Emmy voters, Becky Ann Baker is playing your mother in HBO’s Girls. Nominate your mother, please.
HBO’s Girls will wrap up its 6-year run next year. As it readies for its end, the writing team, including star/director Lena Dunham, has given each Girls actor a beautiful gift of at least one major, memorable scene in its most recent season. Perhaps no one on the show has benefitted quite as much from this renewed sense of clarity and excellence as actress Becky Ann Baker. Baker plays Loreen Horvath, mother to Hannah Horvath (Dunham) and wife to newly outed gay man Tad (Peter Scolari). This surprising turn – and Loreen’s varied reactions to it – elevates Becky Ann Baker to MVM status: Most Valuable Mom.
Becky Ann Baker has several epic scenes in season five, mostly centering around a girl’s weekend Loreen and Hannah embark upon in Girls‘ “Queen for Two Days.” One scene in particular is a prime example of Baker’s range as an actress. Loreen listens to a table full of bitter and troubled women talk about their middle-aged romantic lives. Baker has few lines, but the performance is uniquely in her face, reacting to all of the trauma and distress around her.
This is a classic scene from a classic actress who deserves an Emmy nomination for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
AwardsDaily TV: So, Becky Ann Baker, whenever we at ADTV do an interview, we always ask each other for questions. One of the best comments I received was, “Please tell I her have a huge ‘mom crush’ on her.”
Becky Ann Baker: [Laughs] That’s great! That’s a wonderful compliment. That’s so great.
ADTV: Given the number of “mom” roles you’ve worked on over the years, what’s the challenge in keeping them unique?
BAB: That’s a great question. I think certainly… well, like in Freaks and Geeks for example… she was kind of the perfect mom. The 50’s mom. A woman who grew up without any kind of terror in her life and was innocent to anything that her kids were doing. She was always caught unaware, and then we flip to somebody like Hannah’s mom who’s aggressively telling her that they’re cutting her off from any kind of money from the first season on and trying to school her in a totally different, adult way. I think the big difference is always going to come from the writing. Happily in both of those situations – both produced by Judd Apatow – there was a lot of creative discussion. On something like Girls, we have our table reads and, if anybody is having questions or thoughts about things, they’re openly discussed. Happily, we have a really wonderful relationship with the writers, and I’m a huge fan of the writers from Girls and from the old Freaks and Geeks days.
So, I just feel incredibly lucky – especially those two jobs – to have amazing writers that are writing things that are true. One [Girls season six episode] that we just shot was written by another woman – we’ve got a lot of women on the Girls writing team – so that’s really the key to it all, the writers and their perspectives. And of course Lena [Dunham] and Jenni Konner, who is our showrunner, really helm this show in a way that makes it considered one of the best jobs in town. I really tip my hat to those two and the writers in terms of picking up my cues in terms of how these women are different. That being said, what’s great in my life is that I am a mom of now an adult young woman. She and Lena have become friendly, and it’s pretty great to see how our kids change as they get old.
ADTV: I know most of the detail is in the script, but in terms of making sure your character’s actions are true and honest, do you draw a lot of inspiration from your own relationship with your daughter?
BAB: Absolutely. I mean, our circumstances aren’t the same because my daughter is nothing like Hannah Horvath, but certainly the relationships and how we speak to each other… But also I think I’m incredibly lucky because Lena and I have from day one had a remarkably open working relationship. It’s incredibly easy to relate to her as my daughter. And then the crazy thing is we’re shooting the scene, playing these two roles, and then I realize when we cut that she’s calling “Cut.” She’s thinking of it in a totally different way while we’re working it as actors which always surprises me… to watch her multitask is pretty amazing. I’m her biggest fan. Having a daughter that’s similar age helps, but it’s also, I think, that openness that Lena works with has made it so easy to make ourselves feel like we’re mom and daughter. We talk to each other, we gossip, in a way that informs that relationship.
ADTV: One of the things I love the most about Girls is that the characters are not static. We’ve just finished up the fifth season, and there have been so many changes through the years in all characters. What are some of the changes in Loreen that have excited you most as an actress?
BAB: Well, of course, my husband coming out to me as a gay man [on the show]. That’s been huge and fascinating because I’ve watched marriages break up at a later age for various reasons and watched friends of mine negotiate what it’s like to be, all of a sudden, alone in a time when they thought they were going to have companionship. How do you conduct the rest of your life thinking, “What am I going to do with the rest of this life now that I’m on my own?” I think it’s particularly interesting of a woman that’s of my generation to find herself… You know, it’s been a 30-year marriage… my own marriage, which is still in tact [to actor Dylan Baker, Happiness], has been a 30-year marriage as well… so, it’s just fascinating to see what we’re working on here with this woman all of a sudden thrust back out into the world all on her own and not knowing how to cope with that. It happens a lot, so I think it’s kind of great that we’re exploring it. Loreen doesn’t always handle it very well which I think is also wonderful. There are some scenes coming up in season six that are pretty harrowing. Sad but true. It really is an interesting place to find yourself at a certain age.
Having a daughter that’s similar age helps, but it’s also, I think, that openness that Lena works with has made it so easy to make ourselves feel like we’re mom and daughter. We talk to each other, we gossip, in a way that informs that relationship. – Becky Ann Baker
ADTV: Wow. I’m both sad and excited for season six, but I want to get into that a little later. So, you’ve broken my heart twice as an actress. Once, in Freaks and Geeks in that Halloween episode when you realize your daughter, played by Linda Cardellini, doesn’t want to hand out candy anymore with you. Second, that mother / daughter retreat with Hannah in Girls and your reactions to the other women at that dinner scene are truly heartbreaking. Were you put on this Earth to personally torment me?
BAB: [Laughs] I don’t think so, but the scene where we go away was written by a woman named Tami Sagher… I thought that was just genius what she did. I can’t say enough about her really. I thought she captured so many things in that episode, including writing the things that were being said around me as in that table scene. It’s wonderful to be able to interpret things like that.
ADTV: Yes, that episode was really some of the finest work I think I’ve seen you do. Both not only with the dialogue scenes you have with Lena Dunham, but also the silent reaction scenes you have at that dinner table. There’s not a great deal of dialogue for you there, but it’s all in your face. I actually want to ask a few questions about that episode [“Queen for Two Days”]. Have you ever been to a female empowerment seminar like that?
BAB: You know, I haven’t. I’ve been away to little spa getaways with girlfriends and things like that, but I’ve never been to something along those lines. Interestingly enough, one of the women that episode was written about was on set and talked about that experience at length. It sounded so fascinating, and now I’d kind of like to go just so that I can see what’s going on. It’s really odd and peculiar and, I’m sure, helpful to many, many people but just not quite my cup of tea but I’d love to see how it works. I don’t really see myself being someone… who’s driving to grunt and thrust my body around. I thought that was pretty interesting stuff, especially for somebody like Loreen who has not been in touch with herself in a more organic way. She’s been more sheltered than that.
ADTV: There’s a scene with you and Hannah when you first arrive at the retreat, and you’re getting ready for bed. Loreen is having that initial conversation with her about how she’s convinced their bad marriage has ruined her ability to have a healthy relationship. Then, you close that scene with you asking about Hannah’s dental habits. Is that “mom code” for “Can’t you even do that right?”
BAB: Yeah, I mean, there’s so many mixed messages in that scene to me. I’m still mom-ing her while I’m telling her that she should be standing on her own… There’s so many crazy mixed messages in that scene. It’s sort of wonderful to witness if not to live if you know what I mean.
ADTV: Let’s get back to the dinner scene. Tell me what was going through your mind as you were filming that scene.
BAB: What’s great was the way we shot it. The other women went first, so I really got to listen to everything they were saying. I had a lovely kind of warming to listening to their stories and their gab… Loreen is just looking for some iota that everything’s going to be okay. She’s looking for some kind of guidance from these women – some drop of encouragement… And then everything they say, every story, even their disdain for my husband coming out as a gay man… Everything single thing they said was something that Loreen is listening to for their guidance, and, of course, she’s just knocked down every time with what they say. It was just a wonderfully written scene. I think just the tool of listening in that scene was the big thing.
ADTV: Another big scene – a smaller but impactful one – was your last scene of the season where you’re sharing a 40 with Elijah [Andrew Rannells].
BAB: Oh my god, isn’t that a great scene! With Andrew! Oh I love that scene so much!
ADTV: What’s behind that scene for you personally as an actress?
BAB: What’s lovely for me as the character of Loreen is that she’s kind of getting along… so many things have been shot down in her life but she’s still enjoying somebody like Elijah’s character. She’s not so bitter and mean that she still has that willingness to be open and watch her daughter’s performance story and then continue on with Elijah. I love that scene so much and that we got to end there for the season. To me, that signals there might be a little bit of growth in Loreen and in her acceptance of this wonderful friend of Hannah’s. We’ll see how that kind of thing can go forward… If there can be real growth in this woman who at the top of season one seems pretty immoveable.
ADTV: So, we’ve talked about season six a little bit, but what can we looking forward to for Loreen in the final season?
BAB: You know, without giving anything away, she continues to try to grow and expand her world but also definitely she is searching for what her life now going to be. When somebody’s kind of blindsided and surprised by their change of life circumstances, she’s definitely searching for her new identity as a single woman. I think that’s probably the best way to put it.
ADTV: What do you think she’s going to be doing in ten years after we leave the series?
BAB: Oh that’s a great question. I think in ten years… call me crazy… but I think Loreen’s definitely going to get out of her small world and probably will move to a larger city. Maybe be closer to Hannah. She’ll be a terrific parent later. Maybe she wasn’t so great in certain ways, but I think she’ll be closer to Hannah as she goes in ten years. I think she’s definitely headed to a larger city in ten years.
ADTV: That’s great. That’s a very hopeful, positive message. That’s a nice thought to leave the character.
BAB: Yeah, I definitely think she’s opening up.
ADTV: So, in closing, what’s next for you as an actress after Girls?
BAB: Well, we’re shooting season six this summer. I’m also involved in a recurring series called Doubt for CBS [starring Laverne Cox]. I play Elliot Gould’s assistant in this one. It was supposed to shoot in New York City but now it’s filming in LA so that may change things a bit. I hold high hopes for that. I’ve been doing a lot of theater. I’m currently in a production of [Ibsen’s] Peer Gynt here in New York City at the Classic Stage Company. That runs for a few more weeks. I’m really hopeful for Doubt. It’s an amazing cast, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed. It’s picked up for mid-season so we won’t start shooting for a little bit.
Joey Moser talks to the Grease: Live production team about the blood, sweat, and tears behind bringing the beloved musical to a nationwide audience.
I’m not sure a lot of people knew what to expect from Fox / Paramount TV’s live presentation of Grease: Live. Sure, a lot of people love the musical – the stage show is still one of the most continually produced across the country – but could this show really stand out following the massive successes of NBC’s live performances of The Sound of Music and the critically acclaimed rendition of The Wiz? What could director Thomas Kail and his creative team bring to the table that would make this beloved musical feel fresh and alive again?
Kail and his creatives adapted Grease in a way that I didn’t expect. The iconic lines and moments are all there, but they have produced something that makes theater geeks like me squeal with glee. The sets are massive, and the camerawork allowed us to feel like we were attending pep rallies and boring classes at Rydell High. In short, the at-home audience felt like an integral part of this giant musical. We weren’t just watching it from a comfortable seat in a Broadway theater. We were living it.
Live musicals are still tricky to predict in the Emmy race. The Sound of Music picked up 4 nominations back in 2013, but no other show has been nominated for coveted trophies since then. Will the scale of Grease: Live and the excitement of the immense production land it some Creative Emmys? Director Thomas Kail seems like a sure bet for changing the way that musicals can be produced for a television audience. He’s one of the hottest stage directors working right now, and he’s behind a small, little show on Broadway. You may have heard of it? Hamilton?
While talking to Kail on the phone, I could sense his real enthusiasm for the project and his respect for the work. We talked about the rehearsal process and about how there isn’t a definitive version of the beloved musical. I try my best to not sound like a total nerd, and I do end up asking him about a much-maligned movie musical that I would love to see adapted for the stage.
AwardsDaily TV: I wanted to congratulate you! You’re having a ridiculously great year. How does it feel to be the director of two very huge—but very different—successes?
Thomas Kail: Oh, I don’t know. [Laughs] The beauty of having a chance to make things in different places is that you get to take what you’ve learned and try to apply it to the next task and see what still fits in your toolbox and what’s still needed. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had the chance to do two works in the last little while that allows theater to be part of the cultural conversation. That’s very important to me that theater is at the big kids’ table and that it’s not the kid brother. It’s been a beacon for me. It has been a place that’s embraced me and so many of my friends and given us a place to feel relevant and useful. The fact that we can reach so many people with Grease in one night and continue to as it spins into the universe is very meaningful.
ADTV: I recently found out that you had done some television work before, but Grease was your first huge television project.
TK: It was my first live musical of Grease, I can tell you that!
ADTV: Yes! What made you the most nervous about taking on a project so large? Is there something in particular?
