10 Focus Points on the ‘American Horror Story: Freak Show’ Premiere

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Are you ready for the show? The American Horror Story Freak Show that is. FX’s horror anthology starts up today and all of the regulars are back including Jessica Lange as the Impresario “Elsa Mars”, Evan Peters as the “Lobster Boy” Jimmy Darling, Sarah Paulson as the “Fearsome Twins” Bette and Dot Tatler, Kathy Bates as the “Amazing Bearded Lady” Ethel Darling, Frances Conroy as the “Socialite” Gloria Mot. The story is set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952. Elsa Mars owns the struggling show, and brings her band of curiosities to set ground and hopefully revive its popularity and fill the tents with money-spilling patrons. But there is darkness emerging from the flaps of the tents as well. After seeing the premiere, here are a few things we can tease and preview about the first episode and the season. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

1. Darker Tone and More Ambiguity
One of the things I enjoyed about Asylum (my favorite season so far) so much is it that it rarely showed its cards. Characters that were villainous eventually became heroes. Heroes had to do terrible things to survive and carry on. It’s been said prior to the season that Freak Show would be closer to Asylum but it is very much like that but you are assaulted with so much visually that you might not notice. Whereas Asylum was the end game where all that was misunderstood or mistreated was sent to. The Freak Show is the one fragile place where these people are either admired or accepted. Coven was so campy and Murder House was such a tip of the hat to horror films but when those seasons got derailed for an episode or two, you could really tell. The first and third seasons were so simple in their structure once the rules were laid out, especially Coven. But like Asylum, Freak Show will try to challenge you week to week. Sometimes you don’t know what to feel for a character. Sometimes you’ll be horrified and need a good break to walk away for a bit. You’ll need time to digest Freak Show as the more it sits with you, the more it blossoms.

2. Lots of Moving Parts
After seeing three seasons of American Horror Story, the premiere episode of each is filled with a lot of moving parts. This one is no different. There are lots of characters to introduce and this set is more complex than last year’s Coven, where characters were straight forward. What you saw is what you got. Don’t be surprised if the premiere of Freak Show is a lot to handle. There are character introductions, establishing motives and roles, and it’s all still unclear at the end and that’s an exciting place to be. Characters will be coming in and out as usual, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see all of the principal players yet. As for thematically, the freak show and its performers are definitely under the magnifying glass, but so are the outsiders who come to view it. Some are fascinated, others are there to break from the monotony of their day in Jupiter, but then there’s a level of judgement or worship that’s in play too. Again, it’s more complex like Asylum in that way.

The hashtag for the show is #WeAreAllFreaks and #SirWindAlleFreaks so keep that in mind as an undercurrent of the season.

3. Send in the Clown
From the new opening credits to the promos, it should come as no surprise that that clowns will be a big part of this season. If you are mildly frightened by the sight of clowns, then dig your heels in and prepare for some nightmares to haunt your sleep. You are going to be watching this season through the spaces in between your fingers as they try to shield your eyes. Another similarity to Asylum is the multiple layers that weave in and out of each other. Like the Bloody Face B story that ran simultaneously to the A story in Asylum, John Carroll Lynch is unrecognizable as an antagonist whose motives are unclear that will leave you shaking in the corner of your house.

4. Be prepared for a show
This is a freak show, with an emphasis on the “show”. So be prepared to see performances, including song and dance numbers. In the first episode, the Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates) tells another character, “We perform for our food,” and remember that Ryan Murphy is the creator of Glee. The impetus of this might have been born in Asylum when Jessica Lange led a memorable rendition of the “Name Game” in a hallucinogenic mind twister of an episode. Except it’s not just some mental fabrication, in Freak Show it is THE show, so if you love that stuff, you are in for a treat.

5. Pump Up the Volume
There’s a lot of whispering going on between characters in the first episode and Elsa Mars (Lange) speaks English with a German accent that can be hard to make out some words because she’s talking at such a low volume. I’m not sure if it was the audio mix that needs to be tinkered with but try to find that balance of James Levine’s eerily screeching score and being able to hear Lange’s soft spoken words.

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6. Coming of Age
This is Ryan Murphy we’re talking about so he will always put sex as one of themes of AHS, as it is something that can be both pleasurable and horrifying depending on the nature is it’s carried out. Here we aim to see what sex with a variety of freak show performers are like. Since these are social pariahs, many of them don’t get to experience love and sex in ways that is “normal” to outsiders. For some, their oddity is something that could pique the sexual curiosity of the outsider or tent fellows. So that is going to be explored for sure in both fascinating and arousing ways.

7. Yes, you will love Jessica Lange again
As if there was any doubt. Elsa Mars is harder to instantaneously embrace than Fiona, or feared as Sister Jude, or is as divine as Constance but she’s in full glamour and is the ring leader of this freak show. She’s a survivor though,  backs down to no one, and she is always in control of the scene, except when she’s not. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.

8. Jessica vs. Conroy
These two always have a relationship that’s full of friction and you can be sure to see it again in this season. It’s brief in the premiere, but I can’t wait for these two charging at each other with their horns again and again.

9. The Return of Pepper
One of the freaks of the show is played by Naomi Grossman, who reprises her role as Pepper who you might remember as one of the beloved inmates of Briarcliff Mental Institution is Asylum, which was set in the 1960’s. Well, Grossman underwent the massive transformation once again and it should be fun seeing what eventually got her landed in Briarcliff.

10. Two Sarah Paulsons for the Price of One
AHS showcases Paulson’s talent like no other show of movie and here we get double the dose as she plays the Tatler twins. While her characters typically have a duality or an internal struggle, it is personified into two separate people. There is a lot they play with when it comes to showing perspectives, framing Paulson in shot, depending on which twin is speaking or thinking or is looking.

We’d tell you more, but why ruin the fun? It’s filled with freaks, geeks, and creeps – both made up and real. One thing is made clear. Never underestimate anyone. That goes for seasons too. So the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show is a lot to take in, but if it’s modeled after Asylum, we can’t to see it unfold further. Bring on the next act!

Traumatic Start to Sons of Anarchy’s Final Season

Sons of Anarchy Season 7 Episode 1: Black Widower

(Episode Spoilers)

Traumatic. That’s the only way I can describe “Black Widower.” It was a painful glimpse into Jax’s inevitable demise. In TV we often hope that our antiheroes find some modicum of redemption. We want to know that the person that we empathize with, the person who encapsulates our shadowed desires, will eventually come out on top – despite all the chaos he or she has wrought. Our subconscious leads us to hope that – given the right circumstances – we too could lead a life on the fringe of society, like Dexter Morgan, Walter White and, of course, Jax Teller and still have a happy ending.

But such is never the case. This just wouldn’t lead to good TV – the kind of series that tugs at your heartstrings at just the right moment, before letting your emotions flatline in silence. Kind of like those silent-clock-countdown moments we used to savor on Fox’s 24.

I already lost the woman I love. I’m not going to lose my club… I need to know this table has no doubts. No mistrust. That every single one of you would kill or die for the man next to him and if you don’t feel that way now is the time to speak up.” -Jax

“Black Widower” was peppered with sin, Jax committed atrocities that would make his season-one self cringe. He carved a swastika onto an inmate’s chest and pulled out two his teeth in order to broker a deal with white. The scene was made more ominous with the “Never My Love” (Audra Mae & The Forest Rangers featuring Billy Valentine) playing in the background. Jax later shied away from Nero’s hug, rebuking the touch of his surrogate father. This boy is grown. Then, of course, there was the final scene, but we’ll get back to that later.

Nothing, however, really captured the spiritual decay of SAMCRO, and especially Charming, than the murder of two assistant pastors, one head pastor and the woman they had an orgy with. They were murdered innocents on a hunt to find the OG who killed members of the Grim Bastards’ crew. It was another one of showrunner Kurt Sutter’s, now patented, in-your-face symbols. There’s a demon on the loose in Charming and everything it touches gets corrupted.

Jax could have let the head pastor live, but then he’d have to deal with a witness to a triple homicide. So, killing the head pastor was “justifiable” (where’s Raylan Givens when you need him?). But it wasn’t the moment when Jax shot the pastor in the back of his head as he crawled away that showed us Jax’s soul. It was the moment after, when Jax shrugged his shoulders, devoid of remorse. That part of Jax died in jail long ago with Opie.

Sadly, the real demon in Charming isn’t Jax. Since day one, Jax has been manipulated, lied to and pushed off a cliff from which there is no salvation. No, the demon wasn’t Clay. Yes, we loathed him. His actions made us shout, punch walls and throw up in our mouths a little bit with every vile act.

But, the truth is, Mr. Morrow was just another pawn – a dispensable piece dangled in the wind by SAMCRO’s real king and queen. Gemma Teller. One person. Two roles.

As selfish as it seems, keeping our truth away from him is the right thing to do.” -Gemma to Juice

Gemma’s manipulative monologue to Juice said it all.

How can she lie to Jax’s face?

For starters, she’s been doing it for decades. A great villain always believes he or she is doing right. And in Gemma’s twisted view of the world, mother knows best no matter who dies in proving otherwise.

SAMCRO has unraveled at the seams, thanks to its pseudo-protector. Mentally, Gemma is also unraveling. Nero may have come back to her, offering her some stability. But we saw the truth. Just before Jax arrived at Tara’s house to torture and kill Lin’s man, Gemma was talking to the stepdaughter she murdered about Wendy taking care of the boys. It may well have been the creepiest scene to date on Sons of Anarchy. And nobody could have pulled it off better than Katey Sagal.

It pained me to see Jax torturing Lin’s soldier, especially since he was just Gemma’s fall guy. Jax literally rubbed salt in his wounds, before stabbing him in the back of the head with the barbeque fork. The final blow mimicked Tara’s death, while the words “nothing really matters to me, anyway the wind blows” of Bohemian Rhapsody (The Forest Rangers feat. The White Buffalo, Billy Valentine & Franky Perez) played in the background.

The scene spoke to Jax’s turbulent future. Had he known Gemma killed Tara, would Jax have tortured his mother the same?

While Jax may say that the club is the only thing that matters to him now that he’s lost his love, that’s not really the case. No matter which way the story goes, whether SAMCRO ends up buried in blood or not, it’s all the same to him. He’s dead on the inside and he has his mother to thank for that. This whole series has become one twisted allegory on the relationship of a mother to her son.

But hey, about that moment where actor Chris Chalk (Homeland) got dragged through the streets in a wheelchair by Bobby?

Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesday nights at 10PM E/P on FX.

