Emmys Q&A: Monica Potter

Megan Masters is West Coast editor at TVLine. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Monica Potter has a secret. Contrary to what the Parenthood actress’ drama-centric résumé—which includes big-screen offerings like Patch Adams and Along Came a Spider, and TV’s Boston Legal—might suggest, she’s actually quite funny. (“I am funny, thanks,” she insists with a laugh.) It’s that fact that makes her performance throughout the NBC drama’s fourth season all the more impressive. With ease and humility, Potter portrayed the highs and lows that come with battling breast cancer. After three seasons as a Parenthood standout, will Potter’s memorable turn (and her recent win at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards) garner her some Emmy love?

You’ve joked in the past about not being as classically trained as some of your costars—yet here we are.

(Laughs.) I’m just being tongue-in-cheek. I’ve been learning since I was in my teens, but I never went somewhere like NYU. Peter (Krause) and I joke that he went to all of these colleges and is so ‘theater,’ and I’m jealous because I’m not. (Laughs.) I’ve learned from life experiences. If you go through certain things, you’re able to pull from them.

Parenthood is no doubt an ensemble series, but Kristina’s breast cancer storyline really propelled you to the forefront.
I think the biggest reason for that is because (Parenthood executive producer) Jason Katims’ wife actually went through this. A lot of the stuff that (Peter and I) do in the show mirrors (Katims’) family; his son has Asperger’s, and his wife had breast cancer. I don’t know if this was an intentional thing, but it just took on a life of its own. It was a challenge—but I was so happy Jason gave me the work to do.

How did you prepare for this arc?
When I found out we were going to (tell this story), I wanted to ask my husband everything because he’s a cancer surgeon—but I didn’t. I didn’t ask him anything because I wanted to experience this first-hand with Kristina. Every woman’s experience is different. I’ve had close friends who had this disease and I (witnessed) what it did to their self-esteem, their family—I learned so much from just looking at it through their life and how they lived it.

Cancer storylines aren’t new to TV, but Parenthood was able to make it feel fresh—and you were able to humanize Kristina’s journey this season.
I worried about that a little bit. Women still, when they have breast cancer, go to work; they still lead their lives. They have to. But that (freshness) had a lot to do with the writing. I just did what I was supposed to do. I didn’t want to exploit it or be too “actory” about it, if that makes any sense. That’s also why I didn’t shave my head; I feel like you have to earn that. I applaud other actors who do that and I am not ripping on them, but to me, that’s a badge of honor if you’re fighting this disease.

How important was it to infuse humor into what could have been a mostly somber performance?
The women I know who have gone through breast cancer still laugh a lot. They’re not crying all day—even though Kristina did plenty of that this season. In moments throughout, we were able to make things lighter and change the tone because that’s life.

A lot of actors develop a real affinity for the characters they portray onscreen. Was it difficult for you to “watch” Kristina go through this?
Kristina actually bugged me the first couple of seasons. (Laughs.) I would think, “You need to freaking let loose!” But now I have grown to love her. This year, I really was pulling for her and just wanting her to be OK. It was one of those things where going through this with her (helped me) really love her. But the first two seasons, I was like, “Oh, boy.” (Laughs.)

Are there any  moments from the past season that really stand out in your mind?
Every single moment of every single scene that I had to do was so special for me. Nothing was ever glossed over. It was like going to the Super Bowl every day and putting your best foot forward. These little moments would just unfold and happen in the best ways because they were unplanned. With some of the stuff, we were not on script and that’s when all of this really great stuff would happen. I relied so heavily on Peter, who is the most awesome actor I have ever worked with. He’s just very calming when I’m not. Same thing with Max (Burkholder) and Sarah Ramos (who plays Haddie Braverman), my little TV family. I don’t even know how to explain this last season. It was messy, it was magical, it was honest, it was grounded, it was spiritual and it was profound. I really didn’t have anything to do with it—it just happened.

You had something to do with it.
(Laughs.) I would just light my candles in my trailer before I’d shoot—I’m surprised it didn’t burn down this year! I’d say a little prayer and go to work. I was trying to not control anything and just let go. When I did that, it was great.

Bob Odenkirk on Industry Lessons

Anthony D’Alessandro is managing editor of AwardsLine. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

On mentors
(My improv teacher) Del Close was the first guy that I saw, in person, do what I would call “acting.” Occasionally, in class he would get up and do the exercise, and he was fundamentally better—and, of course, a lot older—than everyone else. But it was a revelation. You could really feel the difference between what we were doing, which was reaching and searching, and an actor who was discovering the moment in a very immediate way.
(My late manager) Bernie Brillstein always said to me, “Trust your own talents.” I love collaborating and that got a little annoying with Bernie at times. He said, “Just do your thing. You have a voice, just do it.”

On professionalism
Watching Chi McBride, who starred in some of the movies I directed, really made me think. He came in to audition for one part; it was a long monologue. He knew it cold, and he delivered it with the intensity and the professionalism that you would want in the final performance. And I was like, “Holy shit! You brought it big time.” I either forgot or never realized that there are really professional actors out there who show up completely ready to rock. But Chi was one of the first that I saw, just in auditioning, at another level. Seeing him made me think, “This is what I have to do if I’m going to call myself a pro and not just get jobs from my friends, or jobs that I wrote for myself.”

On big breaks
My first big break was Saturday Night Live, and I’m not sure I ever got it right. I hung in there. I was a bit overwhelmed by it. I think at a certain point you get set back on your heels and you get intimidated, and from that you either quit the biz or you learn that you have some modicum of talent to rely on. Breaking Bad has also been a huge break for me. Outside of The Larry Sanders Show, which had a very real feeling, I’d never have roles like Saul Goodman offered to me. I guess it’s shown me that I can approach acting with a seriousness of purpose, and people have been pretty positive about the result.

On learning from mistakes
I constantly repeat my mistakes and say, “I’ll never do it again!” That’s what being a person is all about. I guess one mistake I try to avoid is saying yes to material before I really know it and know that I can contribute. I’m so thankful to be a part of this crazy business that I have, on occasion, accepted an offer or tried for a project that I don’t have the necessary connection with. That rarely comes out well. Nowadays, if I don’t really “get” the material, I’m much more apt to back away. That can be very hard to do, saying no to an opportunity, but I need to be confident that I can participate.

