What Hollywood Earns
Covering The Race
THR Roundtable: Claire Danes, Julianna Margulies, Keri Russell on Explicit Sex Scenes, Crazy Fans and Lactating on George Clooney
This story first appeared in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
You'd never know from their instant rapport and freely shared advice (tip: wearing the same workout clothes every day keeps the New York paparazzi away) that this year's drama actress roundtable participants actually are one another's biggest competitors. Among the stress of landing TV's most coveted lead roles, making time for film work on hiatus (and sometimes losing roles to one another) and maintaining a normal life at home, being a working actress never has been more difficult -- or, to hear them say it, more gratifying. Inside a studio in New York's Chelsea neighborhood on a recent Saturday afternoon, The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies, 47; Homeland's Claire Danes, 35; Mad Men's Jessica Pare, 33; The Americans' Keri Russell, 38; American Horror Story: Coven's Sarah Paulson, 38; and Bates Motel's Vera Farmiga, 40, opened up about their biggest self-critiques, the horror of doing sex scenes while pregnant and exactly what they'd do if they stopped acting (hint: it involves chocolate macaroons).
How much pressure do you feel on your shows to deliver shocking moments?
JULIANNA MARGULIES: I don't know if there's pressure to be shocking because on our show, we're actually a little bit limited by being on broadcast television. We knew that Josh Charles wanted to leave The Good Wife, and my character is so connected to his character that there was no way for him to walk off into the sunset or get a job in Ohio where I wouldn't follow him. So the only way for my character -- and to allow other people to come on the show -- to have any kind of romance would be to make a final choice so [drastic] that poor Josh could never come back. He's dead now! But I think what it did was definitely elevate the stakes for us. I don't think they'd have to do this on cable, but we actually had to ask permission if we could kill his character, Will Gardner.
Permission from whom?
MARGULIES: CBS. I think [CBS Entertainment president] Nina Tassler and [CBS chairman] Leslie Moonves had to OK it, but they loved the idea. They thought it allowed us to keep the show going, but I don't think we can ever quite be as twisty and turny without it getting soap opera-y on [broadcast] TV for some reason, because we have to spread it out for 22 episodes.
JESSICA PARE: Right.
MARGULIES: You can do a twist and a turn for two episodes, but if you do it constantly, then you end up with a nighttime soap, and that's what we want to stay away from.
Keri, speaking of shocking, there was a pretty explicit sex scene in the season-two premiere of The Americans featuring yours and Matthew Rhys' characters performing oral sex on each other.
KERI RUSSELL: I'd like to re-create it right now for you. (Laughs.) I actually fought against that scene. I just didn't know if that was the best emotional place for those characters. I wondered if there was a different physical act that could be happening other than that one. But they thought that it had to be something that the daughter was walking in on that was so much more graphic than just sex and then keep her from walking in again. It's funny, though; sex has never been something I've done in my career -- at all. But I don't mind it on this show. It may be the nature of them being spies helps inform the characters. It's not sexuality for sexuality's sake.
Claire, how difficult for you was the death of Damian Lewis' character, Brody, at the end of Homeland's last season?
SARAH PAULSON: Oh, I can't even talk about that. Not that you're asking me!
RUSSELL: You ask me, that was the hardest to deal with!
CLAIRE DANES: [Killing him] was supposed to happen in the second season. Then the Carrie-Brody relationship became so captivating for audiences that Showtime wanted to extend it. We had been anticipating the finale for quite a while. We shot the scene [where Brody is hanged] on our final day working in Morocco. It was all very heightened, literally. The crane broke at one point. I still don't think I've really processed it. I go back to work in a month, and I think it'll occur to me then that he's really gone. It'll be a very different environment when we return and Damian, whom I love, isn't there.
VERA FARMIGA: The Bates Motel audience thrives on those plot points and twists, too. We started with very high stakes; this backward exploration of the great American tragedy, where the son kills the mother. But those are actually my least favorite moments to play as an actress. "Your brother's showing up on your doorstep and you have a history of incest. Go!" My favorite moments are the more restrained moments.
PARE: There's also something happening in television similar to what happened in the '80s, when people stopped taking so many drugs and wanted to hear real instruments in music again. I think people want plot, story and characters. Those are more important than having a big star.
There has been chatter that your Mad Men character, Megan, is going to be killed by the Manson family or that she's going to light her house on fire. Do you talk with creator Matthew Weiner about these theories?
PARE: I hadn't heard those! First of all, Matt wouldn't tell me. We're all so secretive about the show, and it's best that way. The writing is so great; there's so much between the lines that it's actually best viewed unspoiled. It's a great exercise as an actor to do what's on the page, but not more and not less. I don't know what's coming, so I don't want to act myself out of a better storyline.
What is your biggest self-critique when you watch your performances?
PAULSON: Do you have a week to sit here? No, I get frustrated when I haven't asked for another take. I get really panicked sometimes when I can feel the clock going. We're all under the gun; our show's very expensive. There's never enough time. So when I watch something and think, "I just knew I was full of shit in a scene," and they used it, I wish I had asked for another one. And sometimes, depending on whom I'm working with, and if I'm more terrified and feel small and less than, I will definitely not ask for another take. But sometimes, I think the comfort of being on a show for a while [means] I can look over at James, our camera operator, and say, "Can I please have another one?" And he'll find a way to help me out, which I never can do on a movie -- ever.
What's been your most challenging moment so far on American Horror Story?
PAULSON: I would say in season two, it was twofold: One, when I had to simulate performing an abortion on myself, and two, playing a 75-year-old woman. That was very hard. And it was very important to me to kind of hold on to who the character of Lana Winters was as an older person, not just go into a kind of caricature. Also, I had the crazy makeup on that was terrifying, and I sent the photograph to my mother, and I was like: "I guess you'll never see this. This is me at 75!" (Laughter.)
What was the most difficult phase of your career?
MARGULIES: OK, I'll start: [2002's] Ghost Ship. It had been written as a psychological thriller about what happens when you have too much of something -- money is evil, greed, and these two people start going crazy -- so I said yes! It was a big Warner Bros. picture. I was the lead with Gabriel Byrne. Then I got off the plane in Australia and the script had totally changed. Suddenly, I was in a really awful horror movie, and it was shocking.
Did you blame anybody?
MARGULIES: No. Whom do you blame? I think you get back up and go, "Maybe there's a better one down the road." And I'm huge in Japan. (Laughter.) I don't think there's anything you can do except be disappointed for a minute and move on.
DANES: I went through a period in my mid- to late-20s when I was transitioning out of that ingenue period, which I was very grateful to be doing. But I was playing a lot of roles where I was defined by my love for some guy, and that got really tedious. I mean, I love love and falling in love, but it can get pretty flat real fast. Then I did Temple Grandin, which was such a blessing because it was so antithetical to any ingenue role. I felt stretched, inspired and robust. Then there was just nothing again, and that was almost harder. I really didn't have any tolerance for a limited kind of secondary role. I had to wait for Carrie on Homeland. She was the first character who could match Temple's dynamism. It was the first time I was scared into action, and that felt great.
PAULSON: For me, it was after [NBC's] Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip [was canceled]. Everyone on the show thought it was going to be this thing, and it didn't become anything. I didn't work for two years, and then I moved back to New York …
DANES: It's crushing.
PAULSON: And it's really hard. It was not only my expectations I was dealing with; I was dealing with everybody else's expectations about something that was disappointing for them, too. So I went back to New York and did some plays that nobody saw, and that was fine. Then some casting director came to see a play, and then I did a movie called Martha Marcy May Marlene, which kind of put things back on track.
DANES: I think you work for long enough, too, and you start to realize that working for working's sake is counterproductive. I realized that that wasn't really an option anymore, so I had to just wait, but that's so painful.
PAULSON: It's an act of faith to have that kind of patience and also a certain willingness to believe that you have something to offer. But if it doesn't, what does it mean? Where will you go? And what will you do? And will you find a home?
PARE: Sounds like me!
Keri, you had a lot of success at a young age. Did you feel a lot of pressure coming off a hit network show like Felicity?
RUSSELL: No. I just didn't want to work anymore after that. I was just tired. I think for me, I was younger, and I didn't like it enough. It felt life-arresting on many levels. I wasn't experiencing life. I wanted to read books, travel, be a kid for a minute, so that's what I did. I left L.A., which didn't feel good to me anymore. I had this great apartment in New York, and I just took over a year off. I got to show up to birthday parties, go out dancing with girls and walk home in the snow. I have to fill myself up, and that's not what my experience of network TV was. It was really hard to be that young.
FARMIGA: There was a point in my career where there was a wonderful [Oscar] nomination [for Up in the Air], but no work came. And the kinds of things that were landing on my table were things that potentially could have had a really big cheese factor. The Conjuring was that. But it's just a matter of application, the spin you put on it. [Editor's note: The Conjuring earned strong reviews and made $318 million worldwide.] And Bates could have been horribly wrong, and at first I scoffed. But after the third page, I thought, "OK, there's something here."
And Carlton Cuse said he and Kerry Ehrin had you in mind when he was writing it.
FARMIGA: They all say that. You find out later they offered it to Cate Blanchett! (Laughs.) No, I believe him.
What's the most physically demanding thing you've had to do onscreen?
DANES: Working while pregnant.
DANES: I was pregnant for the second season of Homeland, and as my baby progressed, the show got more action-packed. At one point, we were shooting in an old sewage factory. I was kidnapped, I was chained to a pipe, it was 4 a.m., I was 7½ months pregnant, and I was like, "This sucks." They were like, "Sorry!" At one point, the baby was on my sciatic nerve, and I was charging down the halls of pretend Langley. I also had to do love scenes pregnant.
RUSSELL: Yeah. It's creepy when your belly's up against them. You're like, "This is wrong."
