Interviews

Paul Leonard-Morgan returns to Limitless and creates an Emmy-nominated television score

NZT-48, the pill dramatized in both the film and television versions of Limitless, does not exist in real life. Sure, a half-dozen internet ads or late-night informercials claim the opposite, but the pill as rendered in CBS’s now-cancelled freshman series is a work of fiction. Still, after a 20-minute conversation with Limitless‘s accomplished composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, you may wonder if that pill doesn’t exist after all. At the very least, you start questioning how you’re spending your day.

“I feel so lucky to be writing music. There are so many people writing music out there. Some part-time, some full-time, and some full-time but not getting enough work,” Leonard-Morgan said. “For me, this month alone working on four different projects… You’ve always got to try and push yourself as a composer and a producer to do something different. Otherwise, it’s going to be the same old the whole time, isn’t it? But that’s why life is fun.”

Leonard-Morgan composes scores for film in addition to television in both the U.S. and the U.K. He tackles marathons in kilts while designing the soundtrack for Epcot’s revamped Test Track ride. He’s also scoring an Errol Morris film. In his spare time, he’s even taking on a massive score for the upcoming Dawn of War III video game.

How did you spend your year?

Paul Leonard-Morgan

On returning to Limitless

Paul Leonard-Morgan originally scored the 2011 film Limitless, which starred Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer who takes NZT-48 to enhance his brain function. After the film raked in around $160 million on a $27 million budget, producers decided to continue the story in 2015 with a television series sequel. Leonard-Morgan jumped at the chance to return to the world he scored for film. The result garnered Leonard-Morgan his first Emmy nomination.

“Who wouldn’t want to work with [director] Marc Webb,” Leonard-Morgan laughed when asked why he returned to the property. “Neil Berger was originally going to be doing it, the director of the original Limitless film, and he phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to do it. If I wanted to join the ride. I said, ‘I’ve never done American television before. I don’t know what I’m doing!’ ”

Scheduling conflicts with Showtime’s Billions caused Berger to back out, so enter Marc Webb who encouraged Leonard-Morgan to eschew the original score. It also helped that the series itself would be tonally different from the original film. The possibilities involved in creating a new score for effectively the same world intrigued him, including the opportunity to work in the American television system.

“It’s a different process in the sense that you have almost no contact with the directors. You have your series producer and the showrunner, and I was fortunate enough to have an incredibly supportive crew with me,” Leonard-Morgan said. The producer and showrunner’s eclectic tastes in music allowed for Leonard-Morgan to employ a range of musical influences in the series. At any given moment, the soundtrack ranges from orchestral to heavy metal to electronic.

“It was just schizophrenic. One minute, you’re having comedy. One minute, there’s incredibly dark drama. The next minute… There’s just lots of things happening,” Leonard-Morgan said. “It was just a great opportunity to get to do lots of different styles of music while, at the same time, there’s just this really hardcore electronica underneath it.”

On his first Emmy nomination

Paul Leonard-Morgan discovered he received an Emmy nomination for his Limitless score after an all-night scoring session in his studio. When the phone calls started rolling in around 8:30PT on Emmy nomination Thursday, he greeted a well-wisher with a rousing rendition of “Good Morning!” from Singin’ in the Rain. It was the lack of sleep talking. He had no idea of the good news.

“They asked me what day it was, and I said, ‘Well, it’s Thursday,’ ” Leonard-Morgan said. “You’re the only person in Los Angeles who doesn’t know what day it is, they told me. It was really surreal and fantastic. I thought they were for other people, not for me.”

On the kilt

“What is the big deal with the kilt???” Leonard-Morgan exclaims. “Everybody’s obsessed with it!”

Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, Leonard-Morgan is a true Scot and carries forward the traditional Scottish kilt in several aspects of his life. He even participates in a hospital fundraiser where he marathons 26 miles in a kilt. The drive for this Scottish dedication stems from a personal and endearing source: his newborn daughter struggled at birth but was saved by a talented hospital staff. He walks this marathon once a year in his kilt.

But don’t worry. He’ll wash the kilt before the Emmys.

Tony Hale’s role as Veep‘s Gary resulted in four Emmy nominations and two wins.

If you think you know Tony Hale’s performance as Veep‘s subservient Gary, think again. Even I took it for granted. It wasn’t until a second viewing really turned me onto the sheer brilliance of Tony Hale’s physical comedy. Your eyes gravitate toward star Julia Louis-Dreyfus or toward the bumbling, Keystone Cops White House staff members, but Tony Hale’s Gary is laser focused on the action. Gary often seems to live in an alternate universe, busying himself with who knows what so emphatically that it almost becomes a story behind the main story.

Tony Hale
(Photo: Sean Hagwell)

Talking to Hale about his turn as Gary made me realize that he’s so much more than a gifted comic actor. He’s a brilliant interpretive actor, always able to provide what he calls Gary’s “stink-eyed reactions” when he sees those working against his beloved Selina Meyer. Tony Hale and the talent team of Veep writers created a character so completely devoid of his own backstory and personality that he becomes a brilliant mirror of the action around him. It takes far more than comic skills to convey that with such incredible gusto.

Tony Hale may have won two Emmy awards already, but you cannot count him out for a third after Gary’s nuclear meltdown at the end of Season 5. Just like you cannot ever count out Tony Hale as one of modern comedy’s greatest working actors.

How was the transition for you from Armando Iannucci to David Mandel for Season 5?

When they told us that Armando was leaving and a lot of the writers were leaving, I highly respected their decision because he was away from his family, away from the UK. It was tough, though, because we’ve become family. They understand the characters so well. They write for them so well. In the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “I’m happy for you, but I’m worried about the show.” But then when Julia told us about Dave Mandel and her history with him working on Seinfeld and stuff and we got a chance to meet him, I felt like the transition was really smooth. Once everything started moving, I was just so impressed on how they jumped into the tone and the vibe of the show. How seamless it was.

Yes, it was remarkably consistent. If anything it got better…

Yeah, totally. A lot of that credit goes to David and his team of writers because they spent a lot of time communicating with Armando and watching the show. All that combined really helped.

Let’s talk about Gary. When you’re working out your performance as Gary, what generally do you think makes Gary tick as a character? 

I just pull up a lot of my own pain. [Both laugh]

Sorry, I don’t mean to laugh at your pain.

Well, it’s taken years and years of therapy… I dunno. It’s one of those things that’s a real combination. He’s been with Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) way before she was even vice president. He’s just one of those guys who’s latched onto someone else and doesn’t have his own identity. And then when he found Selina – and I’m sure there are a lot of “mom issues” there – her identity became his identity. He so desperately wanted to be around her, and he ignores a lot. He ignores the verbal abuse she heaps on him. He just kind of has blinders on. It’s very much like a domestic abuse situation where he bounces back and ignores all the behavior that was directed towards him. Also, what’s fun about Gary is that he can’t really say a lot since he’s not a guy who speaks out about policy and doesn’t really have a lot to say. He non-verbally expresses a lot of what’s going on around him. When she wants to say something but she can’t or express something that she can, he’s expressing it on his face right behind her. He can’t speak up, but he says a lot on his face.

That leads really well into my next question. One thing I noticed re-watching the season was your hilarious side moments portraying Gary in an entirely different world than the central action. Are all of these moments scripted or are you allowed to improv more than others?

Some of it’s scripted. He can’t ever speak out and say what he wants to say, so whatever other way he wants to express it – his eyes or his face – that’s the way he expresses it. Sometimes, that non-verbal is so loud that Selina tells him he needs to chill. He will just give death stares or try to be a comforting presence to her. He will give a stink eye to a lot of people and hope that they pick up on that. That’s what’s so great about that last episode where he had that opportunity to let loose because he was able to finally say what he’s been wanting to say all these years but never had the opportunity. He’d reached his last straw. He’s held the belief this entire season that why didn’t people just hand her the presidency? She’s obviously the best candidate. He thinks they have Jesus in front of them, but they just don’t realize it. And he knew how no one was stepping up to the plate, and they screwed up. He’d had it, and he just blew up.

