LOS ANGELES – Getting a phone call from singer Harry Styles was, to be blunt, a bit bizarre, says actor Felix Mallard.
“I didn’t know what to say. But he was very sweet and courteous,” Mallard says.
The One Direction star rang because the 20-year-old Australian was cast to play a version of the pop star in the new comedy “Happy Together.”
Based on a period of time when Styles stayed with producer Ben Winston and his wife Meredith in their suburban London home, the CBS series shows just how the singer and the couple made the arrangement work – and kept fans and paparazzi away.
“It was the most suburban, quiet street you could ever imagine,” Winston says. “And the fact is, no one ever knew.”
After Styles admitted in a Rolling Stone article that he, indeed, hid out in the Winstons’ home, it gave producers an idea that the arrangement could be turned into a sitcom.
Mallard, a star in Australia, heard about the concept when he came to Los Angeles and thought it was ideal.
“When I moved here, I lived with two of my friends who had gotten married,” Mallard says. “So it was me living with a newlywed couple.”
The experience? “Wonderful. He loves cleaning – he was a neat freak – and I was respectful of his spaces,” Mallard says. “He had to head back to Australia because his visa was getting processed and it was just me and his wife for a time and we, very quickly, noticed how much we needed him around. On the way home from the airport, there were Cheez-Its all over the car.”
Since landing “Happy Together,” Mallard got his own place and says he’s getting better at keeping house.
While his character is a bit awed by the world he’s in, the actor/singer was fully prepared for what Hollywood offered.
“America was always the next step for me,” he says. “Once ‘Neighbours’ (an Australian soap) finished, I came here and realized there was so much more opportunity.
“Since Hugh Jackman and Chris Hemsworth, it’s become a lot easier for Aussie actors.”
While acclimating himself to the business, Mallard noticed how connected residents are to the business. “Every Uber driver, every person in a bar has a screenplay or music they want to do,” he says. “It’s a double-edged sword. People can look at that and go, ‘Oh, everyone’s doing it,’ and it’s scary. Or you could think, ‘This is really inspiring,’ everyone wants to get their stuff done.”
Although Mallard thought the character might be American, Winston encouraged him to keep his Australian accent. That eased the tension but also increased the pride. “I get to be an Australian voice in American TV. There are very few Aussies taking on American TV.”
The opportunity also gave the amiable actor (who sings “a bit of blues and lots of rock”) a chance to learn from others. He got a call from James Corden, whose late-night show is produced by Winston, and was able to ask him about making it in American television. “He told me what I needed to hear,” Mallard says. “I feel really supported.”
Styles, meanwhile, is an executive producer of “Happy Together.”
He doesn’t hang around the set, but he does have an impact.
Mallard, in fact, says he loves a lot of One Direction’s music and counts “History” as one of its best.
And Winston? He says he and his family didn’t want Styles to leave. “He became a huge part of our family," he says. "When I moved to L.A. three and a half years ago, I didn’t know how long I’d be here because I wasn’t sure if the show I was making at the time would be successful. So, rather than renting my own house, I lived in his L.A. house, so he returned the favor.”
"Happy Together" airs at 7:30 p.m. Mondays on CBS.