DANES: At the very end, I was a month and a half shy of popping, and I was doing a romantic scene.
RUSSELL: Oh my God.
DANES: And Cyrus was really active. It was late at night, it was after dinner, and [my son] was going crazy in my belly. It was like he was protesting on my husband's behalf or something. That was hard.
FARMIGA: And post-pregnancy, too. At one point in Up in the Air, I'm lactating on George Clooney's chest during an intimate scene, and he grins and bears it!
MARGULIES: He probably got his glass of vodka and … (pantomimes holding a glass up to Farmiga's chest). (Laughter.)
DANES: White Russian?
Jessica, how afraid were you to perform "Zou Bisou Bisou" on Mad Men?
PARE: I was pretty self- conscious. Before that, the stakes were pretty low; there was not much on the page for the character. Then I came back for season five, and I had to do a literal song-and-dance routine for all these people whose work I'd admired for years. It was horrifying, but they were awesome. I think by take 60, I got comfortable!
Whom do you lean on most for career advice?
DANES: I love my agent at WME, Stephanie Ritz, because she actually has an opinion. A lot of agents don't; they're terrified of committing. There was this potential movie, Bulletproof Monk, and my agent at the time was saying, "You know, it's one of those movies, like you either love it or you hate it," and I said, "Well, what do you think?" She said, "I don't know. I like it?" (Laughs.) So yeah, I love Stephanie. And my husband -- he has really great taste.
FARMIGA: Same thing, my husband is my best friend; he knows my sensibilities. Also, my manager, who's had a very sort of esoteric approach. "Why do you need to take this job? What is it going to provoke? How's it going to feed your spirit?"
DANES: That's so lovely.
MARGULIES: David Chase had written me a part in The Sopranos, and they didn't send you scripts. They just send you your pages, so it was hard to see where the character was going. I hadn't done television in a long time. I'd been doing off-Broadway and independent movies. It was right after ER. And the script weirded me out. Her name was Julianna, and she was from Rockland County, which is where I was born. And I'm reading and reading, and suddenly [in the script] I'm in a bra and panties, doing heroin, and then I vomit. I was like: "That's gross. I'm not doing that. This is crazy." So I called my friend [actor] Griffin Dunne, one of my favorite people on the planet. He's produced, directed, written -- I needed someone's opinion who's been there and done that. And he goes, "Don't be a f--ing idiot. Of course you're doing it."
Sarah, did you have any reservations about doing 12 Years a Slave and playing such an evil character?
PAULSON: I didn't. I think I found a way for me to be able to stand there and do it that was just about who the woman was inside. Her actions are deplorable, but she's doing it because she feels she's being usurped by another woman in her home. She's a small, tiny creature inside who just is panicked. Also, I don't think she was capable of having a deeper thought or a self-reflective kind of way of functioning, and she was taught to be racist. She was in love with this man who was clearly smitten with another. I never saw it from an outside perspective of, "How do you find a way into playing someone so cruel?" Someone asked, "Aren't you worried that people are going to ask you to play villains now?" That never occurred to me … but yeah, bring it on!
FARMIGA: I wanted that role in 12 Years.
PAULSON: Oh my God. That's so extraordinary.
How much do you know about who else is up for parts you're auditioning for?
PAULSON: I didn't know!
FARMIGA: It depends on the project.
PAULSON: Do you ever ask? Sometimes I do.
FARMIGA: [The 12 Years part] was a high-stakes role. (To Paulson) Girl, I made a full-blown audition tape with hurdy-gurdies playing in the background. The dance scene … remember?
PAULSON: I auditioned with the same scene. I put my hair back in the tightest bun I could. I wore an outfit that was actually in my closet, which is terrifying. I did really want it; I did really go for it. Some people have theories about not going into an audition in costume or in character, like if you're playing a nurse, you can wear an orthopedic shoe. But for a movie, sometimes you'll meet the casting people, and they'll be like, "Why aren't you wearing a dress that's cut down to here?" -- even if it has nothing to do with the character. They still want to think you're super-hot.
DANES: Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon said they wrote the Homeland role for me; the character's name was originally Claire. When I agreed to do it, that became too creepy. But it was one of those dream scenarios where you didn't have to fight your way to the door. I definitely had reservations about it at the time, and it took me a while to arrive at "yes," because I was a little spooked by the role and continue to be a little spooked by it, which is why I'm glad I still have the job four years later.
What aspects of the role spooked you?
DANES: She's just so troubled. Alex actually just pitched the next season to me. Each year I'm like, "Maybe things have settled down a little bit for her?" Not this year! She's under great duress, she's hyper-vigilant, she's operating at a very high frequency. It's a little intimidating, and it can be a little exhausting. The challenge is grounding it so that it's not farcical.
MARGULIES: It's funny: When The Good Wife came to me, it came in such a backhanded compliment. "Ashley Judd was offered this script, but she's turning it down. Now, I'm going to give it to you, but first, we're going to Helen Hunt. And if Helen Hunt passes, it's all yours."
PAULSON: Sometimes I don't want to read it when it comes that way.
MARGULIES: I wanted to hate it, because you know, "F-- you! You didn't want me to begin with." The [Good Wife] writers always say: "No, we always wanted you. It's just the studio wanted Helen Hunt!" But my agent said a great thing: "No one will know when they watch this show that Helen Hunt was offered it before you."
DANES: I don't ultimately begrudge another person getting a job. I really am very Zen about it. I'm meant to do it or I'm not.
RUSSELL: It's such a fluid business.
Keri, how did The Americans come to you?
RUSSELL: Through the usual channels. I was just at a place where I didn't think I was going to be working. I had a brand-new baby, a week old, and I was like, "Guys, a Russian spy? Why do you keep bringing this to me?" But I'm so glad they kept pushing, especially [FX Networks president] John Landgraf. It's been such a fun surprise.
What is the last piece of acting you saw that made you jealous?
MARGULIES: I hadn't seen a movie in a long time, and I took myself to a matinee -- I couldn't believe I had the day to myself -- and I saw Fading Gigolo. Johnny Depp's ex Vanessa Paradis plays a Hasidic Jew in this movie. She did such a beautiful, magnificent job!
PAULSON: I can't pronounce her name, but the woman from Blue Is the Warmest Color, Adele … ?
DANES: Oh, I still haven't seen that.
PAULSON: That performance is so extraordinary. How do you say her last name, 'cause I'd really like to know. Adele Exarch … She's French. Can you help me out? Adele Exchar …
MARGULIES: Idina Menzel? (Laughs.)
If you could go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself advice, what would it be?
DANES: Be as relaxed as possible when you're working. Somebody once told me that, and I had no idea what it meant. It's strange because you have to be relaxed, but you also have to be the opposite of that, simultaneously, and it's something that I could only grasp through experience. People will stop me in a grocery store and say: "Hi, I'm an actor. What's the advice?" And it's just to do it. Find as many opportunities as you can and clock as many hours as you can.
PARE: The advice I would give myself is: "Don't date that guy, don't drink that, go right home, get a good night's sleep." (Laughs.) I'm terrified because Mad Men is coming to an end, and I'm going back to that place of not having work and not knowing what's next. I seem to be in a different position now, I hope. But to feel like an actor when you're not working is a real struggle. When you don't have something coming out or coming up, it's hard to still feel like you're a creative person.
PAULSON: You feel like you're atrophying.
MARGULIES: But we're so lucky. First of all, roles written for women are so much more complex on television. The film world is becoming quite flimsy for women. It's so lovely having been doing this since I was quite young, and now to see all these movie stars wanting to do TV … there's no real differentiation anymore, except to say you have a steady job. That feels so good.
FARMIGA: There's just a deeper level of sophistication in the writing of female characters on TV.
MARGULIES: They're also not scared of women working in television. My unit production manager is a woman, two of my executive producers are women and three of the writers.
PAULSON: Are there female directors on your show?
PAULSON: I've never had a woman direct our show.
MARGULIES: Oh, there should be. TV is a much more female-friendly environment. It's so nice to be employed! The hardest thing about being an actor, and especially when you're a woman trying to also have a family and a relationship, is to maintain some sort of normalcy. With television, you might not be home a lot, but you have a routine …
PAULSON: And structure.
MARGULIES: We all really need structure.
DANES: Even actors!
What's been the oddest fan interaction you've experienced?
MARGULIES: I once had a guy ask me -- I was at a play during intermission -- and he said, "I'm in the middle of a divorce and need a really good lawyer." And I said, "I'm not a lawyer." He goes, "Alicia needs to be in court Monday morning." I said: "Sir, I think you're confused. I play a lawyer on TV." And he goes, "No, you can do this case, because I need this relationship …"
PARE: Oh, that's sad!
MARGULIES: Finally my husband said to him, "You need to stop."
PARE: I'm always way more excited about being on my show than anybody else is about me being on this show. When I first got recognized in New York, this girl said, "Oh my God, are you Megan from Mad Men?" And I was like, "Yes!!!" And I almost pushed her over.
How long did it take for that buzz to waver?
PARE: I don't know. I'll let you know. (Laughs.)
Keri, had there been social media when you cut your hair on Felicity, it probably would have broken the Internet.
RUSSELL: But it wouldn't have because today, haircutting would be nothing! It's much more salacious now. You think a haircut's going to beat out blow jobs? That's so tame compared to what's going on now.
If you stopped acting today, what would you do with the rest of your life?
PARE: I totally know this because I have had a lot of time to think about it! I'm in my 30s now, and it turns out I'm a morning person, so I would probably bake.
Are you a good baker?
PARE: I don't know. I don't eat wheat. But I'll have a richer inner life!
PAULSON: I would probably just be some inert thing floating in the water. I'd also really like to go sit and watch a play every night for the rest of my life.
FARMIGA: I would love to foray into film editing. Or become a shepherdess, wandering.
MARGULIES: (To Pare) Well, I'm going to hire you because I do bake. I'm famous for chocolate-dipped macaroons. So we can start a cookie store and sell macaroons made by out-of-work actresses.
DANES: I went to college -- I didn't graduate -- but I went for a few years. I took a lot of psychology classes initially and always thought that if I didn't act, I would be a therapist. But then I was like, "Wow, this is a lot of lab work!" I think I'm better at going to therapy as the client. I also took a lot of fine art classes, my parents are artists …
PAULSON: Those are two things you know how to do. I'm really screwed!
DANES: Well, I can't do the first one, so I'd probably be a graphic designer. I took a graphic design class and had such an amazing time.
MARGULIES: (To Danes) OK, so you'll do the sign and graphics.
PAULSON: What about you, Keri? What are you going to bring into our store?
RUSSELL: I'm going to just keep having kids and my kids will come eat the cookies.
Drama Actor Roundtable: Jon Hamm, Josh Charles, Mark Ruffalo on Character Deaths, Twitter's Merits and Typecasting Fears
This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The arrival of Josh Charles at Mack Sennett Studio in Los Angeles' Silver Lake neighborhood on the morning of March 30 was like seeing a ghost. Only seven days earlier, the Good Wife star (and long-time pal of panelist Jon Hamm) was brutally killed off his hit CBS series, lending a palpable memorial vibe to the start of an otherwise buoyant gathering of six dramatic actors: The Newsroom's Jeff Daniels, 59; Ray Donovan's Liev Schreiber, 46; Masters of Sex's Michael Sheen, 45; The Normal Heart's Mark Ruffalo, 46; Mad Men’s Hamm, 43; and Charles, 42.
Join in as these veteran performers of film, theater and television debate the merits and failings of Twitter, why the talent agency system is failing up-and-comers and why a fear of typecasting — and never working again — often can be an actor’s most effective tool.
Josh, explain your decision to leave The Good Wife.
JOSH CHARLES I had a weird contract, and it was up at the end of the fourth season. When I was asked to renew, I thought hard about it. A broadcast network schedule is 22 episodes a year. That's a long time to be playing the same character. I was eager to move on. I wanted to leave the show in a good place, and I felt really proud of the work. It's hard to articulate exactly what …
JEFF DANIELS You were bored out of your mind. (Laughs.)
CHARLES I actually wasn't bored out of my mind! There were moments of feeling burned out.
JON HAMM Julianna [Margulies] had a similar thing on ER, right? She left when that thing was going crazy.
CHARLES Yeah, I think so. She was the first person who called me about it. We had a long heart-to-heart. She was really understanding and instrumental in getting me to stay longer than I planned. We gave the character a proper goodbye. I think we all feel like it's one of our best years. I'm happy because I got to be a part of that.
How much input did you have in your character's exit?
CHARLES Last year, [co-creator] Robert King -- he was directing the finale and this was soon after I'd made the decision -- told me, "I think it's going to be a very finite kind of ending." I said that sounds great. There were two options, you know? A lingering exit or pulling the cord. I trusted them implicitly as storytellers, and [killing my character] was dramatic and shocking, so that was it.
Click the photo for exclusive portraits of the actors.
How do the rest of you feel about the TV trend of killing off major characters?
HAMM It depends upon the execution, no pun intended. If you watch TV, you have these expectations of how things are going to go. One big expectation is that the main characters are going to be there as long as the show is. We had a similar thing on our show when Jared Harris' character [Lane Pryce] hung himself. It was surprising because it was final. It wasn't like, "Oh, it was a dream and he's going to come back!" Death is something that we all deal with in real life, so it can be effective when it's surprising.
Jon, there's a lot of speculation about the fate of your Mad Men character, Don Draper, when the show ends next year.
HAMM Well, I die. I think we can say that. (Laughter.) Matt [Weiner] will be cool with that. No, I trust Matt to tell the story, and to second-guess it at this point is a fool's errand. We've done 90 some-odd episodes, so it's on him to land the plane. I'm along for the ride.
Josh's exit from The Good Wife blew up on Twitter. With the exception of Jon, you're all active on social media. How has this impacted your work, for better or worse?
MARK RUFFALO It's made more and more jobs start pouring in. (Laughs.)
Studios love politically active actors, of which you are one, Mark.
RUFFALO Yeah, they really dig that. Controversy around actors is a good thing! No, I think I feel like I'm boring the hell out of my followers.
CHARLES Not at all. I like it!
RUFFALO It's a rare moment in human history. I think for a long time actors were afraid to be too political, but social media allows us to talk directly to mass groups of people. It takes the power out of the hands of, say, Fox News. It becomes more of a well-weighted game for all the individuals. I've found it to be incredibly liberating. (Laughs.) And the more I do it, the [more] activated I see people getting … or waiting to kill me for it.
DANIELS I don't engage with fans at all on Twitter. I don't look at comments. I see at it as a poor man's fan club. For me it's, "Here's a little information," and then I shut the door. I'll post stuff that I think might entertain people, but [they're] not going to get information about me.
HAMM I've been in Twitter feuds with people, and I'm like, "I don't have an account!"
MICHAEL SHEEN I got into it early on, and it brought out all of my worst traits. If someone said something that pissed me off, I'd go after them. Then you realize it's turning up in newspapers. (To Ruffalo) I have so much admiration for anyone who does what you're doing. I'm just not a strong or stable enough person.
CHARLES I remember talking to someone from Twitter when I first got involved and they presented it as "be a curator for your own life" -- and the occasional dick joke.
HAMM Occasional? (Laughs.)
Privacy is something you've all had to sacrifice for your work. What else?
LIEV SCHREIBER Time and daylight! The great thing about doing theater is that you have your days free. The thing about television is you have nothing free. That's a big sacrifice, especially when you have small children. But, yes, the privacy thing … that all went out the window when Naomi [Watts] and I got together. But I've adjusted. In the beginning I really hated it, then I stopped fighting and it got easier. It's nice to be appreciated, but I was worried I would be useless as an actor once I got too famous. That was my big anxiety, especially since I considered myself primarily a character actor. I cherished my anonymity because it allowed me range. But the really terrifying thing about doing television is that you become so associated with one character that it then becomes difficult for other people to believe you as anything else.
HAMM Liev hit the nail on the head. When you're in people's living rooms every week for however many years as one person, it's a worry that that's all they're ever going to see. That fear certainly informed all my decisions made outside of Mad Men. The first year of the show, every script I got was about a guy in a hat and coat, smoking a cigarette in the '60s. To be able to pivot off that and to host Saturday Night Live or do Bridesmaids was helpful. But very few of us are in the position of being able to look over the field of projects and go, "I want to do that and that and that." They're usually like, "Sorry, Tom Cruise is doing that, Brad Pitt's doing that and Bradley Cooper's doing that. How about these that no one wants to do?"
CHARLES Jon, knowing you as long as I have, you're so funny … seeing you [do comedy] has been great.
DANIELS People go, "Wait a minute, he's funny!"
HAMM Part of it is getting lucky, part of it is being in the right place at the right time. And part of it is making a conscious decision to, as Liev said, to do other stuff. It's why we got into this business. To do the same thing over and over isn't for anybody at this table.
Do you find resistance among your reps to keep you open for different types of opportunities?
HAMM Oh sure, they just want money. "Why would you turn down all this money? Work, work, work." And I'm like, "Well, I want to see my family. I want to not live in Nova Scotia for six months."
CHARLES Not that there's anything wrong with Nova Scotia.
HAMM Great, wonderful Nova Scotia. It's the best Scotia!
Mark, what scared you about doing The Normal Heart?
RUFFALO First of all, it was The Normal Heart. Anyone in my generation saw it done 100 times in scene study class. It's a really tough part. To make it into a film becomes a polemic. It's agitation propaganda theater; it has to be really political to drive it. When you try to take that to film, it can become grating. And then it's Larry Kramer, who's a larger-than-life, hallowed personality in gay culture. Also I said to [director] Ryan Murphy, "Hey, isn't it the time for a gay actor to be playing a gay character?" And he said, "The whole idea of this movie is getting past those kind of labels." There was a lot of responsibility that went along with accepting the role.
DANIELS Did you f-- it up? (Laughter.)
RUFFALO As best as I could! It was tough, man. There aren't a lot of people who wouldn't have f--ed it up.
DANIELS But that's the talent. You dive in thinking, "I might f-- this up. I might fail miserably here."
RUFFALO "But I'm going to go for it."
CHARLES Isn't that always the best experience? Being on the edge of "I don't know what the hell is happening"?
RUFFALO You have to put your fanny on the line.
DANIELS The amount and speed of the dialogue on Newsroom [scared me]. Making it sound like thoughts falling out of my head versus my just being able to memorize it. That's the big battle with Aaron [Sorkin]. You aren't walking around the corner [saying lines like] "Look out!"
CHARLES You don't have four weeks to learn it, either.
SCHREIBER My favorite thing is words. Give me a lot and I'm happy. And now I'm on a show where I have eight lines an episode. (Laughs.) Doing TV is about getting a lot of practice, but it's also unfortunately about caring less and less and less. Listen and get on with it!
SHEEN I'm like Liev. I'd always felt more confident with a lot of words, coming from theater. I'd always had a big confidence issue, too. The reason I took a character-actor route was partly I look like this, but also I took refuge in words. Now playing a character who does not say as much; being interesting without having much to do has been a challenge. But the biggest transition was, the canvas we're using is suddenly not two hours, but 12 hours. Our story is based on real events, so at least there is some sort of an arc -- but it's massive. It's a man's life. In season one, I knew I was going to hit a midway point of the season [crucial to the plot], and I based everything I did on that moment. But I ran the risk of people going: "I really don't like this guy. There's nothing charming about him." But by episode five, what happened had more power because of the cumulative power of the storytelling.
