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Interview: Justin Spitzer On What Differentiates ‘American Auto’ From Other Workplace Comedies

American Auto is back with a season two that promises more smart humor, social satire and workplace hijinks from a hilariously inept team at Payne Motors. Leading the charge is pharmaceutical executive turned automobile manufacturer who has never even driven a car before, Katherine Hastings (played by Ana Gasteyer. The series is the brain child of Justin Spitzer whose goal was to take the workplace comedy behind the walls of a much bigger corporation. He sat down with Awards Radar to discuss the series – you can watch the interview in its entirely below.

After creating the very popular workplace comedy, Superstore, which ran for six season, Spitzer returned to the concept for American Auto which he had in the back of his mind for years. From day one it was going to be unique, not just a clone of other workplace shows before it. “I love workplace shows, but it’s a different kind of workplace with very different dynamics, not just different character dynamics,” Spitzer explained. “For this one, a workplace where they have all the power, they can make whatever decisions they want. They’re not being motivated, because corporate is telling them something they have to do. But, they still have lots of pressure to figure out what the right thing to do is how to do things.”

AMERICAN AUTO — “Most Hated CEO” Episode 202 — Pictured in this screengrab: (l-r) Brad Hall as Richard, Eric Stonestreet as Ian, Jon Barinholtz as Wesley, Harriet Dyer as Sadie, Ana Gasteyer as Katherine — (Photo by: NBC)

The series did not originally revolve around Ana Gasteyer’s character or even around Gasteyer herself. Spitzer revealed he had originally planned for a much different Tommy Lee Jones-type character in the role of the company CEO. Ultimately, Spitzer went another direction choosing Gasteyer who brings something special to Katherine Hastings only a comedic actress of her caliber can. “Ana, honestly, is hilarious and real, and can play them both simultaneously,” said Spitzer. “She doesn’t feel fake. She can play intelligent, but also out of her element in in really good way. And, for this character, I didn’t want it to be just the dumb boss. I want it to be a boss who was out of touch and flailing but not unintelligent.”

As a longtime fan of Gasteyer’s work, she was the main reason I was drawn to American Auto. Luckily for me and viewers, Spitzer knew how much she brought to the table and provided her the starring role she has deserved. “She’s felt like one of those people who is so talented and yet I couldn’t think of the big starring vehicle she’s been in to remind everyone, ‘This is how good she is and it’s that role she’d been waiting for. Like Steve Carell, we were all aware of before The Office, and then he was in it we’re like, ‘Oh, yes, he’s amazing!’ So she felt like a good fit.”

American Auto season one still sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, so as the old adage goes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For season two, Spitzer delivers more of what audiences and critics enjoyed about while aiming higher in season two. “In season one, you’re just figuring out who these characters are, and really, what the show is. Then second season, you’re just doing you know who they are. You’re doing all the best episodes that makes sense within this show,” he added. “The ensemble is really developed and I think will because we are getting to know them more ,will root for them more, but we also try to keep that edge and didn’t want this to become a show where everyone loves each other and is sweet to each other you know that it can still feel caustic and unkind frequently.”

AMERICAN AUTO — “Most Hated CEO” Episode 202 — Pictured in this screengrab: (l-r) Ana Gasteyer as Katherine, Seth Myers — (Photo by: NBC)

The series has much more ambitious goals than you may expect from a workplace comedy. While the humorous. daily-life character moments are there, American Auto tackles some much bigger through the Payne Motors workplace. “What was exciting about this idea was we could explore how decisions they make here have giant global impact,” said Spitzer. “That’s what was different about this show than any number of other workplace shows. A part of that involves topical issues, social issues, it just goes hand in hand.” At the same time he wants to focus on the comedy first and does not want “every episode to feel like it’s this special episode about an issue.”

Season two kicked off last week with Katherine and Co. under a lot of hilarious pressure after an accused coverup sends them into crisis mode. The addition of special guests, that so far include Eric Stonestreet and Seth Meyers, add to the fun. New episodes of American Auto premiere every Tuesday on NBC and can also be found streaming on Peacock.


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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.

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