Orphan Black Star Tatiana Maslany Plays Multiple Characters

Vlada Gelman is West Coast reporter of TVLine. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Tatiana Maslany has many faces—and walks and personalities and ways of talking.
The versatile star of BBC America’s Orphan Black plays not one or even two characters on the clone thriller, but seven—and often all in the same episode. To differentiate the roles, the Canadian actress gives each of her “sisters” distinctive physical mannerisms and quirks.
For nervy American suburbanite Alison, who prances around in leggings and UGG boots with urgency, Maslany played with the idea that the mother of two was an aspiring ballerina who didn’t have what it takes to go pro. “But she’s maintained all of that posture and tightness and holding your butt (and) stomach in,” explains the actress, adding that Alison also “breathes up higher because she’s panicking a lot of the time.”
Maslany uses hand gestures “to paint pictures” with super-intelligent science nerd Cosima because “(her) brain is working 100,000 miles a minute faster than everybody else’s,” while tapping into “sexually masculine” attributes for the animalistic Russian doppelganger Helena. On top of all that, the clones frequently impersonate one another, meaning the actress must inhabit two roles at once so that viewers are clued in to the hijinks, but the fictional figures on the show are fooled.
“I don’t try to play the other character until I’ve settled into the character that I actually am,” says Maslany. “I really try to make them as strong as possible, and then let them play that other person.”
The end result is multiple truly individual performances from just one actress. So should each character get their own Emmy nomination? “I don’t know about that,” laughs Maslany. “What if three of them were nominated, but one of them wasn’t?”

Southland‘s Michael Cudlitz Acts Without Saying a Word

Vlada Gelman is West Coast editor of TVLine. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.
Michael Cudlitz doesn’t need a lot of words to get his point across.
As one of the stars of TNT’s canceled cop drama Southland, the actor was handed countless scenes last season in which his officer John Cooper barely spoke, and yet he says so much. During one of Cudlitz’s favorite moments, he shares the screen with longtime TV actor Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon, Major Dad), playing John’s retired, alcoholic mentor. McRaney carries most of the dialogue as his character laments his empty life, but the heartbreaking confessional 
is just as much about John facing his own future.
“To me, it doesn’t matter who’s doing the talking,” Cudlitz explains. “You still have to be extremely 
present, extremely active, and you’ve got to know what’s going on.”
In working with a legend like McRaney, “My job in that scene became to not screw up what he was doing,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s one of those wonderful moments (where) you are on the ride. It’s not a moment you have to create. It’s just there. You enjoy it as a performer.”
In the same episode, John wordlessly confronts his dying rapist-murderer father. He then caps the season with a brutal fight in which his fists do all the talking and that ends with him being shot by his 
colleagues in blue. “That’s awesome to go to that place of freedom,” says Cudlitz of playing the officer’s raw breakdown. But the magic of how he gets to those emotional points and what he was thinking during the silences will remain an envied secret.
“It’s hard to talk specifically about the work because it’s sort of intangible,” explains the actor. “You start to take away from the work if you talk about it too much.”

The Man Behind the History in Vikings

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.

In the first episode of History’s Vikings, lead character Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) can barely contain his excitement as he tries to persuade brother Rollo (Clive Standen) that Viking ships might venture West to discover what new cities and new gods might be found in uncharted territory. How, wonders Rollo, can a ship stay true to its course with no land in sight?

Ragnar shows Rollo the sunboard, a disc that floats on water and charts direction by the location of the noon shadow. Rollo remains skeptical: What happens when clouds obscure the sun? Ragnar then unwraps the precious sunstone, a crystal whose reflective properties can pinpoint the sun’s position even in blinding fog.

Justin Pollard makes sure the history portrayed in Vikings is true.
Justin Pollard makes sure the history portrayed in Vikings is true.

The sunstone had long been part of Viking legend when Justin Pollard, historical consultant and associate producer of Vikings (History’s first scripted series), suggested to series creator-writer Michael Hirst that the sunstone (actually a calcite crystal called Icelandic spar) be woven in the story.

But it came as a surprise when, less than two weeks after the series’ March 3 premiere, news reports broke that a piece of the crystal had been discovered in a shipwreck from the later Elizabethan period, suggesting that the “magic gem” of Viking legend was not only real, but the navigational tool was borrowed by other cultures and used for centuries after the Vikings sailed the seas.

“Justin is my anchor,” Hirst says. “It’s his input which anchors my stories in the real and the true. I needed to give Ragnar, my hero, some piece of knowledge so useful and special that it both marked him out from other men and also pushed the story forward.” Finding hard evidence of the sunstone after the fact, Hirst says, was the icing on the historical cake.

In a telephone interview from his home in Dorset, England, Pollard—historical consultant for film and TV productions including Les Misérables, numerous Working Title films including Atonement and Elizabeth and Showtime’s series The Tudors, also created by Hirst—says it’s all about using concrete clues to create what might have been.

