Balancing from the CBS and CBS All Access TCA Day, Showtime, CW and, by extension, POP all possess a degree of creative landscape on the cultural plain. Each has its own texture with a sense of identity, yet never stepping too far out of line thereby alienating viewers. Among all networks, it is this texture of focus that undeniably balances the shows
Black Monday [Showtime] Returning to the network that made “House Of Lies”, Don Cheadle takes on the 80s with aplomb with an undeniable texture of Wall Street from the other side. Cheadle explains: “Moe would probably be Marty’s unhinged id. He doesn’t have a governor’s switch in the same way [as that character]. [With this show] it is trying to make a magic trick work on top of a roller coaster. It is the clothes and the hair and the excess of the 80s. [And] Moe has no ballast. There is no family that is tethering him. He is more a live wire in that way. It is constantly finding ‘him’ and seeing who ‘he’ is.” Jordan Cahan, one of the showrunners who also worked on the Christian Slater FOX show “Breaking In” explains: “This show has a secret code…words that we find abhorrent now. So we had to be very careful who we allowed to say those words. The tricky thing for us…just because it is cable…do we go to a certain place?” Cheadle continues reminiscing about what 1987 was like for him: “There were more yeses than there were nos. [In] 1987 I had just got out of school. I was living in North Hollywood. I was running around trying to get work. [A group of us] we would bum rush these auditions together. I never really started think I was good. It took many years until I believed that I could calm down [with that pursuit].” In translating that energy into the times that Moe lives in: “One of the things that we were cognizant about was having this sort of rag tag group of traders who are the Bad News Bears…the misfits.”
City On A Hill [Showtime] This throwback element to 1990s Boston involving a corrupt but determined FBI agent, Jackie, played with grizzle by Kevin Bacon, harks back to his previous work like “Mystic River” and “Sleepers”. Bacon discusses the connection: “I wasn’t really comparing the two. But with ‘City On A Hill’, it immediately had Jackie’s voice…that is the one I heard. It is just this world of 90s cops and robbers. [For me] there was nothing on television that quite felt like this.” In terms of wanting to commit to this show after doing “The Following” at Fox: “When you go into this situation with time involved…it is interesting here because the characters [are going] home. They are outside of [their] world. [In the pilot] we have a scene where the D.A. Ward (played by Aldis Hodge) and I are sitting in a window. Usually when the weather is that bad, you call it. [And when] your face gets that cold, you start to slur your words. Unfortunately the mustache (laughing) doesn’t keep it warm. That was the last scene of the pilot so I wasn’t sure if I needed the mustache [anymore].” (smiling) But in terms of what Bacon wants in terms of a challenge: “I want something new to explore. With ‘The Following”, it was all about that internalized type of character who has secrets. Jackie [by comparison] just doesn’t shut up. It is this kind of verbosity he has,”
Desus & Mero [Showtime] This new late night show optimizing the podcast and VICE phenom of Desus Nice & The Kid Mero just keys into its own sort of energy which can only be experienced live on the show, considering how quickly the panel progressed. Desus relays that he and Mero “actually met in high school in summer school…because they had air conditioning.” Mero explain the possibilities of how they approach what they do: “No one is really going on Twitter and reading policy [on politics]. We want to show people in their natural element. The vernacular we bring to it pushes with hip hop. This is authentic. It is not factory made.”
Jane The Virgin [CW] The trajectory of this show has allowed Gina Rodriguez to transform while still maintaining a grounded nature within the story. Speaking for the final season, just days before her new movie “Miss Bala” opens, the mood is somber as the show’s production is coming to an end. Jennie Snyder Urman, the show runner and writer, speaks to the show’s evolution: “We would work really hard each year on a different part of the love triangle. A writer once told me that a telenovela is a pornography of emotion. We go through all the feels in the last season unfortunately. [But] we have shown that we will go to unexpected places.” Rodriguez balances this thought saying: “I have been blessed enough to do work in the space that Jennie has created. [And] I have been able to see where I can use my creativity. There is so much I have learned on ‘Jane’.” Urban does tease the next iteration of Jane with a new play on the story: “The spin off is a conceit since it is novels that Jane will write in the future.”
In The Dark Using the essence of the blind to propel a story is an exercise in identity, especially when the teen in question is rebellious. Like certain CW shows before, this drama/comedy approaches the subject with humor but it needed to be based in fact. Lori Bernson, who consulted on “In The Dark” actually walked onto the stage with her guide dog to practically show the perceptions that the dogs have which is key to the story. Bernson lost her sight at a young age but defers on the difference of being born blind: “The difference is losing your mannerisms after you lose vision. It is so conditioned in you to do those things. Often times you don’t have as much contact. People say that I am looking right at them. The greatest thing though is when somebody moves and they don’t tell me. The difference of not seeing ever is that you don’t know anything different.” Perry Mattfield, who stars as the blind Murphy, explains that “Murphy’s blindness is not the only aspect I deferred from Murphy. Obviously I did realize how much responsibility there was for this role. I went to Lori’s house and I was watching her to do her thing. When she is watching TV, she will still look down to the remote first.”
