Interviews

jay roach

When it comes to Emmy wins, director Jay Roach remains undefeated. In 2008, he took home statuettes for Recount, his candid look at the 2000 presidential election. And in 2012 he won again for Game Change, which follows Sarah Palin’s rise as the Republican Party’s V.P. candidate.

But despite his growing reputation as the go-to political guy, he still occasionally feels like the new kid on the block. “Keep in mind,” said Roach with a laugh. “I’m the Austin Powers guy. We comedians still feel like we’re always at the clown table.” Roach comes from a comedy background, having directed all three films in the Mike Myers franchise in addition to Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers.

jay roach
(Photo: HBO)
Lately, his interests have moved from giggles to government. “They’re the stories that count right now. I think of them as political, but also as classic drama. These are human beings in their own private battles, but they’re also taking on issues that affect all of us. To have a story work on so many levels makes for a richer story.”

When he started work on All the Way, which secured eight Emmy nominations, he felt like the outsider. Both Outstanding Lead Actor nominee Bryan Cranston and playwright/screenwriter Robert Schenkkan had worked together on the play from which the film was adapted.

“Robert wrote the screenplay adaptation of his own great play,” said Roach. “He was around constantly. I had him involved in pre-production and he was on set every day. He would help me and the actors sort out issues. We had Bryan Cranston, too, who’s such a great storyteller himself, so we’d often powwow with Bryan.” In fact, Roach had the opportunity to work with Cranston back to back: first on 2015’s Trumbo and then on All the Way.

The film follows the chaotic aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson stepping in and working across parties to pass the Civil Rights Act. One aim with the movie versus the play was to open up the scope of what LBJ accomplished in his early years, to go deeper into the heart and soul of this president and what he was up against. “There’s dynamism and charisma in his face that you couldn’t showcase as much in the play.”

The All the Way film adaptation comes just a little over a year after the Academy Award-nominated Selma, which follows a similar storyline focused on Martin Luther King Jr.’s point of view.

“I loved that film, and thought [director] Ava DuVernay did an incredible job, and David Oyelowo as MLK was breathtaking. I was really moved by it. But this story was from a year earlier and from LBJ’s point of view, so I knew this story would feel different. I was hoping it would actually be a welcome companion piece. I think any film that brings up the conversations going on in ‘64 and ‘65 are so important right now. Unfortunately, the issues prevail. We’re still talking about the same problems that haven’t been solved.”

When it comes to depicting history, one of the most important things to Roach is getting the story right, with he and his team doing a lot of research. However, he admits it’s hard to fit every single fact into a two-hour movie.

“You have to take license. The audience has to remember, really none of what you’re watching is accurate. These are actors on a set with fake props. But you hope you get to a place where the audience recognizes that it is based on the true story. It is authentic.”

jay roach
(Photo: HBO)
And for some stories, like that of Donald Trump’s current run for president, Roach is simply watching and waiting.

“We are definitely [Danny Strong, HBO, and I] talking about how to do this. We plan to explore what that story would be. We’re not even sure what it would be yet, since it’s not over. I don’t know if a fictional adaptation of reality is even possible. We’ve been doing research. I went to the Republican Convention. I think it’s so fascinating.”

Covering Trump could be quite the contrast from All the Way.

“LBJ is really the anti-Trump. He was a pro at getting things done. He had worked for years in the legislature and then as vice president. I think people devalue experience, but he was a master legislator before he was president.”

As for remaining undefeated at the Emmys, Roach doesn’t feel any pressure.

“I like all of the projects in the category. I just look at it as, I’m so happy to get the chance to make movies like this. I’m really honored to be a part of it and glad for the film to be noticed, but I’m more just celebrating that we’re even at the table.”

From clown table to Emmy table.

 

All the Way is available to watch on HBO Go, on Amazon Video, or for purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.

John Simmons

John Simmons dives into his Emmy-winning camera work for Nickelodeon’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn

John Simmons, ASC, is a 3-time Emmy-nominated cinematographer whose 30-year career spans television, film, and music videos. His third Emmy nomination (and first win) comes from the Nickelodeon series Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn in the “Go Hollywood” episode. That episode, which features the central kids journeying to Hollywood to seek their deepest wish, offers several opportunities for unique lighting and camera work not often seen in multi-camera setups.

Simmons is also known as a celebrated photographer. He recent series “It Started in the 60’s” captures 50 years of his life as influenced by the attributes of the era. As he states on the series’s Facebook page, “1960’s Chicago had to be one of the hippest scenes in America. It was at the height of the civil rights era and everything was filled with passion. Poets, painters, jazz musicians, scholars, hippies and revolutionaries mingled. Such a perfect time to grow up, trying to find myself. For me, it started in the 60’s.”

John Simmons

Even though we were brought together to discuss his well deserved multi-camera Emmy nomination, our conversation ultimately led to this breathtaking series and the power that capturing a single moment in time can have.

You’ve worked in the industry for over 30 years. How did you get your start?

Well, as far as cinematography goes, I went to USC film school, but I started as a camera assistant and a camera technician. Shortly after that, I started doing documentaries. Documentaries led into commercials and music videos, so I had a long history of doing all kinds of rap videos. That went on for some time. Then, I started doing movies for TV, mostly for Disney and Showtime. A friend of mine had me take over his multi-camera sitcom, which was called The Hughleys. That basically began my relationship with multi-camera, and I did a pilot for the Jonas Brothers for Disney. Then I went on to do the series, and they just kept calling me. I just got one Disney show after another, and that was a good thing because consistent work as a cinematographer is something to feel good about. That’s basically how I started.

For people who don’t know, tell me how you approach a multi-camera setup.

It’s very different than a single camera setup. When you’re dealing with multi-camera, you’re doing with four cameras, and the show basically takes place in a proscenium – a 180 degree proscenium. The challenge for me as a cinematographer coming from single camera, episodic programming is to be able to create a certain ratio in the lighting so it doesn’t feel like a flat-looking show. I like to work with the art director to create sources of light and have them put windows in the right places so that you can actually feel like the light is coming from a natural place. There has to be a bright side and a shadow side so that people can actually feel like the scene is real and not so sitcom-y like the ones most of us grew up with. I try and light for the environment, and I light in a way that takes advantage of where people go in the scene. I don’t over-light. I don’t light where the actors aren’t going to go. That’s basically the challenge. When you’re doing four cameras, you have to shoot to each side, so the dark side has to only be dark enough to make you believe you’re looking at a ratio – a sunny side and a shade side, a bright side and a dark side. That’s really a challenge in multi-camera – to be able to give a scene some kind of texture.

You’re Emmy nominated for the “Go Hollywood” episode of Nickelodeon’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. What about that episode in particular made you submit it for Emmy consideration?

Well, when we submit for Emmys, the challenge is that you have to submit four minutes uncut, and, if you’re doing an episodic show, within four minutes the cinematographer can show you a lot of different things. You can go through a lot of scenes in four minutes. You can go a lot of places. With a multi-camera show, because it’s pretty much dialogue driven, you don’t always get to go that many places. People may work in the living room or the kitchen, and you don’t get to see a lot of stuff. In “Go Hollywood,” we went outside, they’re in a car, they’re in a warehouse. We will approach it in a multi-camera fashion, but we’re in different environments. Within those four minutes that I chose, you get to see some lighting and some camera movement. That’s why I submitted the clip from that episode.

The episode involves a recreation of a fictional TV show called “Kidney Punch.” What techniques did you use to so accurately recreate this B-movie action film look and feel?

