'Smash's' Brian d'Arcy James Previews Frank and Julia's Unraveling

The actor tells THR how the affair will impact the Marilyn Monroe musical and addresses criticism about the show's off-Broadway focus.
"Smash's" Brian d'Arcy James

Smash's Brian d'Arcy James' Frank has been playing his cards right, serving as the loyal husband who supports his wife, Julia (Debra Messing), when in the midst of attempting to adopt a child and expand their family she opted to put work first.

His patience will finally run out on Monday's episode when he puts the pieces together and confronts Julia about her indiscretions with Michael Swift, the actor cast as the Marilyn production's Joe DiMaggio (played by Will Chase). Not always the biggest fan of the theater, Frank will finally have his moment in the spotlight when he and Julia have it out in the episode, appropriately titled "Hell on Earth."

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with James to discuss Frank and Julia's marriage, whether or not her affair will impact the Marilyn production and how he feels about criticism that the show focus too much on events outside of Broadway.

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The Hollywood Reporter: How will Frank handle news of Julia's affair? What ultimately gives it away?
Brian d'Arcy James:
Frank doesn't take kindly to the news of the affair. In his mind, he's enjoyed a successful 18-year commitment, raised a son and takes great pride in his family. He's rocked by the news of the betrayal. The giveaway comes in a clever plot point that involves Frank recognizing something is amiss when he discovers a particular lyric that Julia has been working on.

How will her affair impact the Marilyn production?
The affair has a significant impact on the production. We've seen how the affair has already had an impact on Julia's workload and how perhaps there's been a distraction in getting some of the work done as the affair starts to weigh on her. The affair being discovered by Frank and the effect it has on Julia and Frank's marriage bleeds into Julia's professional life.

How will Frank and Julia handle their problems when it comes to their son, Leo?
Leo (Emory Cohen) is a major consideration in the effort to deal with this huge rift. At the end of the day Frank and Julia take their responsibilities as parents very seriously, so Leo is of course a big concern.

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Could Frank pose a problem for the Marilyn production? Could we see him insist she quit the play, especially in light of Derek's (Jack Davenport) attempted takeover?
I don't think there's any risk of Frank posing a problem for the production. While he may be reeling with this new development, it would be out of character for him to be reckless in a way that would spill into Julia's professional world. The affair is born out of Julia's work environment so I suppose it doesn't do anything to improve his already less than stellar assessment of Julia's business as in the pilot episode when he says, "I hate the theater, I really do."

Could we see Frank seek revenge with Michael Swift and get involved with his family?
Frank does what he needs to in confronting Michael Swift. But I think it would be out of character for him to exact revenge on innocent bystanders.

Will Frank and Ellis (Jaime Cepero) share any scenes?
Frank shares scenes with Julia's colleagues in a peripheral way. I think it's cogent how his world bumps into the Marilyn gang from time to time, but only in a realistic way, at functions like the workshop, for example, that we saw last week.

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What will Frank find most upsetting: the affair or that everyone and their brother (Leo, Ellis, Tom, etc.) knew of it before he did and nobody told him anything?
The most upsetting thing for Frank is Julia's betrayal; it all comes back to her and what he presumed to be a healthy marriage. Everything else is a moot point, in terms of who knew what and when, as it really is between Julia and Frank.

Will Frank sing again?
It's been a fun challenge to be an actor in a show that features singing since I come from the world of Broadway where it's something I do quite often. Being a bit of a goofball last week with my little cheer-up ditty is in line with the character and the conceit of music being used in the show. It would ultimately be a disservice to the character and to the show simply to have me sing to satisfy some quota of actors cast in Smash who can sing a song. Having said that, I'm not above lobbying for the episode where I get konked on the head and seamlessly dance into a fantasy sequence a la Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain.

What's Frank's trajectory for the remainder of the season?
Frank has a bitter pill to swallow with the news of the affair. There is careful time taken with that wound with some interesting developments that lead the family to a place of trying to come back together.

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Some critics have been harsh when it comes to the personal story lines on the show, specifically the adoption arc as well as Ellis' role. How do you feel about that?
I think it was a great way to start the ball rolling in terms of how Frank and Julia's family is defined and the vision they have for themselves. To me, it was and is a completely fair thing to inject into a storyline that aims to illustrate Julia in her attempt to balance a very successful professional life with a family life. The adoption has taken a back seat to the more recent developments, but as a way into this particular family, I think the adoption was a very potent idea that in turn created immediate inborn questions of character in terms of how Frank and Julia see themselves -- i.e. Frank getting cold feet and wanting to dive back into his career.

Why is it important for the personal lives of those connected with the Marilyn musical to be depicted?
I think it's a fascinating facet to see how people do or don't bring their work home with them. Conversely, it's great to see how one domino at home could make another one fall at work. It's a great chance to pull back the curtain and see how the Marilyn effort plays itself out at the dinner table or on a date.

Do you think there's hope for Frank and Julia's marriage? How would you like to see it play out? Smash airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit