'How to Get Away With Murder' Cast, Creators Tease Season 2

The cast and producers spill secrets of the freshman run, while also looking ahead, during a TV Academy panel.
ABC/Mitchell Haaseth

It was truly a first year to remember for the law students and professors of How to Get Away With Murder’s Middleton University — especially when that year included a dead sorority girl, murdering a professor’s husband, colluding with said professor to cover up the homicide and finding another dead girl’s body in the basement.

The cast and creators gathered #TGIThursday to celebrate the first season of the ABC freshman drama at a Television Academy panel. The Q&A, which was held on the drama's Hollywood classroom set, featured lead Viola Davis (Annalise Keating), series creator Pete Nowalk, and co-stars Alfred Enoch (Wes Gibbins), Karla Souza (Laurel Castillo), Charlie Weber (Frank Delfino), Billy Brown (Nate Lahey), Marcia Gay Harden (Hannah Keating), and Tom Verica (Sam Keating), as well as executive producer Betsy Beers (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) and producing director Bill D’Elia (Boston Legal, Judging Amy).

With the multitalented Shondaland ace Debbie Allen moderating the panel, the cast and producers shared their thoughts on the first season’s biggest moments and offered a glimpse of season two.

Read more 'How to Get Away With Murder': Viola Davis Spills on Bloody Finale

1. Davis does not think Annalise is a good professor.

“I’ve had those teachers at Juilliard who think they are very well intentioned [but … ] have unfinished business in their lives [...] and they bring all of that in the classroom with them,” Davis said. “I’ve had very abusive teachers and I wanted [Annalise] to be one of those abusive teachers […] when teachers come in, they are very human also, they have their shortcomings.”

2. Annalise and her students will forever be in each other’s orbits.

While Nowalk was coy on whether there would be any new arrivals for season two, he assured fans that the core group of students wouldn’t be moving on quite yet. “Annalise has had a lot of students before work for her. None of them killed her husband,” Nowalk said. “So these people are bonded in ways that past students have not been.”

3. Nowalk didn’t know that Frank killed Lila until right before the very last episode — and Weber thought Frank was going to die.

“We have to surprise ourselves. If I see it coming, you’ll all see it coming,” said Nowalk, who spent months struggling with drafts that oscillated between Sam and Rebecca. “One thing I’ve learned from this is that if I can’t write it, then it’s wrong. Another writer came to me with this idea and my whole brain blew up.”

At first, however, Weber thought his brain was going to blow up a bit more literally, recounting getting a call from Nowalk just before the finale table read. “There was a five-second gap and when you’re on a show about murder, everything flashed before my eyes,” he recalled before Nowalk eventually revealed Frank’s involvement.

4. Most of the scripts are written last minute, which is fine by the actors. Also that Cicely Tyson story? It was Davis’ idea.

D’Elia praised the show for how collaborative it was between actors and writers, while Nowalk revealed that the Tyson episode and storyline was in fact Davis’ idea. Joked Davis, “It was. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to steal your thunder.”

Photos On the Set of 'How to Get Away With Murder'

5. One thing that was planned from the beginning? The show’s groundbreaking wig scene.

“Before I got the role, I said, ‘Listen, [executive producer Shonda Rhimes], Pete, Betsy, I’m not gonna do this unless I can take my wig off,’” recalled SAG Award winner Davis. “One of the reasons I stopped watching TV was that I stopped seeing myself on TV […] I see a lot of sexy women, hard, cold, with windswept hair and light makeup, and they say it’s no makeup but it’s light makeup. I wanted to see a real woman on TV. I wanted to see who we are before we walk out the door in the morning and put on the mask of acceptability, of ‘please see me as pretty, please love me,’ […] That simple act surmounted to something very powerful in the end because it was someone being very, very private in public, which is absolutely the cornerstone of what we do as artists.”

6. Annalise isn’t “sexy,” and Davis is OK with that.

Davis chose a unique approach toward feeling “sexy” during the show’s love scenes. “I chose to remove the word ‘sexy’ from my vocabulary and I replace it with ‘sexual,’” Davis explained. “I try to be very aware as an actor, when I am doing sexual scenes, to not to be so self-conscious about making it look good because, for everyone that’s had sex, it’s not cute. But how do you play not cute sex on network TV? It’s very uncomfortable.” 

Allen, who also praised the show’s leading men, teased of Annalise's paramours Brown and Verica,  “Go get that salt and pepper, girl!”

7. D'Elia said Verica "almost once directed an entire episode of Scandal with [the HTGAWM] trophy in his head."

In addition to acting on Murder, Verica is a producing director on Shondaland sister-show Scandal. The double duty was interesting, as Beers recalled quite a few times that Verica would be giving directions while lying in fake blood. Before he knew of Verica’s dual roles, Brown recalled, “Tom would sit next to me at the table reads, and …he would pop in late, [really come and go] and I remember thinking ‘This guy is a f—ing pimp.’"

8. Connor and Oliver’s relationship — and that HIV bomb — will be a significant part of season two.

Absent from the panel was breakout star Jack Falahee (Connor Walsh), whose relationship with beau Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) featured a finale bombshell when Oliver tested positive for HIV.

“It’s our goal to treat that in a way that’s real and gives representation to a whole community of people that haven’t been on network TV in a while,” said Nowalk, who noted that producers are hoping to work with GLAAD to get the story right. “Oliver and Connor are very important to me and they have a huge fan base. Their relationship will play a big part in season two.”

9. Someone new is coming to town for season two.

Nowalk was careful not to spoil too much but did add one final tease for the show’s second season: “We’ll meet a new character that figures prominently into Annalise’s life.”

10. The structure of the series will likely remain the same. 

“There’s no rules to our show, which is great," Nowalk said. "We can flash back, we can flash forward, we can just tell a story linearly. I want to keep it fresh."

How to Get Away with Murder returns Thursdays at 10 p.m. in the fall on ABC.

Twitter: @NotPhelan

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