Freddie Prinze, Jr., is surrounded by a group of giggling pubescent girls. But a fan attack it’s not; merely a scene for his sitcom, “Freddie,” shooting on a Warner Bros. soundstage.
Prinze, 29, still looks as cute as a teen idol should be, but in this episode, his character, Freddie Moreno, is trying to fulfill surrogate dad duties, chiding niece Zoey and her friends for behaving inappropriately.
Moreno, a successful chef planning to enjoy the bachelor high-life with rich pal Chris, has been drawn back into family responsibilities. For various reasons, his sister and her young daughter, his grandma, and his widowed sister-in-law have all moved in with him, re-enveloping him in the women’s world in which he grew up after his father abandoned the family.
Besides being the title star, Prinze also is co-creator, co-writer, and co-executive producer of the ABC sitcom, which airs Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., and he takes his multitasking duties very seriously.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but I wouldn’t have it any other way ... this is what I need,” he says. “There are things that I’ve done that people are so quick to take credit for and there’s really not a lot I can do about that because of the perception of actors. So in order to protect myself, I needed everyone to understand that this is something that I love and this is something that I watch over and I protect on a daily basis.”
Nevertheless, he immediately dishes out thanks to his cast, crew, and co-creators, Bruce Helford and Bruce Rasmussen, because, “I don’t delude myself that I care any more than they do.”
Famous for horror and comedy movies popular with young audiences (“I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Scooby Doo”), Prinze knew the TV industry would expect his sitcom character to be “that perfect guy that everyone wants to take their daughter to the prom ... but that’s not exciting,” he says.
So he gave Moreno many flaws. “He’s a touch too arrogant. He’s sort of been raised a little prince, to be perfect, and he believes a bit of that, and that gets him into trouble. That’s the flaw we play up the most,” says Prinze, who also describes his character as “not as book smart as your average bear.”
Reflections of Prinze’s own life, lossesWhile the sitcom’s obvious goal is to “make people laugh,” it’s theme is structured around truths from Prinze’s own life.
He was a baby when his father, comedian Freddie Prinze, committed suicide in 1977, leaving him to grow up in a household of women, which included his Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican grandmother.
Grandma in the series only speaks Spanish, with English subtitles. She’s played by Jenny Gago (the matriarch in the movie “Mi Familia”), whose family came from Peru.
The actress grew up in the Bronx, with a mother who “refused to speak English at home,” so she is thrilled with how the show deals with the complexities of assimilating into American society while retaining cultural traditions and values.
Jacqueline Obradors (Detective Rita Ortiz on “NYPD Blue”), who plays Freddie’s sister, Sofia, is equally as pleased with the way the series depicts immigrant home life.
“This show feels like a true depiction of a Latin American family,” she says, “because I grew up here, but my parents are from Argentina and always spoke Spanish in the home ... so this reflects my life in a big way and rings true.”
The series also reflects Prinze’s religious faith.
“This family was raised Catholic and I think there are still some members of the family who are practicing Catholics, while others are recovering Catholics! That, to me, is a real part of America and we wanted to represent that,” says Prinze.
He stresses Moreno’s “family values are one hundred percent my family values ... everything takes a back seat to family. He lives in a house full of women. That’s not every guy’s dream — well it is, but not if they are family! That’s a big sacrifice and he makes it without even blinking, because family takes care of family.”
Writer-producer Conrad Jackson, who helped create the show and who is partly the inspiration for Freddie’s best buddy, Chris, met Prinze when they were kids in Albuquerque, N.M.
He says the show is “very much Freddie’s life,” although Freddie, married since 2002 to actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, has never been “the player Freddie is — so that aspect is more a fantasy, but as far as the way he deals with kids and has women constantly influencing his life, I think that’s pretty much how it is in real life.”
Before meeting Prinze, Gago says she “imagined a very young Hollywood player-playboy. What I found was a very deep — well, a very charismatic — young man who has a very big heart and wonderful huge dreams that he’s making happen.”