TK: I don’t know if it was nerves as much as I was very keen on trying to honor the show and the spirit of the show. That’s something that we talked a lot about with my music director, Tom Kitt, my choreographer, Zach Woodlee, Marc Platt the producer, Alex Rudzinski (live television director). All of us talked from those early, early meetings about how to capture the feeling of Grease. How to put forth something that we felt captured the spirit of what the original show did and then what the original film did for so many people. That was a thing we were conscious of at every single turn. How do we make our own version of this, but also honor what’s coming forward. And acknowledge why we’re here.
ADTV: I actually re-watched it, and everyone is very familiar with either the show or the movie. A lot of those lines are very quotable, and I was very surprised by how a lot of it felt so fresh and so different and so new. I wanted to thank you for putting in “Those Magic Changes” and “Freddy My Love” back into the show. “Magic Changes” is my favorite song from the stage show, so I was very happy to see that again. Was walking that fine line difficult—especially for those who may be watching it for the first time?
TK: Well, there’s a particular challenge with Grease, because there isn’t a definitive version. There’s the version they did in Chicago, there’s the one for Broadway, there’s the version that’s done in high schools, the film—which is quite different from that. The writers on the show—Jon Tolins and Rob Carey, and I—thought very hard about all of those different iterations and the things that we loved from each. We wanted to pull in all of the things they admired or moved them–as did I. We knew that we wanted to use the spine of the film because that was the version most people had access to. But then for the numbers that existed on stage that didn’t make it into the film, this felt like a way that we could introduce this version which was our version of Grease. The car race that’s in the film—which is clearly not on stage—and sort of put them all together and make it all feel cohesive. And a lot of that was we knew that the glue would be the spirit. We knew the glue was the feeling. It wasn’t even about the events or which scenes, because there are a lot of scenes in our version that weren’t in either of the other versions. There’s a lot of new material that’s infused with that same spirit of Grease and yet you get to go to the Frosty Palace. You get to meet all the characters that you know and then were some opportunities to bring in some of the things that we knew were going to make someone say, “Oh, this is that thing that didn’t make it into here, and now it’s there.” It’s the same feeling you had.
ADTV: Something I’m very curious about is where you watched it. Where did you watch the show?
TK: I watched it in the truck. Right behind Alex.
ADTV: I wasn’t sure if you were incognito in the live audience watching it.
TK: What’s funny is when we were first rehearsing just in the rehearsal studio, I was talking to the cast and they were asking where I was going to be. And I said, “Where will I be most useful?” They said it would be great if I was out there, so I thought I’d be like Lorne Michaels—I’d be around, checking things out. And as we got closer to it, I realized a) I’d just be in the way, and b) I’d be far more utilized if something was needed in the truck. But I did… at the very end of the curtain call… Mark Platt and I ran out. That idea of having the fair with all the people out there was one of the first ideas we had. We were sitting there having watched the whole thing and I said, “This is our chance to actually go and be in the middle of it. We’ll know what it looks like when we watch it, you know, sometime in the future. You want to go?” And he sort of looked at me and we sort of just booked it out of there. If you look really closely in the final bow right after Aaron and Julianne take their last bow in the deep background on top of one of those golf carts, you can see me and Mark very, very small on the screen. So, I was out there for the last thirty seconds.
ADTV: I’ll have to look for that!
TK: I’m surprised the internet hasn’t discovered it yet…because nobody cares [Laughs].
ADTV: [Laughs] I’m sure it’s in some Buzzfeed article somewhere
TK: There’s probably 4 articles now [Laughs].
ADTV: Speaking of the rehearsals, was there any clear difference between this and maybe a Broadway show that’s made for the stage?
TK: For the first month, no. We were just in the rehearsal studio. We ran it like you would for a show whether you were in Florida or on Broadway or a national tour, or Off-Broadway. The rehearsal day was structured in a very similar fashion. There were always two rooms going. Zach Woodlee in his room constantly. Tom Kitt had his own room where he was orchestrating and arranging, and if he wasn’t doing that he was teaching music. And then I was in another room and we’d all join for certain moments. Obviously, the closer we got to leaving the studio, we were together a lot more than we were apart. It was very important to me that we routined and ran the show as many times as we could. The red light of the “ON AIR” was an x-ray vision machine for confidence. My job was to prepare everybody on stage as well as that crew and Alex and his team. They had real repetition at the movements, so when something went left when it was supposed to go right or zig instead of zag, they’d have that information. The version that was on Sunday when we did that, that was our third full run through with an audience (and we had two previous run throughs), and our fifth run we’d gone through of the show. If you’ve ever worked on a show you know that you never get to run a show that many times before your first preview, and it’s my job to get the show ready to meet the audience. So that structuring or skill that you learn from your stage managers when you’re making a musical on Broadway or Off-Broadway is actually what we were trying to accomplish. The big shift is when we got on stage. Instead of it being eight, nine, ten days of tech, we were on the set. These sets were three dimensional with real walls and real integrity. It was about putting it there and shooting everything single camera to then use as a map for us to do the camera coverage for when Alex was ready to break that down.
ADTV: The show is huge, and it’s unlike any of the recent live musicals. The first time I was watching the live broadcast, I was sitting very close to my TV with my face screwed up thinking, “How the heck are they doing this?” It works so seamlessly. Was the idea of going so big there from the beginning, or was that something that came along as you were rehearsing?
TK: No, we were thinking of this scale from the very early conversations we had 14 or 15 months before we ever did it. This idea of having an opening number that showed it was happening live, that there were scenes, that there were actors playing these parts was one of the early conversations. We wanted to show how really high we were on the wire. I knew we wanted to end it in that with the big party rain or shine—little did we know it would actually rain that day. That we did not know [Laughs]. We didn’t know necessarily that it would be on two soundstages and that it would be outside. With my production designer David Korins, we had conversations with Mark Platt, we just thought to design the version that we want to do, and whether we do one soundstage in New York or two or three in L.A. Let’s find the vocabulary and language for the show and then we’ll make sure it will work wherever we end up. Sometimes where you end up is based on very practical things than just artistic idea. We didn’t want to compromise the vision of the show no matter where we were.
ADTV: I was surprised that other live musicals didn’t have a live audience. I believe that The Wiz Live would have benefitted from having that energy from the audience. How important to you was bringing a live audience into the space?
TK: Having a live audience felt like it was necessary component for Grease, so we were talking about that from the very initial conversations with Paramount and FOX. Grease is a musical comedy so we felt that back and forth energy that we were trying to harness would really benefit from having a live audience. We were able to incorporate them in the way that we did. When you’re in the gym and you have 200 people in that totally immersive scene, it was such a full expression of the storytelling within the show, the dynamism of Zach Woodlee’s choreography, Alex’s camera coverage of that and letting that happen in front of an engaged and electrified audience was a dream. It was feedback loop. The actors were giving the audience and the audience was giving to the performers—it made it feel combustible and alive.
ADTV: In my experience with theater, getting an audience—no matter what type—is so important just to see how the pace is sustained and to get the reactions, whether it’s laughter or applause. Since I was so used to all the other musicals not having real reactions from a crowd, the audience really fed into the energy of the performers.
TK: Hopefully, the cadence of the experience we have of going to see theater and live musicals was something we could transport. So that was our goal.
ADTV: Was there any particular actor from the audition process or rehearsal process that surprised you in a good way? Did anyone blow you away when you first saw them in the rehearsals?
TK: This cast was so uniformly remarkable that it’s impossible for me to distinguish. These things are contingent on the alchemy of the group, and that’s not something you can always control. This is a show about wanting to belong and be a part of something, so the fact that the T-Birds have this bond that began at the photo shoot weeks before (and the Pink Ladies also had that) made me think we were onto something. We were just getting to know each other. The standard was so high! We had Ana Gasteyer and Haneefah Woods, Wendell Pierce who I’ve worked with—everyone was a ringer. Tom Kitt mentioned this on the day of the show. When this kind of production comes together, it’s this relay race, and everybody takes the baton and they run with it so swiftly and so securely and just hand it off to the next person. And that’s what happened that day in all departments. There were 450 people that went to work that day to make that show, and all of them had their finest day. It was quite the thing to behold.
ADTV: Grease: Live had such an ethnically diverse cast. There has been a lot of talk about the diversity of Hamilton.
TK: It was not conscious in its relation to Hamilton. It was conscious in that we wanted to populate this Rydell High where the world could be watching it. It felt like that was only going to inform and infuse the spirit of the show that we were trying to capture.
ADTV: To close, is there any way for me to convince you to direct Grease 2: Live?
TK: [Laughs] Let’s put it this way. I know Grease 2 better than I know Grease. We owned two movie musicals growing up – I have two sisters, and I’m in the middle – and they was Grease and Grease 2. I already have it worked out how I’m going to do “Reproduction.” The bowling alley has been rented. And we can bring back Didi Conn!
ADTV: So if I give you Michelle Pfeiffer and a ladder, you’ll do it just for me?
TK: If there’s a ladder and a bowling alley available, we should probably just set it up.
The more you research the production of Grease: Live, the more you realize how top-notch everyone involved is. This is a dream team stacked with so much experience and assured talent that it’s no wonder that the musical felt so smooth and effortless. With such a dependable group of people collected to work on Grease, how could it not be a rousing success?
We were afforded the privilege to reach out to some of the creatives to ask them a few questions relating to their field in the making of Grease: Live.
Working closely with Kail was Alex Rudzinski, the live television director. Rudzinski has directed a lot of well-known reality television, but he’s probably best known for his directorial work on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
ADTV: Did you rehearse at all with an audience to give the actors any sense or how the live audience would react to certain aspects of the show? How did you maneuver the audience around so seamlessly?
Alex Rudzinski: Yes, we had a full dress rehearsal the night before air with a full audience, and three days before transmission we also had an audience where we invited just the friends and family of the cast and crew. We learned a huge amount from both of these. The audio team had a lot of balancing to do and we had to test the logistics of moving the audience around our different locations during the 3 hours – It wasn’t just the cast and crew moving between different stages but we also moved the audience live on air!
ADTV: In what ways is directing something like Grease: Live similar to putting together Dancing with the Stars?
AR: The main similarity is how I work in designing and executing a camera script – every shot is storyboarded and called in real time musically to bars and beats – there are approximately 1,500 shots in the show.
ADTV: Did the death of Greg Hudgens change the atmosphere of the presentation at all backstage?
AR: When you work on a show for as long as this, the cast and crew become a special family. Of course everyone was hugely sympathetic with Vanessa for her loss, but her response on show day was so professional. She helped the team to stay focused on that night’s broadcast.
ADTV: You stated that Grease: Live was going to feature handheld cameras kind of like a professional football game. Do you think this could be used for all live musicals from now on, or was this technique better suited for something looser and fun like this musical?
AR: We used some handheld cameras for logistical reasons due to the enormous distance between our locations. We had 21 different sets spread out over nearly half a kilometer. Without using some handhelds that could reposition live between locations we would have needed 30-40 cameras which just would not have been financially viable. Hopefully, our viewers were unaware of the camerawork and just enjoyed the immersive presentation of the performances from our cast.
Costume designer William Ivey Long has won six Tony Awards for Broadway hits like Nine, The Producers, and Grey Gardens, and he’s designed probably every iconic look on stage that you can remember. He occasionally dabbles in television, but Grease: Live was his first foray in over a decade. If you look up pictures of Mr. Long, you can immediately tell he has an affinity for clothes, and he has killer style. The musical was a huge undertaking, but the bright colors and the cohesive design signifies that we are in the presence of a total master.
ADTV: You haven’t been involved with a television presentation since The Man Who Came to Dinner over 15 years ago. Was it exciting to come back to television for the live broadcast?
William Ivey Long: Yes, this hybrid event had every feeling of urgency – like a live Broadway show – with the addition of the technical requirements of a live television show. In fact, I had such a good time on Grease: Live that I’ve designed two more television projects since: Rocky Horror Picture Show for FOX (airing this Halloween) and Maya and Marty for NBC (currently shooting).
ADTV: Was there a look from the original film that you were eager to do your own spin on? Were you tempted to change anything up dramatically?
WIL: We were a valentine to the 1980’s film, which was a valentine to the 70’s musical which was itself valentine to the actual 1950’s teen movie phenomena. Of course we always stand on the shoulders of our predecessors and my hat is off to the great Albert Wolsky – legendary designer of the original film.
ADTV: You’ve designed for so many legendary Broadway musicals, and your work encompasses so many different eras and time periods. Do you have a favorite?
WIL: Yes, actually, the glamorous period 1936-1938. All of the best fashion designers were working at the height of their artistry; and our country was about to go to war. Glamour on the brink!
ADTV: The cast of this musical is huge, and everything is so exquisitely detailed. When you begin to tackle something as big as Grease: Live, where do you start? Was this one of the largest projects you’ve taken on?
WIL: Yes, this is one of the largest – almost 500 costumes! We began with actual 1950’s research – high school students, greasers, and the wide-eyed cultures of that innocent time in America. I then worked with production designer David Korins to create different color schemes for each production number – from a controlled school-colors opening number to the explosion of confetti colors at the carnival finale.
ADTV: One of the best moments from the first half of the show was when Marty transformed into her fantasy dress during “Freddy My Love.” With this change and with Cinderella’s transformation before the ball in the latest revival, I have to ask: are you the master of the quick change?