But if Josh's exit from The Good Wife is any indication, audiences are willing to invest years in characters' lives and are heartbroken when they leave.
SHEEN Yes. The shows we're all doing have a level of sophistication of writing that is so extraordinary. We can't rely on the same little tricks.
HAMM And people consume TV differently now. I didn't watch The Wire when it was on the air, but I watched five seasons while I was shooting a movie. I stayed up till three in the morning and [could] watch nine Wires and just be like, "I can't stop watching this show!"
DANIELS (To Hamm) Did you know upcoming arcs on Mad Men?
HAMM I never did.
DANIELS (To Charles) Did you?
CHARLES In a broad sense, but not the details.
DANIELS I don't know anything either on Newsroom. I've embraced it. Live it like a life.
HAMM We might get hit by a bus when we walk out of here!
RUFFALO Is doing a show more satisfying than film because you have time to dive into a character?
SHEEN It's one of the most exciting things. On the other hand, you only get about two takes.
SCHREIBER But you're also more familiar [on a TV show]. And familiarity means you don't just get one shot. You have another episode if you screw that one up!
What do you wish directors better understood about actors?
DANIELS I've had great people on Newsroom, but from day one, I said: "Five words or less. If you can't tell me what to do between takes or in front of a scene in five words or less, stay in the chair." And it worked. "Oh, don't f-- with Jeff!"
HAMM Part of it is getting them to believe and understand that actors are part of the creative process. "I want you to say the words this way," and I'm like, "Well, I can, but I can also do it the way that I've worked on for 90 some-odd episodes. I can bring something to this that maybe you haven't thought of."
SCHREIBER I'm going to say something relatively controversial. In the golden age of the writer, being a director in television is a really tough gig. They have to come onto a set that's already functioning without them and where everybody outranks them. Film was the last autonomy, and now you're taking these guys, who are real artists in cinema, and putting them in a situation where they're being asked to jam with some people for eight to 10 days and then walk away from their product. It's almost like a commercial.
Do showrunners have too much power in the scenario?
SCHREIBER We have a very talented showrunner [Ann Biderman] who's really good at everything. But with the quality of the writing and production, we need great directors, too, and to empower them to take risks.
CHARLES I love a director who creates a safe area where I feel like I can just take a risk. Take one may suck, but they're not going to micromanage.
What's the last piece of acting that made you jealous?
HAMM I just watched a show out of the U.K. called Black Mirror. Have you seen it?
SHEEN Anything that's about f--ing pigs on TV, I'm there. (Laughs.)
HAMM And I was real jealous of that pig! No, it's an anthology show, like The Twilight Zone. Each episode is stand-alone, so you can watch in any order. That was the last thing that turned my head, where I was like, "Whoa." Very smart and disturbing. And Michael mentioned the pig f--ing.
SCHREIBER I don't see much that isn't rated G these days. I have to commend [actor] Jemaine Clement's performance as the evil cockatoo in Rio 2. (Laughs.) There's a line my sons and I repeat now every day: "I am going to be pooping on your party promptly." Mr. Clement's delivery of that line is the Babe Ruth of acting for me right now.
RUFFALO Joaquin Phoenix in Her was envy-making for me.
DANIELS 12 Years a Slave made me proud to be an actor.
What credit would you delete from your IMDb page?
DANIELS [1999's] My Favorite Martian.
SCHREIBER Only one?
RUFFALO 1986 to 1995.
CHARLES There's a few.
SHEEN I would cut out Gladiator. It's on my IMDb page that I'm in it, and I'm not.
HAMM It's impossible to correct an IMDb page! You can write in and say, "I'm actually this person. This isn't true." They're like, "Sorry, someone said it was."
What frustrates you most about how the business has changed since you started acting?
RUFFALO The consolidation of [talent] agencies has been harmful. What is it, two agencies now? Three? When I was coming up, there were little agencies; you could find your way in. I love my agents now [at UTA], but sometimes I look at the agency and I'm like, "Who are they working [for]?" They're cozy with the studios! That isn't great for getting new talent. Thank God we have television for that. But when I talk to young actors, I tell them, "Get a camera and make your own stuff. That's the best thing that you can do."
HAMM I think we've all had a negotiation where you take a step back and you're like, "Wait a minute, who are you representing? You're playing both sides of the fence." They want the studio because they have 40 other clients in negotiations. I want you to fight for me. You're like, "There might not be a later for me." That's the fear.
You still have that fear, Jon, even after all the success?
HAMM All these guys were famous when they started their current projects. I was not. I was a fifth lead on a Lifetime show then thrust into this situation, which was terrifying. I had no leverage or guarantee that anything was going to work out; that anyone would even see Mad Men or we'd even shoot a second episode.
CHARLES I'm having all these memories of you telling me this after we played tennis once. "I think it could do pretty well. The buzz from AMC … I think they feel good about it." It was like, "That's awesome man, great!"
SHEEN I moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago and everyone said, "Don't do TV. If you do TV, you're not going to do films." But I was at the airport the other day and on the covers of most of the magazines were TV actors or actresses -- not movie stars. I thought, "Things have really changed."
SCHREIBER My biggest frustration is the culture of celebrity. It's bad for acting and storytelling when "actors" are bigger [personalities] than their characters.
CHARLES But, I follow Mark on Twitter, and I have no problem separating his tweets from watching him be a character. It doesn't bother me. Following him on Twitter doesn't make me feel like I know him so much more that I can't watch him lose himself in a character.
RUFFALO It depends on the way social media is used, too. "I took two craps today and am having a ham sandwich."
HAMM Two a day now? Good for you.
RUFFALO Oh man, it's like clockwork.
SCHREIBER But you're actually trying to use Twitter effectively. That's different from tweeting pictures of yourself at a shop with a pair of jeans. Then I can't help, when I watch you act, to think, "You know, he looks really good in those. For a guy, he has an amazing butt."
RUFFALO Was I good in those jeans?
SCHREIBER You did look good.
What's the funniest or strangest feedback you've gotten or read about yourself?
HAMM It's the weird passive-aggressive insults. I get this all the time: "I just love the way you do nothing [onscreen]." I'm like, "Well, I'm glad you like it but I'm not doing nothing. Thanks, Aunt Betty."
SCHREIBER I was excited to meet Ang Lee -- I'm a big fan -- and I'm in his office downtown in New York. We're having this long, existential conversation about art and such. At the end, he looks at me across the table and goes, "Wow, you have really nice legs." (Laughs.) I thought it would be different with Ang!
SHEEN Never read comments online, because the one time I did, someone said about me: "Well, he's certainly no Jon Hamm." (Laughter.)
Comedy Actress Roundtable: Taylor Schilling, Zooey Deschanel, Mindy Kaling on Fake-Peeing, Showering With Co-Stars and Rude Fans
This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
So, what is comedy these days?
A half-hour, single-cam cable show about a drug-addicted nurse? A one-hour women's-prison dramedy streaming on the Internet? A ratings smash with an old-school laugh track? A single-cam spin on the travails of a working woman and her messy dating life? An "adorkable" network series centered on a girl and her best guy friends? Or a grim hourlong series about a poor Chicago family whose toddler almost ODs on his sister's cocaine? For the six Emmy contenders who gathered on May 10 in Los Angeles to chat -- The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, 28; New Girl's Zooey Deschanel, 34; Nurse Jackie's Edie Falco, 50; The Mindy Project's Mindy Kaling, 34; Shameless' Emmy Rossum, 27; and Orange Is the New Black's Taylor Schilling, 29 -- the genre is all those things and then some. Between fake-peeing, showering with co-stars and the "torture" of watching their performances, there's little these women won't do for the sake of their craft.
What's the oddest thing you have been asked to do on your current series?
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting My character was in an awful movie called Serial Apist, so I had full monkey makeup head to toe.
Taylor Schilling They put hair on you?
Cuoco-Sweeting Yes, they did.
Schilling Like, patchy hair?
Cuoco-Sweeting Yes. I Instagrammed it because I couldn't believe it was happening.
Zooey Deschanel I had to be Woody Allen as a zombie. I pasted sideburns and fake beard stuff to my eyebrows. That was the gift that I gave my show. They also made me be Elvis once.
Emmy Rossum My character had to pee on camera for a drug test this past season. I had to pull my pants down and use this squeezy contraption that made it look like I was really doing it. But it wasn't me peeing, just for the record!
Edie Falco For one scene on Nurse Jackie, I was lying on a bed of pills in this little miniature elevator thing, and it dropped like 10 feet quickly to show that I'd been overtaken by these pills. It felt like I was on the Cyclone at Coney Island.
Rossum They were like, "You don't need a stunt double. You're fine."
Falco They also wanted me to keep my eyes open.
Schilling That's terrible!
Falco My kids were visiting that day, too.
Deschanel They're like, "Why is Mommy falling?"
Cuoco-Sweeting They probably thought you were such a badass.
Mindy, what's the strangest thing you've written for yourself to do on your show?
Mindy Kaling My character is constantly getting very upset and running into the street to scream at somebody, so there are always cars about to hit me. Even though it's a stunt, you can't fake that a car is almost going to hit you.
Deschanel You can't, actually.
Kaling The flip side is getting to make out a lot on TV, which I do. Sometimes we have to do a shower sex scene. And the first few times, it's kind of fun. Then after take eight, your makeup is streaming …
Schilling You're cold.
Cuoco-Sweeting It's not cute anymore.
Deschanel Fake nudity is not cute wet.
Kaling I'd rather show my breasts!
Schilling We're in jail on Orange, so there's real nudity.
Kaling Pasties are disgusting.
Deschanel I'd rather be naked!