On giving advice
Spend more time developing the idea than executing it. Act 3 doesn’t mean a thing if the first five pages don’t make me excited to hear your story. And if I’m super excited about your story, you can probably mess up a million times and I’ll still be interested. You can make it better as you go. It doesn’t matter if Page 48 has a good joke on it, or where the damn act break belongs, if I don’t really care about the story. So think about that story that’s really worth telling, and then worry about laughs or the structure. Unless you’re writing a book about structure, then go nuts! You’ll sell a million copies! I’ll buy one, and it won’t help me a bit!

Emmys Q&A: Robin Wright

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor.

With her early iconic roles of Buttercup (The Princess Bride) and Jenny (Forrest Gump) nestled into filmgoers’ collective consciousness, it’s easy to forget that Robin Wright’s roots were in TV, where she garnered three Daytime Emmy noms in the mid-1980s for her role on the soap Santa Barbara. Now, after a couple decades of a lauded but intermittent film career, Wright is back on the small-screen in Netflix’s House of Cards, where she’s generating Emmy buzz for her deftly nuanced role as Congressman Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) formidable wife, Claire, a cold-blooded schemer with hot flashes.

You started in TV, but did you ever think you’d be back on a series?

No. Never. Never imagined. The other thing is, I never watched TV—well that’s not true, I did watch Friends with my kids, but that was about it. But David Fincher said to me, “This is a new medium; it’s not television. No one’s ever done this revolutionary format. This is where the future is heading.” We’d done Girl with the Dragon Tattoo together, and I wanted to be in business with him. I’ve been in this business nearly 30 years, and you get to a point where you know who you want to work with. I wanted to work with David and Kevin and (writer) Beau Willimon. It’s a true collaboration.

House of Cards is based on a British series, only your character was a minor role—a wife in her husband’s shadow, merely enduring his behavior. Did Claire always have such a prominent role in the U.S. version?

David brought that point to my attention in the beginning and said I could watch the British series to get a sense of where we’re going, but that I was not going to gather anything about the wife and that we were going to expand that role tremendously. He said she will build and evolve as we go—and I love that, that’s why I get up and want to go to work each day.

Claire has been described as an uber-bitch. How do you see her?

I see her as a professional calculator, as in, she’s very calculated in what their moral code is and what their standards are. There’s an agreement between her and her husband: This is what we accept, this is what we don’t. Is she evil? No. It’s more Machiavellian, more like, whatever it takes to achieve what we want. And yet, they’re human and those beautiful moments come up. They get hurt. They react. They retaliate.

At first, Frank and Claire seem like the ultimate power couple. But then it’s deftly revealed that they have a rather nontraditional marriage bargain. Did you know at the outset how the season was to develop?

Yes, I was aware of this part. It was described as: they are business partners but have a love and respect for each other. She is Lady Macbeth to his Richard III. They have an empire they need to hold up. I did know they would look the other way if they had to have dalliances to further their throne.

Your character is one of the most layered in the series, and one of the most reserved. Yet you convey a lot with silence and a seemingly content, yet chilling, smile. Did you toy with Claire’s disposition? She could easily have been as hot-tempered as her husband.

David helped me so much with that. I didn’t really know what to do in the beginning. I thought, this character is just Robin dressed in more grown-up clothes—not the real-life me who’s always in Levis and a T-shirt. She has a sophisticated manner with sophisticated makeup and hair. And then David gave me a basic but great piece of advice. He said, ‘Don’t move so much. I want you to be very still. She’s like a bust, the strength, the pillar next to Francis. She can crack a little with emotion, but it will never break her.’ I thought, Oh this I can relate to in a sense memory way. So I played her very contained.

Your pixie cut made news. I’ve worked on Capitol Hill and can vouch that practical cuts are all the rage. Was this style specifically for the show?

My hair was fried from doing three movies with different hair colors, so I’d already chopped it off and had an asymmetrical cut. But there was a little concern that it was not a conventional D.C. haircut, so we had to add pieces to make it longer and more traditional.

Some of the most revealing scenes come at the windowsill when Claire and Frank share their allotted cigarette—yet I was surprised to learn you only recently quit smoking. How did you approach the frequent smoking scenes?

It could have been that the characters take a walk or play backgammon, but the smoking thing is such a rebellion. It’s like two teenagers doing their secret, coveted thing together. Because a congressman and his wife would never smoke publicly! You know how the press blew up over Obama having a cigarette. Actually, both Kevin and I quit smoking halfway through the season, unbeknownst to each other at the time. But we both switched to smoking herbal cigarettes in the scenes. Although he’s much stronger than I am, he truly quit. I cheat every now and then.

Emmys Q&A: Rob Lowe

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor.

For some people, Rob Lowe will forever be associated with that group of young actors who emerged in the mid-1980s and remain known as the Brat Pack. But a more considered look at Lowe’s career reveals a steadily evolving performer, now 49—one who has grown from matinee idol to more mature leading man and, most recently, character actor. That last distinction finds its fullest expression thus far in Lowe’s commandingly creepy portrayal of Dr. Jack Startz, the pill-pushing plastic surgeon who handily holds his own opposite Michael Douglas’s Liberace and Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson in Steven Soderbergh’s cinematic swan song, Behind the Candelabra.

How did you land the role of Dr. Jack Startz?

As far as I know, it was a Steven Soderbergh special. I got a call out of the blue that Steven wanted me to do the part. I had been following the project as a fan, thinking this is going to be amazing. I didn’t even need to read the script to know that I wanted to be a part of it. And then when I read it, I was over the moon.

What most appealed to you about the part?

I had a sense that it was a film in which all of the actors were going to be taking pretty big swings. And so it was an environment where it would be appropriate for me to really go for it. In my initial conversations with Steven, I told him I had a take on this character and asked him, “What is your appetite for me to swing for the fences?” What I had in mind would either end my acting career or be a real chance for growth. And that’s the case for everybody’s work on this film, because everybody is putting it out there. There were times when I would be with Matt in these butt-tight Speedos and oiled up with Crisco, and we’d look at each other and laugh and say, “My, what has become of us? This may be the end.” Guys like us don’t get much opportunity to do this kind of a thing. I found the whole thing unbelievably liberating and exciting and, most of all, really, really fun.