Roswell, New Mexico [CW] This reboot examines the textures of the lost nights and alien interactions for a whole new generation. The key is mixing up the performances but also the story archs in a meaningful way. Jeanine Mason, who won Season 5 of “So You Think You Can Dance” takes on the role of Liz Ortecho. She explains her approach: “I am a performer. We all are. I grew up admiring the showman. [But] existing as a Latin X lead on a network television show is a rarity. That is what I love about being in 2018…tbe able to play woman who is ignited….who is a fighter” Julie Prec, who serves as one of the show runners talks about filming the show in the desert near Santa Fe: “The elements in general are so unpredictable. We sometimes can’t get the lights higher than 10 feet because of the wind.”
Flack [Pop] This new series from the cable label that brought viewers “Schitt’s Creek” examines the publicity side of the business. Anna Paquin plays Robyn who runs a PR crisis management firm who has trouble maintaining sanity in her personal life. Paquin explains: “Was it complicated? The only major rewrites happen around location.” But in a more production based tone as she developed this with her husband Stephen Moyer as well: “Speaking for myself, we are not really looking for a specific genre or medium but [instead what] connects and is smart. The big lesson is that you really need to believe in what you are doing because you will be doing it for a really long time.” Moyer jumps in on finding the right material: “[When it was] first brought it to us, it was set in England. You read so much stuff and the [good ones] are rare.” In terms of her acting which also includes Sophie Okonedo, Paquin explains her work: “I use the word ‘coven’ a lot. I mean that in the best possible way. [For me] there was a sisterhood [on set] that was inclusive and protective.”
By Tim Wassberg
Andrew Rannells has run the gamut of interesting roles. From his breakout with Josh Gad on Broadway with the irreverent “Book Of Mormon” through his multi-faceted journey on “Girls” for HBO to the recent groundbreaking TV show: “The New Normal”, the challenge from him is to keep moving the dial. After conducting a panel with his fellow actors at the Showtime TCA Press Day for the new series: “Black Monday”, he spoke exclusively with The Inside Reel about character building, the journey and the importance of location.
When you look back at that period, is it the fashion that strikes you, the attitude, the drive?
Andrew Rannells: It’s a bit of everything, I mean the the humanity of the character that I’m playing is pretty easy to tap into. Like having like [me] move to New York at a young age…feeling like I was very much from the outside of where I wanted to be. But yes the second you throw on suspenders, that does a lot of work for you. I remember saying “I just want to look like Michael J. Fox”.
Could you talk about sort of the mentality, the mindset that this character has to be in.
AR: It reminded me a lot of what I got to do in “Book Of Mormon”…the character I played was a little boy…this young missionary who had a lot of knowledge but not practical experience. And that’s exactly who Blair is. He has this algorithm, he’s done all this homework and he’s never put it in practice. So he very idealistically thinks that he can come and take NYC by storm. And then another character really teaches him very quickly that “That’s not the way this works!”
But within the character it is also about playing the white noise…those beats between the lines…
AR: The tone’s a funny balance of finding exactly what it is we are doing. My scenes with Casey Wilson were very different to my scenes with Don and very different from my scenes with Gina. It was funny to have such a wide playing field, particularly later in the season because Regina [Hall] and I as characters become closer, in a very specific way. It was fun to have all of that exist at the same show.
“Black Monday” is set in New York. But it was filmed in LA. But then you shot “Girls” actually in NY. Can you talk about the sort of identity of New York in this from your perspective?
AR: Well, “Girls” was very much — we got to use the city. I hate when people say this, but it’s true. But you use the city as a character. And it was so important to the look and the feel of that show. We shot all over the city. And it really was a huge part of it. This is sort of the backdrop of our story. There’s an energy that I think just naturally kind of comes in from the idea that we are in New York. There’s a pace to it. It’s incredible to me what they did visually [in “Black Monday”] because I thought that it would film in New York. I was like — exciting to live at home (laughing). So I was a little disappointed but – what was it going to look like? Is it going to look right? Are we going to use back lots? Like, how are we going to be doing this? But then, when they came up with this stock footage thing, it’s really pretty crazy because I know where those moments are. And you can’t always tell. It’s pretty seamless, particularly in the pilot when they show my apartment. It’s like they blended it in so perfectly
Can you talk about building the character because Blair, like a reverse Clark-Kent in the sort of awkwardness narrative… it sounds like you had input on these aspects…
AR: I mean, the thing that I wanted — I wanted them to start off with “The Secret Of My Success”, and then sort of end up [somewhere else]. And that’s such an outside-in process. But I knew speaking with hair and makeup that there were just going to be subtle things that started to happen.
Like the colors in the wardrobe…
AR: The colors. Like, the glasses change. The hairstyle changes. My hair – because we shot over several months – it like, gets longer. And it gets like — it’s just sort of like finding who Blair thinks he is in that world and what he should look like, and what he was trying to emulate. And it’s those guys…like Michael Douglas in “Wall Street”….Blair wouldn’t want to look like that. So it was fun to get to play with that stuff. Generally, for me, wardrobe is very informative. It’s a huge part of building the character. So the fact that we got to like pace it out — I mean, it’s so silly. But like, what’s his hair doing? (laughing) Like, that weirdly became a big part of it to sort of track what his mental state is and where he is.
This era was a world of perception, a world of masks…how many layers do you have to put within Blair? Could you talk about – not so much the details — but that sort of structure.
AR: It’s so much about labels, and the Rolex, and the cars, and the what kind of suit [you’re wearing]. All of that was a thing. And I think it was just to show it’s all very different. I guess we didn’t really do that with the actresses as much, but certainly on Wall Street at that time, that was a way to show you’re successful, right? So I think as Blair proceeds to becoming more successful, he has to do those things. He has to get better clothes. He has to get a better hairstyle. So it was in a lot of ways that I think Blair goes through sort of maybe the most changes personally and physically through the course of the season. So it was fun to get to do that.
By Tim Wassberg
With his powerful performance in Netflix’s “Mudbound”, his turn as Eazy E in “Straight Outta Compton” and now with his starring role in Showtime’s “The Chi”, Jason Mitchell is on a role. He took time after the panel for “The Chi” at the TCA Showtime Press Day to talk to Inside Reel about his ambition and process.
You been doing a diversity of projects from “Compton” to “Mudbound” to “The Chi”. Can you talk about keeping it fresh?
Jason Mitchell: Absolutely. I didn’t feel strange about not getting a certain sort of recognition for “Straight Outta Compton”. I didn’t feel like I deserved more than what I’ve got. But I did feel the amount of effort that I put into that character was sort of overlooked. People [were] like, “Oh, you’re from California, right?” No, actually, I’ve never been to California before I shot that movie. “Oh, you’re Easy’s kid, right?” No. They were so convinced that they just totally overlooked it. So in my mind, I was afraid that I was going to be pigeonholed. I was afraid I was going to be typecast in all these different things. So I was like, “You know what? Every role that I get, I’m going to try to change and morph as much as I can to just really show people.
Having just worked on a recent project with Kathryn Bigelow as well as Dee Rees [on “Mudbound”] and Lena [Waithe] here on “The Chi”, can you talk about them as directors and creators?
JM: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think women are the most sure creatures, you know what I mean. They have very little words, and they won’t go back and forth with you unless they feel that they can win it. And a lot of times, they won’t even go back and forth with you because they already won. Which brings me to say that they just have finesse. Like Dee Rees, I tell people all the time, [one of the] most sure black woman I’ve ever met in my life. We had 29 days, and we still finished early on some of those days. That was incredible to me. Kathryn Bigelow, I call her the big cat because she is super chill. And she’s very locked in. She knows exactly what she wants, and it’s the same thing with Lena. She told me, “Just support me. This is my friend’s TV show. I’m not the showrunner. I won’t be on set every day. But trust me, trust me, and let me know that I can trust you. And we can make a great show.” And I think that’s what’s happening.
With “Mudbound”, Dee had a sure hand but you had the role. I could not see you. And then here, same thing, it’s just because you disappear. Could you talk about that because that’s as much of a physical transformation as it is emotional.
JM: When people come to me with a really heavy material, I always respect the fact that that I was even thought of. For Dee to tell me, “You were the top of my wish list,” I was like…[and then Lena] “If we get Jason Mitchell, we can do the show.” When Showtime approached me, they were really, really like, “If Jason Mitchell’s down, we’re down.” Like, “What is what? What is my life? What are you saying?” You know what I mean? I feel an obligation to come in and I don’t think swing for the fences. Think swing for the parking lot. I’m trying to break a window in the parking lot, And I have to feel like that every time because these people are putting their star in my hands. It’s important for me to try to go out there and kill it every day.