That scene was amazing. Was it your favorite of the season?

I don’t know if it was my favorite. One of the most fun moments was when her mom was in the hospital and eventually passes away. He’s unable to handle all of that. And then that last conversation in the chapel. But there was something about that last moment in the season that was really gratifying as an actor. I love playing out that anxiety and constant sitting at attention, but there’s just something about letting loose. Those moments are very rare, but when they do happen it’s really gratifying.

He’s held the belief this entire season that why didn’t people just hand her the presidency? She’s obviously the best candidate. He thinks they have Jesus in front of them, but they just don’t realize it.

I’m so glad you brought up the “Mother” episode because, whether it’s politically correct or not, I love that moment when you can’t handle the conversation between Selina and the doctor and you crumple in the chair. Selina turns and calls you “Stephen Hawking.” It’s so funny, but so wrong, but so funny.

So. So. Wrong. What’s also funny in that scene is watching Sarah Sutherland sobbing in that scene. She’s such a loud crier.

Yes! This season has been really tremendous. Everything really snaps. Given what happens at the end of Season 5, what happens to Gary in Season 6? No spoilers, of course…

[Laughs] Honestly, I couldn’t give you spoilers if I wanted. I have no clue. There’s something where they’re focusing on Selina post-presidency. It’s really her desperation to remain relevant. At once, she’s the Queen of America, and then it all goes away. They’re going to look at what that does to her and what it does to Gary. Gary will fight to the end to still carry her purse. He will do whatever it takes to stand next to his woman.

So, this is your fourth Emmy nomination. How is the Emmy experience different for you as compared to your first?

Well, there’s really no difference. It’s still this incredibly shocking event to me. I’ve been an actor for over 20 years, and I never thought something like this would happen. To have the opportunity to work with this cast, to work with these writers, and then to get recognition by the Emmys is like living in an alternate universe. It literally never stops being overwhelming or exciting to me. It’s insane.

Tony Hale and all five seasons of Veep are available on HBO Go and HBO Now.

Robert Duncan is a very soft spoken guy, but his words thoughtful and full of intent. Talking with someone about scoring music felt a bit difficult for me at first, but Duncan’s casual tone made me realize that it’s like speaking about any other type of medium.

Duncan’s fourth career nomination comes in the Main Title Theme category for ABC’s deceased drama, The WhispersHis theme is the only nominee from a show on a major network. While the other themes are flashier, Duncan’s score is unnerving and creepy, but there’s a tinge of otherworldly hope in it, too. It definitely leaves you wanting more. Duncan uses a lot of unconventional sounds in his music, and he told me about the difference between scoring television and film. We even delved into Castle, the show Duncan worked on the most.

Congratulations on your Emmy nomination.

Thank you very much.

This is your fourth time being nominated. Can you tell me about your Emmy experiences?

My first Emmy nomination was for the pilot of Castle. That was eight years ago, and that was very exciting. That was for best Underscore of a Series category. Next was a show called Missing.

Oh, the Ashley Judd show?

Yeah, and that somehow landed in the miniseries category. I guess it was a short lived enough series that it was thought of a miniseries. Next up was Last Resort which was nice. It was a show about a rogue nuclear submarine. We had orchestra for that score which always help with scores getting noticed. There’s a higher production value. That’s why I was hopeful The Whispers would fall on the Emmy radar because we were able to use an orchestra on the score.

This category, Main Title Theme, is especially exciting to me since I’ve always been a fan of TV show main titles. One of the first things I tried to do as a kid on the piano was play my favorite TV themes. Trying to figure them out. I’m a big fan of Mike Post (Emmy-winning composer of Murder One and NYPD Blue) and those, sort of, TV theme gods. I was excited to get something more than five seconds on network television.

For some reason, the people who are keeping the torch lit for main title theme are the HBOs and Netflix, and maybe they’re not as concerned about the primetime networks. The trend lately has been five second main titles. The Whispers was a very wonderful treat, and I’m absolutely thrilled.

DuncNWe actually did a podcast all about Main Title Theme and Main Title Design. There’s so much artistry involved with the music and designs. Can you give us some insight as to how you start on a project? Do you see the main title design first and then try and score it, or do you work together with the design?

It evolves together and very quickly. I wasn’t the first influence on the main titles–I’m sure there was a concept meeting with the visual effects and the main title artist about what they wanted to achieve. A series of sketches were made—a concept of some images. For instance, a birthday cake, some scribbling, a kid next to a bike. Those were put together in a short video, and that’s the first thing I saw. It was basically a sort of animated storyboard. The element in each frame was normal, but there was something about the angle, or something about the stillness that was off-putting. That was my launching point.

I usually find descriptive words as my crosshairs to aim for, and my words were innocence and malevolence. How do I marry those two elements? Of course, I wanted it to be memorable and likable. I started off trying to think of a memorable, likable, haunting melody, and it was one of the producers that suggested I try to do something on a music box. I remember going back and forth from a minor version and a major version over which one was more appropriate. We ended with the major. To mess it up with something dark, we basically pulled out all my distortions and thinning stuff through. Seeing how nasty I could go underneath and mess it up.

I imagine an entire theme done in a minor key would be very unsettling and creepy.

It’s a little bit more sad. There was less to contradict.

You mention the music box. You use a lot of unconventional sounds in your music. Is there anything that you included that is very off-the-wall or so subtle that you might not hear it upon first listen?

I put electric cello and grinding–stuff that would make maximum noise. There’s a third element to the theme and that’s the orchestra. As soon as I had those two elements that were opposing each other, I layered the orchestra underneath. There was an effect, it’s a bit subtle, that sounds like a whisper effect. There’s a chaotic churning and that’s from the orchestra. If you give it a close listen you can hear that from the orchestra. Halfway through the strings build up and sort of swell and take over.

I like your score compared to the others in your category. Your theme made me really want to watch it. Unfortunately, the show is no longer on, but it made me want to search it out and find it.

Thank you. That’s the best compliment.

You have a mixture of really great shows on your resume. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my all-time favorites, and you’ve worked on both feature films and television. Can you tell me if there’s a different process between the two?

I think lately the creative aspirations of television and movies are coming closer. I think there’s a lot of great production in television. The main difference is the speed. Television moves to quickly and for a TV show, if I’m lucky, I’ll get maybe a little more than a week? I might only have four or five days to turn around a half hour of music. If you factor in the logistics of orchestrating, recording, and mixing and then delivering a score it becomes a real puzzle. And then I start working with what is called unlocked cuts which means I might tailor music to a scene, but they could still be editing it.

It may change and we have to get creative in the recording session. How to nip and tuck and fit it back in the way it’s meant to be. With movies, there’s hopefully a little more time where you might have a month to or more. I just did an animated feature called Spark, and I had many, many months to work on that score. It feels like a different pace. Film is a series of 100 meter dashes versus a long marathon.

I had no idea that your turnaround would have to be so quick for that. That’s nuts.

It’s the reality of TV. The longer they make the process, the more expensive it’ll be for them. The studios want to get as many shows as they can done so they strategically limit the amount of time.

You mentioned earlier that you were nominated for Castle. You worked on that for such a long time. Since it recently got cancelled, how does it feel to be done with a major project?

It definitely feels like the end or an era. It felt like a big turning point even though every season we weren’t sure if we were coming back. Castle was constantly on the bubble, but were still optimistic. Things got a little shaky when we learned Stana Katic wasn’t coming back as Captain Beckett. The fans weren’t too happy about that idea. I think that derailed the whole thing. The residual feeling was, what an amazing ride that was, and how amazing that it lasted eight seasons—not that it didn’t deserve to. In television you don’t take anything for granted.

