‘Sunny’ star still a Philly guy at heart

Philadelphia-born actor Rob McElhenney spent a short time at Temple before coming up with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show that has soared in popularity.

(Courtesy Michael Becker for FX)

If the name of his show wasn’t enough proof already, Rob McElhenney, 31, is a Philadelphia guy. In an exclusive interview with The Temple News, the writer, producer and star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia reminisces about his days of hanging out in Fairmount Park, sneaking into bars and roaming Temple’s Main Campus for a semester.

The Temple News: You’re a born-and-raised Philly kid. How did you spend your time growing up?

Rob McElhenney: I grew up in South Philadelphia at Moyamensing and Dickinson, then, I moved to Delaware County after high school. I went to high school at St. Joe’s Prep and hung out with kids from all different schools. I don’t know if kids do this anymore, but we used to go to Lemon Hill in Fairmount Park after school to hang. Sometimes we’d go to the bars that let underagers in.

TTN: I hear you went to Temple for a while. Have any fond memories?

RM: My time at Temple was short. I went for a semester but didn’t finish. I wasn’t a great student – I wasn’t excelling, and I wasn’t there long enough to declare a major. I wanted to leave Philly and see new things, so I moved to New York. I stayed there for seven years before heading out to Los Angeles.

TTN: When did you realize you wanted to make a career out of acting?

RM: As a kid, I did plays in school but never really thought of it as being a career option. It wasn’t until I got to New York City and met waiters and bartenders who were doing shows at night that I ever considered it as a profession. I enrolled in Lee Strasberg [Theatre and Film Institute], which is associated with the Screen Actors Guild and started acting.

TTN: The show is set in Philly, but some of its scenes are shot in Los Angeles. Why’s that?

RM: FX (the station Sunny airs on) is based in L.A., and originally, they wanted to keep us close. Since we were a new series, they didn’t want us running the whole show. It’s much easier to film parts in L.A. than to move the entire production to Philly. But the network is really supportive, and we film a lot in Philly. Philly is a major character in the show.

TTN: Do you still have ties to Philadelphia?

RM: I’m home now more than I was when I lived in New York. I come home for Christmas and all the major holidays. My parents live in King of Prussia and Delaware County. My closest friends are guys I went to high school with. I’m actually in the process of buying a bar in Philly with guys I went to high school with. It’s in the early stages, but they’ll run everything, and I’ll get back as much as I can. We’re still planning it, but it looks like we’ll open it in Center City.

TTN: You don’t have much of a Philly accent. Why’s that?

Rob McElhenney, right, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia costar Glen Howerton relax between scenes (Courtesy Craig Blankenhorn for FX).

RM: I specifically worked my way out of the accent for acting. It’s also partly a natural result of all my years in New York and L.A. My brother and sister have much stronger accents than I do. I still have a little bit of the accent on the show. 

TTN: Do you think Philly will ever be a big movie town?

RM: I think Philly is already on its way. With all the talk about M. Night Shayamalan building a studio and all the recent things that have been filmed there, I think there’s a real chance. Sharon Pinkenson (a Temple grad) of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office works tirelessly to see that that happens. I love shooting in Philly.

TTN: With all the time you spend in Los Angeles, do you ever interact with other Philly actors out there?

RM: There are a lot of people from Philly in L.A. – other actors, agents, managers. We all meet in a bar in Santa Monica to watch Eagles games, and you wouldn’t believe how packed it is. There is a huge concentration of Philly people – and East Coasters in general – in L.A. I think they come for the weather and end up staying.

TTN: What’s next for Sunny?

RM: We’ll be back in June for a week or so to film, and I also get throw the opening pitch at a Phillies game, which I’m pretty excited about.

TTN: Do you have a favorite episode?

RM: I don’t really have a favorite, but there are some I like a lot – like the 1776 episode. People had really strong reactions to that, which is great. I like when people either really love or really hate something. 

TTN: What else are you working on these days?

RM: We’ve been working on the new show (Boldly Going Nowhere) for Fox. It’s going pretty well. Right now, we’re looking for someone to take it over, since Sunny takes up a lot of time. The actors who play Artemis and Rickety Cricket will have main roles in the new show. 

TTN: With all the time you spend away from Philly, what do you miss most when you’re gone?

RM: My family and friends, definitely. They’re spread out all over the city, so I get to see everything. And I love coming back for sporting events. I’m a huge Eagles fan. I try to get to as many games as possible. The Eagles are easier to watch since they have a shorter season. Unfortunately, I missed the Phillies’ championship parade. But it’s great to be able to come back and see all the people I love. 

Despite spending the bulk of his time in L.A., Rob McElhenney might be more of a Philadelphian than he ever was. Instead of getting to his head, the huge success of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has connected him more with the city. His time away leaves him with nothing but good things to say about his memories of growing up, his time at Temple and all the things about Philadelphia that make it the perfect setting for a hit TV show. 

Shannon McDonald can be reached at shannon.mcdonald@temple.edu.

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