Michael Douglas, Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh have all won Oscars. What it like working with them?

You know going in that you’re surrounded and protected, so you’re free to really take chances. Steven’s career is based on taking chances, and then you see it happening on set—the level of confidence and mastery that he has. It’s like working with Coppola or Bob Zemeckis or any of the guys who have completely mastery of storytelling and working with actors. It’s in their DNA. And Matt has always been one of my favorite actors. I think of his performances in many movies, but especially in The Talented Mr. Ripley, as being as good as anyone could be. And he’s such a nice, decent, great man. Michael is a whole other beast. He is someone I grew up watching and hoping to emulate. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which he produced and won an Oscar for, is the first movie I saw multiple times. That movie changed my life. I even brought a tape recorder into the theater once. And I studied his speeches in The American President before I auditioned for Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing.

What about the physical requirements of the role—the pulled back face, the droopy eyelids. What was it like to be so heavily made up?

I had a very particular look that I wanted to do. I know next to nothing about the real Dr. Startz. The only roadmap I had was the book Behind the Candelabra by Scott Thorson. I had in mind the type of guy you would see in the 1980s with quasi-good seats at Lakers games, a guy of indeterminate sexual orientation, a vaguely transplanted East Coaster who had come to California and then gone off the reservation. So I knew what I wanted. And Steven’s amazing makeup and hair team were able to make it happen. We used tape, wire, rubber bands and a lot of Advil. It was not pretty. Sometimes you have to suffer to be beautiful.

Is there greater freedom playing a character role as opposed to a leading man?

Implicit in that is that I don’t feel free in the leading man roles I do, and that’s not true. I do feel free in those kinds of roles. But inherent in doing a part like Dr. Startz is a level of letting the chips fall where they may. I don’t think you can do that when you’re carrying a movie or a TV series. When that’s your job, you have more of a fiduciary responsibility to serve other masters. But when you can come in and hopefully hit the snot out of a ball and then go back to the dugout, you really have the freedom to only serve yourself and what you’d like to accomplish.

You’ve done some terrific work in recent years, from Robert McCallister on Brothers & Sisters to Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation and now this. Does it feel like a really great period in your professional life?

It’s good to know people perceive it that way, because it feels very fulfilling to me. And certainly I’m having opportunities in terms of the breadth of roles that I maybe haven’t ever had before. And that’s all an actor can hope for at the end of the day. My hopes and aspirations haven’t changed since I started in this business. They’ve been to be able to play drama, to be able to play comedy, to be able to play leading men, and to be able to play character roles. I have no other aspirations in this regard. To be able to do that is really great, and I’m really enjoying it.

Emmys Q&A: Andrew Lincoln

Michael Ausiello is founder and editor in chief of TVLine. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

If there were an Emmy category for rawness, Andrew Lincoln wouldn’t just be under consideration for a nomination, he’d be the frontrunner for the win. The work the actor did on AMC’s The Walking Dead this past season as grieving Sheriff Rick Grimes felt so real that, at times, it was difficult to watch. (He didn’t even watch himself!) Here, the 39-year-old Englishman opens up about how he approached his widowed character’s breakdown and whether he thinks Emmy voters will be able to overcome their genre bias to give him and his hit cable series a chance.

It was such an intense season for you. How did you recover and wind down after playing all of that rage and desolation?
It is a brutal and dark place you have to inhabit, but I’m very good at disengaging. And there’s no better way to unplug than having children. Changing diapers is one of the most leveling things that has ever happened to me. Realizing that my children are the center of the universe and not me is probably one of the greatest ways to acclimatize.

Your former leading lady, Sarah Wayne Callies (who plays Lori, his TV wife), told me last fall, “When Andrew goes down the rabbit hole, he goes all the way down.” What did she mean exactly?
I love acting. I just love it. It’s in my bones. I remember when I was a kid, I watched an interview with Dennis Hopper talking about Jimmy Dean on the set of Rebel Without a Cause. Jimmy said to him, “If you’ve got to cry in a scene, you’ve got to cry. Make it real.” And that’s all that I believe in.

Sarah also mentioned that you didn’t want her on the set the day you shot the big scene where Rick learns Lori died. Why?
Because she (had already been killed off). A lot of it is about feeling relaxed enough to make mistakes, or to look like a fool, or to dare to go to a place that I wouldn’t necessarily go to. Maybe I was a bit self-conscious with Sarah being there and not wanting to turn that scene into a spectator’s sport. I admire her so much as an actress, and I was so upset about losing her as (a costar) that I just wanted to do it justice—do her justice.

How did you gear up mentally for that scene?
I just took myself away for a couple of hours while they were setting up and listened to a song and got into a place that wasn’t very happy.

What song were you listening to?
It was Snow Patrol and Martha Wainwright’s “Set the Fire to the Third Bar.” Don’t listen to it. You might end up collapsing. (Laughs.)

Your TV son Chandler Riggs (Carl) played a big role in that scene. He essentially telegraphs the news to Rick about Lori’s death. What was it like playing a scene like that with, essentially, a child?
Chandler Riggs is just the most intuitive, wise boy; he’s a wonderful actor. And as a father, as a human being, you just see that. (Rick getting) confirmation from (Carl that Lori died) broke me. I spoke to the director and said, “I think it’s vital that this guy that’s been so stoic and the linchpin of this group needs to drop his gun. And you need to see him fall to the ground. I think you need to see him taken down by this news.” This is a man whose instincts to survive have been driven primarily by two people—and one of those people is dead. It’s like taking his balance away.

Why do you think the Emmys have been slow to embrace the show?
I don’t really think about it too much, in all honesty. It was (former exec producer) Frank (Darabont) and everybody at AMC’s intention to elevate the genre. As soon as I mention the word “genre,” people make an (assumption), don’t they? It never occurred to me that this would be a genre show. I think this is a family drama set in Hell. That’s what I see it as. It just so happens that there are zombies.  I absolutely understand that this isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but all I would urge people to do is give it a chance. There’s some incredibly bold storytelling.