The sequence that you see at the top of the show I just tried to make it a B-rated quality of a movie, and then it cuts to the interior of their house. I tried to make it feel painterly with a nice contrast with the sun on the actor’s face coming in through a window. Basically, I wanted to contrast those two environments to make it feel like you’re actually in this movie, and then suddenly you pull yourself out into this bright, living room.

This is your third Emmy nomination for cinematography. Tell me about this year’s Emmy nomination morning.

Well, I think that to be nominated is a very special kind of honor, and it’s a special kind of recognition. There are lots of submissions that go in for the various categories. In the end, it comes down to about 12 to 15 entries, and we have to go to a screening and watch multi-camera, episodic, one-hour, miniseries – all the various categories that have been nominated. When it comes time for multi-camera, all the cinematographers have to leave the room. Nobody knows that it’s your show. They watch 4-minute sections of 12 different shows, and there’s a lot of stuff go through. When you come out of there as a nominee, it speaks volumes because you’re being judged by your peers, by cinematographers. That’s a big deal because we’re very critical of each other’s work. It’s quite an honor to be nominated. It makes you feel good about what you’re doing. Everybody is elevating their game. There’s so much stuff on right now, and everything is done so well.

You have a fascinating photojournalism project called “It Started in the 60’s.” As you looked back over the 50-plus years of photos taken, what did you learn from the history captured?

You know, it’s really interesting because I look at my own evolution as a photographer with a certain kind of sensibility to an undisturbed environment. What makes me feel pretty good about the work is that, in the evolution of my eye, it still looks like the same person takes those pictures. There’s a continuity there that says something about how we see things, about how we perceive the world as people. The thing that’s most amazing to me is that I get to be a witness to little undisturbed things. I don’t take a lot of pictures. When I go into an environment, I take one or two pictures.

There’s a photograph in that collection called “Nazi” that was taken at a white supremacist rally where there were protestors. I take the subway, walk onto the yard where the protesters are, and I take a picture of a t-shirt with Martin Luther King on it. In the background is a dude carrying a sign protesting the Nazis, and he has a Nixon mask on. I took that one picture, and it said everything about why I was there. So I left. I didn’t take any more pictures because there wasn’t going to be another picture there that could tell a better story for me. Maybe there was one there, but that image spoke to me enough. I try to take just a couple of pictures and try to tell a story that can live beyond the frame you’re looking at. That can raise certain questions about humanity and relationships.

Examples of John Simmons’ brilliant photography are available on his website.

Greg Yaitanes

Emmy-winner Greg Yaitanes talks about what drove him toward Cinemax’s Quarry

Premiering Friday night, Cinemax’s Quarry offers a great deal more than the surface pretense of a straightforward crime story. Quarry is about coming back home from a war no one wanted. It’s about reconnecting with those you left behind. It’s about finding your place in a world when no one seems to want you there. Quarry is about much, much more once you look beyond its surface. It’s that level of complexity that attracted Emmy-winning director Greg Yaitanes (House) to the series.

Based on the novels by Max Allen Collins, Quarry focuses on returning Vietnam vet Mac “Quarry” Conway’s (Logan Marshall-Green) descent into crime thanks to entangling alliances with The Broker (Peter Mullan). Jodi Balfour plays Quarry’s wife Joni, and scene-stealing Peter Mullan plays fellow hitman Buddy. Thanks to Greg Yaitanes’s balanced direction as well as Michael D. Fuller and Graham Green’s intelligent script, Quarry‘s deft characterizations are nearly as engaging as its action scenes.

Greg Yaitanes

Yaitanes’s reputation in Hollywood speaks to both his entrepreneurial spirit (he invests in companies like Twitter) and his extensive directorial work (little shows like LostDamagesHeroes and others in addition to his Emmy-winning work on House). His confident hand guides his actors through shocking plot twists while keeping things consistent and grounded in reality. I had the pleasure of speaking with Greg Yaitanes about the making of Quarry and some of its more challenging sequences and characterizations.

So, I’ve seen about five episodes of the series, and I’m already taken by the surprises and plot twists Quarry offers. What attracted you to the material initially?

I was doing Season 3 of Banshee, and Cinemax approached me about this being my next project for them. I was really locked into Mac’s journey. I was intrigued by the era and the dilemmas because they were ultimately timeless. Something about it seemed to speak to issues and backdrops that are alive and present today. A polarizing war, a polarizing election, and polarizing race issues that are all permeating Quarry’s tapestry. It intrigued me to be able to tell this crime story disguised by the deconstruction of a marriage story. It just seemed to be working on a lot of levels to me.

What was the most important theme you really wanted to covey through your direction of the material?

I wanted to see the honesty of a secret within a marriage and really face how the lack of honesty is tearing this marriage to pieces.

You really must have relished the opportunity to tell a complete story yourself. It’s almost like making one big film. 

Yeah, it was interesting because Cinemax had a good experience with Steven (Soderbergh) on The Knick and Cary (Fukunaga) had done all of True Detective. This was about two years ago, and it wasn’t as common as it is now. I think it’s a great shift in the dynamic of television in that TV is now truly the writer’s and director’s medium. It’s not just simply film is the director’s medium, and television belongs to writers. I think we’re now in an era of a real hybrid collaboration where you need directors to be big world builders. Given the amount of research and the amount of detail that Quarry has, to ask an episodic director to try and parachute in and absorb all of that seemed like a tall order. I did relish the opportunity because… you start to get that “runner’s high” with all that creativity swirling around you. It’s a very exciting place to live. I had a very symbiotic relationship with the crew and cast that kept feeding on itself, and I think it shows in the work.

I want to talk about two specific, challenging scenes early in the season. First the pilot episode has an incredibly amount of raw sexuality between Mac/Quarry and Joni. It makes sense given his return from Vietnam, but how did you help the actors work through what I would imagine to be a difficult scene?

Through their physical intimacy, you have a better sense of their relationship. You have that long, unbroken take when Mac comes home. We embrace the long take there and treat the writing almost like a one-act play. Through these uninterrupted scenes, the actors have the optimal experience. To be able to do that with Mac’s homecoming and reconnecting with his wife shows… they are a young couple. They don’t have much in common. They’re largely connecting through their physical attraction to each other. You see in that first scene that they barely have anything to say to each other. They don’t share children as Ruth and Arthur [Mac’s best friend/Vietnam war buddy and his wife] do. They are kind of at a loss and just fall into their very young and physical sex. What I love about that is their marriage getting put to the test by the circumstances happening around them.

There’s a dialogue with both actors and, logistically, I always rehearse those scenes well ahead of shooting so that we’re not inventing that the day of. On our own time, we started – and this is something I started doing on Banshee – working out the physicality of the scene and all the choreography. Going a step before that, it’s really in the casting. Having the conversation about how the sexuality will be approached. I like the visual approach of bearing witness to scenes like that. I don’t want to make them any more sexy or any less sexy or any more raw or any less raw than what is happening. I look for a way of shooting those scenes that is unobtrusive and allows the actors to have a lot of freedom. I just want to be able to capture the immediacy of what is happening.

So, given your approach to the sex scenes, is your approach similar to that of Joni’s episode three [particularly brutal] fight scene? 

You’re hitting on exactly the right thing. There’s one degree of separation between a sex scene and an action scene in terms of what goes into it. With our action scenes, we work them out ahead of time with stunt actors. In the case of Joni’s escape, that fight sequence was designed to be a single take. I didn’t want to enhance the brutality, which lead the scene to be a continuous take. That’s probably the hardest thing Jodi did as an actress. It was physically and emotionally draining, and that take you’re seeing was the last take. She literally put it all out there for that one final take, and it was a very, very hard scene for her to do. They’re not really faking it, and that scene was probably the most intense one that we did all season.

I can’t imagine what it took for her to go through it. You can tell she’s giving it everything, and her performance coupled with the way you captured it really made the scene work.

Cool. Yeah, it’s ugly and messy. Everything about Quarry had to feel not choreographed and captured. Grounding its visual style provided that observational quality to it. I was very allergic to things feeling showy or slick or rehearsed. I’m glad that worked because there’s a lot of crazy things happening in that scene.

There’s a fantastic small moment in episode three where a lot of bad things happen to Joni, but she stops to make sure a dog has enough water. Tell me about filming that deceptively simple moment. Was that scripted?

That was a fantastic scripted moment. The dogs were scripted into a different section of the building, and it didn’t make logistic sense that she escape through the front and then walk all the way around the building back to them. It was raining that day, and we were behind. We were looking to possibly punt the scene, and you could see Jodi’s disappointment when the conversation came up. We put our heads together to see how we could possibly make it work, and it completely stayed in. I’m so glad that we talked ourselves out of the bad idea of potentially dropping it. It’s such a great unexpected beat, and I think… in the middle of all this, she still has a sense of compassion.

It’s a great moment. One more question, I was curious as to how you specifically worked with Damon [Herriman] to interpret his character’s sexuality.

One of the great things about directing is good casting. Damon was bringing about 90 percent of what you see there. Buddy’s character is one of the characters that majorly appealed to me because he’s living a triple life. He has the secret life of a hit man, but he’s also a closeted hit man only out to his mother, Naomi [Ann Dowd]. Damon really humanizes that struggle in such a beautiful way, and it’s more spending time with his thoughtfulness. I tried to stay out of the way while he was working because he has a natural sense of humor and a beautiful way about him. Damon’s work is truly phenomenal.

Quarry’s 8-episode run kicks off Friday, September 9, on Cinemax at 10 pm ET. 

Quarry

Quarry co-creators Michael D. Fuller and Graham Gordy talk about the making of their character-driven crime drama

Quarry, Cinemax’s new Southern crime drama, appears relatively straightforward based on its well constructed pilot. Premiering Friday, September 9, Quarry revolves around Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), a controversial Vietnam vet who returns home in the midst of the political and social upheaval of 1972. As Mac struggles to assimilate in an environment that wants nothing to do with him, he gradually descends into a world of crime dominated by the mysterious The Broker (Peter Mullan). When Conway – or “Quarry” as he’s later dubbed – dips deeper into crime, you think you know where this is going.

But that’s the problem with taking a show at face value. A pilot only whets the appetite for the sumptuous main course ahead, and Quarry holds many surprises ahead for smart viewers.

Quarry evolves into an intense and hypnotic dive into the seedy underbelly of the Memphis crime world over its 8 episodes. As the plot unfolds, viewers meet a series of compelling characters that help color the setting in unexpected ways. Quarry explores not only the inner turmoil of the title character but also the tempestuous relationship with Joni (Jodi Balfour), his wife left at home to await his return. Credit co-creators, primary writers, and native Southerners Michael D. Fuller and Graham Gordy for transforming Max Allan Collins’s (The Road to Perdition) source material into a series that stands as one of the best new dramatic series to premiere in 2016. Quarry is a smart action series that values character over plot mechanics and boasts natural echoes of AMC’s great Breaking Bad.

Quarry
Michael Fuller, Graham Gordy (Photo: Michele K. Short/CINEMAX)

Fuller and Gordy met with AwardsDaily TV to discuss their new series, its inspirations, and the daring characterizations that pepper the accomplished series.

So how did you become familiar with the Quarry source material by Max Allan Collins?

Michael Fuller: It’s funny. Graham and I were, again being from the South, we were always very fascinated through stories we’d heard from our own family in addition to stories we’d heard of the 70’s in the South… It was just such a cool and underrepresented time, and we started working on an original idea that we referred to as Gritty Dukes of Hazzard, and that was what we very much what we wanted to do when we started. We were thinking, “Let’s do The Sopranos in the South with Southern wild asses with little regard for each other, much less the law.” You’re always kind of looking at [intellectual property] when you’re working on new stuff, and we were looking at one series of books that wasn’t available. We happened to notice on Amazon that “Customers Also Bought” Quarry by Max Allan Collins. We were both fans of Road to Perdition the film, so we downloaded it. We felt like it was a good jumping off point. The books are told first person, so we were always very interesting in how this guy became who he was.

As you were adapting the material, did you find any particular resonance between the 1972-set story and the modern political and social era?

Graham Gordy: Yeah, Michael and I always tend to use writing as an excuse to do research, and we were fascinated by this 70’s era. There was a while where we debated if we should make this material contemporary. There is a world in which this Quarry character is coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq and sort of dealing with the situation in a contemporary setting, and then we really started researching the early 70’s and sort of going back a little further. A big part of this for us, honestly, is trying to define the 70’s were for two guys who weren’t alive in the 70’s. We have a pretty good grasp of the 1960s as being this particular time of revolution and upheaval that sort of started in November 1963 when Kennedy was shot and the Beatles came to America.

It felt like the 70’s kind of began around the same time we started this show. That hope and idealism of the 60’s and the social contract and promises that Lyndon Johnson made kind of washed up on the shore by 1972. You have this disillusionment and American soldiers coming back, so combine that with a time of great recession and the ending of a war the almost no one wanted to be a part of by the end of it. The resonance allowed us to tackle these same issues in a way we can digest it. There are certainly a lot of great books and films about this era, but we felt the additional time away from the era gave us a chance to process it in a unique way.

The two of you wrote most of the series with the exception of two episodes. Clearly you’d want Max involved in the writing, but what did you look to Jennifer Schuur (Big LoveHannibal) to add to the material as the only female voice of the series?

MF: We had a very small writer’s room for Season 1, and Jen was someone with whom we really clicked. She’s just a really talented writer, and her mom had a very similar backstory to that of Joni in that she was a young woman of that era trying to self-actualize. She just had a tremendous amount of insight in general as a writer, and it was good to have a female perspective to make sure that we’re not being over-masculine or “testosteroney” (which is my favorite Chef Boyardee). We were all breaking the story together, but she particularly had a very strong sense of what episode 5 should be without giving too much away.

GG: She’s hilarious too. Of all the writers we talked to, she was just fundamentally hysterical.

quarry
Logan Marshall-Green as Quarry. (Photo: Michele K. Short/CINEMAX)

Yeah, some sorely needed levity.

Both: Yeah. [Laughs]

Speaking of Joni, by the time we get to episode 3, she’s faced with some very intense physical challenges. Talk about the line you must have had to walk to keep that from being too intense for viewers.

MF: It was very much, in terms of writing and depicting it, we felt the audience by this point had a pretty healthy dislike for Joni… By putting her in this situation and victimizing her a bit… We wanted to see that she’s not just sitting around and waiting for Mac to ride up on his white horse. We didn’t want to punish Joni as a character, but we wanted to take the audience to a point where they see her agency in this situation and she’s able to win the audience and Mac back in a way. She’s able to be resourceful enough to get out of a bad situation. It’s a great conversation to have in terms of television shows and violence towards women, and we certainly didn’t want to be brutal for the sake of being brutal.