You have Timeless coming up. The writers of the site are very much looking forward to that. Can you tell us about anything about that project?

Certainly it’s always been a goal of mine to work on a period piece, and I guess I get that wish fulfilled in a different way every week. The first episode revolves around the Hindenburg, and I think the three main characters have great chemistry. It’s sort of an action film ride. It’s a blast to score. We had a lot or orchestra as well, and it’s a lot of fun so far. They are about to send me the next episode, but I don’t know where it’s going to take place. The producers have said they want to go all over the map—they aren’t just going to go five years back. They’re really going to push it.

This could potentially lead to a variety of genres and styles for you.

Yeah, it should be fun.

Lou Eyrich is on the Fox lot, at work on the set of the brand new season of American Horror Story. At this precise moment in time, we’ve only had teasers and a scary poster. Viewers are guessing wildly what the next season will be about, but don’t even think of asking Lou for any secrets. She is sworn to secrecy.
She has Emmys in 2014 and 2015 for her costume design work on American Horror Story and this year received another nomination for her work on American Horror Story: Hotel.

She was at work when the Emmys were nominated, and didn’t expect to be receiving a nomination this year. However, when she found out the news, needless to say, there was “a lot of screaming.” She wasn’t expecting the Emmy nomination which made it all the more special for her.

I have to say, this season of all seasons was visually beautiful. From The Countess to Evan Peters’ character, everything was just Hollywood glam in every sense.

It was really a fun season to design that’s for sure.

What was the process for designing this season? You’ve got the modern hotel, but The Countess is over a hundred years old?

I always meet with Ryan Murphy first. He’s heavily into the costumes and the sets, the hair and makeup. When we started the project, we all meet so that we have the same tone for the show.  The set of the hotel pretty much set the tone; that deco, run down dusty hotel, that had seen its better years.

The show takes place in 2015 and is a contemporary show. We really wanted to play against the old tiredness of the hotel meets the new technology of the hotel. Everything new in the world doesn’t fit in that hotel, so we really tried to show the juxtaposition between the two worlds. We used a lot of color, so The Countess wore reds and turquoises and cream. Sally had her leopard print coat with her deep plum and magentas and those velvet dresses underneath. Liz Taylor’s character was always in fuchsias, aquas and bright pops of color, and chiffon, things that had movement. As the hotel was stagnant, we tried to do lots of flowy stuff, a lot of things that showed movement in modern times.

 

Lou Eyrich
(Photo: FX)

This was Lady Gaga’s first season as The Countess who gave such a stellar performance. How did you separate Lady Gaga looks from The Countess? Was that easy to come up with costumes for her?

I did a huge couple of tone boards for The Countess. It was always about that regalness and that confidence that she had where she could wear a full on Balenciaga gown in the middle of the day watering her plants, and she wouldn’t seem weird. That she would be in full regalia: hair and makeup. In bed, she would wear a $200 hand embroidered silk kimono. It’s all about that confidence of the Countess. She owned the place. It doesn’t matter what she wore and when she commanded that presence.
The only thing that set the difference was that you knew she was out for the kill. So, if she had one of the gloves with the wicked nails, you knew she was going out for the kill.

How did you come up with that idea? Michael Schmidt, who I love, designed it. He and Loree Rodkin are probably the own two jewelry designers who could do something as incredible as that. How did he get involved?

To get woowoo, it was universally guided to tell you the truth. When I read it in the script, the inspiration came from Ryan Murphy loving the glove that Daphne Guinness loved in museum installations and that was chain mail and it was intricately designed. We could never have afforded it. You could buy it online for a million dollars. Michael also knows Daphne and we didn’t want to insult her by knocking off her glove, so we were inspired by it. The glove needed to have more practical uses as it would have to be worn every day by Gaga, and it needed to be flexible and have movement and not break each time. It needed moving parts.

I went to a few special effects houses and learned it was more jewelry. I went to one craft person and she said, “You need to meet Michael Schmidt.” Then I was at Max Field, and I saw a display with some incredible pieces and asked who designed them. He said, “Oh it was Michael Schmidt, you have to meet him.” Finally, Ariana Phillips who is an amazing costume designer, I emailed her and told her I needed to build this glove, and she said Michael’s name too. So, it was this three times dead ringer. I called him, met him and he knocked it out of the park.

Lou Eyrich
(Photo: FX)

Who got to keep the glove?

Fox got to keep it. Swarovski, they donated the 11,000 crystals per glove.

Was the fashion show written into the script?

That was written into the script because it introduced Will Drake who was a fashion designer who was buying the hotel. So, they needed a fashion show to introduce Tristan the bad boy. He was a model, and that’s how they introduced him through that show.

What was the biggest fashion challenge for you?

The glove, because I had to find someone who could manufacture it. That was the number one challenge. Gaga was on tour with Tony Bennett, so it was really hard to get fitting time with her, even with the glove. We had to get her to trace her hand, get measurements, take photos and send it to us. That’s how Michael started the glove. We started costumes on her measurements without her present. The first two episodes had 19 changes, all couture and we were shooting four episodes at once so it was overwhelming to come up with that amount of clothing, and I had never even met her. Not only the costumes, but this woman is perfectly curated in that she has the perfect jewelry, the perfect shoes, and it had to match the glove. We needed triples because they’d get covered in blood. It was trying to come up with enough on a TV budget in a very short amount of time. We had three days. We fitted on a Friday, and she went on camera on Monday.

That’s the thing with TV. There’s such a tight turnaround, and people don’t really appreciate that. It’s not always like film.

With that came, Who is The Countess? We could put clothes on a body, but who’s the character? How do we find that character?

What about dressing the men?

The tricky part about dressing the men is there’s not as much variety for men as there is for women, so taking those five men and make them all have their own look and personality was difficult. They all had similar bodies and looks. How did we make Tristan look like the bad boy. With Bentley, he’s a transformation, so how do we make these good looking, almost the same body types look so different? That was really a challenge. It meant really reading the script and finding their nuances. Tristan could rock the really low cut leather pants, and rock and roll shirt, and that faux hawk hair style. He could rock that Vivienne Westwood boot with the buckles which gave him that old school London look. Will Drake was in a lot of high-class Ralph Lauren, very sleek and clean, and mostly black to give him that New York designer look. Matt Bomer was in a lot of Dior and YSL, on a TV budget so we had to make it look like that.

 

Lou Eyrich
(Photo: FX)

How did this season compare to others ?

What’s fun about AHS is that season one was contemporary with flashbacks. Season 2 was all the 60’s in an asylum. Season 3 was witches and voodoo in New Orleans and contemporary with flashbacks. Season 4 was a freak show, shot in New Orleans and very technicolor. Last year was contemporary with flashbacks. Every season is delightfully fun to come up with all new storylines of characters. Season 5 was contemporary. What I was trying to do, was to keep everybody dressed was where they were dressed that you couldn’t tell whether they were contemporary or period.

Sally (Sarah Paulson), I would love to dress like that. Is she current or period? Iris, Kathy Bates is all contemporary clothes. We bought it all in the stores today, or made it, but she looked like she was from the 90’s. We really tried to play that game.

Now, I’m going to have to go back and re-watch this season. The costumes stay with you, Sally’s outfit. Many of what The Countess wore stays with you because it’s so striking.

Yes, a lot of Sally’s stuff was meant to look older, but her shoes were from Top Shop or the dance store. We spray painted them gold and put rhinestones on them, we mixed it up to add to that horror element.

Do you have a favorite costume from this season?

I really liked the green one shoulder dress with the matching turban. I thought it was really elegant and dynamic. It had a flair and it was made out of contemporary fabric. I thought it was bold and beautiful.