Should you find yourself with a nomination, is there an episode you are personally proud of?
You’d have to tell me. I don’t actually watch the show.

Really? You didn’t even watch your big breakdown scene?
No. I kind of know what happened—I was sort of in it. (Laughs.) I kind of thought, you know, when I was on my knees wailing, “Well, I left everything on the ballpark here.”

Emmys Q&A: Holly Hunter

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor.

By her own admission, Holly Hunter has never been a traditional star. For one thing, she never tried to cash in on her fame and caché by forming her own production company and becoming a creator. That was true even after she earned her first of five Oscar nominations for Broadcast News in 1988, or after winning one for The Piano in 1994. Hunter has also atypically found comfort in shifting between leading lady and character actress, as well as between film and television. In fact, the same year she shot The Piano (1993), she was starring as the lead in HBO’s The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. That role earned Hunter her second of two Emmy wins, the first having come in 1989 for her work in the NBC telepic Roe vs. Wade.

Hunter’s two worlds came together for her latest project: the moody seven-part Sundance Channel mystery miniseries Top of the Lake that premiered on the channel back in March. Shot, like The Piano, on location in New Zealand, it’s Hunter’s first project with writer-director Jane Campion since starring for her in The Piano 20 years ago. But for the mini, the actress, 55, had to trust Campion that she was right for a part for which she initially thought she was all wrong. She recently spoke about that experience—something of a metaphor for her unconventional career—as well as how she has worked to stay true to her acting impulses.

In Top of the Lake, you play GJ, this sort of ethereal, cultish figure in long gray wig and clothed in earth tones. How long did it take you to agree to take on the role?

It was relatively quick, but there was a hitch, because when I read it…Well, when Jane called and said ‘Look, I want you to do this part, read it,’ I called her back and said, ‘I don’t get why you want me to do it. I don’t understand how you see me in this part.’ (Laughs.)

Why is that? Because the character is so odd?

No, not really that. I just went, ‘I don’t get it.’ I truly didn’t comprehend it. I was like, ‘How come you’re not getting Ben Kingsley to do this?’ On first read, I didn’t understand why it was so important that it be a woman even though it was (set in) a women’s camp. And of course after I read it a second time it was like, a man simply couldn’t play this part. But I still felt that someone else should do it. I just thought, the part is extremely small.

But Jane was insistent?

Well, yes. She sold it by saying that the part has incredible impact. So I didn’t even read it again. The phone conversation lasted 3 minutes. And Jane turned out to be utterly right. It was a fantastic adventure playing her. I absolutely loved the ride. I trust Jane implicitly. That’s why I was such a fool to hesitate in the first place.

Had Jane asked you to do anything for her in the intervening 20 years?

No. Jane has taken years off from working. In fact, in the life of a director—these days in particular—when it really does take so long to do a movie, with a few exceptions, actors may never work with a director again, even if they’re great friends. But I think it’s a different rhythm now that people have in their careers. Maybe television will change that, because it moves at lightning speed.

You seem never to have had a problem switching back and forth between film and TV. Was that a conscious choice that you made, never to differentiate or discriminate between the mediums and just go where the great roles were?

Absolutely. After I did Broadcast News and got an Academy Award nomination, the first thing I did was Roe vs. Wade at NBC. I just have never had a prejudice at all between television and movies. Now I also think that I’m fortunate in the timing of my career. Because when I did Roe vs. Wade in 1988, there was no stigma to doing that kind of thing. Now if you took on a television series, that could be a more difficult thing to navigate, to get back into doing features afterward. But at that time in the late ‘80s, actors could easily go between television movies and feature films. It’s just that most people kind of didn’t.

Now you’re faced with the same issue after starring in Saving Grace for TNT.

Actually, it’s a totally different world now. It’s considered a coup to become a lead on a kind of cutting edge television series. I mean, that’s a plus for your feature film career and for your career in general. There are no walls anymore between the two.

What do you like about doing television?

What’s great about cable is that the ceiling of expectation is lowered, because fewer people have to tune in for it to be a success. You don’t need 23 million people a week like you do in broadcast. But beyond that, I think the humanity and resonance are lacking in so many movies being made. Don’t you think television is bringing that back now? I do. Cable is so expansive. There are stories being made explicitly for adults.

Did you ever think you’d be working with Jane Campion on a seven-hour project for the Sundance Channel?

You never know how things will come together. Sundance wanted to work with Jane, wanted to be a partner with her. That’s when you get original stuff, when there is faith from the money people. They trusted her with casting and with building the project from the ground up.

Are there more and better opportunities now in TV for an actress like yourself who has been around for a while?

It used to be that what you’re saying was true. And when I say ‘Used to be,’ I mean five years ago. (Laughs) But now, I would actually say that actresses who are even in their late 20’s are considering doing television series.

Is that because the powers that be in the film industry believe women that age already are washed up for major features?

No, I don’t think that’s what is motivating it. What’s motivating it is the people who go to see feature films repetitively. That’s who we’re making movies for today.

Specifically meaning teenage males and young men?

Exactly. For every movie that you go see, how many leading male roles are there in any given movie and how many leading female roles are there? There may be 5 or 6 really good roles for guys and maybe one for a woman. And it doesn’t even matter if you’re 25. That’s just the logistics. But in television, they’re making series for a different audience. I think this is old news now.

Was there a time when you noticed you weren’t getting the phone calls for major features anymore?

It wasn’t really quite like that. My career has never really been a vertical kind of thing. I mean, it’s always been a bit difficult for me. I’ve gone through periods where I might not work for two years, and part of that is by choice, and part of that is by the nature of who I am. It’s both a cool thing and a more complicated thing. I’ve kind of vacillated between being a character actress and a leading actress. So the struggle is nothing new for me. Of course, there aren’t as many roles for me to choose from now as there once were. But there’s never been a tremendous amount.

What was the impact on your career of winning an Oscar? Do you feel that it had a real impact, or does that tend to be overblown by the media?

I think first off, there is really no down side to winning an Oscar. It’s a wonderful thing. I suppose my expectations might be a bit different from those of other (actresses), however. I tend to act on impulse, on desire, and on what I want to do. I’ve never had a production company. I’ve never gone, ‘I want to administrate, I want to create projects.’ I’ve kind of had other things going on so my career was always about, ‘Do I want to do this or not?’