WIL: Ever since working with Siegfried and Roy, I have been in love with magic, and specifically, magical transformations. In fact Keke Palmer who played Marty and sang Freddy My Love was my last Cinderella on Broadway – so I had already worked with her on several magical transformations and knew she would be more than up for it.
ADTV: Your next television project is the remake of the cult classic musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Were you ready to jump into something more scandalous and sexy after such a squeaky clean musical?
WIL: Yes ABSOLUTELY!!!
The music supervisor, Tom Kitt, is a Pulitzer Prize winning musician who both composes and conducts. He has written the music for the stage adaptations for High Fidelity and Bring It On (where he worked with Tony winner and fellow Pulitzer Prize winner, Lin Manuel Miranda). Being associated with one of the most intense musical theater pieces in the last 10 years (the exquisite Next to Normal), I was most curious as to what drew Kitt to Grease in the first place.
ADTV: Next to Normal is one of the most beloved and emotional musicals in the last decade. What interested you about getting involved with such a “fluffy” musical like this one?
Tom Kitt: Grease was one of the first musicals I saw as a kid. I loved it so much, that I must have seen it over 50 times in the movie theater. And looking back, I think my love of musicals began with Grease. It’s a show that I have great passion and admiration for; a show that taught me a lot about the craft of creating a musical. So to be given the opportunity to work with such iconic material and become part of the Grease family was quite an honor for me.
ADTV: Grease is one the most produced musicals in the country. What was the most rewarding aspect about bringing it to such a huge audience with the live presentation?
TK: There were three things that were incredibly rewarding: First, the opportunity to work with such a virtuosic group of creatives was a thrill by itself. Second, having never worked in the genre of the TV/Musical, the fact that we were able to work at a fast and high level and never felt adrift or unprepared was incredibly gratifying. And lastly, Grease as we know is beloved and already comes with such strong personal feelings from those who revere it, so the fact that we were able to make our own version, which was both faithful to what people love, but was also able to find its own voice, was quite a challenge that I feel like we were able to pull off. At the end of the day, we wanted to honor this material but bring a new audience to it with the same passion we had when we first saw it, and it feels like we did that.
ADTV: Were you tempted to incorporate more of the original musicals’ music into the live production, or was that strictly off the table?
TK: We were constantly going back to the original musical to see about incorporating more songs. “Rock ’N’ Roll Party Queen” and “Mooning” were additions that were made during the rehearsal process. And one of my favorite moments was “Those Magic Changes,” in which we utilized aspects from both the musical and the film to create a new version of that song. Between the film and the musical, there are so many great songs and I think the writers did an extraordinary job of finding ways to incorporate the music from both versions so that the piece felt cohesive and faithful to the different incarnations we all love.
ADTV: To end, I wanted to know if you could tell me anything about your upcoming production of Magic Mike (another show with your Normal collaborator, Brian Yorkey).
TK: We are currently in the development process for Magic Mike and I am having a phenomenal time working with Brian and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, as well as the entire creative team from the original film. There is no specific timetable as of now, but we’ve had some exciting first few steps so I’m hoping there will be more to share about the show’s trajectory soon.
You can’t think about this rock-n-roll musical and not immediately think about the dancing. With such insanely hummable tunes like “The Hand Jive,” Summer Lovin’,” and “Greased Lightning,” attention must be paid to choreographer Zach Woodlee. He’s mostly known in front of the camera for his stint as a mentor on The Glee Project on Oxygen, but he was putting the teens from Glee in dance boot camp from day one. His work on Grease: Live is infectious, vivacious, and just downright fun. Every inch of your television screen had Woodlee’s stamp on it.
ADTV: Since you were the main choreographer on Glee, would you say that high school kids have the most fun dancing between classes?
Zach Woodlee: I wouldn’t say working with a younger cast is necessarily more energetic. Dancing at any age creates a fun, kinetic energy. I love seeing the dance process from the creative inception to the final product, regardless if they are 16 or 60.
ADTV: How many hours a day did you rehearse choreography?
ZW: We worked from 10am-7pm every day. Grease: Live was a tightly run ship, and needed multiple rooms running at all times. There was a rotation throughout the day from scene work, vocals, and dancing. In our room, someone was always dancing!
ADTV: The Hand Jive was one of the highlights of the entire production. Is it hard to dance that fine line between honoring the original choreography and putting your own spin on it?
ZW: Of course! Everyone loves Grease. The fear of not being able to honor the original was daunting, but that goes with the territory of recreating a hit. For me, I think it was more about highlighting our actors’ talents and using their strengths to win over our audience. This cast was very well versed in movement already, so it made it more interesting to push the room to a much more athletic version for our hand jive.
ADTV: I was a big fan of The Glee Project, and it was great to see you teaching the choreography to the actors for that show. Did you have to put The Pink Ladies and the T-Birds into a serious dance boot camp?
ZW: This whole project was a boot camp! From day one, we all came in knowing time was short. The buzz of a live event helped to get us through the long yet rewarding days. Our entire cast and crew worked nonstop to create something that everyone would be proud of.
One of the most striking things of the entire production was the scenic design. Unlike Peter Pan or The Wiz, Grease: Live planted you into Rydell High. It’s not that the sets from previous musicals were poorly constructed, but designed David Korins stepped it up in a major way. You could almost feel the stiff desks in the science classes or you could have had some real gym class flashbacks during the dance scene or during “Summer Lovin’.”
Korins has designed for Broadway, regional theater, televion and music festivals. You name it, he’s done it. Like Mr. Kail, he has been nominated for a Tony for his work on Hamilton.
ADTV: When you signed on to do Grease: Live, were you surprised by how large it was going to be?
David Korins: I don’t think that Grease: Live was necessarily large or small – it was exactly the size it needed to be. It was really amazing to watch it find its way from being a piece of theater or a piece of television and define itself as a live television event. We didn’t originally imagine that it would take place all over the Warner Brothers lot, but when we got the multiple sound stages we decided to use them to their fullest extent. Even before I was on the project, director Tommy Kail knew he wanted to use the live audience, and the additional sound stages allowed us to really expand their presence and show them along the way as we moved from one scene/location to another. And, of course, the addition of the “golf-cart-ography” was a ton of fun. In the end, Grease: Live sort of presented two parallel experiences, for both the live audience and the viewer at home: the performance of Grease itself and event of the scenes taking place all around this sprawling lot. That duality gave a gravitas to the whole experience.
ADTV: The sets are so incredibly detailed. With other recent live musicals presented on television, it does feel like we are watching a stage musical, but Grease: Live is a much more immersive experience. Was it a go big or go home mindset from the beginning?
DK: We never really thought about it in terms of “go big or go home.” We began by asking ourselves: what are the best storytelling methods unique to theater, and what are the best storytelling methods unique to television? Theater uses obvious scene changes that explicitly show how we go from one mood or setting to another. There is no such thing as a jump cut or a dissolve or a cross fade, so we get to see those things happen and it’s a honor and a privilege to see how a piece of theater comes to life. On television, you can do scale tricks with the camera and play with size and proportion. You can actually have a legitimate cathartic revelation of space where you can see expanses of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of feet. Once we identified what the best storytelling devices of each medium were, we had to find a way to conflate them and actually take advantage of both media. So, in Grease: Live you get to actually see the scenery change and then bust outside and have a full blown carnival. So that didn’t necessarily feel like “go big or go home”, that felt like “identify the awesome and then exploit it!”
ADTV: You’ve worked several times with director Tommy Kail. Was it easier to take on such a massive project with someone you’ve worked with several times before?
DK: Absolutely. It probably takes 10 times working with someone before you even start to get to know them and the way their mind works. It’s crucial to create a shorthand of language and build a foundation of artistic references. So of course, knowledge is power, and the more experiences you have with someone the more you can feel like you trust them and know where you’re headed.
ADTV: There are over 20 sets, but which one was your favorite to design?
DK: The two that stand out to me are the ones that exist as the purest microcosm of what we were trying to do with the whole production: Frenchy’s bedroom into “Freddy My Love” (which is really two sets), and the Frosty Palace into “Beauty School Dropout.” I love that these both start in realistic, grounded places, that are very nuanced and dramaturgically specific with all sorts of detail and narrative driven ideas. Then, they both elevate and explode into these magical/totally abstract spaces that epitomize the “theater” of it all before coming back to reality. It’s like an abstract sandwich on magical realistic bread. The “realistic” versions of these rooms also aren’t exactly “realistic” – we use line and color and texture and perspective and scale to our advantage. They basically only employ 3 colors, they’re very treated theatrical worlds, but the places they heighten to are so much more magical, so it feels like a really big departure.
How will Grease: Live do with Emmy voters? It’s a bit harder to predict since most of the awards these gentlemen will be considered for are in the Creative Emmy ceremony categories, and they, unfortunately, won’t be aired with the big show. I think every one of these people will be considered for their work with the productiobecause everything was handled so deftly. The direction, scenic design and costume design feel like the surest bets. Kitt could definitely hear his name mentioned, and Woodlee could also be nominated since the choreography is one of the strongest things about the show.
I mentioned on last week’s podcast that Vanessa Hudgens (as Rizzo) could land a surprise nomination in the same vein as Emma Thompson’s nomination last year for Live from Lincoln Center: Sweeney Todd. Hudgens’ stood out in a tight ensemble. Don’t count her out.
Outstanding Special Class Program
Vanessa Hudgens, Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Bob Odenkirk talks about the allure of Better Call Saul and how he looks forward to playing the comedy in the drama.
There are criminal lawyers and then there are CRIMINAL lawyers. Bob Odenkirk plays the latter on AMC’s critically acclaimed drama Better Call Saul. Once solely known as the prequel series to the Emmy-winning Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Bob Odenkirk with it have quickly come into their own. Odenkirk managed to pull off a well deserved Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series and received an Emmy nomination in the same category.
On the surface, Better Call Saul documents Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill before he evolved into Saul Goodman, but, at its heart, it illustrates the journey of a man at odds with his own nature. The question on everyone’s lips, though, is when will Saul Goodman finally emerge? I sat down with Odenkirk to catch up on season two and tease the answer out of him.
AwardsDaily TV: It’s such a pleasure speaking to you. I mean, that cliffhanger! Oh my God!
Bob Odenkirk: Oh yeah? Good, I’m glad you feel that way. Did you like season two?
ADTV: I loved this season. I’m still wondering when we’re ever going to see Saul emerge.
BO: Saul doesn’t emerge quite so much as he’s in a little cocoon right now and I guess butterflies emerge. It’s more like cracking an egg. I think he’s just going to pop open in a beautiful, glorious flood of jibber-jabber and lime green socks.
ADTV: Every season it’s like, “Is this the season?” I hope we’re getting closer. I honestly thought maybe for season two, but now I’m thinking the egg might crack open in season three.
BO: Yeah, I think it will! When we get to it, I think it’ll happen a lot faster than people think. I don’t think becoming Saul is as slow an evolution as everyone else seems to think it is. I think that Jimmy McGill is really trying to live by some principles that he believes in, and they’re slowly getting beaten out of him. There’ll come a day where something will, I think, hurt him in a deep enough way that he just rejects all these fairly decent principles that he grew up believing in. I think it’ll be just a choice that he makes to be Saul Goodman and it’ll happen pretty quickly once it happens.
ADTV: What about when Jimmy admits that he swapped the one and six around. What do you think? Do you think Jimmy knows he’s done this terrible, terrible thing?
BO: Yeah, yeah. He loses sight of a bigger picture whenever he gets caught up in his inspirations, but that’s true of Saul Goodman too. It’s one of the reasons that when people compliment the character of Saul Goodman and say that he’s good at what he does, I’m always thinking, “Well, he’s good at getting excited about plans, but the follow-through doesn’t necessarily turn out the way he intends.”
ADTV: You’ve just finished an excellent, excellent second season, and the show has come into its own really. Have the comparisons between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad died down? Is there less pressure on you guys now to distance yourselves?
BO: Absolutely. I think all the critics and fans feel strongly that the show has defined its own tone and perspective on the world. We have nothing but thankfulness for the excellence of Breaking Bad and the way it set the plate for us. But, there’s no longer any anxiety about maybe that we’re stepping into their territory too much or anything. I think this world is kind of formed at this point by the hard work of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and the writers. Now, I think you can almost feel them relaxing that this new Better Call Saul world is populous and filled with attitude and energy and plots and drives and hopes and dreams. They can relax and even think to include some of the characters from the Breaking Bad universe and not feel any concern about what it means to the overall picture. It’s literally just storytelling now.
ADTV: Do you have a brother in real life? Has somebody said you have to ask him about how he would react if you did what Chuck did? Would he react differently?
BO: I do have brothers. My brother Bill is a director for The Simpsons, my brother Steven is a banker in Tucson, and my brother Phil is a geologist. I would never treat them the way Chuck treats Jimmy. That is insane. He’s a fucking asshole [laughs].
ADTV: He is [laughs]. He’s terrible, but he’s still likable in some way.
BO: Well, he justifies his choices for sure. I guess you could sort of see his point of view. He’s worked very hard to become who he is, a paragon of virtue in the law and legal matters, but that doesn’t mean he’s justified in not giving his brother a chance to be someone and prove himself.
