite ones to do, because I feel like I’m never more realistic than when I’m doing those. So I have loved that about Freddie. It’s art imitating life, but then it’s also podcast imitating art, imitating life as well. 

The main cast of “iCarly.” Courtesy of @nathankress.

Yes, you also have your podcast Radio Active Dads. Tell us about that?

The dad podcast, Radio Active Dads, has been such a blast. We’ve been doing it since 2019, so pre-pandemic, back when we could record together in person. Basically it’s just a series of weekly conversations with me and my buddy, Brett Davern, who was on the MTV show Awkward right around the same time that iCarly was running. It’s pretty much just conversations that we were already having when we would meet up at events or get together or go to a diner and hang out. We just realized if we would stick a microphone in between us while we were having that conversation, we would probably be podcasting at that point. So we decided that since there’s a little bit of a hole in the market for young dads to have content, to listen to where you can commiserate about just the day-to-day problems and challenges that you deal with, and the conversations that you have to have and the things that you have to overcome, and the things that you wouldn’t really think you’re going to have to deal with as a young, single, or even married person who doesn’t have kids yet… no one’s really talking about it for the most part, especially not people who you knew and watched on TV as a kid who are now parents alongside you. And I think that because there was such a hole in that market specifically, it felt like maybe we were completely unqualified to do it, but we were there; we were some of the first in our generation to have kids from that sort of era of the early to mid-2000s – from the Nick and Disney era. So, it just seemed kind of fitting for us to fill that void and be a voice and a cathartic source for people. Cause I just knew anytime I would just sit and talk with Brett about stuff that I was dealing with, like how I stink at changing diapers, he would throw out a hint or his own horrible diaper-changing story, and it would make me feel better.

So that ultimately is kind of the point of the podcast, is just to have these conversations and help young parents know that you’re not alone / prepare people who are maybe not parents yet for what awaits them and all the fun and challenges that they will face. And it’s not just about dads, it’s not really necessarily about parenting; we’re talking about whatever the heck we want to talk about, which includes copious debates about a wide range of topics, including ketchup on hotdogs and Star Wars versus Star Trek. So it’s a large swath of topics and it gets very tangential. We try to rope the kids into it at least at some point during the episode, and then we also have fan mail bag portion of the show as well, so we’re answering questions from the fans. Sometimes it’s parenting stuff, sometimes it’s iCarly stuff, sometimes it’s just completely random and absurd. 

But it’s been fun, a bit of group therapy in that way as well; not only iCarly, but doing “Radio Active Dads” and especially being in lockdown and not really being able to see people and feeling very isolated and very alone. It was a really great thing to be able to do and hopefully to be able to present other parents with while they’re struggling to stay at home with their kids all day every day as well.

Any good podcasts gets pretty tangential! That’s how you know the hosts have good chemistry. I did see also it was your daughter’s first birthday recently, so congratulations on that!

Thank you! Yeah, she is plugging away. It’s amazing how different the first one is from the second. And everyone was always saying that! “You know, you’re going to immediately be able to tell the difference.” And I was like, that doesn’t make any sense, they’re babies, they’re little blobs, they don’t know anything. But literally from like day two, she was just completely different person and she’s just rocketing through her growth because she’s got a big sister now and she can watch and learn all this stuff. So it’s fun doing it a second time. Luckily I think I’ve gotten a little bit more chill about it [laughs]. The first time was the classic first-time parent thing: you’re so uptight and you’re just always worried that you’re going to kill your kid… always. So by the second time you start to learn how resilient they are. It’s been nice getting a little bit of a do-over with the second one where you can kind of do the same situations, but just relax a little bit more.

Nathan Kress. Courtesy of Bobby Quillard.

Do you have any personal philosophies you live by as an actor, director, producer, or just as a human being? Something that gets you through life or got you through the pandemic? 

Man, I think a lot of what we learned in the pandemic was the need for grounding, and a sense of an anchor, something to rely on. And everybody has different things. For me personally, it was my faith, which grew exponentially in that time of lockdown. That was massive for me. And it’s been a running theme all throughout my life and throughout my career and it’s been a thing that I fall back on every day, as a source of my identity and it frames how I look at things, but I think what it’s also done is affected my way of interacting with people, treating people with love and kindness and grace. Granted, I don’t do it perfectly and nobody else does, but I think we’re realizing more and more the importance of taking care of each other, and the ramifications of what happens if we don’t. There’s been a lot of opportunities in the last couple of years for people to do that, to reach out and to take care and to broaden their horizons of thinking of their fellow human being. And I’m hoping that we can all lean into that a little bit more.

That’s been my philosophy: thinking of other people as much as possible, and putting others as the priority, because there’s really no way to grow yourself and to stretch yourself when you’re just focusing on yourself. You will hit a dead end, there’s only so much that you can do when you’re not outward facing and looking out for others and investing in other people. So I think that’s something that I’ve really been trying to focus on and reframe my perspective. I think a lot of that just comes from parenting. You have no choice but to do that if you’re trying to be a good quality involved parent, and I think that’s just sort of reframing my perspective on everything else too, especially just in the last few years with lockdown and everyone fighting each other. No one seems to want to meet in the middle and have common ground and appreciate the fact that we’re all human beings and we’re here for a reason and we got to look out for each other. 

Interview by Jason Daniel Levy for The Untitled Magazine

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