“As a writer, you can imagine a more primitive world, but it’s very hard to imagine what’s now missing, what they used to have that’s gone,” Pollard says. “That’s what I try to do.”

Pollard feels a particular obligation to illuminate the truth about Viking culture, defined in the mind of the general public by horned helmets (they didn’t wear those) or Bugs Bunny’s animated romp through Wagnerian opera in What’s Opera, Doc?

“It’s about making a bigger world. Not every Viking was a warrior,” Pollard says. He is particularly proud of bringing to light the role of women, who were more independent and powerful than in much later periods of European history.

Pollard acknowledges that History draws an unusually well-read audience. “We did have one instance where Athelstan (George Blagden) is speaking Anglo-Saxon, and someone said his Anglo-Saxon didn’t have enough of a Northumbrian accent,” he recalls. Pollard was less annoyed than awed that a viewer knew Anglo-Saxon well enough to discern the regional accent.

Pollard says his biggest challenge is speed. Being able to locate an expert on Latvian hats at, well, the drop of a hat—or getting “the call at 3 in the morning saying, ‘We could do with a bit of Norse swearing. Can I have it in an hour?’”

But speed can have its advantages. The creative team can access the most recent academic research and bring it to a general audience far more quickly than the classroom can. “That’s the best thing about comparing an academic historian’s role to doing this—I get to wander through these places, and live in these times,” Pollard says. “You see characters brought to life on the screen more quickly than you do in academia.”

Pollard said re-creating a real historic period can be more rewarding than inventing a fantasy past for a series such as Game of Thrones. “It’s beautiful, it’s strange, but nothing is particularly surprising in a fantasy world,” he says. “The beauty of historical drama is you can find the beautiful and the strange in things that really did happen.”

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: 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: Mitch Hurwitz

Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

On May 26 at 12:01 a.m., 15 new episodes of Arrested Development went live on Netflix; probably, by 5 a.m., the series’ legions of fans had exhausted the new supply. The cancellation of Arrested by Fox in 2006, after two seasons, prompted an afterlife of rumors and almost-announcements, as series creator Mitch Hurwitz worked on a feature script of his cult series. Like the fans, Hurwitz didn’t want to let go of his extended band of crazies, the Bluths, either. And then Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, suggested resurrecting the show to Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard. “And Ron said, ‘That’s a very nice thought, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,’” Hurwitz explains. Except it did happen.

How different was the process in working with Netflix?
I wasn’t turning scripts in, because of the nature of the thing. We weren’t shooting one a week. We’d shoot pieces of eight different episodes in any given week. We were shooting 12, 14 pages a day, shooting like crazy.  We screened it at the premiere—it was the first time an audience had seen it, but it was also the first time I’d seen two (episodes) in a row. I’d just been making them and putting them in the pipeline. And I guess that’s the case usually with television. The difference with this one, though, is that it’s all coming out on the same day.  And it will be viewed by some as an eight-hour movie.

Would you have preferred that Netflix do a more gradual roll-out?
I was kind of advocating for a while, how about five a week? And they said, “No, our brand is, we don’t want to chase the traditional things. We don’t chase opening weekends. We want to provide content when people want it, how they want it. We’re a supermarket, not a restaurant.” They didn’t say that, but it’s kind of like that, you know?

Do you care how the episodes are viewed, whether in one sitting or not?
The one thing I really, really, really care about, and it’s just for (the fans’) enjoyment, is that they have to be watched in order. A lot of press got out saying, “Oh, you can watch them in any order.” That was kind of an ambition of mine, and I quickly discovered that the human brain doesn’t work that way. We like stories to have beginnings, middles and ends. It was ambitious, and you try to learn as you go. And what I realized is, particularly with jokes, punchlines are funnier coming after setups. That’s a lot of what we’re doing.

At one point, Showtime was going to resurrect Arrested Development.
What was presented to me was, it’s going to be half the cast, half the fees, half the license fee. At that point it really didn’t make sense to do it. Showtime was great, (but) they didn’t want to spend as much money as we’d spent at Fox, which would have meant paring down the cast and doing a smaller show. And I had never wanted to do that. That had been a longtime struggle, to simplify the show. Not necessarily lose cast members, but, do you have to have a story for every character in every show? I liked the idea of this family all being intertwined.

How was it different writing to a cult audience for a streaming series versus having to worry about ratings on a broadcast or cable network?
Comedy is about an audience. I’ve been working on this for a long time now, so I really had time to go through a lot of the range of what I think people want, the ways in which I want to defy expectation, the ways in which I want to undermine expectation, or reward it. But ultimately it’s all through the filter of my own creativity, obviously. It definitely isn’t pandering. In fact, I did go out of my way to not do the greatest hits. There are some notable absences. But I wouldn’t have done that had I not thought there was a future to this. I have places for things down the road.