‘Fargo’ cast talks about raining fish and that great finale

By now you should have been able to finish FX’s amazing mini-series, Fargo,  a brilliant spin-off story from the award-winning film by Joel and Ethan Coen, written by Noah Hawley. It took home multiple honors in the 4th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards for Best Mini-Series, as well as Best Actor and Supporting Actress Billy Bob Thornton, and Allison Tollman. We recently had a chance to speak with Thornton, Tollman and Colin Hanks about the final few episodes, so please beware of spoilers.

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The central relationship between Allison Tollman’s Molly Solverson and Colin Hanks’ Gus Grimly tethered Fargo on a relatable scale. Even though we were only given two episodes of their marriage in the year jump forward, their open honesty with each other rang true. We knew more information than them, which allowed the hairs to raise on our necks whenever they were in trouble because we knew what exactly they were up against in terms of Malvo or any of the other henchmen on the series. While it didn’t take long for Solverson to win the hearts of viewers in her pursuit of Lester Nygaard, it did take long for Bob Odenkirk’s character, Bill Oswalt come to his senses. That would be Molly’s big victory but that might not have been the type of ending some were hoping to see as Gus become of one of last hurdles as the manhunt for Lorne Malvo escalated.

“With Molly being super pregnant, you can obviously tell that this is going to come down to some final showdown of one kind or another in the finale,” Tollman responded when I asked her about Gus standing in her way. “So, we do get the satisfaction of that, but Molly’s extreme pregnancy is I think also a huge hurdle for her, and then also, not just Gus but also her dad; there’s a lot of people who are really worried about her involvement and not just her involvement but her determination to sort of see this thing through to the end.”

“That was interesting to play, and for me, as an actress, it was difficult for me to kind of like come to grips with it, after spending all of these months with Molly pursuing and pursuing and pursuing to kind of come to grips with the fact that she now had these limitations both physically and with obligations to the people around her. But I feel that—ultimately, I feel like the series ends up the way that it’s supposed to and everyone ends up happy and fulfilled in the ways that they’re supposed to be.”

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This made for Grimly’s turn in the finale, all that much more redemptive, because he had to overcome the mistakes he had previously made in allowing Malvo to slip by him in the traffic stop in the pilot, but also when Gus brings him in for questioning. Gus contemplates about the potential consequences of bravery. Typically we see cops or agents just barge in, but that’s why Gus’ fear and honesty appears to viewers as genuine and that’s what makes him so interesting. He makes that final risk to protect his family, when it held him back previously.

Well, you’re always trying to find new turf as an actor to veer into and explore,” Hanks said about Grimly cutting against the grain of archetypical officers. “From the very first scene in the pilot, here was a character that obviously is out of his depth, out of his element, and is acutely aware of it and has that self-awareness and knows that his actions have consequences, and in the pilot, it’s very obvious that he makes the wrong decision but for personally at least, the right reasons, which is to protect his family, and that obviously doesn’t change throughout the course of the season all the way up to the finale.”

“Look, I think that Gus obviously—he says as much in the whiteout episode – that he didn’t necessarily want to be a cop.  He had this other sort of thing that he wanted to do, but he needed to provide for his daughter, for Greta, so he took the best job that he could. He always looked at it more as sort of a community service almost as opposed to enforcing the law, and so, yes, I think Gus definitely does have this—he does know that whatever he does, it needs to be for the right reasons and he knows that all of his actions have very serious consequences.”

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As for Thornton, his primal and feral character Lorne Malvo is one of the most exciting and unpredictable characters on television this year. Looking back, his character never got to spend any great length with any one character, but they were all big scenes. So that put a great emphasis on trusting Hawley’s scripts rather than being able to develop an ongoing chemistry with specific fellow cast members.

“Because my guy doesn’t really know any of these people, I think that made it seem very realistic for me that I just stepped into the lives of different people throughout the series,” Thornton shared. “I think you do have a different feeling than you would have if you were playing, say, the husband of one of the lead actresses or something or you’re the guy who’s lived in the town forever.  You then have to think about your relationship and your history with these people, but my guy, he’s from nowhere.”

“It’s kind of like Clint Eastwood in the old spaghetti westerns, like he was the man with no name.  Malvo is kind of the man from nowhere.  I found it very interesting to be able to do that and I didn’t have to know anything about these people, and I could look at them as if I just met them all the time.  I don’t know.  I enjoyed that aspect of it.”

“In terms of working on the character, I mean Noah had drawn it so clearly.  I think with all the characters that we really did just show up and do his bidding, which was a very clear vision.  It’s funny, I guess the one thing that I had to get used to is having, for each two episodes there’s a different director and each one has a different energy.”

“They were all terrific, but they have different energies.  So getting used to different directors was the most difficult part, just in terms of the way they deal with actors and everything.  But I never went on, I never said, yeah, I’m good let’s move on to the next shot until I looked over at Noah and got a wink from him because this is his vision.”

“I really put myself in his hands.  I think we all did.”

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Malvo gave Thornton many gifts to say and do things that you’re not able to do in regular society–aside from the killing. We saw not only a great antagonist, but a true instigator who acted solely for his own enjoyment. So we couldn’t help but wonder if Malvo allowed Thornton an opportunity to cross something off his bucket list as a performer.

‘Well, certainly not the killing parts but just when I would mess with people about stuff.” Thornton said chuckling.  “Like every now and then you go someplace, you know, to the cleaners or wherever it is and the people will be so incompetent or just don’t understand what you’re up to.  It’s like, ‘I told you, you don’t starch t-shirts.  How could you have a dry cleaner or Laundromat and you don’t know that you don’t starch t-shirts?’ Malvo did that kind of stuff.  He really called people on their B.S.  And so, I have to say I did enjoy any time I got to mess with somebody.”

In these past 10 Tuesday nights, Thornton watched Fargo in its finished cut for the first time along with the audience.  So I couldn’t help but ask him what he thought about one of the remaining mysteries of the miniseries–the biblical plague of fish raining down on Dimitri Milos’ car ride.

“It was pretty great and it obviously had a sort of symbolic, biblical thing, I guess.” Thornton shared. “I think that’s one of those things that at the end of the day it kind of doesn’t matter and it’s up to interpretation by each person.  Myself I probably felt, yes, it’s more of a surreal kind of thing; that’s more the way I take it.  But I think each person can just—that’s a great thing about stories, it’s why books are so great because you read a book and you’re the only one there, you and that book, and you can interpret these things any way you want to.  You can envision the characters as looking like or being like anything you want.  So I think sometimes you just have your visceral reaction to something and let it live in some place in you where it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not real, you know what I mean?

“I think the one thing in terms of fish that I was pretty disappointed about was nobody told me they were going to do a photo shoot with all these girls in bikinis holding fish. I wasn’t warned about that, so I didn’t get to go over and watch. I always miss out on all the good stuff.”

Hopefully you didn’t miss out on a single minute of Fargo, since all of it was good stuff. What were your thoughts on the Fargo miniseries? Would you want to see a second season or were you content with a one-and-done story? What did you think about the plague of fishes? Share your thoughts below.

FX’s ‘Fargo’ is as good as the Coens’ masterpiece

Before I sat down with the first four episodes of FX’s limited series, Fargo, premiering April 15 at 10PM, I reacquainted myself with the 1996 Coen Brothers’ crime classic. It’s been over a decade since I last saw the film and like a winter squall blustering through, my memories of it had become buried deep in snow. However, after this viewing, I had this insatiable desire to soak in this world for a longer duration.

billy bob thornton fargo

It wasn’t just any small town that had been rocked by bloody murders and criminal activity, it was this specific ivory landscape that stretched as far as the eyes could see. Its citizens were as foreign and distant as Hawaii or Alaska as were their special brand of talk and affection. Fargo felt like the Coens picked up a snow globe unlike any other and then gifted it to everyone who had seen the film. One might be asking, how could they touch perfection? TV is looking hard at how it can make movies better or believe that more is better. Who knows how many seasons they are going to fit in before A&E’s Bates Motel brings us to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho? Doesn’t all of that water down the original piece of art? Those are valid concerns but Fargo isn’t your average movie tie-in TV show.

FX’s Fargo is a 10-episode, one-season run with a different set of characters in the same setting. It steps back in time but only to 2006 and once again, big city murder and crime are making life difficult for the small town folk. One in particular is insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) whose only crime when we meet him is being a downtrodden victim of life for too long. He works in a hamster wheel, selling insurance; he continues to be bullied by his high school nemesis, and it’s only worse at home. His wife Pearl (Kelly Holden Bashar) emasculates him at every opportunity. This is as good as life would get for Nygaard; then all of that changes when he is confronted with his antithesis.

Bill Bob Thornton describes his character, Lorne Malvo as not having a conscious, who is animalistic in nature, and never for once looking back in life. Malvo is a confident man, intimidating, and completely aware of his surroundings–qualities that make him a good hitman, a smart drifter, and the most charming of antagonists. But he doesn’t just take orders, he has his own rules that only he plays by, not necessarily having a goal in mind, just doing the necessary things he needs to or wants to do. There is however one thing he is fascinated with: finding the weaknesses in everyone, exploit them and have some devilish fun until the novelty wears out.

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Rather than find out what happened to Marge Gunderson a decade later, bits and pieces of her spirit make it into young police deputies from different cities, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks). Solverson is not pregnant or even married but she does have a sounding board in her father, Lou (Keith Carradine). Grimly is a good deputy, but on one night fails to do his job when he  gets scared. He’s not allowed to do that, but confronting a man of Malvo’s demeanor is rare for these parts of town. It’s a natural reaction to being threatened and resisting that is a decision that often goes unheralded in those who serve and protect. Grimly is the one of the few sweet faces of innocence, swimming in shark-infested waters and you hope he doesn’t get gobbled up. Again, Marge is not mentioned, but she is reworked in these two heroes and that familiarity is comforting.

That’s the craft of executive producer, showrunner and writer Noah Hawley (Bones, The Unusuals) who threw Jerry Lundegaard, Carl Showalter, and Gaear Grimsrud amongst others in a wood chipper and spread some of their qualities into Nygaard, Malvo and other supporting characters. You’ll hear the echoes every once in a while but these characters are much more complete, fully flawed, but equally irresistible. It’s a world populated with eccentrics, brought to life by a star-studded cast. Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad) is a negligent and opportunistic buffoon of a deputy chief Bill Olson; Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is a self-bronze tanning bottom feeder; Oliver Platt plays a local celebrity who’s life is flipped over by Malvo, and Kate Walsh is a seductive former stripper who suddenly finds herself a widow and lone mother of terrible children. Julie Ann Emery, Adam Goldberg, Russell Harvard, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, and Joey King round out the first-rate ensemble.

Hawley is so good at understanding what the Coens did so well with dialogue and set direction, that if you didn’t know he was the writer, you’d swear that Joel and Ethan Coen wrote this too. They did approve of this story, serving as executive producers with Warren Littlefield and that alone should convince you to tune in, but trust me when I say that it is Hawley’s work that will keep you cemented to your monitor of choice for 10 weeks.

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Like the film, this is not a whodunit or a mystery but there is a lot of dog, cat and mouse. We are merely observers of Nygaard and Solverson potentially rise up to the challenge of their catalysts, Malvo and Olson respectively. With the help of Grimly, can Solverson overcome the barricades that Olsen puts in her way and figure out who is terrorizing the townsfolk of Bemidji, Minnesota? Once Nygaard crosses a line, what will stop him from doing something else with his dark side?

Fargo has all the makings of the next hot thing in water cooler talk. Be prepared for audiences torn between the breakout performance of Tolman’s Deputy Solverson, and those rooting for Malvo to get away with all of his violence and tricks. It is sure to be one of Thornton’s most unforgettable roles. The same could be said for Freeman, who will play his first character of such compromising makeup that it will be challenge to find sympathy for him. Yet somehow, he manages to do so with expertise. Nygaard is a more pathetic version of Walter White at the start of Breaking Bad, but there are no false crutches of family  for Nygaard to depend on. He’ll work hard to toe the line of reprehensible and endearing schlub. Where he ends up though, is anyone’s guess.

Given the harsh winter that most of the country has suffered, I take no pleasure in urging anyone to endure the sight of so much snow, but after seeing the first four episodes of Fargo, I can assure those with a taste for high-level drama that it will be worth it.  The premiere is astounding, with the stakes and risks escalating with each chapter. Every scene feels like it’s a movie, full of depth and detail cinephiles will pour over and every episode opens magnificently with the disclaimer that “This is a true story…” with a sweeping score by Jeff Russo and closes with cliffhangers that linger for days. There are plenty of awkward moments to hush the audience one moment and a semi-regular dose of black humor to bring out the joy in the darkest individual.

FX has become the factory of fan-favorite television and after reinventing comedy and anthology television, they look to master the limited series. With no worries about ratings equating into renewal or cancellation, there is no reason to guard material for later seasons. Everything is on the table to tell the best story immediately. By the fourth episode, audiences will understand the minor relationship between the movie and film, and it is indeed a very cool one, but the FX’s Fargo is its own creature with many more points of interest that it will stand on their own. I can only hope that after 10 episodes, I’ll be equally satisfied as I was with the film but again wanting to live in the world of Fargo – just a bit longer.

7 Focus Points on the ‘Justified’ Season 5 Finale

Season 5 of Justified is over, but there’s plenty to talk about last night’s season finale, “Retribution”. Here are seven Focus Points on the finale and their effect on the series final season next year.

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1. Raylan and Kendal have a chat
With one of the themes of the season being separation (Kendal from Wendy, Raylan from Art, Ava from Boyd, and even Raylan from Winona and daughter) there’s a nice reinforcement of Raylan trying to reach out to troubled kids who come from rough upbringings. Loretta McCready actually bet on his heroic nature. Raylan tried to prevent Kendal from entrusting his future with Daryl with his radio winnings, but as Raylan knows, you can’t escape who you’re born with. Raylan knew how to break the kid down and get him to say what he needed to confirm that he didn’t do it–even if he didn’t give up Daryl. The solution still required Wendy’s help in the end, but there’s something about Raylan’s stories, even ones about Arlo that seduce you. Or maybe it’s just the way he says, “cocoa.” Kendal, as misguided as he was, tried to act tough but was no match when Raylan walked through the door. He may be an absent father, but his efforts with Kendal and Loretta show that he could be a good dad yet. It was a really strong scene (without guns involved) shared between Tim Olyphant and Jacob Lofland, who from his introduction felt genuine every time he was on camera.

EDITOR’S PICK: Read Our Exclusive Interview with GRAHAM YOST, Justified’s Showrunner

2. Good help is hard to find
Apart from Colt, Jimmy (Jesse Luken) was one of Boyd’s henchmen that didn’t try to go behind his back. He was loyal to a fault and may have complained at times but he had good reason because Boyd gave him some shit work. One couldn’t help but feel bad for Jimmy, considering he tried to save Boyd, even at the end. But three-against-one is bad odds, even for a tough guy like Raylan. Still, that was some serious pain on Walton Goggins’ face, and must have felt like another stab in the heart for Boyd. Johnny betrayed him, and Boyd took care of it. Jimmy did everything he could to help and his fate was out of his control. Consider all the people who have died –especially in Season 1– trusting Boyd or fighting for his causes. It may explain why he appears so defeated entering Wynn Duffy’s deluxe Winnebago. We’ll miss you, Jimmy.

EDITOR’S PICK: Read Our Exclusive Interview with NICK SEARCY, Justified’s Art Mullen

3. Raylan lets Wendy finish off Daryl
I can’t say that this was a surprise, but it was so satisfying watching Wendy blast off her brother’s nut sack and throat, leaving Daryl to die. Villains have a way of bleeding out on the floor in Justified. Remember Robert Quarles? Since this was a story about family –an ongoing theme of the series– Raylan left it for the family to do the work for him. Daryl certainly gave Wendy enough ammunition to do it, whether it’s for trying to put Art’s shooting on Kendal or beating her to a pulp. I find the more interesting facets of this family bond could be traced back to their history not shown. How bad of a mother was Wendy for Daryl to step in? How many times did Daryl beat his sister up? Was there ever a relationship between Wendy and Daryl?

I know, I know, that steps into cliché redneck material there, but the way they played it on camera, there appeared to be some deeper feelings of love and hate. Perhaps that’s why she pointed the gun where she did. Daryl “loved” Kendal (If hanging him up to attempted murder could be called love) like his own son, definitely more than his supposed biological dad. Viewers stepped into this family tree with the roots already dug in, so this confrontation could simply be resolving a long and tired sibling rivalry, anger about the past, or just Wendy coming to grips with the terrible person she is–we’ll never know; Raylan did nothing to stop it, and advised Wendy to stop from putting another bullet in Daryl before a self-defense case could be thrown out. So he didn’t get his hands dirty, and Wendy and Kendal try to repair their mother-son relationship. Alica Witt put on a great show this season and was the most pleasant surprise of Season 5.

wendy and darryl

4. The Drug Cartel vs. Boyd, Tim, & Rachel
The finale’s biggest action standoff was also one of the fastest. No long talk up or soliloquies. This was Tim and Rachel holding ground and taking out the cartel. It does say a lot about Boyd, using Tim and Rachel (and Raylan) to save his hide once again, and leading them into an ambush. He’s smart and resourceful but he only looks out for himself. I was pleased to see both Tim and Rachel used increasingly the last three episodes; hopefully this is a preview of things to come in Season 6. Will there be any revenge by Mr. Yeun and the cartel? Anything is possible, but as long as Boyd and Wynn leave the heroin trade, then they probably don’t have to look over their shoulders. And since the marshals got involved,  this appears to be the end of the cartel thread, especially with the new arrangement between our remaining criminals…

EDITOR’S PICK: Read Our Exclusive Interview with JERE BURNS, Justified’s Wynn Duffy

5. Boyd and Wynn are back in business with… Katharine Hale
After taking care of the cartel, Boyd squared up his debt with Wynn, but Justified’s new power couple made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, leaving us with that cheshire grin of approval we’ve come to love. What was interesting about this conversation was that it was Katharine Hale doing most of the talking; she’s the one who made the offer to Boyd to get back in the business of robbing banks and she led us to believe that she was the reason her husband’s criminal operation ran smoothly. ADA David Vasquez’s history with Katharine and his nervous body language also builds her reputation as a person of interest. As for Boyd, he needs new soldiers. He’s had more buffoons like Dewey than loyal help like Jimmy or Colt, but I doubt Katharine puts up with that kind of ineptitude in Season 6? If she’s smart, Katharine will play to Boyd’s strengths and get him to blow shit up.

ava and boyd s5

6. Ava’s uneasy alliance with Raylan and lack of relationship with Boyd
The finale ended with this awesome scene on the bridge and we now know that Ava’s release hinges on her cooperation to help bring in Boyd. But I don’t think the writers would make it that easy. We have to believe that the hard time in prison affected Ava, or at least influenced her to some degree. I see Limehouse coming into the fold in the final season and be there for Ava in some way because he’d be someone who isn’t looking to use her.

Will she get involved with Boyd’s bank heists? Will she break into her own crime on the side, while helping Raylan? Will there be a permanent divide between Boyd and Ava or will there be an attempt to salvage that, knowing Raylan’s plans for Boyd? Or will she try to win him back, only to save herself and stab Boyd in the back in the end, or perhaps stab Raylan? Ava is the pivotal character. There was also no love lost between Raylan and Ava, and maybe this squashes all of those shippers’ hopes looking for these two to rekindle the Season 1 chemistry. Either way, we’re extremely happy to see Ava get out of prison and back in the fold playing off of the main cast like a glove fitting a hand. Joelle Carter resumed her on-screen chemistry with Goggins and Olyphant, as seen in the last two scenes, thus solidifying the main crime story for next season.

 EDITOR’S PICK: Read Our Exclusive Season 5 Interview with Joelle Carter, Justified’s Ava Crowder

7. We have our end in sight
Raylan has his way out of Harlan and Kentucky for good. With Art submitting his transfer back to Florida, that gives a storybook ending to this six-year crime story with Raylan rocking his daughter to sleep. He just has to finish one last job and that’s to put Boyd Crowder behind bars. But this is Justified we’re talking about here, so just getting Boyd in jail doesn’t seem right. The grave is probably more like it. Could this really be the ending or a set up for tragedy?

Showrunner Graham Yost told us that the writers’ room has an ending in mind, and what they’d like to see, but they’re not sure who’s going to die and how they’ll get there. Everyone is fair game, and that includes Raylan. Let’s not assume the “good guy” wins; Raylan has had questionable judgment along the way and the ending of Season 5 could be foreboding. Remember, we are sure to hear “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” in some way (we’ve heard three renditions already) but will it refer to Ava, Boyd, or Raylan? Maybe two of them, or all three? Of the three, Raylan is the only one trying to leave Harlan. The answer to that question is probably best answered with another question that’s guided the entire series: What would Elmore Leonard do?