GG: When you see episode 4, there are great benefits and great drawbacks to writing features versus long-form television shows. Some of the greatest things that I think we see being done on the shows we love are that you see a certain characters being painted with a certain brush for an episode or a series of episodes or a season… I think nobody’s better at this right now than Game of Thrones where there’s somebody that you can absolutely despise for multiple seasons, and then you’re like “I have a begrudging affection for this person.” And then you’re like “How did this person become a hero in this story?” We wanted the audience to be frustrated with Joni at first but then understand her and sympathize with her in a way that you perhaps wouldn’t with other characters.

Well, I don’t think she’s gotten to Cersei levels yet…

GG: [Laughs] Well, just wait until she watches out of her tower fiddling while Rome burns…

Jumping from Joni to another character that surprised me, let’s talk about Buddy (Damon Herriman). Initially, I didn’t know quite how to take him, but by episode 3 he begins to come into focus. Were there particular concerns you had when conceiving him with regards to portraying his sexuality?

GG: I don’t know that there were every really any concerns. Our main goal with these characters was to base them as much as we could on actual research and make it specific to the particular time and place. We are talking about a world of criminality, but in terms of gay men in Memphis in terms of 1972, it was actually kind of shocking how much research we were able to find. We wanted to be as sensitive as possible, but we wanted to try and understand that each of these people working within The Broker’s network have their own narrative and their own reason to justify how and why they are doing this. One of my favorite parts of this that we accomplished was working out who is this character and how is he able to sleep at night considering what he does for a living, to kill people for a living. One of the things that stems from the novels is Quarry becoming assigned to this person and trying to figure out whether or not this person is good or bad. I may have gotten a little off the subject there… [Laughs]

quarry
Peter Mullan, Logan Marshall-Green. (Photo: Michele K. Short/CINEMAX)

MF: We’re definitely looking to upend expectations. We show [Buddy] as having this very definitive philosophy and world view, and then we almost immediately upend that and start to almost kind of pull him apart. When you’re living in the realm that these people are, you have to know about their defense mechanisms and their rationalizations. Then, something goes down like in episode 2 for him where he thought he had a situation under control, but his grasp on it is upended as is his entire paradigm. This type of character and the unexpected friendship between him and Mac are something that really intrigued us. These are the unlikeliest of friends, and it’s something that makes Mac more endearing because his frustrations with Buddy don’t have anything to do with his sexuality. Buddy looking to Mac for some type of camaraderie makes Mac somewhat more redeemable in a way that Mac himself might not even believe.

By episode 3, we’re introduced to Buddy’s mother, played by Ann Dowd. Their relationship is fantastic, and she’s brilliant in the role. Was this a character from the novel, or was she introduced for the show?

MF: We invented her for the show. There’s a character in the books… that Quarry mentions repeated as one of the only friends he remembers fondly. We wanted to dramatize and serialize this, and we needed to invent a backstory for him. So, what we came  up with was that he had parents who loved their son unconditionally and were accepting, but his dad who, in that Southern wild-ass way, lived hard and died young. Graham and I are both close to our moms… maybe not “Naomi close” but I’m sure our moms would sew us up on the kitchen table no questions asked if we needed them to. We could not have had more dream casting in that role than Ann Dowd.

GG: Yeah, I think there’s some combination between Kathy Bates in Primary Colors and then every other Southern woman that we know or grew up with meshed in that character. There were so many times where Michael and I were like, “Man, wouldn’t it be great to just write the Buddy and Naomi half hour where they just sit around, drink martinis and talk?” Ann was amazing, and we were very proud of the exchanges we’d written for them. They felt authentic and right for the region and the time, and Ann came in and elevated it  to a degree that was unbelievable. We were knocked out by her.

MF: Her chemistry with Damon was everything we were trying to construct on paper but just exponentially greater. They were an old married couple in that way that, at the time particularly in the South, you had that “Uncle Buddy” who still lived with the grandmother…

GG: The “fun uncle.”

MF: Yeah. [Laughs] It was just a dream for us. She just took it and ran with it. She’s terrific to work with and a terrific actor.

quarry
Damon Herriman, Ann Dowd. (Photo: Michele K. Short/CINEMAX)

She really is. Perhaps if Quarry is your Breaking Bad, then perhaps there’s a Better Call Buddy in the future.

MF: [Laughs] That would be amazing.

GG: If there’s no Season 2 of Quarry, then Michael and I are probably just going to pitch the Buddy and Naomi Show… The sort of Dixie Mafia wild-ass who lives with his mother…

MF: Goes to estate sales with his mom…

GG: Plays bingo…

So, last question, what are your plans for the second season?

MF: This is something we’ve talked a lot about, but there’s nothing official on that end yet. Season 1 is so much about what Mac thought it was coming home to and what Joni thought she was getting back in terms of her husband. In the wake of all that without giving too much away for Season 1, how do we move on now that we’ve established those days are long gone?

Quarry’s 8-episode run kicks off Friday, September 9, on Cinemax at 10pm ET. 

Jade Pettyjohn

Not many adult TV comedies make me literally laugh out loud, so imagine my surprise when I counted two LOLs while watching an episode of Nickelodeon’s School of Rock, which received an Emmy nomination this year for Outstanding Children’s Program. This series is a riff on the Jack Black film, only with Tony Cavalero donning Mr. Finn’s guitar strap. For those who loved the movie, the series has a similar spirit, offering something for adults and kids alike.

I had the chance to talk with actress Jade Pettyjohn who plays Summer Hathaway on the show. We talked about what it was like to take on the role made famous by Miranda Cosgrove, her favorite classic rock music, and what we can expect for Season 2 (although like The Go-Go’s would say, her lips are mostly sealed).

Congratulations on School of Rock’s Emmy nomination. Were you surprised?

Yes, thank you! I was totally surprised in the best way. I found out through Bre [Breanna Yde] who plays Tomika on the show. She came up screaming to me because someone had tagged her in a photo on Instagram saying that we were nominated for an Emmy. So we went around the entire set screaming and telling everyone. It was super exciting.

The show is based on the 2003 film with Jack Black. Were you familiar with the movie before you took on the role?

Absolutely. It was one of my favorite films growing up. It came out when I was very young, so I kind of grew up watching it. So when I got the audition for the role, I was extra interested.

You’re the Miranda Cosgrove role, too. Was that a role you were vying for?

Yes! Totally. I think Miranda Cosgrove did an amazing job portraying Summer Hathaway. It’s a character that’s very different from my personality, but we’re also a lot alike. It’s a fun character to play for sure.

You can tell it’s a fun character. And you do a good job not mimicking Cosgrove in the role, which would be hard to do. You really make it your own and bring a fresh take on her. 

I felt like it was important to put my own twist on the character. It definitely incorporates the colors and vibes of the film, but since it’s a TV series, there’s definitely more time to explore the characters.

Are you anything like your character at all? I know you’re quite musical and play the guitar. But Summer seems to be quite the opposite of you. Is it hard to be bad at music when you actually play music?

Jade Pettyjohn
Photography by Samantha Annis

Summer and I are very different. She’s tone deaf and I can sing. She doesn’t play music and I do. Things like that. But we also have similarities. She’s super ambitious and knows what she wants to do—maybe become the first female president someday! For me, it’s creating an acting and music career. So we’re both very determined and ambitious and like to get things done.