The magenta dress at LACMA was another favorite.

Now, you’re on Season 6.

I’m sworn to secrecy, but it’s the scariest of all. Really scary.

Congratulations again!

Thank you!

Emmy-nominee Sarah Gertrude Shapiro talks about her surprise nomination for ‘UnREAL’

One of the biggest surprises of the 2016 Emmy nominations was the inclusion of the critically-acclaimed UnREAL on Lifetime, which received two nominations: one for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Constance Zimmer) and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. But no one was more surprised than Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who received her first nomination for writing on the series (a nomination she shares with Marti Noxon). “I was shocked,” Shapiro said with a laugh. “Not even humble bragging! I had no idea that we were even in the running for that. I think we had been holding out for a very slim hope for Constance [Zimmer], but for the writing nomination, I was totally floored.”

I had a chance to talk with Shapiro about her reality TV background, the short film that inspired UnREAL, and how the show is really the “Battle for Rachel’s Soul.”

You used to work for The Bachelor. How close to “real life” is UnREAL? Are you a particular character on the show?

The show is totally fiction. I’m a writer, first and foremost, before I ever worked in reality TV. But I think the feedback we’ve gotten from people who still work on the show is that it feels very real. The world feels real, but all of the stories are totally dramatic writing. Just made up.

In Sequin Raze, the short film the show is based on, the Ashley Williams character is basically the Shiri Applby character, only their names are slightly different (Rebecca versus Rachel). I wasn’t sure if there was a reason for that, that this character came from reality.  

The Sequin Raze character was very much based on a moment in my life. I think I evolved that character, when we went to series, in terms of rounding her out, and also, when Shiri Appleby came on, she really helped create what Rachel has become now. So I hesitate to say she’s based on me since Rachel has just become Rachel. But her family is way more screwed up than my family is. I have a very nice family! The main thing I identify with in that character is being a person who feels like they’ve sold their soul, and what do you do when you’ve lost your soul, and you realize the cost of your soul is only a paycheck. That was the moment for me when I left The Bachelor. I felt like I had become a person I didn’t recognize. So that is the jumping off point for the whole series for me.

Did you at all consider continuing on with those particular characters and actors in Sequin Raze, with Williams in the “Rachel” role, or even having Anna Camp reprise her role? Was that ever an option? Both Ashley Williams and Anna Camp were great! 

Yeah, for sure. I would have loved to have worked with Ashley and Anna again. Ashley wasn’t available, and Anna wasn’t either. The truth was that when Shiri Appleby came in, she just murdered it to this whole new level and color for Rachel that I hadn’t found in the short. Shiri has this vulnerability and girl-next-door-ness that adds so much likability to Rachel, that it’s really allowed us to get away with crazy stuff for her character. She has so much depth and passion in her eyes. It was hard for me to move past my original casting [with Williams], but as soon as I met Shiri, it was a done deal.

One thing that’s different about Sequin Raze is that there’s no Quinn. The show could have easily just been about Rachel, given the focus of the short film. How did the character of Quinn come about in the writing process? 

It’s funny because there actually is a Quinn in Sequin Raze. She just got cut out. (Laughs.)

I wondered about that. Because there is that one character who’s kind of like her that throws papers in the air. 

I think she had about 12 pages of dialogue that all got cut out, once I got into the edit. I just really focused on what the movie was about, and for me it was about Rebecca and the contestant, the mental Mortal Kombat between these two women. I had written all of this off-the-wall stuff for the control room. She was talking so much shit and cracking jokes. Lily Rains did a great job with the part. When she’s in Ashley Williams’s ear, saying, “Gut this bitch,” that’s the dynamic that I wanted, which was this boss puppeteering her to go darker and darker. But what I found in the short was that I really just didn’t have time for it. And so Quinn did exist; she just got cut out of the short film.

Some may argue that Quinn and Rachel are both leads. Did you know Constance Zimmer was going to become as prominent on the show as she’s become?

Quinn was a really big part of the pilot, so we always knew it was a co-lead situation. But it’s almost on a technicality that she’s supporting. The intention from the beginning was always to have them be the central relationship in the show, so that was not because of casting, but it’s been wonderful to have Constance there helping create that character and build her out.

I find it interesting that Quinn and Rachel don’t respect the women on the show for being man-crazy bubbleheads, and yet in their real lives, they are very easily influenced by men, whether it’s Chet or Jeremy or even this season with Coleman. Is this intentional? Or just ironic?

Heavily intentional. (Laughs) It’s all about the hypocrisy. It’s about them calling the girls on the show stupid and then they actually fall for their own bullshit. The truth is everyone is looking for love, and we’re all vulnerable. Feeling superior and making fun of people for wanting to find love is really just a weak way of hiding from the fact that you really want that, too. One of the things I really felt was important about making the series was this idea that when women destroy other women they destroy themselves. It’s very easy to hide behind the camera and talk shit about the women on the show and it’s very easy to hide on your couch and talk shit about the women on The Bachelor, but what we’re talking shit about is a weakness we all have. We all want to be loved. That’s a really, really important part of the show.

Your show cast a black bachelor before the “real” Bachelor did. Why do you think ABC’s The Bachelor is still behind with this? Do you think this will change? 

It may change. We’ve heard some rumblings of that. I think it’s taken a long time because it’s a really big issue to take on. It promotes a lot of conversation and opens you up to a lot of criticism. But I hope it’s something that they want to do soon.

Season 2 just ended. Can you tell us anything about Season 3 with that big cliffhanger at the end?

We’re working on it. I think the thing that’s exciting for us is that we really left our characters at the bottom of a well and now we have to dig them out, and that was super intentional. From the very start, the idea for the end of Season 2 was for them to be in the darkest place they’ve ever been, and where do they go from there?

So I’m a huge fan, and I’ve often wondered whether the show exists in some kind of purgatory of unredeemable souls. Have you ever thought of your show as like the dating-show version of Lost?

Oh my god. I’ve never heard that before, but I think that’s so fascinating. I love that you call it purgatory because what we talk about a lot on the show, specifically Peter O’Fallon who directed the pilot, is that this is the battle for Rachel’s soul. When we need to calibrate the show, or even a scene or episode, we really do talk about the battle for her soul. Will good or evil win?

The show is very claustrophobic. You almost think of it as existing in a dome. 

The claustrophobia is such a big part of why the contestants go crazy. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome, and they’re trapped. But it’s also why the producers go crazy. It’s super on purpose that Rachel doesn’t have a home. She lives in a grip truck. Nobody has a home. My experience on The Bachelor set was that people really don’t go home, and that’s a big part of why it get so, so intense.

Watch UnREAL from the beginning at Hulu.com. Season 1 is streaming. You can also watch Sequin Raze here.

Veep‘s Dale Stern talks to AwardsDaily TV about “Mother” and his first Emmy nomination

Dale Stern is a very easy person to talk to. The seasoned vet has been behind the camera as an assistant director for shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The League, and Documentary Now!, but he took the helm for one of Veep‘s best Season 5 episodes, “Mother.” As tensions mount in this election, Selina’s mother takes a turn for the worse, and the campaign has to deal with the unexpectedly emotional aspects of the situation.

On the morning that I spoke with Dale Stern, he revealed that he was just involved in a small fender bender, but he seemed to take it all in great stride. He sounds like a man that can find the funny in almost any situation (he also mentioned that his father would chuckle at some obituaries), and that mixture of comedy and pathos is exactly what makes his directorial turn so effortless and so hilarious. His nomination is very well deserved.

Dale Stern

This is your first directorial effort on Veep, and you landed an Emmy nomination. Congratulations! How did you hear the news on nomination morning?