Exclusive ‘Justified’ Interview: On a Wynn Fall with Jere Burns

jere burns

Prominent 1950’s politician, Adlai E Stevenson was quoted as saying, “You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad.” Justified‘s mobile drug kingpin, Wynn Duffy must be living large because through all of Boyd Crowder’s (Walton Goggins) misfires and failings, he rarely raises one of his expressive eyebrows. When Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is playing Harlan Roulette with him, well, that’s reason to get plenty mad. But most of the time he sits parked in his mobile home, somewhere in Kentucky, scheming with his lone bodyguard Mike (Jonathan Kowalsky) on watch while he’s inside, drinking tea or watching a women’s tennis match.

He’s carried out the dirty work of the Dixie Mafia and served as Robert Quarles’ yes man; now he has stuck by Boyd, through thick and thin – all for a piece of the action in Kentucky.  One-by-one, all of the dominoes are falling down beside him whether it was Detroit mob boss Theo Tonin, or lowlife thugs like Picker. Call it, his windfall, an unexpected turn of good fortune. As the fifth season comes to a close and we wonder how its finale will impact the sixth and final season, Wynn Duffy is sitting pretty for a change and we talked to the man himself, Jere Burns.

Talk about this fifth season and the expanded role of Wynn Duffy, who has become the resident “cockroach” on the show, surviving each season by the skin of his teeth. I mean that in the best way possible. [Laughs]

Jere Burns: Well, thank you for that. You may or may not know, I was originally hired to play Duffy for two episodes in Season 1. At the end of the second, I was supposed to die, but when I got to work that day, there was change in direction indicated that I was to be shot and wounded. In the second season, there was another instance where Duffy was to die, and I think it was Tim (Olyphant) who changed it. It was at the end of great scene that we had. If I remembered correctly, Tim objected to that ending, so that got changed.

However, this season is more than about surviving. It’s about stepping to the front of the stage and making a name for Wynn Duffy.

JB: I’ve never quite been the alpha dog, they always kill the alpha guy. I’ve always assumed the role of the beta guy. I always asked to do more but the writers kept saying that if they did, that I’d end up dead. It’s going to be six years when it’s all done and I don’t know who they’ll have left, but I feel very grateful. It’s really a fun show to do. I got to become a season regular and that was fun. It’s just been a great experience.

Being elevated to a series regular, how have you been involved in shaping the character this season?

JB: Justified has always been really collaborative. If you have something to add, and it’s good, everyone’s always open to it. It makes for a long day, but usually it ends being good. It says something about everyones’ egos over there that everyone can collaborate to the extent that they can, including Tim. Well especially Tim, who will often change things and it will have nothing to do with him, it’s all about making the scene better. The same goes for Walton. It’s always about making it better.

Do you have an example of how you got to help shape a scene to improve upon what was in the original script?

JB: This season, there was a scene that we shot in episode 511 (the hotel room conversations), “The Toll” that involved Mary Steenburgen, John Kapelos, and Walton Goggins, which was a lengthy and very intense scene, and at one point in rehearsal I said, “You know what? I have no idea why I’m doing this scene. Someone please help me here; I don’t know why I’m here.” Jon Avnet, who is amazing and is such a great director to work with said, “You know what? You’re right. I have no idea why you’re in this scene either and I have a sense that this scene is supposed to be about you.” So we stopped shooting. The crew took a break and we went into a room with the four actors in the scene, Jon, and Ben Cavell, the writer of that particular episode and one of our esteemed executive producers and we wrote the scene together. I think it wound up being an amazing scene.

justified the toll

How rare is that experience for you given your extensive experience in TV and film?

JB: Very. Very rare.

Do you feel spoiled to be on that set as you prepare for also what comes after?

JB: No. Not really. I’ve been on other shows where it’s a very different process and it’s great in other ways, you know what I mean? When you get there, this is what we’re shooting and in the confines of what you find on the page, you figure it out. That’s what you do. That applies to Bates Motel and Breaking Bad; what was on the page is usually what we shot and that’s also great. The process is not better or worse, just different. As for what will happen after, even though I’ve been here for six years, I’ve had time to do a lot of stuff during the year in addition to Justified. They’ve always been good about allowing you to do other things outside of the six months that we shoot each year. I was able to do a pilot for a comedy called Tribeca with Rashida Jones and Steve Carell who co-wrote and directed. So we’re always branching out.

When you were in Max Headroom as Breughel, did you ever think that you’d play so many bad guys in your career?

JB: I was so young and inexperienced back then I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t thinking straight, it was all a blur back then. The fact is for 15 years, the vast majority of the time before I did comedies like Dear John or Bob, a Bob Newhart show or Good Morning, Miami. I was doing half-hour comedies as either a dad or a goofball, or whatever. So there were 15 years of comedy. Six years ago when I started doing these cable shows, it was a big, big departure from what I’ve been doing for hire. That’s what’s so fun about being an actor. I can go to New York go on Broadway and sign and dance, I can come back here and be a kingpin in the Dixie Mafia, or go do a western. It’s a dream come true.

Well you resonate so well as a bad guy in recent years, and especially as Anson Fullerton on Burn Notice, who I think was Michael’s biggest adversary in that series, is there something that you love about playing bad guy?

JB: Aww, thank you. The fun thing about playing a bad guy is that you get to act out a lot of things you can’t do in real life and you get to say a lot of things that you can’t really say in life, so it’s such an escape. Then there’s the challenge of finding a way, to make this guy who’s doing these things somehow relatable and likable. I think people love Duffy and Duffy is a self-serving, stone-cold killer! People love Wynn Duffy, right?

I believe so, and let’s go back to the point where people really started to love Duffy. In Season 3, he was Robert Quarles (Neal McDonough) right hand man. In a subtle way, Wynn becomes an increasingly important character because he becomes the eyes of the audience, and shows us these different sides of Quarles, but even to a larger degree, you are the visitor to Harlan county and this crime world. Was that the design of Wynn’s character, or was this an opportunity that came out of wanting to do something cool with him?

JB: I don’t know, I didn’t really know what I was showing up for that year. I knew that I was going to be in a lot of episodes, but I didn’t know about Quarles, or that I was going to be his partner. I didn’t know Quarles was going to this bad guy role, that I was just going to be the league choir in the background. It sort of felt like I wasn’t doing anything except following him around and rolling my eyes whenever he came up with a psychotically bizarre notion. Cut to a month after we shut down production and I get a call that I got nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award. I was thinking, “For what? All I did was react to a guy with a big blonde baby head,” [Laughs] but I’ll take it. To your point though, I think people appreciate having that guy live as their eyes, reacting to how they’re reacting to what’s going on screen, I guess.

wynn and katharine

Not having seen a physical script of the episode 308, “Watching the Detectives” where you overhear Quarles torturing a man, I think there are people still haunted by what really happened behind that door, and Wynn needing to repaint the room.

JB: [Laughs] There’s sometimes so much stuff that goes on set, but suffice it to say… [clears throat] there was probably a lot of body fluids all over the wall of various type, be it blood, semen, brain matter, Quarles was just that twisted.

It goes down as one of the most memorable sequences in the series.

JB: There’s that and what followed it was that great scene where Wynn and Raylan go face-to-face and I have that line, “Marshal, are you accusing me of being a fake blonde? Because if you need me to prove it to you, I may be inclined to break you over that step ladder, ride you down like a teaser pony, and paint this room a whole different color.” I remember saying to Graham Yost or one of the other writers, “What’s a teaser pony?” Do you know what that is?

No. I don’t, actually.

JB: Neither had I. A teaser pony is a little Shetland pony they put in there to get the stallion all worked up. Then they put the mare in. The stud goes to town with the mare and gets it done. The Shetland takes all the brutal foreplay from the stallion and then they just put the mare in to consummate the act, so she doesn’t get damaged.

So it’s a horse version of a “fluffer”.

JB: Exactly.

Let me wrap this up with this. With all the hard luck he gets, why do you think Wynn stays in Kentucky?

Hmm. That’s a good question. Well, he has orders from Detroit and the powers that be… and it’s where the show takes place. [Laughs] But I do have to figure it out for myself, you’re right. Well, initially it’s for the oxy, then it’s for heroin. I think you’re going to find out at the end of this season, he asks Katharine Hale to say, Am I doing the right thing, here? What is your opinion and what else could we do? She has sort of a mentor relationship. She was married to Wynn’s former mentor and she becomes his sort of friend/mentor/crush. So for Wynn, he stays for the oxy and heroin, then in the finale, you’ll find out why Katharine’s going to be hanging out until next season.

Watch the Justified Season 5 finale of tonight’s at 10/9c on FX.

Interview: Season 2 of ‘Legit’ hits close to Jim Jefferies’ life

I feel the need to climb to the top of a mountain and shout at the top of my lungs to watch Legit on FXX before it falls victim as another show worth your time that couldn’t find its audience in time. It’s smart, edgy, and sweet and comedies like this are few and far between.

Jim Jefferies In Love

Legit isn’t your typical comedy. Standup comedian, Jim Jefferies is trying to do something different, and bring his own sensibilities to the TV comedy realm. “When you’re with your friends,” he explains. “You laugh a little bit, you laugh a little bit, and then something big happens. I think a lot of network sitcoms it’s just laughs per minute. I don’t think they even care how big the laughs are. As long as they can pack so many into that timeline. We have episodes where there’s maybe five, six minutes where nothing funny happens, but you got to keep the story compelling is what I think. We try to have a few little laughs and then try of have one sort of—one or two real big moments. I think that’s how life is.”

That lower tally in laughs doesn’t mean the ones that are there aren’t enough to make their mark. Of course, you have to be open to a fair amount of dark, sexual, and vulgar material. Still, at its core, Legit is the story of a struggling comedian who is trying to work on his craft and become a bigger comic, and through all of his flaws, and his small circle of friends that he’s either taken in or leeched onto him, become a better person.

When critics say that he’s just playing an exaggerated version of himself, and that he plays a “ruthless asshole” it scratches Jefferies the wrong way. “It’s pretty close to me and I don’t think I’m an asshole. I think even when I watch it, I think the character on the show is a pretty decent guy all in all. I think for the most part he’s not evil or anything like that. He’s an idiot, but I think the nice things he does outweighs the bad. I don’t think anyone in society is completely nice or completely bad. I think that all of us are two sides of the coin. I just hope that it’s a fair representation of guys like me. I hope I empower other sleaze bags and assholes that they can be good people as well.”

jim jefferies legit s2

In the first season Jim stumbled through his world but began to see the light when he reconnected with a friend from the past, Billy (DJ Qualls) who he hasn’t seen in a long time and suffers with muscular dystrophy. Jim showed him and his overprotective brother Steve (Dan Bakkendahl) that despite whatever life deals you, it can and should still be lived to its fullest. Sometimes those attempts resulted in tragedy, while most times, sweet victory waited for them at the end of the dark and cramped tunnel. Surprisingly, after crawling through all of the filth, there was a lot of heart and a lot of laughs. Much has been made of this odd formula, and that it’s a cocktail that features characters suffering diseases or mental disabilities and for whatever reason, that turns off some viewers, but those who really take time to watch it know that Legit treats those characters with respect, and like normal people.