But you can get so quiet, then you get so big. You can modulate the energy really well.
JM: I’m such a people watcher and I pride myself in being able to watch somebody so close, to be able to feel what they’re thinking before they think, you know what I mean? I grew up in service in New Orleans. And working at The Ritz-Carlton, they always just told us, “Anticipate the service. Anticipate the service.” And I feel now, that’s working for me in my career, because I can anticipate how somebody may feel in this situation.
By Tim Wassberg
Paul Giamatti is a man of many talents, able to traverse a variety of characters from his compassionate wine companion in “Sideways”, his sublime performance in “The Iceman Cometh” on Broadway and his more visceral performances in films like “Shoot ‘Em Up” and “The Hangover, Part II”. After sitting on a panel with his fellow actors as well as the showrunners discussing their 3rd season of Showtime’s “Billions” at the 2018 Showtime TCA Winter Press Day, Giamatti spoke to The Inside Reel about modulation of energy, likability and the quandary that is. U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhodes.
Can you talk about the modulation of energy within the performance because you have to go to such highs, such lows, and then the quiet moments versus the more intense ones?
PG: Yeah. [Rhodes is] kind of a manic-depressive personality. He’s kind of bipolar. I don’t know. I mean it’s good writing that helps you modulate that. I hope it modulates. I try to modulate it, but I don’t know. That’s just the character.
I mean it is a physical thing that it comes out emotionally?
PG: Sure. You’re just adjusting your energy. You’ve kind of got a map that tells you where you’re supposed to go and you just follow that plan.
Have your feelings about your character changed since you started playing him?
PG: There are actually [things] I like more about him as it’s gone along even as reprehensible as he’s gotten. I liked how clever he was last season, and he continues to be, although he’s very menaced by a lot of things going on. I actually have come to like him a lot more. I just find him more — he’s more fun to play. I mean, in my personal opinion, he’s a psychopath. They all are though on this show. Nobody particularly comes off very well. And this is actually interesting in this season because stuff that happens with the Clancy Brown character elicits some of the residual good stuff that’s still in there about [Rhodes] that reminds him of, “Oh, right. I do love the law and I do love administering justice properly when it needs to be administered.” That begins to come out of him a little bit too.
What was the biggest challenge prepping for the big collision scene at the end of Season Two?
PG: We didn’t have a whole lot of time. It is funny that that happens to me when — it’s very hard. Actors will always tell you laughing is very hard to do on camera. I actually am okay at it. The bigger problem I have is that once I start, I can’t stop (laughing). So that actually became the trickier thing in shooting that was getting me to stop laughing eventually so we could shoot anything. But we probably did two or three takes of it.
Can you talk about the idea of ambition within? Because you were saying it’s not about the money with this character, it’s almost more about the power. Can you talk about that?
PG: Yeah. I mean it is. It’s more about subtler things about power and stuff with him than even the money. He doesn’t care about the money, you know? And he is deeply ambitious. He’s hugely ambitious. This governor thing, but that becomes complicated in this season too, about what does he really want to do. And again, it comes to that [idea] where he starts thinking about, “Well, wait a minute. I actually have a pretty good job, and I actually can do good things here.”
Does it have to do with playing the heart of the matter? You have to play him as human, obviously.
PG: Yeah. He has a conscience. He’s got more of a conscience than you normally would think he has. These guys play at — it’s always ping-ponging back and forth. I will get the script and be like, “Wow. This is genuinely horrible. This guy’s horrible again,” and then like the next script I’ll be like, “Oh. Actually, he’s not so bad again.” So I never really know where the hell he is. He has more of a conscience, and his father really has none. There’s a huge conflict between the two of them.
And within the zeigeist there is that whole father/son aspect playing at the top echelon of US Government right now. Can you talk about the perception about what expectation means? It can be Greek. It can be mythic. Can you talk about that with those greater themes as it reflects in today’s society?
PG: Yeah. That’s true. Well, for sure. All of those things are a part of it. All those kinds of massive themes are [there] — but also dominance, and all that kind of stuff. It’s weirdly being acted out on the world stage.
But is there stuff that you sort of cling onto about him? Is it just that the wants of the father including into the wants of the son?
PG: For sure. The more interesting stuff is stuff about the father. It’s what’s being said and what’s not said, and also the way in which they’re wrestling and the father’s holding him down. All of that gets very shifty and interesting.
By Tim Wassberg
Diversity of content and of character has always been of paramount importance with the Showtime structure which is definitively reflected in their highlights for their Winter TCA presentations.