Playing music badly is very weird to me because it goes against everything I’ve been trained for! So it’s like “Wait, you want me to sing badly?” But it’s fun! It adds a human element to Summer, because she’s very good at a lot of things, so it’s nice to have something she’s not perfect in because we’re people—people aren’t perfect.

The show is a lot about music appreciation, especially classic rock. Are you a classic rock fan now because of the show? If so, what songs do you like?

I’ve grown up absolutely loving music, every kind of style. And before the show, I would go to Amoeba Music, one of the biggest record stores in Los Angeles, and pick up CDs and talk to people about what music they like. The music is actually what drew me to the project. I love classic rock. I’m a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, the Who, and the Doors. I listen to everything from punk to jazz to grunge to pop.

Personally, after watching the show, I thought it something that both adults and kids can enjoy together. Why do you, personally, think the Emmys recognized School of Rock? Is there something specific about the show that you think makes it stand out from other children’s programming?

This is Nickelodeon and Paramount’s first joint show together, which is a pretty big thing. I think that the show recognizes music and the history of music. It gets kids to express themselves through music, which I think is super important. I think it’s something kids should know, that they can pick up an instrument and play with their friends. And who knows, maybe they’ll become the next Nirvana or One Direction or whatever they want to be. The show follows these kids in this prep school, who are forced to stay in this kind of box, and Mr. Finn comes in and teaches them that they can actually be themselves, in whatever way that may be. And I’m really happy the Emmys recognized that.

Will you be at the Emmys?

Yeah, totally! I’m going to be at the Creative Arts Emmys, and I cannot tell you how excited I am! It’s been a big thing in our family to watch the Emmys, so I can’t tell you how exciting it will be to actually go to one.

The new season starts September 17, right before the Emmys actually. Can you tell us anything about what we can expect in Season 2?

Yes, I’m super excited for Season 2. Season 1, you’re getting into the main plot and developing the characters. But in Season 2, there’s more character arcs and relationships that grow, those kind of things. I don’t want to be that girl and spoil the whole thing. My character Summer goes through a lot this season, takes risks and tries things out. That’s all I’m gonna say!

Matthew Heineman

Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman talks about the dangers of filming a documentary about a Mexican drug cartel.

Cartel Land is a tense documentary that has you on the edge of your seat. Director Matthew Heineman takes you inside the Mexican drug war and introduces you to the drug lords that rule it. The documentary won both cinematography and directing awards when it screened at Sundance. It went on to be nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars and now won an Emmy. I caught up with Heineman to talk about the risks of going into Cartel Land.

Cartel Land came out last year, then you were nominated for the Oscar, and now here you are nominated for an Emmy.

It’s been a crazy ride. I’m deeply humbled and never would have expected to be where I am now.

When did Cartel Land begin for you?

It started in June 2013, that’s when I started shooting it. I first heard about it in February of that year. I was reading about the U.S. side of the story, and I spent time gaining access to the vigilantes on the U.S. side of the border. I filmed there for 4 to 5 months. My father sent me an article about the autodefensas in Michoacan, Mexico. When I read that article, that’s when I knew I wanted to do a parallel portrait of vigilantes on both sides of the border. Two weeks after that I was in Mexico filming.

How did you get funding for the film and how did Kathyrn Bigelow get involved?

Like most documentaries, I could bore you with the long details, but I went out, shot the first shoot on my own and put some footage together. I showed it to a producer in New York, Tom Yellin, who started C-funding me. Eventually we got Molly Thompson and off we went. Kathryn didn’t come on until after Sundance. Someone sent her the link, we got together and met. I take a lot of inspiration from her work. So through those conversations, I asked if she wanted to come on board to help raise the visibility of the film, and she was willing to do so.

There are some truly scary moments in that documentary where even the viewer fears for you.

I’m not a war reporter, I’ve never been in any situation before. The shoot-outs, the meth labs, the torture chambers are all scenarios I never dreamt I’d be in. It’s an absolutely terrifying journey for a year, one that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for, and that took on a life of its own. I thought it was going to be a simple story, at least the Mexican side. A story of good versus evil and of everyday citizens rising up to fight against an evil cartel. Slowly over time I realized these stories were far more complicated and these lines were blurry. As these lines blurred and things got complicated, I became obsessed with who these guys were. I spent two weeks of every month for nine months in Mexico.

How do you watch someone having their daughter being taken from them? How do you watch those meth lab scenes? What’s that like for you as a journalist?

People often ask me how did I get that scene. There are several different answers. I poach the subjects with a level of respect. I told the folks in Mexico and Arizona that I had no pre-conceived notions, no goal, and I really wanted the story to evolve naturally. I really wanted to let the story play out. I spent a lot of time down there, almost nine months. In that time, I gained their trust. When you spend that much time with them, you develop a rapport. They’re risking their lives to fight for what they believe in.

With that scene, that never would have happened if I had knocked on the door and asked, “Can I hang out with you?” I was nine months into filming, we’re at the autodefensas base and they start jamming magazines into their guns, get into their cars. I asked where they were going, and they said they were going to get Starbucks. I barely speak Spanish. We literally weren’t speaking the same language, but we all knew they weren’t really going to get Starbucks. They let me go with them, and little did I know that we’d soon be in the middle of a shoot-out, getting shot at, falling out of the car, and going on a witch hunt through town.

That terribly devastating scene was deeply troubling to film. I was a foot away from them, and to see that unfold, as he’s being interrogated at gunpoint. As a human being, all I wanted to do was grab that gun and stop the madness, but my job is not there to police or change the course of events. My duty was to document what I was seeing, and to get in the torture chamber and the meth lab. It was just a matter of getting those doors open to be able to get in there.

How do you manage to stay safe and ensure your crew stayed safe?

It was a tiny crew. It was incredibly dangerous, and the key was never to be complacent and always have your antennas up. The first day of filming, I was scared shitless. Over time that changed, but not being complacent was the key. Even driving in Mexico with the doctor was scary because he had a bullseye on the back of his head.

Did you receive any threats?

There were countless moments, people tried taking the camera, men had masks on, but nothing terribly bad happened. I think we’re talking about the dangers that I had. The real danger was in the tragedy of the people in Michoacan living in a society where government has failed and where citizens are forced to take situations into their own hands. That’s also what drove me to make this: the tragedy that I was witnessing. The real losers are the people living on the ground who live in this lawless land, and the lines between government and cartel so blurry. That’s what makes living there and filming there so scary.

There’s a woman in the first act of the film when the autodefensas takes over the town, and they surround the army to get their guns back. Her anger was representative of so many things. Her entire family was killed by the cartel. She was too scared to go to the police because she thought the police would rat her out to the cartel, were the cartel, or were being paid by the cartel. All the things we take for granted, they don’t have.

We’ve got shows like Narcos, but the news here doesn’t tell us about the war on the cartels?

That’s exactly why I wanted to make this. We’re obsessed with terror around the world, and here’s terror on our doorsteps that we’re connected to and we’re responsible for. We’re funding this war through our voracious appetite for drugs. As long as there’s a demand for drugs, there will be a supply coming from South America and Mexico and, with that, the violence. Since 2007 over 100,000 people have been killed in the Mexican drug wars. Over 20,000 people have disappeared. Those are staggering numbers, and it’s right on our doorstep. One goal was to highlight this and show how it’s affecting people on the ground.

You did that in the sense that it’s really terrifying to watch. Aside from what you capture in the documentary, what challenges did you face?