ADTV: On the subject of Chuck, he doesn’t show Jimmy that he has proof of the crime. What do you think he’s going to do? Is he going to sit on that or does he have a plan? What is Chuck up to?
BO: Oh my God. Well, everything I say is conjecture. I don’t know a goddamn thing about what the future holds except that one day Walter White walks into my office and then who knows if that’s the end. Anyway, I think that Chuck does not have a clear path because I think that Howard Hamlin, played so wonderfully by Patrick Fabian, is kind of annoyed by Chuck’s inability to move on to form a relationship with his brother. They’ve got work to do. My personal brainstorming on the matter is that Chuck wants to blow Jimmy up with this tape or this proof, and Howard is just like, “Can’t you just leave it alone? I order you to stop obsessing about that and get to work on things that will make us money.”
I think there’s a bump there. There’s not an easy path for Chuck to just pursue destroying his brother. Hamlin is just this guy that you initially saw as a bad guy and a snake and then they gave him depth and an empathetic quality to his nature so that he was kind of on Jimmy’s side in a lot of ways. What I think about Chuck with this tape is that his life isn’t easy with it, and he can’t just take that and beat Jimmy over the head with it. He’s got to either be careful or figure out what it means to him. I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I think we can understand that, in some way, becoming Saul Goodman is this character Jimmy McGill burning down the house. He’s burning down the principles and the things he’s grown up that he believes in and he’s just saying, “Forget all that. I reject it and I’m going to be Darth Vader, or evil, now.” Something really bad has to happen for Jimmy McGill, who we’ve come to know as a sweet guy who cares about his brother and actually wants people’s respect and wants them to think he’s a good hard worker with talents. To just forget all that and give up and become this guy who presents himself as an ethically slippery person and that’s how I’m going to make a living and that’s who I’m going to be to the public.
As far as comedy goes, thank God that Peter and Vince give me comic scenes and fairly pure comic scenes every once an episode or every other episode. I promise you – I am relieved when I get to do them and I relish them and I’m thankful for them because they are a breath of fresh air for me, and I need them.
ADTV: We’ll see what happens. Did you ever think that you’d still be playing Saul, now Jimmy, after all these years?
BO: No, I did not. Listen, it was a big risk to put this thing on, but it was a risk that seemed like a smart one with Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould writing. I feel like risk is at the core of what we do, all of us, in show business, so how can you balk at a risk? I don’t know anything I’ve done that was a sure thing except working hard, but other than that we’re all taking turns rolling the dice every time. I’m just incredibly thankful to play this character to people. I’m acutely aware of how sensitively written this story is and how unique it is in its seeing life through a macro lens on a very small and subtle level. I’m amazed and just blown away that regular people can watch it and get involved and care and be entertained by it. It’s wonderful to see. It’s a statement about what people are capable of if you just give them a chance.
ADTV: And they tune in week after week and want to know more. They’re invested in your character. That’s what’s fun about it, I think.
BO: I think people who haven’t been able to suspend some disbelief or relax and watch the show and let the show be what it is feeling like it’s slow. To the rest of the audience, it’s amazingly quick, and they’re wrapped up in watching it on the level it’s being written and played at. It’s a very macro level of drama.
ADTV: You’ve been doing drama, but your background is in comedy. Do you still do any improv and do you miss it much?
BO: I loved doing sketch comedy. I don’t improvise doing Better Call Saul. Pretty much everything I say has been written exactly the way I say it. And I mean exactly. That’s a goal I have is to do the lines to the letter. I don’t always do it, but I’m always trying to do it and I think that’s its own a unique challenge that I find very rewarding. I have enough improv in my life and I know there’s more to come so I’m good on that score. I think this challenge is a really cool one so I’m a pure actor in this endeavor in that I’m trying to do the lines exactly as written. As far as comedy goes, thank God that Peter and Vince give me comic scenes and fairly pure comic scenes every once an episode or every other episode. I promise you – I am relieved when I get to do them and I relish them and I’m thankful for them because they are a breath of fresh air for me, and I need them.
Bob Odenkirk will return to Better Call Saul on AMC in 2017.
Carrie Coon speaks with AwardsDaily TV about film, theater, television, and The Leftovers
Carrie Coon burst onto television screens in HBO’s critically acclaimed and enigmatic drama The Leftovers. After a divisive first season, the drama took on a new dynamic, expanding its appeal and story threads into its second term. Critics responded in kind, and, as a result, Coon picked up an unexpected, but well deserved, Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series for The Leftovers.
Having heavily advocated her terrific big screen turn in David Fincher’s excellent Gone Girl then ploughing through two seasons of The Leftovers, Robin Write finally gets the phone call from the super-talented, delightful, and theater-bred Carrie Coon.
AwardsDaily TV: So, Carrie Coon, it’s great to meet you.
Carrie Coon: Thank you.
ADTV: When I first heard about The Leftovers I actually thought it was referencing the Oscars’ treatment of the movie Gone Girl.
CC: Oh! [Laughs] That’s funny!
ADTV: We were quite disappointed, really, with the Gone Girl awards reception, because we all love it.
CC: Aw, thank you for that.
ADTV: Did you read Gillian Flynn’s book?
CC: I did, in fact. I read it well before. My husband and I are both big readers so we had picked it up, because she’s a Chicago-based writer and we always read the book reviews in the New York Times. So we had a copy of it, and when we were doing (Who’s Afraid of) Virginia Woolf in New York, in Broadway, is when we read it. We kinda passed it back and forth and just had a great, entertaining time. I really liked the character of Margo even when I read the book, and incidentally, when I was cast for the film, Gillian was one of the only people who knew who I was because she had seen Virginia Woolf in Chicago.
ADTV: Oh, right! That’s good!
CC: Yeah, so she knew my work and nobody else did. [Laughs]
ADTV: [Laughs] Small world! Well, I loved “Go,” as she’s called in the book. I think you nailed it, to be fair, brilliant casting.
CC: Aw, thank you!
ADTV: Was Margo easy to become? Was it something you read and thought “I could do that”?
CC: Yes, I mean, there was something about her rhythm that was very familiar to me. I come from a very dry, sarcastic family and the script was very intact with the language of it. She was so quite verbal in the script which is like the characters I tend to play. I tend to play women who are intelligent, pretty dry, you know. Also the fact that I have three brothers and there’s that sibling dynamic, I mean, I’m the middle of five kids so the whole dynamic of siblings is very familiar to me and the rhythm of it I recognized immediately. You know, Gillian is a mid-westerner and I think I just totally understood the ease of where we were when we read the book, and I was relieved when that was still intact when I read the script. And she’s so important because you don’t see a woman trusting Nick. I think it was very intelligent of both Gillian and David (Fincher) to keep that role intact the way it was.
ADTV: Fantastic. So, can you describe David Fincher in three words?
CC: Oh, my goodness. Exacting. Intelligent. And, oh gosh, a perfectionist! He and I get along great because we are both perfectionists and I did not feel intimidated by the fact that he likes to do long takes because I’d never made a film before. And I needed all the takes I could get. [Laughs] And you know what? He’s a great teacher. He taught me a lot about being on camera. He recognized very early that I didn’t have a lot of experience, he knew what he was getting into and he went out of his way to show me what he was doing because he knew if he showed me, then I could do it.
ADTV: What do you find distinctively different about TV and film, then?
CC: Well. [Laughs] I went from Gone Girl immediately to The Leftovers with no break. I was working on the first episode and we did three takes and the director said “Oh, we got it! Moving on!” I thought “Oh, no! I was just warming up!” [Laughs] In TV you only get that time and either you get it or you don’t and they’re moving on regardless. You hope the editor can save you – so you have to learn to work more quickly on TV.
ADTV: I obviously know a little bit about you, you got the Tony Award nomination for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – is it fair to say theatre is your first love?
CC: Yes, that was all I was doing. Since I graduated from graduate school in 2006 I worked almost exclusively in the theatre back to back, really making my living in the theatre in Wisconsin and Chicago. So I didn’t really know much about TV and film besides from the commercial work I had done, and I had also done a couple of guest star stuff by the time The Leftovers rolled around. But, you know, I married Tracy Letts, an extraordinary play-writer, and an extraordinary actor, and it’s interesting because he’s been a theatre actor most of his life. He tried to do L.A. in his 20s, and it’s only now at 50 he’s experiencing this incredible film career, so he’s kind of in the same place, experiencing TV and film work for the first time and figuring it out. And then, you know, I’m doing his play right now so I think theatre will always be a part of my life and it’s certainly more forgiving to women. [Laughs]
ADTV: Yeah. So what would you say it is about acting that gets you out of bed in the morning?
CC: Oh, my! Well, you know, what I love about it is that it is a profession that invites one to be very present and I don’t feel that many professions require that of a person – and ours most certainly does. And that reminder in your work that is that to be present is to do the work well is a great rule book to your life. To be present in your life. And to me that’s very fulfilling, and I know what it feels like, so I can make those distinctions. I don’t know that everybody is in a position where they even know what that means. I feel grateful to know what that means.
ADTV: Well, I will say that the wife and I were glued to The Leftovers, because there’s nothing quite like it on TV at the moment.
CC: I agree!
ADTV: There’s a lot of zombie things, people coming back from the dead, Les Revenants, but this isn’t just about that first reaction, what happens in the first five minutes. It goes three years on.
CC: Exactly. It’s about what happens when the foundation is shaken.
ADTV: Like a bomb has gone off and this is the fallout.
ADTV: So what vibes or emotions did you get from the script, before you started filming it? As an audience member, as you’re watching it, it’s all quite chilling and you wonder how you would react, but did you get that when reading it?
CC: I had read the book, again, my husband and I are big readers so I already knew Tom Perrotta’s novel that it was based on. And I didn’t know how closely they would adhere to his story, and it turns out we deviated pretty extravagantly from his original story. But the tenure of the book I understood, and I think, at least in the first season, we were very faithful to at least that atmosphere that Tom creates in his book. So I kinda felt like I knew exactly what it was, and much like Margo, when I initially read the book before I knew it would be adapted into a television series I quite related to Nora, and connected to Nora, so I felt like I had some understanding of her – who she was, what she was up to, and what she wanted before that script even came to me. It was almost like she was already a part of me before I got to go into that room and, it’s very rare, but every now and then you encounter a role that you think “Oh, no one else should, no one else can play this! I can’t imagine anybody else is going to play this, I have to play this!” It felt that with Honey in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too.
ADTV: Congratulations on the Critics’ Choice award.
CC: Oh thank you. It was such a wonderful surprise.
ADTV: Well it was about time you got recognized to be fair.
CC: Oh thank you. It is so hard when there is so much content, and frankly, the viewership was not that high, if we did not get the critical response for season two I am not sure we would have been allowed to continue. So I am grateful for the attention, so our show could move forward, and end it the way we wanted to end it.
ADTV: Nora Durst is not really a character you forget. I remember the first season, I think that is still on people’s minds, like Emmy voters, and whoever else is going to be voting. The big conference episode which was all yours. And that big scene in the final episode, which might be the most famous moment of the two seasons. So how did you have to develop Nora going into the second season, she was a little bit different, with what was happening, how did you dive into it the second time around?
CC: Well what’s wonderful about Damon (Lindelof) and our creators is that they do not ask us to do the same thing over and over again. An actor can get pigeon-holed and asked to perform the same tropes, you know the hurt wife, the nagging girlfriend, the sad divorce, you would have to play the same things over and over again. It was interesting to me they were pursuing other threads in Nora’s personality, and I credit Damon for his curiosity about actors. He sees things in us, and he pursues them. Sometimes forces us to confront our own fears, on camera, which is not really fair [Both Laugh]. There were moments were I was like “I don’t know if I agree with that,” but you have to trust where it is going as the story-telling is intrepid, sometime even brazen. And the wonderful thing about doing TV versus theatre is that you don’t know the ending. We read the scripts just days before shooting, Damon keeps his cards very close. There’s something very liberating about throwing yourself in the maze even though you don’t know where it is going. And I enjoy working with him that way, trusting him, and I will miss that adventure when this is over.
ADTV: Nora is, well, I don’t know if she is the strongest character, or if she is the most grounded, but because she has lost the most perhaps she is, a really strange paradox I think.
CC: Yeah it is, because there is something very grounded about her, even though she is rather untethered, it’s a very interesting thing to play. There is always a fundamental tension in her, which I think is left over from the book, where towards the end of season one Nora is considering leaving her life, forever – just walking away and becoming someone else. And in some ways we are all free to do that at any time, we just never do. I just love that incline in her that she can walk away at any moment, that people can disappear, so why can’t I? That is always alive in her, and I love that about her. Being weighed down by grief is not interesting, but the struggle to come out of it is. Everybody grieves, everybody goes through it. And our show navigates through it in a way that is very true to me.
ADTV: Nora seems to be on the brink of all kinds of states and emotions, was that intentional – perhaps a bit of you, a bit of Nora, or a blend?
