Behind the Scenes with Gilmore Girls' Joe Fria: A Delightful Look Back
Chatting and laughing with the actor who played Joe Mastoni
Ever wonder about the memorable one-episode guest stars on your favorite TV shows 📺? If their character arcs had been longer, what would have changed for the overall plot of the show? Were you sad they never came back?
One of our absolute favorite one-episode characters on Gilmore Girls was Joe Mastoni: coffee shop ☕️ entrepreneur, friend of Alex (who would date Lorelai Gilmore for a short time) and secret admirer 💘 of Sookie St. James. During June 2022, we had a month-long Gilmore Girls festival at Remarkist with the Super Sensational Summer Spectacular, where we not only hosted watch parties of the series, games, listening party sessions and gab sessions, but we had special guests from the cast and crew join us for episode watches and chats 🗣. Joe Fria was kind enough to join us twice, and attendees had a great time walking down memory lane with him. Fria has appeared in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Belko Experiment and Speedwagon and he is the voice of Slappy in the audiobooks of Goosebumps: Slappyworld. His work is varied across the spectrum of writing, acting, directing, and voiceover.
Did you know that Joe Fria played two separate characters on Gilmore Girls? Before he played chef Joe Mastoni, he was actually serving the food: you might recognize him as Sookie, Lorelai, Jackson and Rune’s waiter in Season 1, Episode 11, “Double Date.”
The character ofJoe Mastoni pops up in Season 3, Episode 11, “I Solemnly Swear,” enthusiastic and recognizing Sookie in the hallway after a class Sookie and Lorelai have attended on inn entrepreneurship. Joe and Sookie have a hilarious reminiscence about their time together working at an inn fifteen years prior, remembering old friends, youthful escapades, and…flooginshorts? Later in the episode, Sookie lets Joe down easy when he casually asks her out. She temporarily feels giddy at the thought of being “his Daisy [Buchanan],” a solid Great Gatsby 📘 reference, then immediately feels absolutely horrible because she’s married 💍 to Jackson.
Fria first joined us to watch his stint as a waiter ⧓ in “Double Date.” During the episode watch party, he shared a bit about his incredibly cool career since Gilmore Girls, as well as life advice he received from Jon Voight (which he shared in a Memento Insight, you can read it here!). When Fria joined us to watch “I Solemnly Swear,” he shared so many exciting memories from working on Gilmore Girls!
Emily’s maids and background talent
In the opening scene of the episode, Emily Gilmore is being sued by a former maid for wrongful termination. A maid comes into the room to announce dinner, and Fria took that opportunity to share a fun tidbit about the talented actresses that came through to play Emily’s maids. Because Emily fired her maids all the time, the actresses would often come back to the show as background talent! It was a great gig, he explained, because getting cast as a one-time maid usually meant an actress would be asked to return for future episodes for background work.
Working with Melissa McCarthy
It was so exciting to see Joe Fria come onto the screen as Joe Mastoni as he rushes up excitedly exclaiming, “Sookie? Sookie St. James?!” The scene that follows is of two old friends catching up, having not seen each other in over a decade but remembering each other so fondly that it feels like no time has passed. Fria said of McCarthy, “It was so much fun to work with Melissa in that scene. Gosh, What a dream.”
He went on to talk about the rehearsal process for the scene. The audience has never met Joe Mastoni, but they have to believe that he and Sookie have known each other a very long time since working together one summer at the Deer Hill Lodge in the Berkshires (sounds like summer camp, doesn’t it?). There is so much comic 😂 timing and banter in the scene that it took a lot of precision to get it right. In the scene, they mention old friends with funny nicknames like “the Feldster,” “Mellon,” and “Bung” (Bung?!) and compare stories while Lorelai and Joe’s friend Alex watch them, bewildered.
Fria said that he and McCarthy did the scene “the first time on set and she was coming up with all the hand signals about what Bung was like, and we’d sort of chit chat about it in between rehearsals and then just went for it. And it was incredible to be trusted and thrown into that with her because she’s so supportive from her improv background. She just lifted me and carried me on a wave; it was so much fun.”
At the time, Melissa McCarthy was part of the famous improvisation and sketch comedy troupe, The Groundlings, and she began her career in improv. The comedy she brought to the role of Sookie was just a precursor to all the comedy work she would later become incredibly famous for. Her training as an improv comedian was the ideal background for a scene such as the one we saw between her and Fria. “Melissa was such a great collaborator,” he said.
The props were real!
In the scene where Joe Mastoni comes to see Sookie at the inn and comes into the kitchen, he starts helping her chop parsley. “They had to train me to do the cutting,” he said. And the kitchen knife 🔪 and parsley? “It was a real knife and I was really cutting parsley…yeah it was sharp!”
He’s shocked he didn’t hurt himself, and admits he wasn’t doing the best job chopping! “Between the camera moving around us and trying to keep my motivation, not cutting my finger off at the same time was quite a feat.”
Life on the set of Gilmore Girls
Fria said that he had a fantastic time on the set. But some moments were harder than others! In talking about the last time we see Joe leaving the inn he said, “the exit scene…twenty-one takes!” Fans know that Gilmore Girls was known for perfection, but that does sound like a long day!
Also, about half of Fria’s scenes were reshoots. Actor Billy Burke, who plays Alex, wasn’t the original actor in the role. So when Burke was cast into the role, those scenes had to be reshot. Fria ended up on set twice for the scenes where they appear together. His scenes with only Melissa McCarthy’s Sookie, however, were from the original shoot.
Working with Lauren Graham
Of the show’s star 🌟 Lauren Graham, Fria couldn’t say enough wonderful things. Of course, going into that situation as a guest, he wasn’t sure what to expect based on what he might have heard through the Hollywood grapevine. “I remember being intimidated,” he said. But as soon as he arrived, he knew he had nothing to worry about. “Lauren was a mensch. She used her status [as the lead of the show] to make sure everything was ok for everybody and efficient, and was aware if things were going long. She wanted to make sure the crew was well-rested and that we, the actors, were getting the rest or breaks we needed, and not mistreated. And also she was just very attentive, the opposite of cold or temperamental. Just very warm and accepting to someone who had just walked on set.” It was clear from Fria’s tone that the positive experience of working with Lauren was incredibly meaningful to him.
“The hours were long and any human being is going to reach a limit…even when we had to reshoot Lauren was so friendly, if not more. The whole group of people was so great.”
More Joe Mastoni?
The attendees of the event all agreed: they wanted to know more about Joe and Sookie’s relationship back in the day at the Deer Hill Lodge! And Fria said that we might have gotten more Joe–but it never came to fruition.
There were rumblings at the time that Joe and Alex could be around for a while. Originally, they might have been starting their coffee shop (Jitters? Spill the Beans? Higher Ground? The Mud House?) in Stars Hollow, creating competition with other businesses in town. This would possibly keep the conflict going within the relationship between Sookie and Jackson–especially if Joe was harboring a longtime crush on Sookie.
Hearing this, the attendees at the event had fun thinking about the possibilities! Joe Mastoni could have become more intense and competitive with other business owners, causing tension in Stars Hollow as a rival coffee shop owner. Can you picture Joe Mastoni competing with Luke’s Diner for the best coffee in town? We sure can! And just imagine how Taylor Doose would react to that kind of drama! If anyone is writing that fan fiction, we’d love to read it…
Fria certainly tried to put himself in the best possible position to be asked back, even coming to set bearing gifts. “In my young actor mind I thought, ‘I’ll butter everybody up and maybe they’ll write me back in!’ I was flat broke and I went to Trader Joe’s and bought a case of Two Buck Chuck and handed out bottles of wine to everybody!” What a nice guy! Joe, you can hang with us any time—no need to bring wine! 🍷
Want more? We’ve got more chats with cast members Sean Gunn, Emily Kuroda, Keiko Agena, Rini Bell, Mitch Silpa, Alix Kermes, Robert Lee, and writers from Gilmore Girls! And head over to our Discord where you’ll find tons of other fans there chatting in our forums about the TV shows, movies, music, games and books we all love! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, tumblr, and Spotify for more fandom content—and hit that subscribe button so you never miss a thing at rmrk*st!
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