Taylor, when have you felt pushed to the limits on Orange?
Deschanel "What scene did you feel just terrible about and wanted to die?"
Rossum "And felt extremely vulnerable in front of a bunch of people?" (Laughter.)
Schilling There are a lot of clothes off and a lot of knives. Everyone has to do a lot of [unpleasant] stuff.
Falco It's equal opportunity.
Schilling Boobs for all and everybody's being shanked! I love naked bodies.
Deschanel Who doesn't?
Is there an audition in your history that was particularly mortifying?
Cuoco-Sweeting I don't think of those things.
Deschanel I used to have a tape of embarrassing moments that played in my head constantly, but I have shut it off.
Schilling I auditioned for commercials when I started out, which are awful. They make you do the weirdest stuff. There was one where there was a mannequin set up, and they're like, "Skip across this bench and plant a big wet one on the mannequin."
What was it for?
Schilling Probably shoes? I look back on that like, "What was I doing?"
Deschanel I had a TV screen test early on, and the creator of the show was in the back mouthing the words. I'm looking at the person who's reading with me there, and right behind that person was this guy saying the dialogue with me.
Cuoco-Sweeting My God.
Falco That's awful.
Rossum I've had people do that, but where the person you're reading with is doing the same facial expressions as you. They're being empathetic or something?
Schilling I always say [to the reader], "Stop, don't act!"
Kaling Have you guys ever completely lied about your abilities? When I was still in New York, I auditioned for this Bollywood musical. I was like, "Oh, I'm going to clean up. How many Indian girls are there?" I said I could sing and I could dance -- neither of which I can do -- and I sang, "Somewhere Out There," which anybody sounds good singing, and then I had to go to the dance part of it. And of course, it then ended up a huge embarrassment. There were Puerto Rican and Asian girls who tried to look Indian and they crushed it.
Falco I once auditioned for a musical, and I don't sing. I gave it my all but it was just awful. I couldn't look [the casting people in the eye].
Deschanel They're looking down at their page.
Rossum Or their phones!
What about odd moments while onstage?
Falco At the beginning of [the play] Frankie and Johnny, our characters are naked and have sex. But it's total darkness in the apartment. Stanley Tucci and I are getting ready for the curtain to open, but something goes wrong with the computer and all the house lights and stage lights come on, and the curtains go up. And there we were -- Stanley and I -- laying there completely naked. That was the performance my father and uncle came to. (Laughter.)
Kaling "Is it like this every night?"
Falco It got an audible gasp. Then the curtains went down and we started again like it didn't happen.
Rossum Take two!
Falco There are so many crazy, cuckoo theater stories.
You all deal with the media on a regular basis.
Deschanel No, we don't.
Kaling What are you talking about?
And Mindy, you've been very open about calling out journalists who make ridiculous comments. What's the worst one?
Kaling "You're ugly and fat, and that is so refreshing to us." I'm like, "What are you saying to me, sir?" "Well, we're used to skinny people, and you're so ugly and refreshing." That's not a question, sir. (Laughter.)
Deschanel They're just trying to get a reaction.
Kaling And people who actually identify as feminists will say stuff like, "Are women funny?" Sorry, you can't ask that question again. It's so insulting and outdated. They like getting us riled up, as I am getting now!
What do you do and say in those situations?
Kaling I think everyone is a good person trying to do a good job. If you can nicely be like, "I think what you mean to ask is maybe something like this …" Other times, I lose it.
Rossum I'm sorry, but you're gorgeous. I don't know what the f-- anyone's talking about.
Edie, what's the most consistent Sopranos comment or question you get?
Falco "How did they make you look so fat and old on that show?" Funny, I hadn't thought of that again until now.
Kaling You're like, "I thought I looked very beautiful." Do they really say that?
Falco Oh, absolutely. I had another woman say, "Whatever you've done to your face, it looks great."
Rossum Some people say that I'm so much prettier on TV, and people come up to me in the airport, and they're like, "You kind of look like Emmy Rossum, but she's really pretty."
Deschanel Someone said, "You're so thin! You look so fat on TV."
Cuoco-Sweeting I get that, too.
Deschanel And "Tell your agents to dress you in different clothes." And I go, "First of all, agents don't dress actors!" (Laughter.)
Rossum You're a public commodity so they think they can be just totally, completely honest with you. I bet they're not that honest with their friends.
Cuoco-Sweeting Syndication is so crazy; they're with you all the time.
Kaling And we're on comedies, where characters are constantly dissing us.
Rossum Someone told me once to work on my upper pectoral muscles -- I'm not kidding. Maybe I lost weight between the second and third seasons, and in my topless scenes in my third season, my breasts looked schlumpy. You're clearly pausing and rewinding way too many times.
Cuoco-Sweeting I think they get nervous and don't know what to say.
Falco I saw Dave Matthews walk by the outside of my building. I'm a huge fan!
Cuoco-Sweeting Did you tell him he looked fat?
Falco Was that bad? (Laughs.)
Rossum People just don't separate you from your character.
And now Taylor is on everyone's computer.
Rossum While they're at work, in the bathroom! They're watching you in prison.
Schilling It's interesting. There was a 24-hour period where everyone had watched all 13 hours of season one. All of a sudden, there was over-familiarity [with me].
Deschanel So fast, too, to have all the episodes go up at once.
Schilling It's very weird and deeply uncomfortable. People say some pretty mean things about my character. "You're such a narcissist and so whiny. But I love everybody else on the show." But it's so exciting to feel like people are actually seeing what you're doing.
Cuoco-Sweeting It's also amazing when people come up to you, and you've actually touched them in some sort of way because of your show. It makes me want to cry every time, I mean, literally you are so overwhelmed.
Deschanel I started crying the other day when someone said, "I love your show so much." It's nice when somebody's genuine.
Rossum You never think they watch.
Deschanel It's the thing you live for!
Is there a life lesson you've learned from someone on your show?
Rossum Well, [William H.] Macy is not afraid to ask our crewmembers, "Did you think that was funny?" And that's kind of the best lesson: It doesn't matter where a good idea comes from.
Deschanel I'll take direction from anyone.
Rossum The most moving thing is when a crewmember who maybe hasn't said two words to me ever comes up to me after a scene, and goes, "You know what? That was really good." That will make me feel like 100 million bucks because they see it all day, every day for 30 years.
Kaling Life lessons from Chris Messina? He's such a good f---ing actor. It's like The Office, where I was for eight years. With Steve Carell, you couldn't not become funnier by watching him. With Chris, he's a quintessential New York theater actor. He also loves silences, which is also something you don't see in network TV, and he lives for them. So I've learned in writing to make scripts shorter because of Chris!
Schilling You create that space for him to do [his thing].
Kaling It's lucky to be the showrunner and the lead actor, because I get to see what's working, make changes on the fly. He's also hot as hell. That's nice, too. Nice to shower with a handsome actor.
Deschanel I'm not against it!
Do any of you have any bizarre rituals on set?
Rossum I talk to myself before every scene, so I'm always in some mantra telling myself something. Actory shit in order to get into the right place for a character. I make sure my mic is turned off right before the scene because I'll probably be dredging up something awful. I don't want people at video village hearing all of that. "You're a worthless piece of shit. You should be in jail!"
Deschanel I jump up and down a lot.
Cuoco-Sweeting We film in front of a live audience, and about five years ago, [co-star] Johnny [Galecki] and I started going into the audience and talking to everybody halfway through each show. It has helped me tremendously. We shake hands and thank everybody. I want to cry every time! It's a big energy jolt.
Who or what first made you want to act?
Falco I thought, "I want to do that" when I saw Sweeney Todd. We took a little trip on our school bus, and it was life-changing. It starred Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. The music is incredible. I was a different person leaving that theater. "If this is where this kind of thing goes on, I have to be a part of it."
How old were you?
Falco This was last year. (Laughter.) I guess I was in junior high or something. 13 or 14? I didn't think I'd ever do it for a living, but I thought I would always do it. I was very shy, and the idea of being an actress was beyond my comprehension, but I knew I would do it.
Deschanel When I was 2, I saw The Wizard of Oz, and I was obsessed with it. My dad filmed everything I did, because he's a cinematographer, and we have it on tape, me up at the screen. I learned all the lyrics to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," before I could really form sentences. I told my mom that I was going to jump in the TV. She was like, "Oh, really, you are?" I told her I would. And I did it!
Kaling For me, it was watching Much Ado About Nothing, with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, seeing that Shakespeare could be done like that. They had amazing chemistry, and it was truly funny.
Deschanel And so sexy because they hate each other, but they love each other.
When you watch your performances, what's your biggest criticism?
Cuoco-Sweeting Oh, I can't watch.
Schilling I don't watch. I hate it. I can't watch. At all.
You've never watched Orange Is the New Black?
Schilling No. I see it at premieres and we have to see stuff at ADR [automated dialogue replacement], but not really. It's not that I'm completely opposed to it, but I was already there and did it. I've never felt the need to go back and watch. We are always sort of living it in the next round, do you know what I mean?
Deschanel I don't like watching myself, but I started to watch the show so I could adjust my performance if needed. On network TV, we have the luxury of being on while we're shooting. "That's not good," or "That was good." So, it's fun but also torturous.
Cuoco-Sweeting I hate the sound of my voice. I can hear it from a mile away -- it's nasally. Why do I talk like that? It freaks me out!
Deschanel No one likes their own voice.
Cuoco-Sweeting OK, because I feel like I have the most annoying one. It's hard for me to watch Big Bang. I TiVo it at home to support the show, but there are 37 episodes on there [I haven't seen].
Kaling I just watched five in a row. Whenever I travel!
Cuoco-Sweeting I watched five of yours on a plane, too, and I'm not just saying that.
Deschanel They're so comforting.