CC: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting question. There is something elusive about the process, where sometimes you are not sure how much of it is you. The thing about acting of course if that you have to consider yourself as capable of anything as a human being, and that’s a difficult thing to acknowledge, as what you are acknowledging is all the dark things humans are capable of, not just the joyful, light things. So I suppose it is a mix of the two.
ADTV: How open minded are you to that kind of unnatural, supernatural thing happening?
CC: I suppose if something supernatural happens all we have to deal with it are the tools we have, whether supernatural or not. That’s why I think the show feels truthful in terms of the scope of human experience – especially in season two when we recovered a bit of our sense of humor [Both laugh]. To me that is even more truthful because of how people deal with the circumstances. It’s never purely one thing, and I am deeply mistrustful of the response of only one thing, that does not feel very real.
ADTV: You touched on your brothers earlier, with Ben Affleck and Christopher Eccleston you have two troublesome brothers, in very different ways. Anything from your own siblings that you consciously or unconsciously brought to the roles?
CC: I suppose like I said earlier, I am a sister to three very different brothers, and also the middle child, so I am the harmonizer a bit – the traditional middle child, the peacemaker. So I love that I have been thrust into dealing with these hapless and difficult boys, in a relationship that is not romantic – which of course is a very different dynamic. Chris Eccleston’s character was not my brother in the book, that was something they added, so that was an interesting shift for me to make. Sometimes having to remind myself of our biographies. He is very fun to work with, I find him very compelling as an actor. He and I just like to throw things around at each other, the material allows a lot of room for interpretation. I was surprised to be considered in the category in lead, I felt a lot of balance in the season, and I did not have a stand-alone episode this year. I am flattered to be considered, I am just so blown away by so much of the work of my cast mates on the show, so I feel like a small cog in a very big machine.
ADTV: Yeah, especially that second season there was quite a lot to choose from – like Regina King.
CC: Oh gosh, she is so extraordinary. We just had the best time working together.
ADTV: That scene you did, were you start the questionnaire, and then she flips it back on you. Great stuff. And one of the best scenes I think.
CC: We have not worked together before. I rarely get to work with the women on the show. Think about it, I am often working with Justin (Theroux) or Chris, or the babies (both laugh). So it is very satisfying when I get the opportunity to act with the women we have cast, so rare for me. And that day with Regina was just sublime. I’ve always admired he work, I got to do something with her, and I was really looking forward to it, and apparently she was too – I am so flattered that she cared to be in the room. So we look forward to more things. We could try to encourage a spin off, a cop show maybe.
ADTV: Yeah, that would be good, like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Heat. You could do a female version of that.
CC: There you go, I’ll take that. See. Come on, pick this up!
ADTV: Is acting everything? Was there a plan B?
CC: When I was an undergraduate, my degree was in English and Spanish, I was doing my thesis in language acquisition, I thought I was going to be a linguist. I have always been interested in language specifically, and am grateful I have a job that is still in language. And also the voice work, the actual physiological production of a human voice I find really fascinating. And I think I would have ended up being some sort of voice coach or voice teacher maybe. I make a terrible waitress. Worst waitress you have ever seen.
ADTV: Well we will call that plan C, or plan D [Both laugh]. Just a couple of questions, female directors is quite a big thing at the minute, anything you can tell us about the Katherine Dieckmann project?
CC: Yeah, I have finished a film with Holly Hunter, directed by Katherine Dieckmann, called Strange Weather, and that’s in its final throws of post-production – so hoping to see some festival play for that. And of course working with Holly Hunter was just a dream come true. And then I have a film coming out with Lee Pace, that was a lot of fun to do, called Keeping Hours. I also have a tiny part in a movie called The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter with Josh Brolin, directed by Jody Hill. And The Leftovers season three. I am just waiting to see what the next thing is that is challenging to me, I like to be challenged. If that’s the theater, great, or a television show, a film, fantastic. But like you say, I have an interest in supporting women writers and directors. I try and be conscious of what I am putting out to the world.
ADTV: Last question, every October 14th now, do you wonder, just for a minute?
CC: Oh that such an interesting question. Trying to think where I was last October 14th. Frankly, my year was so crazy I rarely even knew the dates. I bet once The Leftovers is over it will bring a pang of nostalgia.
ADTV: Thank you for talking to me, a real pleasure.
CC: Thank you Robin for watching the show and being interested enough. Really appreciate it.
HBO has renewed The Leftovers for a third and final season of eight episodes which began principal shooting in May 2016.
Bates Motel star Freddie Highmore talks about his passion for writing and the beautiful, tortured psyche of Norman Bates
There are two things of which I’m completely certain. First, A&E’s Bates Motel finished its fourth season with its most daring, most brilliant, and most astonishingly acted sequence of episodes to date. Second, its star – the young and obscenely talented Freddie Highmore – is the nicest person with whom I have ever spoken.
Frequent readers of AwardsDaily TV are no doubt aware of my enthusiasm for Bates Motel and its creative team / family. This critically acclaimed drama, much like other acclaimed dramas such as The Americans, has been unjustly ignored by the Television Academy since receiving an early nomination for Vera Farmiga way back in season one. But my enthusiasm for the series pales in comparison to that of its creators and stars, particularly Norman Bates himself – Freddie Highmore.
Unencumbered by the need to maintain hip detachment from the material, Freddie Highmore is infectiously enthusiastic about Bates Motel and his place in that world. Refusing to stand by as an actor for hire, Highmore has joined the talented ranks of the writing team in the series’ fourth season with “Unfaithful,” the episode that kicks off an emotionally turbulent end to the season.
That writing talent, coupled with his sensitive and committed portrayal of Norman Bates, cements Freddie Highmore as more than just a well adjusted child star. It gives him the rarified status as a bonafied creative force both in front of and behind the camera. Should the Television Academy fail to recognize this great talent this season, then it is to their immense discredit. Highmore deserves serious consideration for Best Actor as he, alongside his ingenious writer’s room, brought Norman Bates to the infamous act made classic by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that Freddie Highmore is literally the nicest person I’ve ever “met?”
AwardsDaily TV: First off, Freddie Highmore, I want to congratulate you on the season and your outstanding performance. I can’t imagine the emotional commitment it took to get through this season.
Freddie Highmore: Oh well thank you. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it, but [laughs] I’ve stayed sane! People seem to assume that I must have gone completely crazy myself, but no. All is well. I survived too.
ADTV: Given that you obviously knew what was coming at the end of season four and how traumatic it would be for your character, how did you mentally prepare for the season?
FH: Well, there was no particularly special preparation as such. In a way, it never quite seemed real that Norma was dead until it actually went on air and people started asking questions about it. There’s a sense that “Oh, it’s not actually happened yet.” And like Norman, perhaps deludedly, you want to maintain hope in the show… you want to side with Norman and you maintain this deluded belief that he does that she’s going to come back. And you want them to be there together… Perhaps that sense of optimism Norman maintained had, to some extent, infected everyone with this misguided sense of belief that what was going to happen actually wasn’t going to be the case.
ADTV: Yeah, I actually lobbied quite a bit for Kerry [Ehrin, writer/producer] to flip the script so that Norma didn’t have to die. I knew somebody had to die. I didn’t care who it was. I just didn’t want it to be Norma.
FH: And of course what an amazing performance [Vera Farmiga’s] given as Norma! Obviously her role on the show will continue to be ever-present with the evolution into something else. I just think that’s what this season has been looking back on… Time to celebrate the amazing life of Norma Bates. I’ve just been so lucky to work with her throughout it all.
ADTV: So, given the ending was predefined by Psycho coupled with the highly collaborative environment of Bates Motel, did you have any influence with the writing team about how to steer Norman down this path?
FH: Oh yes, I was fortunate this year that Kerry and Carlton let me be a part of the writing team, and so I was in the writing room sort of before we started shooting. I ended up writing eighth episode of the season. So, in that way, I did have a direct involvement with the way things progressed. This year, from Norman’s point of view, there was a focus on trying to maintain his likability while at the same time we see him mature into a more Macheiavellian personality – someone who understands emotion on such a deep level but he’s capable of manipulating people in order to get his own way.And I think this season too has just shown heartbreakingly how strong the bond between Norma and Norman is and the depth of his love for her. The ultimate act that he does, in his deluded mind, is an act of love, and he’s doing what he thinks is best for them to be able to live happily ever after together. It’s not out of jealousy for Romero [Nestor Carbonell] or out of wanting to sort of plant a seed down and say, “Look, I’m the man of the house. I’ve returned.” It definitely comes from this innate understanding really that Norma and Norman have to be together. The tragedy of the whole piece is that they need each other more than anyone else, and he feels that trying to take them both out together is their best chance of moving on together into the dreamy world of Hawaii. [Laughs]
ADTV: Yes, the elusive vision of Hawaii… Earlier, you mention writing the episode “Unfaithful.” How was that process for you and is that something you’d want to do more of?
FH: Yes! I loved it. It was a brilliant experience. I would like to do more writing as a sort of gateway into writing other things and of being involved in projects from the very beginning through to the very end – that sort of being a part of the broader process rather than just being a smaller part of it. And I think that’s where the desire came from. Working on Bates, you sort of go away between seasons, and I was left with this feeling that I wanted to be a part of it in between seasons as opposed to giving so much for five months and then buggering off back to Britain. It was that desire to not feel as pithy in the process of Bates Motel and just looking forward for the opportunity to develop my own things would be brilliant.
ADTV: One of the things that I was most thankful about at the end of the season was that Norman didn’t violently kill Norma. Tell me how it was to film the scene where you’re singing her to sleep just before the gas comes on and then in the next episode you’re glueing her eyes open because she won’t come back to you. That’s such a massive dichotomy…
FH: Yes, we shot chronologically episode by episode, so that last episode was a mad seven or eight days. I guess that goodbye scene in a way it was one of the happier scenes that ultimately Norman and Norma have had together, and I think Norman himself loses himself in that moment and feels content and feels complete. He’s made his decision, and that has come on before when he’s seen how heartbroken she is when he has that moment of self-awareness in the mirror with the robe. I think now it’s the aftermath of that, and they’re truly at one together and at peace. What I love about Kerry and Carlton’s vision… Is this whole idea that Norman thinks she’s going to come back to him and that it’s part of this master plan, particularly when he’s railing at her at the funeral… It’s that dark humor of Bates Motel that’s so engaging and so important to the tone so that it doesn’t descend into horror after horror.
And, as you say, that dark humor behind the eyes being glued open, and at the same time there’s this innocence and genuineness that Norman believes that will somehow get her back and bring her back to him. Ultimately, he’s right! [Laughs] Ultimately, she does return. I think with – particularly the last few episodes – you have to play it straight. Norman is at his most genuine in the last two episodes of the season when he’s sort of being completely honest and the audience is on his side and knows what he’s genuinely thinking. He’s not trying to trick the audience – he’s letting them inside his genuine thoughts and processes. That’s what’s so key moving forward – to understanding what Norman is really thinking when he’s deceiving people and when he’s not as opposed to having him deceive the audience, if that makes sense.
ADTV: Yes, it does completely. As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of your performance as Norman. How do you make that unique against the public persona of what [Psycho star] Anthony Perkins was able to do with the same character?
FH: I guess I’ve never thought to mimic Anthony Perkins’s iconic performance. It’s always served as a source of inspiration as of course the film has for everyone, but we’ve never felt 100 percent tied to it. It was more the mythology of Psycho we were working with as opposed to a true prequel. So, that helped everyone feel free to create their own version of events. Of course, I didn’t want to completely relinquish what Anthony Perkins did, but, at the same time, I wanted to make it something different while putting it into the contemporary setting that Bates Motel has.
ADTV: Where do you take your career now that you’ve played one of our culture’s most notorious serial killers?
FH: [Laughs] Well, we’ve got one more season which will be an incredibly exciting season. It’s almost a whole new show again where we’re setting up these rules and new relationship between Norman and Norma. That will be incredibly exciting. I guess other than Bates it would be nice to do a comedy. [Laughs] Do something different, but I’ve never felt tied to a particular genre or character. I’ve always wanted to try new things and not get stuck in a particular rut if I’m lucky.
ADTV: I recently spoke with Kerry [Ehrin], and I have to say the excitement in your voice about season five mimics hers so I cannot wait to see what you guys have in store for us.
FH: [Laughs] It’ll be good fun!
Freddie Highmore will return to Bates Motel when it airs the final season in 2017.
HBO’s buzzy comedy Ballers takes us inside the world of NFL players and agents. Golden-Globe nominee (Soldier’s Girl) Troy Garity plays Jason, an NFL super agent hustling to get his players contracts and changing their lives. The second season returns to HBO this July.
I recently caught up with Troy Garity to talk about football, Los Angeles, and his excitement over Ballers‘ second season as he was driving around Hollywood.
AwardsDaily TV: I loved the first season of Ballers. I’m so excited for season two.
Troy Garity: Ah, great. That makes me so happy. The second season is fantastic.
ADTV: For those who haven’t seen the first season and need to binge watch before season two drops, tell us about your character.