Once you got the initial greenlight to create new episodes, did you go out and hire writers?
Because this was still speculative, we did not have the actors’ names on the dotted line. Not because the actors were being recalcitrant or anything, but because they had schedules. They couldn’t just say, “Sure, use me two weeks whenever you want.” Three of my longtime colleagues I brought in: Jim Vallely, Dean Lorey and Richie Rosenstock. I was able to get them to be full-time players, although they still weren’t paid like they would be on a normal show. They had to take a risk too. Then the other people we got as weeklies, and they left. I mean, because we weren’t able to pay competitively what, you know, Community would pay, which is a known quantity, I’d get some of these guys for three weeks and they’d leave. That’s why you see endless names on the credits. Because everybody was there for three weeks and left. (Laughs.) Which almost became harder. I’d have to spend two days just explaining it every time a new writer would come in.

Emmys Q&A: Kat Dennings

After stealing comedic thunder from the goddesses in her 2000 debut as the foul-mouthed Jewish princess Jenny Brier in Sex and the City, Kat Dennings made an impression on the show’s creator, Michael Patrick King. So when King offered Dennings a shot at playing a free-spirited New York waitress in the CBS series 2 Broke Girls, which he cocreated with Whitney Cummings, choosing between film or TV was a little easier for the actress. Kind of a Laverne & Shirley for the millennial set, the series finds Dennings is right at home as Max Black, delivering one-liners in the style of Bea Arthur, Megan Mullally or even Fran Drescher. In fact, since her early teens—and without any acting lessons—Dennings has vamped and deadpanned, a natural talent that’s given her the opportunity to work with director Judd Apatow on The 40-Year-Old Virgin and play a supporting comic-relief role in Marvel’s Thor franchise.

You’ve distinguished yourself as a comedic performer with your deadpan cadence. Did you nurture this over time?
That’s really interesting—I’ve never thought much about that. I guess it’s just how I am. But I know for a fact my older brother Geoffrey is also very much like that. And I worshipped him as a kid, so I give him a little credit.

What was that first Sex and the City audition like?
I was 13 or 14 then, homeschooled, lived in the woods and didn’t have TV. So I had no idea what this show was. (The audition) was six pages of sides; I read it, and Michael said, “Come back tomorrow. Memorized.” And I looked at him, and I was like “Fuck it, I will!” So in the cab on the way back to Penn Station, there was a building covered in the Sex and the City poster, and I thought, “Damn! I just sassed that guy, and this is such a big deal!”

You were joking around?
I was messing with him, but also I was sort of challenging him. Like, “I can do that too.”
Did Michael see you in another project prior to 2 Broke Girls that reminded him of you?
I guess. I’ve never asked. I’ve heard him talk on panels so that’s how I get my information. Maybe Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

Tell me about the genesis of 2 Broke Girls.
I think the waitering part and Caroline’s (Beth Behrs) jobs are based on Michael’s experiences. The hoarders episode happened to Michael, as well as the one where we went into this guy’s apartment and found naked pictures of him. The cupcake shop and its demise are based on his sister’s experience. And he loved that as a device, which is really smart.

In discovering Beth Behrs, did they test a number of girls with you?
I was in Florida shooting a really dark film. They called and asked if I could fly back and read, and I’m like, “I’m in Florida. I’m getting raped in a tub. I’m not in a good spot.” And they said, “We get it. Just watch her Funny or Die stuff.” However, they needed to see us together. We got in front of CBS to test, which was one of the most terrifying experiences. I’ve done it a few times. Ninety-five percent of the time no one laughs. You know when you watch those SNL auditions and no one laughs? It’s like that. This was the last step in Beth’s hiring process. Michael loves telling this, but we left that test, and I put my arm around her instinctively.

You were initially inspired by Fran Drescher for your character and then threw that out.
When you start putting someone in the character instead of yourself, it’s muddled. Before we shot the pilot, I was so nervous. It’s a live audience. I watched Jack Black in High Fidelity, and his performance made me feel brave. And I watched The Nanny because she was the only one I could think of who was sort of like that tough Jewish Brooklyn girl. But again, that’s someone else’s character, and I have to develop my own. I kind of ended up imitating my mother because she was a poor girl from Queens who was cool and tough.

Does your delivery of zingers on the show come naturally?
Well, I’ve learned the best way to do it is not to think about it. We’ll get to the show and we’ll do a take, and then the writers rewrite everything. Eighty percent of what airs was given to us the second before we said it. And that’s where they do their best work and gauge what’s funny off the audience. You’re discovering the jokes at the same time as everybody else.

When you read scripts, can you tell the difference between material coming from a male versus a female writer?
Jhoni Marchinko is a legendary sitcom writer, and I can tell her jokes from when she was on Will & Grace. I can tell her flavor on stuff. I mean, Pat (Walsh) and Michael and the male writers are brilliant, but we’re writing for two girls all the time, so having women is essential. Also we have a lot of gay writers, which is a really important voice for our show. It’s just such a perfect melody with all these different instruments.