Kaling It is very comforting. (To Cuoco-Sweeting) And you do not have an annoying voice, by the way.
Deschanel My voice has changed. When I started acting, it was really, really high.
Kaling Mine, too.
Cuoco-Sweeting We could torture ourselves all day long!
Rossum I definitely watched season one of Shameless before we did the second. I felt like the work I did in the first season was so much better than anything I'd ever done and was concerned the second season was going to suck. So I needed to study what I did. But I feel like I get better from watching myself. I can detach because the character is so different from me.
Cuoco-Sweeting I play a blonde who lives next door to people, and I'm a blonde who lives next door to people.
Kaling Sometimes the way that you think you're presenting is not at all how it's coming across. I'm an A student, and I want to nail it, and we have on TV the luxury of trying to nail it. And so you get this great benefit if you're watching, and you're like, "Oh, I thought when I was giving Messina shit in that scene that it was adorable, but really it comes off a little harsher because of the way that my hair was pinned straight." Also, our wardrobe. Does it connote something different to wear a suit when I'm trying to be flirty?
What's the most personal thing you've infused into a character?
Falco I have tried very hard to go in the entirely other direction. I never want to do anything that feels like me! After Sopranos, I was offered lots of Italian women, and I ran from that. That's why my early Nurse Jackie [look] was short hair and very low maintenance. Now, 700 years into that show, I want my hair back and some makeup!
Deschanel I also want to keep it really separate. When I started acting, every part I did was completely different [from one another]. And it worked against me because people wouldn't recognize me from one role to the next. Though being on TV now, playing the same character, I do get antsy to play different things.
Cuoco-Sweeting Do you think it happens naturally? I've been doing the same character for so many years, so I'll find myself reacting a certain way when I'm like, "That was actually me."
Cuoco-Sweeting The writers start to know who you are and write toward that.
Rossum I feel like my writers manipulate me. We'll be at a table read, and a female writer will come up to me in what I think is a friendly gesture, and ask, "What's the wackiest thing you can do with your body?" "I can put my legs over my head and sing 'The Star Spangled Banner,' " and then it's in the next script.
Deschanel "Hey, can you do a Neil Diamond impression?" Wait five minutes, and it's in the next table read.
Mindy, where do you draw the line between yourself and the Mindy on the show?
Kaling When I originally wrote the character, she was not named Mindy. But [former Fox entertainment chairman] Kevin Reilly said -- before he picked up the show -- "I think her name should just be Mindy," and I was like, "OK, yeah." But the character has also lost several handguns and says stuff like, "I think recycling makes America look poor." Then pieces get written about me that say, "Mindy Kaling is a Republican," because they can't separate the two. But no one ever thought [why] Alec Baldwin's character on 30 Rock said things like that. I think it's sexist, that there's no way that I could write a character who's so different from me. Why would I want to do my own show and be a cool, liberal Westside person who lives in Brentwood? Let me live that life and let the character be wild.
What's the best joke you've had to lose?
Kaling In one episode, Tim Daly, who is so funny, was on the show. And he's very angry at me for prescribing his daughter birth control, and I'm like, "How dare you come in here with your outdated views on birth control? Who do you think you are? Rick Santorum? Obviously not, because you're not hot." We have to keep Mindy's political stuff to a minimum.
Deschanel And it's dated. You know exactly when that episode aired.
Rossum There's more [stuff that didn't air] with Bill Macy's character, like a scene where he has sex with a corpse.
Falco I can't believe you didn't show it.
Rossum I don't think he wanted to mount a dead woman.
Whose career makes you jealous?
Rossum You expect us to answer that? (Laughter.)
Deschanel I don't like expressing those feelings! "No, I'm excited for them. That's happy. That's great!"
Rossum Jealousy is the kiss of death for any actor.
Kaling I'm jealous of men. I'm jealous of Sam Rockwell.
Rossum He's probably jealous of you.
Kaling He does whatever he wants. And he's always so good. Comedy, drama, dancing.
Deschanel He's a really good dancer.
Falco Old-school indie dude.
Kaling He wouldn't care that some sitcom actress is so into him. He's amazing.
Deschanel He would love this! I've done three movies with him. It's funny, about men, [New Girl co-star] Jake Johnson told me about auditioning and how guys high-five each other [before they go in]. "Good luck, man!"
Rossum Dudes have less of an expiration date than women. It's always older men with younger women.
Deschanel How about older women with younger men?
Kaling That's disgusting! (Laughter.)
Do your representatives encourage you to do whatever interests you?
Deschanel They send me a huge variety of things.
Falco They work for us, not the other way around. But I never know what the heck I'm going to do next, what's going to interest me a year from now.
Schilling I don't know if you can always have a plan. You have to have your own feelers out to the world.
Deschanel I've gotten many jobs from just meeting people. If Mindy says, "I have this great script," I'd be like, "Send it to me." It's not necessary that your agents be the only gateway. They are only one avenue. We need each other, too.
Drama Showrunner Roundtable: Watch the Full, Uncensored Conversation With Aaron Sorkin, Vince Gilligan, Matthew Weiner
This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
While the 2014 drama showrunners roundtable kicked off Emmy season as the cover of THR's May 23 TV Writers issue, what follows is the full conversation among this elite group of writer-producers. Ray Donovan's Ann Biderman, 62; Bates Motel's Carlton Cuse, 55; Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan, 47; True Detective's Nic Pizzolatto, 38; The Newsroom's Aaron Sorkin, 52; and Mad Men's Matthew Weiner, 48, gathered near downtown Los Angeles in April to debate the ups, downs and unexpected revelations that come with making truly excellent television.
Matthew, you are in the throes of capping off the final season of Mad Men, a position in which many of you have found yourselves. Do any of you have advice for him?
VINCE GILLIGAN I don't need to give you any -- you're the man! The old, time-honored, cliche advice: Enjoy it while it's still going on, which is hard. You're in the middle of it, and you're working your ass off. I live my life always looking backward. I'm not really in the moment. It's the goofiest, most lame-ass, cliche advice of all, but I would say enjoy it.
MATTHEW WEINER I talked to you at one point near the end [of Breaking Bad]. That was pretty hard, right?
GILLIGAN Well, I was freaking out.
WEINER It sounded really bad.
GILLIGAN I was like, "Yeah, this is going to suck!"
WEINER At this point -- everybody here knows -- there's some autopilot there. You're doing your job, being busy. The more work there is to do, the less I think. (To Gilligan) But I do remember talking to you near the end. You directed your finale, and I'm going to do that. The loss is pretty overwhelming.
GILLIGAN And the loss doesn't hit you until the last day of work is done. Then you're like, "Wow, this really did end; it's really over."
WEINER Well, this makes me feel better.
ANN BIDERMAN It's going to hurt so much!
Vince, how did you cope with all the pressure and expectations everyone had for the Breaking Bad finale?
GILLIGAN No. It was tough, but thank God I didn't turn into an insomniac, 'cause that's the escape. Every night, going to sleep! But no, I didn't really escape it. Most of the pressure at the end of the day is -- I shouldn't speak for anyone else, but I bet you folks would agree -- mostly self-imposed. There's no reason you can't, at least theoretically, tune out all that noise that comes from outside. That voice in your head that's telling you it's not good enough, and tuning that out. I wish I had some great advice for that, but I don't know.
Carlton, you were there with Lost. Is there something you wish you'd known in that process?
CARLTON CUSE Well, the thing that I didn't anticipate is that there were six endings to the process. We finished writing the script, and it was cathartic -- we shed a few tears. Then you finish shooting, and that's another very cathartic moment. Then we finished scoring the show. Then we actually locked the cut, and there were more tears and tequila. Then we had a viewing party to say goodbye to each other. I was so wrung out at the end by how many times we'd gone through the process of saying goodbye.
This begs a bigger question: How do you know when to say goodbye? Aaron, you're wrapping up The Newsroom this year after only three seasons. How is this unfolding for you?
SORKIN Well, I did choose to say goodbye this year. But I would say this about the pressure: It's a glamorous problem to have when the things you're complaining about are the things you used to dream about. You're in pretty good shape, right? If somebody had said to you, "Listen, your biggest problem is going to be that you haven't quite fixed this second-act problem in your hit TV series," you'd have taken that. But I also think that I'm scared of giving up the pressure. (To Gilligan) You said it was self-imposed, and I think you're right. When someone says: "Listen, can't you just relax? Can't you just take one night and relax and forget all about that?" I'm worried that if I did do that, I wouldn't finish and that it wouldn't be good. The pressure, self-imposed or not, is what's keeping the train running.
You all have tremendous credits on your résumés. What are the challenges of following up on those successes?
WEINER It sounds narcissistic, but I really feel like this is some kind of intervention directed at me! "Will you ever do anything else?" Sopranos happened to David Chase at 55, and that is very encouraging to me. It happens when it happens. I look back [on Mad Men] and think about the steps along the way. How did I think of that? What if I'd never met Jon Hamm? What comes out of me now? Who knows?
CUSE Whatever your intentions are when you're making television, there's this alchemy that either happens or it doesn't happen. It's really out of your control. If you get lucky, you get the great cast, the network supports your show and you get the right time slot. All these things coalesce, and you only control a small subset of those factors.
SORKIN And if you're as lucky as we've all been here, you're going to get compared to yourself down the road. You guys are about to find that out. But it's a small price to pay. I don't want to ever think that I've already written the best thing I'm ever going to write. If somebody came along with a crystal ball and said, "Listen, you're going to earn a living for the rest of your life, but I can't tell you what it was, but you've already written the best thing that you're going to write," I don't think I could write anymore. That would be really sad.
WEINER But there is … Bruce Springsteen shows up, and he plays "Born to Run" for you, and you're like, "He better do that every time I get there." And it's really old, it's some of his older work, and you're like, "No, 'Born to Run.' It's pretty good."