Well, that’s funny you ask that. I was on set on another show, and it’s very long hours. It’s always ten pounds in a five pound bag when you’re on the set of these shows. I got a text from a friend (it was Callie Hersheway from Veep) that said, ” ‘Congrats on the nom.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, stupid, predictive text.’ ” What is she trying to say, you know? So I ignored it, and then my phone started blowing up with all these messages, and it took me a while to figure out what they were saying. I pieced it together and I didn’t realize they were making the announcement that day. I’m standing on set, and I’ve been nominated for an Emmy. That’s unbelievable! And I wanted to just yell out, “Hey! Guess what everybody!” but that’s not me.

Everyone who writes for the site loves “Mother.” Do you think you lucked out with directing such a wonderfully written episode?

Yeah, it really is. Those guys really knocked it out of the park.

You have been in the industry for over 20 years, but it’s the first time that you directed for Veep. Can you tell me what from your previous experience guided you as you directed the episode.

I’ve always been a more creative collaborator as an assistant director on all my shows. I worked on Curb Your Enthusiasm for 10 years, and I didn’t just roll a camera and sit back. I was right there with the creative team pitching ideas and coming up with thoughts of how to shoot it or what they should say. I’ve always been doing that anyways, so they kind of created that monster. (Laughs) When I got onto Veep, I just did the same. My fingerprints are all over everything I do, to a degree, but with this particular episode, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into it. It was so deliciously dark and so outside of the box—which is me. I couldn’t wait to get into it. Once I did, I wanted to do it my way. I did a number of steps to insure that everyone was on board with how I wanted to approach and shoot the show. I took a script and I went to the locations, and the weekend before, I acted out all the parts and did all the blocking to figure out the best places for them to be. I wanted to do that to remove any distractions. A lot of time on these shows you do like seven or eight scenes a day.

On a show like Veep, you spend 20 minutes of time to figure out, “What if you’re there and what if you’re next to him,” and I didn’t want any of that. I couldn’t have any distractions in these people’s heads. I wanted the cast to focus 100 percent on performance. I really worked hard at making sure it was a really good solid plan that they knew about and that they approved. So when we got on set that was taken out of their heads to just concentrate on the scene and being in the moment. This is an episode where you need everybody in that moment, you know? It’s so outside of what we normally do. I got to do it exactly how I wanted to do it. It was very exciting and very fulfilling. It came out exactly the way that I wanted it. I’m thrilled to death. Everyone did such a great job.

I think that particular episode has the best “comedic crying” that I’ve seen all year. Obviously with Selina breaking down at the end, but I had forgotten how great Catherine is in the hospital scene.

Yes! Sarah Sutherland really knocked it out of the park this year–my episode in particular. It takes her a couple minutes to get there, but she has this incredible wail that knocked me out of my seat take after take. It’s genius! It was so fantastic and fit so perfectly in those scenes. And, of course, what Julia does at the end. Come on, she’s magic.

She’s brilliant in that episode.

She really is. The writers Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory (both are nominated for the same episode) penned a great script. They can write whatever they can write, and I can direct or the director can make suggestions. But the performer delivers what they can do, and what Julia does in this episode goes way beyond what was on the page or what she was asked to do. Her performance truly transcends. I wanted to make sure I got a camera right up in her face to show the world that she’s amazing. People can sit up on their couches and say, “Wow! That’s incredible!”

You worked on Borat and Bruno and you obviously have an experience with improvisational comedy. We’ve talked to Reid Scott a few times, and he talks about the process on the writing side. Did you encourage the actors to improve a lot on the set?

Well, yeah. Generally speaking, we like to get all 50+ pages. (Laughs) We have very, very long scripts—they talk fast. Once we’re done, I like to loosen up the dialogue and give them a free one. Let’s try something fun. I call it a “one for fun.” Let’s see what happens. Sometimes what happens is absolute gold, but it can come back and bite you. Sometimes if it’s so good and it’s so amazing that we realize we have to capture different coverage and go back to an earlier setup and capture exactly what they just did. But it’s totally worth it. I totally encourage improv once we get the words down. I’m very respectful of the script, but, having said that, when you have seasoned professionals and thoroughbred improvisers like we have all over the place, you’d be crazy to not let them loose.

Dale Stern

You obviously don’t want to hold anyone back.

No! Reid Scott is an amazing improviser. You just let them loose, and it’s a whole new scene. They go into all of these great areas, and everyone is just falling out of their chairs. It’s awesome! It’s an awesome cast—the best ensemble cast ever.

Were there any surprises as you took on the role of director? What was the most surprising thing you noticed as you directed the episode?

Oh, wow. What was the most surprising thing? That I wasn’t nervous at all. That’s a great question. I don’t know if there any surprises? I can’t really think of any. I’m sorry!

 You’ve been on the set for so long, and it’s such a collaborative set.

It is a great collaboration. I don’t say, “She should wear a red dress with a yellow stripe…or she should have a black pen”, you know? We have production designers and costume designers that will come and ask, I will say yes and know. I mean, they’re pros. They’re all so, so good. Usually their first instincts are correct, so I just go along with that. It all comes together. And like every other show in between takes it is a collaboration. The writers will have a thought, Dave Mandel, the show runner whose a genius, will have a thought, maybe the actors will have a thought about something. I have to be open to any suggestions. I took a suggestion from one of the background actors in one of the scenes one time that was great that did change the scene a little bit. If anyone has a great idea, that’s great—I’ll take it.

You don’t hear a lot of directors say that.

You should! Your job is to build a team, and you have to trust that team, you know? Especially in television, it’s not one person swinging a sword and saying, “We’re doing it this way, and that’s it!”

What does the whole Emmy nomination mean to you? Is this the first time you’re observing the experience?

It is surreal. Well, a couple of things are surreal. It’s surreal that my name was pulled out of a hat—that’s amazing to me. Also, I’m talking to AwardsDaily. It’s a site I read all the time, and now you’re asking me questions! Here I am literally working 15 hours a day—almost 7 days a week—on a show in Detroit, so it hasn’t really sunk in. I have an occasional interview or occasionally someone will write to me and say congrats, and I think “Oh yeah!” I forget.

Are you going to be directing anything in Season 6?

Oh, yes. I’ve asked them to give me another out-of-the-box episode, because that’s where I live anyway. I like being outside there. I know I have one episode, and I’ll be working on all the shows as an assistant director as well.

What are you working on right now for Comedy Central?

Sam Richardson who plays Richard on Veep created a show with Tim Robinson from SNL and Sam was asking me to do it. I told him I thought I’d be busy, so I didn’t know. I do Documentary Now! also, so Tim asked me to do it. And I told him I thought I’d be, so I don’t know—I’ll think about it. (Laughs) I finally said I’d do it. It’s called Detroiters, and it’s shot here in Detroit. It’s a really fun, fun show with those two guys. It’s great because it’s 99  percent local crew.

After this I’m directing a few episodes of The Detour on TBS.

Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s such a little gem of a show.

I do a lot of crazy stuff. I did 10 Items or Less with John Lehr done in a working grocery story which is insane to do. I’ve done a bunch of nutty, out-of-the-box comedy shows. That’s where I love to live.

Sounds like we have a lot to look forward to!

Sean Callery received Emmy nominations for Jessica Jones‘s main title sequence and for Minority Report‘s series orchestrations

Sean Callery is no stranger to the Emmy cycle. In fact, his two current nominations – Netflix’s Jessica Jones‘s main title theme and Fox’s Minority Report‘s music composition – gave Callery a total of 16 Emmy nominations. He even won three Emmys for his beloved work on Fox’s 24. But even though he’s been to the dance before, Sean Callery still feels the excitement of a first-time nominee.

