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Zach Cregger as Owen in 'Wrecked'

EXCLUSIVE: Zach Cregger of ‘Wrecked’ on Shooting in Fiji, Playing it Straight, and Topping Season 1

When TBS’ Wrecked premiered last summer, it quickly won praise from critics and audiences, who responded to its fresh handling of material as old as the proverbial three-hour tour: the survivors of a plane crash try to survive on a desert island. Richly populated with modern archetypes, Zach Cregger’s Owen, a misanthropic flight attendant thrust into the role of reluctant leader of the castaways, stood at the center, reacting with incredulous exasperation at the craziness around him.

Season 2, which premiered last week, picks up right where last season left off, with the arrival of a band of pirates (Captain Phillips pirates, not avast-ye-hardies pirates) led by an imposing young woman called The Barracuda. The stakes have climbed from simple island survival to not getting shot, and with the introduction of several new characters (plus a few coming later in the season), the world of the show has expanded even as it stays on the island.

I spoke with Zach by phone to discuss the pressure of topping season 1, shooting in Fiji as opposed to Puerto Rico, and playing it (relatively) straight.

I saw the first episode of the new season.

What did you think?

I think it’s awesome, congratulations!

Thank you!

The Barracuda is such an awesome addition.

I know, and I feel like Ebonee [Noel], the actress that plays her — it’s amazing that we found her. I read the script long before that part got cast, and I was like, ‘I don’t know who they’re gonna get for this, I don’t have an actress in my mind.’ We were talking about Rihanna, and I was like, ‘Rihanna’s never gonna do this, she’s probably on tour somewhere, so how are they gonna find this diamond in the rough?’ Because, you know, we’re not quite pulling in A-List movie stars. Although, we do have some cameos coming — Jemaine Clement comes on later in the season and does some really good stuff. Anyway, I didn’t know what to expect, and when Ebonee showed up, it was perfect. She just is like the kind of gorgeous, exotic, kind of intimidating… she’s the character. She’s great. We’re very lucky.

Do you feel any pressure to top last season? Or even match it? The first season was so funny.

Thanks! I felt really good because I felt like last season, the show got better and better as it went and the last four episodes were where we really discovered the pacing and the tone, I feel like we just kinda got it right, especially the last two episodes. Those are my favorite episodes, so I was excited for this season, because it literally kicks off the instant the last season ends, and we were in the rhythm, so I feel like we had it down at that point. It’s cool, this season really moves at a good clip. The first season takes place over the course of like three and a half weeks or something like that — some fan has gone and done the math and figured that out — but this season takes place over four days, ‘cause sh– just pops off — it’s pretty cool in that regard. It has a lot of momentum, the stakes are a lot higher, and the whole thing gets turned on its head a couple of times. I can’t really give away spoilers, but it’s pretty wild, so I’m really really pumped.  

You shot last season in Puerto Rico, did you shoot season 2 there as well?

No! Because of Zika, we couldn’t go back to Puerto Rico, so we shot it in Fiji, which is…

Poor guy!

I know, exactly, poor guy! Fiji is incredibly hot, and it’s very much like a developing nation, so it was tough. I would say Fiji is an incredible place to take a vacation, and it’s a pretty challenging place to shoot a TV show. I mean, the only other TV show that was shooting in Fiji was Survivor, so that should give you some indication of what you’d want to be shooting there. I mean, it makes sense if you want to be shooting a show about people struggling on a tropical island — which is what our show is as well — but Survivor doesn’t need wardrobe and props. When our people needed stuff they had to fly to Sydney to re-up on props and stuff, so it was definitely pretty challenging, but it was also a great place to shoot. I was happy to have the adventure.

We get to meet Danny’s father and sister back in the states in the first episode, should we expect more peeks at what’s happening on the mainland?

Not really. I hope that’s not a spoiler, but it’s just a cue at the top, and we move beyond that after the first episode. No, it stays pretty focused on what’s happening on the island. There’s a couple of episodes that deal with flashbacks and backstory for some of the main characters, so we’ll have an episode that takes place in Scottsdale, Arizona. There’s another one that takes place in like — I hope I’m not giving away too much, but it’s so f—ing funny — there’s an episode about a cult in Kansas that’s pretty cool, so we’ll definitely move around a little bit, but the story is locked in on our survivors.

That was gonna be my next question because there were some flashbacks last year, too, so I wondered if there was going to be more of that, because Lost is obviously at least some kind of influence on this, so should we expect any supernatural elements this year? Any smoke monsters coming down the pipe?

(Laughing) I mean, I’ll just say… no.

Just say no.

I hope I’m not turning anybody off who’s hoping there’s some kind of ghost or alien or some bulls— but, not in season 2.

Sure, I mean sort of ironically for a show like this, but I think part of what makes it funny is that you guys play it pretty real to how people would react to something like this.

I mean… (Laughing) Some of us less real than others, let’s be honest!

Except for the strife between Jess and Todd, who are in a long-term relationship, Wrecked has resisted pairing the characters off. Is that intentional, or just something you haven’t gotten to yet?

