12/18/2014 06:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Old Dogs & New Tricks : The Oral History of a 'Gay' Web Series (Part 5)

The Anti-Ari


"Nathan Adler was actually a name I'd carried around for a while," Acord says as our chat finally turns to his own alter ego, ODNT's big-hearted, fabulously follicled leading man. "I knew I was going to play him -- although I did toy with the idea of playing Brad for a while -- and I didn't want him to be an actor, because I didn't want an actor playing an actor, especially as the lead."

For Leon that would have felt way too similar to another über-buzzy former HBO series about four close buds living in Lalaland: Entourage. But even at the risk of comparisons to the bro-ified version of Sex and the City, the actor was sure that he wanted Nathan to be in show business, or, more importantly, "to have access to actors and musicians." So having Adler own a talent agency seemed like the most reasonable bet -- provided that one thing be made quite clear: "Arvin, in the early days, thought Nathan should be a bit meaner, be more of an agent like [Ari Gold on Entourage], and I was like, 'No, we see that all the time. Let's make him a nice agent -- even if they don't really exist.'"

We share a laugh, but Acord makes it quite clear that his own experience with representation hasn't been nearly as malevolent. Instead the longtime actor characterizes it as much more "uneventful" -- occasionally helpful in a decidedly hands-off, anti-Nathan sort of way, which means no late-night counseling sessions, no open office hours, and absolutely no putting their asses on the line for him, all of which Adler has done simply for Ross Stein alone (especially this upcoming season, which finds the tightly wound thespian straddling the edge of professional glory -- or a nervous breakdown, depending on how you look at it -- when certain proclivities of his are made public).

Yet rather than fixate entirely on Adler's job title/professional temperament, the Old Dogs & New Tricks creator had more important plans for his meaty creation. "One of the first ideas I had for Nathan," he shares, "was right before I met Laurence. When I was just 29, I got involved with this kid who was 21 -- which is not that big of a gap -- but I remember thinking even then, 'Oh, my God, I'm so fucking old and he's so fucking young! And I really wanted to deal with that, because I'm still undecided about whether relationships with big age differences work or not. I think they can be very passionate short-term, but what happens when one of them turns 70 and one of them is still only 40?"

You can find these ambivalent feelings expressed in the on-again, off-again love affair between Nathan and his sweet but conflicted young paramour, Damian Johns (played by Ryland Shelton, who, despite Acord's blessing, politely declined to comment for this blog post. I press the ODNT creator about this, and he will only say, "I am not, and never claimed to be, Doris Day.")

Whatever their off-camera issues might be, there's no denying that Shelton's ODNT character is the cutest small-town refugee to hit Hollywood with big dreams since Janet Gaynor, or that Johns' relationship with Adler, while most certainly hot and heavy, is also unsubstantiated, undefined, and, as of "Weho Horry Story," off again.

In real life things are obviously a bit different for Acord, who married Laurence Whiting, his longtime partner and contemporary, last December in an intimate civil ceremony. Though they met in San Francisco in the early '90s, Whiting, a successful restaurateur who has worked at some of the swankiest places in this town, is a true Angelino. He's also -- to use Leon's words -- "absolutely critical to the success of the show."

"When it comes to show business, I handle the show, and he handles the business," Acord reveals, attempting to describe what makes their professional partnership so successful. That means that Whiting, aside from offering up his and Leon's home carte blanch as a critical filming location, handles everything from weekly budgets to daily catering and all sorts of seemingly mundane but vital tasks in between. I ask Laurence how he manages to do it all and still keep his sanity intact, and he credits the "amazing" ODNT crew: "producer/magician Steve Curtis, [DP] Kiko [Suura], [sound technician] Taiwo [Heard], [production designer] Danielle [Lee], [producer] Nicole [J. Adelman], and way too many people to mention" for making the set "a happy one."

Having been there myself for the entirety of the filming of Season 3 this past spring, I can easily corroborate Mr. Whiting's statement: The set is definitely a happy one. However, with complex shoots that usually occur over the course of two to four action-packed weekends (aside from the pilot, or the massive wedding episode in Season 2, or the Halloween special, which all required extended and/or varied schedules), everyone, from the grips to the extras, has to be 100-percent on top of their game.

"When we do need a voice of authority, I'd much rather it be him," Leon admits after I question how he and Laurence keep the proverbial train running so smoothly. Acord is quick to point out that this rarely if ever has to occur, but nonetheless, rather than envision a good-cop/bad-cop scenario, I can't help but imagine the guy as an effervescent if mischievous Lucy Ricardo, bopping about the kitchen, flour flying, while Whiting's stern but loving Ricky stands akimbo, shaking his finger.

Obviously, things aren't nearly as comically exaggerated, but to an extent the couple -- who had previously worked together producing several stage shows -- is very much like Ball and Arnaz: the archetypal and complementary pairing of unfettered right-brain creativity and problem-solving left-brain logic, only in this case, each man possesses a little bit of both. Where Leon is charismatic, self-deprecating, and occasionally shy, Laurence is warm, outgoing, and quietly confident in a don't-mess-with-me kind of way. They endearingly call each other "Lee" and "Larry," genuinely seem to enjoy each other's passion and intellect, and, not surprisingly, obsess over every detail of their baby: Old Dogs & New Tricks.

That's not to say that things are absolutely perfect for the Acord-Whitings. In fact, as Leon reveals, the couple even separated for a month after Season 1: "There was so much tension, pressure, and angst with the show taking off so quickly, and I was ready to jump into Season 2, but Laurence was a little hesitant." Instead, it speaks to a pair who've reached a hard-earned but healthy symbiosis, a point at which they can each finally sit back and appreciate this so-called "happy ending" that we all fight so hard for. Either that or they both figure, "Who has time for drama? We've got a 3-year-old to raise!"