You’re unique in not being motivated to use your Hollywood fame to accrue power and greater control.

Just to clarify, it isn’t that I lack ambition. I admire tremendously the kind of business savvy that, say, Lucille Ball had. It’s just not me. Ambition has always come out instead in my roles. I feel a great entitlement to get cast in something if I’m dying to do it. If I love the part I feel a great ambition within that role. So that’s how my competitiveness and ambition has kind of exerted itself in my career. Not necessarily in a business sense. That’s a very long-winded way of answering the question, ‘Did winning the Oscar have an impact?’ Well, yes and no. But I guess I wasn’t really looking for it to have the usual impact.

But did you find that the roles and scripts you were offered immediately after winning the Oscar skyrocket appreciably in terms of quality?

Oh no. Because again, real quality in roles is very hard to come by. Any actor or actress will tell you that. Great movies are hard to come by. It’s almost impossible to make one, and most people have to settle for making something less.

Do you find there are fewer great features being made now in general?

Actually, I think people (making films) are being very creative now. There are just more outlets beyond the feature, because television has made it extremely appealing for writers and directors and of course actors as well. But with things like House of Cards being on Netflix, there’s so many different venues for people to talk about what they want to talk about that don’t have as much to do with features as it did five years ago or even three years ago. Things are changing really quickly, and that’s really good for writers.

Is there anything on your acting “To Do” list that you haven’t yet done and would still like to do?

Yeah, there are some things. But I don’t want to talk about them.

What are you working on now?

I’m just reading stuff. I finished (the miniseries) Bonnie and Clyde a couple of weeks ago and doing my thing in New York.

How do you like being in your mid-50’s? Does life get easier and more comfortable as you go along?

Mid-50’s is good. It gets easier to kind of figure out where you begin and end, where your place is in your own life. I like getting older.

Emmys Q&A: Kevin Bacon

Matt Webb Mitovich is editor at large of TVLine and an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

He has traveled to the moon, survived Alcatraz, put a few good men on trial and, yes, once almost got arrested for dancing. But in the course of more than 35 years of acting, one of the few things Kevin Bacon never explored was a TV role in a regular series—until Fox’s The Following invited him to hunt down a clever killer. Now, his turn as troubled FBI consultant Ryan Hardy could cop him his first Emmy nomination since the HBO miniseries Taking Chance.

What exactly was it that led you to your first series regular TV role?
You have to keep in mind that it was a different world when I started out. There was a real dividing line between being a television actor and being a film actor. But when (wife) Kyra (Sedgwick) got offered The Closer, it started to open up a new world to me, second hand. I saw the satisfaction she was getting, peeling back layers week after week. Simultaneously, I was catching up on a lot of TV—The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter. The second I made the call, “OK, I’m interested in looking at television,” I was reading all of this great stuff. I simultaneously started developing (projects at Showtime and HBO), and after a few years of that, The Following came along.

Having inhabited a variety of roles over your career, what’s the challenge of playing a hero versus the colorful bad guy?
I’ll speak just to this character: It has to be small, it has to have subtlety, it has to be a lot about what’s not said and what’s not shown, and you have to trust that people will come to him without him saying, “Please love me.” But if I’m playing someone who is more of a villain, I’m going to try and find what the humanity is—maybe it’s a sense of humor, a charm or a swagger, or a sexuality, so it’s not just, “He’s so bad.” Conversely, with a heroic character, I want us to find out, “What’s damaged about him? How does he fuck up?” With The Following, we talked a lot about how I don’t want him to be infallible—here he goes again, kicking ass and taking no names.

But do you wrestle with that when the narrative demands that the FBI bungle something again?
I don’t, because I don’t see Ryan as really part of the FBI. He was an agent, but he left under questionable circumstances. He goes by his own rules and makes mistakes. It’s the moments where he breaks away and takes risks that I think are very interesting and true to who he is. You have to have a character that screws up but ultimately has some wins.

He can’t be Jack Bauer.
Right. Early on, Fox talked to me about this in comparison to 24, but they did say there’d be a lot of differences between the characters.

Would you have considered playing the villain here?
The movies, for whatever reasons, have offered me the opportunities to play villains—I had X-Men: First Class in the can and R.I.P.D. was about to be shot when I read The Following—but I thought that if I go into television, I should do some version of heroic. But this guy is definitely flawed, and (creator) Kevin (Williamson) and I spoke a lot about keeping that piece of it alive.

They kind of dialed back Ryan’s nipping at the vodka….
It’s interesting that you say that. I added it a couple of times and for whatever reasons they’ve opted to not show it. His issues with alcohol have been interesting. There probably are alcoholics who would dispute this as a possibility, but it feels to me like he’s a guy who is a “self-medicator,” and it goes in waves.

Talk about preparing for a scene with James Purefoy versus  Natalie Zea.
I don’t think my preparation changes much. The thing about both of them is that they are incredibly smart, generous actors who come in ready to go, with their sleeves rolled up and just no bullshit. I don’t know if it’s a function of Kevin Williamson or what, but I can’t think of a person on this cast that I felt anything other than excited to be working with, and everyone felt thrilled to be on the show. Even the people that come in just for an episode and then die! One of the tragedies of our situation is the fact that people come and go with a lot of frequency.

If Ryan’s love Claire winds up dying, how might that affect him in Season 2?
My discussions with Kevin have been in very broad strokes, but what I really respond to, that he’s brought up to me, is the idea that when you next see Ryan, he’s in a very different place in his life. There’s the idea that we may jump ahead in time, so maybe we’ll have the opportunity to find a more together guy.

What would it mean to win an Emmy—and with such complicated, dark material—in your first foray into regular series television?
I have already gotten so much pleasure from playing this part and interacting with the people that have enjoyed the show. But even a nomination would be the icing on the cake, the lox on the bagel, the olive in the martini.