TG: I play Jason. He’s a super agent, meaning he’s one of those big top NFL agents. I have about 30 clients, most of which I’ve been with since they left college and entered the draft. So, really a bridge from the amateur into the professional world, and that’s really where people run into most of their problems… that dramatic adjustment. Not only do I get them contracts and enough money to change their life for generations, I have to help them adjust to the life of being insanely rich and often times mediate in the family acting as a counsellor. It’s a constant never ending job. My character also has intimacy issues because he has no time for intimacy as all of his relationships deal with his players. He lives in hotels and on the road.
The Rock plays Spencer who he went to college with. I was his agent, and he was my first client. I helped him from player to financial manager, the irony of which, he is terrible with finances.
ADTV: You mentioned season two is going to be something we can look forward to, so what can we expect from Jason in season two?
TG: Well, we see him really push Spencer into an uncomfortable place that I put him in competition with his enemy who is played by Andy Garcia. You also get a glimpse behind the curtain of what it takes to sign a player. You get to watch Jason pursue a college NFL prospect who wants to enter the draft. He has to go to this house and convince him to put his life in his hands, and convince him that I, as Jason would be able to get him the most amount of money. He puts my character through the ringer. It’s so much fun this season. You get to watch Jason and Spencer prep this kid for life in the NFL.
ADTV: What research did you do for Jason?
TG: I met with a bunch of NFL and sports agents. I worked out at Jay Glazer’s gym, Unbreakable, with a group of NFL players who were in off season training. I spent a few hours with them and got a first hand look at the blood and sweat into how hard they work and how dedicated they are.
Several guys I worked with are league veterans who no longer had a team and were training to get one last contract. I really got to experience the pressure they were under for that last opportunity. They also have this fear of facing a normal life, they liken it to leaving the military.
ADTV: Were you always an NFL fan?
TG: I grew up a Raiders fan. In the mid 90’s they moved back to Oakland. LA hasn’t had a team for over 20 years until recently. I’ve been in football purgatory. I’ll be curious to see if the LA Rams can win over my heart and mind.
I’m a baseball fan. I also am a big soccer fan. I like Arsenal.
ADTV: They did terribly this season. Leicester City won.
TG: Here’s the beauty of TV. The writers entered the first season with an idea of where the show was going to go and who the characters are. We get to know each other better. In the second season, is the maturation of the show. We have a better understanding of who everyone is and what’s at stake.
ADTV: What were some season one highlights?
TG: The episode with Marlo Thomas was great because it deviated from the central plot. I enjoyed looking into these guys negotiating the deal. What isn’t often reported is the negotiations and what’s happening.
Closing the deal is a big plot line you’ll see in season two.
ADTV: How does TV work compare to working on a movie?
TG: A film, you know the beginning, middle and the end. You have a finite amount of time to tell the story. TV is an evolutionary process. I have an idea of who Jason is, but he grows with me as I learn what’s happening and where the story is going to go. It’s much more fluid. You also really get to know who these people are. TV gives you characters and it’s about interaction, it’s a different form of story, and when done correctly, it’s so incredibly rich.
ADTV: I’m excited for season two.
TG: If we can get seven years on this show… Where these characters will be in seven years would be insane.
The final episode of the second season is the greatest episode I’ve ever read. It’s really insane what this superhero of American cinema does. It’s insane! Episode ten is over the top crazy!
Troy Garity and Ballers season two return to HBO on July 17.
It’s a nice warm day in Los Angeles, and Omar Miller is in joyful spirits. We’re talking about the brand new season of Ballers that starts in July on HBO. Miller plays Charles who has retired from the NFL and is adjusting to life outside the world of football. Unlike the other characters who are living in multi-million dollar houses, partying up a storm in hotels and boats, Charles doesn’t. In turn, Omar Miller plays one of the most relatable characters on the show.
I talked with Miller about Ballers and how his real-life love for sports has resulted in a podcast which he hosts from his own living room.
AwardsDaily TV: So, Omar Miller, I’m excited for Ballers season two.
Omar Miller: It’s going down. I feel very confident about the direction of the show and what we laid down. When you first introduce story lines and characters to the public, it takes a while to connect. But we’ve hit our stride and it’ll show when everyone sees the new season.
ADTV: Everyone can relate to your character.
OM: I got the best character on the show if you ask me. Most people can’t relate to spending a 12 million dollar contract or having groupies in the bathroom. Everyone can relate with going through a transition in their life in regards to their personal life and work.
ADTV: What’s it like playing this character while everyone else is playing that character who has this $12 million contract?
OM: It’s so much fun to play because my guy is vulnerable. There are so many different options and choices.
ADTV: What research did you have to do for the role?
OM: There’s so much research I wanted to do. I consulted with former professional athletes, and what it was they did on the day-to-day after they retired and how did they transition to normalcy. These guys are like modern day gladiators and they have to figure out how to be normal again.
ADTV: How physical is the role for you?
OM: That was tricky because, in season one, he was meant to have let himself go and was in the wilderness, and they asked me to gain 35 pounds. In this off season, I’m supposed to be back playing and I had to tighten up and get back into shape to mimic being in offensive for an NFL team. It’s a summer full of working out.
I play baseball and basketball. I’ve never really played organized football, so I had to learn about the position that I was playing on the show. I got to hang out with athletes to figure out what they were going through on a daily basis.
ADTV: Who was your favorite team?
OM: The same team that is still my favorite team, Oakland Raiders. It’s all about Raider nation.
ADTV : Are you looking forward to the Rams coming?
OM: I am actually.
ADTV: What will be expecting from Charles this season?
OM: You can expect that he’ll find his way this season and for him to find his way in his life. He’s on daddy duties, so he’s entering a new area of being a father. He’ll be juggling being a father, husband and NFL player.
ADTV: Prior to Ballers, you were on CSI. How do the two differ?
OM: The thing about CSI, it’s a huge juggernaut. It was a network show, and was safer. This is more about a specific area of life and a having a good time in excess. It weighs the question of what really is success. Is it big cars, big houses and a lot of women, or is it being satisfied with who you are and being in a committed relationship. What is your version of success?
The similarities of the shows are, they are both worldwide hits. People talk to me about the show all over the world. To be recognized all over the world is great, they can relate to Charles. He’s trying to keep it together, he’s married, and trying to do the right thing which is a real struggle for people everywhere.
ADTV: What were some highlights for you from season one?
OM: Season one saw me do my first sex scene with two women. That was interesting. I shot my first scene in a strip club, and I was paid to gain weight. Both, interesting and new. I have to say, working with this cast was phenomenal.
I also got to know more about South Florida, and that was lovely.
ADTV: There’s a lot of on-screen chemistry with the guys. Do you hang out?
OM: This cast is no different, we all get along, there are no divas. We have such a good time. It’s not like we’re doing Macbeth, it helps that we have fun with each other.
ADTV: OK, let’s go back. How did you get involved with Ballers?
OM: I got the phone call about a show they were making. I actually play basketball with the show’s creator Steve Levinson. He’d been keeping up with me and my work. I read the script. I went in and did the reading. I did that. I was the first person cast. They put together this all star cast. HBO did what they do, they promoted it well. Now we’re just kicking ass.
ADTV: What do you do when you’re not on Ballers?
OM: I’m writing. I’m writing TV shows. I really want to get involved with telling my own story after this. The other thing I do is this podcast, with my brother. I’m a Sports junkie. It’s called the O-Zone, and we do it right from our couch in our living room, and we invite everybody to be a part of it. We talk sports.
Omar Miller can be seen on season two of HBO’s Ballers, which premieres Sunday, July 17.
If you’re not watching HBO’s Silicon Valley, then you’re missing out on one of television’s smartest and most relevant sitcoms. It’s no mistake that it airs with another ripped-from-the-headlines comedy, Veep. Developed by Mike Judge, this Emmy and Golden Globe-nominee takes viewers inside the world of tech developers trying to make it big. They’re always only an app away. Don’t let the tech jargon scare you, though. The show is filled with solid laughs and is incredibly smart.
I recently caught up with UCB alumni and Silicon Valley star Zach Woods. Woods plays Jared, your typical office nerd who seems to run into several modern techie trials and tribulations. Jared, the sweet guy, doesn’t always stand up or speak his mind. Viewers should watch out, though, because Zach Woods / Jared is starting to crack the shell more this season. Will Jared finally find love? Is Zach Woods as funny as his on-screen persona? Is he as tech savvy as his on-screen persona?
Read on to find out more about Silicon Valley‘s secret treasure Zach Woods.
Zach Woods: Do you feel like your mood correlates strongly with the day of the week?
AwardsDaily TV: I think so. What about you?
ZW: It’s interesting how much it’s endured, like, even though I know my life doesn’t really adhere to the school week anymore. I still get excited for Fridays even though I often have nothing to do on Thursday. It’s weird how enduring that is!
ADTV: Yeah, that’s interesting. Come Wednesday, it’s like I’ve made it through and Thursday is around the corner and then it’s Friday and then it’s the weekend!
ZW: I had a school bus driver who used to sing every Wednesday, and I think she was a very unhappy person. She’d sing this song about how “You make it through today and its downhill the rest of the week.” I think she was trying to be light and encouraging, but she just sounded like a disaster.
ADTV: When was your first experience with comedy? Do you remember?
ZW: When I was growing up, my dad used to read me Neil Simon plays as bedtime stories and those were kind of funny to me, at the time at least. I don’t know how they hold up. I guess family was my first exposure to comedy. My grandmother loved jokes. In terms of actual performed comedy, I don’t remember the first time I saw live comedy. When I was in middle and high school, I was obsessed with Christopher Guest movies and that kind of thing. Kind of like Monty Python a little bit where, to some people, that’s like an early religion [laughs]. Oh! And old Marx Brothers movies! But I was always just a casual audience member. Then, in high school, I started taking classes about those people and just got that much more interested in the whole larger comedy world.
ADTV: Now, you’re playing Jared on Silicon Valley and he’s a tech guy. Are you a techie?
ZW: No, I’m pretty tech illiterate. I find it intimidating and often very scary [laughs]. I have an iPhone, and I rely on Waze to navigate. Some of the other guys on the show are into video games and Kumail has done a little bit of programming, but by and large we’re just playing tech guys. We’re not actually techies.
ADTV: How has the show been for you so far? Is it a laugh a minute on set and off set?
ZW: Yeah, it’s been wonderful! It’s really a dream come true. Such a rare thing for an actor to get to be on a show with people you like and writing that you’re excited to do and characters that you feel like there’s a strong voice, but there’s also room to play and develop. It’s sort of surpasses my wildest fantasies about what a job could be. I still feel slightly [laughs] bewildered by my own good fortune. I’m so happy.
ADTV: I think you play the nicest character on the show. Is that hard? Do you ever wish that Jared had like a… not evil side but would mouth off one day?
ZW: I think he’s sweet. He yells in German in his unconscious life so he’s probably exercising all sorts of darkness that has no outlet in his waking hours. I like it in the instances where Jared gets to stand up for himself. There was like one little story last season premiere where he’s on the Bro app and someone takes advantage of Pied Piper and he scolds the guy. There’s a scene in the first season where Monica is sort of moving in on his turf, in terms of being Richard’s primary care taker, and he gets really upset with her. Any time he gets to have a little bit of an aggressive moment I think that’s fun.
ADTV: What do you see as Jared’s overall journey on the show? Where would you like to see him go?
ZW: I always think about it as like he’s a Pinocchio story where when he worked at Hooli, which is where he’s working at the pilot episode, he’s kind of just like a wooden puppet. Once he sees Richard, he becomes a real boy and all of the sudden has all kind of new feelings [laughs] and sort of comes alive. The way I think of that is like over the seasons, I think he gets more and more comfortable being a semi-full human being. Even in this season, there’s an episode where everyone’s giving Dinesh a hard time for the chain he’s wearing and Jared gets in on it and is so delighted that now, for the first time, he’s busting someone’s balls and he’s never done that before. I feel like, with Pied Piper, he has a series of firsts that are badly belated in terms of like normal human experiences. I’d like to see that keep evolving. There’s stuff coming up… like in the episode this Sunday… there’s another first for Jared so they’ve been good about that. He’s just like gently kicking the ball down the court for his character.
ADTV: I like that. I’ll be looking forward to Sunday’s episode to see what his next first is [laughs]. I’ve learned with a lot of comedies and from speaking to people that it is actually sometimes tightly scripted so there’s not much room for improv. What about on Silicon Valley? Do you get much room or is it the same?
ZW: Most of what makes it onto the show is written. It’s like what you were asking earlier with it being a laugh a minute on set and stuff; that is one of the main things that I’m grateful for. The writers on the show just like break their backs making the show good. You know like at the start of a president’s term you see a picture of like Obama and then they’ll show you Obama at the end of his eight years of presidency and he’s aged like drastically more than eight years should age a person, that’s what happens to the writers [laughs]. Like, if you took a photo of the writers at the beginning of the season and the end of the season, you would see just the sheer psychic pull of their incredibly high standards they’ve set take on them. It’s really amazing. Sometimes you’ll go into a show and they’ll be like “Hey can you improvise?” because basically the comedy isn’t up to par and they’re hoping that you can fill a vacancy. We do improvise a fair amount on the show, but that’s just the fine little moments or funny little things or maybe once a month there’ll be an alt line or some character development that you can get into the script, but you’re not improvising to fix something. You’re improvising is just like a little extra for the editors and Alec Berg and Mike Judge when they’re just putting together the episodes.