SORKIN Clear the dust away from that, and what you have left is that Bruce Springsteen wrote "Born to Run." I hope he feels that way.
Killing characters has become a popular plot device. Some say this is lazy storytelling. What are your thoughts?
BIDERMAN I don't think you're doing it for [ratings]. You aren't sitting there thinking, "We must have that happen in episode seven." I think it has to feel inevitable in some way or it is gratuitous, you know? You aren't sitting at the beginning of the year thinking, "I need this many bodies, and they need to come here." Good storytelling means there is this sense of inevitability to the characters dying.
WEINER When I was on Sopranos, people would ask, "When's Tony going to whack somebody?" More people died on the show than the mob killed during those seven years! There is a genre aspect to it. I like Agatha Christie, I like soap operas, I like comic books. I also love the way the Bible is told, filled with details and then it will be narratively dense at different places.
NIC PIZZOLATTO I think it's important to remember, too, that anything that's going to be worthwhile isn't going to be all things to all people, nor should it be.
WEINER You're like, "Well, let me see your show!" No matter how much action you have, no matter what it is -- James Bond movies -- every once in a while, you have to stop and see James Bond in bed. It has to calm down. You're sort of like, "Will you trust me?" There are things that are happening that will be valuable here. We're lucky enough not to work in the specific network model anymore, where they really did not want a continuing storyline because it was so bad for syndication. The revelation when I was on The Sopranos was that people were watching all 13 episodes. It was like, "Oh my God, they're keeping track and we can reference other seasons?" When I worked in network TV, it was like, "Can we shoot these out of order?"
Nic, were there versions of the True Detective finale in which Matthew McConaughey's and Woody Harrelson's characters died?
PIZZOLATTO No. The vision that created the story was dictated by the characters and how they behaved in the circumstances I had set out for them. It was certainly something I considered, but the trajectory of their personal arcs and where the journey took them was much more interesting to me with them left alive and altered in some way. I've never ended a show before -- I've never made a show before -- and all the episodes were in the can before the first episode aired, so there was no possible way I could manage anyone's expectations.
True Detective is a great example of a show that was anchored by two huge stars.
PIZZOLATTO Talk about luck!
There never has been more pressure to attach A-list actors to series. How do you manage those expectations?
CUSE I think it's the opposite. I think the material is attracting talent. The barriers between movies and television are evaporating. For Bates Motel, I always had Vera Farmiga in my mind; she was my prototype. A woman around 40, sexy, smart, who could play an incredible range of emotions. I loved her in the stuff I'd seen her in, but I didn't think I could get her. And [Bates co-creator] Kerry Ehrin and I wrote the first three scripts, and I sent them to Vera with a note saying how much I loved her as an actress, and she said yes. I was kind of shocked. But actors just want to do good work. The barriers don't matter.
PIZZOLATTO I don't know what HBO had to pay them, but we didn't have to make any concessions for Matthew and Woody. They were really right on with the material. They wanted to dive in. With guys like that, the overall concession would be that we're not going to use them again. People who have active cinematic careers don't want to come back for six years.
CUSE But Woody and Matthew did the show, and that's going to lead to other movie stars doing projects for television.
PIZZOLATTO I hope so. The first thing I did when they arrived for preproduction was hand them box sets of Deadwood and The Wire. These guys didn't have time to watch this stuff -- and they loved it. It's getting to where if serious actors don't want to play superheroes …
There's nothing left.
PIZZOLATTO Yeah, so give them a season of television. There is no question that characters and narrative in television over at least the last 10 years are far above what I've seen in film.
WEINER You're not going to get a big argument in this room!
CUSE The only dramas in the movie business are written by Aaron. (Laughs.)
PIZZOLATTO They make like five serious adult movies a year now.
WEINER All written by Aaron!
SORKIN The best theater in America is on television. Stars don't have the same relationship to the material that they do in the movies. And television actually has more of a habit of making stars now. Bryan Cranston came out the other end of Breaking Bad a much bigger star than he was when he went in. Jeff Daniels was just the guy we wanted for The Newsroom. We weren't given a mandate to find somebody who's done a bunch of Woody Allen movies.
Or Dumb and Dumber.
SORKIN That's true. He did that.
WEINER I remember premiering the same year as Damages with Glenn Close and thinking, "I would probably watch that before I'd watch Mad Men." No one knew who Jon Hamm was.
SORKIN (To Pizzolatto) Was your show cast-contingent?
PIZZOLATTO We had our leads before we pitched. WEINER That's a strong pitch!
PIZZOLATTO The benefit -- besides being able to show to a wide audience -- is that it let us control it and make what we wanted because those guys signed on to do that. But they were fantastic. I've seen it before where the movie star walks onscreen, and you're like, "Julia Roberts just walked into the scene." But Matthew and Woody really disappeared into those roles.
Ann, how much input did Liev Schreiber have in the casting of Ray Donovan, since getting him to do the series was quite a coup?
BIDERMAN It's called Ray Donovan -- he's the lead in the show. He did chemistry reads with certain people, and he participated in the process. I wanted him to be happy with the casting.
How difficult was it to get him to commit to doing a series?
BIDERMAN He's funny. He claims that I hit him over the head like a seal hunter and dragged him! No, I think he was ready, but it was hard for him. He has a very active career in the theater, and I think it's been frustrating for him because he plays a very impacted character who doesn't have a lot of access to language. He'll say stuff like, "Look at me, Frank." I'm not giving him Shakespearian speeches, but I think he's enjoying it. And I agree that the material draws the actor. But I didn't want to make the show with just anybody. It had to feel like the right fit. We were lucky with the timing.
CUSE We knew [Bates actor] Freddie Highmore was the guy for Norman, but we had to work around that he's finishing his degree at Cambridge and needed six months off to finish school. I moved mountains because he was the guy. If I were doing the feature version, I wouldn't pick anybody beyond Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga.
BIDERMAN I feel the same way about Jon Voight, Paula Malcomson and Eddie Marsan. Eddie is an amazing actor who kind of surprised us. He was living in England, and I had seen him in Mike Leigh movies, so it felt slightly anomalous at first. But he sent in a self-tape because he wanted to be on the show. He wanted to change his life, so there you are.
Carlton, you mentioned sending a note to Vera. What are the wildest things you've done to land an actor -- whether it was successful or not?
GILLIGAN Slept with them. (Laughs.)
BIDERMAN What else?!
GILLIGAN That's how I got Bob Odenkirk!
SORKIN Mary-Louise Parker, who ended up on The West Wing, left a message on my voice mail saying: "Hi, this is Mary-Louise Parker. Josh Lyman [Bradley Whitford's character] badly needs to get laid, and I'm the one to do it." She was in the next episode.
BIDERMAN Some claim that my team and I were at the Chateau Marmont and I started shouting, "I need a man for this part!" But people thought I was just shouting, "I need a man!"
Nic, you talked about writing season two of True Detective. How will you maintain the essence and tone of the series with a new cast and storyline?
PIZZOLATTO I'm treating it like this year's novel. It's going to be in the same genre, and what carries over is the authorial vision and voice. The same way you pick up a book by a particular author. There's a consistency of vision there. I might have built myself a nice coffin, but writing got me into this, and writing's going to have to get me out. I trust the process.
CUSE There's a kind of weird joy and comfort in having your back up against the wall.
WEINER You talk about keeping that fear going. I had a bunch of stories in the first season of Mad Men. I had nothing when I did the second season, except for a couple of ideas. That was scary. So I hire amazing writers, and they come in right away with their enthusiasm for the show, with their personal lives.
PIZZOLATTO These are all permutations of the problem of the blank page.
WEINER But you have to find a way to not become incapacitated by the pressure.
CUSE I think it was David Milch who said, "Never believe anything you think about yourself as a writer when you're not writing."
SORKIN That's great.
WEINER But we've all sat next to somebody in the trenches who was completely incapacitated. There is a tenaciousness that requires keeping your head when you see people like that. It's like, for some reason, even though I have no focus, and I'd rather be sleeping, I am not incapacitated by this experience.
SORKIN A healthy fear of failure helps, too. I have a lot of experience with failure, and I hate it. I don't want it to, but it's going to happen again -- it's like electroshock therapy. I don't want it! So combined with the pressure that you put on yourself, that's pretty much the jet fuel for writing. Like the golfer who hacks his way around a golf course all day long, but then for some reason just hits a beautiful shot. That's the reason they keep coming back.
WEINER Do you have a nonsports metaphor for some of us? (Laughs.) I don't know what you're talking about.
SORKIN I don't play golf, either!
WEINER I'm perpetuating a stereotype about writers, which is 100 percent accurate.
GILLIGAN I think about failure all the time. I think we're not engineered to enjoy it. It scares the hell out of me and keeps me awake at night. But when I'm being really honest with myself, the only thing I ever learn from is failure. The rare success I've had in my career, Breaking Bad, coming off of that … I don't know what to take from it, other than to do my best to enjoy it. I've never actually solved a Rubik's cube …
WEINER This [metaphor] is working better for me. (Laughs.)
GILLIGAN Finally, you get it right, and you're like, "Wow, how the hell am I ever going to do that again?" That's what it feels like.
WEINER Going to this season's premiere of Mad Men, seeing the show go on the air, I was like, "Why do I keep doing this?"
PIZZOLATTO "I'm painting a target on my back."
WEINER But the glory is the work. It's worth all the failures. And I think most of us don't even know what our failures are.
SORKIN I can name them!
PIZZOLATTO We should differentiate between the types of success. There's something that might hit an audience really big and might be seen as a popular success that you're not satisfied with.
SORKIN I know what you're talking about.
PIZZOLATTO There needs to be a personal meter. It's important for a creator to always have the audience in mind but be careful of what your yardsticks are.
