Jon Barinholtz: Wealthy Wesley wants purpose, popularity on 'American Auto'

Jon Barinholtz stars in "American Auto." Photo courtesy of NBC
1 of 5 | Jon Barinholtz stars in "American Auto." Photo courtesy of NBC

NEW YORK, April 18 (UPI) -- Superstore alum Jon Barinholtz says his overzealous character, Payne Motors heir Wesley Payne, slowly is becoming a more accepted member of the car-making team at the heart of the workplace comedy, American Auto.

The show wraps up its second season Tuesday on NBC and Wednesday on Peacock.


Recent episodes saw Wesley mourning the death of his grandfather and recovering his crypto fortune, while also working with his associates to improve sales and fix numerous high-profile public relations blunders.

"Even though he might not be the guy you want to hang out with all the time, he really does have a love for and a passion for this company, which is his birthright, which is how he sees it, and he does care about the people who work there," Barinholtz told UPI in a Zoom interview Friday.


"He wants them to be his best friends, even though they'll never allow it. A lot of that growth we've seen is that bonding happening, whether it is forced through the overnight hang at [CEO] Katherine's house or voluntarily around the office."

Co-starring Ana Gasteyer, Harriet Dyer, Humphrey Ker, Michael B. Washington, Tye White and X Mayo, the show follows the shenanigans of highly educated and ambitious executives at the fictional Detroit car company.

While many of Payne's employees and shareholders focus on career moves and fat paychecks, Wesley is determined to protect its legacy.

"He doesn't have much beyond what this company is. He could go anywhere. He could do anything he wants in the world," Barinholtz said. "He has an endless amount of money, but it would be without meaning for him."

While Wesley is eager to be friends with all his co-workers, he spends most of his time with Jack (White), a former assembly line worker who receives a huge promotion after a mishap with Payne's new, self-driving vehicle.

"Wesley would probably say he is already in with the team. He sees Jack as the same as him. He thinks, 'We're both like that -- the cool, handsome, fun guys,' even though [Wesley] is not," Barinholtz said.


"I'd say the sneaky backdoor into the group would actually be Dori," the actor said of the assistant who X Mayo plays. "They are the two who are outside the rest of the group in very different ways. We saw them bond this season over that."

Boardroom scenes in which most of the show's ensemble is together are challenging to get through without someone cracking up at the jokes in series creator Justin Spitzer's scripts.

"It's the same as the breakroom scenes at Superstore. Justin Spitzer is so good at writing these full-cast scenes that sneak the plot in of the episode, while also being incredibly funny and fun to watch," Barinholtz said.

"We all break at different moments. God bless our editor who finds the footage where we're not always laughing."

The show has dealt with numerous crises during its two seasons, many of which reflect real-life issues such as the economy, the closing of American factories, unemployment, environmental issues, product safety and corporate corruption.

Barinholtz's favorite problem episode was one in which several employees pressure CEO Hastings (Gasteyer) to show public support for women's reproductive rights, which she does, instantly angering the pro-lifers among her staff and causing her to go to drastic lengths to try to make everyone happy.


"That was handled so well in such a realistic way," Barinholtz said.

"The other favorite that was close to my heart was the buying of the company. That was a really fun storyline for Wesley," he added. "Him having the eventual hero moment of remembering the [bitcoin] password and being able to save the company."

The actor thinks fans are tuning in because the show's characters and storylines are relatable.

"There is a familiarity of the world. A lot of people watching aren't people who work in C-suites and have this actual experience, but we know what it is probably like," he said.

"We know these people are no more competent than we would be in these roles. I think there is a lot of fun in that. I, as a viewer, at least, love seeing how people in very high-powered situations inadequately tackle an issue. That's what I think a lot of the fun comes from."

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