He gave the character of Billy muscular dystrophy because Jefferies grew up with a friend who had the disease. “I took a guy with muscular dystrophy to a brothel before he was going to die. He was one of my best friends and he’s still alive, mind you, so that all really happened.” But because he wanted to create a full world around Billy, Jefferies wanted to populate his world with other disabled actors and offer a truer glimpse into Billy’s world. “It’s just organically where the story from my actual life started and where it built.”

As for Nick Daley, the mentally challenged actor who plays fan favorite Rodney, he is often celebrated and offers the most profound or funny moments. “I don’t think we ever do anything gratuitous or—we try to treat him like any other character on the show as one of the guys; but we also don’t make him like a sickly sorry character where you have to be sorry for him like a Hallmark movie.”

Eight episodes of the first season were largely based on Jefferies real stand up act, and that’s something he wanted to change in Season 2. “I hadn’t written a sitcom before and it was a little bit more fly by the seat of your pants,” revealed Jefferies. “This season there’s actually one episode based on a standup routine. The rest of it is a full linear story this year that we’ve organically come up with.” Jefferies admits that because of his naïvety, there were a small handful of episodes he wasn’t completely proud of. This season, there’s only one he’s not completely happy with, but he’s not telling which one on that chance that audiences like it. The new season promises several guest stars including Carrie Fisher, Bob Saget, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Eric The Midget from the Howard Stern Show, Tom Arnold and George Lazenby. That’s right, one of the James Bonds is on Legit this season.

So far the second season has Jefferies’ character has gone to therapy for his sex addiction, he might have sent one of Billy’s friends to the grave with his comedy, he dated a beautiful but vicious racist, he and Billy played chess to win back stolen goods, and Billy and Steve’s dad (John Ratzenberger) moves in. One thread that will run through the season stems from the fourth episode when he reconnected with a high school flame at his reunion who revealed a powerful secret that rocked his world. That last character, Katie Knox, (Jill Latiano) will be his love interest for the rest of the season, and is another storyline adapted from Jefferies’ life. “It’s never something that happened in my standup, but it’s something that happened to me in reality. A girl that I loved in high school I reconnected with for a very bad situation.” I caught up with Jim Jefferies to speak about the new season.

legit drunk steve

BuzzFocus: Hello, Jim. Nice to speak with you. The second season is off to a great start. 

Jim Jefferies: Thank you.

BF: When you’re basing stuff off of your real life, is there any point when you’re in the writing process where you feel like I’m just going to exorcise this out and kind of play it out as it did in real life, or do you want to change it up or kind of put it into a fantasy point where you kind of idealize the moment? 

JJ: No, I normally play it out pretty much exactly as it happened. If I can add a little bit of funny to it that didn’t happen, then I will. Sometimes you’re doing things directly from your own life, especially if they’re sad things, it’s very cathartic to actually make them into comedy, you know? But the only time I worry about it is if I’m hurting other people in my personal life. Normally I can change the name or I can change the location to say these things happened in America; they didn’t happen in Australia. There’s always enough change in it that people can even lie to themselves and go maybe he’s a talking about a different girl or different friend or a different thing.

Except for when it came to doing a storyline involving my parents and I’m using the exact dialog from what both of them have said to me in my life and some of it is a little bit harsh. My mother I know gets very upset by the whole thing because she thinks I only remember the bad bits of my childhood. I try to explain to her the bad bits are the funny bits and no one wants to watch a show about my good childhood or good things that happened to me with me and my parents. My parents have not seen the show. They’ll see it when it airs in Australia. I’m very nervous about them watching the episode that involved them, because I’m displaying a lot of their dirty laundry and maybe that’s not fair on them, but I’ve got to write a TV show for fuck’s sake.

legit steve

BF: Good luck on that. I also wanted to ask too about the “Steve” character. Like you said you really put him through the ringer this season. For the fans of Steve, including myself, is there going to be any kind of uplifting moment or at least a taste of a turnaround for him this season? 

JJ: He does have a turnaround. His life does improve right towards the very end of the season. I can’t say too much, but it’s not going to improve greatly and there’s going to be another dip for him right at the very end. If his life is going to pick up substantially, it will happen in Season 3, but at the moment no, things aren’t going good for Steve, which is sort of like where I like Steve being. Dan Bakkendahl plays two characters very well. He plays the guy in Veep that’s a complete and utter asshole, and then he plays like a bit of a loser on my show when he plays Steve. It’s sort the same way that Rowan Atkinson could always play a complete bastard on Blackout or a little weird guy of Mr. Bean. You have two gears in the opposite direction.

Dan plays an excellent drunk. I think he used to be one and he’s really channeling his past life. This season he becomes a full blown alcoholic, which progressively gets worse throughout the whole season. And not like a comedy alcoholic like from the movie Arthur, but like a real tragic figure, a guy who’s actually falling down the rabbit hole and he’s losing everything in his life. I think that’s a very interesting thing to put into a comedy, because often what you deal with addiction in comedy it is sort of a funny sort of like “here’s junky “Phil” who lives down the hallway;” but this one is the raw side of that. It’s still funny.

BF: I tend to think that he’s a very important part of the show.

JJ: For me the character Steve is even more the heart of the show than Billy is. I think most people would say that Billy is sort of the heart of the show, but the thing is I sort of explored this year about Steve is, Steve is based on a character from my life as well, the brother of the guy that had muscular dystrophy. It’s not just hard on the person with the disability. Sometimes a sibling when you have a severely disabled brother or a sister, the sibling will feel left out. They never got to go to fun parks. They never had holidays that were that exciting because they always had to have care at hand, you know what I mean? Maybe emotionally the parents didn’t care that much about whether they went to university or whatever, because they always assumed that that person was all right, and they were all right in comparison. We do explore the whole idea of what happens to the lost child in their family. What happens to the one whose dreams didn’t matter because they were so focused on making this other person’s life okay?

legit ramona

BF: That’s awesome. That’s some of the most powerful stuff on the show and sort of the most surprising aspects of the Legit. In Season 2 you want to be able to expand the scope of the series. There are some really nice moments with Walter and Ramona in the first four episodes. Will we see more and more development with these two characters, especially Ramona? 

JJ: We expanded a role for Ramona, but to be honest with you, I’ve got a bigger idea for her in Season 3, which I wanted to spin into this season, but I don’t know if we’ll go to Season 3, but I’ve got a bigger storyline than I couldn’t quite fit in for her at the moment. Walter moves into the house this season and so there’s a lot more for John Ratzenberger to do who’s in about eight episodes this season. In fact his character separates from his wife for a while and moves in the boys, so the cast of three becomes a cast of four for a few episodes. Then also in this season, my parents come over to visit, so we introduce two new characters there. It’s all about figuring out time, but you will see Ramona develop a lot this season, but not as much as you will the next season. As I said, I’ve got a big idea for her coming up.

BF: Was the expanded idea with her kind of was born out being able to see what she brought to the table in Season 1, or was it—

JJ: Sonya Eddy is a super great actress. She’s like the nicest woman in the world. Yes, of course, I want to bring her character more out of just being a nurse. It seems that whoever meets Sonya casts her as a nurse; she’s in General Hospital and I just watched her in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and she was a nurse in a nursing home there, so the storyline she has now we’re going to delve a little bit more into her personal life, her romantic life, and not so much that she’s just a carer for Billy. She’s going to become more of a rounded person. I think in the first season there was a definite feel of maybe she was just a foil to our plans that would tell us that we’re bad people or whatever, but now she’s sort of more involved directly in our plans as one of the bad people herself.

Catch all the new wrinkles in Season 2 of Legit, Wednesdays at 10pm on FXX

 

‘Justified’ Exclusive: Showrunner Graham Yost on wrapping this season, the series & ‘The Americans’

graham yost

The explosives have begun to go off in the “Year of the Crowes” FX’s Justified with just two episodes left. Art Mullen’s (Nick Searcy) been shot and his deputies need to step up while he lies on a hospital bed in critical condition. Raylan Given’s (Timothy Olyphant) struggle with the Crowe family reached the point of no return, as has the partnership between Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns). Oh and Ava (Joelle Carter) has just asserted herself as an alpha in the prison system and builds her own criminal rep. Five years in, Justified continues to help lead the pack of superb television and as always there are plenty of cogs in motion, and we’ve got Executive Producer/Showrunner Graham Yost on board to talk about this current and next year’s final season, how their writer’s room is unique, and finding time to help produce FX’s other hit winter drama, The Americans.

Buzzfocus: What’s your impression of how Season 5 has gone, what worked and what didn’t work?

Graham Yost: I really don’t read the reviews or the comments but a lot of the writers do. So I hear secondhand that the audience is done with any stand alone episodes so that’s something that will help guide us into next year. I understand that. The reality is that we’ve got the audience we’re going to get. It went up a little this year and got our highest ratings, but pretty much we’ve got who we’ve got. There are people who obviously like the show or they wouldn’t be coming back and so they’re invested in the big story and that’s going to guide us moving into next year. Overall I think the response has been pretty strong.

EDITOR’S PICK: Read our Exclusive Interview with Justified’s Art Mullen, NICK SEARCY 

Then from a writer’s room perspective?

GY: The casting of Michael Rappaport (Darryl), Alicia Witt (Wendy), Jacob Lofland (Kendal) and A.J. Buckley (Danny) as our Crowes have really worked out. One of the joys working in television is writing characters and then casting and then seeing what they do with it, then watching it and saying, ‘Ooh yeah, let’s see more of THAT!’ or ‘Let’s give that guy as much as we can.’ A.J. playing Danny really popped for us this year as did Michael and Alicia from the jump. Jacob too. So that’s something that became really fun and we wanted to keep going in that direction. A couple of episodes in we realized that our plan was going to work because these people are great.

It’s been out there now that Boyd, Wynn and others have survived their early deaths, and the direction of the show can change mid-shoot. So I wanted to know what that does in the writing process, how does it shake up the overall plan of the season? How deep do you go before you realize that you’ve got to change it up?

