BEVERLY HILLS — Stephen Fry didn't come all the way from Britain to be nibbled by a bear on a CBS sitcom.
It just worked out that way.
The actor, writer, and comedian, who plays opposite Joel McHale in CBS's new comedy The Great Indoors, got to cuddle a bear cub in the show's Oct. 27 premiere. The cub in turn got a taste of "English fingers," the actor told reporters during a Television Critics Association event in August. "I've still got a hurty place on my finger, a little hurty place where he gave me a friendly nip."
Even for someone whose career has been marked by eclectic choices, an American sitcom, with or without wildlife, seems an unlikely venture. "I still don't know why he agreed. He clearly doesn't need the money or the fame. I feel like it's a joke that he's pulling on us," said McHale.
Fry, who had recurring roles on Fox's Bones and 24 — where he played a British prime minister — doesn't see it that way.
"One of the advantages of not believing in an afterlife is that there is a passionate need to feel that you fill every moment with excitement and change and difference. And that there are so many exciting opportunities in life and you'll never get them again. Because this is it. This is it," he said in an interview during a CBS party that evening outside West Hollywood's Pacific Design Center.
And as someone who's seen projects like his British TV series Kingdom — available in the U.S. on Hulu — end up in the limbo between renewal and cancellation, he appreciates American TV executives' ability to make up their minds.
"People talk about the brutality of the network system here, and it's certainly true. But the point is here, I think, you get quick and clear answers if, you know, the pilot's done and it's taken up and the studio and the networks are right behind it. And then if it's not working, they ax it quickly, cleanly, and within two weeks," Fry said.
The Great Indoors, in which he plays Roland, founder of an outdoor adventure magazine that's going online-only, "came at the right time for me. I read it and I really liked it. I realized that with a tweak here and a twiddle there and a pull here and push there, I could fit it into my schedule," Fry said.
"I had, by pure coincidence, just bought a house here. I bought it for writing, which sounds mad. But I had in 2010 taken a lease on a house to write a book, and I found it the most conducive place, up in the hills in Hollywood," he said.
"I was like a mile and a half from the nearest market, but [there were] animals and flowers and lovely weather and just a beautiful place to be, to think. And if I wanted to go down the hill in the evenings and see people for dinner or whatever, then that was easy. And I just found it suited me fantastically. And there were no distractions. And so I thought, I'm going to try and live here, and a perfect house came up."
He's not the first British writer seduced by Hollywood ("I live in the same canyon Aldous Huxley lived in"), but the appeal goes beyond weather.
"I think also it's the fact that it's not my own country. So if I'm in a traffic jam here on the 405 or the 101 or whatever, I don't really mind. Because it's not a British motorway. But if I'm in Britain and I'm in a traffic jam, I think, come on, we can't do anything right."
Still, Fry's unlikely to blend in completely in Hollywood anytime soon.
As a waiter offered him something from a tray, he exclaimed, "My word. I can't even guess what that is. It's a mushroom with something in it ... Nigella Lawson — the chef and writer — said, 'Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.' But you've stuffed them!"
The Great Indoors, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, CBS