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On Location with Mary Elizabeth Ellis

Find out what goes on behind the scenes of The Grinder

Working on the set of The Grinder—the FOX comedy that follows Rob Lowe’s Dean Sanderson as he decides to manage his family’s law firm after playing a lawyer on a hit TV series—Mary Elizabeth Ellis says she’s lucky to play a character (Debbie, the wife of Sanderson’s brother) who seemed more than a little bit familiar.

"The Grinder" set

“The Grinder” set

“This character is probably the most like who I am in my own life, more than any other character that I’ve ever played,” the actress, who you might recognize from her role on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, says. And it’s a nice change of pace.

Ellis in her dressing room

“I feel like I’m cast a lot as a crazy person; I’m always yelling and smashing cars,” she says. “Debbie is a more grounded character, but I think the obstacle is feeling as if I am doing enough to make this person different from who I am.”

Though she’s originally from a small town in Mississippi, Ellis has found that filming in Los Angeles feels just like home. That’s thanks in part to working with co-star Fred Savage, who had previously directed her in episodes of Philadelphia. “I think some of the reason I got this part was because when I went in to do my test with Fred, we already had a really good banter,” Ellis says. And that familiarity also works off-screen, where Ellis says the cast and crew have created a particularly jocular work environment. 

Behind the cameras at “The Grinder”

“Everybody on our set has a great sense of humor—from props to cameramen to the sound people holding the booms—and the jokes get really inappropriate really fast,” she says. “So, it’ll be 12 hours of ridiculous sex jokes and then the cameras start rolling and you’re like, ‘Right. We are doing a network show. Let’s keep it clean guys.’”