Lucas Neff knows he's a lucky guy.
A year ago Neff, who grew up in Andersonville, was just starting to do press for his first major TV role—in the Fox sitcom “Raising Hope.” He was new to Hollywood, to the hype, and to working with TV and film veterans such as Cloris Leachman, Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt.
“No matter what direction I turn there’s somebody really talented and awesome standing there,” Neff told me during a recent phone interview. “Yeah, I just kind of get to soak it in and enjoy it. I hope that it continues for at least another eight to 10 years.”
A 10-year run could be tough for the series, which returns at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 20 hoping to increase its audience.
Neff plays Jimmy Chance, the single father of baby Hope who lives with his quirky parents, Virginia and Burt (Plimpton and Dillahunt), and his grandmother, Maw-Maw (Leachman). The Fox comedy had a strong first season creatively, earning two Emmy nominations and critical praise for balancing outlandish comedy with heart-warming moments as the Chance clan strives to do right by Hope and each other.
Expect more wackiness in Season 2 when the family heads to Vegas, deals with a kidnapping and a case of mistaken intentions, all while watching baby Hope begin walking and talking. Neff promises many more misadventures this season.
In Tuesday's premiere, called “Prodigy,” 13-year-old YouTube sensation Greyson Chance will play Jimmy as a 15-year-old in flashback. So we can assume Jimmy was once musically talented?
"Look at you, Nancy Drew," Neff cracked. "It would seem that the evidence is aligning in that way, yes."
When asked if he would sing, Neff laughed and said, "You might hear something." But he is not a singer. "No one else has arrived at that conclusion yet, so I don't think I can either," he joked. "I listen to music. I can tell a good singer when I hear one, but that's probably it."
Before he was hired for the role by show creator Greg Garcia, the graduate of Whitney Young High School and the University of Illinois-Chicago had performed in plays at Collaboraction theater company, Steppenwolf Garage Theatre and Chicago Dramatists. He was considering cleaning houses to make a little cash before he got the call.
Now Neff has a season on a TV show under his belt, and the second is underway. “I haven't once worried about paying rent" since "Raising Hope" received its Season 2 order, he said. Now 25, he lives with actress Kelly O’Sullivan, whom he met in Chicago and moved to L.A. with when he was hired for “Raising Hope.” The two are now engaged.
He’s been enjoying many perks of success this past year. “Gas, I can fill the rest of the tank all the way up, which is great,” he quipped. “I eat regularly, if not too regularly. I bought more socks, which is great because I’m always losing socks. So it’s nice to get some more white ankle socks, real nice. Yeah, I got a Frisbee. That was fun.”
He's also learning more about acting, writing and how to have a good time on the job and not worry about things.
"This job is sort of like if you combine getting a Master's degree with [going to] a water park, you know? I’m learning, learning, slide, splash, fun," he said. "It’s pretty great."