There were so many. From a creative standpoint, it was one of the hardest films I’ve ever made just because the story kept changing. I was always on quicksand not knowing what was right and wrong. Every single day, month, the story evolved. Trying to make sense of it and trying to tell the story in a compelling and human way was the biggest challenge. On the end of it, I could be on a mission and look to my left or right, I could be with people and not know if I was with the cartel or the people fighting the cartel. From where I started that was a massive arc. When you’re on the ground trying to make sense of that, it was difficult.

How did they gain your trust?

That’s one thing I’m very lucky. The ones who aren’t are the journalists who were killed. There’s no question that by having a blue passport and being a gringo I had some level of protection. At the end of the day, if you’re in the middle of a shoot-out, the bullets aren’t concerned with the color of your skin.
For me, there were adrenaline filled moments. The interview I did with Milagros, and she witnessed him being chopped up to pieces and being burned to death. To see her body, it was as if her entire soul had been sucked out of her. The hollowness in her eyes stuck with me more than anything else.

 

Aziz Ansari

Aziz Ansari talks about the process of making his Emmy-nominated directorial debut in Master of None

I’m a huge fan of Aziz Ansari in all realms, so I probably embarrassed myself as I chatted with him. He possesses a manic, lovable energy on stage during his stand-up comedy, and his work on Netflix’s Master of None proved that he was more than just a funny guy. As the co-creator and writer, Ansari hit it out of the park with 10 mini movies about navigating your early 30’s in New York City. It feels both relaxed and thoughtful while maintaining a loose and funny tone. Aziz Ansari is one of the most successful comedians to transfer to a leading man on his own show.

When I spoke with him, Aziz surprised me with his soft tone. We talked briefly about the collaborative nature of the show, and I found out that his dad (breakout Shoukath Ansari who should have been nominated as Guest Actor in a Comedy Series) can’t wait to return as Dev’s father. Sometimes people think that comedians are supposed to make them laugh at all times, but Ansari proved again to be a defier of expectations.

I’m a huge fan of Master of None, and I’m a huge fan of you in general so I’m super excited to chat with you.

Oh wow. Thank you very much.

You wear three hats for Master of None. You’re the writer, director, star and co-creator of the show. Does it feel like you’re a captain of the ship?

Yeah, in a sense. It’s such a big team effort. Alan (Yang, co-creator of Master) has been with me through the whole thing, and Eric Wareheim (who plays Dev’s toweringly tall buddy Arnold) is a huge part of the show as well. Of course, he directed four of the episodes as well. You know, it’s so many people who worked so very hard on every aspect of the show, I try to help with everything that I can. Alan and I are pretty specific about everything from even the fonts in the titles and everything. But for each individual thing, there’s amazing people that help us get there. I would never want to take away from the remarkable team that we have.

I’m sure everyone tells you that they love your dad on the show. How was his reaction to when he read episode “Parents?”

He was like, “Whoa! So this is our story?” and I was like, “Yeah.”

Does he want to do more in Season 2? Is he really excited to come back?

Oh yeah! Now he’s pitching me ideas. My mom is trying to get out of doing Season 2. It’s pretty ridiculous.

I read recently that you’re really taking your time with developing Season 2. I really admire that you guys want to do it the right way and not just throw something out there.

Yeah, I think we never wanted to just make a Season 2 because we were on a schedule where it was like, “All right, it’s time to make the show!” We wanted enough of a breather to sort of refresh ourselves and have new ideas that we were just as excited about as the first season. We were trying to avoid the feeling of being rushed. We were very fortunate with how everything came out with the first season.

You’re nominated for directing and writing “Parents” (it’s also the episode submitted for Ansari’s personal acting category). Did you always have your eye on directing? 

I had always wanted to. A lot of mentors in my career always said, “You need to direct, you need to direct!” And at the time I wasn’t sure. It’s so much that I did it on Master of None instead of Parks and Recreation. On Master of None, as a writer and it being my show, I know I’d have a hand in it as far as how I imagine these scenes and everything. I knew exactly how I wanted it to look, so we assembled a great team to help us execute it. I think Alan and I had a very specific vision of how we wanted it to feel and we knew what we wanted the tone of it to be. That made it much easier.

Dev is obviously based a lot on your life. Would you say he’s a mere sketch of you?

There’s a long tradition of comedians playing some version of themselves. Some delve into their lives and exaggerate things or whatever. I don’t really know if I could make a list of the similarities and differences between us. There’s definitely some overlap.

One of my favorite things is that Dev is a huge foodie. New York City is a great place for that.

Alan, Eric and I, as well as a huge chunk of our crew, very much enjoy good food. I actually despise the word foodie. (Laughs) The restaurants we chose for the show and all the bars and everything are places that you can go. They were picked deliberately. The arc of the first season has that big element of food that plays into the finale.

If Dev was forced to eat one particular pasta for the rest of his life, would he ever be able to make that sort of decision?

Oh, no. If you’re familiar with the first season, you’d know that Dev would have to think about that for a long, long time.

You’ve been to the Emmys before. Are you anticipating the ceremony this time around?

I’ve gone before. It’s fun. You get to see your friends. It’s totally fun.

I’m actually in the process of reading your book, Modern Romance.  I was surprised that it was more of a sociology book, and the data is one of the most fascinating things about it. Would you be open to high schools or colleges adding that to their curriculum?

I think that’s happened already. Some college courses use it in their classes.

ClaireYou have a really great chemistry with Claire Danes in the episode “The Other Man.” Was she really down to do some more comedic stuff?

We knew that that’d be a really good part for somebody. I knew her personally, so I emailed her and she said she’d been wanting to do some comedy for a while. She thought it’d be really fun. We had a blast, and she was really fun to work with.

I just re-watched that episode last night. You guys are great together.

She’s such a pro and such an incredible actress, so it was great to work with her on that.

If there was an actual version of The Sickening (the sci-fi movie that is supposed to be Dev’s big break in Master), would you go out for it?

(Laughs) I don’t know. I mean, I guess it ends up being a pretty good movie.

I would love to see you in a big budget action movie like that.

Hopefully, after Master of None, I just continue to write and direct my own stuff, and I don’t have to follow Dev’s career.

Lesli Linka Glatter

Lesli Linka Glatter talks about her Emmy-nominated direction of Showtime’s Homeland

Lesli Linka Glatter almost didn’t become a director. She had a sliding doors situation and, had she gone into a different coffee shop, she might still be a dancer or choreographer. A chance meeting with a stranger in Tokyo would change all that. Today, her resume spans over 20 years of work in film and television. She has worked on such shows as Mad Men, The West Wing, and E.R.

Glatter joined Homeland in Season 2 and has since continued to shoot tense, exciting, thrilling episodes of the show. Her continued excellent direction led to another Emmy nomination this year. It is her fourth nomination for direction of a drama series. I recently caught up with Lesli Linka Glatter in the midst of a location scout to talk Homeland and the whole Emmy scene.

Lesli Linka GlatterYou definitely keep it fresh and exciting, and the viewer never knows what you’re going to do next.

That’s really good to hear.

Your journey is something notable. You started off as a dancer, and here you are, Emmy-nominated director.

It’s been an incredible journey, exactly that. One of the things that amazes me is that nobody has the same path to doing what we do. Everyone’s path and journey are completely unique because we all come from whatever set of experiences we have and you bring it to the mix. It’s extraordinary.

That’s so true, and you see that when speaking to filmmakers and, as you say, that journey is never the same twice.

I ended up because I was a modern dancer, a choreographer and I spent all of my twenties overseas. I was in London and Paris, and then I got a grant to teach dance and choreography in the Far East. Had I not lived in Tokyo, Japan, and made a choice between which coffee shop to go into, one on the right or one on the left, I would have never directed. The story that I was told that became my first film was something that was told to me by an older Japanese gentleman. I had met him by chance, so had I gone into the coffee shop on the on the left, I would still probably be choreographing which is extraordinary because I love storytelling. I love what I’m doing. I love that I get to collaborate with an extraordinary group of artists who all have a point of view on a story that makes it singular, we’re all on the same page, telling a story. Again, we’re just beginning with Homeland Season 6. We have all this different input coming in, and a very compelling story to tell. You never get tired or bored because it always keeps you on the edge.

You came into Homeland on Season 2. What was that like coming in at that point?

When [Homeland producers] called me, I was already on another show as an executive producer and director. I was unavailable. When I saw the season airing, I thought, “Oh my God! This is amazing.” We’re all in storytelling and we can almost always figure it out. Was he a terrorist? Was he not a terrorist? Was she saying something that was absolutely true? Or was she crazy? What was going? I would end an episode being sure that it was going to go a certain way, but sure enough, they’d taken a detour.

I loved that about the story. When I was able to come in and direct the show, I ended up getting an extraordinary script. It was called “Q & A.” It was 40 pages in an interrogation room. When I read it, I freaked out and thought, “What am I going to do? How am I going to do it?” Then I realized I’d be in the room for 40 pages with the fearless Claire Danes and the amazing Damian Lewis with the scene that took twists and turns. Here you have a guy that has been held captive for eight years. How are you going to turn him? What are the turns that he has to make to open up? What does she need to do to get him to talk? Those were extraordinary things to be dealing with. That’s what I walked into, was this amazing piece of writing, and these incredible actors.

What’s also extraordinary is the mark you’ve made on the show. You own it.

Well, thank you. Luckily, I work with a great group of artists. Alex Gansa is an amazing collaborator who creates a great working environment where he encourages everyone to bring their A-game. Truly the best idea wins. When we went from the end of the third season, it had to be a completely new show, a reinvention. What was the show going to be? To be involved with that is incredible.

TV has time constraints. It’s not like you have a two hours to tell your story. How do you manage to pack tension into an hour and still tell your story?

On Homeland, we go through a lot of story which is the style of the show and really exciting on the storytelling level. One of the things for me having done both, because we have episode restraints, we shoot an episode in nine or ten shooting days, which is really short given we’re making an hour show. It’s very challenging so you really have to know what your story is about. If you only have that amount of time to shoot in, you have to know how to divide your day up. If you don’t know what your story is about, you’re not going to know where to spend your time.

You were filming under the Reichstag when the Paris bombings happened, and you changed the story. What made you feel compelled to change?

It was horrifying. We were telling the story about a terrorist attack in a European city. Getting up that morning and going to the subway, we gathered everyone together, and it was very difficult. Yes, there were adjustments made because how could you not? One of our directors, Michael Offer lived close to where the shootings took place and he would have to pass the corner where there were bullet holes. My assistant’s sister was sitting in one of the restaurants, so it felt very close. One feels a lot of responsibility with that. We are telling a story, but it’s a story that is based on a certain amount of research on the world we’re living in.

Let’s talk about the finale with Quinn and Allison. The things we never saw coming. It was quite a way to end the season.

[Laughs] Homeland has a very large graveyard and with every one we kill off there’s always a lot of sadness. Quinn is with the military of sorts. What happens to these guys that serve and try to protect us when something happens is a great thing to explore?

I can’t say a word, but Quinn is not dead.

Going back, you’ve done features. Now and Then I loved. Would you go back to feature film?

Oh sure. For me, it’s all about the material. I made a choice that I’m going to do TV. I had four movies fall apart before shooting, but what came my way was amazing writing in TV. How lucky am I that I get to do this? From Mad Men to Justified, these are great shows that tell complicated stories. I’d be thrilled to go do a movie. I’m chasing the material and not the format. If the best material comes to me, then that’s where it’s going to be.

On the subject of Mad Men, that was great. (Leslie directed “Guy Walks Into Advertising Agency”)

That was either going to be a disaster or something great because you had the lawnmower coming into the agency cutting off someone’s foot, but it turned out great. I love being challenged with these difficult stories, and how you find the balance. Homeland is about being authentically real, emotionally as well as storytelling.

What were you doing the day of the nominations?

I was on a scout in New York. I had no idea. I was blown away and thrilled for the show as it honors everyone. Dave Klein was with his daughter in the middle of Idaho with no cell service, so he didn’t know. It was such a wonderful celebration.

What’s the lasting appeal of the show?

That’s a great question. I think the appeal for me, personally, is that it looks at both sides. It doesn’t say this is how you should think or feel. It allows you to make decisions. Last year, Nina Hoss was questioning Laura, and they’re talking about the privacy issues. They’re on opposite sides of the issue, and they’re both correct. For me to try to do that and present all different sides of the issues is very exciting. Also, we have very compelling, multi-faceted characters. Carrie is so complicated, to be able to have that richly layered character, to Rupert who brought so much to Quinn. On so many levels, you get to dig deep.

Ben Mendelsohn

Ben Mendelsohn talks to AwardsDaily TV about his second Bloodline Emmy nomination.

One of the most recognizable faces in film and on TV, Ben Mendelsohn came to many viewers’ attention late through the success of the powerful Australian film Animal Kingdom. The 2010 Australian crime thriller also catapulted Joel Edgerton and Jacki Weaver (Oscar nominee) career-wise. With Bloodline Season 2, Mendelsohn returns to the role that garnered his first Emmy nomination and won a second Emmy nomination. That’s no small feat given that his character, Danny Rayburn, died in the Season 1 pilot.

I know a little bit about your career and will hit Bloodline in a second. But going back, when and how was the acting bug first discovered for you? When did you know you wanted to be an actor? 

It was pretty much after I got my first real job, which was The Henderson Kids. I did [some acting] at school and stuff, and liked that, but it was when I actually got my first job. After I had an experience of it, that’s when I wanted to keep going.

And what for you are the highlights in Australian TV looking back? 

I think The Henderson Kids is the highlight of the television stuff. There were shows that were failures that I really enjoyed and got to learn, I guess, a bit more about how to do it. After that, the highlight for me was the My Voice Broke which once was a television thing then became a film. Then after that I started doing a lot of films.

Yeah, I know a lot of people won’t have heard of your old films. I know My Voice Broke and The Big Steal

They were forever ago now, decades ago. And people would not have been familiar with me until recently.

You were making it quite big then though, scoring quite high. What were your aspirations then? Where you wanting to do American films, or where you happy where you were? 

I wanted to be able to keep going. I was a little bit concerned what I see happening a bit, people would be everywhere for like a year, and then be completely gone. That things were going very well and just hoping they would last, that was my main concern. It was not until much later that I started thinking about getting work in America or in the U.K. I would come and try to get work there. But without actually moving there and being there, it was tougher than I expected it was going to be. I did a film in that period called Spotswood with Tony Hopkins. So it didn’t feel like it would necessarily be a great distance to be going forward or upwards.

We have to talk about Animal Kingdom, then. I don’t know if you are sick of talking about it. 

No, no, I am not at all. There is no doubt without Animal Kingdom it is very hard to see anything that has come up happening. Animal Kingdom was one of the most important things I have ever done. None of the other stuff happens without Animal Kingdom. Bloodline doesn’t happen without Animal Kingdom. And a lot of other stuff as well, so it was incredibly important. I did not have any expectations in anything really, but it [Animal Kingdom] really grabbed people’s attention.