GY: In terms of Boyd that goes back to the very genesis of the show, when he was supposed to die in the pilot and that gave us the series with the relationship between Raylan and Boyd, everybody knows that. We also had to make a decision early on with Ava and would she be coming back. We said, yes, we loved Joelle, and what she did with the character and she became a big part of the series. A lot of the choices we’ll make between the seasons, for example, you could’ve said that Wynn Duffy died at the end of the “Hatless” episode in Season 1, but we just loved what Jere was doing–so much that well, no one pronounced him dead. So let’s keep him alive.

We’ve made decisions like that on characters as we go. Listen, Johnny Crowder was supposed to die at the end of the first season; he got shot in the stomach and that’s not supposed to be survivable. Again, unless you see someone performing the last rites or a flatline on the monitor, they’re not dead… unless they blow up. [Laughs] But we just loved what David Meunier was doing and the character was fun to write for so that became a big part of the series as well.

crowes

Each episode has so many moving parts and the culture of the Justified set is very collaborative open to input from the cast and the writers on hand during shooting. Could you explain how you’re able to manage the scope of each season? It seems like there would be a lot of re-writes along the way as these big decisions are made.

GY: Oh there’s a lot of re-writes! Some episodes will go triple-white or triple-blue, which is where we’ll go through all of the (12) shooting script colors a third time, for sure at least twice. Most of those are minor changes based on production. A lot of it is the input of the actors. Then we’ll have a little talk. Me, and writers Fred Golan, Dave Andron or whoever the writer of the episode is who’s been working with the actors. If it’s scene work, then we say fine, just inform us to what is adjusting or changing. If it’s structural, then we might all get together and discuss it. There’s been those Sunday afternoon conference calls to talk about something Tim (Olyphant) wants, or something Walton (Goggins) wants, or whatever. Can we make that work? Sometimes what happens and this is sort of my managerial mistake is I just lose sight of when they know where the story is going, how far in advance we have plotted out for them and where this particular episode is leading us.

So they might bump on something in an episode and I’ll get together with them and tell them, this is where we’re going and this is where we need to get to. Nine times out of 10, they’ll say okay, great I understand and roll on. Occasionally there are times when they don’t get that and maybe we all gather in the room and say, ‘course adjustment’. Last year we had a situation where we had a plan for the middle of the season and Tim wasn’t interested in it and rightfully so. We wound up finding a different place to go for the middle episode. This year everyone knew we had a tough juggling act this season because we had three stories running, Raylan’s, Boyd’s and Ava’s. So keeping them all moving forward was a challenge. It was difficult production-wise, script length, cost–a lot of things. As you’ll find at the end of this season, it really points the direction of where we’re going next year and you can see where things are coalescing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Read our Exclusive Interview with JOELLE CARTER about her prison blues

On that point, talk about the decision to break Ava out into her own from being a supporting character to having her own journey apart from the rest of the cast and emerging as one of THE main characters alongside Raylan and Boyd.

GY: Originally, when we were breaking Season 5, we started to have serious discussions about Season 6 as well and where we wanted the series to end up. We still don’t know–absolutely–how the series is going end up but we know the direction we’re headed in. Once we had an idea about that, then that gave us certain goals about Season 5. Without tipping anything off, there came to us a desire and feeling for the whole series to come full circle and the idea of headed back to where we began, which is the relationship between Raylan and Boyd and Ava. Those would be the central three characters of the crime story. Also we were thinking about the relationships between Raylan and Art, Raylan and his fellow deputies Rachel and Tim, and how all of that would come into play, plus Wynn Duffy. Once we got a notion of where we could go next year, that helped guide us this year. Part of it was that we knew that Ava was going to jail. What could we do with that? What could her experience be over the course of the year? That would then set us up for where we wanted to go next year.

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It’s so creative what you guys have done so far and how each episode takes a life of its own. If you lay out all of the episodes, you’ve even structured the flow of the seasons differently, placing the climax at different points of the season, as well as moving the emotional peak. Looking back, was that something that was by design?

GY: I think that was always in the plan, just in the nature of the show. A lot of that goes back to our father, our mentor, our guiding star in all of this, which is Elmore Leonard. One of the great thing about his writing was that it was endlessly surprising. Now, the reality is if you read 20 of his books, you can see certain patterns emerge, and ultimately it’s not as surprising, you know? Something is going to happen and that in of itself can be a trap. But when we’re dealing with television, our feeling was that we could make it to the end of six seasons without repeating ourselves too much.

We have repeated ourselves, but usually with a spin on it, but that was always our fear. We just never wanted to be treading water, or going over old territory, which is why you’ll see starting with Season 4, Raylan and Boyd don’t cross paths that much. We’d done so many Raylan and Boyd scenes, how could we do it differently this time? So that was a big choice. That hamstrings us to a degree, because we know the audience wants those scenes but they don’t want to be bored by them. That’s been a difficult path to chart.

So many great characters have emerged from the background, like Dewey (Damon Herriman) this year, Ellen May (Abby Miller) and Shelby (Jim Beaver) last year. It’s no secret that two characters fans want to see more of is Rachel (Erica Tazel) and Tim (Jacob Pitts). Will we get to see the spotlight put on either of them by season 6?

GY: Yes. Season 5 was a slim year for them. You will see in the last run of episodes 11, 12, and 13 them being a bigger part of the story. At the end of the season there’s something pointing forward especially with Rachel, but Tim will come along as well.

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So I’d like you to speak with you about these suspenseful standoffs where sometimes people get shot, sometimes not. Can you talk about creating these moments? 

GY: Part of that was in the original plan of the series that was the marching orders of FX Network president John Landgraf in the first season where he said he’d like there to be a showdown in every episode. That can take different forms, and it doesn’t have to be in the fourth act. We talked in Season 2 at the end of I think the fifth episode, where Raylan is talking to Loretta (Kaitlyn Dever) and there’s a showdown in that. He’s offering help and she’s pushing back. Will she take the cell phone that he’s giving her and that’s the showdown. Will he accomplish what he wants? He does.

Then we get the diner sequence this season in episode 505: Shot to Hell, which was so intense.

GY: The one between Art, Wynn Duffy, Picker (John Kapelos), and the hit man from Detroit Elias Marcos (Alan Tudyk) and the worst bodyguard in the world, Mike (Jonathan Kowalsky). [Chuckles] That became the center point of the episode in many ways. Boyd had his shenanigans going on in the episode as well with Paxton, Mooney and raising the dead. When Chris Provenzano turned in that scene, that’s it, minor tweak here and there but that is a great scene. Those are fun to write, and when we get a great director, in that case it was Adam Arkin, and those great actors, it’s really a fun five-six minutes of television.

I think these are some of Justified’s best moments, but you’ve also managed to keep them fresh, how so?

GY: Another thing that goes back to Elmore and this is one of Tim’s formulations and he says in a lot of Elmore’s writing someone is either going to get fucked or someone’s going to get fucked. Sometimes there will be a sexual tension, and is the hero going to bed down with a woman he just met? The other version, is someone going to die in this scene? And you just don’t know. These people are able to do anything at any time.

So for us that means we have to have new characters coming to the show so the audience doesn’t know who’s going to live and who’s going to die. If you keep doing Raylan Boyd, Raylan and Ava, Boyd and Ava… you know there’s not going to die [pauses] at least through season five, although we’ve had some dramatic exits in Season 5. The difference becomes in Season 6, to a degree, everything is up for grabs and we’ll see how that plays out. We do want that sense in Season 6 that, ‘Oh dear God, anyone can die at any moment’. Probably not Raylan, but it’s always a danger. By the way, Raylan might and we haven’t figured that out yet.

That’s nuts, because when I spoke to both Joelle about Ava and Nick about Art respectively, for this season I expressed my fear for their characters as the way the season has been dovetailing. There are rumors that a dramatic death will close out the season, but honestly, that could happen at any point, given how we discussed the way you’ve changed the formula each year. So the show has created this dangerous climate.

GY: Mm-hmm. Yeah and we like to use that with the actors. If Nick (Searcy) is giving me any grief, I’ll tell him, ‘Buddy, this is a cop show, anyone can die at any time.’ Then Nick punches me in the face, then we go on our merry way. [Laughs] No. That it can go sideways at any point is part of the Elmore effect.

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What time do you get to work on The Americans?

GY: Unfortunately, we have the same schedule so it can get a little crazy at times, especially in January and February when both shows are headed towards the conclusion of their seasons and the schedules get tighter. I’m a producer on The Americans so I’m not a writer. That’s all Joe Wesiberg and Joel Fields, Josh Brand, and Stu Zicherman and their great team. Especially in the first season Joe and Joel would call if they had questions about the network or about production or whatever and I would give my experience if not my advice. But they’ve got a lot more experience now so those calls have become fewer. Now it’s basically hearing the pitches along with Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey from Dreamworks, give whatever comments we have and watch the cuts and they’re free to take them or not. That’s the life of a non-writing producers.

As a collective you all deserve kudos on that show, especially for being one of the only folks in Hollywood to find a way to make the Russians the good guys.

GY: Yeah, someone said that you’re rooting for them to lose but you’re rooting for the marriage and the family to survive. I think that was one of John Landgraf’s original formulations for the show. Joe really took that to heart. So he’s created this great marriage-and-family drama as well as a great spy show. They’re the bad the guys and yet they don’t see themselves that way, at least not yet.

Even though it’s a period show, do you keep an eye as to what’s going on currently in Russia and Ukraine, not to bleed into the show, but perhaps you are monitoring the developments?

GY: Well, you’d have to ask Joe and Joel about that? I know it is a period show and there are echoes that come up in the present, but they don’t like to hit those over the head. One truth about Russia I remember years ago writing about the KGB back before I was really writing scripts, was that it’s a country with an incredibly powerful secret police since the time of Peter the Great, whether it’s the NVKD, the KGB, or I forget what they call it now but it’s always been that way at least for 500 years. So there’s a degree to which whether it’s Communists, or Klepto-Capitalists, or whatever, there’s a certain character of how things worked there for quite a long time that holds true to today, considering (Vladimir) Putin was a KGB Officer – things haven’t changed.

The women characters on the shows on Justified and The Americans are written so well, and you have some great women working on each staff, Ingrid Escajeda, Jennifer Kennedy (and Wendy Calhoun in the past) on Justified. Can you talk about how much they put into those characters?

GY: I think it’d be kind of I don’t know if the correct term would be sexist, like if we had a scene with Ava, maybe we should have Ingrid or Jennifer take a look at it. But both Ingrid and Jennifer are good writers and can write stuff that’s hard boiled as well. We have a lot of male writers (Benjamin Cavell, Taylor Elmore, Dave Andron to name a few) can write great stuff for Winona, Ava, Katharine Hale, so we all write everything.