Da Vinci’s Demons Creator David S. Goyer on What Informs His Career

Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

On mentors
My mentor was a guy, now deceased, named Nelson Gidding, who wrote a lot of movies for Robert Wise. I was a teaching assistant for him when I was at USC. He said, “Don’t try to write for the market, just write what you love. Write what you believe in, then stick to your guns even if it means you get fired.” There were some times when I’d stick to my guns and I’ve been fired, and some times I wish I’d stuck to my guns, which probably would have gotten me fired more. But he said that at the end of the day, everybody wants a good screenplay, and everybody recognizes good writing and creative integrity. In the long run, he felt that would win out.
On the big break
My real big break was the screenplay for Blade, which I wrote in 1994. And Michael DeLuca allowed me to write exactly what I wanted to write without any editorial comment. That first draft of Blade, which is pretty close to the film that got made, was the first time I was just simply allowed to write whatever was in my head. That script—even though it ended up taking about three years to get made—opened up a lot of doors for me because it was a script a lot of people in Hollywood liked, and it was on a lot of people’s reading lists. That was the first time that people just started offering me projects as opposed to me having to pitch them. It was the first time I had written a script that was just purely from my unexpurgated imagination, where there was no one editorially sitting over my shoulder saying, “Do this,” or “Do that,” or “That’s not funny,” or “I don’t buy that.” And it was really interesting to me that that was the script that ultimately landed me on the map.
On uncomfortable moments in the business
When a network executive wanted me to audition his mistress as a series regular, (and she) clearly did not have the dramatic chops to do it. And this person was going up against a woman who has since won an Academy Award, so that was awkward.
On the keys to success
Although luck can play a component in it, ultimately, if I look at a lot of the successful people I know, they were incredibly hard workers. I was very diligent when I was writing in film school and even after film school. Even when I had a job as a production assistant, I kept to a very strict writing schedule. Sometimes it was only an hour every night or something like that. But I look back and I track where I’m at versus some of the people I went to school with, and I had a lot more screenplays under my belt when I graduated. I was very tenacious, and a lot of the people I know who were successful are very tenacious. Luck can only take you so far. Yes, there are people out there who were incredibly lucky, but being tenacious is more important.
On parental advice
I had been accepted to USC Film School, and I grew up in Michigan. My mother had always wanted to be an artist, and she regretted not attempting that or pursuing that. She said to me, “You really need to do this and try this because if you try and you fail, you can always go back to being a detective or whatever. But if you have the opportunity to try to fulfill your dream and you don’t take it, you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life, like I did.” And so I remember that. And I thank her for that.

Emmys Q&A: Corey Stoll

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor.

Although Oberlin and Tisch-grad Corey Stoll received accolades for his 2004 stage performance opposite Viola Davis in Intimate Apparel and was a series regular on Law and Order: LA, his breakout came in 2011 playing Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. But it’s his role as Peter Russo in David Fincher’s lauded House of Cards that is now generating Emmy buzz. Stoll plays a well-meaning U.S. Representative from Philadelphia, whose dalliances with debauchery land him beholden to the Machiavellian congressman from South Carolina played by Kevin Spacey.

Peter Russo is such a richly nuanced character. How did this role come to you?

It happened before all the pilot season craziness. I read the script and fell in love instantly. I put (my audition) on tape, but then didn’t hear anything for months. When they did come back to me, it was to meet with David Fincher. The irony is that when I first auditioned, I thought it was a part that could go on for years. It’s a high bar when you’re looking at a pilot, and you want a character that you could play for a while, a character where you can see all the iterations. It was in this initial meeting when David gave me the basic character arc, and there was part of me that was holding some sort of hope they would change their mind (about the character’s demise). But then I began to see it as more like doing a film role, and I could really dig in in that way.  

I had an overall eye-opening experience when I interned on Capitol Hill. Was there anything about politics and D.C. that you were surprised to learn?

I was shocked at how young the city is! Interns and young staffers are the people who make the city function. I’m not the first person to point out the parallels between Hollywood and D.C.—the intersection of image-making, power and money. I saw that the reason some people originally went into politics and where they wind up can get mixed up very easily. The game can be so intoxicating.

You’ve had more TV experience than David Fincher, Kevin Spacey and showrunner Beau Willimon combined. What was it like to be the veteran TV actor on set?

(Laughs.) It didn’t give me an advantage that’s for sure. We all seemed to approach this as, we are just telling stories. It wasn’t typical in that every episode has to come in at a slated time. Some episodes were 42 minutes, others closer to an hour. The way Beau and the other writers told this story was on their own terms. It wasn’t about this is a certain form and you need to know the form. I would sometimes look at the way shots were being composed and marvel at how filmic it was. They made the form come to them.

Netflix slated two seasons, 13 episodes each, from the get-go. Did shooting this way differ from other series?

It wasn’t an easy shoot. The hours were long; we were away from our homes (shooting in Baltimore). There were definite challenges, but it did feel more filmic. That said, there was still a TV aspect where you’re getting scripts as you’re going along. But there was an intensity and focus that certainly felt different from any other TV I’ve done.

Your character is an addict with deep-rooted pain, yet he really wants to do the right thing politically. What’s it like to play someone who’s his own worst enemy?

That’s what was exciting to me about the part. Over the past couple of years I’ve played a lot of incredibly self-confident, high-status, alpha men, which were fun, but this was great to be able to show a much more vulnerable side. There’s something liberating about that. I think we all understand disappointing yourself. Especially in the acting profession, which is probably similar to a political career, even the most stable, head-on-straight person is still going to be confronted with doing something that they shouldn’t, that could affect their job or cause them not to be at their best—even if it’s something as simple as taking a red eye for an audition at 6 a.m. the next morning and you know you’ll be dragging. It’s a discipline that’s relentless and I don’t know an actor who hasn’t let himself down at some point. I imagine it’s the same in politics. There’s always the potential to self sabotage.

Peter goes on several benders throughout the show. How did you achieve the red-eyed, hopped-up look?

Good makeup definitely helps. But in general, I’m trying to go in an opposite direction. It’s sort of cliché, but when you’re playing drunk, your character is trying to appear sober. Peter, for the most part, is pretty good at it. He’s had a lot of experience with just getting by. Beau and I talked a lot about Peter, and it was exciting that as the episodes went by I really had the feeling of being able to participate in creating who this character was.

We leave the season with Francis Underwood (Spacey) feeling haunting by Peter’s spirit. Will you return for any cameos?