“When you get contacted by someone that says you got a nomination, you still can’t believe it,” Callery said. “You might think it’s old hat, but when you do get nominated, you do get excited. It humbles you a bit. These are special moments…”

Sean Callery

On orchestrating the neo-noir of Jessica Jones

Sean Callery fully immersed himself in the gritty world of Netflix’s Jessica Jones to create the unique opening theme music. It’s a critical component of the overall product as the main title experience orients the viewer into the world they’re about to experience. Getting it wrong would prove jarring for the audience, and Callery lacked access to actual filmed moments on which to build the score. So he worked closely with showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and relied on still images to develop the opening theme tone.

“The things that I love about the character are that she’s a very strong person morally and ethically. She has a very biting sense of humor. She knows the street well. Her very job as a detective is one of lurking in the shadows and being clever,” Callery said. “As I sat at the piano and started thinking about her, there’s a little mercurial part of that character – the part that has a sense of humor and the part that hops up on fire escapes and so forth. It kind of felt a little playful, like a cat.”

Callers created the opening theme by weaving together that cat-like playfulness with Jessica’s drive to protect others from the same trauma she endured. While he loves working on them, he admits that the task of initiating viewers into the show’s world is a daunting one.

On his nomination for Fox’s cancelled Minority Report

Jessica Jones‘s darkness and intimacy contrasts significantly with the grand futuristic scale of Fox’s Minority Report. The ambitious project tried to bring fans of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi classic into a sequel-of-sorts world with challenged results. The expensive series received a cancellation notice two months after its premiere date. Still, Emmy took notice of Sean Callery’s series orchestrations and provided Minority Report with its only nomination.

“I wish it had gotten some nods for art direction and stuff like that. I thought they did a really great job,” Callery said. “Honestly, who knows why certain things work and certain things don’t. I truly wished that had worked. That show had a lot of adventure and fun to it and a lot of musical possibility.”

Up next, Sean Callery tackles Fox’s 24 reboot which will employ new theming to mirror the completely new cast. He’ll also return to the neo-noir world of Jessica Jones Season 2. But first, he has a date with Emmy at the Creative Arts ceremony in mid-September.

AwardsDaily TV’s full interview with Emmy-winning composer Sean Callery is available below or by subscribing to the Water Cooler Podcast on iTunes.

Sean Callery
(Photo: FOX)

Molly Parker made a career shift from ballet to acting to an Emmy-nominated role on Netflix’s House of Cards

I’ve seen talented actress Molly Parker in many TV shows and films over the years, but perhaps never been more impressed as a fan than when she appeared as Jackie Sharp on Netflix’s House of Cards. I had the pleasure to speak to Molly briefly about her Emmy-nominated work on the show in the latest season where she continued to give weight to the powerful women in politics dynamic.

I am a fan of the show. My wife says your character is her favorite. 

Aw, nice.

So I’ll come to House of Cards shortly, just a little bit of background first, if that’s okay. 

Sure.

Forget where you ended up, what are your earliest memories of what you wanted to be when you grew up? Did you know from a very early age? 

When I was really young, the first thing I remember I wanted to be was a mermaid. We grew up in Canada, a small town outside of Vancouver. My parents had a small fish market. We had a long display case which you put ice in, and I wanted to be a mermaid and lay on the ice. That’s the first thing I remember to be completely honest. I don’t remember saying I wanted to be an actor until much later, until I was an actor. But nobody who knew me seemed surprised in me being an actor. It didn’t seem to be an option, so maybe I did not have that in my imagination yet. A mermaid seemed much more likely.

Yeah, but an easier profession to get into… 

[Laughter]

…But not as well paid I think. 

Well, apparently not.

[Laughter]

So ballet was a huge part of your childhood. When and how did acting become the main event? Was it by accident? 

Yeah it was a little bit of an accident. I took ballet classes from the age of two until eighteen. Until that time dance, for sure, was the focus of my non-academic life, my extra curricular life. By the time I was in high school I wanted to be in plays. I was in the drama department… that I really loved. I loved dance, but I think I got to the point where I had to be so dedicated. When you’re so young, when I was fifteen or sixteen, I remember thinking I have to make this work all my life. I was not just into in acting, I was interested in biology, and could go to university.

Yeah, so you had a plan B.

Yeah, I had a plan B. When I finished high school I got a bursary, a scholarship, so I took an acting class, and I was hooked. That’s how it happened, something just landed, and I felt it was the most exciting thing I had ever done.

Who inspired you growing up? Did you follow or emulate anyone? 

There was a moment when I was maybe thirteen, seeing the film Silkwood. There is a moment between Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell, towards the end of the movie they have had this fight, and she is leaving. She gets down to the car, and he is on the porch or the steps. He turns around, and she just flashes him one breast. Opens her shirt and flashes a breast. They both crack up laughing. It was just a surprising, beautiful moment. I don’t know why, that movie just really moved me, and that moment I was thinking “Oh I want to do it.” Not the nudity, but what happens between two people. You think it is one thing, but it becomes something else. It was the power of it, and the humanity.

I read Condoleezza Rice’s book, which is very long. Read Hilary’s first book, Elizabeth Warren’s book. All of them were heavy hitters, they had written about themselves, and that was fascinating and told me a lot of what it takes to be a woman in power and what it costs and what it’s like for women in the generation of Hilary and women in my generation.

How did you land the role of Jackie Sharp on House of Cards? Is it the type of role you were looking for at the time? 

I can’t say I have ever gone around in my career looking for something in particular. In my experience in these 20 years is that the right thing will find you at the right moment if you are open to it. And this is true also with House of Cards. I auditioned for it. I was asked to put something on tape. I know that Beau Willimon [creator] announced he was interested in me for the show. He was a big fan of Deadwood and some of the other things I had done. So I put something on tape for them, and they asked me to do it a second time and asked me to change a few things. They gave me the part. I didn’t know much about the part. They did not share much about who she would be. They had an initial idea of her, and it evolved.

How familiar were you with that zone of political landscape in America? It is quite a heavy subject. How much research did you have to do? Are you political anyway? 

I have a general idea. I have a somewhat educated idea just from living in the States for such a long time. Been in Los Angeles for sixteen years. I had some ideas, but I also did a fair amount of research. I read a good number of biographies of women in politics and in power generally. I read Condoleezza Rice’s book, which is very long. Read Hilary’s first book, Elizabeth Warren’s book. All of them were heavy hitters, they had written about themselves, and that was fascinating and told me a lot of what it takes to be a woman in power and what it costs and what it’s like for women in the generation of Hilary and women in my generation. I think it is just such an interesting world to me, and I am very interested in current affairs and international relations, and politics.

Excellent. Did you bring any of your self to the character, or your own personality?

All the characters you play end up with part of you in some way. I tried thinking about if I take away aspects of myself that are not the character. It depends on different areas, like physicality. I tried in the beginning to give Jackie a certain physicality that is not me as she has come from a military background. I wanted to think about physically what that looks like, how one holds themselves. Particularly the woman role and being taken seriously. There is a certain sort of physicality that can express that I thought about that somewhat. And then it always evolved. In television you don’t know what is coming story-wise, unlike a film. In film you can make choices about what comes later. In television the work is like how we live, you don’t know what is coming. Sometimes the writers share with you what’s coming, sometimes they don’t. That is true on all the shows I have worked on. There is a kind of openness one has to have to the possibility that anything can happen. And I like that actually, not knowing what is coming. I have embraced it over the years, it is sort of exciting to not know where you are going in the story. The behavior is much more centered on the present moment, and the character.

Yeah. When the wife and I were watching that last season, my wife asked, “Is Jackie going to go right to the top and knock Underwood off his perch?” When you watch a show you play guessing games. The show is quite leading in that way. Did you think that of your character, did you think “Oh I could be president?” 