ADTV: On the subject of Mike, what’s it like working with him?
ZW: It’s fun. He’s a very soft spoken, nice, funny laid back guy. It’s a little scary because having seen all of the shows and movies he’s made, I know how observant he is. He’s so good at zeroing in on the things about people that make them ridiculous so when I’m talking to him, I can’t help but wonder what ridiculous thing he’s noticing about me that I’m not aware of myself. It’s a bit like having someone look closely at your face in a florescently lit room and having credible vision for something. It feels like, “Oh God, what you going to see?” He’s wonderful. That’s probably more something I’m projecting onto him based on his work rather than something he’s actually doing. The other guy who runs the show is Alec Berg who worked on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and a number of other shows. He’s incredible too. Those two guys together are really kind of unlike any writing team I’ve ever encountered before because they just cover each other’s very small blind spots.
ADTV: You know what it’s like working in an office and on set. Jared is kind of like the outsider, a little bit, so do you maintain that separation off camera?
ZW: No! That’d be bad for just a fictional ostracizing to be carried over into our professional lives. Although, someone pointed out to me recently, that Jared has been the brunt of a lot less hostility and exclusion this season. I think maybe they’re more accepting of him now. We hang out all the time. I, like, had pancakes with those guys last Sunday. My guess is that probably helps the show too. I think that we legitimately like each other probably in some way influences the feeling of the show. There’s been lots of shows where people detest each other and have great chemistry on screen so I guess it’s not necessary, but it just makes it much, much easier. And, it’s also nice for me because you can take risks and other people get your back and help you out and stuff.
ADTV: It’s like, I want to work with these guys because they seem fun.
ZW: I always wondered about that when I would watch tv shows and it would seem like the world of the show is so fun. Before I ever got any acting work, I would just think, “Oh man, that looks so fun and I bet they’re all hanging out and eating snacks and dicking around in whatever way they do.” It’s been a great delight to discover that, in fact, that is sometimes the case. It is really fun [laughs]!
ADTV: You’ve also done some drama. You did The Good Wife, and it was like, “This is interesting. Let’s see how that pans out.” Would you do more drama in the future? Or are you a total comedian?
ZW: No, definitely I would do more drama. My favorite things to watch usually don’t fit neatly into either dramatic or comedic categories. I thought The Sopranos was one of the funniest shows on television and like Freaks and Geeks, which is labeled a comedy, I thought had some of the most quietly dramatic moments of anything I’d seen. For me, the sort of decisive factor in what I want to do is just whether or not it feels like it’s about real human beings. The only things I don’t like doing is if something feels really cynical or cruel, although I’ve certainly done those things too, but if the writing feels like it has contempt for people I’m not interested in that. As long as the material is populated by actual living and breathing human beings. I’m definitely interested in doing dramatic stuff just because I haven’t done as much of it.
ADTV: Do you have any highlights from the last season or some of your favorite moments?
ZW: Let me think. I love it when Jared and Richard get to have these quiet little scenes together. Like in the first episode, there’s this little scene where he’s telling Richard he’s gotten a bunch of job interviews for Richard, and they’re just sitting in the bedroom quietly. All these little intimate heart to hearts between a reluctant Richard and a very enthusiastic Jared I really like. Coming up in the next episode, there’s some sort of romantic storylines for some of the characters and Jared’s response to that is really fun. It’s hard to remember. I’ll have to think about this. If something occurs to me as like a crowning moment, I’ll tell you.
ADTV: When do you shoot?
ZW: We actually don’t shoot for that long. We start in October and end in March.
ADTV: Are you enjoying your break?
ZW: Yeah! It’s great. I’m trying to find a movie to do. I might do some writing. It’s really nice. It’s such a comprehensively ideal show in that it’s my favorite thing to work on and it only takes up a small portion of the year so you have time to do other projects.
Zach Woods can be seen weekly on HBO’s Silicon Valley, airing Sunday nights at 10pm ET.
Bates Motel‘s Kerry Ehrin talks about the passion and talent behind A&E’s critically acclaimed series
A&E’s Bates Motel wrapped up its fourth season a few weeks ago by finally committing that most dreaded/anticipated act. It’s the story catalyst at the heart of Bates Motel‘s source material, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 film Psycho. It’s a moment that seemed to register a 9.5 on the social media Richter scale. No matter how aware modern audiences were aware of ***SPOILER*** the death of Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga), it still felt like a massive surprise when it finally happened. Looking back on the season, the signs were all there, but still audiences were riveted as son Norman (Freddie Highmore) peacefully gassed his mother. That’s the beauty of Kerry Ehrin and the Bates Motel team’s writing. You don’t see the act coming even though you know its around the corner.
Kerry Ehrin’s writing and producing credits read like a list of great and eclectic American television. The Wonder Years. Newhart. Boston Public. Friday Night Lights. Moonlighting (pause to imagine what a remake with Nestor Carbonell and Vera Farmiga would look like…). Parenthood. And now Bates Motel. What threads those series together is Kerry Ehrin’s love for rich characters and stories that resonate. Don’t try to paint her into a horror corner – Bates Motel is more about mothers and sons than slashers and shower deaths – because Kerry Ehrin appreciates all types of genres and approaches them the same way. Characters first.
I spoke with Ehrin about That Moment and what drew her to the Bates Motel. What I discovered is Kerry Ehrin’s passion and deep connection to her material. It’s a connection that is reciprocated by her many fans and Bates Motel devotees on social media.
Now, why can’t the Television Academy feel that same connection?
AwardsDaily TV: Kerry Ehrin, you worked on [NBC’s] Friday Night Lights through its entire run. How does one make the shift mentally and creatively from a show that celebrates Americana… to a series [Bates Motel] that sort of takes everything Americana and just kind of stabs it in the back a few times?
Kerry Ehrin: Well, you know, it’s funny because I’ve written a lot of different genres, and people have asked me this before about how do you go from this to this to this. My answer is that I just write everything the same… To me, personally what grabbed me about the story [of Bates Motel] was the human character story in it. If you took out the serial killer aspect, Norma and Norman could be characters in Friday Night Lights. We always approached the story telling and characters to try and make them grounded and real with real problems so that the serial killer aspect of it didn’t really take the lead… We tried to make it a story about a woman – a single mother – trying to care for a son who had a problem. That could be a story, depending on what the problem is, on Friday Night Lights or Parenthood. So that’s my take on it. You take your sensibility with you no matter where you go. You just put it in different luggage. [Laughs]
ADTV: It’s certainly evident because Bates Motel spends a great deal of time with Norman interacting in a high school setting that is, in a way, similar to that of Friday Night Lights.
KE: Yeah, and if you’re telling the story of someone who is introverted and has a bad home life and has seen a lot of dysfunction… those things are super relatable… You’d be hard-pressed to do 50 hours of Psycho because what you’re seeing in Psycho is so much of what [Alfred Hitchcock] wants you to see at every step. You’re not seeing the reality of what Norman’s life is like when he wakes up in the morning and thinks he’s living with his mom when he isn’t. You’re seeing it all from the outside, and you’re being maneuvered around that story in a really fabulous way but that would be very hard to sustain for five years and keep people engaged. [Laughs] In a TV show, I think people show up because they want to experience the world that you’re providing. Our instinct was to make that world have some grounded reality to it that was also relatable. That people who were not serial killers could also relate to! [Laughs]
ADTV: So is that what drew you to the material at first. The chance to make Psycho relatable in a way?
KE: No, I wouldn’t say that I wanted to make it relatable. What drew me to it was telling a story about a dysfunctional mother and son where the dysfunction had bad things to it but also had a sort of larger than life bond that came out of the co-dependence. Some of that bond was beautiful even if it was a bad thing. I think initially that roped me in, and also one of my first novels that I loved was Wuthering Heights which was also very much about a bond between two people that was larger than both of them that they couldn’t quite figure out how to let go of it, and at the same time they couldn’t quite figure out how to live without it. How to let go or how to live with it. I think that sort of Gothic Romance of that book was appealing to me too in thinking about a co-dependent relationship between Norma and her son.
ADTV: That Gothic element is certainly there in all four seasons of Bates Motel.
KE: It’s a way to take a dark subject and infuse it with a little of a more Romantic quality. When I first heard about the project, I knew I couldn’t just live in a world that was relentlessly dark creatively. It’s too punishing. To do the story, I had to find something that was weirdly life-affirming to hang on to. And we did a lot of that on Friday Night Lights too. That show was full of people whose dreams were not going to come true, but the desire and the hope that it might come true was so poignant and relatable and engaging. It’s just really a part of life. To me, there’s a humanity in that which really appeals to me.
ADTV: One of the things I love most about the series and of Vera’s performance is the exploration of the role of the mother, particularly last season’s “Norma Louise” episode which you wrote. Where does that drive to explore motherhood come from?
KE: Well, we do have a writer’s room, and we break all the stories together just to be totally honest. Yes, I did write that episode, but we all talked through the episodes and arcs and break down that beat together. A lot of that aspect of Norma certainly comes from my own history, and my own feelings about relationships and children and having a job when you have children and the guilt you feel when you’re not present and when you are present it isn’t always what you want it to be. It’s such a loaded subject. Plus, just the magic of Vera who from day one has brought such an amazing illumination to the character, and the way that she can just turn on a dime. She’s filled with contradictions. She can be going down one road emotionally and then just turn on a dime and be this other thing. That’s because, in the character, there’s all of these unfinished businesses that lives inside of her, dysfunctional relationships she’s never dealt with. So, in a way, [Norma’s] at the mercy of her own psychology all the time, and she doesn’t know how to reign it in so she acts impulsively. That was something that I’ve always had a little bit of, obviously I control it better. But, if you’re an emotional person, that can run your life a little bit.
ADTV: Absolutely. So, one of the things that people on Twitter and other social media love about the show is how tight-knit the cast and creative team appear to be. Tell me a little about what it’s like working with the creative team and working with these actors.
KE: Well, Carlton Cuse [producer/writer] and I from the very first lunch we had together just… we have a very special creative chemistry even though we come from a very different place in what we like to write but it still fits together very well and they compliment each other. So, working with Carlton has been really great and super fun. Then, also, we have such a wonderful production. The crew we have is amazing. Our line producer is amazing. The artistic team we have – Mark Freeborn [set design] and Monique Prudhomme [costume designer] and the people in Canada that are designing the sets and costumes. It really is the best of the best. Not only are they incredibly talented, but they’re all nice people… fun people. And the you add into this Vera and Freddie and Max and Nestor who are just so professional, so talented, so passionate about the work… They’re just really wonderful role models… It’s really about getting the work done so that it’s the best it can be. Everybody has so much respect and really just reveres the cast and Vera… Everybody there just wants to facilitate excellence, and that’s created just this amazing environment. It’s like a bullshit free environment of really cool, creative people!
ADTV: Which is rare, I hear…
KE: I don’t know. I can only speak for this. But I do feel when I’m on the set that it’s special.
A lot of that aspect of Norma certainly comes from my own history, and my own feelings about relationships and children and having a job when you have children and the guilt you feel when you’re not present and when you are present it isn’t always what you want it to be. It’s such a loaded subject.
ADTV: That’s fantastic. So, now that the season finale has ended, how has the Twitter/fan reaction to [Norma’s death] been?
KE: Well, obviously, there’s a lot of people who were really shocked. There’s some people who were really sad and upset about losing Norma as I was. And then there’s other people who are more of a pure Hitchcock’s Psycho person who find that turn exciting for the storytelling. I feel like critically we’ve gotten great press, people really understand the choice, and people are really on board with it.
ADTV: Yes, definitely. I think it took people a while to come down from it because there was such a strong tie to the character of Norma. When you and other writers were creating those two episodes – “Forever” and “Norman” – what was it like in the writer’s room. What was the process of finally putting that to paper?
KE: I think everyone always felt it when we talked about Norma dying. I mean, everyone always felt that it was incredibly sad, and none of us actually wanted to do it but it was the story we were telling and we had to do it. And then I think the way we did it was a really specific choice to not be a violent death, which I think a lot of people were expecting, but to have it come out of this warped version of him trying to take care of her and to be able to stay together with her forever and try to shut the world out to stop it from hurting them. That made it more bearable, I think, to us.
ADTV: For this viewer as well. I have to tell you that I was so relieved [Norman] didn’t shoot her or stab her. I didn’t want to see him stab her in the chest.
KE: Well, he wouldn’t do that because he loves her. That’s the thing. Yes, he’s insane. Yes, he’s dangerous, but he’s never wished her harm. That would have been a betrayal of her character if he’d said “I’m jealous, and I’m going to stab you.” And it would have been horrible for the character for that to be the last thing she saw in her life was the son who she loved more than anything killing her. It became important, too, because… I do love Norma so much.. that it’s almost like he wanted to put her down as peacefully as possible so that the last thing she remembered was something happy and that she could go to sleep with some hope. The thing about the Oahu scene [where Norma and Norman fantasize about escaping White Pine Bay and moving to Hawaii] is that I don’t think she for a second actually thought they were moving to Oahu. They both know they’re in a lot of pain, and they both know they’re kind of playing at that in the moment to try and lighten themselves up a bit. The acting in that scene is so moving because that’s so clear that they’re both so broken underneath, but, on the top, they still can make each other feel better. That seems such a moving thing to play right before the end.
