Emmys: 'Homeland,' House of Cards' EPs Reveal Their Favorite Scenes

"Breaking Bad"
Ursula Coyote/AMC

Executive producers for "Mad Men," "Downton Abbey" and "30 Rock" also share their picks for the most memorable -- and, in some cases, utterly bizarre -- scenes from their nominated series.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's August Emmy stand-alone issue.

Alex Gansa
Homeland (Showtime)

The moment in which I walked onto the set in the season-two finale — I walked into that makeshift morgue where all those bodies were laid out. It was one of the most profound moments I’ve had on Homeland. Not only were all these dummies laid out on the floor covered in white sheets, but the building where we housed this particular scene was an old Philip Morris tobacco factory, where they made cigarettes. There was something crazy about all these dead bodies lying in a place where they made this product that killed so many people; it was this weird confluence of location and the story we were telling. It was an amazing job that our production designer did. I remember going to Michael Cuesta, who directed that episode, and he’d set up the camera in that one high shot. I looked through the monitor and just knew that that final image of the show was going to be fantastic. That was a really, really vivid moment for me during season two. It was very, very creepy. That makeshift morgue was also modeled after many of these scenes after these terrible accidents. We went back and looked at a lot of photographs to see how these things were laid out and how they looked, and we mimicked it.

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Beau Willimon
House of Cards (Netflix)

It was midnight the moment cameras rolled on the very first scene we shot: Francis and Zoe meeting on a train platform. We were in a cavernous D.C. metro station. David Fincher was directing. We only had four hours to film the scene before the station reopened at 5 a.m. — not much time for a three-page scene with a complex shot list. Kevin Spacey and Kate Mara arrived on set and rehearsed. I made a few last-minute adjustments to the text. Our DP Eigil Bryld lit and framed the master. Fincher rolled both cameras then called out, “Action!” We watched Zoe Barnes, simultaneously nervous and self-assured, walk the length of the platform and sit down behind a hauntingly still Francis Underwood. Then we heard Underwood’s Southern drawl for the first time. Suddenly this story — which I had already spent two full years working on — leapt to life. It was three-dimensional. It was flesh and blood. I could tell immediately we were on to something special. I felt exhilaration and relief. Four hours later we wrapped and emerged from the station into the predawn light. One day down, only 150 more to go.

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Gareth Neame
Downton Abbey (PBS)

My favorite moment from Downton season three is the scene in episode one where Matthew appears at Mary’s bedroom door the night before their wedding. As so often with their relationship, there was a final obstacle to their nuptials, and the evening before it isn’t even certain that the wedding will go ahead. Tom Branson persuades Matthew that he will never be happy without Mary, while at the same time Anna Bates is counseling Mary in much the same way. Matthew arrives unannounced at her door, thus breaking the convention that the bridal couple mustn’t see each other the night before the wedding, so the conversation takes place on either side of the half-open door. Matthew feels he must seal what they agree on with a kiss, and with eyes closed, their lips touch. But Mary cannot resist a sneak view of her betrothed, and while Matthew still has his eyes firmly shut, she flashes hers open, looks up at the face of the man she truly loves and smiles. It was a cheeky detail worked out by director Brian Percival and the actors that so fitted a typically beautiful scene from Julian Fellowes. After all, it is really the bridegroom that may not glimpse the bride, not the other way around.

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Matthew Weiner
Mad Men (AMC)

I was really happy with the season last year, which I don’t always say. With 13 hours and 12 episodes, it’s hard to pick a favorite. 

The thing that was symbolic — what we were working towards the whole season — was Don’s Hershey pitch, and it tied into the moment at the end of episode 13 with Sally. We were trying to start the season with the idea that Don was back to where he started, in a strange way. It was 10 times worse because he’s in his second marriage, and he’s having an affair with this woman who lives downstairs, and he’s in a state of disarray, and he says he wants to stop doing it, but he’s not doing a very good job of stopping anything. We got a chance to learn more about his past throughout the year and to see what his psychology was; these two people that he is — Dick Whitman and Don Draper — are really causing him more psychological stress than ever before. He’s tired of doing it, in a way, and it comes back to confront him when his daughter sees that he’s having an affair. 

It was all building to that moment, which I came in with at the beginning of the year: At the end of the season, he is going to be in a pitch to Hershey — which I picked because I thought it would be meaningful to Don, and it’s meaningful to me — and he’s going to tell this fake version of it, and he’s going to come clean. It’s the wrong moment to do so, but he doesn’t really have a choice anymore. It’s as close to a breakdown as we see him have. We’re kind of relieved to see him coming clean. His version of his childhood is so emotional, and Jon [Hamm] is spectacular in this scene. It’s a monologue, it’s a long, uninterrupted speech with a lot of twists and turns and a lot of emotion in it. 

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What the audience saw in the final version of the show, it was just one take. We did a couple of takes, but that’s all basically the performance from the first time he did it. And when he did that, the actors who have lines right after him, who are off-camera during that shot because he was the focus of the shot — John Slattery and Harry Hamlin and Kevin Rahm, everyone — they literally forgot their cues. No one said anything. They were standing there as people, not as actors, not as characters, completely dumbstruck at how Jon manages to be so raw in that, emotionally. For me, in the life of the show, it’s a big moment, and in the life of the season, it was what we were working toward, to admit his past to the people who really didn’t know his secret — and to himself, in a way, because it’s in the office, it’s in the place where he shines the most, in that boardroom. So for me, that’s kind of my favorite thing. It was just very satisfying.

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