I think that you never know what is coming, but what is clear is that Robin [Wright] and Kevin [Spacey] are the leads of the show, that is clear all along. The show is very much a story about their relationship and marriage as much as it is a political one. I never ruled out that anything could happen, but I just tried to stay true to the ambitions as I imagined them to be for Jackie – her ambitions were limitless.

How do you all interact behind the scenes? Quite a heavy show. Are you still friends? 

I just felt so grateful all along that I was working with such great actors. The writing is really good, and such skilled actors. Such a huge cast, there are some people I have not even worked with, I mean I see them there or we cross paths or in on the same day. Some actors I have not had a scene with in three years. Spent a lot of time with Mahershala Ali [Remy Danto] who is also nominated. I adore him, he is one of the most wonderful people I have worked with, very talented. I worked with Kevin a lot, and Robin.

Congratulations on the Emmy nod. I did call it when I did my predictions. 

Oh did you?

Yeah, took me about two hours to go through it, there are a lot of categories. You had to be in there, though, you did not feel like a guest role. It was more of a supporting role. Guest suggests you just popped in, but it was a much bigger role than that. 

It was funny that. I was so surprised, especially this year as I had less to do than years passed. It was really surprising, and very nice.

Well, I would like to wish you all the best, I will be keeping my eye out. 

Thanks Robin.

House of Cards is available to stream on Netflix.

Melora Hardin has done it all. She’s been involved with more movies and television shows that you can probably recall, but she’s one of the most consistent actresses working today. This year, Hardin earned her first Emmy® nomination for playing the confident Tammy on Amazon’s beloved Transparent. In the show’s second episode, Tammy crashes a party while the scars of her recently dissolved marriage to Sarah Pfefferman (Amy Landecker) haven’t even healed yet. In the hands of a less experienced actress, the appearance in the episode probably wouldn’t have had the emotional heft that Hardin brings to the brief moment.

When I spoke to Hardin about her work on the second season, she talked about the filming process of Transparent with such openness and heart that you could tell the nomination was a welcome addition to an already extraordinary experience.

Congratulations on your first ever Emmy nomination! How does it feel to be nominated with Transparent?

Oh, my God! It’s unbelievably exciting as you can imagine. I was totally shocked and just thrilled.

People say that Transparent is an important show. Is that something that everyone is conscious of while filming the episodes?

I think that we are very aware and very conscious of it because (show creator) Jill Solloway’s intention was to change the world. That’s what she always said when she was going around and pitching to all the major networks. I think that’s been held reverently on set in the making of the show. We start every season with Joan Scheckel who is one of Jill’s mentors. We basically start every season with Joan Scheckel and just doing physical exercises and connecting and talking about the arc of the season—the overarching theme of the season. The idea of doing something important is held absolutely in every moment of making the show. On top of that, the joy of playing such a rich character like Tammy, as an actor, I have the wonderful benefit of feeling that we are doing good in the world as a person.

I’ve always thought that Tammy is very charismatic and very confident

Mmhmm.

trans2
(Photo: Amazon)

Your episode submission was very, very intense and really sad. Was that whole pool scene difficult to shoot because it was such an intense moment?

You know, it’s funny. There is nothing difficult about working on the set of Transparent. It’s so joyful because it’s rich and everything is really held in such love. As actors, what do we want? We want opportunities to stretch and to go places that we don’t go in our everyday lives, and I had that opportunity. It was really quite glorious to be honest (laughs). It feels really good to hook into the truth of a character and allow her to come through me that is, in a way, cathartic.

The show deals a lot with identity—gender and personal. Would you say that Tammy is, at least outwardly, one of the most assured characters on the show?

Oh, yeah, definitely. That was one of the things that I always liked about her. Everybody else was waffling around trying to figure out who they are, but she knows who she is. I’m not saying that she’s not a mess. She’s an addict in season two and has to get herself back together. She’s very clear in her sexuality and who she is. She’s been a lesbian since she was five—knew that since she was born. I don’t think that’s what drove her drink. It was more of other insecurities of being out in the world.

trans
(Photo: Amazon)

You have such an amazing chemistry with Amy Landecker (who should have been nominated for Supporting Actress). Can you tell me a little bit about working with her?

I’d love to tell you about that! Everyone always asks, “How do you create the chemistry with her?” Creating chemistry with any actor is the same. (Laughs) It takes two people that dive in 150 percent. That’s all it takes. The thing that I can say that I love the most—and there’s a lot I love about her—but the most is that she jumps in with the surprise and risk with both feet. I think we were both very fearless in that together and we kind of held each other safely in that space. We did a lot of very risky stuff together. That’s the thing that creates that chemistry. We both have a lot of fun with each other with our characters and we enjoy each other. We come to it with 100 percent commitment from where the character is coming from. It’s a benefit that she’s a lot of fun.

Has to make it a lot easier. (Laughs)

Yeah.

One of the best moments of the show (and my personal favorite) has to be that long shot that starts the first episode of the second season. I thought that was going to be the entire episode!

(Laughs) It is like an 8 minute shot!

What was your personal favorite thing to film the entire second season?

That moment was really fun, because it was fully improvised. Setting that kind of stage was kind of fun because we got to behave as our character. That was an amazing moment. Also during the wedding when she starts to almost hallucinate and the whole thing becomes kind of a hallucinatory drug experience. We did some really crazy stuff—I can’t actually remember how much of it remembered in the episode. It was also about 105 degrees where we were filming, so everyone was just dripping with sweat and boiling hot and so uncomfortable and it was so great for the scene.

I can just tell through the phone how much you love being on set. I can hear you smiling. You clearly have an affection for this show.

I do have an affection for the whole experience, you know? The characters and what we’re doing in the world and opening up people’s minds and hearts through laughter and love is so incredible. To be honest, it’s so wonderful to be doing stuff that has meaning beyond your own self. To be able to be on a show that’s doing good things in a time right now with a political atmosphere that’s so fear-based. To be on something that’s saying, “No, let’s open up our hearts and embrace how culturally rich and socially diverse we are as a culture–as a country.” It just turns me on as a person. That’s what I want to be saying in the world. I just think that’s a beautiful, beautiful aspect to be in America. To be on a show that’s stretching and challenging people to think differently and feel differently and to embrace the people who have been other-ized to me is really profound.

The trailer for the third season just dropped recently. Can you give us any details about Tammy without spoiling anything?

Well, I can tell you that I’m not in Season 3. (Laughs) There you go! I might be in Season 4, but I’m not in Season 3.

I don’t like that news at all!

I don’t like it either, but that’s the way it is. (Laughs)

I had no idea that you had done some musical theater.

Oh yeah!

I found a video of you as Fantine in Les Miserables, and you’re so great! I was wondering if you’d be down to go into left field with your next project and do a full-fledged musical or TV musical?

Are you kidding? That’d be a dream come true.

Baz Luhrmann has that new Netflix show, The Get Down. We have to work you into something like that.

Exactly. Let’s push that.

I played Roxie on Broadway in Chicago for three months when I was on hiatus from The Office. I am one of those people that there’s nothing more gratifying to than being completely used up. In other words, using everything that I have and bringing it to the table. I have been dancing since I was five. I’ve been singing all my life. I’ve been acting professionally since I was size, so to be able to act, sing and dance all at once eight times a week was heaven on a stick. So you basically don’t even need to pay me, and I’ll show up. (Laughs) When you write your musical, call me back.

I definitely will!  

Emmy-winner Reg E. Cathey talks about the career path that led to House of Cards

Not every actor can boast a career like Reg E. Cathey with a filmography including such works as House of Cards, The Wire, Oz, Tank Girl, and Se7en. On top of his performances in film and television, he has always made it a priority to work in classical theatre whenever he is given the opportunity. With a distinctive voice that rivals Morgan Freeman and a commanding, booming laugh that concludes each story, we talked about a range of subjects including his college roommate David Allen Grier, the “tyranny of the douchebag,” and that time he crashed on Joey Ramone’s couch over spring break. We lost track of time and ended up concluding our talk just as he was going into the homophobic history of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and to my pleasure ended with Cathey singing the song to me himself.