Unfortunately, I can’t comment on that.

It was headline news recently that you’ve had your pick of roles. How did you decide upon FX’s The Strain?

When you meet Guillermo del Toro, the second you walk into the room you want to work with this guy. He has such insight and enthusiasm for telling stories and for characters. To feel like you’re in good hands in the big picture and in the day to day is really exciting. And FX is a great place to be. Also, we’ll be doing 13 episodes, so that still allows me time to explore other projects.

Emmys Q&A: Vera Farmiga

This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

Vera Farmiga admits she was skeptical when she first heard about Bates Motel, the series that serves as a modern-day prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. But playing a character who was merely an idea in the original source material has proven to be the right role at the right time for her. The Oscar-nominated actress is almost protective in describing Norma as the parent of a mentally ill child, choosing to see the single mother as sympathetic. While the A&E series has been picked up for a second season, Farmiga also will star in July’s The Conjuring, in which she plays a paranormal investigator.

When Bates Motel came to you, were you looking for a TV project specifically?
I think I was looking for a career tweak. I have so many other interests in life, and no role is more challenging, rewarding and inspiring than my real-life role as a mom and a wife, so I pretty much just look at the most remunerative offers these days. (Laughs.) But seriously, if I’m going to step away for 18 hours a day, there better be some sort of a paycheck or spiritual salary being offered. And Bates Motel surprised me. (The role) made me reflect so deeply on the love I feel for my children. I was craving a deeper level of, I don’t know, virtuosity. The writers presented me with this deeper level of sophistication, the creation of Norma, and I pounced on the opportunity. Also, I was craving all that cable serial television has to offer, which is the risk and the wackiness, the unorthodox.

Did you have any misgivings about tackling such an iconic film from an iconic director?
The purist in me was really suspicious. I love that film, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of turned off by the interdependence to Psycho. Upon reading it, I think setting it in the present really liberated it from the confines of the original. And after all, my character is a corpse; she’s a notion. The challenge is portraying her as an individual, rather than this caricature of an evil mother looming over Norman’s superego. In many ways, what I’ve been hired to do by (executive producers) Kerry (Ehrin) and Carlton (Cuse) is to be that criminal defense attorney, to dispute her image as that eternal narcissist who created that emotional damage and harmed her child. Instead, I want to represent a woman who has genuine empathy and who has an unlimited capacity for giving her child unconditional love.

Is it difficult to strike that balance between her being slightly off-kilter and seeming genuinely maternal?
I choose to see her as always being strong, brave, tough, resilient and passionate. Yes, she’s troubled and wrong—and just errant at times—but I only doubt her fundamental morality, like, 1 percent of the time. There are websites that I continually reference for inspiration, and I cannot help but approach this with enormous compassion. There’s no parent that can utter the words “My child has a mental illness” without their spirit completely imploding. There are no clear steps that any parent can take to make their mentally dysfunctional child healthier. But it’s an astounding character setting in that respect.

Now that the show has been renewed for a second season, where do you see that relationship with Norman going?
Other than downstairs in a root cellar? (Laughs.) It’s the great American tragedy, and we know where that story inevitably leads. And it’s grisly. It’s grim. We know that Norman’s going to become some sort of version of the guy in Psycho, and that Norma’s going to become some sort of version of that skeleton with the updo, but how are we going to get there? For me to answer that question, I’d have to divulge a major plot point. It’s like Chopin. It begins and it ends with dissonances, but in between I want to strike all those beautiful chords that make the story so complex.

You directed your first feature film, Higher Ground, last year. Do you have plans to direct again?
I was just asked by Carlton if I wanted to direct an episode, and with a 2- and a 4-year-old, I can’t. I just don’t have the time. To be honest, I still am trying to grasp the tone of Bates. It’s a wonderful thing, and I’m really enjoying it, but I feel like I’m on some rough seas because the tone of this show switches like the wind. It’s only been 10 episodes, so I am still getting to know my character. As far as directing, I do love it. I just haven’t found that story. I’m only comfortable working in the independent film arena for a very small budget where I have creative control and I can put my stamp on it.

You’re turning 40 this year. What do you see that meaning for you as an actress?
Do I care that my birthday cake will look like a small forest fire this August? No. If anyone else is concerned, they can go eff themselves. I transitioned out of youth and beauty roles before my career ever began. The kinds of roles I gravitate toward have become more abundant with age and wrinkles. I’m happier than ever; I’m older than ever.

Emmys Q&A: Kurt Sutter

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter has a few things in common with the characters on his show, a gang of tattooed bikers who dwell in the gray areas of society. He also happens to like motorcycles and sports a little ink of his own, though his career is decidedly more above board. Nevertheless, he jokes that he’s on the “outlaw trajectory,” after starting as a writer on FX’s The Shield and moving on to run his own show with SOA. Although SOA has yet to get any Emmy attention, Sutter points out that it’s still connecting with viewers. In fact, the last episode of its fifth season was the most-watched finale in the show’s history.

When I first met you, you were writing movie scripts. What did a cable series like The Shield and now Sons offer you that movies, and all their red tape, did not?
I was first innately drawn into TV with the first TV spec I wrote. I wrote it in, like, a week and a half, and I just instinctually took to the format. I intuitively understood it, even better than I did features. So it was very easy for me to make the transition creatively. And then the benefits are obvious. I know what happens in feature land, and I know what studio notes feel like. I was doing this project at Paramount, and it was an origin story of vampires, where vampirism was a blood disease. So I hooked up with this guy Eli Holzman who had a project—a script from Project Greenlight—and I took that script and applied my theory to it. It was this really cool, dark thing, and then what happens is what happens. We attached our big producer who attached another big director. Then an awful thing happened in which I’m hitting Act 3 of my script, and I’m sitting in my office going, “I have no idea what the fuck I’m writing anymore.” I don’t know why I’m writing it because suddenly it’s like Twilight with guns. The great thing about TV is there’s not time for that. I’m breaking shit on Monday, writing it on Wednesday and shooting it the next Monday. That’s incredibly satisfying creatively and in terms of wanting to see your vision come to life. I’m blessed that I am in the cable world. My tastes and my strong suits—and my lack of people skills—probably live in cable.