GILLIGAN That's good advice [but] hard to take.
PIZZOLATTO If you stay off the Internet, it's easy.
GILLIGAN That's the first rule: Stay the hell off the Internet!
WEINER That's very hard.
GILLIGAN Except for the porn.
PIZZOLATTO The first month of the show, I was still reading comment sections.
WEINER Don't do that!
PIZZOLATTO They had an intervention with me, and I was OK.
WEINER It's irresistible; especially if things go well, you get drawn in again.
What's the toughest part of the writing process?
GILLIGAN Structure and shape. Dialogue is fun -- that's the hot fudge. What we're doing now with Better Call Saul, we're sitting around the room like we did on Breaking Bad, and we use the word "shape" a lot. What's the shape of this thing? There are pleasing shapes and less- pleasing shapes. You know if it's wrong.
PIZZOLATTO It's like musical structure. Even if you can't play an instrument, you can still hear if somebody messed up.
SORKIN I love dialogue, but I am not a natural storyteller. I'm not the guy sitting around the campfire. But dialogue has always sounded like music to me, and I wanted to imitate the sound of that. I consider plot and story to be this necessary intrusion on what I'm trying to do.
CUSE It requires immense discipline to do the hard story work, particularly when you're in the middle of making a show and somebody wants to do show you pictures of cars and wardrobe. "No, I'm trying to figure out the structure of this episode!"
SORKIN "You have 17 key rings. Choose the one that you want."
CUSE But it's more enjoyable to choose the key ring than it is to figure out your narrative.
WEINER Getting a show to time is very painful for me. In the end, you don't miss anything, but you're mad at yourself for shooting stuff you didn't need!
SORKIN Are you usually long or short?
WEINER Always long. But I want it to be a little fat so I can cut out things I don't like.
SORKIN I'm usually long enough that just one more scene, and it's a two-parter.
WEINER I never have enough for that, I'm always like three minutes over. If it's 20 minutes over, they're very excited. If it's three minutes over, they're like, "No, absolutely not. We need those three minutes." But it's very hard to choose, and you're sort of like, "Why did I conceive this this way?" And I can almost never reshoot on my show. The sets are usually gone by the time I'm cutting, the actors are gone by the time I'm cutting, and we work on a very tight budget.
Whom do you most trust to read a first draft?
BIDERMAN Our writers. It's not necessarily a democracy, but we're all of one mind at a certain point.
How much do your scripts change during shooting?
BIDERMAN Someone once said, "The script is innocent until proven guilty," and I believe that. The rule on set is: Do it the way it's written. We've spent many hours writing. At the same time, you'd be an idiot not to let certain people do improvs. Jon Voight, in the pilot, came up with this thing when he was with a hooker, and he starts dancing. I thought, "This is gold!" You want to leave room for those happy accidents.
WEINER The first time I remember someone saying, "Just tell him to do it both ways," it was on Sopranos, and I was the new guy. I will not even say who the actor was, but he looked at me like, "Do you think I was born yesterday? I know which one you're going to use. Why am I even wasting your time?"
BIDERMAN "You're humoring me and condescending to me."
WEINER I'm so defensive about everything [when] I go into the writers room and see what worked and what didn't. [Mad Men writer] Semi Chellas runs the room, and when they do notes on my scripts, they don't allow me to be there. I see it when I'm with the writer's assistant later, and then I'm like, "Who said this?!"
GILLIGAN Is it always anonymous?
WEINER It's totally anonymous, unless the writer's assistant has written the script with me, in which case, they might say, "I don't really agree with that, but I wrote it down." The most exciting thing is cutting something down and having it still work. And then 24 hours later you're like, I didn't need any of this!
GILLIGAN I love that feeling, too. And much of it is the magic of having great actors.
BIDERMAN You don't need much.
GILLIGAN Another lesson that I love relearning is in the editing room: We can cut all this stuff out because the actors can say it with a look.
WEINER You didn't think anyone would get
it, and they walk in and got it. It's shocking.
Spinoffs can be tricky, particularly with something so beloved and, in the case of Breaking Bad, so recent. Vince, what has that process been like for you so far?
GILLIGAN It's scary. It opens you up to a lot of fears. Is this going to be Frasier -- or After MASH? If it's After MASH rather than Frasier, it won't be for a lack of hard work, wishful thinking and a lot of smart people doing their best. But it's a high-class problem.
WEINER Did you take any time off after Breaking Bad?
GILLIGAN A couple months, but I was doing a lot of press and talking about Breaking Bad right up until we started the new show. But it's not a bad thing. What's that old expression? You can rest when you're dead? That gets closer by the minute!
BIDERMAN I took some time after season one.
SORKIN Tell us how to do it!
BIDERMAN But by the time we finished post, I needed to start the room again and …
WEINER That is not a real vacation.
CUSE Post-Lost, I went hiking in Switzerland with my daughter, which was completely awesome. I was so exhausted. I had just monastically been devoted to that show for six years, and it was a network show, so we made 121 episodes. I was just recharging my batteries. And I read books!
SORKIN You made your daughter walk up a hill for no reason?!
The need for a vacation figures into the amount of stress you're all under as the CEOs of your show. How you do manage it while keeping up morale and handling conflicts on set?
PIZZOLATTO One moment at a time. You deal with whatever's in the headlights.
SORKIN I'm actually big on morale at the show. I want everybody to be really psyched.
BIDERMAN "What is essential today?"
WEINER I thought I was an indecisive person, and then I started making hundreds of decisions. The medicine for me is that I am surrounded by really funny people -- I didn't realize that my mood could emanate into an organism of 300 people, but it can -- so I felt a little bit of responsibility to not be as moody.
GILLIGAN You need good producers, too.
CUSE The greatest lesson I've learned is the power of collaboration. You can't do everything, and your show is better for it.
WEINER Someone says, "There was a fire in the kitchen," and you're like, "Oh, I didn't know." You're in a bubble; a brain in the jar.
GILLIGAN We had a guy get bitten by a rattlesnake on our crew. I didn't know about it.
BIDERMAN It's also about eating well and getting enough sleep.
SORKIN I can't sleep anymore.
BIDERMAN I make myself get off the iPad because it's too much stimulation.
GILLIGAN The worst is when you wake up in the middle of the night. But all the worst problems at 3 a.m. aren't quite as bad in the morning, but at 3 a.m., they're insurmountable.
SORKIN Then on a Saturday, you have all these problems, and it's worse because they can't be dealt with until Monday. So you spend a weekend waiting to solve problems on Monday, and you forget that you had these two days off!
You've all written for several characters over the years. Who have been the easiest to write for, the ones for whom you felt most comfortable?
PIZZOLATTO I could write Rust Cohle forever.
GILLIGAN I didn't know I could write TV until Chris Carter hired me onto The X-Files. I would hear those characters' voices in my head. It felt like transcription. After that structure was in place, you have that freedom … though it doesn't sound like freedom, ironically.
PIZZOLATTO But the restrictions can be freeing.
GILLIGAN And knowing where you're going.
CUSE It's like asking to choose among your children, but I loved writing for Josh Holloway on Lost. Sawyer was acerbic and irreverent, kind of a bad boy.
GILLIGAN Hurley must have been fun, too.
CUSE Yes. There was a lot of earnestness on Lost. Characters who were counterpoint to that were fun.
SORKIN There's never been a time when writing was easy. There have been plenty of times when it was fun, but I don't want to pick a favorite character. It feels wrong.
There really isn't one you found easiest to write for?
SORKIN I play all the characters as I'm writing them. I'm jumping up and down, acting it out. But no, I don't think that there's one …
BIDERMAN Leave him the hell alone! (Laughs.)
What's been has been the most embarrassing moment for you as a writer or showrunner?
GILLIGAN I wrote a scene in X-Files where Mulder was talking about a victim of a kidnapping siding with her kidnapper, and I wrote it as "Helsinki syndrome" instead of "Stockholm syndrome." I think it's actually a joke, too, in the first Die Hard movie. And then David Duchovny, who's a brilliant guy, did the scene, and he goes, "Hey, I like that shout-out you gave to Die Hard with the Helsinki syndrome." I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "Well, it's Stockholm syndrome. Or was it like some weird copyright thing where you couldn't say that?" (Laughs.)
SORKIN In the second-season finale of The Newsroom, Jane Fonda's character had a throwaway line -- she was stoned -- where she says, "I'm going to get the Allman Brothers back together." A few days after it aired, I got a letter from the band's manager saying the Allman Brothers never broke up.
BIDERMAN Oh God.
SORKIN They were understandably offended, but I was just knocked out that the Allman Brothers watched The Newsroom. I couldn't apologize enough.
WEINER On set, the weirdest thing for me is when there are love scenes -- I'm on basic cable, so they require a lot of choreography. For some reason, when I start talking to the actors, I always end up playing the woman. Invariably, Jon Hamm will be looking at me like, "Really, you did this again?"
BIDERMAN In season one of Ray, Jon Voight's character is incarcerated in a cinder block cell. He plays a rather foulmouthed character, so it felt right that he stand up and pretend he's a chimp. And in his state of rage at being in a cell, he jerks off and throws it into the camera. And Jon and I were standing near a large group of people, and I'm pantomiming how to do this for him. I thought, "This is so wrong on so many levels." One of the greatest actors ever …
WEINER And known for his masturbating.
BIDERMAN And I'm instructing him to be a chimp and jerk off?
GILLIGAN We had a writer on Breaking Bad, Sam Catlin, who, whenever things got quiet in the writers room, he'd pantomime masturbating angrily. He was the angry masturbator.
WEINER Sam's going to love the shout-out.
PIZZOLATTO That's a closer.
CUSE That's hard to top, honestly.
SORKIN Good seeing you guys!
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