Emmy Watch: Aziz Ansari talks Tom's Oh-no-nos list

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Image Credit: NBC

Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.

Season 4 of NBC’s Parks and Recreation revealed more about the extravagant taste of Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) — both at work, with his doomed business venture Entertainment 720, and at home, with his Diamond Collection bed and breakfast amenities. “It’s always just kinda like, ‘Well, where did he get all this money from to buy all this stuff? It’s never really quite explained,” Ansari says with a laugh. “That’s the fun with all the characters in our show: They’re all very different from what you normally see on TV. They’re weirder than most TV characters, but the more you see into their world, the funnier it is.”

To that end, season 4 also taught us about the things Tom considers potential deal breakers in a relationship. No. 3 on his “Oh-no-nos” list: Not loving ’90s R&B music. He was shocked when Ann (Rashida Jones) didn’t know who Ginuwine is after Donna (Retta) shared that he’s her cousin. Watch a clip below. Ansari takes us inside the scene, which just might help you understand why you and Ann like wannabe playa Tom (even if it’s against your better judgment).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why is this scene one of your favorites?
AZIZ ANSARI: When you have a character that you’re playing so much, it’s fun to create interests for them and things you imagine they really like, and then, whenever it’s appropriate, you bring them up. Early on, I decided he’s gonna be really into clothes, and I’d always thought he would be really into ’90s R&B for some reason. So anytime a scene has come up where those interests needed to be put on display, I have go-tos of what I know he likes, in my head anyway. I got that script and the whole thing about Ginuwine was so funny to me because my brother has always thought that song “Differences” was so funny. In the video, he’s sittin’ on a chair and the lyrics are just so heartfelt [sings] “My whole life has changed.” I thought that was such a funny specific for Tom, and then the absurdity of him being Donna’s cousin. It’s like, I guess that could happen? [Laughs] It was just kinda funny that they just went for it. “Yes, he’s going to be Donna’s cousin.” I thought it was so funny to get to play how freaked out Tom would be that Ginuwine was Donna’s cousin. It’s not like Usher. Ginuwine isn’t the most famous R&B player ever but Tom’s world just like explodes. He can’t believe that he’s only so many people removed from someone he respects that much.

It was just last week, right, that you and Conan O’Brien serenaded a member of his audience with “Differences.”
Yeah. [Laughs] I was in Chicago and they were doing shows there and we came up with that bit. I was like, “Oh, it would be funny if I serenaded someone. There’s no song that makes me laugh more than ‘Differences.’ Let’s do ‘Differences.’ I thought it would be a subtle nod to any Parks fans that picked up on it.”

Parks and Rec EP Mike Schur has told EW in the past that you’re very good at knowing where the line is keeping Tom funny but not sleazy. Where is that line for you?
I kinda know it when I see it or feel it. If we get a script and something feels a little bit too much, I always go up to Mike or the writers. It’s important to keep Tom likable. You want him to be a loveable goofball more than a sleazy dude that you don’t want to be around. The trick to that character is to be able to get away with a lot stuff that you wouldn’t normally be able to get away with, selling it with a certain charm. Maybe if someone else said that stuff you’d be like, ” Oh my god, get this guy out of here!” but for some reason, because he says it with a smile, it’s able to kind of work. With that whole Tom-Ann story line, it’s about toeing that line. She knows he’s kind of an idiot, but she’s somewhat charmed by his antics and sees a sweetness underneath. With Ann’s character, the reason she’s with him in some of those episodes is she’s seen glimpses of what he’s really like when he removes all of the bravado. She knows that silly stuff is ultimately coming from a good place. He’s just kinda dumb. [Laughs]

Do you know what Tom and Ann’s status will be in season 5?
I don’t know anything about next season. I haven’t had a chance to talk to the writers about what they have planned, and we won’t get the script until we go back in August. I’m excited to see what they do.

Anything you’re hoping for?
I’m very lucky to work on a show with amazing writers and producers. I trust them to do a good job.

Read more:
Emmy Watch: Nick Offerman talks the toughest thing he’s had to do as Ron Swanson
EW.com’s 2012 Emmy Awards coverage
Emmy Watch: ‘The Middle’ boss on turning real-life tragedy into relatable comedy
Emmy Watch: ’30 Rock’ EP Robert Carlock talks ‘Murphy Brown’ and Liz Lemon’s future

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