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Tell me about Mary Steenburgen’s character Katherine Hale and how such a sweet woman found a way into Wynn Duffy’s heart.

GY: [Laughs] You’ve found out a little information in these last two episodes. She’s not in episode 12, but she has a significant scene towards the end of episode 13 and that’s all I’ll say. You’ll find out more and more about what her position was in her late husband’s criminal enterprise. That also points towards the last season. As I said earlier in planning Season 5 we were thinking about Season 6, so we’re thinking in the sense it’s all one big story. Season 5 is the Year of the Crowes and in 6, we’d sort of bring it all down. We needed to have something big and criminal going on and Katharine Hale will have a big part of that.

Mary’s scenes are so rich and she’s always excellent in whatever she does whether it’s Wilfred or Last Vegas. She knows how to draw you into her lacework, so I can see what Wynn finds in her. 

GY: Mary wasn’t that familiar with the show or with Elmore, but her husband Ted (Danson) is a big fan of Elmore. That helped us get her and her son is a fan of the series so she got talked into it. I think she enjoys playing the part of someone who on the surface is a sweet, southern belle, but is ultimately quite lethal.

Now looking back is it strange that Arlo may have had an anchoring effect on Raylan? It seems like having that soul-sucking force in his life kept him somewhat on the straight and narrow. Now he seems a little rudderless, staying away from Winona and the baby, and fighting with Art. 

GY: That’s the story of the season and that’s one of the big stories for the rest of the series–the fallout with Art–there’s a future episode where he talks about him being the one guy he cares about. Well, he cares about Winona and the baby too, but there’s a lot of meaning in what he says. That relationship couldn’t have fractured as much if Arlo was still around in a way. I don’t know if we’d have room in the story. But with Arlo gone, there is sort of a vacuum and now he’s fighting Art.

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Before we wrap, is there a chance that Limehouse makes an appearance this season or next?

GY: As we saw with his conversation with Dewey and Raylan, I always said I couldn’t imagine the series ending without seeing Dickie Bennett again. I couldn’t imagine this series ending without seeing Limehouse.

Are we ever going to see Boyd have something go right for him?

GY: [Laughs] This season? Listen, I think Boyd’s story is always about things going right and then there are ramifications for those things going right and now there’s a new set of problems. I think the same holds true with Ava. The only character who has a more of an unblemished win is Raylan but even his story–the end of last season he conspired to murder the guy who tried to kill his family. That’s some success but there’s a lot of fallout from that. That’s always part of the fun of the story for us is that nnnnothing ever works out perfectly for any of these people. There’s always a cost.

There are two episodes left in the current season of Justified, tune in Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/u5mboCBLtvs[/youtube]

Exclusive ‘Archer Vice’ Interview: Jessica Walter Walks The Talk

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In this wild and wacky season of Archer Vice, ISIS matriarch, Malory (Jessica Walter) has endured her role as the plot pusher, but she’s also taken more of a supportive role this season. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t had her set of conflicts to deal with. She is desperately trying to find a way to make money off of the shit-ton of cocaine they have stashed in the Tunt Manor, but it’s dwindling because Pam (Amber Nash) keeps eating it. Now she has been forced her to milk what she can of Cheryl’s (Judy Greer) talents singing country songs as her latest alter ego, Cherlene.

If that’s not enough, Malory has also been dumped by her husband, Ron Cadillac (played by Walter’s real life husband, Ron Leibman), is reminding Lana (Aisha Tyler) of the mistake she has growing in her belly and for two episodes thought Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Ray (Adam Reed) were lost in Colombia. Can a lady get a spa day? Well, she had just that in last night’s episode, “The Rules of Extraction” thanks to the quick… and rather strange improvisation by Cherlene and Pam. We spoke to Jessica Walter on a spa day of her own about Archer Vice, Arrested Development, Jennifer Falls and the Renaissance of television.

There’s interesting dialogue being muttered about between fans about the direction of the show and the choice to go in a more serial form with the writing. It’s much more dramatic this season in a way.

JW: Yeah, well you know, (our little ISIS group) is very desperate. They’re more desperate than ever. Out of that desperation–even though it is seems so serious and dramatic–is where the comedy comes from. If you don’t have real desperation, you don’t have real comedy. It is much more serialized than the first couple seasons, where each episode was almost unto itself, yet I still don’t think you need to see every episode to know what’s happening.

True. It’s interesting because there was a similar dialogue in the last season of Arrested Development, where the first Netflix season (series’ fourth) was more of a character spotlight.

JW: Although with Arrested, we brought you back to one of the scenes of the first episode, with nine different points of view, and then that point of view would be brought back up again and again and again in the character’s episodes. So you always went back to the beginning even though each character went in a different direction from each other.

In this season of Archer, supporting characters like Cherlene and Pam

JW: How about Pam’s laugh?

That cackle is priceless.

JW: Ohhh God. It kills me every time. She is so brilliant. They both are, Judy and Amber.

archer supporting

What do you think about those two characters come to the front of the stage while Archer mainstays like Sterling, Lana, and Malory have very specific supporting roles? 

JW: Every series – and I’ve been in a lot of them and I’ve certainly watched a lot of them – that goes for a long period (which we are headed into Season 6 and 7) it has to be, at one time or another, where characters go on the back burner while others develop or else it would be really boring. I think the same thing happened with Arrested over the three-year period. There was different emphasis on different characters that were brought to the fore, and it has to be that way. If it isn’t, the show is not long for the world. I think it’s absolutely great. I like Malory especially because she’s always advancing the plot. You always know what’s happening and I like doing that personally; it’s so crisp and clear. [In Malory’s tone] “We’re going to do this, and you will…” I just think Adam Reed and Matt Thompson are just so brilliant as far as letting each character shine. Krieger and the wonderful Lucky Yates (who voices him) has come to the fore. It should be that way, because that’s what an ensemble is.

With Arrested you had Jason (Bateman) in the center everyone like a satellite orbiting around him. Here you have Archer in the middle with everyone like a satellite. Luckily we have H. Jon Benjamin for Archer and Jason for Arrested who play so brilliantly with the other people. It was like Mary Tyler Moore when she had all of those characters around her, and different episodes would feature different characters, and the spotlight would go on certain characters for an arc, then it would go back to other characters for an arc. That’s the construction of a successful series has to be that way especially when you’re getting to a season 6 of a series.

When we spoke to Amber a few weeks ago, she had mentioned to me that prior to taping the last two episodes that there are still some bit questions left unanswered and there’s a possibility of ISIS still being dissolved, that the question of ‘what’s the future of ISIS’ and how are they going to survive, could still be in play at season’s end. I don’t want you to confirm that, but what do you think of rolling with this concept for another season?

JW: I’m not sure what they have planned, but I know it’s not going to be boring. That much I can tell you. [Laughs] I know that they’re considering a couple of different directions but it’s not for me to say and that wouldn’t be nice.

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What’s your routine or ritual for preparing to record for each episode? Do you have to mentally prepare for a day’s work as Malory Archer?

JW: Yes! The first thing what I do is once the script is delivered, I really work on it the night before. If I work on it two or three days before, it’s not fresh in my mind when I go in on the morning. I read the whole script to myself and try to understand what’s going on in the episode. What’s the goal of the characters? I work on it as if I was doing work in front of the camera. Before I go to the session, I vocalize so that my voice is warmed up and hopefully it’s at its proper level to do Malory. That way you don’t misuse your voice. There’s a lot of screaming in Archer, especially the female characters. [Does a sample screech that trails off] You ought to warm up your voice so you don’t do damage to your chords.

How much recovery time do you need from a session?

JW: We don’t have to scream to the point of wrecking our voices, but I always ask to do the save the screams for the end. So we put off those pages because I don’t want to injure my voice with a half hour to go in the session.

Did you expect to be doing such heavy lifting in voice acting? 

JW: Three seasons ago, I was in Anything Goes on Broadway singing and dancing and that was eight times a week.

That is awesome!

JW: My engines are revved and they’ll be revved until the day I die. If I didn’t feel like the top of my game, I wouldn’t accept a job. I wouldn’t. So hopefully, I’m knocking on wood in my office here, [Laughs] it’ll keep up that way. I actually just did a pilot that sold for TV Land called Jennifer Falls meaning “falls down.” Jaime Pressly plays Jennifer and I’m her mother. (Ed. Note: It also stars Jeffrey Tambor, Ethan Suplee, and Missi Pyle). So I’m going out at the end of March to film nine episodes plus the pilot, it’ll be a total of 10 episodes.  That’s a half hour and it’s TV Land’s first single-camera show. They’re very excited and so are we!

Does playing these two characters that speak with forked tongues help find that energy you exert for Malory and Lucile?

JW: I guess. I think I sort of have that energy in whatever roles I’ve done. Maybe with animation you have to have some extra energy in the booth. If we were on camera doing Archer, it would be way over the top. I think there’s an animation energy you have to have. I think I just have a lot of energy and it must translate.

Let’s talk about the landscape of television for a bit and how everyone is buzzing about it in recent years. They say we’re in a Renaissance period, what’s your feeling on that? Do you think believe that?

JW: When I was coming up, I didn’t come up in the ’50s. I was still a kid, but they talk about the ’50s being the Golden Age with Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and Alcoa Presents and all of those shows and live dramas. When I was coming up in the 60s and 70s, we didn’t have non-scripted television. In the 60s a series would be 39 episodes or more, then it went down to 26, then 22. Then 15, some 12, 10 or six. Younger folks today don’t realize all of the hours of work that they’ve done away with because of game shows and reality television. All of the writers and crews, there’s a lot less work because of what’s happened. That I see, and I remember when it wasn’t that way. So to me that’s not a good thing for all of the creative people. It’s good for the networks, but it’s much less work for the writers, crews, directors, and actors.

That’s a valid point. People concentrate on the actors but each of the scripted shows employs more people behind the camera along with all of the work in post-production–

JW: But everyone sees the change with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Having been one of the lucky people on a semi-original programming on Netflix (since we did do episodes of Arrested) and that’s a whole new avenue. I’m absolutely hooked on House of Cards, and also with Netflix, if you want to watch a documentary, you just go that category. I’m a member of the Academy so I don’t utilize these platforms for streaming movies, but wow, there’s so much to see. HBO’s been doing it with series dating back to the Sopranos. Look at what TV Land is doing it and they used to only air reruns. Archer is on FX and I love working for them, so I would say we’re in a Renaissance period, definitely. But there’s Renaissances, and then there’s the Renaissances. It’s an analogy but my little neighborhood in the Upper West Side went through a period like this about 20 years ago. Amsterdam Avenue was a mess, Columbus was a mess and now it’s sought after real estate.