Our Cartoon President This animated romp from Stephen Colbert balances from his main gig on “The Late Show” but he speaks to the inherent challenges of both endeavors. The first has to do with the constantly changing aspects of the Trump administration: “Many a day [at The Late Show] at 5:15…no shit…we have to throw out 10 minutes of monologue.” But that said he says the approach for the animation is an interesting one: “[It is] the relationships you imagine they have animated. I think Michael Wolff [in his book] stole all 10 of our episodes…and we just guessed. We treat this series like a documentary crew came into The White House.” The irony of the current political climate shows how fluid the changes can be. Colbert explains: “In a pinch, tomorrow’s show could have a cold open on how Trump is a very stable genius.” (laughing) But he is quick to point out that Trump’s behavior shouldn’t be considered normal: “I don’t think we are complimenting him by making a cartoon out of him. I don’t think there is anything normal about his behavior. While we are doing comedy, we remind [the audience] that this is the kind of behavior you don’t want in The White House.” Despite this, Colbert realizes the comic potential: “The great benefit comedically is how uncontrolled his communication with the world is. However I love my country more than I love a good joke. He does it so often that you always have fresh material. I don’t want to hang out with him but he is the President of the United States. I go out to ‘The Late Show’ audience every night and we have this shared catharsis to laugh at. It is not jokes about what he did. It is character comedy.” Colbert also speaks to the difference in tone with his former home: “The Colbert Report”: “It is totally different vibe. ‘The Late Show’ is easier than the old gig. This guy is very different. We give our opinion on what they have heard today. But it is important that I don’t break news to my audience. It is about sharing the audience’s experiences back to them with my ideas. I am their buddy. My job is to talk about the policy the audience is already worried about.”
Billions This show continues to be a Machiavellian mediation on the notion of power but also the ambition and overuse of its influence. Brian Koppelman, co-creator of the show with David Levien with whom he also wrote “Ocean’s 13” & Rounders speaks on the elements of power and control: “It is about privlidge, It is about people that don’t have to. It is simply [dictated by] the societal region. [The other aspect] is about kings who want even more. We have long been fascinated about ambition which sometimes stands in for true character.” Damian Lewis, who plays eccentric billionaire Bobby Axelrod, speaks to the characters’ focal point: “A dramatic device that is being used here is about [the accumulation] of desire and want. We enjoy watching the desperation and ambiguity in these lives. In terms of these guys [in perspective of] the real world, they do good things and they do bad things. I think trajectory of any kind for an actor is interesting. People go down in this show but they come back up pretty quick. I think that buoyancy is why it is so fun to watch.”
The Chi The aspect of ambition from humble beginnings resonates in Lena Waite’s tale of Chicago’s urban neighborhoods but for her it is about maintaining authenticity: “Our big thing is that I want to make [sure] people can trust us. We are making sure the actors get the lingo and the swag [right]. [Whether it is] rollerskating, block parties…there are very complex [aspects] about the city…very layered. I started with the characters first and I named them with people from my life so you always have people that you care about.” Common, who exec produces the show and is also a Chicago native, talks about the texture of hope but also reality: “Joy is finding a bright place even when it is tough. Our city is unique but it resembles other inner cities in America. As Lena says, Chicago’s roots come from the South. Our history is thick. [And] the fact that Lena wrote this is valuable. She doesn’t have to talk about anybody about what is like to be a black person. The dynamic and depth of those things has to be told by us. We have to show people of color as colorful. I like it because it is fresh. We are not fitting into any stereotype. When we talk about black life, we just part of this pie too. And part of that is having relationships with other nationalities.” Waite adds to this point describes the intricacies of the details and the relationships between the characters: “My whole house looked like ‘True Detective’ when I was figuring it out. That way I had a road map to where I wanted to go.”
Patrick Melrose The essence of addiction and excess plays into the texture of this character within a privileged world but also the effect of mental illness. Made popular by a series of novels by Edward St. Aubyn, Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the title character in a 5-part limited series. Cumberbatch, speaking via satellite from Atlanta, comments on the texture of the character: “Relevance is always won by the universal truth in a story. If told, any story that is as mammoth in its spokes as this, goes beyond beyond analysis of class critique. We need to reminded about the damage that can be done to innocence.” Cumberbatch then speaks on the different layers within the character: “Paranoid schizophrenia rears its head and this is when [Patrick] is in the throws of drug addiction. These voices don’t just emulate from inside of him. Patrick is someone who has a great deal of tenderness but is a damaged human being. It is very different to play a character whose chaos is manifested all the time. The real goal is achieving truth but not to heighten yet still keep true to character. I’d always go home at the end of the day thinking ‘Did I do enough or too much.’ But then the very definition of externalizing emotions is role playing them inside a hotel on your own.”
By Tim Wassberg