You know, I think when we did the pilot there was gonna be some kind of love story between my character and the character Emma, that was played by Ginger Gonzaga, but I think an audible was called and they decided not to go that direction. But in season 2 there is a bit of a romance that brews up between my character and somebody else. No one has talked to us about what to reveal and what not to reveal, so I’m not gonna give it away, but there is a romance that comes up, and it’s really funny. Weird s–t happens that involves people s—ing their pants and people getting jealous. There’s some rivalry, and it’s pretty great.

It’s you and Todd, right? I won’t spoil, I won’t print it.

Yeah, Todd and I develop a romance.

Over the course of the first season, Owen had some personal growth, like you went from being a flight attendant hiding in the bathroom to being the de facto leader. Does that growth trajectory continue?

It does. Owen still has a long way to go. He’s still kind of a coward. Owen has lived very, very selfishly, even though he does have a strong moral compass. I think the circumstances of the plane crash have kind of forced him to be his best self, whether he wants to or not. I think it’s a fun thing to watch, someone kind of blooming in that way.

I don’t want to say that you are the straight man in this thing because you get plenty of chances to score, but you are kind of like the solid center for all the chaos around you.

I don’t have a problem thinking of Owen as the straight man. He definitely is the most — I don’t want to say relatable because I think a lot of the characters are relatable, we can relate a lot of our worst impulses, we can lay on top of a lot of the characters, so I do think they’re all very relatable, but I would like to think just as an audience member that Owen is the closest to how I would hope I would react in this situation. He does his best to keep a level head and not fall prey to whatever instincts the others might be battling. So he’s doing his best.

Yeah, when I said you guys are playing it real, I guess that’s what I mean — YOU’RE playing it real.

I’m trying. I’m trying real hard.

Do you find that to be a challenge, to play it relatively straight?

Not really. That’s actually my favorite zone. I love so much all the craziness that all the other guys and gals bring to the thing, but I just kind of, whatever scene I have with whatever crazy character, I just look at it as: How can I be the perfect sounding board for this whatever it is? I get to just have a bunch of different flavors, and that honestly is so fulfilling for me. I feel like Owen does get to be interesting. I don’t feel like I’m playing a boring character, but I do get to play with all these different big loud colors that come in the form of, whether it’s big crazy Karen, or Rhys being this insane person, or Danny being the cowardly faker, all of that is available to me. I kind of honestly feel like I have a dream job, even though I don’t get to be the flashiest one.  

You give great exasperation, even going back to the Whitest Kids [The Whitest Kids U’Know, whose sketch show ran five seasons on IFC].

(Laughs) I get to channel my inner frustration. I’ve honed that. I’ve really polished the ‘annoyed’ part of my personality.

Anything in particular you draw on in order to do that?

Sometimes when we were doing the Whitest Kids — you know, I was with those guys all day, every day, and they really did annoy me, as anyone would who you spend that much time with. It was barely acting. If I had a scene with [fellow Whitest Kid] Trevor [Moore] where he was being a crazy a–hole, and I had to be frustrated, I would just let my natural frustration out. So yeah, I think that muscle got worked out real hard in my early 20s, and now it’s just ready for a show like this.

What’s your favorite episode this season?

Oh man, it’s gotta be either 209 or 210, the last two of the season. Each season kind of builds like a movie, so they definitely ramp up as they go, and then the last two episodes are kinda the climax, and we have such great people coming on board. I don’t care if it’s a spoiler: having Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords come in is so f—ing great, and so funny, and then we have Rory Scovel, whose Netflix special went up last night, come in and he does a lot in the second half of the season. He is one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with. Things ramp up in a really great way, and there’s a lot of cool surprises, and big action, and I’m just really excited to see it. I mean, I haven’t seen it, I watched the first two episodes last night like everybody else. It’s a little scary, not knowing how it’s gonna turn out. I feel like it’s gonna be great, and then I watch it and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah! These guys are really great, they pulled it off.’ It’s exciting for me to watch.

The first season looked like a movie, the production value was very high, so for the second season — the sequel always gets a bigger budget than the original. Was that the case here? Were you guys able to do stuff you couldn’t have done last year?

It feels like it, I mean we have some set-pieces coming up that far eclipse anything we did in the first season, so I gotta say yeah. It feels much bigger.

How long do you see this show continuing? Is there a plan?

I know there’s a plan for a third season that I f—ing love. The third season of this show will be so, so, great. I hope we get picked up; we haven’t been picked up yet, but we definitely ended season 2 with a cliffhanger that demands a resolution, so unless TBS wants to disappoint people, they’re gonna have to pick it up. I don’t know what would happen after the third season. Who knows with these things? Obviously some shows can jump the shark and wear out their welcome, but I feel like Wrecked would be great to go through season three — beyond that, it’s up to the Shipleys [show creators and showrunners Justin and Jordan Shipley]. If they’ve got a plan, I’d be on board. I don’t think the show should go eight seasons, but I think four would be cool, you know?

New episodes of Wrecked premiere at 10:30pm ET Tuesdays on TBS; all episodes will be available next day on-demand.