ADTV: Yes, and then having him sing her to sleep was poignant as well. The one thing that I also loved about season four was giving Norma the opportunity to be happy during the scene with Romeo.
KE: Yes, that’s another thing, Norma’s life on the show has been about her growth. When she first came out of this bad marriage that was scary to her in season one, she was very guarded. Then, over the course of the seasons by having to interact with people and having to deal with all these problems and constantly muster up her own intelligence and handle this shit, whether or not she chose the right way to handle it in any given instance, she just kept trying. That helped her grow a lot, and also slowly facing the truth about things that were in her past helped her grow a lot. We wanted to give her, before she left the world, real happiness and let her know what it was like to have a real and true interconnected relationship that was actually healthy as opposed to a codependent one or an abusive one – a good solid loving relationship which she achieved in the end. That’s why the sixth episode of the season was one of my favorites because that was really the point where Norma kind of grew up where she chose to tell Romero about her past even though it could make him not see her in sort of this idealistic way anymore. It could have cost her his love, but she did it anyway. That was such a big moment.
ADTV: Oh, it was a surprise for me, almost as much a surprise as her death, because she was open and honest when her modus operandi has always been to bury everything and cover it all up as much as possible.
KE: And to hide. It was as if she chose not to hide for the first time. And also Vera just completely nailed that scene. She was so good! And Nestor too. He’s been amazing this season.
ADTV: Yes, he’s kind of the unsung hero of the show. He’s the third part of that triangle between Vera and Freddie [Highmore].
KE: Yes, they’re great together, and they really enjoy working together too. You can tell that.
ADTV: You absolutely can. The chemistry between the three of them really works. You guys hit gold with this cast, I have to say. So, to me, Bates Motel was never a sprint. It’s always been a marathon of a show. As such, the critical reaction and fandom has dramatically increased year over year – season four is the most critically acclaimed season yet, which is rare for aging series. Why do you think then that they Emmys can’t seem to recognize that?
KE: I honestly don’t know. I’ve worked in this business a long, long time. I’ve written many things, and I’ve worked with a lot of great writers in television. I know this show is good. I know Vera and Freddie and Nestor – the whole cast – there’s an amazing cast. I don’t know. I can’t answer that. In a landscape of over 400 shows, there’s that… Maybe people who are voting haven’t seen it. There are so many great shows and performances out there. It’s not to say that any show these days is a shoo-in, but it is hard for me to understand how some of the work on this has not been recognized to some extent. And also there are a lot of people who have not watched the show who think it is something it isn’t. Who think it’s a horror film every week. I’ve had people say to me that haven’t watched it, “Oh don’t they just kill people in the motel every week?” They really have no idea what the show is or how carefully it’s constructed or what it’s really about. That it’s telling stories of human beings in extreme circumstances. I don’t really have an answer. I hope this year is different, and I would beg anyone who has not seen the show to please watch the last three episodes of the season just to see what the show is. It’s just such a labor of love… I’ve told people I would wear a sandwich board and stand on a freeway exit if I could get people to acknowledge Vera and Freddie. I think their work is so phenomenal.
ADTV: Looking forward, where are you with season five right now?
KE: We just started! We’ve been in the room for maybe four weeks. We’re just kind of mapping it out at this point, figuring out arcs and then breaking it down into smaller pieces. It’s going to be a really balls-out, off the chain season. I think we’re going out with a bang. We’re really excited about it.
ADTV: That sounds amazing. I did read that Marion Crane was going to check into Bates Motel.
KE: We are definitely taking a drive through Psycho and its events. It isn’t the whole season, but it weaves in with the story we are telling. What’s fun about it is that you get to look at events in Psycho that you didn’t get to see in the film. A lot of the stuff that happens in Psycho some of it will happen off-screen, and you’ll see different things that you didn’t see in the movie. Of course, we’re going to do our own version of it. It’s not going to be verbatim, but we are having a lot of fun with that. It’s going to be super cool.
I’ve had people say to me that haven’t watched it, “Oh don’t they just kill people in the motel every week?” They really have no idea what the show is or how carefully it’s constructed or what it’s really about.
ADTV: You have to have Marion eating like a bird.
KE: [Laughs] Everybody has their favorite little things. It is a weirdly beloved film for being such a dark film. People really have a lot of sentiment about that film. It’s kind of amazing… It’s so simple, and it is actually very character driven which I love. There’s one violent incident halfway through, and it’s incredibly suspenseful. Visually, too, it’s in a class by itself. And then after that scene you forget about Marion and worry about Norman, living with his crazy mother. That’s such a testament to Anthony Perkins’ fantastic performance. It’s amazing that they got away with that.
ADTV: I have just one more question for you. What’s on the horizon for you professionally after the final season of Bates Motel?
KE: I’m developing another show… I can’t talk about it because we haven’t taken it out yet. Bates has been kind of a full-time gig for me. There hasn’t been much time to do anything else. What is front of me right now is a little development and mostly Bates 24×7 until we put it to bed.
ADTV: And then hopefully a very long vacation.
KE: Yeah, but it won’t be. That’s not how it works. [Laughs]
Episodes of Bates Motel season four are available at A&E.com. Kerry Ehrin, Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, and Nestor Carbonell will return to Bates Motel for its final season in 2017.
Emmy contender Richard Dreyfuss talks about conveying the financial villainy in Madoff
One of Academy Award-winner Richard Dreyfuss’s most notable films is Jaws, where he and Roy Scheider set out to stop a shark from wreaking havoc on a small beach town. But in ABC’s Madoff miniseries about Ponzi-scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff, he is the shark – the one everyone should be trying to sink.
I had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Dreyfuss about playing the famous shyster, including what surprised him about the role, why it’s fun to play the bad guy, and whether he’ll ever portray a certain Republican presidential candidate.
AwardsDaily TV: You were wonderful in Madoff. You really brought that character to life in the miniseries, making him more than just a villain. How did you prepare for this role?
Richard Dreyfuss: Well, I knew one secret. It’s an acting secret. If you’re going to be soothing and gentle and sweet enough to allow men and women to give you all of their millions of dollars, you gotta be the nicest guy in the world. There’s no question that you can ever go. . .(lets out maniacal laugh.) You can’t do that. That was the whole trick. That’s exactly what he was.
ADTV: He is kind of likable in a sense, but he’s also really bad. You usually play good guys, like my personal favorite Elliott in The Goodbye Girl or Mr. Holland’s Opus. Did him being a bad guy attract you to the role?
RD: Yes, the story attracted me first, and then the idea of presenting to the audience this guy that you really can’t help but like. They can experience it as the victims experienced it. And one of the great opportunities when you’re an actor in America is that you’re not the expert, but you’re the one that everyone thinks for a moment is an expert. We met all the victims and all of the people that should have been responsible for curtailing all of this. I’m actually making a speech in Vegas on June 13 to a room full of a thousand people, I think, of SEC investigators. It’s interesting that they’ve asked me to speak because they know that actors have great stories, and they also know that actors are not chief justices of the United States of the Supreme Court who can look at them and say, “You really fucked up!” And I can. I can say it.
ADTV: Did anything surprise you with Bernie’s story?
RD: About two weeks before we started shooting, I had the same questions in my mind about whether the kids or wife knew. But as soon as I got into the work, I realized, of course, they didn’t know. Where were you born? What city were you born in?
ADTV: Me? I was born in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.
RD: And what did your dad do?
ADTV: What does my dad do? He’s a drug and alcohol counselor. [Laughs]
RD: And did you ever say when he came home at night, “Are you really a drug and alcohol counselor?”
ADTV: [Laughs] No. I just assumed.
RD: Yeah, and that’s what they did. That’s what we all do. And that’s why I’m absolutely 100 percent convinced that neither his wife nor his boys knew anything at all. They might have suspected something, but they would have put it down to bad parenting.
ADTV: I wondered about that, too.
RD: I grew up 10 blocks from where he lived for a while. I have a distinct memory of men on 218th Street in Bayside who were all very political. Leftists, communists, and socialists. And that’s what meant something to them, men of their generation. But they were all starting to go into business. One of the things to consume from Madoff, and from All My Sons by Arthur Miller, is that there’s a certain group of men who came out of World War II who went into business. They didn’t go into the aluminum siding business. They didn’t go into the ball bearing business. They went into business. They didn’t care what it was, and they went. And when you go into business in America, there are two things that everyone already knows. One is you have to lie to the government and you have to lie to your taxes. And so you go in knowing you’re going to do that because if you don’t, you’ll just fail. And if you can imagine the character in All My Sons not getting a case of moral judgment and blowing his own brains out, if he hadn’t done that, he would have turned into Bernie Madoff in the 1950s. And it was probably 15 years of his [Madoff’s] career when he thought of himself as a businessman and then he realized he was working real hard at that, so he said, “Screw it.” He figured, “Why not?” Because the government doesn’t care. So it was a very illuminating thing. I understood a whole generation of men, including my father and his brothers, why they did what they did.
ADTV: That’s so interesting.
RD: Madoff did it for the most base reasons. He really spent $50 billion or north of that on his wardrobe. [Laughs]
ADTV: Oh my gosh.
RD: He didn’t create philanthropy or anything. He did it because he could have his suits made in London and he could buy a yacht. He was a true scumbag.
ADTV: Was it kind of fun to play that?
RD: Yeah, it was. It’s always fun to play characters like that. I played Dick Cheney. That had to be fun.
ADTV: I wanted to ask you. So you’ve played Dick Cheney. You’ve played Bernie Madoff. What other controversial figure are you eyeing up? Would you play Trump?
ADTV: [Laughs] So there’s been some Emmy talk for your Madoff role, obviously, and I believe this would be your first Emmy nomination. TV seems to be where a lot of big movie stars like yourself are turning up nowadays. What do you think the draw is with television versus film right now? Do you think the roles are getting more interesting?
RD: Oh, yeah. The roles are getting interesting, and the structure is allowing for something that nothing else can offer. For instance, when you do a movie or a stage play, you know what the ending is. You know every night in a stage play that it’s going to be the same ending. In a film, you may shoot out of sequence, but you know what the ending is. And when you’re doing television, the one thing that can change is the producers can walk in the next day and say, “Let’s make him a cross dresser!” And they do. And the ending is always with a question mark. The character can morph into things that were never expected at the beginning. And that makes it really kind of like life.
ADTV: You will next be appearing on Fox’s Shots Fired with an A-list cast that includes Helen Hunt. Can you tell us anything about your role?
RD: Actually, I can’t, which I find amusing. Because they keep this show under very tight wraps. And they don’t want people to know what’s going to happen, who’s going to do it, or who’s good and bad and all that. And so, I’m actually constrained from telling you anything except that it’s a really well-written show.
ADTV: Are you working on any other TV shows or movies right now?
RD: Yeah, I’m doing two or three things. I’m doing a film in Israel in the fall about an American who goes to Israel to raise pigs. A hold for the laugh.
RD: It’s called Holy Land. I’m also writing two books. A piece about the American Civil War called The Two Virginians. One who stayed with the South, and one who stayed with the Union. Everything in the story is true. And I’m going to play all the characters. [Laughs] The other book is a short book about civics. Three chapters, a hundred pages long. Written by me and a bunch of history teachers, and Bruce Pandolfini wants to write a chapter about how chess helps you think clearly.
ADTV: You’re crazy busy! There’s one other thing about Madoff that I wanted to ask you. One of my favorite scenes in the series is when you explain your famous smirk to the paparazzi and the press. Did you watch that real-life video dozens of times to get it just right?
RD: You like that scene? [Laughs]
ADTV: It was so funny. You just nailed it.
RD: We did it in one take. We kept working, but what they used was the first take.
ADTV: Wow. Cause I remember all of this when it happened in the news and I remember that clip they showed. When you did it, it was exactly what it was like.
RD: When I was researching the role, I found two articles written in Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner. Once you read those two articles, you will never smile at the thought of Bernie Madoff or remember him with anything but loathing. Because she details the pain he inflicted. Anyone who sees the film should go back and read those articles.
ADTV: Well, I certainly will.
RD: When I heard Bobby De Niro was doing a show with the same character, I met his partner at a theater in New York, and I said, “If we finish first and you’re still shooting, I want to be in your movie! I could play a waiter. Or Harry Markopolos.” And she said, “What?” I said, “I’m not kidding. I think it would be fun.” And she said, “Great! We’ll call you.” They never called. [Laughs]
ADTV: That would have been so fantastic.
RD: Yeah. It would have been great.
ADTV: Did you know De Niro’s version was happening when you started filming?
RD: Yeah, we were tracking it. I don’t think they made a decision about when they would release it for quite a while. I kept thinking it was going to be the same season, which would have added extra anxiety. And I’ve heard that Bobby De Niro has a lot of acting talent. [Laughs] I’m really curious to see that show.
Madoff reairs on Saturday, May 28, on ABC at 9 p.m. EST. The episodes are also available online at ABC.GO.COM.