It was a great performance. And you made that yourself with that performance, the character as well. I remember watching it and as soon as your character entered the film you knew there was going to be a lot of trouble. It was such a good performance. I know Jacki Weaver got a lot of the plaudits and the Oscar nomination. Not sure where your Oscar nomination was. 

Well, thank you very much. Look, it is well and right that Jacki got the attention and the love for what she did. That film has been pretty awesome for anyone that did it, and they have done incredibly well. It has been awesome for me. I felt pretty good about it. I was very fortunate that I got the opportunity. David Michôd’s fantastic characterizations were really vivid. And really fucking scary at times. He is a terrifying person. You get those films, there are plenty of them in the U.K., and certainly a lot of them in Australia. I had a lot of unsupervised time around some pretty dodgy Melbourne suburban jail types, so I have seen those people in my life. They make a real impression on you.

So that transition from Animal Kingdom opened a lot of doors. Did it play any part on your personal life, not just your career, what with moving back and forth, family, and stuff like that? 

It did good things all around. You move around a lot doing this game generally. You are very lucky if you are. Means you are working. It is something you get used to very early on. It has been only good.

Let’s move on to Bloodline, the Netflix original show. Do you feel you were born to play Danny Rayburn? Is it a role you looked for or did someone approach you? 

No, the creators came to me when they were getting it together. They spoke to me pretty early on in the proceedings. I did not know who was going to be in it at this stage, who those guys were. Then I was delighted when I heard Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepherd were in it. That was a pretty big day.

Ben Mendelsohn

Yeah, that’s a bonus. What I like about you, [Danny] is quite menacing. He is a bit of a bad guy. What I like is you can almost tell you are enjoying playing the role without giving that away – if that makes sense. You really fit the character. 

Oh thank you. I think he is enjoyable to play. Most characters are fun to play, but Danny is pretty special. You perhaps only get one shot at someone like him in your life. I am glad it has happened.

How did you approach the second season of Bloodline differently given that you were playing your brother’s guilty conscience on one hand plus the flashbacks with your son. You must have had to approach that differently. 

You do think about it, you try a few spins on things. I did not have a concrete idea about them, the idea you are playing someone that is part of someone else in terms of John. He was kind of his guilty conscience, someone else’s feeling of that guy. I think you just try stuff. It was freer to try different things, but you do that anyway. It added more of a kind of dream-like quality. It was quite disconnected. And the backstory stuff was kind of a hopeful time, the beginnings of Danny’s real struggle with the things that are going to come home to roost for him. In that sense it is more familiar territory as the first season. It was a variation on the same thing.

When you read the first season script, what happened? Did you read it and think, “Oh well that’s me. Done?” or did you know what would happen? 

No, I knew from the first time I met those guys. It would be weird going into a series like that, not knowing they were going to kill the brother. Season 1 is really just the prologue for Bloodline. What they open up next season is when you will really see what they are intending. Danny is just a prologue for what is going to come. Season 2 is really just starting to take off, hitting speed now. By the time you get to, touch wood, Season 3 and 4, they will be up where they have been planning to be. So you have only just got the start of it, and I knew the whole time.

So two Emmy nominations now, so congratulations for both. 

Thank you.

Well deserved, I think. Last year, I honestly thought, and I am not just saying this, that you might win it. It was between you and Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), and neither of you won. The Emmy voters are a fickle bunch. 

I know.

So do you pay much attention to awards buzz? 

You are always aware of them. You do what you do on a set, and it is all very nice to be acknowledged. But it does not affect what you do. It is not like the FA Cup. You are not doing it for silverware. It is nice, but it is not what you do it for.

What is next for you then? A feel-good family drama? A superhero movie? What do you want to do next? 

I think I will be doing a [Steven] Spielberg film. Which should be very much your big summer movie type affair. And that looks pretty exciting. And perhaps something a little closer to home in the U.K. that is. We will see. The ball is rolling fine.

Since Animal Kingdom I am a fan. Congratulations on the Emmys and the career. Look forward to seeing what you do next. Just keep us watching. That is all I ask. 

Thank you mate. Thank you very, very much. That is the game, just try to be interesting in whatever it is. So thank you, I appreciate that.

Ben Mendelsohn is joined by co-star Kyle Chandler as acting nominees in this year’s Emmys. Bloodline is available to stream on Netflix.

James Pearse Connelly

Emmy-winning production designer James Pearse Connelly describes his inspiration for The Voice Season 10’s Emmy-nominated style

On the day of our interview, Emmy-winner James Pearse Connelly received the kind of early morning phone call that only happens in Hollywood.

“Hey, we need to shoot Christmas tomorrow!,” Connelly laughed. “What can you do to make it throw up Christmas? Well, first off, it’s never throw up. Second, it’s always a running scramble. Somebody go get a frickin’ Santa!”

James Pearse Connelly

Such goes the life of a highly sought-after production designer.

Now serving as a governor for production design at the Television Academy, James Pearse Connelly won his first Emmy back in 2009 as an art director on the 2008 MTV Music Video Awards. Subsequent Emmy nominations came from NBC’s The Voice with Season 10 brining Connelly his latest nod. Connelly and his creative design services company J.P. Connelly boast a robust resume that includes television, film, and live events, but it’s his work on unscripted (reality) television programming that has Emmy standing at attention.

On finding his way to production design

With an art teacher mother and architect father, James Pearse Connelly’s childhood was surrounded by art and variations of design. After exploring other disciplines outside of art, he returned to the world when he found his niche in the drama club, working primarily backstage. That experience led to a stage design program at Rutgers University where the infamous lightbulb moment happened.

“I remember thinking that very first day, ‘You mean all I have to do is read a play, understand it, and make a diorama box about it?’ Like, that’s totally me,” Connelly said. “And I’m literally still doing it.”

After graduation, the massive impact of September 11, 2001, limited the possibilities of starting a new career in New York City. Connelly then relocated to California where he “caught the reality unscripted wave.” Opportunity after opportunity began to present themselves, and James Pearse Connelly built a career out of reimagining those diorama boxes time after time.

On giving The Voice a new tone

While Connelly and his team keep things fresh by working on a variety of projects, his interpretation of the role of design in an unscripted television series keeps him coming back to the genre.

“To me, in an unscripted show, the environment becomes the script,” Connelly said. “I think that behavior is really determined by an environment plus personality. Once you mash those two together, you get a lot of television behavior. I can really effect what’s not just on camera – the pretty lamp – but also what really is the driving personality on camera sometimes and give motivation for that.”

James Pearse Connelly
(Photo: NBC)

Connelly finds working on NBC’s The Voice particularly exciting because the creative team embraces and advocates change year after year. The partnership proved successful as Connelly merited four Emmy nominations for his work on the show since 2013. Season 10 provided the most significant challenge as Connelly needed to reinvent the entry and build-up to the primary audition. To achieve that, Connelly called back to a day on the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot where he put himself in a Voice contestant’s awestruck shoes.

“I wondered what it must be like for these artists to drive through the Universal gates to see this stage and this television production wonderland everywhere, and so I really wanted to capture that,” Connelly said. “The next day, I took a GoPro with an associate of mine, and we shot just as much as we could to get all the rich texture of production around the lot… That authentic journey is really mine, and now everybody gets to experience it.”

James Pearse Connelly
(Photo: NBC)
James Pearse Connelly
(Photo: NBC)

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