Cathey on his first Emmy win

Every actor has a complicated relationship with winning awards, and they tell themselves they don’t matter. With Reg E. Cathey, it took the Television Academy so many years to recognize him that he was almost at a loss for words on what his first nomination and eventual win actually meant.

“I won an Obie award years ago [for Talk], but after years of struggle there is a point where others’ validation doesn’t matter,” Cathey said. “But winning was mind blowing. Man it was special.”

He was alone the first two times he was nominated, but the third time “was almost better in a weird way,” according to Cathey. The news of his first time found him surrounded by his peers when he received the good news.

“This year I found out while working on a production of The Merchant of Venice in Venice. It’s the 400th-year anniversary of Shakespeare,” Cathey said. “I was working on this show and the cast and crew were congratulating me. It was fabuous. Really an amazing journey I can’t put into words.”

Pulling out of an intense depression

For someone with as distinctive as a presence onscreen as Cathey, it might come as a surprise that there were times when he struggled to find work. He recalls a particularly powerful moment in his life when opportunities and doors seemed to close before him:

“When The Wire ended I thought, ‘FINALLY my career is going to take off.’ But then I didn’t work for two years. I was going through a hard time and my friend took me to see The Country Girl starring Morgan Freeman. After the show the doorman called Morgan and told him he had some visitors. Usually your heroes disappoint you, but he treated us like gods. My friend and I are were going to go out for drinks afterwards and, while walking down the street, another doorman invited us to see Laurence [Fishburne] in Thurgood Marshall. Afterwards Laurence invited us to drinks, and we stayed up until five talking about theatre, film, art. Talking about art really inspired me to get out of depression. It all came from love. Three months later, I was cast in The Shawshank Redemption over in the West End. It all came from love and I learned to tell myself ‘don’t feel bad, things are gonna change.’ That’s what I thought about when I won. ”

His move to NY, love For classical theatre, and The Wire

From the moment he bellowed out “Living in LA were the worst ten fucking years of my existence on this goddamn planet,” I knew his story would be one to which any artist could easily relate:

“When I moved to New York, I did voice work to make a living and only did classical theatre. I worked in Dante’s Inferno for a year. Then was the Scottish play. Next Taming of the Shrew with Allison Janney. I got a call from my friend about wanting me to try out for this show on HBO. I tried to tell him I didn’t want to play a drug dealer, but he interrupted me and said ‘Man shut up! I’m trying to get you money.’ Making a living off of theatre in NYC was hard but kids today have it even harder. Not only was the wolf at my door, but he had his toothbrush. You know… but when it was good it was great. Those were the best years of my career.”

He spent the second half of the 70’s in college at the University of Michigan, and his time in college often felt too good to believe. Even though he insists he can’t sing, he let it slip that he spent a term performing in West Side Story with none other than Madonna (he was a Jet and she was a dancer). He also had plenty of stories to share of his roommate, David Allen Grier.

“In college my roommate David and I went to New York for spring break when everyone else was going to Florida. We crashed on Joey Ramone’s couch. Wild times man. That was the 70s brother,” Cathey said.

His first time On TV

Reg E. Cathey’s prolific career has given him the opportunity to work on a range of films from The Mask to American Psycho and even Pootie Tang. Thirty-five years into his career, he still vividly remembers his first television role.

“My first job on television was Square One TV, a show about math. It had sketches like SNL,” Cathey said.

However, as vividly as he remembers his time on the childrens’ show, he also remembers its disappointing cancellation. Cathey cites the then Secretary of Education, William Bennett, as the chief reason the series was cancelled.

“He said learning shouldn’t be fun,” Cathey said.

“There’s two types of people in the world; cool people and assholes. But the cool people will prevail because they have a secret weapon: faith,  hope, and love. With that they’ll defeat the tyranny of the douchebag.” Reg E. Cathey (House of Cards)

Enter House of Cards

As soon as we began talking about his work on House of Cards, Cathey immediately started to reminisce over his scenes with Kevin Spacey.

“When it was just the two of us [Kevin Spacey], it was the easiest job I ever had,” Cathey laughed. “We would do our stuff and laugh, and I would go home every night thinking that this is the best job ever.”

From the very beginning the entire creative team plotted the exact nature of the relationship between Freddy and Frank. In fact, he had no hesitation calling their friendship genuine and not as one-sided as one might think.

“Most definitely they were friends. They loved each other. That relationship was fraught with what America is fraught with: race, white supremacy, self-loathing. It’s all in there,” Cathey said. “It’s funny because it’s something that was thought about in the show but it had to be delicate. It needed to be treated personally and not with metaphors. What part of the Black community does Freddy represent? What part of White Supremacy does Frank represent? What do they reflect without knowing it?”

Freddy’s final scene

Without any definitive answers on whether or not this is the end of Freddy’s arc on House of Cards, we began discussing his big scene of the season. Cathey said he was never 100 percent certain at the end of any given year whether or not he would be returning the next. This year, the difference is that his Season 4 arc felt more conclusive than ever before. After yelling at Frank, we see Freddy beating up on a reporter trying to get information on the President.

After stepping on the recorder he declares, “I don’t snitch! Not to cops. Not to reporters. Not to anybody. Leave me the fuck alone!” and then turns his back and walks down the alley.

“What’s fabulous about that final scene is that because he’s walking away you don’t really know how he feels. That’s the beauty of it,” Cathey said. “Does he really mean what he says? You don’t know if his heart was broken. I have my own personal thoughts but I’m not going to share them.”

House of Cards and our current political climate

The first correlation Cathey made between House of Cards and our own world was a reference to Season 3.

“The scene that stands out for me is Freddy telling his grandson he’ll never be President while audiences currently have a Black president. What is he really saying? What is a way for an uneducated Black man to tell his son to dream without fantasy,” Cathey said.

Watching the scheming politics of House of Cards is almost impossible without thinking of the current American political climate. In fact, the Season 4 similarities were so strong that the show had a major contested convention storyline as we geared up for the possibility of two contested conventions. In terms of our current political racial divide, Cathey had an interesting take.

“I’ve always thought there is mental illness running through our society. It stems from white supremacy,” Cathey said. “Everything is heartbreakingly slow. It’s a mental illness we all suffer from and our current situation is just the latest installment of race in America.”

Of course he has some confidence that eventually everything will end up ok (and goes without saying that he doesn’t believe Trump will be elected). “There’s two types of people in the world; cool people and assholes. But the cool people will prevail because they have a secret weapon: faith,  hope, and love. With that they’ll defeat the tyranny of the douchebag.” And the second he ends with douchebag he erupts into his deep boisterous laugh.

As our conversation on race relations began to trail off, he began to recall his childhood, primarily in the American South as well as Germany.

“Growing up my family moved around a lot because of my father being in the military. Well my mom, she had us write book reports on Black history every Saturday. We hated it. We called it mom school,” Cathey said. “The reason she did it was because she didn’t want us to lose our education of who we were. Were never allowed to say ‘They never taught us that in school.’ Years later after she passed away I found a big box where she had saved every report. They were scrawled with notes and corrections.”

The role he still wants to play

For an accomplished stage actor, Reg E. Cathey had an immediate answer for whom he was dying to play.

“Faltstaff. Falstaff. Falstaff! I’ve done him before at the California Shakespeare Company in San Francisco but I want to play him again,” Cathey said.

With such a roaring presence, Reg E. Cathey should have no problem standing out to Emmy voters again.

You can find all four seasons Reg E. Cathey’s performance on House of Cards on Netflix.

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