Did you see the opportunity with these characters when you started? Did you map it out that far in advance?
I had a sense, and have a sense, of what the big mile markers are, where I ultimately want the direction of my show to go and where I want my characters to land. What I’ve learned after the first couple of seasons—because the first couple of seasons, you’re so scrutinized and you’re wondering if you’re going to be picked up—is that energy fed into the way that I ran the show. And not that they weren’t great seasons, but coming into Season 4, I was more relaxed, the network was more relaxed. Then I was able to loosen the grip on the show, and I think that was a good thing.

You were vocal when Glen Mazzara was the second showrunner on The Walking Dead to be dropped. Is there a kind of brotherhood among this small fraternity of cable showrunners?
You’re in this and experiencing the pressure of it, and the agony and defeat of whether it’s a good season or a bad season, and who gets nominated for awards. Everybody goes through that same angst, so you’re soldiers on the same battlefield. There’s an awareness of the burden of what that is and how important that vision is. When there’s a sense of it being abused or manipulated into something it’s not supposed to be, then I do think people get vocal.

Why does SOA have a hard time getting Emmy recognition?
Maybe I’m just saying this to make myself feel better, but my sense is this: We’re not an art series. We’re perceived as like the big-action, violent series. (Christopher Nolan’s) Batman never gets any Oscar love, because people see it as, “Oh, that’s the summer blockbuster movie. Let’s look as the art stuff. What’s Harvey doing? Those are the things we need to give awards to.” I think there’s that perception globally that that’s what we do, even though my rabid fan base would tar and feather you for limiting it to that. I’m not in any way comparing myself to Nolan, but my sense is that we’re “that show.” The truth is, if our viewership was going down, I might be doubting myself. But critically, we tend to stay in pretty good favor, and obviously our viewership keeps going up each season. So that would suggest that we’re doing something right.

Every time I read something about you, there’s always something incendiary. Is there anyone we want to beat up before I leave?
It’s very funny; it’s sort of the joke now. I do say some very bombastic things, and I do have a strong point of view, but in measured, reserved conversation, it’s not like I’m gunning for anybody. I also really try to be who I am—not that I don’t censor myself or edit myself because clearly I have to, but I don’t let that intimidate me. This is who I am and this is my sense of humor, and lead with that.

Emmys Q&A: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Taking the reins of a book series with a devoted following can be daunting for any producer. But for Game of Thrones’ executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the solution to adapting George R.R. Martin’s fantasy bestsellers was to be diehard fans of the source material. Weiss and Benioff also enjoy a fruitful open dialogue with the author, who Weiss says, “ultimately understands that we live and breathe this show. Our devotion to it is total. It’s like a cult.” Their ambition is evident in the scope of the show, which Benioff reveals has a budget of “more than $5 million” per episode, making it among the most expensive series produced for television.

How has the fact that you come from a feature background impacted what we see onscreen? Was it a tough transition to TV?
Weiss: For the first season, we were always shooting three first units, and at some point, we came in at four units going at once. And being naïve as to how television works, we (thought) we’d write the scripts but that we’d also be on set every day. But when you have four sets going on in three different countries, you realize it’s not actually physically possible for you to be on set every day. (It was) that first time you start to feel that feeling that there’s something going on somewhere else where I’m not, and where David’s not. To a certain extent, it was just slowly realizing what it meant to be working in a television world, where the time pressures are as intense as they are, while still trying to deliver a viewing experience (that) visually is more informed by feature film.
Benioff: One of our inexperiences showed itself. In the first season, our shows started coming in really short. For HBO, it’s supposed to be around 52 minutes, 54, something like that, and we had a bunch of episodes that were clocking in at 40 minutes. It was kind of a crisis because we didn’t really have more money left, and we had to somehow come up with an extra 90 minutes.
Weiss: Yeah, we had to create, like, 100 pages in two weeks.
Benioff: And they had to be inexpensive scenes, so they were basically all two actors in a room. We ended up writing 15 scenes or something over the course of the first season, and they ended up being some of our favorite scenes of the season. Because we knew the actors, so at this point, we weren’t just writing for an abstraction anymore.

Describe your relationship with Martin and how you factor in his creative wishes and your own instincts for storytelling.
Benioff: First of all, I’d say it’s a really good relationship, and the whole reason we wanted to do the series was because we love the books. We said, “We want to tell the whole story—as much of it as we possibly can.” But that also means there are going to be changes, and we’ve definitely had disagreements; every season we have disagreements about certain things.

Any come to mind specifically?
Weiss: Lots of it. The stuff we’ve talked about most recently applies to the fourth season and beyond, so I wouldn’t want to get into that. But in the abstract, it usually comes down to us feeling like we have to limit the number of new faces we see on the screen. So he talks about butterfly effects that run through the whole story, and we understand that those are there. But ultimately we need, for the good of the show, to go around those effects rather than dumping more information into the show than people can handle. In the broader sense, I’d say that’s where most of the disagreement comes from. George has been a great partner.
Benioff: George understands that we don’t make these kinds of decisions flippantly or lightly, and we always want to give him a chance to kick back at us. Sometimes we’ll say, “You’re right,” and it’s worth rerouting something we were planning.
Weiss: It drives him nuts that characters are fighting without wearing their helmets.
Benioff: That’s one of the places where we talk about the difference between the source material and the medium you’re transporting it to. It doesn’t matter whether a character has a helmet on in the book because we can access what’s inside the helmet. But in TV, we can’t do that unless we can see the guy’s face. It’s a mundane-sounding thing, but it impacts the things you can do.

What in the books did you consider but find too sordid to convey on the screen?
Weiss: A lot of the younger people in the book we aged up. Like Daenerys is 13 in the book. Obviously, we have no interest in representing that, and HBO has even less interest. There are things that ethically and morally you just can’t put on screen.

I’m sure you’ve answered this question several times before, but are you in this until the end?
Weiss: I hope so. We went into this with the ambition to tell this story through to the end. We’ve been given this great gift of this huge canvas to tell this massive story from these beautiful books by George Martin, and the idea of telling this whole epic through to the end is incredibly compelling. We’d love to be there to shoot the last scene.