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Who’s a better mother, Lucile or Malory?

JW: Oh god… I can’t be disloyal to either one of them because I love them both. It’s like your children, I only have one but if I had two I couldn’t say.

That’s a fair answer. 

JW: [Laughs] One has gray hair and the other wouldn’t let her hair go gray.

What was it like working with Liza Minnelli?

JW: Liza’s a legend, she’s great and full of pep! And there she was during the Academy Awards!

It’s easy to rattle off memorable dramas, but finding more than a handful of comedies that made an impact makes one pause and really think about the short list. What’s your take on being a part two shows that have been in the conversation as being a part of the upper echelon of comedy?

JW: I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of Archer and Arrested Development. It’s the writers! If it ain’t on the page, it’s ain’t on the stage is my theory. So that’s how I look at it. Adam Reed is brilliant and Mitch Hurwitz is a genius! I’m grateful.

What’s it like playing the foil? 

JW: It’s better than playing vanilla ice cream! The juiciest parts are the villains and villanesses.

Well on Archer you never know who is going to be the foil.

JW: Right. Everybody gets their chance to be the foil.

Have you been able to play villains on stage?

JW: Interestingly, not that much. In the 80s I was in Rumors, a Neil Simon play with my husband Ron Leibman and I was sort of a villain there. I don’t know I have rarely played the gal sits at homestead while the hero gallops into the sunset if ever.

Speaking of Ron…

JW: Ron left Malory, but he’s still around.

Has that changed the dynamic in the household?

JW: [Laughs] No.

So you’ll get through this.

We’ve worked a lot together. We have each other’s back, let’s put it that way. [Changing to a hopeful tone] Who knows… he could always come back…

Here’s hoping Malory gets something to smile about. Watch Archer Vice Monday nights at 10pm on FX.

 

Exclusive ‘Justified’ Interview with Nick Searcy: Mullen Over Art

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If you’ve been watching the fifth season of Justified then you know one of the subplots is observing the relationship between Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) and his work-dad and boss, Deputy Art Mullen (Nick Searcy) disintegrate after Raylan confesses his role in the murder of one of Theo Tonin’s henchman. Art’s response to Raylan’s disclosure was connecting a right hook to his marshal’s face. Since then, things have been icy and Raylan has gone as far to request a transfer out of Kentucky. It may not be as fun as hunting Drew Thompson, but Art has had a volatile season so far including being a part of one of the most intense scenes in the show’s run. We caught up with actor and “Acting School Teacher” Nick Searcy to talk about the latest season of Justified.

Art appears to be the only US Marshal showing some ambition in terms or doing his job right and he’s nearly at retirement. Why is that?

Well I am not so sure it’s Art’s ambition that drives him to do what he does, or to conduct his business the way he does as much as it is his sense of right and wrong. I think with Art, he was a lot like Raylan when he was a younger marshal, and he was reckless like Raylan was, which is part of the reason of why he identifies with him, and understands him so well. But as he’s gotten older, Art’s realized that taking those short cuts ultimately lead to disaster. I think that’s why it seems like he’s more of the grown-up in the room. His experience has taught him that even when it seems like the shortcut to getting the bad guy is the right thing to do, the consequences of that action are beyond what you can actually exceed.

I’ve watched your Acting School web videos–

NS: [Laughs] Well good, you’re a better man for it.

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I feel like it. Now in the final episode of Season 1, you lay into the Justified writers’ room. Do you think that any of this season’s story is the result of that beatdown?

NS: Well, they haven’t made me run, so I think I’ve cured them of that. [Laughs] You know that was so much fun to shoot and the writers and Graham (Yost) were great in participating in that with me. After five years on the show, especially with these writers, we’ve all become closer friends than what would happen on some other shows. It’s because the writers are always with us. They’re always on set with us just in case there’s things that bother us, or things that we want to change, or ideas that we have. Everybody’s there so we can talk about it, that way the decision can be made without anyone getting mad because they weren’t involved.

Is that a vastly different process than anything you’ve done before in television?

NS: Well it’s certainly different than most things that I’ve done. It depends on the format, if you’re doing a half-hour sitcom there are 20 writers around every minute [Laughs].  Usually, if you’re doing a single-camera drama like Justified, usually the writer isn’t there, that’s been my experience in the past. That may be changing, but this is the first show I’ve been on where that’s been a mainstay.

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What I like finding out is how much development in crafting a scene in Justified is done organically, that the script is a launching point and then becomes a collaborative effort by all of the parties involved to find the best way to do that scene. It’s very innovative.

NS: Yeah, I think so. It’s really important that they’ve involved the actors in the process, because I think it helps things. Even if you ultimately end up not changing the script as written, but you talk about it and the act of letting the actor be heard about what he has to do, makes everything better. I think it speaks to a deeper understanding of the material, the scene and ultimately, it makes the show better.

Is there any interest to jump behind the camera and directing an episode of Justified?

NS: Well… [sighs] I’m just so in demand in front of the camera, that it’s just so hard to imagine being behind it. [Laughs] You know, I directed an independent film in the 90s called Paradise Falls and we won six film festivals and never sold it, it took a year of my life and I kept remembering while I was doing it, ‘I really liked that job where I would sit and wait in that little trailer and waited to say my five or six lines and griped about what was on the craft service tables. I want THAT job back.’ [Laughs] An actor was all I ever wanted to be in life, and while I enjoyed directing, as long as I can keep acting that’s what I would prefer. If someone knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted to direct an episode of Justified, I’d probably say yes. But I have other things that I’m pursuing. I have my acting school to worry about. [Laughs]

EDITOR’S NOTE: Joelle Carter talks about Season 5 of JUSTIFIED

Why do you think Justified remains a TV secret that you do have to remind people that it’s on. 

NS: I think in some ways Justified is a fairly sophisticated show. It’s a blend of humor and drama that you don’t get very often. It’s a very exciting sort of action show but it’s also really funny. I don’t mean silly funny; I mean it’s deeply humorous. It’s too complicated for some people. I’m not sure exactly why; I’m just thankful that enough of an audience has found it that FX is very pleased with it and keeps it going. In the TV business it’s a pass/fail business and we’re passing – that’s all I know.

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How has the set changed since Elmore Leonard’s passing? Can you feel or sense a difference?

NS: I don’t think the change is tangible. There was a sense when Elmore was alive and writing, our writers were always able to pull storylines and situations from Elmore’s writing and just literally put them in the show. There’s a sense that we’re all on our own now. We’re taking the idea of this world that Elmore created and we have to run with it now. There’s still a great deal of responsibility and reverence and certainly every effort is made to honor his work and to keep it in the spirit he wrote in. I think for the most part we’re successful but it is more difficult now.

You were in one of the most memorable scenes in the old man foot chase with Scott Wilson (Walking Dead) playing Frank Reasoner (Walking Dead) in episode 206: Blaze of Glory, the greatest foot chase in television history. Where does that rank among your memories of the show?

NS: Well, it’s definitely up there. Working with Scott is great, he’s a great actor. Another one of my fondest memories is working with director Jon Avnet, who directed Fried Green Tomatoes, which was basically my big break. He gave me a part when I was still living in North Carolina, which was definitely meant for a Hollywood star, and that kind of put me on the map. I always ask Jon if they refer to him as the man who discovered Nick Searcy. [Laughs] Getting to work with Jon on that episode was terrific because when that script came out I called Jon and I said, ‘Look, can we elongate that chase as much as possible, because this could be really hilarious. Let’s make a big thing out of this.’ Jon replied, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea.’ I think Jon’s original cut of that scene was even longer than what’s in the episode [Laughs] he loved it so much. It’s just a great idea. There’s something noble, sad, and funny. It’s just a rich, rich moment. Those kind of scenes don’t come around everyday. Along with the diner scene in this season and the episode 302: Cut Ties where I beat up a guy to get him to tell me where the guy who killed the marshal was.

Art Mullen has become one of the most beloved characters, why do you think that is?

NS: Well I think with a character like Raylan, who has such a checkered family history, it’s natural to gravitate towards Art as the only sane father figure he’s ever had. I think that’s why people love Art. It’s not only because of Art’s sense of humor, because Art’s very funny. It’s also because Art is such a decent person at the bottom of it and I think that’s what people respond to. Underneath all of the gruffness and the sarcasm and the jokes, there’s a real decent man with his heart in the right place who Raylan needs desperately.

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What’s your favorite storyline that Art isn’t involved in this season?

NS: Hmm. [Laughs] I can’t think of one. No. I love the Dewey Crowe story. I’ve loved Dewey from the beginning and I think he’s a great character and is played beautifully by Damon Herriman. I just love every minute he’s on the screen. When I get the scripts, I only read my parts so I don’t know what’s going to happen to him, so I’m kind of fascinated by it.

There are these intense standoffs in the show and you had this great one this season in episode 505: Shot All to Hell with Jere Burns (Wynn Duffy), John Kapelos (Picker), Jonathan Kowalsky (Mike) and Alan Tudyk (Elias Marcos), can you talk about how that scene came together?

NS: Well that scene was written by Chris Provenzana and a scene with that many variables and that many characters has to be tightly scripted and it was. There was a lot of leeway in certain scenes of the show, especially where it’s Raylan and Art and we can play with it to add humor. But that diner scene has to be tightly choreographed because of all of the elements in it. So that was just a really well-written scene, executed perfectly… by myself. [Laughs]

How long does it take to shoot that scene?

NS: That whole sequence from me waiting in the car through the diner scene took a day. In television, especially in a scene like that, you’re going to have multiple cameras wiring that day and we’re going to shoot three cameras in four different directions and be done with it.

Compare that to the shoot out sequence later in that same episode where Art and Raylan are seemingly outgunned by Marcos. 

NS: That again has a lot of elements and moving parts and firearms so you have to take the extra time for safety measures. That takes some time, and in fact, took a whole day to shoot too and it probably lasted about a minute and a half on the screen. You’ve got multiple cameras again because you don’t want to do the firearms stuff too many times.

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I can only speak for myself, although I do believe there is trepidation from the fans that Art’s been speaking about retirement an awful lot, perhaps so much that he is in danger. Can you assuage any fears viewers may have for Art?

NS: Well… [Laughs] that’s an impossible question for me to answer because to answer it at all, would be giving it away.

Well, I’m praying for your character

NS: They’ve written me a lot of great stuff this season like they always do and we’re having a great time with it, and just so you know, and so everybody else knows, they cannot do Justified without Art Mullen; it’s not possible. Just bear that in mind no matter what happens. [Laughs] I tell the writers that every single day.

See if Art makes it out of Justified Season 5… alive Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX.